- Religion and Philosophy»
- Paganism & Witchcraft
Wicca Books for Beginners: Authors I Don’t Recommend
Wicca Books - Not Recommended
When it comes to books about Wicca, I’ve spoken at length in my other hub articles about books and authors that I heartily recommend. There are also a lot of Wicca books I likewise don’t recommend— most of them churned out from the same few authors who spread more misinformation than anything.
I’m not saying you should never read these authors. I do recommend reading their work with a huge grain of salt-- or like, with one of those salt licks they leave in the barnyard for cows. But if you’re new to Wicca and you’re looking for good introductions that are going to give you solid facts you can rely on, these authors are not going to help you. Your time and money would be better spent elsewhere.
Wicca Books: What to Read?
A Better Choice -- Recommended Wicca Books
The Farrar's book gives a much better overview on historical Wicca. They still fall under the Old Religion theories, but considering their generation was just coming out of those misconceptions it's understandable.
Gavin and Yvonne Frost
I have in my Witchcraft articles recommended some of the Frost's books on Witchcraft. That's because when it comes to magic and spell casting, the Frosts present some excellent insights. I don't recommend the Frosts to people interested in Wicca, though.
One of their most controversial publications is The Witch’s Bible (1972), and later republished as The Good Witch’s Bible (1977). I’m not sure how much arrogance it takes to write a religion’s Bible, but this book in particular is a horrible introduction to Wicca. They pretty much re-invented Wicca to their own liking, and it’s so different that it’s deceptive to even call the religion they write about ‘Wicca’.
Just to pull out an example of the kind of liberties the Frosts take, there is a chapter describing “Wiccan traditional” coming of age rites of passage for children, except the only 'Wiccans' these traditions came from are the Frosts themselves. Most other Wiccans are horrified by the implications.
These rites involve ritual sex initiation of children, sponsored by an adult. By the end of the disturbing preparation and education period, the adult would ritually initiate the child by having sex with them. In the original book they say that a child is ready for these rites when “the physical attributes of reproduction are present”— in other words, puberty. In their most recent 1999 reprint of this book, the Frosts add a note as a disclaimer (probably at the demand of their lawyers and publishers) that the child should be “at least 18 years old”. Last time I checked, puberty occurs long before 18.
The Frosts’ ideas are far from historically verified, and many of their beliefs and practices are not traditionally shared by the Wiccan mainstream, yet they present it all with the air of people who think themselves the highest authority. The couple sees criticism against them as not just attacking them, their ideas, their church, their school, but as attacking Wicca and a violation of the Wiccan Rede. This is because the Frosts are under the delusion that they themselves are the founders of Wicca. They have repeatedly made this claim.
They have also repeatedly attempted to discredit the contributions of people like Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Alex Saunders and Raymond Buckland.
The Frosts have a lot of Wiccan supporters and detractors. They’re hailed as pioneers who helped bring Wicca into the light by some, while others see them as people who did more harm than good. Either way, their book is not really going to help anyone understand what Wicca actually is, unless that person is only interested in the Frost’s unique (and often self-absorbed) perspective.
What's Your Opinion?
Do you ever recommend the Frosts work for beginners in Wicca?
Gerald Gardner's Book of Shadows:
A Better Choice - Recommended Wicca Books
This is a much better introduction to Wicca in my opinion, the author is apparently capable of much better research and intellectual honesty.
RavenWolf’s following baffles me, and honestly the only reason I think she got as big as she did is because she caught the wave at its peak and practically had the ocean to herself. When her first Wicca book was published, Wicca’s popularity was exploding but reading matter was hard to come by, especially if you only had access to mainstream bookstores.
Not that her work is terrible. RavenWolf is creative and I can find things to take away from her work that I can apply to my own beliefs and practices. I’ve enjoyed using some of her prayers, invocations, recipes, and gotten some inspiration from her rituals. But mining for gems in her work is a little like trying to find a few diamonds in a pile of cubic zirconia—if you don’t know the difference, you’re going to be very confused about what’s genuine and what isn’t. That’s why I think her work is terrible for beginners.
I personally find her ethics questionable, I must admit. She’s deceptive about her lineage. She repeatedly encourages teens to sneak, lie and manipulate. She comes off as very prejudice toward Christians in much of her work (RavenWolf, who still believes Witchcraft is the “Old Religion”, often acts as though Christianity is just one big patriarchal conspiracy to quash it; she also likens Christian worship to ‘groveling’ and ‘sniveling’).
The biggest problem with RavenWolf and why I don’t recommend her to newbies is that she’s a flat-out font of false information. Some accuse her of being clueless, others of being a liar. I can’t judge her intentions. If she actually believes the stuff she writes is accurate, she’s a shoddy scholar. If she’s just selecting any old claim to support her ideas/views, regardless of whether they’re true or not, then she’s selling out the Wiccan religion by perpetuating falsehoods in the interest of getting attention and selling books. Either way, RavenWolf doesn't come off well, and her books aren't going to be of any real value for those serious seekers looking to learn from reliable sources.
You can find more detailed criticism of RavenWolf’s work here and here, better than I could ever say it. Anything in them actually worth learning can be found presented in much better overall sources.
What's Your Opinion?
Do you ever recommend Silver RavenWolf for beginners in Wicca?
