Pagans and Books (Yes, There’s a List Involved)

Pagans and Books (Yes, There’s a List Involved) June 2, 2012

There’s an old chestnut in our community that goes something like this: If Christians are “people of the book,” then Pagans are people of the library. In short, we love books; reading them, writing them, arguing about them, and listing them (we’re a highly educated and literate bunch). Recently the Huffington Post posted a reader-recommended list of 27 essential Pagan texts which almost instantly set off a chain-reaction within our online communities. I saw several complaints as to what was omitted, links to the piece from authors who were included, and alternate lists from folks like Star Foster and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.

“And, of course, I’m very willing to say and am totally non-self-deluded about the fact that the list of thirty-one books to follow here is very subjective, and quite biased as well because it has four books that I wrote solely, and at least one other that I contributed to in some fashion. What can you do? The books I’ve written have been books I rather wish existed when I got into this–now they do exist, and they’re meant to help people who want to pursue Antinoan devotion, so I challenge anyone who thinks they should not be included to suggest something that will do the job equally well, if not better, at this point. Plus, some books by friends and/or co-religionists of mine also make the list because they’re just that damn good, in my opinion.”

Anyone who’s known Pagans for any length of time shouldn’t be surprised by this. An integral part of just about every Pagan website in the early days was the recommended reading list. Everyone had additions, or personal tweaks, or newer works, or what they felt was an exhaustive overview of their particular area of expertise. You could say that recommended reading lists are an integral part of how we came to be. In his history of modern Paganism in America, “Her Hidden Children,” Chas Clifton spends quite a bit of time explaining how important reading books has been to our development.

“At the end of the 1970s, in her list of reasons why respondents to her Green Egg questionnaire became Pagans, Margot Adler lists seeking beauty and imagination, personal growth, the freedom of ‘religion without the middleman,’ and environmental and feminist concerns, but also bookishness: “In particular, most of the Midwesterners said flatly that the wide dissemination of strange and fascinating books had been the main factor in creating a Neo-Pagan resurgence … almost all [Neo-Pagans regardless of educational level] are avid readers.” Adler’s research was conducted in the late 1970s, but her conclusion remains appropriate.”

So, in short, books are important to us. Our mutual love of books may be one of the few things that we all mostly agree on, even if we can’t all agree on the various titles. Anyone who wants to understand modern Pagans, and modern Paganism as a religious movement, will need to spend a lot of time reading what we read (and what we write). Having said all that, I now feel almost contractually obligated to provide you with a list of my own. Since I don’t really feel like trying to present a “top ten most important books all Pagans should read” kind of list, I thought I’d provide you with something more personal.

Jason’s Ten Favorite Fiction Titles that Have Pagan Themes and He Found Personally Inspiring.

One current that I don’t think gets addressed enough in our history is how much fiction titles played a role in our development. There are obvious instances like Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the Church of All Worlds, or Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” and the inspirational role it played within Reclaiming and Paganism as a whole in the mid-1990s, but it goes far deeper than that. Paganism, at some level, has always relied on story. From Homer’s epics to Lucius Apuleius’ “The Golden Asse” to Margaret St. Clair’s “Sign of the Labrys” (a novel that ended up with her being initiated by Raymond Buckland). So here are ten novels that struck a chord with me, and maybe some of them struck a chord with you as well.

  • John Ford’s “The Dragon Waiting : A Masque of History”:
  • An early alternate history novel, first published in 1983, it supposes a world where Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus (aka “Julian the Apostate”) did not fail in turning the Christian tide, creating a world wherepaganism is the norm, and Christianity an extremist sect existing on the margins. However, instead of making this shift the focus on the novel, Ford tells the tale of a group of adventurers who get caught up in saving Richard III’s throne in England. The characters don’t self-consciously comment on how different things are, instead they live and breath in a very pagan England, one where the Roman Empire never fell. It’s the little details that stick with you.

  • Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon”: This is probably the one that everyone else has already read, and this novel has been feted (and criticized) so many times that it seems redundant to mention it here. Still, this tale of the Arthurian mythos through the eyes of its women is a blockbuster for a reason. I went through a phase in my earlier years where I read and reread this, to the point where I don’t think I could ever do so again. In today’s light, where historical authenticity is highly prized, it seems flawed (Atlantis?) and dated (Did ancient Britons really practice what amounted to Wicca?) but Bradley was an expert teller of stories and it was hard to not get caught up in the melodrama.
  • Stewart Farrar’s “Omega: A Novel of Eco-Magic”: Yes, it’s that Stewart Farrar, with a 1980 novel from the”Witches save the world genre.” Set in the far future of around seven years ago, it tells a tale of apocalypse brought about by an alternative energy source, a gas that turns people into insane zombies, and a rag-tag group of Witches who fight a Satanic coven, and a corrupt splinter government to win the future. Really, this book has it all, including some inadvertent comedy when guesses at what modern Paganism will look like after the year 2000 are made. I really hope somebody puts this back into print.
  • Katherine Kurtz’s “Lammas Night”: Published in the early 80s (I’m sensing a trend.), and out-of-print for years, this was another “Witches save the world” book. This time it’s up to England’s Witches and occultists to save their land from an invasion by Hitler and his evil magical coven. Pulpy and full of high-adventure, Kurtz knows her way around writing about ritual magic, and weaves in the theories of Margaret Murray and divine kingship in a way that’s compelling. I have no idea why this hasn’t been put back into print, or made into a movie. For a contemporary (and darker) take on this same theme, check out “Bitter Seeds” by Ian Tregillis, where Warlocks fight Nazi mutants.
  • Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles (“The Winter King”“Enemy of God”“Excalibur”): Historical novelist Bernard Cornwell sinks his teeth into King Arthur, placing him into a real, dirty, and brutal 5th century Britain. Told in flashback by a fictionalized Saint Derfel, Cornwell shows both the beauty, and brutality, of pre-Christian religion (and Christianity is almost always found wanting in comparison). He does his best to include everything while still keeping things as historically plausible as possible. His Merlin is a real treat, as is his treatment of Druid magic in general.
  • Margaret Mahy’s “The Changeover”: This may be one of the first YA novels to deal with Witches in a purely positive light, and is interesting for the way it talks about magical initiation as a metaphor for becoming an adult and taking responsibility. A little gem of a novel.
  • Gore Vidal’s “Julian: A Novel”: Speaking of Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus, Vidal takes on the work of rehabilitating the character of the much-maligned “apostate,” portraying him as, if not a hero, then an intellectually curious man well ahead of his time. This is a rich novel that takes the time to establish what life and religion must have been like for Julian, and how his embrace of paganism shook the world (or at least parts of the world). It also provides Vidal plenty of chances to critique Christianity, which is done with great gusto and at regular intervals. I great way to start your journey learning about this oft-revered figure within modern Paganism.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Finnovar Tapestry (“The Summer Tree”“The Wandering Fire”“The Darkest Road”): Kay’s tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien is a fantasy epic that is explicitly pagan in its telling. One of the only “regular people get sucked into a fantasy world” series that I truly enjoy, and one that is truly moving. Kay dreams of a truer world, in a tapestry of worlds, one where gods and goddesses still walk the earth, interweaving  them with the Arthurian mythos in a way that feels engaging. It subverts the “ordinary men and women learn what truly matters” trope by upping the stakes, and drastically changing the characters by the third book. If you’re a fan of fantasy, or of Celtic mythology, you’ll love this.
  • Robert Grave’s “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the God”: It’s hard to think of these novels today without thinking of the epic British television series, but Grave’s tale of the Julio-Claudian dynasty seen through the eyes of stuttering, limping, drooling Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus is a masterwork. Thought a fool, but canny and smart enough to survive and grow old in an age of executions and upheavals, Claudius narrates an epic tragedy about family, principles, and duty. These books are every bit as entertaining as the show, and if Graves played with history a bit, well, that’s the prerogative of novelists. These are landmark modern novels of the ancient Roman period.
  • Jeanette Winterson’s “Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles”: Let’s end with something published rather recently, shall we? Winterson plays with myth, twisting and turning the tale of Atlas and Heracles, finding new and interesting ways to interact and engage with the story. She finds how these tales fit into our own lives, finding raw, personal, parts of ourselves in the tales of gods, titans, and heroes. Poetic, playful, and moving, she reminds us that the tales pagans told each other in times long past still matter, still live, still breathe.

