Modern Witchcraft

They just wrote on my face when I passed out at parties…

Modern Witchcraft by Frank Smyth (MacDonald Unit 75, 1970) has a textual colophon on its cover stating it to be a “Man, Myth, and Magic Original.” This leads me to conclude the book has some connection with the Man, Myth & Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural series published by BPC Publishing, Ltd. In the 1970s. The author, Frank Smyth, appears to have written at least one entry for the encyclopedia, which add further evidence to this conclusion. I wish I was unaware of the existence of Man, Myth & Magic, because I foresee it becoming another money pit for me to pour my cash into as I seek out a complete run of the encyclopedia! But I digress.

Modern Witchcraft is a wonderful, sometimes insightful, look at witchcraft in the United Kingdom and the United States. It begins with pair of chapters covering modern witches and the renewed interest in magic and witchcraft that was spreading through the UK, America, and Europe during this time. It also conducts some detailed sociological research into who witches were in the United Kingdom at this time, concluding that they are generally of the lower or middle economic class, are somewhat conservative in the politics (which is surprising), and have a penchant for sherry. Of course, this might just reflect the propensities of the witches Smyth was talking to, but I’ve not seen a more thorough look at British witches that examined who they were when their clothes were on.

The power of graphic design compels you!

From there, the book delves into a chapter of Gerald Gardner (unavoidable if we’re talking modern witchcraft in the UK, along with Alex Sanders who gets his own chapter at book’s end), followed by some chapters that provide a cursory overview of the history in witchcraft going back to its presumed origins in Sumer and leading up to the modern era. The “Burning Years” gets its own chapter, as do Satanists and practitioners of black magic (the line separating the various occult traditions in the 1960s, at least in the popular view, don’t strike me as particularly well-defined, especially in the UK). American witches receive their own chapter, and the Manson Family makes their expected appearance, before the book takes a look at the positive role of witchcraft in healing around the western world. Then the book concludes with the chapter on Alex “The King of the Witches” Sanders, and a bibliography for further reading—always a sign you’ve got a better hexploitation paperback in your hands.

Like all your higher quality hexploitation paperbacks, Modern Witchcraft includes a topless young women in the midst of a witch’s ritual on the cover and a collection of black and white photographic plates in the center of the book. As can be expected, some of these feature men and women in the buff, alongside the bearded, wild-haired visage of Gerald Gardner, a grumpy-looking Aleister Crowley, woodcuts, Kenyan “witch doctors,” and a publicity still of Mia Farrow from Rosemary’s Baby. The cover of the Ace paperback reprint lacks the nudity of the MacDonald Unit 75 printing, but makes up for it with some series 1970s hexploitation graphic design.

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