On the Shelf Review – Magico-Religious Groups and Ritualistic Activities

My friend Tony sent me a copy of his new book, Magico-Religious Groups and Ritualistic Activities: A Guide for First Responders, for review.  I’ve known him for several years and been favorably impressed with his knowledge and his sensibility on topics where hype is prevalent, as well as his first book, A Cop’s Guide to Occult Investigations.

The past few decades has seen a growing number of practitioners of what we might call “magical faiths” – religions that include magic as a key component – in the United States.  In many cases, the reputation of these faiths has been sensationalized by the press and popular media, so that an ordinary person often has a distorted view of the beliefs and practices of these groups.   Thus, emergency personnel who might encounter practitioners or rituals at the scene of a crime or accident might find themselves needing to make quick decisions that protect their own safety and that of others while respecting those with whom they come into contact – a difficult task, to put it mildly.

In his book, Tony concentrates upon the groups that first responders – EMS personnel in particular, based on my reading – might encounter in the course of their duties.  He devotes chapters to Wicca and Paganism, Santeria, Palo, Voodoo, and Curanderismo.  (One notable absence is Satanism, though I agree it might not fit with Kail’s stated goals for the book.)  Each chapter covers the system’s theology, holidays, rituals, paraphernalia, theories of illness, and healing treatments.   Discussions are rounded out with a discussion of strategies to be pursued when encountering such a group, taboos and mores to observe, and possible health hazards for those who arrive at the scene.  Tony does an excellent job of blending cultural sensitivity with the needs for safety and efficiency of first responders.  (As some people need to have it spelled out, that means it’s not a “they’re all eeeevil” book, nor a “true members of our faith never do X!” book.)  The book is rounded out with a glossary, depictions of common symbols for each group, and an index.

Though the book is excellent on the whole, I think a few matters could have been made clearer.  For example, whether Neopaganism bears a line of descent back to Paganism is a hotly debated topic, to say the least, and Tony’s presentation of it as essentially ancient does not give the whole picture.  Further discussion of the links between Afro-Caribbean faiths and Catholicism would have been welcome.  Finally, there is one small error, with the word “Gardenarian” being consistently used for “Gardnerian.”

Overall, however, this is an excellent book for any medical personnel who encounter people of alternative faiths.  Law enforcement officers might find it less valuable, but it still has enough points to make it useful to them.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 2:17 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. My wife is a friend of Tony’s – has lectured for him at police conventions, and I am certain some of the material in his book originates from her and her godbrother. Tony is a wonderful person for doing what he does, and I am thrilled more than I can say at how quickly his work seems to be spreading. – Aaron

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