That’s ten! As a bonus, let me endorse the entire oeuvre of Charles de Lint. If you’ve never read anything by him, start with “The Very Best of Charles de Lint” and work your way out from there. Also, I know I didn’t recommend Gaiman’s “American Gods,” but I’m sure someone else will bring it up in the comments. Feel free to share your favorite Pagan-themed or inspirational novels in the comments.

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97 responses to “Pagans and Books (Yes, There’s a List Involved)”

  1. The witches were mainly female, healers midwives teachers etc. I really resent the spirit of the group being taken over by men.

  2.  One of my favourite urban fantasy series is Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine books, in which polytheism is dominant and monotheistic traditions have either died out (Islam, and possibly Judaism) or are restricted to some upper class families (Christianity).

    I’ve also found Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel’s Legacy” series inspiring, although it’s not for everyone due to all the kinky sex that happens in the first trilogy (where our protagonist is a divinely-ordained masochist).

    Lastly, I thought I’d mention Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Chalion” books, which I think every “god-bothered/god-touched” person should read. Sure, it’s fiction, but it’s a nice reminder that attracting a deity’s notice might not be something you actually want to happen to you.

  3. Dion Fortune’s Sea Priestess and Moon Magic… they launched a thousand rituals those two. 

    And, well, The Odyssey. Best book ever. 

  4. woman on the edge of time by marge piercey. the sparrow by mary doris russel. any by robert rankin.

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  6. Thank you for this list. You’ve listed some I know and others I never heard of. My list would include Dion Fortune’s Moon Magic and The Sea Priestess, but those titles probably don’t have as much appeal for men.

    I disliked Mists of Avalon because of the way the emotional life of the priestesses is depicted. They all seem so burdened and unhappy; they have a victim mentality even when their circumstances offer hope and choices. I’ve read the Darkover novels; MZB is good at showing what patriarchy does to women, but she seems to have a blind spot for the possibility of a woman enjoying the use of legitimate authority and taking pride in the exercise of her skills and powers.

  7. If we are talking fiction, then I would suggest Simon R. Green’s ‘Drinking Midnight Wine’.

    It is a great contemporary fantasy. Quirky, funny and dark.

    But I would also strongly suggest that people read the classics:

    Beowulf, the Eddas, the Niebelunglied, the Mabinogi(on), Tolkien’s ‘Sigurd and Gudrun’, the Odyssey, the Iliad… You know, the actual stories from the ‘Pagan Past’.

  8.  Oh, I should probably mention Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit and the rest of Tolkien’s Middle Earth mythos.

  9. “The Change” series beginning with Dies the Fire by SM Stirling.
    The Diana Tregade series by Mercedes Lackey
    Jim Butcher’s Dresden series
    Discworld et al.

  10. When I first read Ender’s Game and (especially) Speaker for the Dead I was absolutely convinced that Orson Scott Card must be a Pagan. This was back before the World Wide Web existed, and the term “The Internet” was only just starting to be used at all. So, without google (or even infoseek!) it was a while before I discovered that Card is actually a Mormon, and a rather conservative one at that! This has left a very lasting positive impression on me concerning the whole LDS phenomenon.

  11.  Stephanie Meyer (of Twishite fame) is a member of the LDS, so I wouldn’t let one author rose tint your view. 😉

  12. Moon Magic and Sea Priestess are among the best and most important Pagan books written in the last century, regardless of whether one is a man or a woman, IMNSHO.

  13. Andre Norton’s Witch World series (and too many other books to name!)…  Diane Duane’s Door into Fire.  Laurie J. Marks’ Elemental Logic series…  Little, Big by John Crowley has had a deep influence on me.  Robert Graves:  Hercules, My Shipmate and Homer’s Daughter.  Two recent books:  The Bards of Bone Plain, by Patricia A. McKillip, and Troubled Waters, by Sharon Shinn.

