Wicca 202: A Next Level Book List

This past weekend I came across a person asking about “next level Wicca books” or “things outside of Wicca 101.” When I sat down to answer the question I ended up numbly staring at my keyboard for several minutes unable to come up with anything. Most books about Wicca are “101″ books because Wicca is a religion that’s best experienced. You can read the ritual of Drawing Down the Moon but eventually you have to do it (or be around someone who does it) to understand the process. Even books that claim to be “second level” usually just rehash the same material over and over.

This is not the space to get into the debate on whether or not initiation is necessary for one to call themselves “Wiccan” (we’ve done that on Raise the Horns, it’s right here), but I will say that a well trained teacher makes a huge difference. I was a boot-strap Wiccan for a good decade before encountering an established coven, and the things I learned in that group had a profound influence on my Wiccan practice. I know that not everyone can find a teacher, but if it’s possible to I highly recommend it.

Like almost all words in the Pagan-sphere “Wiccan” is extremely problematic and has been used in a variety of ways over the last few decades. For my purposes here “Wicca” is defined as a magickal religious tradition whose origins can be traced back to Gerald Gardner. Pretty much anyone who calls the quarters, invokes a Goddess and God, celebrates Cakes & Wine/Ale, celebrates the eight traditional sabbats, and self identifies as a Witch or a Wiccan owes something to Gerald Gardner. Due to the definition being employed here the books mentioned in this article have a very “British Traditional Slant,” besides the point of this is to recommend books that people haven’t read before. (I’ve done the “Pagan 101″ list before, it’s right here.)

With my caveats in place, let’s get to the list.

If you really want to tackle Wicca, sometimes it’s best to start at the very beginning, which means Gerald Brosseau Gardner. By recommending Gardner, I’m not claiming that his books are coherent or well written, just that the content of those books has been an influence for the last sixty years or so. For our purposes, there are three books by the “Grand Old Man of Witchcraft” worth reading. The first is a novel, High Magic’s Aid, originally published in 1949. High Magic’s Aid is not a hidden literary gem, it’s a mostly slow moving adventure novel, but it does contain some magic and ritual (owing far more to Ceremonial Magic than the Witchcraft Gardner would reveal just a few years later) that were a huge influence on the Modern Craft.

When it comes to Gardner, High Magic’s Aid is probably the high point when it comes to reading, but no Witch’s library is complete without The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959) and Witchcraft Today (1954). Both books are full of outdated history and make some large leaps in logic, but they offer strong insight into how the people we would come to call Modern Pagans thought in the 1950′s/early 60′s. The Witchcraft Gardner writes about can be traced back to the Stone Age and has links to nearly every magical tradition ever celebrated. It’s Wicca as a system somehow connected to the Knight’s Templar and King Arthur’s Holy Grail; a complete hodgepodge of magical and occult tradition all in one place.

Much of what Gardner writes about has little bearing on Modern Wicca, but there are moments when his prose captures an idea or image. The Goddess and God he writes about are instantly recognizable, and he gives them a romantic history that links them to ancient Babylon and the witches of the Middle Ages. As much as I dislike much of what is in Gardner’s books, I still find myself drawn to them on occasion. When I’m trying to capture the essence of an idea (and I’m not at all concerned about historical accuracy) I consult Gardner.

(It was pointed out to me in the comments below that I sound extremely harsh in regards to Gardner’s works. I’m actually a big Gardner fan, but as a writer he leaves a lot to be desired. There are great moments in Gardner’s published writings, especially when’s he’s writing about things that are familiar to practitioners of Modern Wicca. The problems arise when he’s writing about dwarves in ancient Europe or fragments of history that modern historians have discounted. It’s important to remember that he was writing in the early 1950′s and was attempting to tackle a subject that had never been written about before. It shouldn’t be a surprise that his books are laborious to read, but that doesn’t diminish my respect for him as a person or the importance of some of the ideas in his non-fiction books and novels.)

The forward to Gardner’s Witchcraft Today was written by Dr. Margaret Murray and her books are very similar to Gardner’s in that the ideas within them are far better than the history they attempt to tell. As history, Murray’s The God of the Witches is pretty awful (Pan is not Robin Goodfellow), but as the foundation for an entire archetype it’s a tour de force. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to write that Murray basically creates The Horned God archetype in TGotW. She links a varied array of gods together and then adds Robin Hood for good measure. She calls Cernunnos “one of the greatest gods” and follows that up with the idea that he might have been the “supreme deity” of Gaul, cementing his importance to Modern Pagans. (For the record, it’s highly unlikely Cernunnos was “one of the greatest gods” of Gaul, and I say that as a fan and a follower.) Even while I disagree with much of her history, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the sheer joy that is her take on the God of the Witches.

