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Review: Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America

Chas Clifton is one of the premier scholars of Wicca and Paganism in the US, so when I heard about this book, I was truly excited.  Clifton’s work is a complimentary volume to Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon, an exploration of Wicca and Paganism in the UK.  By exploring historical, textual, oral and literary resources, Clifton paints a picture of Wicca’s development and transformation as it traveled from the UK to the US, and then around the world.

At the same time Clifton explores Wicca’s transformation from a small mystery/magical religion into “nature religion.”  He does this by outlining three types of “nature”:  Cosmic, Gaian, and Erotic.  By making the cycles of nature, the planet, and our bodies holy, the religion of Witchcraft was transformed.   The author goes on to explore the growth, change, and popularization of religious Witchcraft throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. Additionally, he briefly covers the history of the Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia, the Church of All Worlds, the Psychedelic Venus Church and Druidism in the US.

In some places, the author repeats facts (which made me wonder in if I had lost my place), but this is done to aid in clarity; the history of Wicca and Paganism in the US is as sprawling a topic as the religions themselves.  The author is forced to cross-reference himself in all directions to paint a larger picture, a challenge which he handles well.  For those already familiar with the topic, new analysis of historical figures and themes will enlighten and deepen your understanding of this history.  For those new to the topic, the book’s glossary will prove invaluable; understanding will be further aided by copies of the texts Clifton cites in the glossary (such as Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon and Bonewits’ Real Magic) for further context.

Clifton’s brilliant analysis of the words “Wicca” and “Witch” are worth the price of the volume alone.  Her Hidden Children will be required reading for my students.

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