  14.  I have mixed feelings about Card for the reasons you’ve mentioned, his books are great but I’m not always so fond of his personal views. I did have the chance to meet him once (as he lives here in North Carolina) and he’s actually a funny and likeable guy. One of his series of books is actually a sci-fi retelling of the Book of Mormon (which makes it more interesting IMO 🙂

  15. I’m glad to hear that Card is a good guy on a personal level. That and being a creative genius has to count for a lot. I know many people whose views on political and social issues are very close to mine (which is definitely not true of Card), but who are complete assholes.

  16. Loved Woman on the Edge of Time. Also City of Darkness, City of Light by the same author.

  17. Excellent post and great recommendations.
    I want to add the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.

  18.  Found out Rohrig (of the exquisitely illustrated Tarot of the same name) is a Scientologist. Had to change decks immediately.

  19. I loved The Changeover! Great book and still a good read as an adult.

    I’m very fond of R.A. MacAvoy; The Book of Kells is most germane to this discussion.

    I don’t suppose a sequel to R. Garcia y Robertson’s The Spiral Dance will ever be published, but the book is a good, if frustrating (because a sequel was so obviously intended) read.

  20. Yes, this is one witch whose library is overflowing!  Witches love words and writing can conjure much magicks!

    I’m glad you mentioned Katherine Kurtz!  Her book about the founding of the United States “Two Crowns for America” is also very interesting.

    I love her collaboration with Deborah Turner Harris==the Adept series! 

  21. In the second grade our main textbook for the entire year was about Sam & Ann (an updated Dick & Jane?) who went back in time & had adventures within the Greek myths. So at 7 I already was pledging myself to Artemis. Sadly, I can’t imagine that being taught today to 2nd graders.

    A few years later I discovered Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books plus The Princess & The Goblin. Set me well on my Pagan path.

  22. The Dark is Rising books by Susan Cooper.

    The Changeover is a lovely little YA book – but the five books by Cooper  (Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; Silver on the Tree) are extraordinary. If the Harry Potter books are white bread, the Dark Is Rising books would be the wholemeal equivalent. Ignore the execrable movie made a few years ago, the books are seriously good.

    In fact, I would call them some of the best YA books ever written.

  23. >Whistlingcrone: different “The Spiral Dance”, an excellent fantasy novel by Robertson. Worth checking out.

  24. As I child I loved the D’aulaires book of Greek Myths, which my father first read to me but also left in my room for me to read myself as I got older. It’s my go-to gift for friends who have kids these days — I figure everyone’s already got ‘Goodnight Moon’. 

  25.  The Magic Tree House books are similar to that, though–lots of time-traveling kids’ adventure and Pagan cultures.

  26. Surprised you didn’t mention Kathryn Kurtz’s Deryni books. Full of ritual, though from a medieval “Church” paradigm. Guess I answered my own question with that…

    Naomi Kritzer’s Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm are entirely Pagan. They show some different ways Pagan can be turned to positive or negative, how it might function in government. Also illustrates how the more things change, the more they stay the same?  Though I don’t know what books the reviewers were reading when they label the “Old Ways” religion as being catholic-like. As far as I could tell, both the dominant religion of The Lady and the Old Ways were two sides of basically the same faith.

    I still remember the online discussions at, over a decade ago, in which she wrote a lovely long posting illustrating for the Christians there what it was like for those of us who are Pagan or any other minority faith, how that majority faith so permeates the social atmosphere that members of it can’t and don’t even see it, how the assumptions affect members of the minority faiths, how they end up feeling excluded at times.

    Some of the Christians there got it.  That was the first online community I was open about being Pagan, and it was a good experience.

  27. Very glad to see Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry here–I deeply love those.  Celtic, but not quite, and beautifully written characters. MUCH better than Lawhead’s Song of Albion trilogy where he takes a really nice premise and great characters and turns the whole blasted thing into a xian allegory.

    Another brilliant one that doesn’t seem very well-known: Emma Bull’s _War for the Oaks_.

  28.  Really, truly, that man has given me more of my beliefs than anything else. Especially all the novels with the witches! Granny Weatherwax foreva!!!