Dion Fortune has been influencing Modern Witchcraft since the 1930′s with both her fiction and non-fiction books. Her The Mystical Qabalah (1935) is considered a classic on the subject, but it’s her fiction books which have probably had the biggest impact. The Sea Priestess (1938) is more than just an occult novel, it’s an early blueprint for Witch ritual, full of gorgeous rites and invocations. Some of her other fiction books are worth a read too, especially The Goat-Foot God (1936).

I’ve always believed that if you want to know about something you should go straight to the source, after Gardner (and often times far more clear and intelligible) the best sources are some of his early High Priestesses. Patricia Crowther’s memoirs are a fascinating mix of history, reflection, insight, and ritual. Her first memoir, Witch Blood (1974), has been out of print for several decades now and is currently selling for over 200 dollars online, luckily her later memoir High Priestess (published as One Witch’s World in Britain) (1998) is still in print and easily available. 2009′s Covensense is also worth tracking down, as is 1985′s Lid Off the Cauldron. All of Crowther’s books contain information generally not available elsewhere (though finding it is sometimes like panning for gold).

Gardner’s most famous High Priestess is undoubtedly Doreen Valiente, and I’d be remiss if I left her out of this conversation. As a first person history of early Paganism nothing tops The Rebirth of Witchcraft (1989). From Gardner to Cochrane and everything in between Valiente was everywhere the word “Witch” was. 2000′s The Charge of the Goddess: The Mother of Modern Witchcraft (currently out of print . . . . gods I have been blessed with a good library) is a collection of Valiente’s poetry along with her own hand-written notes and several seldom seen pictures. The poetry is what makes the book, and her words speak to the greater secrets and truths within The Craft of the Wise. The poems are also pretty awesome and I often find myself sneaking them into my own rituals.

Another out of print book that I’m a big fan of is Keepers of the Flame (2006) by Morganna Davies and Aradia Lynch. Keepers is a collection of interviews with various American Craft elders and contains a lot of information and ideas generally absent from most books on Modern Wicca. In a similar vein is Wiccan Wisdomkeepers (2002) by Sally Griffyn which is another collection of interviews with various Craft elders (similar too in that it’s also out of print). Wisdomkeepers is worth tracking down for the pictures alone, but the interviews are interesting too. The diversity of traditions is better in Flame, but Wisdomkeepers features more big name rock star like Pagans if that’s your thing.

That’s fourteen or so books right there which should keep you pretty busy from now until Samhain. If you missed my Reading Modern Pagan History post that list also contains several books that should be in every good Witch’s 202 library. As always, happy reading!

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I am sensing that you are not the greatest Gardner fan.

    The man created Wicca, I can’t help but wonder what he would make of it, today.

    • JasonMankey

      I’m a huge fan of Gardner! I love the guy, it’s just that his books aren’t very good, especially in 2013.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I picked up on this line:

        “Much of what Gardner writes about has little bearing on Modern Wicca”

        I feel that is a really important line. Did Gardner want his tradition to evolve in the way it did? Would he be happy that people are using the term ‘Wicca’ to refer to ‘traditions’ that have almost nothing in common with his ritual magic system?

        • JasonMankey

          There are several spots in “Witchcraft Today” full of great power and beauty, and those spots are almost always relevant to the Modern Craft. Gardner writing about the “Descent of the Goddess” is a good example of this, and he also includes some of “The Charge of the Goddess” in his book too.

          A far greater percentage of the book is spent on things completely unrelated to Modern Wicca, an entire chapter on dwarves in ancient Europe for example. “Witchcraft Today” reads a lot like an anthropology book, and is full of all kinds of filler.

          There’s a lot of speculation that the original New Forest Coven prohibited him from writing about certain subjects and ritual techniques, and therefore he had to pad the text. For those who doubt the existence of Gardner’s initiating coven the argument is that “he hadn’t made it all up yet,” so he couldn’t put it in the book.

