My Thoughts on Criticism + The Wiccan Rede

posted Sep 7, 2010, 6:36 PM by Jeff Brandt   [ updated Sep 7, 2010, 9:46 PM ]
Editor's Note: If you are strictly interested in the actual book review, scroll down. If, however, you're interested in the back story leading to this review, read on.


Context

You may remember my book review of Ten Minutes of Forever, which I posted in February. Little did I know at the time, a simple negative review would spurn into a veritable saga of immature and pointless (yet humorous) flame wars, with the author assuming multiple personalities and posting as fake "fans" of his. He also sent me several nasty emails. These shenanigans have lasted for half a year, with his last comment posted as recently as Saturday.

That book was written by Andrew London, which is a pen name for Mark Ventimiglia -- the author of The Wiccan Rede (2003). Before I proceed with a review of the book at hand, I'd like to establish some facts and clear the air with London/Ventimiglia.

Delighted at reading in The Telegraph that a fellow Riverbender had been published, I emailed Andrew London to hear more about his life story. He painted himself as a literary genius and a world-renowned author who lived on book royalties and was working on movie deals. Naturally, I was excited to support a talented local writer's artistic endeavors, and I purchased Ten Minutes of Forever with high hopes.

Upon actually receiving and reading the book, however, I discovered that his fiction was not only trite and naive, but also poorly edited.  I coined the term "Copy-Paste Fiction" to describe his habit of repeating descriptions nearly verbatim, and I pointed out several egregious typos and plot contradictions. As if that weren't enough, it became obvious that all of his glowing book reviews were either self-written or else acquired from friends. In short, he was simply not who he said he was.

Evidently, Mr. London/Ventimiglia took this criticism to heart -- perceiving it as a personal attack rather than a thought-out review of his work. Instead of thinking it over and using my points of concern as aids for writing his next book -- or else completely disregarding the review, which would also be acceptable -- he exploded into a gooey mess of fury all over my blog. His persistence, as well as the intensity of his rebuttals, has led me to the conclusion that my review genuinely upset him.

Due to this experience, I've had to contemplate what being a critic really means. The following is what I've come up with.

As a writer, thinker, and critic, I'm not out to hurt anyone. My intention is not to make people feel bad; it's to make them think -- and hopefully, every now and then, to make them laugh. It's my job to call 'em how I see 'em. I have to analyze the work in front of me deeply and honestly, be it a book, film, TV show, album, or whatever. It's wrong to pull punches. In this case, it seemed obvious to me that London's gigantic ego was in need of some serious punching.

Is my opinion the only opinion? Of course not. I'm sure there are people out there who loved Ten Minutes of Forever, and I'm happy for them. They can write their own reviews. However, if I can't write what I believe is the truth, then there is no reason for me to be writing at all. If you put something out into the world and call it art, and you can't handle the negative criticism that comes back, you shouldn't be writing, either.

I can understand feeling frustrated; it's never pleasing when someone says you did something badly. But you have to either absorb the criticism and learn from it, or else completely write it off as rubbish. I welcome the author to take either route. What is not acceptable, though, is to scream and carry on like a child. It's unprofessional and reflects poorly on your character. For God's sake, move on with your life already.

Conversely, it's also wrong not to give credit where it's due. And that is why I am happy to report that I have much kinder words to say about The Wiccan Rede. I hope this will end the flame wars and leave London/Ventimiglia assured that I play fairly.


Book Review


This book is a thoroughly researched and informative work of nonfiction that examines "The Wiccan Rede" line by line. The Rede is essentially a rhyming poem of 26 couplets containing clever maxims held sacred by followers of Wiccanism. Here is a the short version of the Rede, published in the book's conclusion:

Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In perfect love, in perfect trust.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fullfill:
An' ye harm none, do as ye will.
An' ever mind the Rule of Three:
What ye sends out comes back to thee.
Follow this with mind and heart,
An' marry ye meet, an' merry ye part.

The origins of the Rede itself are in dispute, but its teachings, Ventimiglia argues, are central to understanding the Wiccan faith. In addition to the standard religious message of treating others well, it puts prime focus on becoming one with nature, on humans' inherent magical capabilities, and on the karmic forces at work in the cosmos. The Rule of Three, mentioned above, refers to the Threefold Law. Basically, for each good deed you perform, you will be awarded in kind three times. For each bad deed, though, a fate three times as stark awaits you.

Its message of peace, goodwill, and reverence of nature resonated with me. The book does a good job to cast aside the misconceptions about Wicca being the same as devil worship or Satanism. In fact, it's not a refutation of Christianity at all, but a separate and more fluid belief system that exalts a host of gods and goddesses from various mythologies rather than a sole male deity. Instead of being negative about others, Wicca is positive about itself. Its followers are encouraged to research widely in order to come up with their own personal version of Wicca -- keeping in mind its basic tenet of causing no harm to others.

The part I found most compelling, besides the Rede itself, was the theoretical legwork done in the introduction. On page 5, Ventimiglia poses a thought-provoking theory that seeks to explain the relationship between people and God:

The God-force was present in the universe long before the advent of humanity. It is from this God-force that all matter, and hence all life, was spawned. Based on our observation of natural phenomena, the human race simply created an idea of a god and then attached that idea to the aforementioned natural phenomena. However, in doing so, a thought-form is born and an individual God comes into being, fully independent and conscious. Simply put, we were created by the God-force, yet we organized that same God-force into a system that we could readily comprehend.

In other words: God creates man, who recreates God -- an interesting concept to be sure.

The only part I find troubling is his belief that homosexuality is an affront to the laws of nature because it defies the duality of male and female that Wiccans believe dominate the universe. In a way, I can understand the logic he used to come to that conclusion, but I simply cannot agree that something so commonplace throughout the animal kingdom could be "unnatural." Fortunately, that piece was limited to one footnote, and its significance to the book as a whole is largely overstated by outraged reviewers on Amazon. I was also a bit annoyed at the sheer length of Chapter 2. This portion of the text describes in exhaustive detail the importance of consuming enough vitamins and minerals, listing fruits, vegetables, and dairy products that contain each.

Other than those points, I very much enjoyed reading the book. Some Amazon reviewers have denounced it as having too much of Ventimiglia's own personal opinions mixed in -- including his staunch position against eating any meat. But how could it not contain a personal bias? The same as any other work that interprets a text, it reflects the opinion of its author. It comes with the territory of being a writer.

I don't see myself switching religions, casting spells, joining a coven, or wearing love charms any time soon (or ever). I think it's good, however, to keep an open mind and to learn about other faiths. As someone without much knowledge of Wicca, I think The Wiccan Rede serves as a fine primer to those interested in learning more about it. Ventimiglia makes sure to state that this is not the be-all, end-all of Wiccan books, and he provides a generous list of others to read in order to gain a fuller understanding.


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