The Pagan Experience asks about books this week. “Tell us about a favorite book. We come across many literary adventures as students of a spiritual path. Some become familiar companions; others reference sources. Some may have been what propelled you on your current spiritual journey, or took you in a completely different direction than what you had imagined. And, then there are those that speak to every level of your soul. What’s on your shelf?”
As it happens I came across a new favourite quote about books this week.
Having a huge number of books is not exactly about reading them all – it’s about having the possibility of reading them all.
I am a self confessed bibliophile. I love books and reading. There is nothing wrong with those new fangled e-books but nothing beats that new book smell and the sight of a heaving bookshelf.
In recent months my my bookshelf has swelled with new aquisitions dealing with the Ephesian Grammata,The Orphic Mysteries and the Elleuisian Mysteries. This means I’ve been pillaging Amazon.uk and Forgotten Books for obscure works. I will admit, I’ve not read every book in depth cover to cover. That is a luxury of time that I don’t have at the moment. Most books are for reference and I dip in and out as necessary.
Book storage is a complex system in my home because of my tendency towards hoarding. I have books I haven’t read in 12 years or so but hold onto because I want to set logic traps for my kids should they choose to follow my path, or simply because they are accessible introductions to Paganism if used with caution such as Spell-Weaving.
I have also a historical collection for their delight and delectation. These books are generally later reprints of classics such as the White Goddess by R Graves and The Golden Bough by JG Frazer. Some I have read, others I have skimmed, others still I have earmarked for another time.
I have a shelf for rarely used but amazing reference books. King amongst these is The Complete Magicians Tables. It might not be pocket sized but a great go to guide. I also have Judika Illes book The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells . Although well thumbed I can say with confidence I’ve never performed a single spells from its pages. However it is my go to book if I am stuck for spell ideas or structure and it has really informed my organic practices.
Downstairs is where I keep the Heketean stash, right where I can get to it. I’m often dipping in and out of it for references and material. As well as many of the titles you might expect such as Liminal Rites, Burning Torches and Rotting Goddess I like to have original source books such as Hans Dieter Betz’s The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation and Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts: A Sourcebook by Daniel Ogden.
The same shelf houses a variety of books and subjects pertaining to different deities, traditions and paths and includes slightly more academic things like Pagan Britain by Ronald Hutton and various archaeological books on Stonehenge and Prehistoric Britain.
I’ve mentioned on my blog before that I started on my path by reading the early works of Scott Cunningham and despite their flaws I still recommend Wicca A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner and Living Wicca. Cunningham was writing at a time when, and for a publisher for which, Wicca was a buzz word. Various lineaged off shoots of Gardarian Wicca were appearing and the word was appearing more and more in the public domaine.
Equally the New Age movement was just beginning to get underway and wasn’t ready to be bothered by pesky things like terms, definitions and actual history. The word sounded old and magical and was presented as representing something ancient and potentially better than the flawed modern systems of religion they had been involved in previously. It was also a word untainted by the concept of witchcraft.
Personally I’d like to go through all of Cunninghams work and replace the word “Wicca” with “witchcraft” however that woild be imposing my modern day perceptions on a decades old text. So long as the reader avoids the honey trap of self initiation, realising the imposibility of initiating yourself into a close mystery tradition there is a lot to take away from the two books.
Wicca: A Guide to the Solitary Practitioner provides a straightforward, no nonsense introduction to magical practices, correspondences, tools etc. It is the atypical 101 book plus it cuts through a lot of fluff. On the other hand Living Wicca provides an introduction to the Wheel of the Year and other common celebrations. By separating these subjects out Cunningham created a situation where he could go into greater depth on his subject and gave the reader the option to absorb information before crashing straight into the next big topic. Combined with his other works on correspondences, elementals magic and crystals (to name but a few) Cunningham can give a newcomer a good grounding in paganism and witchcraft and make other more specialist text that but more accessible.
Books are really great. They disseminate information and are slightly more reliable than the internet. Unless you get rid or suffer a house fire they are always going to be there for you to reference where as electronic storage isn’t always reliable.
However don’t get bogged down in the theoretical and locked in your book fort. Remember to put what you learn into practice because it might lead to more books!