Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Book Review: The World of Wizards

Title: The World of Wizards

Author: Anton and Mina Adams

Date: 2002

Publisher: Metro Books

ISBN: 1-5866-3756-8

Length: 158 pages

Illustrations: full-color decorations by Penny Lovelock, Sue Ninham, and others; several reprinted graphics from historic documents

Quote: “The Wizard’s power has come first of all from observation…Wizards have also impressed with their intense belief in several levels of reality.”

This first book about New Age “Witchcraft” seems intended to have attracted readers from the Harry Potter empire, so probably the first thing to be said about it is that it’s not about Harry Potter’s kind of wizards. In the fictional world of Harry Potter, wizards and witches do things that seem magical to others, partly by character, discipline, and willpower, but mostly by buying and learning to use the right sort of gadgets, and the things they do have predictable, indisputable results in their real world. In this book Adams, or the Adams or the Adamses,  dig back into history to reclaim the term “wizard” for what we now normally call psychics or mystics.

The historical background these authors provide is unfortunately easy to judge. As a bookseller I’d like to say that, oh well, The World of Wizards is beyond my field of expertise, you should ask someone like D.J. Conway or Elizabeth Barrette to evaluate it, I only retail these things…but right away, on page 10, I come to their version of the history of King Solomon of Israel.

Solomon was real, and the facts of his history have been documented in a straightforward, rational way. He was considered the wisest man in Israel not because of his spiritual wisdom (he came into that late, if ever, in his career) nor because of his literary genius (the books of the Bible ascribed to Solomon reflect a wise selection from contemporary thought), but because his clever trading practices, which included literally hundreds of marriages contracted to establish alliances, made his puny little nation rich. He commissioned the building of the national Temple, a splendid structure finished and furnished with gold. Kings in those days served as judges, and the third chapter of 1 Kings in the Bible records the only case we know for sure that Solomon judged. Two women and their infants had been sharing one bed. One of the babies had died. Since the only retirement system ancient Israel had was the obligation of children to support their parents, each woman wanted to claim the living child. To identify the real mother, Solomon offered to cut the baby in half; one woman immediately said “No, give it to her,” and the other said “Divide it,” and so Solomon at least knew, if not which one had given birth to the living baby, which one was fit to rear it. This is a simple enough story to establish Solomon’s reputation as a wise judge, and the records are easy enough to find in the best-selling book of all time…but for some reason The World of Wizards misrepresents the story: “By observing the facial expressions of both women, Solomon was able to divine which one was the real mother.” Wrong. The record tells us that he listened to the words of both women.

There exists another credible story about Solomon, although it was not included in the official historical documents of the time. According to history, Solomon received an official visit from the Queen of Sheba. From the mere fact that this monarch, unlike others with whom Solomon visited, happened to be female has come a rich stream of legends about their great romance, but the historical fact is that after admiring the Temple and admiring Solomon’s wisdom, the Queen went back to her own country. From the fact that Solomon’s mother was called “daughter of Sheba,” some historians infer that, far from being his bride, the Queen of Sheba may have been Solomon’s aunt. In any case she apparently tested his wisdom in some way that is not described in the historical record. According to an Arab legend, she set up a display of exquisitely made artificial flowers that looked, felt, and smelled just like real flowers and asked Solomon to find the one real flower in the bouquet. Solomon waited until a bee flew in and confidently identified the flower it visited as real. If it didn't happen, this incident probably should have happened.

But The World of Wizards only mentions Solomon at all because medieval European alchemists and philosophers appropriated his name for their lore and legends, and…what they said about him is not easily reconciled with the historical evidence. Medieval alchemists and philosophers were always telling rich patrons they could do all sorts of impossible things, talk to animals, fly, change iron into gold, whatever, if they only had enough funding. Apparently the rich patrons, who were not exactly Bible Mavens (or even literate, in many cases) themselves, were more willing to believe these claims, or at least to believe that watching the alchemists and philosophers try would be entertaining, when the alchemists and philosophers claimed that their secret knowledge had been handed down from Solomon.

The historical records do not mention Solomon’s doing anything that anyone else in his position might not have done. “King Solomon’s Ring” is the title of a very successful scientific book about animals.Solomon undoubtedly had a ring—probably he had several rings—and he probably also had a seal, and for all we know the identifying mark on his seal may have been a six-pointed star; but there is no historical description of either the ring or the seal. The stories about the magical properties of these objects appear in history about 1500 to 2000 years after Solomon’s time.

According to The World of Wizards, however, “an angel” gave Solomon “a magical ring that lent him the power to control various spirits…to help with the building of the Temple.” According to the historical records, public spirit undoubtedly did help the various skilled workers who had the honor of building the Temple; off the record, the “spirits” of various fermented foodstuffs probably helped the laborers who were injured on the job. (The real Solomon reportedly advised young princes to “seek not wine” for themselves, but to “Give wine to the one who is ready to perish.”) There is no record of any occult spirits being involved. Solomon’s Temple was built in honor of one God, not in honor of the many nature spirits that were worshipped in other countries, or even of the angels in which the ancient Israelites believed.

The quality of Adams’ research on Solomon is thus comparable with the quality of Walter Scott’s research on Kenilworth Castle, so I don’t think I really need to take the time to investigate Adams’ research on Paracelsus or Gerald Gardner or John Dee. I think it’s safe to say that the historical section of The World of Wizards is not reliable for serious research.

So, this book is recommended for entertainment purposes only. Halloween? Whatever. It’s not history, it’s not Harry Potter, but it is a cute little bit of eye candy. If you buy it here, for $5 per copy + $5 per package + $1 per online payment, I'll undertake to find out which of the many people using the name "Anton Adams" in cyberspace (twenty on Linked In alone) wrote this book, and send $1 to them or a charity of their choice.