Review of Scottish Witchcraft: The History of the Magick of the Picts by Raymond Buckland

Llewellyn Publications, 1992

Reviewed by Kym Lambert ní Dhoireann (copyright © 1993,2004 Kym Lambert ní Dhoireann, all rights reserved do not republish anywhere)

Originally published in Tides Vol. 1, No. 4, Lughnasad/Fall Equinox, 1993 this version is slightly modified mostly for flow, but overall is as it was, so please note possible changes in where I come from today as well as where the Pagan Community is today. Some of this may seem overly obvious, but it wasn't 11 years ago.

Well, first he's a Witch, then he's a Gypsy, now Ray Buckland is a Pict.

Theis book is Witchcrap, plain and simple. It has a few good points which can be found in most basic books on Wicca; more importantly, there are important points missing (including two that can kill...please read the fourth to last and second to last paragraphs of this review, even if you don't read the rest of this). The bulk of the material is utter idiocy.

The title is misleading. Buckland gives a brief, simplistic but somewhat accurate account of the historical Picts ---this part ends on page 10. He then proceeds on to discussing Druids, Witches and magick. From then on it's just Wicca 101 with some Scottish folklore thrown in and labeled PectiWita. (Let me just note that the Picts wouldn't have used either the words "wita" or "Wicca" for their magical practices, even less than they would have called themselves "Picts.") He also tends to mix Gaelic (Scottish/Irish) and Pictish material, but as nothing is know of Pictish Pagan ways and beliefs, I suppose this is necessary (many of us do this as well, but we do not claim that the Gaelic came from the Picts).

In his section on the "Gods of the Picts" he lists some Gaelic Otherworld Beings, included the Cailleach and the Gruagach. Now "cailleach" really means just "hag" (or "nun") but I assume he means the Cailleach Bheare or one of the many other Otherworldly Hags, and if so his description is very flattering and artist Hrana Janto's drawing is kinder still ---She looks like every Witches' fantasy Grandma. The word "Gruagach" means "long-haired one" but there is a tradition in Gaelic mythology of the Gruagach as a cattle guardian ---this role is mentioned here. Buckland describes him as connected with the Sun Gods (thanks to the ever questionable Lewis Spence) and Janto draws him as beautiful and rather Christ-like. Actually, the mythological Gruagach is black-skinned (like a moldy corpse), one-eyed, one-armed, bellowing and hideous. No Celtic or Pictish warrior is going to be terrified by the depiction here and terrorizing warriors is the whole point of the Gruagach's existence. The only other female he mentions is the MuirEarthach, a Sea Hag. He does mention a few male deities from Gaelic and Bretonic material and the Gaelic warrior Fionn. But when it actually comes to ritual later in the book he works with the generic Wiccan Lord and Lady.

The stuff on Wicca itself is very basic (and saccharin) with a lot of the "Old Religion" propaganda thrown in ---basic Buckland fare-- and yes, he does teach how to hug trees. He notes the ways that PectiWita varies from Wicca, but it often isn't as different as he tries to make it out to be. He claims to get rid of a lot of the working tools, however he doesn't really do this.He definitely keeps the athame and the wand as main tools, although now they are the "dirk" and the staff (the "dirk" pictured here is not one ---a dirk is a specific type of dagger, not just a Scottish word for "knife"). The cup called a quaich (which is actually a loving cup in the culture) and a bowl of dirt called a mool replace the chalice and the pentacle and are called "Additional PectiWitan tools." So the main tools of Wicca are all here, it's just that the "female" tools are considered less important than the "male" ---for some reason I have problems with this.

A few points that need mentioning: "airt" means "directional wind" not "art" as he gives here (pg. 89). In the Samhuinn (his choice of spelling) ritual he forgets to feed the dead (first rule of Celtic spirituality ---always feed anything you contact from the Otherworld or the Underworld...especially when they are most powerful here). He does include a section on "Earth Healing" but he means taking energy form the Earth to heal a person, not healing the Earth ---in fact, despite all the mentions of Wiccans as supposedly being connected to Nature he never once mentions the state She is in. He includes lobelia in his list of herbs for lung problems, but at least the only recipe he gives with it is a poultice for arthritis (this is noted due to the "lobelia controversy in Harvest ...updated, lobelia is an herb that must be taken with care eternally, unfortunately some authors, especially NeoPagans are not up front about this). He says that you do't need to shield if you make this little protection bottle, which you then bury somewhere, so yu can worry if your only protection as been dug up by someone (pg. 127). The "Pictish runes" and swirl alphabet are rubbish, nor would they have been used to write phonetic English if they did exist. The list could go on and on.

