by Mike Nichols
The Magic of Ancient Celtic Beliefs in a Contemporary Society
The purpose of this listing is to help the novice sort out the reliable from the sensational in the wealth of material that is now available on Witchcraft. I have left out
old historical treatises (records of the Inquisition and such) which are of little value to the modern student, and have concentrated instead on contemporary sources. This also
yields a much more objective perspective.
"Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today" - 2nd ed. - by Margot Adler. Beacon Press trade paperback.
You may have already heard Margot's voice, as she was once hostess of National Public Radio's news program, "All Things Considered". This book is the end result of five years of research and interviews. (The 2nd edition is an update published eight years after the original.) This landmark study focuses on the rise of the Neo-Pagan movement (which includes Witchcraft, of course) especially as it relates to the values and beliefs of the counterculture of the mid-60's, hippies, flower children, et. al. It is the single most comprehensive study of modern American Witchcraft in existence.
"What Witches Do: The Modern Coven Revealed" - 2nd ed. - by Stewart Farrar. Phoenix trade paperback.
If Adler's book gives a comprehensive overview of modern American Witchcraft, Farrar's is a complimentary look at traditional British Witchcraft. Concentrating on the Alexandrian tradition (which is only marginally different from Gardnerian, easily the largest Craft tradition extant), Farrar lays stress on the actual working of Covens and the integration of novice Witches into them. Also included is much of the Gardnerian (via Alexandrian) Book of Shadows. So there is plenty here for someone who wants to begin practice.
"The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess" by Starhawk (pseud. for Miriam Simos). Harper & Row trade paperback.
This book shifts back to America again, this time with a slight emphasis on feminist Witchcraft, arguably the fastest growing branch of the Craft. Starhawk is herself High Priestess of two California Covens and her book is insightful, genuine, and beautifully poetic. This overview also contains specific instructions for Circles, chants, spells, invocations, creating rituals and, in short, everything you need to get started. And it is a delight to read.
"Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft" by Raymond Buckland. Llewellyn trade paperback.
British-born Ray Buckland can, with some validity, be considered Gerald Gardner's American successor. Not only did he introduce Gardnerian Witchcraft to the United States, but he also founded his own tradition of the Craft, called Seax (Saxon) Wicca, which has grown to worldwide practice. His early books, like 'Witchcraft from the Inside', did much to dispel negative stereotypes of Wicca in the 60's. And "The Tree: Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft" remains one of the best published Books of Shadows to date. The present volume has a practical orientation, with chapters set up as 'lessons', covering every imaginable aspect of modern Wicca. The book is Traditionalist in approach, making a nice counterpoint to works by Adler and Starhawk.
"A Witches" Bible, Compleat" by Janet & Stewart Farrar. Magickal Childe trade paperback tandem edition of "Eight Sabbats for Witches" and "The Witches' Way", respectively, also called "A Witches' Bible, Vol. 1 & 2".
The first book is an examination of the festival Holidays of the Old Religion - the Solstices and Equinoxes and the cross-quarter days - together with the rich folk customs associated with them. The second book contains the long-awaited remainder of the previously unpublished portions of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. In both of these books, the Farrars had the invaluable help of Doreen Valiente, who actually wrote parts of the Gardnerian liturgy. The three Farrar books taken together form the most complete system of Witchcraft currently available. Their more recent book "The Witches' Goddess" focuses on the feminine archetype, and contains a gazetteer of Goddesses that is mind-boggling in its thoroughness.
"Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, & Politics" and "Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery" both by Starhawk. Beacon Press trade paperback and Harper & Row hardback, respectively.
If we have gained new religious insights from Pagan and feminist philosophy, how are we to incorporate those insights into our daily lives? Starhawk, the author of one of our principal texts, pulls together a wide range of materials to answer this question in two books as beautifully poetic as her first. Some of these things have waited a long time to be said - and they couldn't have been said better!
"The White Goddess" by Robert Graves. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux trade paperback.
A rather weighty and yet poetic book, tracing the female deity of Witchcraft - Goddess of Birth, Love, and Death; of the New, Full, and Old Moon, worshipped under countless titles. Fascinating for the advanced student. Know your Celtic mythology (particularly Welsh) before you start, though! (If you need a quick intro to this book, check out the feature in the Reviews SIG.)
"Witchcraft Today" and "The Meaning of Witchcraft" by Gerald B. Gardner. Magickal Childe trade paperbacks.
Gerald Gardner has the distinction of being the first practicing Witch to write a book about Witchcraft. He was initiated into one of the surviving traditional British Covens, and onto the tattered remnants of magic and ritual inherited from them, he grafted elements of ceremonial magic. The synthesis that emerged came to be called 'Gardnerian" Witchcraft, and it became the major cause of the Witchcraft revival of the twentieth century. Because Gardner was the first to deal with this material in written form, it sometimes seems very disorganized, but its historical importance is immense.
