Book Review: Timothy Roderick’s Wicca: A Year and a Day

My very own, much abused copy of Roderick's book.

My very own, much abused copy of Roderick’s book.

When I first found a copy of Timothy Roderick’s Wicca: A Year and a Day back in an Indianapolis Half Price Books in 2006, I was starting a very low, depressing period of my life.  In fact, I didn’t realize then how bad it would get.  It was midway through my senior year of college.  My dad had just lost his job, my family had just had to move out of our foreclosed home, and I had no way to pay for my last undergraduate year (the school wouldn’t release my diploma or transcripts until I paid them off a year after after commencement).  I didn’t even try to find work for maybe 6 months after graduation, I was so desperately depressed.  Somewhere in there, things got even worse.  My mom fell down the stairs and was bedridden for months with excruciating back pain, then Mom nearly bled to death in a second medical disaster (we had to beg charity from the hospital for them to do a life-saving operation), I had to take a part-time job at a car dealership to stay near my family and hold them together through my middle brother struggling with continual arrests and re-arrests and my youngest brother failing out of school and attempting suicide…honestly, I have no idea how we all survived that period of time.

I’m recounting all of this at the start of this review because it is highly relevant to how I responded to Roderick’s book once I picked it up in earnest.  I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but my life was in a tailspin.  Even though I was a practicing solitary, life got to be too much for me to handle alone.  When I needed my spirituality the most, I was the least capable of developing a working structure for myself.  I was just in survival mode.

One-day-at-a-timeThis book is excellent for survival mode.  It operates just like Alcoholics Anonymous in that you tackle it one day at a time.  When you’re working through it chronologically, all you have to do is focus on what you can accomplish in one day.  You can experience magic and spirituality one tree at a time and not find yourself overwhelmed by the entire dark and confusing forest.  You can do something that feeds your soul a little every day.  I can definitely attest that while it seems like trying to fill a bucket using teaspoons, it’s enough.  After a couple months of steady work on “the Roderick project”, I’d look back upon that time and realize that I’d somehow pulled myself out of the doldrums.  It gave me a great sense of accomplishment and self-worth that I could actually use that to psychically boost myself up enough to tackle larger life problems.

I’m not saying I learned this lesson right away.  Between 2008 and 2010, I’d pick up the Roderick project for a few months, then put it away when graduate school became all-consuming, when the misery of helping my parents through the early stages of their divorce (and my father’s subsequent abandonment of all of us) hit in full force, and when I found myself responsible for All. The. Things.  But my life always got better after I picked up Roderick again and started putting one foot in front of the other.  Those trickles of spirituality always gave me enough help to see life through another day.  Now I’m at a point where I can try to make a structure for myself.  This has been Roderick’s greatest lesson and gift to me.

On a smaller scale, one of the things I appreciated most about how Roderick envisioned his project is the macrostructure of his year.  This is actually a point of contention for many readers, if the Amazon reviews are an accurate indication.  Roderick’s structure has been critiqued for essentially having the student perform work pertaining to the different sabbats during points in the calendar year where, frankly, it takes a lot of work to dredge up those energies.  For instance, I did most of my work on Lammas and the Fall Equinox between March and May.  It was exceptionally difficult to study harvesting energies when all the world around me was blooming.  It was not, however, impossible.

Two primary things are gained by following Roderick’s chronology instead of re-arranging the different days to match a specific calendar year.  In the first place, you gain flexibility–and with flexibility comes forgiveness.  Had I wiggled the days around to be studying Lammas in August, I would have probably fallen off the posting bandwagon for a week and then become hyper-critical of myself.  I would then have put the project on hold until the following August…and I would have forgotten to return to it, and the cycle would have begun anew.  I would never have finished the project if this was the case.

Secondly, placing all the sabbats together for basic instruction rather than celebrating them as they fall in the calendar actually sets up a great pattern for all the topics Roderick presents.  If you look through his year, you see the following topics (the subheadings are my own):

Day 1-14:  Fundamentals

  • Building Blocks: basic definitions, initial psychological blocks, introductory meditation techniques

Day 15-52:  Who We Worship

  • Divine polarity: moon and sun, common God and Goddess archetypes

Day 53-161: How We Worship

  • Seasons and Sabbats

Day 162-206: Supporting Energies

  • Elements and Elementals

Day 207-228:  Symbolic Energies

  • Witch’s tools

Days 229-251: Creating Space for Worship

  • Casting the Circle, Tool Consecrations

Day 252-282:  How We Pray and Work in Worship

  • Magic, Correspondences, Raising Power, Basic Spells, Herbs, Spellcraft

Days 283-359:  How We Help Ourselves Decide if a Working is Appropriate

  • Divination: Tarot, Scrying, Runes, Numerology

Days 360-366:  Odds and Ends

  • Animal Power, Final Contemplation

I think this is an excellent structure for getting instruction on the most fundamental aspects of Wicca as a religion right out there at the start.  In order to get in touch with the Gods, we’ve got to know a little bit about meditation and we’ve got to work through any psychological hurdles holding us back.  If the first word we associate with “Witch” is “Wicked,” we’re not going to learn anything constructive about the Gods that Witches worship.  Once we’ve got a handle on what some of the major Divinity energies are, we need to know how we celebrate them.  Of course, the answer to that is in the Sabbats and Esbats.  Once we know what those are, we can start deciding, “Yes, we want to be witches” and get into more of the nitty gritty on what ritual is and how we perform it.  Balancing the energies of the elements is part of that, and reflecting those macro energies in the micros of our ritual tools is part of that.  Once we have the tools to begin construction, we can then build a sacred space.  When that sacred space is up, we can learn what to do inside of it other than celebrate the High Holy Days.  That’s where the specific instruction in magic comes in, followed by a primer in some of the major types of divination to give us the tools to help us decide if any one working is appropriate or not.

