A Witch’s 10 Commandments: Magickal Guidelines for Everyday Life, by Marian Singer
published 2006 by Provenance Press
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Rating: 2.5 out of 5
About the Book: Using the format of the Biblical Ten Commandments as a guide, Marian Singer lays out the ethics and common beliefs of many of today’s pagans. Singer creates a “blueprint” and guidebook for an ethical pagan life by comparing the Christian Commandments to pagan versions, in effect creating a Witch’s 10 Commandments.
My Thoughts: I had a lot of problems with this book. In fact, I almost didn’t finish it. I had to force myself to keep reading, but once I got past chapter 3, it was a little bit better. I returned to the first chapters and reread them when I had finished the book, but found little to change my initial impression.
For me, the comparison and identification of the guidelines to the Commandments sets up an expectation that there would be more discussion of the differences and similarities between paganism and Christianity. The whole format of the book felt wrong for what it actually was.
She does give a good general overview of pagan beliefs. Granted, not all pagans will identify with the ones she has laid out–it depends entirely on the tradition you belong to. But for a generalization of a disparate group of beliefs, it does well. I like that she includes a section covering the major religions and paths of the world and finds their similarities with paganism. Too often the differences between religions is emphasized, which is something I very much disagree with because I think we need to recognize that many religions do in fact have a lot in common. A part of talking about our ethics and morals is comparing them to the ethics of other religions.
“As some have said, we are a people of heart, not of a book.” While I have never heard this said, I do like the sentence because I think it is very true.
That’s what I think she does right. But when I began reading, almost immediately I was lost. In chapter one, she attempts to talk about how the divine without interacts with the divine within, but I think she does so in a very confusing way. And what in the world is “Monad”? This term is never explained, and I have never heard it before. Understandably I was confused, since I couldn’t quite figure out what it was based on context, and Googling the term brings up a number of various possibilities.
In chapter two, I am even more confused. It begins by talking about “as above, So below, As within, So without”. This is fine for about two pages. Then it goes into a discussion of black/white magic, karma, etc. Mostly, I couldn’t see from her writing how it related to the topic of the chapter. The chapter raises good questions, but I feel like it was all over the place–like some of the pieces were included in this chapter because they didn’t fit in anywhere else.
After chapter 3 the connections between the pagan ideals and the Commandments are a little clearer and Singer’s writing just gets a lot clearer. It feels much less random and chaotic, and is easier to understand what her point is in each chapter. I still disagree with Singer on a number of points, but as those are personal ideas and beliefs contrasting with someone else’s ideas, I won’t take off any points from the book simply because she has a differing view.
One of the most annoying things about this book was the gross misuse and misrepresentation of the definitions and origins of words. Part of this annoyance comes from the fact that I am both a linguist and a Classicist whose specialties are Latin and ancient Greek–the two languages that a number of English words have roots in. So when an author says “the root of X is …” I expect that they have done their research and would get something like this right. On page 12, Singer says that the root of “ritual” means “fit together.” This is horribly wrong. The root of English “ritual” is the Latin adjective ritualis, ritualis, rituale meaning “ritual, of ceremonies” and Latin noun ritus, ritus, meaning “rite, ceremony.” It is also related in meaning to Latin noun agenda, agendae meaning “ritual, agenda, what must be done.”
Another instance of Singer getting the origin of a word wrong is from page 115. Singer’s explanation is thus: “First, consider the roots of the word ‘serve.’ In Latin, it has several meanings, including burdens or weight, and to keep from harm.” The verb “to serve” comes from Latin servio, servire, servivi, servitus meaning “serve, be a slave to.” I might–might— accept some of her interpretations of this word, but only very loosely, and those meanings are not from the meaning of the root word, which has only two meanings.
I think this book may be more useful as a primer for Christians thinking of leaving Christianity and learning more about paganism. It puts into perspective the overall beliefs of paganism and also clearly illustrates the differences between the Christian Commandments and pagan beliefs because there is not a clear one-to-one correlation between them. But again, the fact that she does describe Wicca in a Christian context just seems condescending and insulting to me, as if the reader isn’t going to understand basic beliefs of paganism unless they’re put in a Christian context. Singer does make some good points and asks some good questions that can provoke thought– but I think she needs to do her homework, especially when it comes to the English language.