I had been hoping to do several more posts this week than I have, but unfortunately life got in the way. My wife, who is carrying our second baby, had to go to the hospital this week due to fears about pre-term labor. All seems well now, but she’s on a form of bedrest which means I’m having to pick up a lot of slack as far as childcare and housekeeping are concerned. I’ll probably have less time to write (and sadly, podcast) over the next month or two, so please accept my apologies in advance for any diminished content.
I hate having to say my personal life is interfering with my passion and making any kind of announcement here, but I thought that you all should know about it. I’ve still got several articles planned (and a few that will be popping up in non-internet sources soon, too) and Laine and I always have the podcast planned about three months out, so we’ll definitely have stuff out to you, but please be patient if things don’t come quite as frequently as they have been.
Here’s hoping all is well out there with you! Thanks for reading, and for your support and understanding!
This is just a quick reminder that we’ve got our Winter Lore Contest on right now, but time is running out to get your entry in. We’re looking for information centered around the winter holidays, specifically local or family:
Please make sure you tell us what area you are from (generally), and if you would like us to use your name on the blog/podcast.
You have until midnight (Central Time) on Monday, December 6th to submit your lore via blog comment or email, so don’t delay! You can still get an additional entry if you tweet, blog, or otherwise spread the word about the contest and send us the link.
I recently saw a rather interesting post from a friend on a social networking site in which she listed her “Top 15 Most Influential Books” when it comes to witchcraft. Since I posted a book review last week (and since most book reviews going forward will likely be shared between this site and the Pagan Bookworm site), I thought that continuing that “bookish” trend might be good. So this week I will be posting about various texts which have a place North American magical traditions. Some will be of the grimoire type, and others may just be good reads, but hopefully all of them will be tomes you get much pleasure and use from if you crack the spines and turn the pages.
To start with, however, I’m going to re-use that meme and list my own Top 15 Most Influential (Witchcraft) Books. These are not necessarily books that I think of as “great,” or even in some cases “good” books. Many have erroneous information or are, at best, a good starting place for further exploration. All of them, however, have help shape my study of magic, folklore, and witchcraft in some way, and that’s what this list is really all about. I’m presenting them in a (roughly) chronological order, since that’s how I best remember them.
TOP 15 MOST INFLUENTIAL (WITCHCRAFT) BOOKS
The Encyclopedia of White Magic by Paddy Slade. This book was the first book of “real” magic I ever procured. I’ve talked about it on the show, but the short version is that I was about 11 or so, and I pestered my mother into buying it for me. Since then, I’ve definitely grown away from its ideas, though I periodically return to it for nostalgic reasons. It also got me thinking about magic as a folklore-based thing, rather than a sci-fi/fantasy phenomenon.
Earth Power/Earth, Air, Fire & Water by Scott Cunningham. I know there are lots of folks who regard Cunningham with disdain, but I’m not one of them. His two books of folk magic, focused on practical spellwork using natural elements, absolutely cemented my interest in spellwork as something more than an esoteric psychological tool. I still find some of his spells useful, though I’m no longer in tune with his particular worldview or ethical stance. Moreover, I think that there are far worse books with which one could begin one’s magical studies. I’ve found over the years that many folkloric sources bear out the techniques described by Cunningham, and I still regard his work fondly. There are certainly weak points in these books, but winnowing the chaff away is fairly easy with a little work.
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham. I’ll not launch into another defense of the author, but instead say that this book (and to a lesser extent, his Complete Book of Incense, Oils, & Brews) augmented my practice of magic again and helped me to start making my own spell ingredients. It also helped me to cultivate an interest in gardening, for which I am most grateful. This book also has one other great thing going for it: an amazing bibliography. While it obviously pulls from sources like Culpepper’s Herbal, it also contained references to things like Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore (which is also on this list). So I am quite thankful to this book, and this author.
Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies by Jude C. Todd. This was an impulse buy to augment my growing interest in herbs after I had eagerly devoured the Cunningham tomes. It’s not a magical book, per se, but focuses mostly on the physical properties of herbs and their applications as health and beauty aids. It provided a wonderful resource for learning how to interact with various herbs and brew potions, ointments, tinctures, etc. at home. I still turn to it sometimes for home remedies, and it also has a place because later encounters with books like J.G. Hohman’s Long Lost Friend reminded me that most magical workers had plenty of practical, non-magical herbal info at their fingertips, too. Jude’s book filled that role for me.
Magical Tales: The Storytelling Tradition by R.J. Stewart. In my sophomore year of university, I participated in a storytelling class that changed my life. It took fairy and folktales off of the written page and showed me something deeply vital about them emerges when they are shared with others. I also happened to be taking classes in things like fairy and folklore interpretation using academic studies like Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment and Mary Louise von Franz’s The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Into this mix came R.J. Stewart’s book, which looked at the phenomenon of storytelling from the point of view of a magical practitioner. I know a lot of folks were influenced by Stewart’s The Underworld Initiation, and I think that book is absolutely wonderful. As far as my own personal influence goes, though, this is the one I’d say really connected to me. It convinced me that stories contain more than just helpful magical tidbits, but sometimes are magical rituals in disguise, if you’re willing to work through them.
Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend, & Folklore by Lady Gregory & William Butler Yeats. I couldn’t have really appreciated this book prior to encountering book no. 5 on this list (and going through the courses I did at the same time). I actually had picked up this text years before because of a passing interest in Ireland which I inherited from my mother (we have family ties back to County Mayo). After I began to understand fairy tales as something more than fanciful stories, however, this book became an absolute mother lode of good magical material. I’ve since discovered many of the tales have parallels or retellings in Appalachian and Southern folklore, too, which makes me feel even closer to it.
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm, Jack Zipes trans. I actually borrowed this specific collection from a girlfriend, and its completeness stuck with me. It included a number of tales often omitted, and several tale fragments I’ve not seen in most editions. Particular variants aside, this collection falls into the same category as nos. 5 & 6 on the list. Again, I didn’t know what I had until long after I had it, and now I don’t think I could live without it.
The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony by Roberto Calasso. At some point, I became a bit of a mythology junkie, particularly Greek myths. I read and re-read Edith Hamilton, Bulfinch, and the textbooks from my college classes on the topic. I went to source material by Hesiod, Homer, Euripides, Aeschylus, and anyone else I could find. I’m definitely not an expert, but as enthusiastic amateurs go, I foment with glee when I encounter new Hellenic tales. When I got to Calasso’s book, however, I was taking an advanced course on mythology at school, and everything completely changed. It was this book that taught me one fundamental thing about mythology (and likewise storytelling and therefore magic): it changes. More importantly, there is no “true” or “right” version of any story, but simply the stories themselves. Mythology isn’t linear, but a web of tales—sometimes they contradict each other, sometimes they conflict with what we think about the culture, and sometimes they don’t make much sense to us. In all cases, though, the tales are true at a level not related to cross-referencing and documentation, but someplace deeply human. Calasso showed me that by bombarding me with the stories over and over again in his book, every time a little different, but all connected together, until I got it. I really do need to send him a thank-you note for that.
Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches, by Charles Godfrey Leland. Encountering Leland, for me, was like having someone splash very cold water on my face by the bucketful. I devoured his work Etruscan Roman Remains and his Gypsy Sorcery & Fortune-Telling, of course, with all the tenacity of a budding folklorist. It was Aradia, however, that really sent me sailing when I read it. At the time, I was studying with the outer court of a Gardenerian coven, and had to read things like Gardener, Dion Fortune, and other modern occult classics. When I got to Leland’s book, though, it felt so different, so authentic that I refused to believe its wild claims and actually got angry at it for deceiving me so well. I’ve since, however, learned that this book is something special—neither entirely true nor entirely false. More importantly, it is useful, and its mythos grips me in a very strange way. I can’t come down in favor of Aradia as a piece of unsullied witchlore, historical to its last printed letter. But I can say that figuratively, it’s as close to a witch’s gospel as I’ve seen yet. In short, it just “feels” witchy, and makes me feel the same every time I read it.
