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Building a Pagan Library (And I’m Giving Some of it Away)

Building a Pagan Library (And I’m Giving Some of it Away) January 24, 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about books the last year and a half. Part of that’s because I wrote a book about books called The Witch’s Book of Shadows, but some of that is because I simply like (love?) books. Writing books has resulted in me buying me more books than ever, most often because there’s research to pin down, along with all the rabbit holes I end up falling into while researching.

Shameless Self Promotion.
Shameless Self Promotion.

My Pagan Library began with one book, DJ Conway’s Celtic Magic, I’m not ashamed to have started there even if it eventually made my list of five (possibly) worst ever Witch books list. Part of the reason I started there was sheer availability (I ran into at a mall) and the early parts of my library followed a similar trajectory. I discovered the Craft in Cape Girardeau Missouri and only had access to a small local bookstore and to a chain store at our smallish local mall. Much of what I read was dictated simply by what those two stores carried.

BOOK GIVEAWAY NUMBER ONE-THE BOOK OF THE LAW by Aleister Crowley
The law might be for all, but I don’t need two copies of it so you can have this tiny little copy of The Book of the Law if you want. It’s probably one of the most important magickal books of the 20th Century, but folks in the OTO often hand them out like candy at Halloween so if I ever need a second copy again I’m sure someone will give me one. Just like I was given the two copies currently in my possession.

This often resulted in some strange growth as a Witch. Instead of starting with Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner I cut my teeth on its sequel, Living Wicca. I have yet to meet anyone else who tackled Cunningham in this order. You may not remember Marina Medici’s Good Magic, but I used it like a textbook in my early years. Of course I ended up with some of the standards too, things like Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft and To Ride a Silver Broomstick by Silver Ravenwolf, but in some ways those were outliers.

These shelves are my pride and joy.
These shelves are my pride and joy.

I exhausted the Witch section pretty quickly at my local stores and ended up moving onto the New Age shelves next to them. Sometimes the results were exceedingly positive, Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization has helped me more than most of my Witch-books, others less so. I read Holy Blood Holy Grail (the basis for the conspiracy in the DaVinci Code book and movie) long before its theories became a pop culture phenomenon, and the result was a dip into the “conspiracy” end of Christianity, something that took me years to get over. (Holy Blood Holy Grail is a lot of fun, but most of it’s not true.)

BOOK GIVEAWAY NUMBER TWO-THE JESUS PAPERS by Michael Baigent
Yup, I’m seriously giving away some books in this post. You just have to tell me you want it and then send me your address, one book per person. This doozy comes from one of the writers behind Holy Blood Holy Grail and ends with the author holding pages allegedly written by Jesus himself. Sadly, Baigent can’t read Aramaic, but he totally believes the guy who handed him the papers so it must be real! Written as a cash-in during the height of the DaVinci Code craze, the Jesus Papers is a random collection of conspiracy theory nonsense, but again, it’s fun! Also fun are THE JESUS MYSTERIES and JESUS AND THE LOST GODDESS by Peter Gandy and Timothy Freke. At this point in my life I don’t believe much of what’s in either of these books, but I thought they were revolutionary before I knew any better. Why did I read so many of these weird Jesus books when I was younger? Who knows for sure, but at least I’m not too ashamed of it.

After I moved to Lansing Michigan my book buying opened up a bit, and my library ended up growing by leaps and bounds. Part of that was because we had a Witch/Metaphysical store in town, and later because I worked at a Barnes and Noble. No longer was I stuck having to buy just what was in stock, I could order things! This was the mid to late 90’s too, the absolute apex of the Pagan Publishing boom. With a little searching one could find books on just about anything Pagan related. Thanks to Barnes and Nobles pretty advanced catalog I was able to order books from just about everywhere. Do I have a TarotStar book (yes, that guy for old time readers of the Green Egg Forum)? You bet I do, and it probably cost more for B&N to ship it to my store than what I actually paid for the book.

Paperbacks on the top are about all kinds of things.
Paperbacks on the top are about all kinds of things.

The end of the 1990’s marked a sea-change in my library, I started to prefer academic texts over ones published by popular publishers. It’s easy to believe that started with Ronald Hutton’s magnum opus The Triumph of the Moon, but it actually started with Magic Religion & Modern Witchcraft, a series of essays edited by James Lewis. I was also starting to get into things beyond Witchcraft, reading books about particular deities, Paganism in general, and ancient religions. If you remember the 90’s you’ll also remember that any and everything “Celtic” was all the rage, never mind how good or accurate it might be.

