I’m at a point right now where I’m trying to figure out which religious framework is the best fit for my spiritual life. (In case that wasn’t clear from the fact that I literally run a blog about exploring different religions.) Although I love the rich history and culture of the Catholic/Anglican environment I’ve spent most of my life in, I’ve found that more personal, introspective, and mystic forms of worship work better for me. And when you investigate personal and mystical religion, you’re bound to run up against Wicca.
Despite it’s common nickname, “The Old Religion,” Wicca is a fairly young faith that got its start in the 1930s-1950s and has been quickly gaining popularity in the decades since its birth. Wicca is a nature-based religion based on European folk lore and magick. Wiccans typically worship a God and Goddess (though many of them believe in and work with other deities as well), believe that the earth is sacred, and celebrate the cycle of the seasons with their eight sabbats, or seasonal holidays. Most famously — or infamously, depending on how you look at it — Wiccans practice magick as an essential part of their spiritual path.
There’s a lot that I really love about Wicca. The worship of both masculine and feminine aspects of divinity is especially attractive to me, since I’ve often been frustrated by the lack of recognition for the Divine Feminine in my Christian background. I love the respect and love for the earth. Most of all, I love that Wicca celebrates life, in all of its messy and complicated glory. But it isn’t enough to just like the idea of something — I wanted to know if Wicca was the right fit for me and my spiritual needs. And to figure that out, I knew I would have to do some research.
I made a post on Pagan & Witches Amino (which is an online pagan community) asking practicing Wiccans what book(s) they would recommend for someone investigating their faith. I chose three of the most highly recommended books from the comments of that post, and read them all back to back. I’m sharing my thoughts on them here, for anyone else who is considering becoming a Wiccan and is looking for good reading material.
The first book I read is literally called Wicca For Beginners. It was written by Thea Sabin and was published in 2006. This was one of the books recommended by users on P&WA, and I was excited to see people talking about it because I already owned a copy. I’ve actually read this book twice — once in 2017, when I simply wanted to educate myself on the Wiccan faith, and again more recently, but this time from the perspective of someone who was considering making Wicca a significant part of her spiritual practice.
Needless to say, I like this book. Sabin has a very engaging, conversational writing style, but at the same time she clearly knows her stuff. She takes a very “top down” approach to the faith, starting with a basic overview of Wiccan belief and philosophy, then laying out some theology, and then providing examples of how to incorporate magick and ritual into a Wiccan lifestyle. I like this organization because it establishes the why for these things — why Wiccans do them, why they matter, and why they need to be treated with respect — before giving readers the how. It’s very clear that, for Sabin, Wicca is a religion first and foremost, and everything else involved is merely an expression of this faith.
I feel like, even if you went into this book knowing absolutely nothing about Wicca, you would have all the knowledge and tools you needed to begin practicing by the time you finished reading. There are a few basic “starter rituals” in here, and the ones that I have tried have all given me great results. I really can’t ask for more from a beginner’s guide.
Read it if…
- You’re mainly interested in Wicca as a religion and want to learn about Wiccan theology.
- You have no previous knowledge of the faith and want a book that will give you a solid understanding of the basics.
- You want a book that includes sample rituals to help you ease yourself into practicing magick.
Skip it if…
- You’re only interested in witchcraft as a practice, and aren’t interested in Wicca.
- You already have a good understanding of Wiccan theology and are looking for a practical guide to spells, rituals, etc.
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
The second book I read is by far the most recently published of the three: Wicca: A Modern Guide to Witchcraft & Magick by Harmony Nice, published in 2018. Harmony Nice is a popular Wiccan YouTuber, and has posted several instructional videos about Wicca and witchcraft on her channel. I’ve watched a lot of her videos and found them very helpful, so when I heard people piling praises onto her book I knew I had to get my hands on it. In fact, I was so eager to read it that I was actually willing to pay extra shipping fees for the UK edition instead of waiting for the US release. I did have some doubts, though. I was a little worried that the book would just be restating content from Harmony’s YouTube videos, or that it would be a cheap effort to cash in on the popularity of her channel. Fortunately, it left me pleasantly surprised.
This book is an even easier read than Sabin’s, with short chapters that are perfect for reading on the go. I found myself throwing it into my bag to read between classes or during my lunch break at work. This is a great introductory book for people who don’t have the time or energy to settle down and dig into something more dense. I did notice a few grammatical errors, but nothing bad enough to make it unreadable.
Like Sabin, Harmony starts with a big picture description of Wicca both as a religion and a way of life — but these chapters take up a much smaller percentage of the total book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. This book is more focused on the everyday details of Wicca as a practice. There’s lots of advice on how to get started (including beginner rituals that are a little less formal than Sabin’s) and several chapters dedicated to tools, crystals, herbs, and even astrology. Towards the end of the book, there’s even a chapter dedicated to working Wicca and witchcraft into an urban lifestyle, which I really liked. The core message of this book is definitely that Wicca is for anyone who feels called to it, and that part of the fun of being a witch is developing your own practice.
I also really appreciated that Harmony included several segments about the mental health benefits of Wicca. Not only does she speak very openly and honestly about her own experience, but she stresses the importance of maintaining balance in all things — including our emotions! — in magick and lays out some basic tips for using witchcraft as a tool to cope with mental and emotional distress. Mental health awareness is something I’m pretty passionate about, and I’ve always used my spiritual practices as a way of maintaining mental balance, so I really loved seeing that explicitly discussed here.
