Anatomy of Witchcraft

Anatomy of Witchcraft by Peter Haining (Universal-Tandem Publishing Co. Ltd., 1974) is a prime example of the titillating hexploitation paperbacks being cranked out in the 1970s to capitalize on the increased publicity and fascination with witchcraft and black magic in both the UK and the USA. Subtitled “Satanism, White Magic, Voodoo the ancient rituals are alive today,” Anatomy of Witchcraft presents an overview of the most headline-grabbing religions and magical practices of the 1960s and 1970s. Not only does it delve into the rites and beliefs of black magic, Voodoo, and witchcraft, it presents actual magical workings to demonstrate what the followers of these traditions do—far from the prying eyes of more respectable folks, of course.

The book is dived into nine chapters, but no helpful table of contents is provided. The chapters include and introduction, “Witchcraft in Britain,” “The Growth of Black Magic,” “The Witches of America,” “Evil on the Coast” (a chapter focusing on magic and cults in California), “The Ancient Craft in Europe,” Witchcraft Behind the Iron Curtain,” and “Voodoo—Black Witchcraft,” a title which I’m assuming is a play on words referring the Haining’s emphasis on the possibly harmful manifestations of voodoo as well as the ethnicity of the majority of its practitioners. A final chapter covers “The Rest of the World.” Appendixes follow some of the chapters and contain instructions for a witch’s initiation, a Satanic ritual, and “The Voodoo Blood Sacrifice.”

While a product of its time, I’ll give Anatomy a little credit: it appears better researched than many other hexploitation paperbacks churned out during this period—certainly more than Witness to Witchcraft. Haining does do his scholarly legwork and the book contains a bibliography, which is more than many of them do. Unfortunately, Haining doesn’t directly cite his sources in the text itself and given that he’s gotten into trouble in later years with scholars trying to verify his sources and being unable to do so, we must take everything with a tablespoon of salt.

Haining is an entertaining writer, even if he might be making some of this stuff up to hit his word count, and there are far worse nonfiction hexploitation works out there. While most of the usual suspects are name-checked in the book (Alex Chambers, Crowley, Anton LaVey, Charles Manson, etc.), Haining pulls a few into the mix that I wasn’t familiar with, Americans to boot. Louise Huebner was completely off my radar, as was “Princess Leda Amun Ra”, a figure I look forward to working into something of my own as soon as I possibly can!

Anatomy is particularly well-titled: as with much of the hexploitation paperbacks, there’s plenty of bare flesh on display, starting with the cover and continuing on to the black and white photographic plates inside. An equal opportunity approach to nudity is taken in the photo plates: there’s a few exposed male bottoms dancing around along with bared breasts.

Overall, the book presents a more even tone regarding witchcraft, saving its dire warnings for Satanism running amok in California. Even voodoo is treated with a fairer hand than many other tawdry books on the occult and black magic do, but it’s hardly lacking in racism or free from exoticizing a primarily Black religious faith.

If you’re looking for an easy, only somewhat sensationalized look at occult beliefs during this time, I have no reservations recommending Anatomy of Witchcraft. Just don’t rely on it for any serious scholarship.

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