Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Must Reads"

Old woodcut of Witches riding to the sabbat.
The other day, I got an email from a reader that asked what books on the Craft were ones that I would recommend. It's a common question, and in these days of publishing on demand, pagan publishers with hundreds upon hundreds of titles, and of course, the internet (and we all know everything on the internet is accurate and properly sourced and credited, right?)- it is becoming all too common a question.

Here is a disclaimer (and a detour) before I begin that list- I am in an initiatory mystery religious Witchcraft tradition. In my opinion, Witchcraft has never been, nor will it ever be, a "religion of the book" the way that Christianity, Islam or Judaism are. So if you are looking for a book that will "teach you Witchcraft" you are misled, most likely by authors trying to sell you a book fitting that bill.

Nor will Witchcraft ever be a religion of the masses- we are meant to be a small group of highly trained people, doing very specific work in the world. Just FYI: I have a very specific definition of what a Witch is, and it may not match yours. (That's okay by me- hope it is by you.)

unsure who to credit here, help me out!
To me, a Witch is a Shaman (the terms are interchangable- they just come from different geographical regions-"Witch" simply means a western European shaman)- they are highly trained in specific skills. They have done years of rigorous self work to get to be as strong as possible (magically, energetically, physically, emotionally, and mentally) to be a strong container for the Mysteries that will be revealed to them. This self work exists as preparation for the actual work of a Witch- affecting change in all the worlds. (This Great Work is not done for its own sake, or to become a "better person". Witches do it to become the best Witch possible.)

Witches can talk to and relay messages from the gods. They can act as a human vehicle to bring them here for others. They can divine people's possible futures and help weave destiny. They can do spellwork to manifest changes in the worlds. They are healers, artists, and activists. Witches are NOT dabblers- they are priests.

Yes, I know people who call themselves Witches but do not fit this definition. If they asked me to give a definition of what I thought they were, I would probably say "pagan" was more accurate*. Pagan is a commonly used term for a huge umbrella of people, including people who work magic- and is general enough to cover all kinds of non-Abrahamic thought and religion- be it polytheistic, pantheistic, Wiccan, heathen, or what have you. Pagans can be what Christians call "lay people" or "laity"- that is, not just clergy.

The Crystal Ball
by John Williams Waterhouse
Witches are always clergy, to my mind. Your mileage with my definition may vary- but I explain all of this because of what I am going to say next: You cannot get Witchcraft from a book, or any form of text really- be it an email, a website, a book, or a web forum. You can get information and opinion, but that is not Witchcraft. Witchcraft is one of those annoyingly authentic things that can only be transmitted from person-to-person. It is one of those stubborn religions that needs energetic information passed from initiate to student as well as words. It is not self-help disguised as the Craft and most importantly, it is NOT FOR SALE.

In my tradition, we must learn directly from an initiated teacher- and not all initiates of any tradition are qualified to teach, in my humble (but often loud) opinion. Some have only been initiated for a short while, yet think they should teach. Some were initiated by folks with lacking ethics and I would doubt the transmissions passed to them. Some lack ethics themselves- they are liars, thieves, and worse- oathbreakers. Not all self-professed Witches, even ones with lots of friends, are worthy- so beware as you seek a teacher. And if you are paying for your classes towards initiation, well, caveat emptor is all I have to say.

Hekate, by Johfra Bosschart
Some folks out there seem to have multiple revenue streams going, all stemming from the fact that they are "a powerful Witch". I've got news for you- Witch is one of those "never gonna be rich" professions- it is one that is done for the love of the Craft. Comfortable- sure! Wealthy- nope. But that sure doesn't stop some from trying. (You know the ones- jumping on whatever latest witchy fad there is and proclaiming themselves an expert with just the right solution for you (for a price, of course).)

OK- rant over. If you are looking for a teacher, I am writing a blog post about what to look for and questions to ask very soon. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, let's get back to answering that original question.

Given my caveat, there are books out there that I have read, own, and think are good resources for someone who is learning the Craft**. I am a book lover myself. While books cannot teach you what the Craft is- they can help you determine what it is NOT and whether it may be for you. They are not the be-all and end-all (obviously), but they shed insight into the path and help to illuminate who is ready to start learning from a teacher.

Warning: there are a lot of crappy books out there that claim to be about Witchcraft. If you have a questions about a specific book or author not mentioned below, email me directly. I would be happy to give you my opinion if I have read it (and I have read a lot, believe me!)

A list of a few recommended titles to get you started:

Orion Foxwood: The Faery Teachings, The Tree of Enchantment
R.J. Stewart: Earthlight, Underworld Initiation, The Living World of Faery, Advanced Magical Arts
Victor Anderson: Thorns of the BloodRose, Lilith's Garden (poetry), Etheric Anatomy
Cora Anderson: Fifty Years in the Feri Tradition
Paul Huson: Mastering Witchcraft
Charles Leland: Aradia
Peter Grey: The Red Goddess
T. Thorn Coyle: Evolutionary Witchcraft
Emma Wilby: Cunning-Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic; The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Shamanism and Witchcraft in Seventeenth-century Scotland
Claude Lecouteux: The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind; Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages
Carlo Ginsburg/Anne Tedeschi: The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries
Robin Artisson: The Horn of Evenwood, The Flaming Circle, The Resurrection of the Meadow
Carlo Ginzburg: Night Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath
Martin W. Ball: Mushroom Wisdom: How Shamans Cultivate Spiritual Consciousness
Eric De Vries: Hedge-Rider: Witches and the Underworld
Nigel Aldcroft Jackson: The Call of the Horned Piper
Patrick Dunn: Magic, Power, Language, Symbol: A Magician's Exploration of Linguistics
Mark Stavish: Between the Gates: Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism
W.Y. Evans-Wentz: Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries (gives some historical context to the Craft)
Randy Conner: Blossom of Bone
Arthur Evans: Witchcraft and the Gay Counter Culture
Nathaniel Harris: Witcha
Michael Howard and Nigel Jackson: The Pillars of Tubal Cain
A.D. Hope: Midsummer Eve’s Dream (out of print)
Starhawk: The Spiral Dance
David Abram: The Spell of the Sensuous
                                   John and Caitlin Matthews:
any title
Jan Fries: any title
Idries Shah: who is a writer on Sufism, but there is a deep connection to the Craft
The Foxfire Books (all of them are of value)

