How Important Is It To Learn Pagan/Occult History?

How Important Is It To Learn Pagan/Occult History? May 30, 2019

I remember the day Raymond Buckland died.  I was at a pagan festival, and everyone was in shock and mourning.  “I can’t believe Raymond Buckland is dead!” they all said.  “This day that will go down in pagan history.”

“Who?” I asked.

“You know, THE Raymond Buckland????”

I shrugged. “Never heard of him.”

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For many people there, it was inconceivable that I didn’t know who he was.  Especially because I’m a pagan witch–a blogging, book-writing one at that.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not well-read in pagan/occult books.  I’ve never had a coven, and the circle I did have was very loosely organized.  For a long time, I couldn’t afford books, and my red-state library didn’t carry anything.

I came into my spirituality in a very different manner– through childhood out-of-body experiences, rebelling against the church, my love of trance states and meditation, and visions of a goddess in the pines.  My practice is more intuitive than taught, and I like it that way.

It wasn’t until my faery goddessmother invited me to a pagan gathering in my 20s that I learned about circle casting and other pagan methods of magic. I never realized that’s how people did it.

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Granted, that was a long time ago in the 90s, before the internet was ubiquitous.  But even today, in the true age of information, the question still comes up: how well-read should a practicing pagan/witch be?

I see it on Tumblr all the time.  People either feel bad for not reading the old books, or they can’t deal with trying to figure out which books they should read, and which ones aren’t worth the time.

I’ve thought about it a lot.  I feel it’s important to study the authors whose traditions you follow.  If you study Wicca, by all means, read Buckland and Valiente.  If you study another Traditional Witchcraft, read those authors.  History is important to traditions, and it should be honored.

I also feel it’s important to get context on the gods or spirits you’re working with.  This helps to make sure you’re appreciating the original cultures and history, and that you’re not getting misinformation.

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It’s also important to acknowledge our pagan past.  Those older pagan authors were trail-blazers who raised pagan visibility and shared valuable information.  I appreciate them for that, especially because those topics were not as well-received as they are today.

However, I don’t believe you have to read them to acknowledge their importance.  In my humble opinion, you don’t have to be well-read on pagan history to be a good pagan/witch.

Life is short.  Pick and choose what you really want to study.  Find what resonates with your soul.  If you can’t glean value in someone’s subject matter, get another book.  Or just do the work that feels most appropriate to you.  The magic really is inside of you.

 

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I’m sure my opinion isn’t a popular one among many pagans and witches, but it’s an emerging one that’s becoming more and more widespread.  Many younger witches and pagans are thirsty for knowledge, but they want something accessible and current.  It’s up to us modern authors to keep the importance of the older folks known while facilitating the sharing of their wisdom and the new wisdom out there.

To round this article out, here are some other people’s book suggestions (blog author name included).

Beginner Books That Don’t Suck, by Thorn Mooney

Beginner Books By Trad Craft Witches, by Mat Auryn

Beginner Books By Faery/Feri Witches, by Mat Auryn

Pagan Reading List, by John Beckett

Five Witchcraft Books That Changed My Life, by Jason Mankey

The Trouble With 101 Books, by Jason Mankey

 

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About Astrea
Astrea is the author of Intuitive Witchcraft: How To Use Intuition To Elevate Your Craft (Llewellyn Worldwide). She also leads the fire dancing group Aurora Fire and stirs up magic for the Blessed Be Box, the service that ships a "ritual in a box" with all vegan and cruelty-free items. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I know next to nothing on pagan/witch history. I have only, barely, looked at Michael Ford (Luciferianism) and LaVey (Satanism), but never even read their books. I only happened to know of Ford, because I was told about him 9 years ago, and also kept coming across “Luciferianism” when reading on Shadow Work (and I don’t even have books specifically on that). I am probably one of the most “ignorant” (not knowing) spiritual person around, but that is because I chose to read only that which is relevant to my healing work and my experiences. The bulk of my book list would be “guides” and subjects on nutrition and herbs for healing (not magick purposes), aside from that, historical (WWII U Boat, and I even read up on WWI U Boat information, and 19th century life in Finland/Sweden as far as maritime life is concerned). The only folklore that I would have any genuine interest in would be the Klabautermann.

    My book lists:

    https://theseaofbloodandiron.home.blog/links/

    https://theseaofbloodandiron.home.blog/maritime-resource-library/

    I sometimes feel out of the loop in all of this, but it’s like I was told years ago in a spiritual forum: one man’s path is another’s distraction.

    …and I don’t need or want distractions.

  • James

    This does not even bring up the only good academically grounded historical/Ethnographic book on US pagans, Drawing Down the moon by Margot Adler was last updated in 2006 and she’s been on the other side for awhile. I have yet to see anyone step up to write the next book in our saga. A lot has happened in 13 years.

  • Falkenna

    It’s clearly impossible to read all the old books, and very difficult to know which ones are worthwhile or relevant to you, but that’s about belief and practice. It seems to me that any serious Pagan should spare some time to understand the history, cultural influence and major figures of how we came to be. Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon (soon to be updated) and Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon are the best I’m aware of (Hutton has other books that go into more detail about Druidry and some other paths). This is partly about respect and honouring elders/ancestors, partly about giving our disparate groups a bit of a common language, partly about cultural insight (which really matters in dealing with our own and with non-Pagans) – and very much to help the new Pagan not have to reinvent every single wheel. Doing it your way is great. But sometimes you can see a lot farther from the shoulders of giants.