  29. Like the smartass noir magical detective Harry Dresden myself.  I ran into the wizard-for-hire well after reading Lord of the Rings, and before running across The Walker Papers by C.E. Murphy.  Love the Dresden Files and Walker Papers.  I’m glad American Gods had a mention, as it was a book I ran into just as I was coming to understand Odin.

  30. The Celtic and Germanic historical fiction of Diana Paxson, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising (younger readers), Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet (in particular, that one of the series – also younger readers), the Keltiad novels by Patricia Kenneally Morrison (pagan celtic magic users in space!  LOL). Celtic historical fictions by Morgan LLewellyn.  Everything by Charles de Lint.  Andre Norton’s Fur Magic, Horn Crown, and Witch World series………

  31. Avid Terry Pratchett fan here. There are times I wonder if my childhood exposure to Pratchett has influenced my Paganism in any way. Surprised there’s been no sarcastic mention of the bible yet.

  32. Mists of Avalon, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and anything by Chuck Palahniuk and Hunter S. Thompson.

  33. ‘The Grey Mane of Morning’ by Joy Chant, Evangeline Walton’s retelling of the Mabinogion and of the Theseus myth, the collected poems of George Meredith, Algernon Charles Swinbourne, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas R.P. Mielke’s retelling of the Inanna and Gilgamesch stories (recently translated into Arabic!)

  34. loved Alan Garner’s books as a teen: The Wierdstone of Brisingamen, and The Moon of Gomrath – oops, this was meant to be a general reply, not to Ann specifically

  35. One of the books that had the biggest impact on me (as a child) was an ostensibly ‘witchcraft is fake’ book – Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg.

    The storyline reached for ‘it’s all just simple cunning tricks, no magic’, but what I read was ‘witchcraft, at its root, is cunning work.’ Mind-blowing for an early ’70’s third-grader, I can tell you. I haven’t re-read it since I became an adult, because I’m afraid that it won’t live up to my memories of it.

  36. A recent book that I think every Pagan ought to read and enjoy is A. Lee Martinez’s book Divine Misfortune. It’s about a couple who decide that to get ahead in life, they need to have a divinity on their side. So they go to an internet matching service, and choose Luka, raccoon-headed god of luck, agreeing to tithe 10% of their income  to him.

    They don’t expect him to move in with them and eat all their food. Or bring his divine friends over for parties. Or attract the regard ancient and implacable enemy.

    It’s a funny book, but (like all of Martinez’s books) it has many deep layers. There’s an explicit understanding that having luck doesn’t mean you’ll never have sorrow – but you’ll find the sorrow a bit easier, for example. There’s a side storyline about how the perception of gods can change over time, and how that perception changes humanity.  The whole tone of the book just perfectly fits my experience of polytheism – light and easy, but with serious and deep undercurrents.

  37. I’d like to add Clysta Kinstler’s novel “The Moon Under her Feet,” a re-telling of the story of Jesus from thee perspective of Mary Magdalene who is a priestess of the Goddess. I also love the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey with its wonderfully pagan alternate Europe and Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwater’s Trilogy which starts with a retelling of the Seven Wild Swans story.

  38.  There’s a new genre that is beginning to flourish: light, frothy and romantic mysteries about young women who are Witches, Psychics, or similarly talented.  These aren’t great literature, but they do keep one reading in a very entertaining way:

    Some are more realistic:

    “The Trouble With Magic’ (Bewitching Mysteries, No. 1)
    by Madelyn Alt
    “Brownies and Broomsticks”: A Magical Bakery Mystery
    Bailey Cates  
    ‘Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye’ (Psychic Eye Mysteries, Book 1) [Mass Market Paperback]
    Victoria Laurie

    Others more fantasy-like:

    “It Takes a Witch’: A Wishcraft Mystery [Mass Market Paperback]
    Heather Blake
    :Secondhand Spirits”: A Witchcraft Mystery [Mass Market Paperback]
    Juliet Blackwell

  39. Re Katherine Kurtz’s “Lammas Night”: I understand that there are negotiations to get this optioned to make a film….so with the current trend toward fairy tales, etc. it may be  that we are going to see better films that are more “Pagan friendly.”

