This post is loosely based on the fourth episode of my Baby Witch Bootcamp series on YouTube. In that video, I recommended some of my personal favorite books on witchcraft and spirituality. But, after some thought, I decided it would be more helpful to give y’all some guidelines for how to find worthy resources for yourself.
After all, your interests may be different from mine, and the books that have shaped my magical practice may not interest you at all. But the standards for a good, trustworthy resource are constant, so that’s what I’ll be addressing here.
Research the author’s reputation and credentials.
There is no “university of witchcraft,” so sometimes the only credential an author can have is being a lifelong practitioner. However, some magical traditions do require initiation and/or have a more formal structure. For example, Reiki (which is not technically magic, but many witches still have an interest in it) cannot be learned from a book — it can only be passed down by a Reiki Master. If you’re reading a book about Reiki, the author should specify which Reiki lineage they were initiated and certified through. (Even then, reading their book does not mean you are initiated!)
Likewise, if someone claims to be a member of the clergy, whether a Christian reverend or a pagan high priestess, look into how they got that title. What religious group are they associated with? Did they attend seminary or some other form of training? Were they ordained? If an author does not have this information readily available (such as in the “About the Author” section of their book), be skeptical of their claims to religious authority.
Even though not all authors who write about witchcraft will have been initiated into a formal tradition or will be ordained clergy (and not all of them need to be!) most authors will have a reputation of some kind. The best way to figure out if an author is legit is to see what experienced witches think of their books.
Try Googling “[author’s name] + controversy” or “[author’s name] + scandal” to see what comes up. Have they been called out for spreading misinformation or for problematic behavior in the past? For example, Googling “Silver Ravenwolf controversy” will bring up several articles about bad information in that author’s books.
It’s also a good idea to look that author up on social media — both their own profiles, and the tags associated with their work. Is there anything on the author’s Instagram or Twitter that seems like a red flag? What are other social media users saying about their work? Some authors will even have a blog, so you can read some of their writing for free before deciding to buy a book.
Even if an author’s books aren’t super popular, you can still read reviews and check out the author’s social media. This doesn’t always weed out bad resources, but it is a good first step.
Just because a book is popular doesn’t mean it’s a good resource.
See my previous note about Silver Ravenwolf. There are a lot of very popular books and authors that many witches will tell you are hot garbage. There are also a lot of very shallow, surface-level “Witchcraft 101”-type books that are popular because of a good marketing campaign, an Instagram-worthy cover, or some other superficial factor, but contain very little actual hands-on instruction.
(Note: There’s nothing wrong with Witchcraft 101 books, and in fact I recommend starting with more “beginner-friendly” books until you figure out what aspects of witchcraft you want to focus on. But just because a book is for beginners doesn’t mean it can’t have depth to it.)
I’m not saying don’t read popular books — some things are popular because they are genuinely good. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t buy a book only because it’s popular.
Look for a well-rounded “Resources” section.
If you want to know if a book is worth your time, flip to the back and look for the “Resources,” “Bibliography,” or “Further Reading” section. In a well-researched book, this section will be several pages long. (Obviously, if the book is especially short and/or only covers a single topic, the Resources section may be shorter, but it will still be there.) In a really well-researched book, it will include sources written by non-witch, non-pagan authors like historians, scientists, and psychologists.
If you’re reading a book about mythology or paganism, the Resources section should contain some primary sources (or as close to primary sources as possible). For example, Morgan Daimler’s book Odin: Meeting the Norse All-Father, lists multiple English translations of the Poetic Edda in its bibliography. A good book about Wicca will reference the writings of Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, and probably also Aleister Crowley, even if the author does not agree with their views.
If a book doesn’t list the author’s sources, it’s probably not worth your time. Either the book is poorly researched or the author is intentionally being vague about where they are getting their information. Either way, that book is not a transparent resource and should not be used as a reference.
Avoid authors who use vague phrases like “scientists say ___” or “the old witches knew ___.”
This goes back to being transparent about sources. A lot of writers will use wording like this to give their claims the illusion of authority.
“Scientists” could very well refer to a small group of fringe scientists (or pseudo-scientists) who are not respected by the mainstream scientific community. For example, some “scientists” have voiced support of the anti-vaccination movement, but no respectable medical professional is going to tell parents not to vaccinate their kids. If the author doesn’t say who these “scientists” are, they may as well write “My friend Steve, who once took a high school physics class, says ___” for all the credibility it gives them.
The problem with claims about the “witches of old” is that witchcraft is not and never has been a unified tradition. Witchcraft is a practice which has existed in different forms within many cultures throughout history. Even witches living on the same continent at the same time would have very different practices based on their local environments, religions, ethnic heritages, etc. If the author does not specify which magic tradition they’re referring to, the information is pretty much useless.
Avoid any other vague wording or claims to authority that don’t provide an actual source.
Don’t be afraid to fact-check an author!
Do your own research outside of the witchcraft books you read. If you’re interested in mythology, read books written by historians and archaeologists, not just witches. If you’re interested in energy work, read books by doctors and scientists, not just energy workers. If you’re interested in herbs and plants, study their medicinal as well as magical uses. You get the idea.
If an author says something that sounds weird to you, or that seems to contradict what you’ve read in other books, don’t be afraid to do some research. If it turns out to be bullshit, you probably want to take everything else in that book with a grain of salt.
On a related note: some older books contain incorrect information not because the author was dishonest or misinformed, but because that information was widely accepted as true when the book was written, but was later disproved. For example, many academics used to believe in a unified “cult of the Goddess” spanning the continent of Europe in ancient times. This has now been pretty thoroughly disproved by archaeological evidence, but you’ll still see some older books referencing it.
Hopefully these guidelines give y’all a better idea of how to find books to lean on as you’re developing your craft. Research is a big part of witchcraft and paganism, so finding good resources is very, very important.
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