Yesterday many of us at Patheos Pagan shared our “First Pagan Books.” For the sake of simplicity I responded with DJ Conway’s Celtic Magic but that wasn’t really “my first Pagan book” it was simply the first Pagan book I read as an adult.
My childhood was full of things that would serve as a sort of prelude to my life today. As a kid I was always reading, and more than just comic books. I read history books, Encyclopedia Brown books, and even my Dad’s mythology books from college (back in the fourth grade!). I read a wide range of stuff and some of it still shapes my life today.
Like many children the first creatures (or things) to truly fascinate me were dinosaurs. I loved the idea of giant monster-like beasts once walking around on the Earth and dinosaurs consumed most of my daydreams and free time in kindergarten and the first grade. But something changed in the second grade when I began to wonder if dinosaurs might still be around in some form . . . it was at that point that I became completely obsessed with cryptozoology for several years. (Because back then we all knew that the Loch Ness Monster was a plesiosaur right?)
If you’ve ever worked your way through your local library’s collection of Yeti and Sasquatch books you are probably aware that they share a spot in the dewey decimal system right next to books on the unexplained, demonology, UFO’s, vampires, magick, and all sorts of other “mysteries.” My first exposure to names such as Gerald Gardner, Aleister Crowley, Alex Sanders, and Anton LaVey was through such books. Of course they were all portrayed as ninth-degree Satanists, but it was something.
In the summer between seventh and eight grade I read my first book written by a Witch, it was the first thing I encountered that didn’t portray Witches and other occultists as Satanists. That book was Sybil Leek’s Cast Your Own Spell, a mostly forgettable paperback that did at least live up to its title. I did use that book to cast a spell, and it worked.
Running parallel with my interest in monsters and the unknown was a deep interest in mythology and religion. As early as the third grade I wondered why no one worshipped the Greek Gods anymore. I remember a chilly February day off from school looking up into the sky and saying something to Zeus. The book that made me fall in love with Greek mythology was D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, and it was a volume I treasured so much that I had to get my own copy later as an adult.
Not far from the legends of Hercules, Theseus, and Jason & his Argonauts lie the tales of such English figures as King Arthur and Robin Hood. I ended up loving those too, and became a sucker for anything medieval-like, including epic fantasy literature. My first favorite fantasy series was Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain (best known for the second volume The Black Cauldron). I might have been flunking out of pre-algebra at the time, but I had Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper to keep me company while doing so.
Between my early forays into the unknown, Greek myth, and re-imagingings of Welsh mythology I had most of the pieces in place that would come to define me as a Modern Pagan and Witch. Those early expeditions into the worlds of werewolves and the mystery of the Mary Celeste would later serve me well when trying to untangle the knot of Modern Witchcraft’s origin. It all led to me having a large degree of skepticism yet being open to the possibility of the unknown.
While I may have never taken my relationship with Zeus to the next level after those initial whisperings, other Hellenic deities would become cornerstones in my life. Pan was the first, rapidly followed by Dionysus, and since Dionysus actually likes my wife (Pan, not so much) it’s been the latter who has had the biggest impact on my life the last ten years or so. Aphrodite is also a big part of my daily life and she might be the most honored deity at my little house.
Many Pagan traditions are about re-imagining, and I think this applies to early Wiccan-Witchcraft as well. It’s not much talked about, but I honestly believe that Gerald Gardner and his early initiates thought that much of what they were doing dated back to the Middle Ages and reflected a certain way of life that had existed in the English countryside up until the start of the 20th Century. I’ll admit to those daydreams of everyone in the village dancing the maypole upon Beltane while winking at their local Christian church.
Obviously that’s not what Alexander’s books were about, but they did present a very pagan British countryside. And the last book ends with a bit of a wink that maybe one can still create a magickal world, even if most of the wizards and fantastical creatures have left our day to day world. I’ve never expected Gurgi (with rumblings and grumblings) to show up in my ritual circle, but the feelings those books brought out in me has been a part of my circle on many occasions.
I would keep up with all of my little early “first step” interests as I got older and entered high school and college. Alexander and Lewis would make way for Feist, Hobb, and Brooks, and I remained obsessed with Greek Gods during those years too. (I built a “temple” to Aphrodite in the ninth grade.) Through Led Zeppelin I would rediscover Aleister Crowley and eventually make my way to Conway’s Celtic Magic at the age of 21. It was at that point that I began to figure out who I was and I’ve never looked back (at least not with much frequency).
Eventually I’d discover the “real” 101 books most people read. Ray Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft was an early purchase, as was The Spiral Dance, and Silver Ravenwolf’s To Ride a Silver Broomstick. (Weirdly if you were to ask me which book I recommend today I’d say Broomstick.) Today I write my own books along with this blog. I wonder if my worlds will eventually be a part of someone’s first steps into this magickal world we walk in.