I would also encourage people to seek out books on:
  • Lilith and Hekate, as they are considered the patrons of Witches in particular,
  • Herbalism (medicinal and magical),
  • Energy bodies, energy healing, and using energy bodies,
  • Quantum physics & the universe (I am not kidding),
  • Animal and plant spirit work and communication
  • Other cultures' shamanic practices: take a world tour of shamanism!

*But I believe in the right of people to self-identify, so I do not do this unsolicited with people directly or argue with folks about their terminology when speaking of themselves. I refuse to define others- I can only make myself clear when I am speaking, which is what I am doing here. I do not do this to offend anyone, just to give you an idea of where I am coming from so my answer makes sense.

** This list is a combination of recommended reading from me and Oberyn Kunning, who is an initiate of the same tradition that I follow. He is what we affectionately call "a lore master" so he was the perfect person to ask for advice on books!


  1. Thank you for sharing your viewpoint. It was very interesting and informative for me to hear it. =) Also, the list of books is awesome. I will definitely check some of those out.

    Brightest Blessings.

  2. Greetings!

    I am glad to read your post, not that I need reading material, but to see someone outside my branch having the same take on witchcraft. I self identify as a Druid but this term face the same challenge as the witch one. I wholefuly agree with you about being seriously trained and of the importance of doing the Great Work. a hint can be seen in book but to really know nothing beat one to one teaching and personnal experience.



  3. I have to agree with most of what you wrote--not because you, a true witch, wrote it (:>), but because I've been 'bothered' by same observations. (I hope I did not sound like a jerk.)

    Your opinion please: Is a witch chosen to be one by the Divine or can s/he be one through choice? Or is it both? (My take is 'both'.)

    Re books: I will definitely look those up. I am confused, too, by the amount of books and Net info I have to go through. I never know if I am going to end up wasting money.

    For some reason, I am dissatisfied by what I find. They seem to take away the 'Witch' from me. I remember a month ago this experience---I just chucked away, out of frustration, the small amount I've learned and the lots of info I read and just held my glass goblet and concentrated/called on the Divine. I felt better...but, naturally, I doubted the experience as I had no way to validate it as 'right.' But it was a nice experience, peaceful.

  4. Finally! Finally SOMEONE (besides myself)has recognized the Foxfire series as worthy of mention! Foxfire was created so that the indigenous teaching of the root workers and plain cunning folk of Appalachia didn't fade away and die. There is a lot of knowledge in those pages, and a single Foxfire book is capable of more Craft education than most slick cover editions from the well-known occult publishing houses combined. Thank you! Your other choices were excellent as well. I don't believe we will ever join the ranks of the People of the Book because we have so many books from which to choose.

  5. @Lilyane: Glad to meet a fellow traveler! I have been interested in Druidry- there are so many variations within that term that I have no earthly idea where to start! Would love to hear your opinions on that.

    @Fedelynn: no, you always sound like a very nice person! As to your question, it depends on who you ask! Since you are asking me, I think that you are born a witch, but not all people discover that fact and cultivate it during a given lifetime. There are many stories of Witches being the offspring of humans and other beings throughout many cultures- and that today's witches are descendants of that ancient hybrid. I think modern people value "free will" and try and see it in almost any circumstance, but the reality is a bit more muddy than that...

    @AmethJera: Nice to meet you! Yes, yes yes! The Foxfire books are freaking awesome, and so few people seem to know about them.

    For those that don't know, a public school teacher created a project to have his students interview elders in their Appalachian community on their folk wisdom (and publish it so it didn;t get lost)- anything from hunting, farming, rootwork and conjure, herbalism- you name it. There are pictures, interviews, recipes, and more. There are many many volumes and all are amazing. I don't have them all, but it is a goal of mine to acquire them all.

  6. THANK YOU! Especially the FOxfire recommendation; will check out these.

    RE: Witches as offspring of humans and other beings? I don't think I have read one story yet. BUT there were a few rural Filipinos I had talked with who did mention to me in passing that they were the offspring of engkanto and humans. They were dead serious about it. There is a tradition in the rural areas that the engkantos sometimes woo or take humans as spouses or lovers.

    There was this other guy (a straight) who said that he was impregnated by a female water fairy in his youth while bathing in a river and bore the child on the right side of his body. He said he killed his baby upon advice of his community as it was half-human. (My apologies to those who are reading this).

    In our barrios, I have often been told by the elders that fairies often joined their festivals, esp. in the old days--dancing, eating, and having fun with the people. They knew they were fairies because they were mestizas / fair skinned with blond hair and blue eyes / with no isthmus or channel above the lips. I think most Filipinos still live with one foot in an Other World (both Christian and Enkanto). Nothing wrong with that; I just don't know when they're real or not.

  7. Once again you've said it so well. I do agree.
    The book list is too good though. Books, yum.

  8. Thanks Tree! Good luck on your small change challenge!


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