Anyone that knows me or that follows my blog, knows that I’m a bibliophile. I love non-fiction books, particularly those of a spiritual, occult, metaphysical, religious, or folklore nature. I review a lot of books. Many have commented on the fact that many of the books that I review are almost completely positive. Why don’t I have any negative reviews? The truth is that I read way more books than I review. There are many books that I will never review. Why? Because my focus is on lifting up the works of others that I truly enjoy and think will help other like-minded seekers. I have no interest in bashing someone’s work, I rather just direct people to books that I think are great.
You may notice that the books that I review are very diverse within the realm of occultism. I’ll review a book by Silver Ravenwolf one day and then a book by Gemma Gary the next. Two very diverse flavors of witchcraft. I read everything from books on folk magick to books of a more new age flavor. I read almost anything I can get my hands on that deals with these realms, because I’m in love with magick – plain and simple. I can find nuggets of truth also in books that I greatly disagree with for the most part, such as The Bible or The Satanic Bible. How can that be?
I think many magickal practitioners get lost in a conditioning of past indoctrination from their previous religions with a mindset that a book is either completely true or completely false. With this mentality one is either blindly believing everything in a book or they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. With both frames of mind, one loses out completely on wisdom, insight, opportunities to enhance their craft, challenge their ideas, question their assumptions, or genuinely grow in their magickal pursuits.
First and foremost, I have tried to make it clear several times that I am not a hard polytheist nor a reconstructionist pagan. As I have written before, I believe the path of the witch is a lonely path. What I mean by that is that regardless of the traditions we’re involved with and despite the covens and organizations that we may practice with – at the end of the day the spirituality, magick, growth, and daily life belongs to the witch themselves. In this sense, I see all witchcraft as solitary. I also believe that Witchcraft is a scavenger path, even when it comes to reconstructionism and revivalism. While one should always try to be respectful and mindful of cultural appropriation, witches have always taken what works and added that to their tool belts. In fact, a lot of modern folk witchcraft comes from the cunningfolk traditions which were predominantly Christian in nature.
Here is a discernment guide that some of you may find helpful to consider when reading books on Witchcraft, the Occult or Paganism:
- Historical understanding is always changing. If you read a book on witchcraft from the 70s or 80s, you’re going to get a very different account of history as it’s understood today. Many things end up being disproven, but things that were once disproven as flat out wrong sometimes end up being verified later on. So keep this in mind anytime history is given.
- Sometimes “inaccurate history” is part of a tradition’s lore and mythos and sometimes is portrayed in a certain way because there’s a current of energy within that modern myth that ties into their inner mysteries.
- Almost every book (if not all) published on Witchcraft is only “outer court” information of the witch and their tradition. This means that there’s information, secrets, and deeper practices that are being purposely omitted from the works. For example, I am not a Wiccan and have not been initiated into a BTW (British Traditional Witchcraft) lineage. Because of this, I understand when reading books on Wicca, that what’s being written about may greatly differ from the beliefs and practices still being safeguarded. This is also why I tend to find it odd when non-Wiccan witches criticize Wicca, because unless they are privy to the inner court information – they most likely have no idea what they’re talking about.
- Witchcraft tends to be a mystery tradition. This means that some things simply can’t be explained because they’re not expressible in words. They can be expressed in a way that will help lead you in the right direction towards the mystery, but can never really reveal the mystery succinctly. This is very much in line with the buddhist notion of not confusing the finger pointing to the moon with the moon itself.
- People are a product of their culture and time, as much as they may not want to be. Many ideas and ways of thinking that were common in say the late 1800s or early 1900s, are recognized now as being sexist, racist, and homophobic. It’s important to not sweep these facts under the rug and to call out these ideas, but I think it would be foolish to ignore all of an occultists’ writings because of a cultural worldview that was prevalent at the time.
- Things are written and explained in a certain way depending on the level of experience the intended reader is at. How something is explained to a beginner varies greatly than that of an advanced occultist. This is also how things tend to be taught in Witchcraft traditions as well. How something is taught to a level one initiate may vary greatly for how it’s retaught to a level three initiate.
- Publishers censor. This is a hard one for people to grasp. Sometimes parts of books are taken out because a publishing company is a company, and at the end of the day their job is to make money. If something seems like it’ll be too controversial they’ll often have the author take it out. They may also ask an author to rewrite something in a different way that will explain it better to a wider audience, often simplifying things or omitting things viewed as too advanced or complex. This doesn’t mean the author is a basic witch, and has nothing of substance to offer within the book.
- Some information is unverified personal gnosis, meaning that the information was either relayed to them by a spirit or god, or was an epiphany during trance or meditation. This is often problematic when historical information about a deity and unverified personal gnosis are not clearly distinguished in the writing. So, take information on the history or conflation of deities with a grain of salt. This means recognizing that the information given to one witch, may be given to that witch specifically for the purpose of their relationship – and may or may not be applicable with yours.
- Names of spirits and deities may be the same as yours, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the author is speaking about the same exact one. This is a hard one to explain, but I will do my best here. Some traditions of witchcraft work with deities that have safe-guarded names specific only to that tradition or to that witch. Some traditions also work with primal powers behind those deities. Sometimes those deities will use the masks of other deities or present themselves in those forms because it taps into a vital part of their nature as a deity. While this may be seen as cultural appropriation of ancient paganism (if that’s a thing, to appropriate a dead culture?), it is often the deities that are the ones doing this. This is the difference between unverified personal gnosis and that of shared gnosis of a tradition of witches. A friend of mine brilliantly described this as the difference between worshipping the glove and working with the hand inside the gloves. Sometimes, since these names are safe-guarded through oaths of secrecy, the best way to describe and work with this deity is to use the forms that closely relate to – or that the deity has shown up in when speaking or writing about them publicly. This may not be how you view and work with deity, and that’s perfectly acceptable – but there are many who do and this is often not presented clearly within their writings, usually because it’s considered a more advanced subject.
- Books tend to be a snapshot of where the author was at the time with their beliefs and spiritual practice. Because the text is immortalized in book form people begin to assume that this is what the author still holds as true. The beliefs and spiritual practices of most witches are ever-evolving. Think back to ten years ago and what you believed, I’m sure there’s been some changes as well. Hopefully you too are always growing and evolving in your Craft.