Witchcraft in the West has gone through periods of being fashionable and lulls in popularity. Basically there have been three booms in Pagan Witchcraft in modern times:
1970s to 1980s
Although modern Pagan Witchraft developed through the 1930s and 40s and really came into being in the 1950s, it was in the 1970s that it became popular, building on the counter-cultural trends of the 1960s. So there are books that were published at this time that became ‘classics’.
Mid to late 1990s
The 1990s saw a boom in Witchcraft in popular culture. Movies such as The Craft helped to make it fashionable. Particularly in the US, books were published teaching different aspects of Witchcraft and magick.
Mid-2010s to present
Instagram and now TikTok have become venues for Witches to share knowledge and practices and along with astrology and tarot, Witchcraft is fashionable again. In the past it was possible to distinguish between modern Paganism and the New Age, but this is increasingly difficult now.
As I said in a previous post, Witches in the 1990s were expected to be well-read, and showing this knowledge was one way to demonstrate that you belonged in the community. I think this is less the case now, but I thought it might be interesting to introduce some of the books on my shelves at home. As I said in that post, my office bookshelves are typical sociology and human-computer interaction books. My home bookshelves are very very different. Here are some..:
Gerald Gardner (1954) Witchcraft Today.
This is the book that started it all. I’m including it more for completeness than because it’s a good read. Gardner had first ‘exposed’ the practices of Witchcraft in a novel called High Magic’s Aid but this was his non-fiction account of a witch-cult that had supposedly survived for centuries. Most of the older Witches I’ve met would have read this.
Janet and Stewart Farrar (1981) Eight Sabbats for Witches and (1984) The Witches’ Way.
These two books introduced Gardner’s Witchcraft (called ‘Wicca’) to the public in a clear way. The first one introduces the eight main Wiccan festivals (divided roughly equally through the year) and the second one introduces rituals for initiation (Gardnerian/Alexandrian Wicca is an initiatory tradition).
Doreen Valiente (1978) Witchcraft for Tomorrow.
Another book that introduced Wicca, it’s less detailed than the Farrar’s books but although it’s dated now it included a self-initiation ritual and basic information. She’s been called the ‘mother of modern witchcraft’. I always found her writings to be quite comforting, but quaint now.
Starhawk (1979) The Spiral Dance.
The classic of feminist Witchcraft, introducing a goddess-oriented religion and is a work of empowerment. I always found it incredibly ‘American’ in contrast to the Farrar’s and Valiente, but then I’m a Brit.
These books would have been read by most older Witches if they got into The Craft in the 1980s and they were still basically required reading for Witches in the 1990s. Americans would also be familiar with books by Raymond Buckland who introduced Wicca over there, and Scott Cunningham.
In the second ‘boom’ of Pagan Witchcraft (the mid to late 1990s into the early 2000s), authors such as Silver RavenWolf popularized Witchcraft and spells. Fans of The Craft would easily find her books on the shelves of bookshops and learn to become Witches themselves. This period saw authors distinguishing themselves by claiming different lineages to Gardner, giving self-initiation rituals, and collections of spells. Those wanting deeper understanding of the Western Esoteric tradition would get hold of grimoire books by Agrippa, translations of the Goetia, and other ceremonial magick books. Some of these were available in regular bookshops on the high street (Waterstones was my favourite, the bigger stores always had a reasonable occult section. WH Smith, not so!).
There are loads of Witchcraft and magick books now. When I was first getting interested in it in the 1990s for anything not available in the sections of high street shops, I had to order from specialist bookshops who would send out printed catalogues of their books. These stores would also make their money selling ritual kits and ingredients. Now of course budding Witches can just use Amazon (other specialist stores still exist..)…
But what about my favorite books? I think I like books that speak of the time they were created. Of course I love the Witchcraft books I’ve already mentioned, but out of all of the books on the shelves probably my top three are:
Aleister Crowley, Magick: Book 4
This introduces Crowley’s system of magick, which is built on the foundation he learnt in The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It’s a fascinating look at the kind of structured magical thought that existed in the early to mid twentieth century.
Peter J Carroll (1987) Liber Null & Psychonaut
The ‘90s were a wild time. Postmodernism was really popular and out of this came ‘Chaos Magick’. This book is the classic Chaos Magick book. It really feels of its time; although I’m sure Chaos Magick is still popular, really the 1990s were the time when it seemed so fresh.
Kenneth Grant (1972) The Magical Revival
Grant was a member of Crowley’s OTO and this book (and the two following it) moulds together Crowley, Lovecraft and Austin Osman Spare. It’s a wild ride. It’s also not particularly easy to get hold of now.
Other favorites include The Book of Thoth by Crowley, on his tarot deck, and basically all of Austin Osman Spare’s books and artworks, … So, not so many ‘Witchcraft’ books, because although I have a lot, they tend to be pretty similar once the ‘basics’ are understood (this includes doing spells; I have quite a few books of spells). Really it’s the practice of Pagan Witchcraft that’s interesting rather than the reading, but my top three books given above are interesting as books in themselves I think.
I know that the famous TikTok and Insta witches have published their own books, but I haven’t read many of them. I think although we’re currently in another boom time, the foundations of the current fashion were in the 1980s and 1990s, and what we’re seeing now is a combination of Pagan Witchcraft and New Age spirituality. Maybe ‘reflexive individualism’ rules right now.