Leaves of Gold: Finding Those Rare Occult Books
Article ID: 4848
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,850
Times Read: 43,825
Author: Peg Aloi [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: November 3rd. 2002
Times Viewed: 43,825
It will certainly come as no surprise to anyone reading this to learn that (gasp!) PAGANS LIKE BOOKS. We like reading them, sure, but oddly enough a lot of us just like having them around too. Margot Adler, in Drawing Down the Moon, referred to modern pagans as (among other things!) "bibliophiles." Yes, we love books. How many of you have fairly vast libraries? Or know other witchy friends who need a whole separate room for just their books? Do your fr iends groan when you ask for help moving to a new apartment because they know there will be many small but heavy boxes of books to lug up and down the stairs? Do you frequent used bookstores? Have your own "wish list" on Amazon.com? Know the local librarian by name? Do the folks at the used bookstores you frequent know your interests and recommend new acquisitions to you? Almost every time I go into the Brattle Book Shop in downtown Boston, one of several staff who know me and my buying habits will mention they've just acquired a whole estate's worth of occult books, or some other noteworthy items they think I might like. That's almost as cool as having the local bartender start mixing your martini the moment he sees you walk in the door!
And there you have it: for some of us, our obsession with books borders on vice, or least a somewhat unhealthy habit. For I know there are some of you out there who, like me, have a great many books you still have not gotten around to reading! Or you still have a few chapters to go. I do not have as much time for leisure reading as I'd like and so often will stop reading one book when another one captures my attention. If I really want to finish a book the best thing is to immerse myself in it for a whole weekend. I find this easier with a novel; non-fiction books lend themselves to being read in segments. Some people read very quickly. Like Wren. Now, I am an avid reader and all, but Wren looks like she took one of those speed-reading courses (but she insists she didn't, which is even more infuriating. Yes folks, she is every bit as brilliant as you think. And way too humble). She can finish a big tome on metaphysics and move on to another book while you're still getting your milk and cookies ready. And what's more she remembers everything she reads! I have a slight learning disability in that I do have some trouble retaining what I have read and in fact have sometimes forgotten endings of classic novels. I read Jane Eyre (one of my favorites) at least six times before I stopped being surprised by Jane's marrying Rochester in the end... In any case, maybe that's why I like to have a lot of books around me: if the knowledge I seek is not immediately retrievable from my brain, maybe I can find it quickly enough on my shelves.
I tend to arrange my magical and occult books by subject matter: folklore, Celtic studies, herbs and aromatherapy, witchcraft and Wicca, archaeology, history, etc. I also tend to group my old and rare books in one spot, especially my "coffee-table" books from the 1970s with their wonderful photography. Although to many of us it seems there is an explosion of new books on every conceivable pagan topic from Norse Shamanic Crystal Gazing to Santeria for Dummies, there are a great many classic titles that a lot of witches new to the path may not have read or even heard of. Some of these classic titles are listed in the Recommended Reading List compiled for Witchvox in 1997. But I wanted to write about those older books that are hard to find, because they are out of print and no longer widely available. Some of these books have vast stores of wisdom to offer, and some of them are beautifully written, and some of them are just real "vibey" and cool because they were published at a time when the occult revival was going strong. I will list some of my favorite rare and hard-to-find books and why they might be of interest, and then I offer some tips for finding these books, including some great online resources.
OLDIES AND GOODIES... Lots of goodies!
Now, you may notice that not one of these books has "Wicca" in the title. That's because people were not widely referring to what modern witches do as "Wicca" until the mid-to-late 1980s. Gerald Gardner more or less invented this term in the 1940s and used it in his Book of Shadows to describe the ritual practices he created; prior to the 1980s, witches tended to refer to what they did, even if it followed what Gardner did, as witchcraft, or simply "the craft." Some of these books are history or folklore texts that have influenced many modern witches, and many of our contemporary "classics" have in many cases borrowed heavily from these books which came first. I will leave it to you to decide if the original authors' work has been sufficiently acknowledged.
This is just a handful of the many out-of-print occult books out there... I mention these because they are some of my favorites and because some of them have not been easy to find. I have a special love of books from the late 1960s and early 1970s because that period of American history and its connection to the modern pagan community really intrigues me. I especially love the big "coffee table" books of that period by publishers like Octopus, Black Cat, and Hamlyn-great 1970s photography!
- Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner (1954). Gerald wrote this shortly after the Witchcraft Act was repealed in England and he felt it was safe to be more public with his practices and thus help others find their way to the Path of the Wise. To read this is to begin to understand the depth of intellect and powerful spirit of this man who was the father of modern witchcraft.
- The Meaning of Witchcraft by Gerald Gardner (1959). Continues in much the same vein as his previous book but with more historical material offered as background for modern witchcraft practices.
- Witchcraft: The Old Religion by Dr. Leo Louis Martello (1973). Written during the height of the witchcraft revival in the United States, Martello (who died not long ago) offers a very candid and personal view from a practicing witch, one whose specific tradition (strega, or Italian witchcraft) is not as popular in the craft community as the more traditional brand of Wicca imported from the British Isles.
- Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas (1971). One of the definitive texts on the history of witchcraft which places the witch trials of Europe into a very thoroughly-explained historical and cultural context. Thomas' is one of the finest scholarly accounts published decades before contemporary academics made witchcraft a popular topic for research.
- Witch Blood! by Patricia Crowther. Like her other books, this one is a personal and informative account of Ms. Crowther's life as a public witch in England. This one recalls Sybil Leek's Diary of a Witch in its intimate style. Crowther's Lid Off the Cauldron is still in print and also worth seeking out.
- The Return of Magic by David Farren (1972). An interesting look at the growing popularity of magic and witchcraft by a Jesuit who became interested in the Craft when he married a witch. Farren traces the historical and psychological roots of the magical phenomenon that was exploding all over America in 1972. An intelligent and honest analysis by a seeker who maintains his objectivity.
- The Complete Art of Witchcraft by Sybil Leek. This fine lady, a witch who was well-versed in astrology, was often interviewed on television and radio in Great Britain in the 1960s, and later moved to the American West. I like the highly-intelligent commentary mixed with practical advice this book offers, and it is also an excellent looking glass into what it was like to be a witch at the height of the occult revival.
- The New Pagans by Hans Holzer (1972). May the gods bless Hans Holzer. This man wrote literally dozens of books, most of them on occult topics. This one explores the belief systems of the burgeoning pagan community. It is wonderfully personal and anecdotal, relating Holzer's many conversations with practicing witches and other pagans, and includes a great Pagan Manifesto at the end, with wise words for all peoples to live by.
- The Witch's Guide to Gardening by Dorothy Jacob (1964). This is a simply terrific witch's herbal, full of great old proverbs, folklore and poetry collected by the author, who seems to think witches of old might have been a bit threatening or dangerous!
- Mastering Herbalism by Paul Huson (1974). Why this wonderful herbalism book is out of print, and Huson's embarrassingly ill-informed Mastering Witchcraft is still in print, is anyone's guess. This one has a particularly good chapter on making herbal incenses.
- Modern Ritual Magic by Francis King (1989). (originally published in 1970 as Ritual Magic in England) This is a fascinating and scholarly overview of the history of ceremonial magical orders in England, primarily the Golden Dawn and its offshoots. Mr. King also wrote The Secret Rituals of the O. T. O. which apparently landed him in a bit of hot water with some modern ceremonial magicians.
So what do you do if you don't live in a great town like Boston which has loads of great used book stores? Well, fortunately book collecting is something that is extremely well-represented on the internet. And I am not just talking about the rare book searching services of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Many smaller bookstores have search services, and I have found some great websites to get you started in your quest for used, rare and out of print occult books!
Some last words of advice: rare book dealers take what they do very seriously. They also tend to know what they are talking about (I never fail to come away impressed from these places). If you go to a used bookshop, assume the prices are based on what the market says a book is worth; although some shops vary widely in price on the same book (I have found this in Boston at times). That said, used books are big business on the internet, too. I have seen prices quoted that were ridiculous, and other times was amazed at what seemed to me a bargain for something extremely rare. When you ask a website to do a search for you, sometimes you will be contacted by more than one seller, each offering the same book and maybe for different prices (condition, shipping, etc. are all factors in pricing). Caveat emptor, in other words: let the buyer beware of making any purchase too eagerly. Shop around. Don't question a dealer's price unless you know for a fact you have seen a better price elsewhere, and let them know what it is. Differences in price usually reflect the book's condition or maybe it is a hardcover or early edition. If you really want it, the price will be right.
- The links list to end all links lists: (www.hermetics.org/texts.html)
Wow! A fantastic list of links to websites connected to used and rare occult books. Includes shops, publishers, periodicals and online reference texts. Start here and check out who they recommend (some of their picks are listed below).
- Caduceus Books (www.cadu.demon.co.uk)
My favorite occult book website! Owned by a rare book shop in England. They offer a guide to what all those book collector abbreviations mean, so you can check out what's out there and feel like you're informed. These folk specialize in old pagan periodicals and they have a great selection of ephemera and rare books by none other than Aleister Crowley. This site/shop is recommended by www.geraldgardner.com, as is:
- Michael Thorn! (Email: SharetheSacred@aol.com)
Michael Thorn is the proprietor of Sacred Space and is a lover of books and periodicals published in England. He is a very helpful and knowledgeable individual and if you want to deal with the "little guy" this is your man! Email him for a catalog or with an inquiry.
- Advanced Book Exchange (www.abebooks.com) )
Recommended by the Wiccan Church of Canada! Their book categories are fairly self-explanatory; I like that they list occult books under the Religion and Theology section!
- Alibris (www.alibriscom)
The "Amazon" of used and rare book search websites. I have not always found what I was looking for here but they have a lot of satisfied customers.
- Night of Pan Books (www.lector.com/nop/nop.html)
A nice website and great selection of used occult books here. Plus a cool name.
- Little Wonder Books (www.littlewonderbooks.co.uk)
This website lists lots of out-of-print occult books, and I like their highly-specialized categories, like "Cryptozoology" and "Forteana."
Happy hunting, and let me know what you find... oh, and if anyone finds The Secret Commonwealth by Robert Kirk, could you let me know?
Media Coordinator - Witches Voice
(c) Samhain 2002
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Location: Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
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