Call of the Horned Piper by Nigel A. Jackson. As I branched out and away from Wicca, looking for something I could connect with better, I began to find a lot about something called “Traditional Witchcraft.” There were dozens of websites, letters (mostly from Robert Cochrane), and books which I suddenly had to read, and in a very brief period I managed to get through most of them. While there have been a number of very influential and powerful works in the Trad Craft vein that I love, one stands out to me. Nigel Jackson’s tome is slim, barely the width of a pencil. It’s a chapbook, really, yet it contains so much information that I can’t imagine life without it (much less because finding a copy is becoming harder and harder to do). This book is probably more responsible for my religious magical practices than any other, and encapsulates in about 150 pages what many books cannot in 300 or more.
Ozark Magic & Folklore by Vance Randolph. This is a book that I found first by accident while seeking information on weather lore, then again by chance looking for an herbal reference. Finally, I was browsing one of Cunningham’s books and saw this title again in the bibliography, and realized I needed to seek it out. I’ve since read it many times, and it always offers up a plethora of magical information to me. Randoph’s book is not a how-to, but one could build a complete magical system out of his work. Yet it also guides one to several other magical books and traditions as well. This is the book that made me realize North America is full of occult power and lore, if I was only willing to dig for it a bit.
Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic by Catherine Yronwode. I’ve referenced this book and the accompanying website (Lucky Mojo Co.) so much on this blog and in the show you probably don’t need me to tell you it’s been an influence. I’ll just reiterate what a valuable piece of work it is and suggest that without it, I’d probably be fairly lost when it comes to making hoodoo charms, mojos, potions, and formulae.
The Silver Bullet by Hubert J. Davis. Following the ideas gleaned from Vance Randolph, I began looking for other folklore collections from America which might contain a few sprinklings of witchcraft. A friend suggested I look into The Silver Bullet, and it truly was a revelatory experience. In the pages of Davis’ book, the complete repertoire of the American witch dances out. The book’s segments on what witches do, how to become a witch, and what to do to counter curse read like thinly veiled instructions on American witchery taken right out of a cauldron. Like Randolph, a person could likely develop a complete magical system based on what this book contains. It is a marvelous book, and one I turn to repeatedly for witchlore.
The Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells by Judika Illes. This is another one I constantly reference. Its real influence on me lies in the fact that I share a love of it with Laine. We both get so much out of it that it acts as a sort of magical bridge between us. The Secret Garden likewise strengthens that bond—it’s one of her favorite books and another example of magic buried in storytelling which appeals to me—but Judika’s wonderful book (books really—they’re all quite good—but I decided to go with this one as we use it the most) really is our default grimoire at this point.
The Bible. This one is the last on my list because I’ve only been able to really understand it as a book of magic recently. I’ve known that certain metaphorical elements of the Bible have always had parallels in world mythology, but it’s only since working with things like Psalms, the Blood Verse (Ezekiel 16:6), and folk Catholic prayers that I’ve come to understand it as a sort of grimoire. Magic pervades the text, though it often must be disentangled from a lot of theology, history, folklore, etc. And while I do use the Bible as a sourcebook for magic, I also am not a monotheist, so I have to struggle with certain elements of it. This is rewarding in its own way, though, and I tend to think of the Bible as a “family” book—since most of my immediate predecessors were Christian (and mostly Catholic), my use of that magic ties me to them, even though I’m not worshiping the same deities they did, exactly. I also prefer to work with some of the deuterocanonical books, such as the Book of Wisdom found in the Catholic Bible, or the Book of Enoch which is mostly found in the Coptic or Ethiopian Orthodox Bible. But that’s just a personal preference.
So that’s my list! Long, I know, and probably way too much commentary, but maybe it will give you some insight into the places I’ve come from and the type of magical person I am. Or maybe it will give you a reason to catalogue your own influences. If you do that, I’d love to see them! Please let me know what books influenced your path, and feel free to post your lists (or a link to your blog if you do a list there) on the comments.