Read it if…
- You’re more interested in the practical side of Wicca (spells, divination, herbal correspondences, celebrating Sabbats and esbats, etc.) than the heavy theology.
- You already know a little bit about Wicca and are looking for a guide to help you incorporate it into your everyday life.
- You are not Wiccan but are interested in witchcraft and want to see how other witches practice.
Skip it if…
- You are primarily interested in Wicca as a religion and want a book that focuses on theology.
- You want a book that goes into depth about what Wiccans believe and do. (This is more of a “Survey of X” kind of book that covers a lot of surface-level information but doesn’t get too in-depth with any of it.)
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Finally, the third book on my list was Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham. This is a sequel to Cunningham’s earlier book, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner (which I have not read), and it assumes that you already know the basics of Wiccan religious theory. This book is dedicated to helping new Wiccans incorporate the faith into their daily lives. It’s also by far the oldest of the three books I’ve read, having been published in 1993.
I really enjoyed this book. I definitely recommend reading either Thea Sabin’s or Harmony Nice’s book first, because Cunningham takes for granted that his readers have already been studying Wicca for a while. (Which makes sense, as this is a sequel to his own beginner’s guide.) There is a glossary at the back of the book, but you’re going to get much more out of it if you go in with a firm grasp on the basics.
My favorite part of Living Wicca was Part III, which contains a framework for creating your own Wiccan tradition. It goes over everything from your personal concept of the Goddess and God and/or other deities, to your code of ethics, to which runes and symbols to incorporate into your practice. I love the guideline Cunningham provides, because it encourages readers to really think about what they believe and what Wicca looks like for them.
Read it if…
- You’re already familiar with basic Wiccan theology and are ready to make Wicca a part of your life.
- You want to practice Wicca, but none of the established traditions you’ve investigated (Gardnerian Wicca, Seax Wicca, Dianic Wica, etc.) seems quite right for you.
- You’re a veteran Wiccan looking to get back to basics and revamp their practice.
Skip it if…
- This is your first book on Wicca — you will be confused and lost, and may get frustrated.
- You are interested in what Wiccans believe and do, but do not plan to become Wiccan yourself.
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
So, in conclusion, all three of these are great books that I really enjoyed and highly recommend — but each of them approaches Wicca from a different angle, so you’ll have to figure out which book best fits your own approach. If you know absolutely nothing about Wicca and want a very broad, surface-level introduction to the religion, pick up Wicca: A Modern Guide to Witchcraft & Magick. If you’re a theology nut and want to know how Wiccans see the world and their gods, pick up Wicca For Beginners. And if you’ve already read one of those (or some other “Intro to Wicca” book) and are ready to take the next step, definitely check out Living Wicca. Heck, if you really want to read all three, I think there’s enough diversity in views here to keep you from getting bored.
If you feel like Wicca is the right religious path for you but aren’t sure where to start, I would recommend starting with Wicca For Beginners, marking it up, highlighting the passages that seem meaningful to you, and taking good notes. Once you’ve really taken the time to digest Thea Sabin’s take on Wicca, if you still feel that it is right for you, read Living Wicca and use Cunningham’s framework to outline a basic Wiccan practice. This means you’ll be rereading passages (probably from not only Cunningham, but Sabin as well), doing a lot of writing, and doing some hard thinking about some deep, heavy stuff. But you’ll come away with a new, custom-built spiritual practice, which is worth it if you ask me.
A Note On Historical Context
The books mentioned in this post span a wide swath of Wiccan history, from 1993 to 2018. Wicca has seen a lot of rapid change over the decades, and is still changing today as it becomes more widespread. Obviously, these changes will be reflected in Wiccan literature — books written ten, twenty, or thirty years ago may contain information that is no longer relevant to most modern Wiccans.
For example, Scott Cunningham makes a clear division between ceremonial magick (magick practiced as part of a religious ceremony, such as celebrating a Sabbat or honoring the Goddess, which is central to Wicca) and folk magick (which he defines as “the practice of utilizing personal power, in conjunction with natural tools, in a non-religious framework, to cause positive change”). Under the umbrella of folk magick, he lists practices like candle magick and the use of correspondences (the idea that different plants, stones, etc. represent different energies, such as roses representing love). Cunningham stresses that these practices are fundamentally different from Wiccan ceremonial magick and should not be taught as if they were a part of Wicca. Since his book was published, Wiccans have started blending ceremonial and folk magick together, and most Wiccans today practice a combination of the two, sometimes even within a single ritual.
If a claim you read in an older book seems weird or doesn’t line up with what you’ve heard from modern Wiccans, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the author is incorrect — this element of Wicca may simply have changed since the book was written. Fortunately, there are tons of Wiccan resources available for free online, from YouTube videos to podcasts to communities like Pagan & Witches Amino. You can use these resources to update your knowledge, and you can always ask a practicing Wiccan (online or in real life) if something you read in a book is still relevant. Just be aware that, because of the rapid evolution of Wicca as a religion, Wiccans from different generations practice differently. Older Wiccans are more likely to practice Scott Cunningham’s brand of Wicca, while younger Wiccans are more likely to have a practice similar to Harmony Nice’s.
You may find that older forms of Wicca resonate more with you — this is totally fine, and you should feel free to practice however you feel most comfortable.
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