A Better Choice - Recommended Wicca Books:
Hutton is both a Pagan and a reputable historian; he's very careful to debunk beliefs that have been formed on very little real evidence, which has angered much of the Pagan community reluctant to give up the ghost on the preferred historic claims. Still, Hutton is able to be objective and point to the evidence (or lack thereof). What I love best about his work is that he's always able to just say "We just don't know" when the evidence is lacking, instead of jumping to conclusions.
Conway writes about a lot of Pagan cultures, and they all look suspiciously the same. In fact, they all look suspiciously like the 21st century religion, Wicca. Conway is the queen of trying to fit all of Pagandom into a Wiccan box with a neat little New Age bow on it. The problem is, she twists what little she knows about history as much as is necessary to fit this world view. She seems to believe Wicca, witchcraft, shamanism and Paganism are completely interchangeable terms and that all Pagans universally held the same religious beliefs.
For example, Conway writes about the Celts at length in particular, how they worship “The White Moon Goddess” (Celtic Magic, p. 43), how they were a matriarchal society in which women were equal, and even goes to tell us about the inner workings of ancient Druids, down to what their robe colors signify. She explains Wicca evolved out of this culture when Druids were “driven underground” (Celtic Magic, p 78).
The problem is that none of these claims are supported by any actual evidence. I mean, not a shred. Some of these claims have been outright debunked by historians.
Like in RavenWolf’s case, about the only thing of value in any of Conway’s books is her creativity. There are a few nice pieces of poetry, ritual, prayers, meditations, stories etc. to be found in her body of work. That’s about it. Honestly, if she stuck to that, her books would be delightful.
Instead, she tries to teach us history—or at least, a version of history that she seems to really like, but for which she has no evidentiary support. It’s all romanticized folklore and fakelore, regurgitated and repainted as “Wicca” to serve up to the masses for quick sales. She does this with every culture she attempts to write about. There simply is no excuse for an author to butcher history again and again, with no regard for or respect for the cultures she misrepresents. To do this while calling yourself Pagan and under the guise of teaching others is outrageous.
What's Your Opinion?
Do you ever recommend D.J. Conway for beginners in Wicca?
We All Love the Idea of Fairies
A Better Choice - Recommended Wicca Books:
If fiction is what you want, just read good fiction. It's not Wicca either, but at least you'll enjoy it.
Kisma K. Stepanich
This author should stick to fiction, because that’s actually all she writes. The majority of her references are works of fiction. Probably the best example of how bad her work is can be found in her books on Faery Wicca. In Book 1 of Faery Wicca, pg. 5, Stepanich writes in italics under “Lesson One: The Traditional History”:
Unless one knows their tradition’s origin, and has their roots firmly planted in this origin, one cannot successfully deepen their spirit.
She then proceeds to spin a yarn about Wicca being rooted in the Irish Celts, who are a race descended from fairies. She proclaims Faery Wicca is an oral tradition stemming back from these ancient times. On p. 150, she actually says “Faery Wicca” is the “indigenous tradition of Europe.”
Does anyone else see the irony here? Needless to say, neither the Irish nor the Celts can realistically be traced back to a fairy race, and Wicca is a 20th century invention.
Another example of the kind of outlandish claims Stepanich makes is on page 134:
Unfortunately, the horrible witch burnings of Salem, Massachusetts, in the United States of America, may very well have been attributed to an Irish-American witch in 1688.
The little hitch in this claim is, of course, that no witches were burned in Salem, ever. The accused (Christians, not Wiccans; and English, not Irish), were hanged, except for one who was crushed. Not to mention, the Salem witch craze was started with the slave Tituba, who was most likely a Native of the Caribbean or South America.
I can’t even get over how outrageously irresponsible this author is. This goes beyond poor scholarship and misinformation; this tripe is pure fiction masquerading as history. The trees sacrificed to print Stepanich’s books would have had a more dignified ending if they’d been made into toilet paper.
What's Your Opinion?
Do you ever recommend Kisma K. Stepanich for beginners in Wicca?
Final Thoughts on Wicca Books and Bad Authors
In the long run, even if these authors meant well, their work is doing more harm than good. It also doesn’t do Wicca as a religion any favors for our practitioners to be so grossly misinformed. It is the work of these authors and others like them that our detractors would point to in trying to prove we are a religion of delusional LARPers at best, and a dangerous cult at worst.
Likewise, as much as they’re responsible for people turning to Wicca, they’re responsible for people leaving Wicca. Many people come to Wicca because they feel disillusioned and lied to in their previous religion. After embracing Wicca for a time, they learn they've been lied to again and become disillusioned and let down once more. There are also people who leave Wicca because they can no longer stand being associated with a religion that seems to collectively and willfully embrace a false history.
If you have learned Wicca through these authors, I urge you to approach all writings with a more critical eye—including mine. Don’t take my word for it; don’t take any writer’s word for anything. If claims are made about history, cultures, etc., seek out the sources, and if necessary, seek out the source’s sources, until you can trace it back to authoritative, accepted evidence. Then look and see if there are arguments disputing or debunking that evidence. Put the pieces together for yourself before drawing conclusions.
In the meantime, take the parts with you that you find spiritually inspirational and enjoy them. There’s nothing wrong with creativity, mythology, liturgy in our spirituality; the problems come when they’re at the expense of facts.