The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells is not out of print: there are, however, distribution issues in the United States. If you are looking for a copy of that book and Amazon.com does not have it, you might want to check Amazon's international branches, in particular, Amazon.com Canada and Amazon.co UK. Both should have the book in stock. The prices are comparable to the United States price once you have done the currency conversion. If you have never checked the international sites: just scroll down to the very bottom of the Amazon.com home page and you will find links.
I recently received an e-mail from a reader who expressed some concerns regarding the safety of spellcasting based on impressions she had received from watching the TV show, Charmed. I hear variations of this question frequently and so have posted a response here, on-line.
This reader writes: "On Charmed, any time they cast a spell that was considered 'Personal Gain' the spell always "backfired" for lack of a better word." Her concern was that should she cast a spell for personal gain, her spell would also backfire.
For a variety of reasons, no truly realistic or completely positive portrayal of witches or witchcraft exists on television. This isn't intended as a criticism of these shows nor does it mean that the shows aren't 'good' or enjoyable; you just have to accept them for what they are, theatrical presentations that do not necessarily reflect the realities of witchcraft. They're fun to watch. We can get pretty passionately attached to them and involved with their characters and plots but they don't contain practical information regarding spellcasting.
I'm an extremely passionate Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan but I love it without confusing its portrayal of witchcraft for anything resembling reality. I could even say I love it despite its portrayal of witchcraft. Just because the primary witch character, Willow Rosenberg, appears so realistic, shopping at a magical supply store just like a real practitioner, doesn't mean that the show's portrayal of witchcraft isn't fantasy-- and often negative fantasy.
The absolute most basic, bottom-line reason for the lack of reality in television's portrayal of wiches is the inherent nature of the media: theatrical versions of witchcraft and magic are, by definition, theatrical. What is shown on-screen is almost inevitably more dramatic than what occurs in real life. (Exceptions do exist, but usually involve depictions of divination, not magic spells.)
Should you cast a spell in real life and anticipate the smoke, colored lights and loud noises (and very often dramatically instantaneous results) that occur on TV, you will very likely be very disappointed. Now this may seem obvious to the experienced but very, very many of us now learn magic and spellcasting in isolation. We learn from books, rather than directly from more experienced people. The only spells we see cast, other than our own, are likely those on television. For many, that is the only point of comparison.
Like every other practitioner, we try to glean knowledge from every source available to us: for too many, sources may seem extremely limited and so portrayals of witchcraft on television are treasured. In some way these portrayals are good for our self-esteem (the witches of Charmed and Buffy tend to be beautiful, confident and filled with righteous power) but although the individual witch may be portrayed sympathetically, witchcraft itself is usually approached with ambivalence.
Although other reasons may also exist, there is one especially crucial reason why depictions of witchcraft on television are at best ambiguous: sponsors. Here's another important reason for ambivalence towards witchcraft and the occult: advertising revenue.
In the United States, in 2006, were a television network to feature a series that offered a completely and unambiguously positive portrayal of witchcraft, that network would be hit by massive complaints and petitions from various extremely well-organized and aggressively vigilant Christian watch-dog organizations. Advertisers would withdraw their sponsorship. I write this, not only as someone who has studied all facets of witchcraft and its depictions but also as someone who was once married to a television network executive. There are a number of watch-dog organizations who monitor the media very aggressively. Check for yourself: do an on-line search and you will easily find vociferious criticism of Charmed, Buffy and other shows suspected of glamorizing witchcraft and making it attractive, particularly to youthful viewers. Alongside that criticism, you will find calls for boycotts of these programs and their sponsors, with lists detailing exactly which products not to buy.
In 2006, sex and violence are pretty common-place on TV; completely positive depictions of witchcraft and the occult are, however, taboo.
Here lies a paradox: the main goal of the television industry is profit. Viewers tend to like watching depictions of the occult. The magical arts have fascinated people since. . . well, since there have been people. So the television industry is not averse to programs featuring witches, mediums, psychics and so forth. They think people will watch: this makes their sponsors happy too. Yet there are also organizations who fervently oppose anything to do with the occult, traditional spirituality or anything that smacks of Paganism, especially in a public, influential forum like TV. (And the experience of watching television is different from watching a movie. Television comes into your home. A series is watched regularly. Characters become very real and sympathetic. Viewers often identify with them.) Not only do these organizations exist but they are also extremely assertive about promoting their views and vision. Their boycotts are not empty threats.
How to get around this paradox? Here's how: even when individual witches appear sympathetic on television, there is always a catch to practicing witchcraft on television, a hidden danger or cost. No one can be accused of glorifying witchcraft; in fact, it could even be argued that warnings are being offered instead. Those warnings are insidious and tap into the already existing hidden fears possessed by so many: hence my reader who fears a spell cast for her own personal gain will inadvertently bring harm, not benefit.
On Charmed, the Charmed Ones are only safe if their magic is selfless, never used for personal gain.
But that's TV. In real life, the desire for personal gain was the impetus for the existence of magic spells. Why do we cast spells? To find love, to have enough money to pay the rent, to be safe and so forth. On television, super-hero witches use spellcraft to save the world from ever-impending apocalypse but in real life, spellcraft is used to help us find or keep a job.
Even though the witchcraft on television may sometimes look realistic, it's not. The average person is more likely to need a spell to prevent eviction from an apartment than a spell to vanquish or quell demons. Are these spells for personal gain? Is it selfish to use a spell for personal benefit?
That's ultimately the crucial question: at what point is a spell selfish? And why are so many of us ambivalent about using our powers for self-benefit even though we would gladly use those powers to benefit someone else? Remember: there is a difference between selfish, malicious magic and spellcraft intended to improve your life. Unfortunately, the ambivalence towards witchcraft that we see on television often only reinforces our own personal fears and ambivalence.