  40. Rick Riordan’s  young adult series about the Olympians alive and well and living in Manhatten are great. Much better than The lightning Thief movie which was loosely based on the first book in the series. He wrote another series based on Egyptian Gods in Brooklyn, which is also good. Well written by a middleschool history teacher.

  41. If there were a “Speaker for the Dead Tarot”, or an “Ender’s Game Tarot”, or a “Alvin Maker Tarot”, I’d definitely consider adding them to my collection!

  42. Strongly recommend Parke Godwin’s take on the Arthurian legends which is at times startling.  

    But if you are among those of us who spent years trying to cram ourselves into a Christianity that was utterly wrong for us, Godwin’s The Last Rainbow is a must-read.  The plot centers around Patrick’s missionary work in Ireland.  I loved the depiction of the native peoples of the time.  There is an unforgettable scene in which one of the main characters, a leader of the Prydn (a subculture that is somewhat admired and feared even before he showed up on) concludes that Christianity is not for her or her people and says goodbye to Jesus. 

    Godwin is really overlooked in my opinion.

  43. Speaking of Parke Godwin, the book co-authored with Marvin Kaye “The Masters of Solitude” is the only novel I know of that speculates what a Wiccan culture might look like. It is in my list of best novels of the modern era. The sequel “Wintermind” is just okay, but a worthy read.

    Patricia McKillip’s first work, the “Riddlemaster” trilogy (reissued under varying titles) about Morgan of Hed and the power of language is as deep and wide a work of mythopoeia as anything by Tolkien or Lewis. The earth is alive, the dead are sometimes so connected to it that they become just another artifact to be noted and sometimes have a conversation with, and leadership is comprised of equal parts power of decision, stewardship of the land and a physical connection on the order of an organ necessary for life.

  44.  I would add Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and The Story of B.  Though overly simplistic at times, I have always been inspired by their treatment of mythos.  I also think that advocacy towards a closer relationship between food production and the consumer not only echoes the Pagan sentiment but also addresses many relevant ethical arguments.

    Missing from this great list are also Paulo Cohelo’s books.  The Witch of Portobello, Brida and The Pilgrimage were excellent Pagan inspired stories.

  45. I’m
    more or less going to get flamed fro this I’m sure but the book was
    fiction & it wasn’t until Ms Vailente took the idea that all Gods
    are one & used it to create the Charge Of The Goddess which is
    something Wiccans use today. Maybe I guess because I’m not Wiccan
    that I’m not getting it. Perhaps you could enlighten me as to why something coming from a piece of fiction is important.  For I’m lost on this one.

  46. I made sure mention of him was missing so far before posting: Poul Anderson was the strongest author I’ve ever read in his use of spirituality as a plot device — integrated with character as opposed to an explicit driver of action — and the distinctly Pagan underpinnings of some of his novels, notably “The Winter of the World” and “The Dancer from Atlantis”. He was never put on the top tier of deans of science fiction like Asimov, etc., but his writing is every bit as entertaining and as well crafted. My favorite (by a slim margin!) of his novels is “There Will Be Time”.

  47. An important sub-species of “Pagan-themed literature” is books and stories that have positive portrayals of Pagans and of Witches in particular.

    Of course one cannot hear the words “Good Witch” without immediately thinking of Frank Baum’s Oz novels, the first of which introduced the Good Witches Glinda and Locasta* half a century before Gardner’s “High Magic’s Aid” and over two decades before Margaret Murray would publish her “The Witch Cult in Western Europe”, and just one year after Leland’s “Aradia: Gospel of the Witches” first appeared.

    Another important entry in this sub-category is Fritz Lieber’s remarkable 1943 novel “Conjure Wife”, which, like Baum’s novels, does not portray all Witches as “good”, but rather emphasizes the theme of, for lack of a better term, spiritual warfare between good Witches and bad ones.

    Both “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, and “Conjure Wife” are considered masterpieces in their own rights. And it is worth noting that Baum was a Theosophist and that Lieber may have been a practicing Heathen (one reads claims that he was a member of Freya’s Folk and even that he participated in the Order of the Trapezoid).

