I expect a lot of people will write about books… most of the neo-pagans I know began their journeys in paganism through a library or a bookshop. Nevertheless, I think it’s good to share some of our favourite books, so here are some of mine. (Note that these are not really recommendations – such a thing needs to be more specifically tailored to a person and a time, as elf said – but notes on what I have found useful to me at specific times in the past.)
Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses, R J Stewart
This was one of the first books about paganism I read, as I followed the trails from archaeology and mythology into neo-paganism and the possibility of continuing practice. I had the library copy out for so long that eventually I had to buy a copy of my own! As a very beginning beginner, the images in this book were some of my earliest altars – I love the image of Brigid especially, though others have spoken equally clearly to my condition over the years. It probably had something to do with my choice of the name Rhiannon, too.
Quaker Faith and Practice, Britain Yearly Meeting
I vaguely remember the discussions which happened in 1994 when Quakers in Britain revised this book, which lays down ‘right ordering’ for our practice and collects inspiration and wisdom from previous and present generations. It isn’t strictly pagan – it’s a book of Christian discipline – but the understanding of Christianity presented, and the attitude to other religions, allows for much exploration. I try to take seriously the advice to “think it possible that you may be mistaken.” (17)
The Urban Primitive, Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein
This was the book which made pagan practice seem like a real possibility for me, town-dwelling and chronically ill. There’s a lot in it which I’ll never use – but the underlying attitude ‘you can do magic anywhere, with anything, and nobody else has to know’ got me started on magic and magical prayer at a time when more ‘cuddly’ books just set up an impossibly romantic goal. Parts which stand out in particular are the advice about clothes, the city deities, and the poem in the front.
The Book of English Magic, Philip Carr-Gomm
I was delighted when I discovered that this heavy book was also out on Kindle – the ebook reader makes it comfortable for me to read things which my wrists and shoulders would otherwise hate. It was one of the first things I bought on the Kindle, and I read it last year when I was going through some very tough times. Besides being a wealth of information and leading me to explore and re-explore several branches of the English magical tradition, further research on Carr-Gomm’s work lead me to the OBOD Bardic Course which is enriching my life at the moment.
Bonewits’s writing is witty and accessible and erudite all at once. In this book he gives an overview of the development of Druidism – much of the recent material drawn from his own experience. It’s a good introduction. I enjoyed Ronald Hutton’s work on the history of Druidry, too, but I’m doing a PhD, and academic writing doesn’t seem so heavy any more. I also hesitated over which of Bonewits’s books to include here, as I have also enjoyed Real Magic and Neopagan Rites as well as his web writing. There’s something down to earth and practical about Bonewits, though, and this is the book I’d recommend to someone just starting to ask, ‘what is this druid thing anyway?’