Book Review: Modern Magick
Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts
Donald Michael Kraig
Llewellyn Publications (1988)
Reviewer: Sheta Kaey
As this book is typically the first book recommended to anyone interested in learning ceremonial or ritual magick, I thought a review here was appropriate, if only for the purpose of having it in our archives. As a primer in high magick, Modern Magick is not bad. It has its faults, however.
Mr. Kraig sets up the book as a series of lessons (hence the subtitle) meant to take the budding ritualist from complete novice to someone with a clue within twelve months. It can do it if one is prepared to stay focused, but not many people do. The book is designed to teach largely via negative consequences, and since so many novices are already uncertain, this can drive them to abandoning their studies almost as soon as they’ve begun. However, the student won’t discover the negative consequences unless he or she is smart enough to uncover his or her mistakes via crosschecking with other sources. Most, therefore, may continue along blithely unaware of how foolish they are to place their trust in Mr. Kraig or to assume his honesty.
Mr. Kraig takes the student (you, for the course of this review) through basic lessons in learning to control the four elements, not in the ways you might think (i.e., you don’t learn to summon storms), but in terms of energy and its effects on you. He also teaches the methods for creating the ritual tools for each element, as well as additional tools that comprise the standard ritual altar. The early sections of the book also teach the basic rituals that not only are the standard beginnings in any course of ceremonial magick, but which also serve you as needed for the rest of your life. The most important of these is typically agreed to be the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
A word of caution, however, and here’s where we look at that presumed honesty: Take nothing for granted in Mr. Kraig’s book. Nothing. Or, so help me, you’ll be heartbroken when you discover that all the energy, work, and pure heart you applied to his instructions has been wasted due to the blinds he quite deliberately puts in his instructions. Double check everything against other sources before you spend time, energy, or money for things he instructs you to do. Blinds, or deliberately placed errors and code words designed to trip you up and make you learn the hard way, are everywhere in ceremonial magick works, and Mr. Kraig’s use of them could therefore be viewed as a blessing — learn early, so that it’s ingrained in you to check your sources, check your definitions, read between the lines, assume nothing. It’s good advice, and it’s a hard lesson to learn that a tool you’ve made with your whole heart is useless because it’s been inscribed with the wrong symbols, and so on. But in spite of its pragmatism, it sticks in my craw that a modern writer — in an age when oaths are rarely taken and even more rarely kept — would take advantage of the trust of someone who gave him money to learn from him. I’m in the minority, though, I think. Various ceremonial friends of mine hate it when I give away the blinds, so I’m not going to tell you where they are, but there are several and they start early on.
Aside from that most irritating and admittedly effective technique, which is used early and often in this book, Mr. Kraig provides a solid foundation in the basics of ritual arts. The book is recommended to novices, with the single caveat that they take care in validating the information at hand, especially when they might find more convenient to just take Kraig’s word for it. He makes clever use of his misinformation, adding it where it might seem unlikely and keeping it real where he might be assumed to set traps. Keep a sharp eye, and learn the lesson well — but hopefully without too much pain in the end.
Four stars out of five.
Review ©2009 Sheta Kaey