The Witch’s Reading List

By December 4, 2010 Books, Witchcraft & Magic 37 Comments

The Witch's Bookshelf

In total contrast to my previous post on putting down your books, here is my recommended reading list for both the complete newbie and experienced witch. There are many many more I would list, but they are for supplemental reading. If one reads the classics recommended first, you will be reading all the influences of the founders of modern Witchcraft and therefore will understand them and their craft better. Read these words knowing Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Alex Sanders, Robert Cochrane, Victor Anderson, and others read them before you. Some may consider them out of date, but don’t listen to those people. You have to understand where we came from as Witches to understand where we are going.

All you need to know is that yes, Frazer was wrong in his thesis that pre-Christian Pagans were more savage and primitive than Christians and their worship revolved solely around the agricultural cycle – but that the lore he collected by chance in pursuing his theory is invaluable and may not have been documented otherwise; yes Graves was a misogynist and The White Goddess is filled with fakelore but he still made some great points about poetic myth, the gods, and syncretism (and loved shrooms); yes, you’ll need a dictionary to read The Secret Commonwealth, but it’s short and an important work to understand that the early modern fairy-faith was an ancestor cult; the rest you should enjoy and will turn all the lightbulbs on in your brain.

Let’s Begin with the Classics:

  • Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches of Italy by Charles G. Leland, 1899
  • The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, 1911
  • The Golden Bough by James George Frazer, 1922
  • The History of the Devil: The Horned God of the West by R. Lowe Thompson, 1929
  • The Greater Key of Solomon edited by Samuel L. Macgregor Mathers, 1914
  • The Secret Commonwealth: An Essay on the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and for the Most Part) Invisible People, Heretofore Going Under the Name of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies by Robert Kirk, 1691
  • The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth by Robert Graves, 1966

The Modern Classics:

Now that you know their influences – read their works.

  • The Complete Art of Witchcraft: Penetrating the Secrets of White Magic by Sybil Leek, 1971
  • Fifty Years in the Feri Tradition by Cora Anderson
  • High Magic’s Aid by Gerald Gardner, 1949
  • Mastering Witchcraft: A Practical Guide for Witches, Warlocks & Covens by Paul Huson, 1971
  • Natural Magic by Doreen Valiente
  • Rebirth of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente
  • Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente
  • The Writings of Roy Bowers (Robert Cochrane)

 Read Your Mythology:

Kerenyi and Eliade will blow your mind, Puhvel will make you pull out the dictionary again, and Dr. Davidson will be a refreshing breath of easily understandable air.

  • Comparative Mythology by Jaan Puhvel
  • Encyclopedia of Spirits by Judika Illes
  • Gods of the Greeks by Karl Kerényi, 1974
  • The Myth of Eternal Return by Mircea Eliade, 1954
  • Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson

Shamanism & Syncretism:

To understand just how far back our practices as magical practitioners and spirit workers go one must explore the connections between modern Witchcraft, early modern Witchcraft, pre-Christian Paganism, Shamanism, and pre-Shamanism.

  • Cunning-Folk & Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic by Emma Wilby, 2006
  • Singing With Blackbirds: The Survival of Primal Celtic Shamanism in Later Folk-Traditions by Stuart A. Harris Logan, 2006
  • Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy by Mircea Eliade, 1951
  • Shamans Sorcerers and Saints: A Prehistory of Religion by Brian Hayden, 2003
  • The Way of Wyrd: Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer by Brian Bates, 1984
  • Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey (aka North Star Road) by Kenneth Johnson, 1999

Hands-on Magic:

A list of books to get your hands dirty, your kitchen messy, and give you lots of hands-on experience. Mickaharic is my homeboy – anything by him is excellent, but the two listed are his best. He draws from the many cultures living in North America. Valerie Worth’s books are similar to his, but more witchy and less hoodoo. Reading her books is like reading the grimoire of your grandmother… if she was a poet-witch.

  • A Century of Spells by Draja Mickaharic
  • Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews by Scott Cunningham
  • Crones Book of Words by Valerie Worth, 1971
  • Crones Book of Charms & Spells by Valerie Worth, 2002
  • Hoodoo, Herb and Root Magic by cat yronwode
  • Magical Herbalism by Scott Cunningham
  • Spiritual Cleansing: A Handbook of Psychic Protection by Draja Mickaharic

Herbalism Class:

The only non-magical books on herbalism you’ll ever need are The Herb Book and The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook. The magical herbalism books are a mixture of reference and learning how to work with the spirits of plants.

  • Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham
  • The Herb Book by John Lust
  • Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green
  • Magical and Ritual Use of Aphrodisiacs by Richard Alan Miller, 1985
  • Magical and Ritual Use of Herbs by Richard Alan Miller, 1983
  • Pharmako Trilogy by Dale Pendell
  • Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul by Ross Heaven & Howard G. Charing
  • Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Christian Rätsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl, 2003

Many of the classics are available for free on Sacred Texts and Google Books — always check them first as well as your local public library before purchasing books. Read for free! The out-of-print books I’ve listed aren’t very rare and shouldn’t be difficult to find on the second-hand market. If you’re lazy just search Amazon. If you’re more determined try AbeBooks or FetchBook.

 

Join the discussion 37 Comments

  • Wade MacMorrighan says:

    Hey Sara, my only personal quibble with Puhvel’s book–which, for the record, I otherwise LOVE–is it’s homophobic tone which modern readers should be advised to dismiss. For example, of ancient homoerotic activity or the Germanic Ergi shamanic figures, he is quick to label it “perversion”!

    As for books on medicinal herbalism, I would also, most definitely, add the following (as they were written by medical Drs, and pharmacists, respectively):

    * “Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician’s Guide to Herbal Medicine”, 4th. edn. ed. by Schulz, Hansel, and Tyler (Springer, 2001). This text is generally listed by organ or systemic-type, eg. heart, skin, lungs, etc.

    * “The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines” by Fetrow & Avila (Pocket Books, 2000). This text, in particular, cites medical studies on herbs and how they may differ on the folk-herbalism.

    Personally, I have found these books to be of more *practical* use than John Lusts “Herb Book” which can, at times, seem somewhat vague when he could have been a bit more specific with some of his entries. Though, I *adore*–ADORE!!!–Green’s book!!! :o)

    Oh, and my personal favorite book on magickal herbalism (which really discusses the Pagan lore of herbs, rather than using garbled and half-forgotten folk-lore) is Anna Franklin’s book, “Herb Craft” (Capall Bann, 1996). In my own personal opinion, it blows Cunningham’s herbal outta’ da’ water! (I’ve been saying that for years, ever since I bought it about a decade ago.) ;o)

    Of course, your list should *totally* include a few agenda-free books on the history of Paganism and Magick, like…

    * “Arcana Mundi”, by Georg Luck
    * “A History of Pagan Europe”, by Jones & Pennick.

    All my best,
    Wade

    PS: I’ve never heard of “Singing With Blackbirds: The Survival of Primal Celtic Shamanism in Later Folk-Traditions” by Stuart A. Harris Logan. I must hunt down a copy for my own library, now!!!

    • My list is composed of books I’ve read and know well. I wouldn’t recommend ones I haven’t read to someone – that’s why it’s my list and not yours 😉

      When one is used to reading older books with biases that are now socially unacceptable, one learns how to acknowledge them and move on. Brian Hayden, Dr. Davidson, Valiente, Wilby, and Thompson cover the history on my list. I consider most of the history books supplemental reading – i.e. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages and A History of Witchcraft by Jeffrey Burton Russell, Triumph of the Moon (with a large bag of salt), and Philip Heselton’s works on the history of Wicca.

      I don’t find Lust’s book vague at all, it’s just written in an old fashioned style like early cookbooks so the instructions and recipes are written word instead of lists and bullet points. It is my favourite because not only is it a herbal encyclopedia, but it also contains medicinal and cosmetic recipes, herbs for brewing, herbs for dyeing, herbs in folklore, and Lust also gives dosages for almost every herb. I’ve never heard of Anna Franklin’s book, I’ll have to check it out – this witch can’t have too many herbal books!

      • Wade MacMorrighan says:

        Anna’s book is what I had wished that Cunningham’s would have been. So, it’s one of my gems on the Pagan lore of herbs! Personally, I have about as may books on herbalism andher lore as I do on history!

        Oh, and a good friend of mine has just published a book critiquing Hutton’s “Triumph”. Just Google, “Trials of the Moon” by Ben Whitmoore. Sadly, Pega Alloi of The Witches Voice in the US, and a teacher of Film Studies at a University, has written a poor review of Ben’s book. Not only does she make specious charges agaINST HIM THAT ARE BLATANTLY TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT (an academic no-no that she must be aware of), but she fails to even acknowledge the demonstrable facts that ben was able to disclose, such as Hutton’s gross misrepresetation of the scholars he was quoting to sustain his thesis, etc. I have since, lost all respect for Peg as consequence of this behvior. There’s simply no excuse for it…

    • maureen says:

      Wade,
      I agree with you on Anna Franklin’s book Herbcraft. That and her book Hearthwitch have a permanent place or honour in my kitchen as constant references. Her book on animal familiars is also top rate.
      Maureen

  • Lynn says:

    Thanks for the list Sarah,
    It’s always good to see what others like to read and find inspiration in. I have just a couple of the books on your list but see many others on there which look look intriguing and should probably be on my bookshelf too.
    Green Blessinds,
    Lynn

  • Pam says:

    What a nice list! I love when others are willing to share what they have read and recommend! Many of the books you have listed I also have and would recommend.

