Suggesting books as a general reading list is something I find very challenging – as a librarian, all my instincts are about finding the right books for you, as an individual, not giving a generic list. That said, sometimes it’s good to have somewhere to start. This article suggests the types of books I think it’s useful to read early on. These first books are intended to give you a solid introduction in much greater depth than any website can do, and to cover a wide range of ideas and aspects of practice.
- What books make a good starting set?
- Overview and introduction:
- Skills and regular practice:
- Ritual theory and practice:
What books make a good starting set?
- A good overview of common practices and approaches (which should include a general introduction to basic concepts, core ethical guidelines, a variety of practices, etc.)
- A book to help you develop skills and ongoing daily/regular practices in more depth.
- A deeper discussion of ritual theory and practice.
- At least one book about ethics in a Pagan context.
- A book that helps you learn more about the larger Pagan community and its history.
- At least one book about divination theory and practice.
That’s six books to start with: if you have limited resources (either time or money) right now, start with the first one and work your way down, reading a book in each of the first four categories before you go further. Between them, these will give you a solid foundation for whatever further learning makes sense to you. Below, find some suggestions (and there will be more to come.)
You may also want to consider subscribing to one or more general magazines: they’re a great way to get additional general information about a range of topics.
BBI Media puts out several magazines: Witches and Pagans offers a general Pagan focus, and SageWoman focuses on women’s spirituality (as they say “Our readers are people who identify positively with the term “Goddess.”) and tends to be more experiential in focus. The Llewellyn Almanac series has versions that have short articles about a range of topics.
Overview and introduction:
Wicca for Beginners by Thea Sabin:
This is my current favorite introductory text for Wicca and religious witchcraft. With its strong focus on religious practice (rather than spells and magical work), clear explanations of central concepts and ethical principles, and lots of clear exercises, it makes a great starting place.
What I like about it:
- focus on religious practice and on basic core skills.
- magic is covered only after other core topics have been thoroughly discussed.
- clear explanations and examples.
- exercises offer varied options and approaches, to help the reader figure out what works best for them.
- a great bibliography, and the last chapter also has solid guidance on where someone might look for more resources, training, or group experience.
Other titles to consider:
Yvonne Aburrow’s All Acts of Love and Pleasure is a general overview, but goes on to focus on the questions of inclusion within Wiccan practice in a way that’s really well done. Highly recommended if you’re contemplating questions of accessibility, the heterosexual focus of a lot of commonly used ritual myths and structures, or related issues.
Amber K’s How to Become a Witch: The Path of Nature, Spirit & Magick. A good overview of a wide variety of topics, broken down into manageable chunks.
Jennifer Hunter’s 21st Century Wicca is a little more dated now, but Hunter went and talked to (and included quotes from) a lot of people in a way that gives an idea of the diversity of practice.
Starhawk’s Spiral Dance or Twelve Wild Swans (by Starhawk and Hilary Valentine): both are about religious witchcraft, not Wicca. Excellent exercises for self-understanding and common needs.
Many people got their start with Scott Cunningham, the Farrars, or Raymond Buckland. I talk about some of these classics in the article on classic books.
Skills and regular practice:
My current favorite for learning basic trance and meditation skills. While Thea Sabin’s book covers some of these topics, Diana Paxson goes into much greater depth. You can read the introduction and first chapter online at one of her websites.
The book begins with a discussion of what trance and changes in consciousness are, and what they can be used for, and a self-evaluation to help the reader figure out what they know, and what they’d like to learn (and why.) The book then moves into covering a variety of skills: entering a trance state, centering and grounding, relaxation techniques, navigating inner spaces, working with inner guides or spirits, and then goes more deeply into a range of more complex techniques. The end of the book includes ideas and help for people wanting to work through the book with others, and for those who might be teaching.
Unlike many books, which focus on visual learners and experiences, she spends extensive time talking about different kinds of learning styles and multiple intelligences, as well as giving examples of practices from different Pagan religions and approaches. She is also careful and thoughtful about giving safety, troubleshooting, and other tips that help create the most useful and productive experiences.
The Circle Within by Dianne Sylvan
This book is a wonderful and rich guide to developing a personal daily or regular practice. In it, Sylvan looks at everything from daily altar devotions to meditation to a wide variety of other tools you can use and consider. The end of the book includes invocations, ritual pieces, and other specifics you can use in developing your own practice.
[Note: I’ve known Sylvan online for years – since before she wrote this book, and I’ve loved talking with her in detail about many of the topics she includes here.]
Practical Magic for Beginners: Techniques & Rituals to Focus Magical Energy by Brandy Williams is an excellent overview of basic magical theory and practice, and adaptable to a range of needs.
The Sorcerer’s Secrets: Strategies in Practical Magick by Jason Miller involves some more complex techniques, but again he draws from several different practices and is very thorough in the information he provides. (His other books may also be of interest.)