A few bits of weirdness: he says there is no circle casting, however he does walk the circle three times in a manner that seems suspiciously like a casting to me. He says that worship is a minor point, but worships this "Lord and Lady" in his ritual while ignoring the other Beings he mentions as being the real deities of PictiWita (and there is a difference between supplication and offering acknowledgement and respect to Otherworldly beings...non-worship is likely a very modern ritual concept, the Picts were undoubtedly, like other Celts, very respectful and worshipful of their Gods..Whoever They might have been). He does suggest strongly that you work outdoors, but I feel he ignores teh factors that must be considered ---like if the Spirits of the Land want you there.

Everything remotely useful is straight from F.M McNeill's The Silver Bough and J.G. Campbell's Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and can be found in many books on Scottish Folklore.

Now for the warning: The first truly dangerous section of the book is when he mentions "wind-riding" or astral projection. (I won't even get into the likelihood that any of this is Pictish or Gaelic...um, it's all from Wiccan sources, obviously.) AT the end of the section he states that many believe that it is dangerous and that the "silver-cord" can be severed leading to death; he then says this is false and it could never happen. He says there is no danger! (pg. 80) Well, it does happen, it has happened, and it will happen again ---probably to someone who's been told that it can't happen. (Then again it will only happen if you really leave your body instead of just fantasizing, and fantasy is all you're likely to get from this.)

The most dangerous part to hose of us more concerned with physical travel than astral travel is in his chapter on "Survival." I kind of like this idea, as I ascribe to the if-I'm-miserable-I-must-be-having-a-meaningful-experience school for spiritual seeking. I am also trained in wilderness survival and believe it an important part of my warrior path. However, everything here is obviously (well, to someone who knows already...the danger is those who don't it won't be so obvious to) written by someone who's never done it; it's just too simplified. The directions for the bow drill fire-starter, for example, leave out important things like greasing the hand piece so there is no friction there and notching the depression in the base so there is a place for tinder (he likely read an account, the cut what he considered the "chafe" without ever trying it). The shelters are only good if you have a heavy sleeping bag, although one is close to being a debris hut (without being measured for the occupant and without insulating "stuffing". Again, it looks like he picked these up from a Boy Scout manual..which is NOT a good source for survival shelters). His cooking methods are inefficient. All in all he's describing a bad camping trip not a survival expedition (where you take the cloths on your back and, maybe, a knife). Need I even point out that this in no way compares to a Native American (which one? none!) vision quest as he suggests on page 176?

The worst of this section is what he never mentions ---WATER. He doesn't say that it is more important than food, how to find it and, even more importantly, he never warns about the dangers of drinking the water if you do find it. (All water from above ground sources must be boiled or otherwise treated. Giardia, a bacterial infection transmitted by animal fecal matter, is in virtually all above ground water. If it gets in you it will cause severe diarrhea; severe diarrhea will cause dehydration, and dehydration will kill you if they only water you have to hydrate yourself is what caused the problem in the first place and will just make you worse. Even getting it in non-survival situations means you will have recurrent bouts for the rest of your life. Boil your water or bring water filters...the latter takes you out of a full survival situation, of course.)

I don't know if Aidean Breac, his supposed late (of course) teacher, existed or how much of this came from him if he did. I do know that this book is crap. If you are interested in Wiccan tradition based on Scottish folklore you might as well make it up on yourself, you'd have to try real hard to do a worse job. Better yet, why not use Scottish folklore to reconstruct a truer Scottish Pagan tradition (which is what I am doing) and leave the Wicca out. If you want to learn about Celtic Paganism and magic, keep looking (you might find some answers elsewhere on this site, however...I am speaking of this book here); if you want to learn about real Pictish Paganism and magic...well, I hope you're real good at past life regression (but we do keep looking for bits and pieces, there is no known tradition and we're just not going to find it). If you ant to learn about survival get Tom Brown's Field Guides to Wilderness Survival; Living with the Earth; Nature Observation and Tracking; and Wild Edible and Medicinal Plans. If you want a good laugh, leaf through the photos of this book and see Buckland give his staff a blow-job and other Freudian wonders. If you have no Clan affiliation and want a broken nose, wear a kilt as he suggests and find the nearest Scot of the Clan whose tartan you're wearing (I'm MacDonald if anyone wants a go). ~;)

If you want to know more about what I think about the Picts please feel free to check out The Shadowy Painted People?

Return to reviews indexor the booklist

Copyright © 1993, 2004 Kym Lambert, all rights reserved. Do not post anywhere and that means YOU!