    I love Witchcraft Medicine! Its like a gem of hidden ingredients that you have put together especially for making flying ointment! I like the fact that it is not a recipe book and that you really have to read it to find the answers! Thank you Sarah for recommending this book to me long ago :)!

  • scott says:

    Very nice choices in reading material. Valiente left some deep marks in my mind. Sybil Leek is a hoot, with her jackdaw buddy. Very level headed writer.

    The rustic flavor Mickaharic wrote with was so down to earth it made one feel good to read.

    For a *Looy publication Cunningham’s herbals are worth owning, I agree. Kinda prefer Paul Beyerl myself.

    It’s good to see Schulke & Chumbley isn’t considered a must-have for everyone. If you do enjoy them, good for you. Stick with your guns.

    By the way, I thank you for recommended in an earlier post “The Black Pullet”.

    Enjoy!

  • Mike Howard says:

    ‘The Writings of Robert Cochrane’ are in fact included in two books ‘The Roebuck in the Thicket’ and ‘The Robert Cochrane Letters’ published by Capall Bann Ltd in the UK and still avaliable from them or Amazon.com
    Unless I missed them, I am a bit surprised not to see any mention of Dr Carlos Ginzburg’s books or Hans Peter Duerr’s ‘Dreamtime’ as I would class them as classics, but then I am funny like that!

    Mike Howard

  • Kim says:

    I used to recommend reading Marian Green’s book Natural Witchcraft when trying to explain how I felt about relying too much on books and less on experience. in her book she basically tells her readers the same thing you did in your other post to get outside and if you need books the books you most need are plant, herb, tree, insect, and animal fieldguides so you can learn about what you see. The trouble though with that is almost everyone else hated her book and felt talked down to and asked me why on earth did I love that book. It can be frustrating when other people ask for your advice and then utterly hate the book that was the most influential for you personally and then love some poorly written and poorly researched book on the bestseller list of some New Age publisher with a rep for crap work. Intellectually, you understand that not everyone is going to love everything that you love-and its just your opinion after all, but being human it still hurts a bit.

    • lancemfoster says:

      I loved her book too Kim, so you aren’t alone there. I have Natural Witchcraft as well as A Witch Alone. I am more nature-oriented though, not much into black fingernail polish or kissing satanic ass LOL

  • Marilyn says:

    Wonderful, thanks! I have 26 of the aforementioned books and need to get the others eventually too. It does round out the studies beyond just the bare bones ones I usually recommend.

    This is another great list of trad craft related books I need to get some of too~
    http://www.clanoftubalcain.org.uk/probus_lectio.html

  • Tara says:

    I am probably going to be a crazy person and try to find/buy all of them XD Or maybe by a stroke of luck Ill find some at the library. Either way it’s a fantastic list. I can’t wait to dive into some new information =)

  • Tara says:

    Since I’ve started to look these books up..do you know any other books that give true information on the subject of Hoodoo? I’ve heard of Hoodoo, Herb and Root Magic by cat yronwode a lot but is there anything else? So many mixed review on all these books on Amazon. Thanks =)

    • If you combine cat yronwode’s Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic and Hoodoo in Theory and Practice with Draja Mickaharic’s books and The Master Book of Candle Burning – you’re set 😉

    • holdahexen says:

      Cat from Lucky Mojo also makes reference to Ray T Marlboroughs book “charms, Spells and Formulas. True Hoodoo or Not, a good read none the less.

    • lancemfoster says:

      As far as hoodoo goes, why not start for free with cat yronwode’s online book on hoodoo? “Hoodoo in Theory and Practice: An Introduction to African-American Rootwork” by Catherine Yronwode
      http://www.luckymojo.com/hoodoo.html

      If you enroll in her course she also has a beautiful hardcover book available only if you are a student of the course, “Hoodoo Rootwork Correspondence Course: A One Year Series of Lectures in Conjure”. I am a grad of her course.

  • Dawn says:

    Sarah… I <3 you!

    Excellent list! Thank you once again for taking the time to share this.

  • M. says:

    Thank you for taking the time. It is very much appreciated and I am looking forward to read some of them. Others I have already got and Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits will be a present from a friend for x-mas :-).

    THANK YOU!