Elements of Spellcrafting by Jason Miller. (If you’ve gotten the idea I like his stuff, you’d be right). This is an overview of key concepts in magical practice, including how to take your practice from a more limited beginner approach to an adept one. If you’re not familiar with his other work, some of his examples may be confusing, but searching on his blog or via your search engine of choice should give you the basic ideas.
I particularly like this one because Jason brings his extensive experience teaching magic and doing consulting magical work for others to bear and talks about patterns he has seen over that time.
Other titles to consider:
- Gabrielle Roth’s Sweat Your Prayers discusses a method of moving meditation and ecstatic dance.
- Anodea Judith’s Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System (if you are interested in going more deeply into chakra-based work.)
Ritual theory and practice:
The Elements of Ritual: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth in the Wiccan Circle by Deborah Lipp
This is one of those books where I disagree with lots of the specifics – but I still love the book. Deborah does a fantastic job of breaking down the parts of Wiccan ritual into small, understandable pieces – and then looking at them from multiple directions. She evaluates each through looking at a particular elemental lens, and then also suggests options for personal, small group, and larger group ritual settings.
RitualCraft by Amber K. and Azrael K.
Another great book on ritual design and practice, this book begins by talking about what ritual is, what makes a great ritual, and then the different things that go into creating ritual. The latter part of the book talks about different kinds of rituals, including ideas for Sabbats and Esbats. There are extensive appendices with all sorts of useful checklists, resources and more.
This is a particular good book if you think you might participate in or eventually lead group ritual, but most of the information is just as useful if you’re working on your own.
There are certainly many other books out there about ritual, but most of them either focus on providing scripts, go into more complex approaches, or are focused on designing ritual for others.
Deborah Blake’s witchcraft books, especially Everyday Witchcraft, Witchcraft on a Shoestring, and The Goddess is in the Details all focus on practical rituals that don’t use a lot of different items, and can be adjusted for your specific needs. She’s also great at explaining why she does things a certain way or where ideas come from.
When, Why … If by Robin Wood
My favorite of the books about Pagan ethics, in this book, Robin takes a different tack from focusing on the Rede, Threefold Law, or other texts. Instead, she focuses on 7 core concepts, including thought-provoking questions to help you develop your own ethical code. The concepts are: honesty, self, love, help, harm, sex, and will.
Many introductory books include a short section on ethics.
Thuri Califia’s Dedicant has some excellent ethics exercises (situations) about every third chapter, with her commentary about each situation in an appendix. (This is one of those books where I like parts of it a lot, but have trouble recommending it as a starting book in general because there are some things that I think can be confusing for someone who’s brand new.)
An’ Ye Harm None: Magical Morality and Modern Ethics by Shelley, TSivia Rabinovitch looks at a variety of practical choices in terms of Pagan ethics. However, you may find that her focus doesn’t fit your life or ethical interpretation in places.
Bell, Book, and Murder by Rosemary Edghill
This is a fictional book – or rather, three books. This omnibus edition includes three mysteries centered around Bast, a third degree priestess making a living in New York City. While the mysteries themselves are a bit exaggerated, the book is a wonderful look into what it means to live as a priestess and witch in the broader world. During the books, Bast confronts issues of abusive groups and teachers, considering a new potential group member, issues of privacy and confidentiality, and a wide range of other community issues.
There are lots of sentences throughout that make me stop and think again about some particular topic or issue in the Pagan community, and I get more out of it ever time I re-read my copy.
The Practical Pagan by Dana Eilers
This is the book that talks about all the stuff that most books gloss over: how do you find other Pagans, and what should you know when you meet up with them? How do you negotiate figuring out what to wear to a Pagan event, or incorporating things with religious meaning into your workplace. Eilers has a really great common-sense approach.
Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon is a classic, though read the most recent version if you can.
Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon and Chas Clifton’s Her Hidden Children cover much of the historical background of modern Paganism (Hutton’s book focuses on England, and Clifton’s on the United States, picking up about where Hutton leaves off.) Both books are quite dense, and come from academic authors: you may want some additional background before settling in with them.
There are lots of great divination books out there, but two on my bookshelf that I think are good for starting, but also will reward you for many years to come are:
- Taking Up the Runes by Diana Paxson
- Tarot Wisdom by Rachel Pollack
Both books put what they’re doing into a historical context (Paxson’s quotes translations of the relevant rune poems, and Pollack’s includes summaries of the Tarot card interpretations going way back). This makes it very easy to see how different ideas developed.
However, both then move forward with the ideas, looking at possible modern interpretations and ideas as relevant. Both also include exercises, small ritual ideas, and other tools to help you better understand a card or rune, or integrate its wisdom and advice into your life.
[last edited March 27, 2018]