"An ABC of Witchcraft", "Natural Magick", and "Witchcraft for Tomorrow" all by Doreen Valiente. Phoenix trade paperbacks.
British Witch Doreen Valiente is perhaps best known for her work with Gerald Gardner in creating the Gardnerian canon of liturgy. However, in her own books, she really shines as an amateur folklorist, managing to convey a sense of Witchcraft as a folk religion, tied very much to the locality, the land, and the oldest strains of folk wisdom and nature. Her sense of history and tradition is rich and deep, and she often presents fascinating historical tidbits about the Craft. From no other author can one gain such a rich sense of heritage.
"A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, & Pagans" by Jeffrey B. Russell. Thames and Hudson trade paperback.
This book represents the approach of a gifted Cornell historian. Although Russell doesn't always adequately cover modern sources, he has become famous for his ability to integrate a sensible approach to the evidence of medieval Witchcraft with an acceptance of modern Neo-Pagan Witchcraft.
"Magical Rites from the Crystal Well" by Ed Fitch. Llewellyn trade paperback.
A book of rites, simple celebrations of land and water, wind and fire. Rites of passage, seasonal celebrations, magical workings, healings, and many more. Ed Fitch (one of the founders of Pagan Way) is truly in his element here. And it is one of the most beautiful books on the Craft ever published. The art work alone is worth the price of the book!
"A Book of Pagan Rituals" by Herman Slater. Weiser trade paperback.
Originally published in two volumes as the "Pagan Way Rituals", this extremely beautiful book is just what it says it is: a book of rituals. Not authentic Wiccan rituals, but very nearly so, these rituals are often used by Covens in the training of neophytes. Like a good Catholic missal, the words are printed in "sense lines" using BOLD PRINT (easier to read by candlelight). Anyone who is at least part animist or nature-lover is going to cherish this beautiful book.
"Celtic Heritage" by Alwyn and Brinley Rees. Thames and Hudson trade paperback.
A good deal of modern Witchcraft can be traced to ancient Celtic sources. This book, based in comparative religion, mythology, and anthropology, gives one a clear picture of the Celtic world-view. Drawn mainly from Ireland and Wales, the study focuses on the interplay of Light and Darkness, Day and Night, Summer and Winter, and all the seasonal myths and rituals that make up the great Celtic yearly cycle.
"The Politics of Women's Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritualist Power Within the Feminist Movement" by Charlene Spretnak. Doubleday trade paperback.
A huge (and, one is tempted to say, the definitive) anthology of feminist and Pagan theology. Many familiar authors here: Starhawk, Weinstein, Daly, et. al. Subjects range from Amazons to the ethics of magic. A real bargain!
"Sex in History" by Reay Tannahill. Stein & Day trade paperback.
It has often been said that Witchcraft grew out of an earlier "fertility religion" and, although "fertility" is probably the wrong word here, it is undeniable that the history of Witchcraft is irrevocably bound up with the history of sexuality. Like Tantrists and many others in the East, Witches tend to view sex as sacramental. Since this is quite contrary to the prevailing attitudes of our own culture, it may be helpful to understand how our culture acquired such negative ideas about sex in the first place. Ms. Tannahill's unique landmark study will not only answer this question but also indicate the many options other cultures throughout history have chosen.
"When God Was A Woman" by Merlin Stone. Harcourt, Brace, & Jovanovich trade paperback.
At the foundations of the religion of Witchcraft is the religion of the Goddess. Ms. Stone's book is an archeological tour-de-force of that religion, which is found at the beginnings of virtually every known culture (yes, even the Judeo-Christian culture). In this book, one learns about the worship of Astarte, Isis, Ishtar, and many others. Also recommended is her "Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood". Both are splendid books!
"A Different Heaven and Earth" by Sheila D. Collins. Judson Press trade paperback.
By one of the leading feminist theologians of our day, this book asks what are the psychological and social implications of worshipping a male deity exclusively, while ignoring the feminine principle in religion. This is one of the most influential books I've read in the last ten years. It changed my way of thinking (for the better) and I dare say it will change yours.
"The Way of Wyrd" by Brian Bates. Harper & Row hardback.
What Carlos Castaneda did for Native American tradition, this author does for ancient Pagan Anglo-Saxon tradition. Subtitled "The Book of a Sorcerer's Apprentice" and based on authentic manuscripts found in the British Museum, it is the chronicle of a young Christian monk sent into the wilds beyond Mercia in 674 to record the heresies (beliefs) of the Pagans. He is lucky to have as his guide the Anglo-Saxon shaman Wulf. Throughout this documentary novel, the Christian and Pagan beliefs are juxtaposed for a better understanding of both. Not since "The Mists of Avalon" has a book accomplished this task so neatly.
"Positive Magic" - revised edition - by Marion Weinstein. Phoenix Publications trade paperback.
Although a book about how to use magic to change your life could be extremely tedious, this one is far from it. While it is true that Marion uses a simple and direct style of writing, it is used on such difficult and subtle questions as the ethics of magic. She draws upon her own experiences to create a book that is truly positive. If I had to recommend one book on magic, this would be it!
