Witches: True Encounters With Wicca, Wizards, Covens, Cults, and Magic is a hefty book that at over 600 pages packs quite a bit of information in its pages. The book is largely true to its name covering a plethora of subjects in different chapters. In fact, Hans Holzer often deviates from a strict discussion of witches into realms such as Satan, ancient Greece, the Celts, poltergeist and the like. Oddly enough the bulk of the material chronicles events and persons from the 60's and the 70's. Apparently, while the tome is a recent publication, the book was written in the mid-70's and given a cursory update and then shipped for printing in 2002. The book, consequently, comes occasionally across as dated by thirty years. Regardless of that matter, Witches... easily features lots of interesting information.
Holzer's bias for paganism and Wicca becomes apparent early in the book. He is clearly sold on the notion and often allows the bias to seep into the narrative. Still, Witches... steers clear of commercial sensationalism and aggrandization and is a good entree into the topic. Nonetheless, one can still encounter many grammatical and factual mistakes, as well as over-simplifications. The coming to the fore of the 'devil' on page 25 is a good example. Naturally, and often, non-mainstream ideas simply make too much sense for most and are difficult for the average person to fathom. Holzer tries hard to re-introduce witchcraft and 'the old religion' as a sane choice that is crudely ostracized by Joe public. It is not surprising then that Holzer dissects Christianity in addition to alternative religions. It is surprising that the chapter on how to become a witch is giving short shift and comes up with very few details. Moreover, in order to make his topic more palatable, Holzer gives the accounts of different contemporary witches and gives great space to demystifying the craft. It is here that the author gives the occasional rare and valuable glimpse into the world of witchcraft and paganism. Nevertheless, when discussing the dark arts the author himself manages to display much prejudice and ignorance while trying to distinguish between witchcraft and Satanism. Even this book's notion of Satanism is Christian and dated. Given the book's main thrust that witches and pagans are not to be feared and are more 'good' than 'bad', the book's early mentions of Satanism are annoying at best. Having said that, and towards the end of the book, the subject matter is treated in a more conciliatory fashion. It is possible that those chapters were written several years later and signal an evolution in the author's thinking.
It is also worth mentioning that this book would have been a much better read had the author refrained from his constant self-referential self-promotion. Safe to say he has written many books, stayed at many expensive hotels and met many witches who happen to be both beautiful and blonde. Holzer would have done better had he left out the autobiographical and devoted the space instead to the topic at hand.
Vanity aside, Witches: True Encounters With Wicca, Wizards, Covens, Cults, and Magic is a comprehensive book that is better recommended to the initiate than the insider.
I remember Hans Holzer from the 70's, as THE "Ghost Hunter" and his association with Sybil Leek. He was into ESP and psychic experiences and he wrote many books which I explored at that time. I do remember his stories about ghosts and approached this book with an open mind.
I am surprised at this book. There is so much information in here that is just wrong and some of his sources are questionable.
While there are a few groups and names that are easily recognizable, he does not interview those but merely mentions them. Those individuals that he does interview are very new to the path. Some of the covens he interviews are not very well known and those that are have very dated interviews.
His information, like Wicca being an "ancient religion" is inaccurate (actually founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1930's/40's), he does not differentiate between Wicca and witchcraft. He calls Ms. MorningGlory Zell "Mountain Glory", and a picture of Yvonne Frost is labeled "Alice Frost". Typos abound showing very poor proofreading. There is no bibliography, no references to where he found his material. This is just his personal experiences, beliefs and pictures.
Photos are misleading. There are photos of him and Sybil Leek but they do not relate to the material being discussed other than to mention a remembrance or two. Many of the photos are out of focus.
A lot of the material is from the 1970's. He tells the stories as he remembers events and interviews from that time period. Very little, if anything, is updated to today's current pagan community. What we read is a vignette of what the craft was like in its early years but not what it has evolved into today.
Some of his memories of people like Tim Zell (Oberon Zell Ravenheart) and Dr. Leo Martello and the Frosts are interesting. His coverage of the "Witch Wars" of the 1970's is an interesting viewpoint from a different perspective. There is some truth to the events that occurred but there is some omitted information or he just didn't get the entire story.
He includes rituals from some groups he practiced with back then, and this becomes so much filler to beef up the book. It is interesting if you are looking for older reference materials. He also goes into "Satanism" and again, while it may be interesting to the curious, it has nothing to do with "witches" and should have been done in a book separate from this book.
All in all, the book lacks authenticity, is not factual or current and has interest only from the standpoint of the author himself.