When studying a topic nowadays, it is easy to be influenced by incorrect information (especially on the internet) that is presented in a very convincing manner. Often enough, people will accept information they read on online platforms; this is problematic because many people put their own ideas and beliefs out for others to consume, but they present it as a proven fact rather than opinion. However, with all the resources that are available in this day and age, it is easier than ever to fact-check information that we find online.
Many young Pagans first began their spiritual journey through online searches regarding Paganism, Wicca, or witchcraft, and although there is good information online, a lot of information can be misconstrued or blatantly false. When studying religions online, there are biases from all directions; whether someone is wanting to disprove or promote a specific religious path. Because Paganism and witchcraft does not have a designated religious text that survived through years of conversions and conquests, we often must study the history of different Pagan groups and their beliefs in order to piece together lost information.
I have had conversations with many people just coming into paganism or simply wanting to learn more about another religion, and more often than not I found that a huge portion of their information comes from opinion-based pieces written or told by people with obvious biases. Now, opinions are great when you want to know how someone feels about a religion, how the religion has influenced their life, or what they personally believe; however, if you are trying to learn more about the actual beliefs of a religion and its history, then you need to derive your information from reliable sources based on years of study.
Another issue with biases is regarding those who try to disprove or discredit a certain religion or set of beliefs. It never ceases that there are people who will try to convince you that your religious choice is neither true nor good. I once knew someone who honestly believed that paganism did not exist until a few decades ago, but if you have ever taken an ancient history class then you know that this is not true. After this I had to explain and show them information to prove that there were in fact non-Abrahamic polytheistic religions that existed before Christianity, and that the term “pagan” was given to these religions later on by others as a way to categorize Christians and non-Christians. The problem was not with the person who thought this, because they honestly believed that what they had read and been told was the truth. The problem was with the misinformation which led to their ignorance because they did not choose to fact-check what they had read and been told.
First off, the easiest place that everyone goes to research is the internet. If you are studying information online, then using academic websites is a terrific way to find respectable information on the topic you are researching. On popular academic history sites, there are usually pages on specific sections and/or topics in history, including history of pagan cultures and religions (such as Greek, Celtic, Egyptian, and others).Websites such as Encyclopedia Britannica are a great way to find reliable and well-sourced information about Paganism and witchcraft. Another respectable source is the BBC’s website, which has a page about Paganism that includes links to their other pages with full articles about certain Pagan topics, even though it focuses more on paganism of the British Isles. Even using the Google Scholar search engine can provide you with an abundance of educational sources such as articles and books that relate to Paganism or witchcraft. Some are available to view online, others, like certain books, may have to be purchased or rented in order to be read.
Lastly, books! When you scour the internet to look for information, you will find a lot of books (new and old) that relate to your religious topic. Some of these books can be found at local libraries in history or religion sections depending on the location and size of your town’s library. I am lucky because I live on a university campus and my school’s library has entire sections dedicated to religious topics, and when I have free time I can go and sit at a table and spend hours looking through books related to Paganism and witchcraft.
Some books you find may be expensive and you may not want to spend $30 or more on one book, but websites like Thrift Books, Better World Books, Half Price Books, and Amazon are great ways to find the books you are looking for at a lower cost!* Each of these websites contain books related to witchcraft, paganism, Wicca, mythology, even gardening and herbs, and you can easily check these books online to make sure they have good information.
My personal favorite reference books for religion are in the series “Facts on File Library of Religion and Mythology”, which includes encyclopedias on different mythologies (such as Greek and Roman, Celtic, Native American, as well as general World Mythology) and dictionaries of gods and goddesses. Encyclopedias about mythologies and religions are my particular favorite source for information because everything is alphabetized by subject and is much easier to search through.
Just remember when you are studying that it is important to not always believe what someone tells you, even if it is someone which you trust. It is crucial to fact-check what you hear and be sure to gather information from legitimate sources. Ignorance in religion is something that the world already has plenty of, and we definitely do not need anymore, so please be sure that you are knowledgeable about the religion that you are considering joining. Do not let yourself be negatively influenced by the ignorance of others.
*Editor’s Note: Buying books from your local Witch shop will help keep that shop in business and help your local community!