For some people the very idea of magic is troubling, and associated words like "esoteric", "arcane" and especially "occult" have frightening connotations. But as Nevill Drury emphasises right at the beginning of this excellent study, "magic is basically about personal transformation--more specifically, about the transformation of one's perception or state of awareness". And most "occult" knowledge is no longer hidden.
Drury starts his history 2000 years ago with the Gnostics, those who sought a personal gnosis or knowledge of God--not just an intellectual knowledge but a unifying of the inner divine spark with the One Source. He examines Kabbalism, initially a Jewish mystical system, which is at the heart of much present-day esoteric practice; then steps to the Hermetic Philosophers of the 15th and 16th centuries, and a brief look at alchemy, before moving on to the Rosicrucians and Freemasons.
From these, just over a century ago, came the most influential magical movement of all, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn--and from that, probably the most infamous individual, Aleister Crowley. And then came Gerald Gardner, who drew together all of these strands, and others, to create modern witchcraft, or Wicca. Drury also explores Goddess worship, other areas of Neo-Paganism, shamanism (his own chosen path), and the darker side of magic.
There's inevitably overlap between this book and, for instance, Richard Cavendish's The Black Arts, Michael Howard's The Occult Conspiracy, Caitlín & John Matthews' The Western Way, and other more recent studies of esoteric religion and secret societies. Nevill Drury's personal perspective, however, makes this not only a highly informative but a warm and intuitive exploration of the subject: a must-buy for anyone who wants to know more of the background to today's magic. --David V Barrett