    *The name of the Good Witch of the North isn’t given in the original novel, but was revealed in the 1902 theatrical production.

  48. Among the ones that had an impact on me as a child were Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain (which, although I hardly knew it at the time, draws extensively from Welsh mythology).

    And then later, as a teen, Morgan Llywelyn’s historical fiction (particularly Finn mac Cool and Druids) and Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon cycle (despite all it’s Atlantean oddness and such).

    I’d hardly say that those are the best or most important Pagan-related fiction, but they did a lot to shape my later thinking.

  49.  Fritz Leiber lived in my neck of the woods. I had only a passing acquaintance with him, but I know a few people who knew him well. Freya’s Folk is still around and I could ask some of them if you wish; it’s not unlikely that he was a member.

    Alison Harlow got Poul Anderson to write an article on Norse paganism for the early 1970s Pagan zine Nemeton. The article does not allude to Anderson’s personal beliefs and was probably written as a favor to a friend.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley contributed an article to the first issue of Womenspirit Magazine (circa 1973) entitled “I Have Always Been a Priestess.” It’s mostly about past life memories.

  50.  Which reminds me, Alison Harlow was married for a time to sf/fantasy author Randall Garrett. If memory serves, Garrett wrote Too Many Magicians, which includes an oft-quoted line on the mechanics of spellwork, “The best symbol for a sharp knife is a sharp knife.”

    If you did a Venn diagram of the SF/fantasy, historical reenactment and pagan/heathen communities of the late Sixties and Seventies in California, there was a huge overlap.

  51.  Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote more later, too, for Womanspirit, but I do remember that one vividly.  I’ve also read other stuff by her….yes, she wrote fiction about Atlantis, too. 

  52. It probably won’t. Re-read it anyway. You may find adult content woven into it that passed over your younger head.

    This happened to me with “juvenile” science fiction of the Fiftes, one of which I re-read as a refresher because the same author went back to the same characters decades later. I discovered a droll adult comedy of manners hidden in plain sight.

  53. A well-written piece of fiction can put flesh on a spiritual idea, or recreate a moment in history, more compellingly than orderly scholarship. It can grab the potentially Pagan soul with a “Hey, this is where I belong!” sentiment.

  54.  I agree with what you say about Mists of Avalon, but I still have a soft spot for it. I guess it was the first serious pagan work I read and it really struck a cord with me. In hindsight I think MoA is definitely the one that set me on my path towards paganism. So I forgive MZB for all the weak spots you mentioned! Still an awesome book, may it speak to ever more (young) people!

  55. Dion Fortune was one of the great Magical Adepts of the 20th century. She wrote many books that are well worth reading, but my personal opinion is that Sea Priestess and Moon Magic are her master works. Both books are infused with her deep understanding of the Western Mystery Tradition, and both books have provided, and will continue for generations to come to provide inspiration to practitioners of the Great Work, whether they call themselves Pagan or something else.

    “Fiction”, and the novel in particular, is actually a very useful medium for the communication of ideas.

  56. Naomi Kritzer’s books that I mentioned above do that, though within a sort of Italian Rennaisance cultural setting.

  57. SM Stirling is my favorite author of any type of books.  But yes, his Change books, starting with Dies the Fire, are perfect.  And he lets you read the first half of every book for free.

    I’m surprised more Pagans aren’t reading them.

  58.  I can’t recommend the Kushiel series enough– although that’s only for the first trilogy; IMO they fall off sharply in quality after she’s done telling Phedre’s story and even the formerly-stellar worldbuilding has some issues.

    Kushiel’s Legacy is both fantasy and alt-history, it’s our (Renaissance-era) world if a whole bunch of  things had shaken out differently. Notably, Christianity doesn’t take off as a major force at all. Instead, it’s the son of Jesus and the Magdalene  (with some help from his band of merry men, the Nephilim) who had the impact, at least on this world’s France, taking their ethos as “love as thou wilt” and siring a part-angel-blooded people who star in the novels as ‘the Earth’s youngest children’, and are the people of our masochist-spy-courtesan heroine.

    But the *rest* of the world (and our heroine spends a lot of time traveling it) is filled with a plethora of gods whose people exist in one of the most interesting and well-worldbuilt fantastic polytheisms I’ve ever read. And yes, there’s BDSM in there too, but it’s generally plot-relevant. One of the few book series I’ve repeatedly reread, and I always feel I appreciate something new about them every time.

  59. I’m delighted to hear that someone remembers Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar series. I first got “The Summer Tree” from the Science Fiction Book Club, like, 25 years ago. I still have those three books on my shelf today. One single phrase from the series actually started me on a pagan journey about 15 years before I actually knew that being pagan was possible in this day and age:  “Not even the gods may shape exactly what they will.”
    I also delighted in Kay’s presentation and literary treatment of the Dalrei as a “shamanic” people.

  60. oh … and how could I have forgotten the two brilliant novels by the late Christa Wolf who sadly passed away last year: Kassandra and Medea: Voices

  61. YES!  After Harry Potter was done what was my boy to read?  Thank goodness for Riordan!  My son loves the mythology, Greek, Roman & Egyptian.  He has support books on the mythologies too.  Wonder what Riordan will come up with next?

  62. Did anyone else read the Piers Anthony series called Incarnations of Immortality, or was it just me?! It started with Thanatos (Death) and the other books featured Ares, Chronos, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, and many more… of course the series culminated with God and Satan, which is a little weird, but hey, I was 13, I didn’t care. 🙂 I have been collecting them at used book stores and garage sales, preparing to reread the whole series with an adult brain. : ) But they were probably the most Pagan books I read as a kid, introducing how deities might actually work in the world.
    In college I read William Burroughs, Tom Robbins, Salvador Dali (yes! he wrote a surrealist novel once), and things like that… I don’t know if they influenced me toward Paganism, but they did open my mind!

    I have been trying to read fantasy the past few years (Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, John Crowley) and some are OK, others are just “too much.” I did like the Mists of Avalon. And did you all hear about The Song of Achilles, which just won the Orange Prize?

  63. Forgot to mention my post-college phase books – all of Carlos Castaneda’s fascinating books. Which I DO consider as fiction… : ) but with a lot of truth and insight. Also the Celestine Prophecy, which was so popular back in the day, and Coelho.

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  65. S. M. Stirling’s “Dies the Fire” books (seven in total, I believe)… if Wicca was actually like he writes it, I never would have left!

    Jo Graham’s ancient-world books – “Black Ships”, “Hand of Isis” and “Stealing Fire”

    Thorne Smith’s “The Night Life of the Gods”

    Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books; I realize that they are Taoist in orientation, but I credit growing up with those books as the first step on my eventual pagan life journey… also, highly recommend her recent “Lavinia”!

    Deborah Harkness, “A Discovery of Witches”

  66. Just a fantastic book offering an alternative interpretation of a bible story that is genuinely worth considering. It’s really lovely. Thanks for adding it to the list.

  67. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Mary Renault. Fire From Heaven, The Bull From The Sea, The Praise Singer, The Persian Boy, The Last Of The Wine, The King Must Die… they are all wonderful! 

    Donna Gillespies’ The Light Bearer, an epic about a female Germanic warrior who fights as a gladiator is great fun. And Steven Saylors’ Roma.

    Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian is an amazing and beautiful novel.

    Stephen Grundy’s (Kveldulf Gundarsson)Attilas’ Treasure is an intense read (he also has Rhinegold, which also deals with the Nibelung legends).


  68. And Steven Saylors’ Roma.

    Saylor’s murder mysteries set in ancient Rome (featuring Gordianus the Finder) are pretty darn good, too.

  69. Some of that is pretty good, though it reads super narcissistic. I didn’t like and disagreed with his less than subtle dissing on “Wind in the Willows” in that

  70. Since no one mentioned her: Juliet Marillier. I’ve read her Sevenwaters series and started collecting the books. I haven’t read the Bridei Chronicles or Wolfskin but I understand they follow a similar style to the paganism present in the Sevenwaters world.

    Also, it makes me warm and fuzzy inside to see that I wasn’t the only person who had a slight paradigm shift upon reading Wizard of Eathsea

    Wonderful post Jason (and everyone who commented)!

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