  • Rachel says:

    Another serendipitous post! I was just starting to compose a comprehensive WOFG reading list based on other posts and interest of subject matter. I’ve already read a handful of those, and own a few, but mostly just the ones pertaining to herbalism. When I first realized I could no longer deny this path, I found it difficult to find good books among the library stacks and wasted my time with A LOT of crap. There ARE gems hiding, but many times the good library books were never returned. Pifffft! I found used book stores a great goldmine of wonderful options. With the internet now, as well, it’s a wonderful way to search and find everything one could need, especially for books that you just can’t seem to find anywhere locally, or if it’s unsafe for someone to buy them in public. Having a solid recommendation list is INVALUABLE! Thanks again!!

  • Rachel says:

    PS: I was even able to email one author and purchase her book directly from her! Obviously, that’s not always a possibility, but nice to support witchy (or otherwise) authors whose books may no longer be available or are hard to come by.

  • Sunblazer says:

    Hi, Sarah. I am proud to say that I have about 95% of your recommended books, but have managed to read only about 75% at this point in time. Ah, never enough time!! I have always admired your compendious knowledge concerning witchcraft and feel quite satisfied that my selections have generally matched yours! Also, I appreciate your not simply throwing out a title because of its hype without having read it! Makes perfect sense to me. That’s why I trust your judgment so much! I have read all of Valiente’s works and put her in the top five percent of knowledgeable authors. Incidentally, I also recently managed to acquire one of the rare two-volume publications of Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica from the UK. I can’t wait to delve into those time-worn tomes. As you said, the dark half of the year is the perfect time for contemplative, relective reading! All my best wishes to you and yours!

  • maureen says:

    Sarah,
    What a great list of books! I’ve read many of them and learned a great deal from them. I love the book Witchcraft Medicine as well as Pendell’s books, if stranded on a desert island these would be the ones I’d want to have on hand. It doesn’t matter how many times I read these books I always take in something new.
    Maureen

  • Pombagira says:

    excellent book list.. thank you, i am also enjoying the comments thread.. most helpful to..

    alas my booklist grows, *grins* most excellent!

    *beams*

  • Lady of Bones says:

    Sarah,
    Thank you for posting the list…I’d never heard of “Singing with Blackbirds” before you mentioned it. I managed to track a copy of the book down online and can’t wait to read it. I know lots of people have already mentioned this in other responses, but your posts do have a strange synchronicity to them and the experiences of your readers. I just ran across a message the other day to pay attention to blackbirds, hence why that particular title jumped out at me. Please don’t hesitate to let us know about any other literary finds you run across!

  • For those who’ve read most of the books on my list or who are looking for even more recommended books, don’t forget I have another blog called Pagan Bookworm which is just for reviews 😉

  • Wade MacMorrighan says:

    Sara, I got a new book a few days ago as I was on the mend (I somehow threw my knee out in my sleep a few weeks ago); anyway, as much as I know about the lore of herbs, *this* book still taught this old horse some new tricks: “Discovering the Folklore of Herbs”, by Margaret Baker.

    • Small world, I have Discovering the Folklore of Plants too. It’s a little chapbook, but there’s some great tidbits in it. Margaret Baker rocks! I use her books quite a bit for my research. She has quite a few titles out. Her books on the folklore of Christmas and Weddings are amazing as she basically proves almost all our modern “Christian” customs have Pagan origins. Her style reminds me of Elizabeth Pepper but she is folkloric whereas Pepper is witchy.

      Slainte,
      Sarah

  • Elizabeth says:

    Argh! Seriously, since I have started reading this blog, I have purchased five books that you have mentioned here and there. Since reading this post, I have just finished purchasing seven more. AND, my two orders from the Botanica. Really, I’m not trying to be a doppelganger!! :) Thanks for all the inspiration and for all the good winter-time reading recommendations.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Oh, I guess I should state that I have only been reading this blog for less than a month. Sheesh! Happy reading to me.

  • Wow, what a list. I’ve never understood the concept of dismissing an entire book or author because of a prejudice he or she may have had; after all, we’re reading to extract information, not taking it as gospel! At any rate, now I can’t fear running out of winter reading =)

  • Geetar646 says:

    I’d like to address this to anyone reading this who just comes here to read her blog but for some reason hasn’t tried any of the herbal product of Little Miss Strange. I just got back from CA. There was a box of stuff waiting for me from the witch. I just lit some of “dream incense” up tonight. I have one word: POTENT. Gourmet f…cking anarchy. Pure Bowie.

  • Nix says:

    Great list, Sarah! Certainly a few I have not read and you are going to make my bank account very sad in the near future.

    Best,
    n

  • Rick says:

    Than you for this. I’ve been having a need for solid grounding for my practice and this will only help.
    I realize this is an old post, but since I foundyour blog I have been trying to read it until the very first post. It’s been wonderful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing all this with us.