BOOK GIVEAWAY NUMBER THREE-THE CELTIC SHAMAN HANDBOOK by John Matthews and CELTIC MYTHOLOGY by Ward Rutherford
Do you wanna know what I’m not? A Celtic shaman. I remember John Matthews books being all the rage with some of my friends, but it never worked for me. Flipping through the pages of this one I’m pretty sure I have no interest in picking it up ever again. It feels like a lot of this book happens in the reader’s head, and the things I like to do happen in the circle, a bed, or outside. I’m also not sure that we can say with any certainty that there were Celtic shamans. If you disagree that’s fine, no reason to tell me why in the comments (seriously, no reason). I quite liked Celtic Mythology back in the day, thought it does have some academic holes in it. My biggest problem is that I have two copies of it.

If you were to ask me what my favorite hobby was I’d probably reply with “Modern Pagan History” and the last twenty years has been reasonably good to that history. We have all sorts of memoirs from Pagan and Craft elders, folks from Deborah Lipp (though I don’t think of Deborah as being old enough to be an elder) to Oberon Zell to Maxine Sanders. There’s also all the history that’s been compiled by Philip Heselton, he of Wiccan Roots, and biographies of Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente. There’s also all the collections of interviews, bound up in books like Modern Pagans, Keepers of the Flame, and Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans, and Witches Today (though my copy says People of the Earth).

Lots of Jesus junk.
Lots of Jesus junk.

The last couple of years has changed how my library grows in significant ways. It’s so easy now to get anything, that sometimes I’ll hear someone talking about a book and order it on the spot. Even long out of print books aren’t that hard to get ahold of, and if enough of them were printed they sometimes don’t cost more than a penny to a couple of dollars. (Though rarer books can run a pretty penny, I just got an old Crowley book that was sixty bucks for about sixty pages of text-needed it for research though.) I’ve also started to buy more used things, when I started this journey I generally wanted everything new and in perfect shape.

BOOK GIVEAWAY NUMBER FOUR-HORNS OF HONOR by Frederick Thomas Ellworthy
I like horns, I like honor, but this book is really out of date, and the notes from Raven Grimassi (this is a newer edition) don’t add that much. As kind of a horned/antlered god aficionado I think a lot of the information here is just flat out wrong. That’s not to say it’s completely lacking in value, I have a lot of books I disagree with, I keep them around in case I need to quote them or as case studies in what not to do. This book was written with good intentions, which is more than what I can say for some of the things in my library.

As of 2017 I have the greatest Pagan and Witch library in all of Sunnyvale California, possibly Santa Clara county, but Santa Clara county is pretty big so I could be wrong. But living in Santa Clara county is expensive, and space is at a premium and if I want to keep growing my library I have to downsize a few parts of it, hence the book giveaway! When people do visit my library they sometimes ask me how to build a good Pagan library, and my answers are pretty simple:

1. Read what you like and keep the things that are useful to you. We all have different definitions of useful. Dan and Pauline Campanelli’s Ancient Ways is kind of inaccurate in 2017 but I love it and it was one of my earliest books so I treasure it and still use it when hunting for inspiration.

Pass along what you won’t read again. There’s no greater tragedy for a book than to be unloved. If you’ve got a book that you are never going to look at again, pass it along, it won’t do much good siting in your library. Most of what I have today I have for historical value and/or because I use them over and over again in research.

Trad Witchcraft books, and an Arthurian Encyclopedia that won't fit anywhere else.
Trad Witchcraft books, and an Arthurian Encyclopedia that won’t fit anywhere else.

If you want a good Pagan library in your home that’s essentially it. Also be sure to check out garage sales and second hand stores. The best days are when someone gets rid of their libraries and you get to take advantage of it.

BOOK GIVEAWAY NUMBER FIVE: MORE BOOKS
I have so much stuff that needs a better home. If you don’t win any of the ones listed here leave a note below and I might still send you something. I have a lot of books that are similar to the ones listed here that my wife would love me to get rid of. So seriously leave me a message and I’ll you’ll get some mail, or I’ll meet you at a festival. Offer does not apply to the UK or Australia, sorry.

"Re: #32, that fictional book is the Necronomicon; you missed a syllable."

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