"Earth Power" by Scott Cunningham. Llewellyn trade paperback.
Scott is arguably the strongest of the young writers in the immensely popular "Llewellyn's Practical Magick Series". This is, in fact, a book of spells. Practical, down-to-earth, useful, everyday, garden-variety spells. It is the only such book in this bibliography. Although I do not recommend a "cookbook" approach to magic, this book will be extremely helpful when used as a guide for creating your own spells. Also, Scott concentrates on "natural" or "folk" magic, as opposed to 'ritual" or "ceremonial" magic. This is the type of magic (involving Sun, Moon, stars, trees, rocks, springs, etc.) that is the natural heritage of Witchcraft. An excellent starting-place for the novice spell-wright. His many other books, especially "The Magical Household", are all highly recommended.
"The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist" and "Alternate Realities" by Lawrence LeShan. Ballantine paperbacks.
Dr. LeShan does not deal with magic or Witchcraft per se, but what he has to say about the nature of the cosmos is magical indeed. He is an experimental psychologist, an Esalen veteran, director of ESP research, psychic healing, and other projects. His is a synthesis of philosophy, parapsychology, and Einsteinian physics. His other books, especially "How To Meditate" (Bantam paperback), are also of great value.
"Seth Speaks" and "The Seth Material" by Jane Roberts. Bantam paperbacks.
Yet another startlingly clear (albeit less scientific) look at metaphysics. This is probably the cream of the crop of all modern mediumistic data: Seth is the communicant, and the late Jane Roberts is the medium. The other 'Seth" books are also of value.
"Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science" by Edgar Mitchell, edited by John White. Putnam trade paperback.
This anthology serves as an excellent introduction to the scientific field of parapsychology. Each chapter is an extensive review article on laboratory work carried out in one particular sub-genre of the field: telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, OOBE's, apparitions & hauntings, etc. These excellent articles will bring you up-to-date on virtually everything that is currently known about the topic in question. Other chapters deal with the history of the discipline, social & psychological implications, military applications, etc. This book could open the mind of the severest skeptic. But at the same time, it could serve as a necessary check on those too-credulous souls who have a tendency to 'believe everything'.
Books by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are adequate, but not as good.
Firstly, the 'Seth' books by Jane Roberts, listed above.
Any and all books by Eileen Garrett.
Later, works by Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley (definitely not for the novice).
"The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Ballantine trade paperback.
This Arthurian fantasy novel, which reached the N.Y. Times best-seller list, is truly superlative. It is narrated by Morgan le Fay and so we finally understand that strange antipathy that exists between her and Arthur. The religious and philosophical conflict between the Old Religion and the newer one of Christianity is beautifully portrayed. An excellent choice.
"The Prydain Chronicles" of Lloyd Alexander, a pentology on Dell paperbacks:
These award-winning children's fantasies are based on ancient Welsh mythology. Alexander admits that the two authors who most influenced him were J. R. R. Tolkien and T. H. White. The books are also the basis of the recent animation feature from Disney studios. I'm often asked about pagan books to recommend for children. These are them.
"The Deryni Chronicles" of Katherine Kurtz on Ballantine paperbacks (In story chronological order):
Set in the landscape of ancient Wales, the Deryni are a race with magical powers which must fight for its life against a medieval Church Militant. Katherine is someone who knows what magic is all about.
"Lammas Night" by Katherine Kurtz. Ballantine paperback.
In this case, the author of the important Deryni fantasies turns her attention to a historical setting: England in World War II. There is a long-standing tradition that Hitler's thwarted plans for invading England owed a certain something to the many Covens throughout Britain who combined their efforts to stop him. There is even a hint that the Royal Family itself was involved. Ms. Kurtz's historical research is, of course, impeccable.
"The Once and Future King" and "The Book of Merlyn" by T. H. White. Berkely paperbacks.
Sparkling books, and my own personal favorites. The final crystallization of centuries of Arthurian romance. The books on which "Camelot" was based.
"The Weirdstone of Brisingamen", "The Moon of Gomrath", "Elidor" and "The Owl Service" by Alan Garner. All Ballantine paperbacks.
Garner is one of the best British fantasy authors, with a superb sense of local "color" and folklore. The first two (related) titles are in the heroic quest mold, the third is a story about the four "hallows" of Arthurian legends, and the fourth is an eerie modern re-creation of the fourth branch of the "Mabinogi".
"A Wizard of Earthsea", "The Tombs of Atuan" and "The Farthest Shore" by Ursula K. LeGuin. A trilogy on Bantam paperbacks.
This is the chronicle of a young boy who is an apprentice mage. LeGuin, a leading science fiction and fantasy author, has some fascinating things to say about the light side and dark side of magic, and how they're related. And she says it very well, indeed.
Document Copyright © 1983 - 2009 by Mike Nichols.