It’s an oft-repeated comment: Pagans read. Our voracious reading habits are wide-ranging and constant. We read sci-fi, fantasy, mysteries, self-help, romance -- every genre has its Pagan fans. Pagan publishers, however, focus mostly on non-fiction, and the amount available to us has grown enormously in the last decade. Bluntly put: there is an enormous amount of Pagan nonfiction[1]

 

available. When you add in works that fit into a Pagan worldview, the field grows even wider.

 

As with everything, the field has evolved. Early works had a serious tone as the authors felt that if they sounded stern enough no one would think they were insane for believing in magic. Then there was a period when anyone who could get published was treated as if they knew everything, and many personal opinions were taken as fact by newcomers. Inevitably there was a period of intense backlash when every fact had to be seriously researched and verified with footnotes or it was written off as useless. All throughout, the number of Pagans increased and our reading budgets supported larger numbers of publishers and correspondingly larger numbers of books available.

 

Now the ‘occult’ section of nearly every bookstore is as large as many other genres, and buying Sybil Leek’s Diary of a Witch is no longer cause for a comment (or even a funny look). The genre has grown, and we’ve grown up with it.

 

 The ‘Good Old Days’ 

Prior to the mid 1970s, Pagans mostly gleaned information from the dry pages of mythology, archeology, and anthropology, with a few intrepid souls looking into psychology for deeper answers. Pagan non-fiction was nearly nonexistent. The tortuous musings of Aleister Crowley were available, but they were unappealing to many Pagans, who found the extreme formality and precise detail required for even minor rituals to be antithetical to the earth-based simplicity they were trying to recreate. Although not as ceremonially complicated, Dion Fortune’s work was far from what the new earth-revering pagans were looking for. (Her works of fiction were far more useful.) Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today was nearly unknown outside of Britain, although his works were gaining influence and adherents.

 

Pagan non-fiction truly began in the early 1970s with a small crop of books, the first of which was Sybil Leek’s The Complete Art of Witchcraft (1971). A colorful, flamboyant woman who claimed to be descended from witches in an unbroken line back to the Dark Ages, Leek did much to promote the craft and the Old Religion in a positive sense, both as an author and a media celebrity dispelling myths and educating the public. Carl L. Weschcke, owner of Llewellyn Publications, published Raymond Buckland’s Witchcraft from the Inside in 1971 and not long after, Donald Weiser (son of founder Samuel) reprinted Charles G. Leland’s Aradia: or the Gospel for the Witches, an actual sacred text of traditional witchcraft from the Tuscan region of Italy. Nearly at the same time, Doreen Valiente published her An ABC of Witchcraft (1973), followed soon thereafter by her Natural Magic (1975). Although An ABC… was a useful alphabetical listing of a host of occult information, Natural Magic, was far more informative. It addressed basic questions and provided formative experiences, becoming one of the earliest Pagan reference books full of well-researched facts. Interest in witchcraft was steadily increasing and Weiser gave the market a big push (for the time) when he brought Gardner’s books to the United States, and then (in 1974) published Buckland’s Saxon Tree (purportedly a direct recording of British Saxon witch religion), and the writings of the Crowther's (The Witches Speak, 1976). Witchcraft, purportedly ancient, with its strong ties to the land and nature, and (most importantly) a female Deity had truly come to the United States.

 

But Pagan authors were limited to the small group of publishers who were themselves Pagan and it was difficult to find occult stores and books outside of major metropolitan areas. Until 1971, when Isaac Bonewits published his Ph.d dissertation as Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic, an examination of every category of occult phenomena. With wry humor Bonewits discussed the basic laws of magic, and related them to already established laws of nature. In so doing, he opened the door for other pagan writers to be published as scholars, respectable and discussed in polite society. Starhawk’s Spiral Dance (1979) brilliantly combined feminism with witchcraft. Published by Harper San Francisco, an imprint of one of the world's leading English-language publishers, we suddenly had a woman claiming proudly that she is a Witch standing up to take her place by the side of such literary giants as Mark Twain, the Bronte sisters, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. That same year, Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon was published and the door to mainstream markets was opened still further. DDtM opened the door further by pointing out that there were a lot of Pagans in the United States, and they were looking for more information about this religion they were creating anew.

 

Even so, the mainstream publishing world was not quite ready to accept anything other than fairly scholarly-sounding manuscripts. So the early 80s saw books like Marion Weinstein’s Positive Magic (1981), Diane Mariechild’s Mother Wit (1981), Stewart Farrar’s What Witches Do (1983), and Paul Beyerl’s Master Book of Herbalism (1984).