I know the posting here this week has been pretty shoddy, and I probably won’t get a post up (other than this update) at all until next week at this point. I’m hoping to do something fun for post number 100, but my day job is eating up a lot of time due to a big event we’ve got on Friday, so I don’t want to shortchange anyone with a half-baked post when I can just wait a week and do something much better.
At any rate, thanks for being patient, and please know that I’ll definitely have something good to post soon!
Yesterday, when I went to the mailbox, I pulled from amidst the circulars and credit card pre-approvals the always-entertaining J. Peterman Catalog. For those who don’t know anything about this catalog, it’s basically a clothing and accessories shop with its ad copy in the form of mini-travelogues. The company’s charismatic founder, J. Peterman, allegedly visits exotic locales and has wonderful adventures, then brings back inspirations for different lines of shirts, dresses, hats, and fragrances. He’ll spend a summer evening in Chile camped out in the Andes and come back with a rugged but stylish belt. He’ll recall a wonderful oyster dinner at a café in Paris and design a dress after his dinner companion’s outfit that night. And so on. The company is also fairly famous for being Elaine’s job on Seinfeld for a few TV seasons.
The clothing is expensive, though it certainly looks nice and has an air of romance about it. But that’s not really what I’ll get into here today. As I walked up my driveway, I flipped open the catalog to a random page, and found an interesting womens’ top with the following description:
The Crystals of the Sabbat are being polished.
The cry for more myrrh is heard.
An open call for fire dancers is taking place.
The healing masters are calling their travel agents.
They’ll be outdoing themselves at the Mabon Pagan Autumn Festival this year.
So what are you wearing?
Something exotic from India perhaps?
Vintage Pagan Embroidered Jacket (No. 2803). Tie front closure. Which means you can keep it tied or, depending on what the ceremony calls for, open. Embroidery continues along front, short sleeves, shoulder, yoke, and hem. Black piping on sleeves and around neckline. Very casual and easy. You can wear long sleeves under it.
And you know how good pagan looks with jeans. Imported.
Hopefully the scan of the catalog page above will let you see this advert in all its glory, but I think you get the gist.
I’m not going to get on any high horse here. I’m not offended by the catalog or the company. In fact, I am pretty tickled by it. Fire Lyte posted a blog entry yesterday about fear-mongering in the Pagan community, and I thought that this ad was a rather serendipitous arrival as I pondered on his points. While I don’t take a hard stance on Jason Pitzl-Waters’ Wild Hunt Blog (I’ve never noticed the paranoia Fire Lyte mentioned myself, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not there as an undercurrent). Fire Lyte’s broader point about the persecution complex prevalent in some Pagan circles seems valid to me, though. If I’m being honest, I experience almost no persecution, despite being in the Bible belt and regularly attending a church with people who know I’m not Christian and have magic books. Sure, hot button issues flare up from time to time, but they mostly tend to be ideological (such as the Creation vs. Evolution debate) rather than religious (though I readily admit that one of the first five questions a new acquaintance asks is “So where do you go to church?” in this part of the country). But I just don’t see the witch-hunting that seems to be implied in many cases.
That’s not to say there aren’t a number of folks genuinely experiencing some kind of enforced closeting or living in a state of anxiety over their belief system. I know there are. But I don’t know anyone who’s lost a job due to religion, myself, unless they made a big deal out of it and generally became a pest or nuisance. I’ve visited federal prisons (not as an inmate, if you’re wondering) and generally seen a very pluralistic attitude toward religion. In fact, it appeared as though religion was encouraged no matter which branch or denomination it was—copies of the Quran, the Bible, the Talmud, Buddhist texts, and even a “new age” book or two all sat on the rolling library cart.
