Talespinner's Neopagan Reading List

J. Brad (Talespinner) Hicks


The Best Five:

(Read these five first, they are by themselves the best possible introduction to Neopagan Witchcraft and practical magic that I've found anywhere.)

Starhawk, The Spiral Dance. (San Francisco: Harper & Rowe, 1979). Paperback, $10.95

This is the essential first book for a new witch, Neopagan or otherwise. In fact, many new covens have been formed with no other sources than this book. Starhawk details the myths, legends, and magic of the Craft in a beautifully elegant, easy-to-read way. Often found in bookstores on the "Women's Studies" shelf, Starhawk's vision of the Craft emphasizes the Goddess as the source of inspiration, with secondary emphasis on the Horned God. Perhaps a bit too Feminist, but still the best introduction yet.

Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979). Paperback, $9.50

Although it is now 7 years out-of-date, this is still the best history of the modern, Neopagan Craft that has been published yet. Includes many valuable interviews with some of the people who gave shape to the Craft as we know it. While the book does include some instruction in magic, its primary thrust is philosophy and history. Keep an eye out-there's an updated second edition due out some time in late 1986.

Marion Weinstein, Positive Magic. (Surrey, B.C.: Phoenix Publishing, revised 1981). Paperback, $8.95

I see-saw between this book and the next one for 3rd and 4th place. Both are good, detailed texts on magic and spell-casting. At the moment, I recommend Positive Magic first for the following reasons:

  1. it is more practical, teaching actual techniques before tackling theoretical justifications, and
  2. the language is a bit easier to follow for non-scientists. The topics covered include the karmic effects of magic, astrology, divination with tarot cards and the I'Ching, and general spell-casting. Its strongest point is the section on tarot, which is the best I've seen yet. Its weakest point (in my opinion) is that it under-emphasizes poetry and ritual.

P.E.I. Bonewits, Real Magic. (Berkeley: Creative Arts Publishing, revised 1979). Paperback, $8.95

This is the other "best" book on magic. It covers a much wider variety of topics, including ritual, psychic self-defense, and many other psychic phenomena. Isaac's approach is scientific and rational, not "religious," and his language is often more that of a scholar than a witch, but this is nevertheless an essential book for any student of magic. WARNING: Make sure that you get the second edition (1979) or later, as the 1971 edition includes much material that is misleading, extraneous, and sometimes just plain false-the 1979 edition was heavily edited.

Scott Cunningham, Earth Power. (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1983). Paperback, $6.95

A good, reliable volume of spells and charms, compiled from the Family Traditions and other witchcraft sources. The magic in this book consists entirely of what scholars call "Low Magic"-the magic of village herbalists, midwives, and healers-and as such, it is very practical, simple, and unpretentious. Missing is much of the ceremony of Neopagan Witchcraft; in its place, a huge vocabulary of magic that can be used easily and quickly, regardless of where you are and what you have for tools.

The Best Of The Rest:

(Once you have a good background, from the previous five books, you will find the following all make good reference books, worth having on your shelf.)

Stewart Farrar, What Witches Do. (Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing, revised 1983). Paperback, $8.95

This book is so good that it ALMOST made it into the top five, displacing Earth Magic. When its first edition came out in 1971, it was the only book on modern Witchcraft that was written for outsiders. It is surprisingly well-written, and very thorough. Its only serious problem is that it is very specifically Alexandrian Witchcraft (named after Alex Sanders, its first High Priest), and some of it doesn't generalize well. Nevertheless, it has the best-written chapter on initiation, among other things, that I've seen yet.

Herman Slater (ed.), A Book of Pagan Rituals. (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1978). Paperback, $8.95

This is the complete Book of Shadows of a Neopagan tradition called The Pagan Way. It includes complete, very well-written rituals for all eight of the High Holidays (both solo and group ritual), plus a mixed bag of rituals for healing, trance work, and so forth. Requires some basic knowledge of the Craft and its symbolism, so its not for beginners, but it is definitely useful to any worthwhile fully-initiated witch.

Ellen Cannon Reed, The Witches' Qabala. (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1985). Paperback, $7.95

So far, only Book 1, "The Goddess and the Tree" has been published, but it's already the best book on the Qabala that I've seen yet, and the only one I would recommend to a new Neopagan Witch. The Qabala and its commentary to date contain a lot of sexist material, reflecting their Judeo-Christian origins. Ellen Reed strips all of that away, but in a way that is truer to the Qabala's origins and meaning than was the offensive material. Where she changes the traditional attributions, she documents it, and includes the traditional ones as well. This book is almost a "must-read."

Jack Schwarz, Voluntary Controls. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1978). Paperback, $7.95

Jack Schwarz is NOT a witch, but don't let that stop you from profiting from the single clearest, most practical book on kundalini- style meditation that has been published in the West. If you are having trouble meditating, or wish to do serious trance work, turn to this book first.

Camden Benares, ZEN Without Zen Masters. (Phoenix: Falcon Press, 1977). Paperback, $6.95

Out of print for almost 7 years, I am VERY happy to be able to recommend it again. This book is, among other things, proof that there is more to the Discordian branch of Neopaganism than just practical jokes. It is also the best practical book on Zen for the western world that I have seen yet. All of the best zen koans, including these, are also humorous (and therefore memorable). The book also includes MANY valuable exercises. As Robert Anton Wilson (see below) says in the Commentary at the beginning, "If you don't laugh at all, you've missed the point. If you only laugh, you've missed your chance for Illumination."

Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati. (New York: Pocket Books, 1977). Paperback, $3.95

In this autobiographical work, Wilson details his initiation into and experience with almost every form of shamanic magick that is still practiced today, and draws some very surprising conclusions. Strongest point: this is a fantastic synthesis of magick, psychology, and physics. Weakest point: its central theme-that all of the great mystical societies and movements in history have been in contact with aliens from Sirius-is not taken seriously by Wilson (no matter how serious he seems in this book), and should not be taken seriously by the reader.

Quote of the moment:
No thanks, I already have a nagila.

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