          When he describes the magickal system of English Witches it’s recognizable as Modern Wicca. His writings on voodoo in the new world as being somehow related to that English practice aren’t really a part of the modern day conversation. His books are truly a mixed bag.

          Did Gardner want his tradition to evolve in the way it did? I think so, mostly, and I think he would be proud of how its grown. I know not everyone is happy with some of the more inclusive definitions of Wicca, but even the most eclectic circle has elements in common with his ritual magic system.

        • http://silvercircle.es/ Alder Lyncurium

          Bwavo! That’s why it is called “orthopraxy”. The Craft is always different, from coven to coven, and even from initiate to initiate.
          And yes, talking about trad wicca there.

          Apart from that, I don’t believe in 202, 303 books :) To me, personally, the 202 is figure out how that which you have “learned” (or rather read) can be helpful and useful in your daily life. Now, that’s the big deal!

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            But did Gardner want difference or was he after orthopraxy? I am asking from a point of ignorance, but the answer is pretty important, to me, as it means the difference between respectful evolution and disrespectful bastardisation.

          • http://silvercircle.es/ Alder Lyncurium

            I am not very fond of assuming what he would have wanted. I personally beliefe that he was quite orthopraxic in the way he taught the Craft, in they way each of his HPS developed it, always keeping a few core “practices” but also evolving with time :) I don’t think he was after orthopraxy, at all!

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Assumptions are seldom a good idea, but educated guesses (with an admission of fallibility) can be of interest.

            I am not entire sure I am following what you are saying.

            He was orthopraxic, himself, but was not likely concerned with orthopraxy in others?

          • http://silvercircle.es/ Alder Lyncurium

            Apologies for the confusion. I was trying to avod stating something about him – that’s why there’s a missing bit there (He was …….. and was quite orthopraxic in the way he taught the Craft).
            Well, if I am to assume, I would say he was definitely an orthopraxic person, and the biggest example of a true eclectic. He took what he allegedly received, and added bits the he considered useful. He took from here and there and created a whole religious system.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Which people have, essentially, taken apart again.

            This is of interest to me, as I am trying to codify my own system, at the moment. I know I will be pissed as Hel if people then think it is okay to tear it apart, since they only want the shiny bits.

          • Anna H.

            He really was not very orthopraxic. He tinkered with his own rituals.

        • Anna H.

          Gardner would be happy as heck about Modern Wicca and Modern Paganism. His ritual magic system came late in life and was obviously cobbled together, and for all his blinking and “look-the-other-way-folks,” everyone knew it was, and he knew they knew it was. He even kind of admits it. But it was functional, and it got a body-positive, sex-positive, Feminine-positive, Goddess-positive religious system out there, and after reading the Heselton material and some others, I truly believe that’s ultimately what he was after. He’d be going to Pagan gatherings these days and having helluv fun.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Did he want it to be a ritual magic system or a full blown religion?

            I confess I am not much of a scholar on the matter, but what I have read led me to believe that he was working on a ritual magic system, rather than a religion.

  • David Quinn

    I am a big fan of Kaatyrn MacMorgan-Douglas’s “Wicca 333″ and “Wicca 334″ as long as you aren’t too attached to BTW.

    • https://www.facebook.com/ThePaganNaturalist Nicole Youngman

      You beat me to it, I enjoyed 333 and didn’t know 334 was out…off to Amazon! :)

  • toadette

    I know the mere mention of Crowley strikes fear in the hearts of Wiccans, but it needs to be pointed out that “The Charge of the Goddess” is a paraphrase of the Priestess’ soliloquy in the Gnostic Mass, and that the “Wiccan” rede is a corruption of Thelema’s tenet “do what thou wilt.” There is very little in Wicca that does not owe a huge debt to Crowley, despite the fact that was not even a Pagan. Unfortunately, Crowley’s wide knowledge of hermeticism and metaphysical systems in the Kabbalah, Confucianism, Hinduism, etc preclude much interest from Wiccans. It’s generally too deep for what they are looking for, and strays into territory that their ‘rede’ and ‘threefold law’ prohibit them from exploring.

    • http://silvercircle.es/ Alder Lyncurium

      It’s not the mere mention of Crowley what strikes fear (or rather annoyance), it’s his fanboys going around repeating the same sentence every now and then, as if we didn’t know already!
      We all know where most of the texts com from. We all know also about the rituals.
      Now, can we please get over that? Go and “Do what thou wilt”*

      NB: Can we also get avout the wiccan rede and the threefold law? You know, not all wiccans believe in that :)

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        “Can we also get avout the wiccan rede and the threefold law? You know, not all wiccans believe in that”
        When does Wicca cease to be Wicca and become something else, instead?