What I’m really getting at is the other side of this particular coin. While there are plenty of folks upset over being hounded by Christians and conservative groups and bemoaning the presentation of witchcraft on “Bones” as a bleak cult phenomenon, I think there are ever more positive images of Pagans, witches, and magical folk surfacing in the world. The J. Peterman catalog is one example of someone taking the stereotype of the “hippie witch” and playing with it to create a little romance and allure—all in the name of capitalism, of course. I’m sure some would accuse this catalog (or me even) of “Uncle Tom” passivity over the commercialization of sacred traditions, but honestly I’m just pleased as punch that they referenced one of the much-less discussed holidays on the general Pagan calendar (though it’s not on my personal calendar, but that’s beside the point). Anyone will mention witches and Pagans at Halloween—who talks about Mabon, though?
I’ve noticed that this sort of “popular Paganism” has been surfacing more and more, which is rather heartening to me. On a Simpsons episode recently, Lisa temporarily joins a Wiccan coven, then stops the town from engaging in a full-on witch-hunt. An episode of Futurama from a few years ago showed main character Leela wishing to be a witch, but only “As long as I get to hurt people and not just dance around at the equinox.” I even seem to recall an episode of the animated Batman series from the 90’s where Batman needed the help of a Wiccan coven to solve a case (why is it that cartoons are so dang progressive?). I’m not saying that I think all of these portrayals are accurate, but they are all positive (Leela’s desire to be a “wicked witch” notwithstanding—she does portray non-wicked witches in fairly benign terms).
I don’t usually go into posts like this here at New World Witchery, and I don’t plan to make a habit of it going forward. I just found the lovely coincidence of the catalog arriving just as I was thinking about Fire Lyte’s post to auspicious to pass up. But I’d love to hear your thoughts, too. Do you see Pagans, witches, animists, and other magical folk as persecuted? Have you experienced outright persecution in your life (not a fear of it, but actually losing custody of a child or getting fired from a job because of it)? Do you see popular examples of paganism elsewhere? Do you think the public perception of Pagans is going less from “scary weirdos” to “funny eccentrics” as I do? Please leave your comments and your thoughts!
Okay, enough op-ed for the day from me! Thanks for reading!
P.S. To all you wonderful folks who have commented or emailed and not received responses, I promise I’ll be getting back to you soon! Sorry for the delay!
I know that I’ve been a bit scanty on blogging lately, for which I apologize most profusely. Unfortunately, I’m likely to stay busy with many irons in many fires for quite some time to come, but I feel like you readers are wonderfully patient with me when the blog and podcast have dry spells and I want to reward that. And so, I have put something together for those of you who have been taking an active interest in the recent cartomancy posts.
I’ve put together those posts with some additional material in an e-book, which I’m making available for download free from the site:
It’s a PDF and should be easily readable with Adobe Reader. Like I said, it’s totally free. Feel free to save it, copy from it, distribute it, etc. Please do attribute any citations, excerpts, or references back to me, but otherwise, I hope you enjoy it! And if you do like the book, consider making a donation here, or with the button on the sidebar.
I’m also planning to revise this material, with some additional sample readings, expanded information, a quick-reference chart, and improved graphics and release it as a chapbook sometime in the near future. The printed chapbook will have a cost of some kind (and will probably be sold through our Compass & Key Etsy shop, which I’m hoping to revamp and relaunch soon), but I’ll try to keep it very reasonable. The e-book will remain available through the site, however, and I intend to keep it free/donations-only for all to download.
I know it’s nothing spectacular, but I hope it is useful to some of you. Thank you all so much again for your patience and your patronage of New World Witchery, both blog and podcast. We really appreciate your support!
So you may have noticed a subtle change or two to our page today. We have a new look here at New World Witchery, which hopefully makes us look a little more interesting. Our fantastic web designer is none other than the lovely Sarah, Witch of Forest Grove (and The Pagan Bookworm and Hedgefolk Tales and proprietress of Forest Grove Botanica)! Many many thanks to her for putting together such a neat design (especially that banner at the top—the old one was kind of sad looking).
If you run into pages or buttons that don’t work, please let me know so we can get those fixed. Likewise, if you suddenly find one of your comments missing from a previous post, let me know that, too. Some of them wound up being sent back into “hold” status during the update.
Again, a thousand thousand thanks to Sarah, and we hope you like our new look!