Buying Books

When you are just getting started, it’s hard to know which books are worth your money. Sure, there is a lot of information on the Internet, but it’s hard to settle in bed at night or sit out on the grass with a big computer. It is almost as difficult to say which books are good and which are bad, as more and more books are released every month. One publisher is responsible for most of these books, and still the quality is far from consistent. But there is one rule I think I could provide beginning Wiccans that will be true most of the time: If it is pink and glitters, or has an overly cute title, or claims to be for “Teen Witches”, don’t bother! Put it back on the shelf and don’t look back!

Harsh condemnation, I know. And I am certainly judging a book by its cover, but sometimes that has to be done. If you get beyond the cover and the title, check out the summary on the back. If it says anything about casting love spells or seems to confuse witches with Wiccans, back it goes. Also, if it is about the “Ancient High Order of Something or Other”, you might want to consider putting to back too. See, Wicca has only been around about 50 years. Not enough time for any Order to be ancient yet.

So, you’ve looked at the cover and the summary. Crack open the book (but be gentle, just in case you don’t buy it!), and flip to the back. See if you can find some information about the author. Now, I’m tempted to say if the author has an odd name, like say Metal BirdMammal, toss it back. But, my name is a little odd too. (But if I were to write a book, I think I would use my real name…) Read the bio of the author, if provided. If it says things like “High Priestess of Tradition B, Creator of Tradition A, Shaman, Grand High Poohbah, etc.”, it’s time to start making some judgement calls. I tend to be of the opinion that the more titles the author feels they must list, the less they likely know. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but honestly I don’t need to know every position the author filled in all the covens they’ve been in since 1978. And if an obviously non-Native person is claiming to be a Native Shaman, I’d toss the book back right there. Also, if the author doesn’t appear to have the kind of background appropriate to the subject matter of the books, keep looking at the book but be very cautious.

Next, flip to the table of contents, but take a look at a few things on your way. Is there an index? That is always a great help, especially when trying to hunt down that last elusive piece of information for your newest ritual. Also check out the general layout of the book, the number and quality of illustrations, and the text size and style. Read over the table of contents to see exactly what information is included. If you already have 10 books that cover the same topic, then this book may not be for you. Read a section or two to see if it covers the information in a new way. If it is all new information, also read a section to get an idea of how this author presents things.  Do they talk down to you, or is everything presented in a manner that you can understand?

When reading these few sections, keep your eyes open for glaring errors. If you are beginner, it may be difficult to spot some errors, but keep your eyes open anyway. Do some research ahead of time, like on this site, to find out Sabbat dates, basic definitions, the Rede, etc. You don’t need to know a lot, but enough to tell if something is a little off. If the author claims Egyptians celebrated Lughnasadh, you should be able to guess that doesn’t sound right. Also, if the author seems to be trying to create a mystique for themselves, or is trying to make them self sound extra witchy, it is probably best to pass on the book.

If you still aren’t sure that the book is good, ask for some advice. You can post on a forum about paganism, read reviews on Amazon or Chapters, or search Google of “booktitle review” to see if there are reviews posted on websites. If you are in a Wiccan, Pagan or “Occult” shop, the staff may be able to help you out with some recommendations. Remember though, they are there to sell the books and they may also not know a lot about the particular subject you are interested in. You may also want to do a search on the author. Be warned though, some Pagans are very vocal when it comes to certain authors, and the reviews they write may be biased. I would like to think that the reviews on this site (found here) are unbiased.

Even with all this work, you will probably buy a bad book or two when you are starting out. Nearly fifteen years after I became interested in Wicca, I’m still picking up the occasional bad book, but generally on purpose now. Read the bad books, but remember that all the information in them may not be right. Take notes, and compare the information with other books. Ask questions – on forums, of people you know, wherever you can. Check facts too. If the book says Druids did something, find a good scholarly book about Druids (such as A Brief History of the Druids) and check it out.

Don’t just limit yourself to Wiccan and Pagan books either. There is a lot to be learned from history books, mythology books, as well as religious texts from all faiths, and psychology books. There are even some interesting and helpful self-help and craft books. And don’t forget mainstream books on herbs if you are interested in becoming a herbalist.

Good luck on finding some good books! Here’s a short list of books you might want to consider: