Books. I read them. I love them. I’ll probably get more of them. As you might imagine, a fair number of books in my personal library are Pagan books. Starhawk, Margot Adler, Amber K., and T. Thorn Coyle are all right there. I’ve collected books about the various paganisms, anthropological stuff, history and psuedo-history, biographies and fiction. I’m overjoyed to have a first edition of “The Mabinogion” by Lady Charlotte Guest. By the time I get back from PantheaCon in a few weeks, I hope to have a few signed copies from Jason Mankey, Kristoffer Hughes, Devin Hunter, Storm Faerywolf and Tempest Zakroff . I like what they write and they are friends of mine, so why not?
And while many of the authors listed have influenced or continue to influence my pagan worldview, just as many non-pagan writers have contributed as much to my path. So when I’m asked the question “What books should I start with?”, I like to throw in these five non-pagan books as well.*
My Top Five Non-Pagan Books (in no particular order)
Becoming Animal – An Earthly Cosmology: There are a great many labels we pagan-type people love to wrap ourselves up in. I totally understand the need to define one’s self. I do it too. Even when those self-imposed categories lead to separation and confusion. Here’s one label that applies to us all – Resident of Earth. In David Abram’s incredible book, he reminds me that I am Nature and never apart from it. Our entire lives are impacted by this planet and, in turn, we impact the planet with our presence. Yes, there are the passages that speak to climate change and the dangers therein, but there are also brilliant and sublime observations about our innate, inherent, wildness. Abram speaks to Nature and our place within it, and his conversation invokes the grandeur of Sacred space, without once mentioning the Guardians of the Watchtowers or waiving an athame to cast a circle.
Cooked – Any one that has spent five minutes with me, knows that I love food. At various times in my life I’ve been dirt poor, fairly comfortable, in real financial trouble or doing okay. What’s helped me get through some of those rough patches was my ability to cook for myself and my family. My grandparents raised my parents in post World War Two England, during the times of food shortages and ration books. Anything edible went into the pot. Package foods didn’t exist and so much of what I ate growing up were home grown vegetables, home made breads, and local meats from nearby farms (and a few dubious sources that I can’t reveal, but ask me some time). I’m so thankful that I know how to take a few simple ingredients and make a halfway decent meal.
In this fabulous book, Michael Pollan continues his quest to pull back the curtain on the Corporate Food industry. He asks tough questions and challenges a whole shopping basket full of assumptions that many people, myself included, have around what we eat and why. But at its core, this book revels in the basic goodness of how every day people can make healthy food and how the Elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth conspire together in a magical alchemy to feed our bodies and nourish our very souls.
The Hero With A Thousand Faces – Twenty odd years ago, I was working as a sales person at a local mattress retailer. It got pretty slow on week days and I was the only one in the shop for hours at a stretch. Fortunately there was a TV to help me pass the time. There’s wasn’t much worth watching on in the middle of the day, so after Law & Order and Deep Space 9 re-runs, I’d switch over to the local cable access channel to see if there was anything interesting on.There was one program, with this man, talking about art and history and philosophy. Clearly an academic from a bygone era, he pulled together stories and myths from all over the world and wove them into a sort of mono-myth. At first I’d shake my head. I couldn’t quite grasp what he was saying and then one day it all clicked and I was hooked.
I’ve devoured just about everything Joseph Campbell ever wrote or recorded. His books, especially “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” gifted me with a new vocabulary with which to describe my own, interior landscape. My dreams, my memories, the way I’d always been affected by art and music and wide open spaces, the myths I’d read as a boy, all came alive and quite suddenly had an active role in my daily life. I’m convinced that my love of ritual and “ritualising” the mundane stems from my reading of Campbell’s work.
The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life – If I could read only one non-fiction book for the rest of my life, it would be this one. If all of the magical books, in all of the library’s suddenly vanished, this one would still be left, hiding in the “self help” section, tucked between the atrocious “Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus” and “The Secret”. This little book could restore magic to the world, all by itself. I mean it. Anyone that studies with me or asks me how I developed my magical practices only need pick up a copy of this beautiful collection of words and all my secrets will be revealed.
The title says it all. Life is an enchantment, a spell that only lasts for so long and when the spell is over, we are cast back into the void from whence we came. But until that day comes, I want my life to be filled with magic and wonder and enchantment. I don’t ever want to forget how to laugh or giggle or cry or be mesmerized by a butterfly alighting on a flower. I never want to take for granted snowfall or conversation or the warmth of the person next to me in bed. What is our magic for, if it is not to be bring us present for each amazing and terrible moment of our lives?
The HitchHiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – I bet you weren’t expecting that. Which is sort of the point. Read any of Douglas Adams’ works and you’ll come away with the unflagging certainty that any number of seemingly unconnected occurrences are, in fact, having loud conversations at semi-regular cocktail parties in Pimlico, for the express purpose of helping you on your magical path. Don’t question it. Or, perhaps more correctly, go right ahead and notice it because most people on the planet aren’t paying that close attention to cocktail parties in Pimlico. If they were, they’d question everything too and the world would be a very magical place indeed.
It’s the whole mirth and reverence thing. I love magic because it is serious and it works and I’ve learned so much about myself while I’ve been practicing but, hand to the gods, magic is so very silly. I mean, have you seen what we look like at rituals sometimes? Freakin’ hilarious. And I love that too. Magic ought to be serious and silly and all the other “s” words that fit.
So there you have it. Five books that have absolutely nothing to do with magic and everything to do with how this magician became the magic worker I am.
Any other recommendations?
*I probably have 30 non-pagan books I’d recommend, so you might have received a different list from me than someone else did. How witchy and mysterious is that!