Most pagans start their journey grabbing a “Beginner’s Guide To…” book, thinking it will contain all the answers. While many introductory pagan books are useful, people find that the more they learn, the more questions they have.
I’ve heard it many times: paganism is a religion of research. And, yes, many pagans are — or turn into — bookworms in order to learn about their path. But where do you start? After you finish that beginner’s guide, what’s next?
History and Lore
If you are reconstructing your practices from ‘dead’ polytheisms, you will need to consult lore and history. These are the myths and legends of specific cultures of people. Lore is the stories of the deities, but they can also be about spirits and ancestors. Lore is where we gain some insight into all these beings as a specific culture understood them.
Likewise, academic history books give us insight into the practices and worldviews of those polytheists. While some people don’t want to read academic books or articles, they can be fascinating resources for the modern pagan. If you really want to know how our polytheist ancestors lived and what they thought, you should pick up a history book.
Devotional and Prayer Books
It’s one thing to understand how an ancient person gave offerings to the house spirits. But as a modern person, what do you say and how do you give? How do you form relationships with a deity or the house spirits? How do you make a beautiful, formal prayer? What about a simple pagan-ified prayer for meals or before bed?
A book on prayer or a devotional practice to a certain being is important to make your practice fluid and organic. Especially if you’re new to paganism, you may want guidance on how to form a relationship with a numinous being. A list of prayers in your back pocket can help you create daily practices. We are pagans every day, in every circumstance, not just on the high days.
Modern Pagan History
We only know where we’re going if we know where we’ve been. Neo-paganism has been around for a while now. Many people know of the founding of Wicca by Gerald Gardner and others, but Wicca went through many changes over the course of the last century. And there were older forms of Neo-paganism, such as Revival Druidry, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the Church of Aphrodite. Other Neo-paganism groups had their beginnings in the 1970s, primarily Celtic Recons, which have inspired several more forms of paganism.
Getting at least one resource on Neo-paganism will help you gain greater understanding of the larger pagan community. And whatever your practice is, it will do you good to understand where you are in the larger community and what other paths are available to you. While pagans are varied, we are close cousins in the greater schema of religious and spiritual movements.
Yes, most pagans like that Neo-paganism is decentralized and based on orthopraxy (action/practice) rather than orthodoxy (belief). Nonetheless, as a community we have some shared beliefs and common ideas. Over time, we have formed a cohesive understanding of Neo-paganism as a religion/spiritual movement. And this will only continue with time.
Theology is ‘the study of the nature of religious belief.’ And anyone who presents a pagan concept outside of ‘here are the steps to ritual’ are doing basic theology. From the Wiccan Threefold Law to the Heathen Wyrd, there are concepts that different Neo-pagan groups agree on — or at least often agree on. Our conceptions of why we do what we do creates a foundation for shared beliefs and ‘theology.’
There are many concepts that form the basis of pagan theology. Perhaps the one thing common among all Neo-pagans is a respect and reverence for the Earth. Our reasons for why we hold such reverence are the underpinnings of theology. Several authors have written about pagan theology and pagan philosophy. I highly encourage pagans to seek these books out.
Life Cycle Rituals
Most introductory books have rituals or offerings for the eight high days (also known as the Wheel of the Year). However, as paganism has grown over time, we have had children, we have married, and and we have died. This will, of course, continue to happen.
Pagan books dedicated to rituals and ceremonies for important life cycles are fundamentally important. I’ve heard too often of a pagan who passes away, and their Christian family wanted to have a funeral for them. Either this family didn’t accept or didn’t know about this pagan person’s beliefs. The friends of that pagan have often have a difficult time honoring them and putting them to rest in the way they wanted.
If you are relatively new to paganism, know that you stand on the shoulders of giants. There are already resources for pagan funerals, pagan naming ceremonies, and other important moments in life. Neo-paganism does not stop at holidays – living paganism needs to include all kinds of rituals and ceremonies.
Magic and Divination
Many pagans believe in and use magic or divination in their practice. This can be everything from tarot to seidh to spells to trancework. There are many forms of magical work in modern paganism. Even if you do not think you are interested in magic, you probably use it. Divination via the runes, ogham, or the Greek alphabet can be considered a form of magic. Many pagans consider the ways that we connect and speak to the divine to be of magical means.
But magic is also trying to influence the world through symbolic or otherworldly means. Lighting a candle to welcome the sun at the Winter Solstice is a form of magic. There are also more overt forms of magic like performing spells. In any case, magic and divination are common throughout most forms of Neo-paganism, and it will probably be useful to you in your practice.
This is a large category. Every pagan probably needs a practical pagan book, but the specific kind of book may vary. Perhaps you need to make a public ritual for a new coven, grove, or group. How do you do it? Maybe you’re interested in becoming a priest and offering services to the larger pagan community. If you’re a pagan parent, how do you introduce your children to paganism and what pagan resources are out there?
As I said before, we’re pagan every day. We want pagan things to incorporate into our lives or we may need a how-to guide. Funnily enough, most introductory pagan books are largely practical books. It seems even if you are a seasoned pagan, there is always more to learn! Practical books abound if you look for them.
I am starting off the new year with a plan to review all of these types of books. If any of these topics interest you, please make sure to check back for those articles. If you’d like to see my resource list of books, blogs, pods, shops, etc, check out my Patreon. (Apologies for the shameless plug, but it is a faster way to see the titles I will write reviews for.)
Do you think I missed an essential type of book for pagans? Did I miss the mark with any of these types of books? I’d love to hear your thoughts!