 

 The Expanding Middle 

These new Pagans were eager to learn and willing to spend money to gain knowledge. Many pagans profited from the booming United States economy, even if indirectly. Because of DDtM, pagans who thought they were alone suddenly realized that there were like-minded others, and lots of them. Pagans began to reach out, share information, and increasing numbers of them felt compelled to share their knowledge by writing books.

 

Scott Cunningham’s Earth Power: Techniques of Natural Magic was published in 1987 and was instantly popular. With his easy to understand, simple and direct writing style, Cunningham’s teachings focused on encouraging people to: "employ whatever works for them in their religious, spiritual, and magickal endeavors” and his books on Wicca led to a steady rise in his popularity until he has become one of the most-often-read Wiccan authors. His prominence had a strong influence on the pagan movement during the eighties; because of his influence, the Wiccan religion shifted primarily from the hands of a (relatively) few initiates into the public arena and many eclectic traditions were formed as a result. Those eclectic traditions spawned new authors with new perspectives and information on many areas of pagan spirituality.

 

From the mid 80s onward the pagan nonfiction list grew at geometric rates. More and more books were published discussing wider and wider aspects and versions of paganism. Victor Anderson republished his Thorns of the Bloodrose describing the Feri Tradition; Diane Stein’s consistently popular Women’s Spirituality Book opened the door for average women to feel empowered and make positive changes in their life; Starhawk’s Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery and Dreaming the Dark provided role models for non-hierarchical power structures as well as methodologies for using magick in politics. With Luisah Teish’s Jambalaya: The Natural Woman's Book Of Personal Charms And Practical Rituals readers were introduced to ritual from non-European cultures. Denning & Phillips provided practical information on a variety of psychic talents, phenomena, and skills that promised to be accessible to everyone – not just the special few. Divination, always a favorite now saw more and more books written. Readers wanted to know more about non-witch perspectives and began to explore shamanism and the religious perspectives of indigenous peoples. The pagan perspective was widened into things like Men’s Mysteries, with Robert Bly's Iron John appearing as a runner-up on the bestseller list. Deepak Chopra’s mind-body-spirit connecting books sold millions, as did Andrew Weil’s.

 

At the same time, there was an enormous amount of repetitious work published. As the occult section of the local bookstore grew in size, it became harder to find new perspectives on the same topics. (Once you own the Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, why buy another book on the same topic? Yet there were dozens produced, all listing the same correspondences and repeating the same basic information.) Authors with minor differences in their religious practices published books as if they were the ‘true witchcraft,’ and all others were incorrect, or not as ancient in lineage.

 

Silver RavenWolf’s To Ride A Silver Broomstick (1993) broke the pagan publishing industry wide open. Her down-to-earth writing style and practical attitude about magic inspired readers who weren’t interested in the esoteric aspects, but wanted to know how to improve their lives. Where Cunningham blended many traditions into a simple version of nature-revering Wicca, RavenWolf combined practical and spiritual methodologies into a flexible path of religious study. She brought many new readers to paganism.

 

These newcomers to the craft were increasingly unconcerned with what they considered esoterica – they wanted practical methods that gave them success (reflecting the incredible economic stability and wealth in the United States at that time). In the 90s readers began to clamor for specific information – why this crystal, and not that one? What about using my kitchen knife instead of an athame? Pagan authors responded with increasingly specific books about many aspects of pagan life. Books like Z. Budapest’s Goddess in the Office, Ashleen O’Gaea’s The Family Wicca Book, Amber K’s Covencraft: Witchcraft for Three or More, and Cunningham’s ever-expanding collection of reference works (like his Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews). Books like Chas Clifton’s Witchcraft Today series provided readers with differing perspectives about living Pagan in a non-pagan world, Robin Wood’s When, Why… If delved into ethics in a way that made it clear that personal responsibility was the pagan’s code, not externally imposed rules, and Reclaiming Collective’s Pagan Book of Living and Dying answered a growing concern for how we would have our affairs handled at the end of our lives.

 

 Recent Indicators 

At the end of the 1990s the Pagan publishing world experienced a moment of backlash. Readers, inundated with repetitious and poorly documented works, began to demand documentation. They wanted research, proof, and footnotes! Writers who poorly documented their sources began to receive poor reviews, and editors began to take notice as sales skewed toward books with bibliographies, indexes, and references. This interest in scholarship was supported by mainstream publishers, who were starting new lines to take advantage of the growing alternative spirituality market.