In other words, Roderick’s structure sets up a natural, linear narrative for the year of study to follow.

Of course, we know that magic tends to be more cyclical than linear, and Roderick allows for that, too.  Every 30 days or so, he includes a trio of days for his students to contemplate a new meditative question, devote worship to a specific deity, and reflect on what has been learned thus far.  Since he already accounts for cycle within his otherwise linear structure, there’s no reason why any student couldn’t choose to suspend days of Roderick’s study to incorporate some of his or her own.  Doing so for the Sabbats as they fall in a calendar year would be excellent, as would suspending Roderick’s study to celebrate your own Esbats or to perform magic to help out your own life or to focus on another short-term project.  As I’ve said, Roderick’s structure is flexible above all else, and you can happily suspend and pick up the project as your life and your own studies dictate.

the-gifts-of-imperfection

As worthwhile as I found this book to kickstarting my own practice, I’ll be the first to admit it is an imperfect work.  One of the major struggles I personally had with it was timing.  It is really hard to do every day!  When I was doing it 7 days a week, I’d be okay for maybe 6 weeks, but then I’d burn out.  After a while, I settled on a pattern of doing five days straight, then taking the weekend off to do my own things or to simply relax.  If I was to make a suggestion for a new edition of this plan, it would be to include one or two “off days” in each 7-day period.  Going through the whole 366, I’m sure we could find 52 “fluff days” to cut, easy.

Timing also contributes to an uneven work pace.  Some days, I could perform and journal the activity in five minutes.  Others might actually take me five days (I’m primarily thinking of researching some tarot cards, which is my own fault as I expanded Roderick’s scope there).  Some activities practically required that I do two or three days in one, while for others I split up the day into two parts.  It also became evident early on that I needed to read a week to 10 days in advance in order to schedule the activities around my other obligations.  There was no way I could simply wake up a half an hour earlier everyday in order to accommodate the exercise:  the time commitment was just too variable.  In order to journal the activities, I had to resort to lots of “blogger tips” like pre-writing the head notes for each exercise in advance on one of my off days.  I also did things such as record any necessary guided meditations well in advance of actually performing them in order to give my brain ample time to forget the preconceptions it formed during the recording process.

Then there’s the expense.  In essential oils alone, Roderick lists 34 different oils.  Of these 34, eleven do not exist as a natural essential oil (Apple, Carnation, Cucumber, Gardenia, Honeysuckle, Lilac, Lily, Lotus, Musk, Tulip, and Water Lily). [UPDATE 4/29/15:  I’ve just learned that Gardenia and Honeysuckle do, actually, exist as an essential oil.  They’re just flipping expensive.  Some of the others on this list can be obtained through enfleurage processes, but that’s a bit different than an essential oil.]  If you purchased .5 fluid ounces each of the remaining 23 from, say Aura Cacia, you’d end up paying a whopping $733.  That includes the three most expensive ‘common’ oils: Chamomile ($77.96), Jasmine ($181.16), and Rose Absolute ($237.56).  Even if you subtracted these three out, you’d still pay about $238 for the remaining 20 oils.  In my opinion, if oils were so necessary to Roderick, he should have stated so in the introduction, explained which ones he found essential and why, and then come up alternate budget-friendly substitutions and formularies.   It’s a fact that many magical practitioners have to work their mojo on a tiny budget.  Some guidance in how to stretch that budget would not have gone amiss.

The best suggestion I have for anyone looking to take on the Roderick project is to take a couple of weeks at the outset to pull together all his “shopping lists” into one giant list, then look to see how each of the items is being used and determine if there are any substitutions you can make more cheaply or where you can get the items themselves reasonably (hey, I made great use of Dollar Stores with no shame).  For example, you can make a working chamomile oil by gently heating or sun-steeping a few pinches of dried chamomile in a few tablespoons of a carrier oil such as jojoba for pennies on what you’d pay for chamomile essential oil.  While I wouldn’t use that for any medicine, it’s got a great magical punch.  There’s also lots of places that sell bulk herbs that allow you to buy just as much as you need to use at one time.  I’ve purchased herbs by the teaspoon in some places, which has certainly helped my pocketbook (not to mention my storage capacity).  Even suggestions on how to handle candle purchases on a budget would have been helpful (making use of unscented ‘chime candles’, for example, which are often sold at 4 for $1).  Splurge on the items that are most important for you to splurge on, and pinch your pennies on the rest.  Just know that if you do everything “by the book”, you’ll likely spend some money.

Finally, I think it is safe to caution anyone interested in this book to make sure it’s not your only resource.  As we know, I pretty much abandoned Roderick’s book when it came to tarot card and rune descriptions.  It seems to me that a lot of that information came from his own Unverified Personal Gnosis and not what the top students of these tools have verified through research and study.  Similarly, I would council everyone to not do anything they didn’t completely understand or feel comfortable with.  I, for example, wasn’t about to slap magical inscriptions and sigils on my tools that I didn’t understand.  Other things I did try, such as the Solomon Square, had very little resonance for me and–in some cases–no effect at all.  It’s definitely a good thing to do your own research to augment what you learn in Roderick’s pages.  After all, there’s no way he could have given enough description for all the activities while still having room for the activities themselves in his pages!

Overall, I think the time I spent performing these activities did a serviceable job in teaching non-oathbound British Traditional Wiccan orthopraxy, and it made it accessible to everyone.  You certainly don’t have to be a dedicated religious scholar in order to become a competent practitioner by following Roderick’s book, and that alone is worth its weight in gold when connecting with good teachers is becoming harder and harder.  Overall, I think the community is better served by having a work like this available to seekers, and I thank Mr. Roderick for his valuable contribution.

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