        • http://silvercircle.es/ Alder Lyncurium

          Good question. I guess it “doesn’t feel like Wicca”. At least to me :) Or the person decides it’s something else. But considering that nowadays Wicca has become a quite wide term, it would be difficult to say :D

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I like concise definitions. It’s a weakness, I suppose. When a word ceases to have a meaningful, concise definition, then it is time to examine the relevance of having that word at all.

          • http://silvercircle.es/ Alder Lyncurium

            I like definitions too, but I have learn to give up on them when it come to something as “Wicca” a modern term (or rather of-modern-common-usage) which significance has highly evolved during the last decades.
            The reason that you point out is the same one that led me to stop using it – not always, but most of the time. I normally use “Craft” nowaday.
            In any case, I would personaly define it as a “mysteric and initiatory fertility cult brought to the public world by Gerald Gardner”.
            Now, as you can see, that definition would cause so much trouble nowdays, when there are thousands of solitary practitiones who consider themselves Wicca.
            In such context, I prefer to use Wicca as a more flexible and inclusive term, instead of pepetrating and endless (and sometimes poinless and harmful) discussion.
            Furthermore, even when we talk in the context of the same tradition, there are discrepances: we do agree that it’s a tradition, we do agree in a few common grounds, but how we concieve the whole lot, is something utterly personal and, most of the time (IMHO) useless.
            We are witches, we don’t care if what we do has the proper tag on top – just if it works and feels right :)

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Labels are of most use to those outside.

            I am a solitary (Heathen) through situation – there are no others around my area that I am aware of.

            As such, if I talk religion, it is with those who are not familiar with the nuances. This basic interfaith is a giant struggle when I have to give a four hour lecture on almost every word I use to describe Heathenry and Paganisms.

          • AnantaAndroscoggin

            If we do away with all labels, we will have little language left to use.

    • JasonMankey

      I’m not afraid of Crowley, he’s on my Top 5 Pagan list, and I recommend the book “Wicca: Magickal Beginnings” which lists all of the borrowings of Crowley material. The Great Beast has appeared on Raise the Horns several times and I consider myself a fan. I’m certainly well aware of his tremendous influence on Modern Wicca, but what did you want me to recommend? “Moonchild?”

      Most Wiccans I know are completely comfortable with Crowley, and I also know a lot of Wiccans also interested in/members of the OTO. I’ve participated in the Gnostic Mass a few times myself.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      Crowley doesn’t deserve credit for the Charge of the Goddess. Leland and Apuleius are more important sources for the Charge than anything Crowley wrote.

      Not that this in any way diminishes the importance and influence of the Master Therion.

      Also, the Wiccan Rede is simply a restatement of basic tenets of Stoic and Platonic philosophy.

  • Sunweaver

    I would also recommend Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland. It provides insight into some of the theology and liturgy that was absorbed into Wicca as it’s known today. Fascinating stuff! Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon is an excellent history lesson and I like NeoPagan Rites by Isaac Bonewits for ritual construction and theory. There are lots of good books out there that go beyond “Wicca 101.” Thank you for highlighting some of them.

    • JasonMankey

      Obviously you didn’t click on my “Reading Pagan History” link, or my “Essential Pagan Reading” list, all of those books (minus Issac) are on there. I was consciously trying to highlight books I hadn’t written about before. I do a lot of book lists!

      • Sunweaver

        I must have missed those posts. The Bonewits book is certainly an excellent resource for anyone who plans on creating rituals of any sort.

  • Melissa Vennel

    How about getting away from Wicca and Witchcraft books in general… How about reading some Joesph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, or Carl Jung. These books explain the “Why?” of a lot of the things Wiccans and Pagans do. When I teach, I have my students start there, as most of them have read their fair share of books on Witchcraft.

    • http://silvercircle.es/ Alder Lyncurium

      Those books probably talk more about “witchcraft” (or at least the ideas behind it) thatn half of the Llewellyn collection :). Agreed!

  • Carrie Tuttle

    Thank you for posting this. I lament that there are so many beginning books out there, and seeming so few for those of us who have been practicing for a while. This should definitely keep me till Samahin and beyond..