The book is an anthropological study of the mystical practices of the Azande in Africa and was originally published in 1937. Evans-Pritchard was a Professor of Social Anthropology at Oxford University, so this is not some new age book touting an idealized view of indigenous tribal rituals, but an objective, detailed account of his observations during the time he spent living amongst the Azande.
There is a wealth of information in this book and it is written in a style that is accessible and engaging. It is by no means dry academic writing (except for the introduction by Eva Gillies – I would skip over that unless you like that kind of stuff). There were lots of things I could expound upon, but I will limit myself to a few key items.
One thing I found fascinating is the observation that the Azande used drumming and dancing to evoke the “manifestation of esoteric powers” (p. 88). This is something that seems to be consistent with most indigenous groups. I think it also explains the current interest in drum circles. Where I live, there is a weekly drum circle in the center of town and it draws many people who participate, either as drummers or as dancers.
Regarding the use of oracles, Evans-Pritchard writes: “Azande observe the action of the poison oracle as we observe it, but their observations are always subordinated to their beliefs and are incorporated into their beliefs and made to explain them and justify them” (p. 150). This is true of every culture. Each individual’s belief system determines how that person perceives events. Consider how the beliefs of a theoretical physicist and those of a religious fundamentalist would cause each person to view the same occurrence in a different manner.
Finally, regarding magic, the Azande believe that the main purpose of magic “is to combat other mystical powers rather than to produce changes favourable to man in the objective world” (p. 199). This is the opposite of what practitioners of magic in the west believe. According to Aleister Crowley, the purpose of magic is to manifest occurrences in accordance with one’s will.
This book is probably not for everyone. I personally enjoyed it, but that is because I have an interest in mysticism and anthropology. If either of those topics interest you, then you will likely enjoy this book.