So you're a newbie and you go on a Pagan message board and you say "Hey, I'm a newbie. How do I get started?" and a dozen or so folks unhelpfully say "Read read read! Read everything you can get your hands on." And you are left wondering… how to get started. It's happened to the best of us, alas. In defense of the unhelpful, Paganism and Witchcraft are such broad topics that it's hard to point to a single, or even multiple sources that are useful for everyone. All we can do is look at it from our own point of view and go from there. And so that is what I shall do. In the interest of being helpful I am going to post my list of books that you, the newbie Pagan should read, read, read and guess what, most of them are so old that you can get them for free!
First, I believe that every Pagan should read the original source books. Wicca 101 and Magic how-to books have their place but there are about a billion of them and half of them say the same thing as the other half and half of those were written by folks who don't know much more than you and made up the rest. Don't get me wrong, creativity and personal gnosis has its place in in Pagan practice, but you need a solid foundation to build that on and that is where the original source books come in. They are our sacred texts if you will and luckily, sacred-texts.org carries most of them and some Pagans feel this is all they need. Even if you don't, it gives you a solid foundation from which to judge the credibility of all the other stuff out there.
Interested in Hellenic Polytheism?
Of course, there are about a million different kinds of Paganism and witchcraft so there's a million different directions you can go with that. Because I am a Hellenic Polytheist, I am biased toward the Hellenic sources and they are:
The Iliad by Homer. You can read it free at sacred-texts.org
The Odyssey by Homer. Available free at sacred-texts.org.
The Homeric Hymns. These are beautifully organized at theoi.com
The Orphic Hymns Also available free at theoi.com with translation notes.
Hesiod's Theogany. Read it for free at theoi.com
Hesiod's Works and Days. And Theoi.com has this one too.
Through careful reading of these sources you get an idea of the sorts of rituals performed and what these Gods value. If you're interested in learning more about the more practical worship side of things, the Hellonion website has some good ideas and I have lots of not-so-reconstructionist Hellenic-ish rituals on this site, just check out the old of Shadows. Of course, if you haven't gathered already Theoi.com is also amazing.
Or Something Else Entirely
Of course, you may have no interest in the Hellenic Gods or be unsure and find these books a pretty heavy commitment for someone who's not sure this is where you should be. I admit these books are not for the casual reader, so I give you Myths of the World for an overview. Read one story per night before bed and then do a brief prayer for inspiration. If any of the myths touch you or if the Gods from them come to you in your dreams, you know you're going in the right direction. Do a search on sacred-texts.com and/or on Amazon.com for more original sources and you're on your way. This last bit is important because any collection of myths is necessarily abridged according to the collector's own personal interpretation of it. You need to go to the most original sources you can to come up with your own interpretations.
You can also find a decent overview of the various Pagan paths out there in the book Pagan Generation, though it's Euro-centric and misses a bunch of what's going on the US. Still definately worth the read.
You will also benefit from ADF Druidry's recommended reading for their dedicant training program which can be found at http://www.adf.org/training/resources/reading.html
Wicca and European Witchcraft
One path that doesn't have a lot of original source material on sacred-texts.com is Wicca. Wicca is based on works by Gerald Gardner and apparently his estate has continued to renew the copyrights. The Gardnerian Book of Shadows is there, but I believe there is some question about its authenticity. (You should probably read it anyway though.) I believe anyone interested in Wicca should read Gerald Gardner's original works on the subject.
These are believed to be heavily influenced by the works of Margaret Murray and you should be aware that most modern Archaeologists and Anthropologists do not consider her work to be at all credible.
Other works of interest to Witches are
More modern books that generally come highly recommended include:
Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente
A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches' Handbook by Stewart and Janet Farrar
Wicca: a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft by Scott Buckland
I myself find these books to be filled with revisionist history and incorrectly interpreted mythology, but I was an academic which makes me decidedly uptight about such things for life, even though academia is long behind me. However, even if you have no interest in Wicca and modern derivative Witchcraft Traditions, you should still read this stuff because it dominates the Pagan and magickal scene and if you ever get involved with the Pagan community at large you are going to encounter it at every turn, so you may as well know what's going on.
Maybe Just Magick?
If you want to learn the magick and skip the mumbo jumbo, I don't blame you. Atheists can be witches too, and so can Christians. Probably the most useful basic beginners book I have found doesn't even claim to teach you magick, but to help expand your psychic awareness: You are Psychic by Debra Lynne Katz. Honestly, the techniques in there should be learned before you ever pick up a spellbook or Witchcraft 101 book.
You should also learn some theory and for that I recommend The Kybalion I am aware that its authenticity is questioned and I'm not challenging that question, but it works.
I also like Real Magic by Isaac Bonewits, though the tone is a bit arrogant and it might be a bit outdated and it might be a bit academic for people who aren't as nerdy as me.
Sorcery by J Finley Hurley is a newer book along similar lines that I quite like. It does have some sloppiness in research, but much of it is right on.
I host Witchpedia's Read Along, on Facebook, not that it gets much action, but I post my opinions about a new book each month and invite you to read along and post your opinions too.
I also teach a non-dogmatic class in Witchcraft and Magick Theory and Technique to one group a year. You can find out how to join that group at http://www.witchipedia.com/news:2016-introduction-to-magick-theory-and-technique-class
More like this
Comments, questions, criticism?