 

Once called self-help, alternative spirituality was a niche market combining the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of a healthy person. Readers were exhorted to use meditation, hypnosis, and affirmations to bolster their self-esteem, increase confidence, lose weight, and rid themselves of bad habits. The techniques used were familiar ones to pagan readers, who recognized them as spells without symbols, magick without spirituality. The success of books like Sylvia Browne’s Life on the Other Side: A Psychic's Tour of the Afterlife and Until Today!: Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind by Iyanla Vanzant only reinforced mainstream publisher’s belief that there was serious money to be made in alternative spirituality.[2]

 

This trend will only continue, and likely intensify. In 2002, the Natural Business Communications and the Natural Marketing Institute conducted a study that showed that consumers who identify themselves as living Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) make up 30% of all U.S. households -- which translates into 63 million adults.  In a complementary study over the same period, Natural Health magazine reported that its 97% of their 300,000 subscribers each buy 21 books a year on average. The breakdown is: 70% natural health, 63% nutrition and cookbooks, 43% spirituality, 37% personal growth and self-help and 32% religion and philosophy.[3] Publishers who never had an interest in spirituality are

 

climbing aboard the New Age/Body-Mind-Spirit bandwagon. For example, Barron’s, far better known for their educational testing materials, now produces 30+ spiritual books, most of which are big, beautiful, and designed for sitting on the coffee table[4].

 

Teens, the children of the latter part of the baby boomer generation, may just surpass their parents as the USA’s most numerous generation (according to a study released by the Barna Research Group in October, 2001). Publishers are targeting them as opportunities for sales with increasing frequency. According to Monthly Labor Review, teenagers influence more than $48 billion of family spending every year, from cars to grocery items, and in 1999 they spent $105 billion of their own money. Other, more recent studies put the figure at $153 billion. The "Marketing to Kids" newsletter estimates that by 2005, the teen group will be the largest single demographic in America, a group that exceeds 76 million by Barna's calculations.[5]

 

Many publishers saying that they are providing books that give teens (particularly girls) opportunities to create an identity other than what they see in the culture. Beginning with Jennifer Hunter’s 21st Century Wicca: A Young Witch's Guide to Living the Magical Life the trend received an enormous boost from Silver RavenWolf’s controversial Teen Witch with its companion Teen Witch Kit – a collection of “everything the novice spell-caster needs to begin to practice the Craft of the Wise.[6]” Now Alternagyrl’s funky clothes and witchy lifestyle looks

 

out at readers from her books, horoscope, and calendars. Unlike those of us who came to Paganism with few sources of written materials, this generation will be given much of our knowledge from many sources (including the Internet).  It will be interesting to see where they take our religion – deeper into the Mysteries, or lifting us into the shallow depths so many world religions exist in?

 

 Predictions From the Crystal Ball 

I believe that Pagan nonfiction is mainstream, and our religion will be moving further into the mainstream as the current and next generation of children grow up and enter the world. I feel that they will stay with their faith and will continue to look to it for assistance and spiritual nourishment – a distinct contrast to so many of us who left the faith of our families. They will be looking for Pagan authors to show them how to raise their families, cope with the confusion of mundane neighbors and communities, explore ethical codes, find meaningful work that supports the earth rather than damaging Her, all of the knowledge needed to live as a Pagan in an increasingly homogenized society. Books like Scott Cunningham’s Living Wicca and the Starhawk, Baker and Hill collaboration Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions are steps along that path.

 

I believe that Pagan nonfiction will move nearly completely to the next level, providing readers with advanced knowledge and skills. The shift to this level has begun, with books like GreyCat’s Deepening Witchcraft. Pagans are looking for – not answers, but sharper questions to work with. We’re ready for the meat, having had pasta for decades now. We want to hear from the long-time practitioners about the deeper meaning of the divinatory tools we use; the more esoteric uses of herbs and crystals; the outer edges of our relationship with the Divine. I’m not saying we need more ‘X=treasure’ books, we want books that ask us, “If X=treasure, define ‘treasure’.”

 

 Binding It All Together 

Pagan nonfiction started from obscure beginnings and has grown into a multi-million dollar a year business. As with most things, there are positive and negative aspects to this phenomenal growth. Some say that it is harder to find good writings, others that its too accessible to people who don’t want to do the work, but want the benefits. And some say that without this growth, Pagans would still be fighting to be heard in a world where the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions hold near-absolute power.

 

For better or worse, we aren’t going to slide back into obscurity. The writings are available and will be, in some form or another, forever. If readers are unhappy about the quality of the work produced they have two solutions: don’t spend your money on that imprint; or, write your own.

 

(For a look at the timeline constructed as part of the research for this article, please go to: PNF.html)

 This article first appeared in newWitch #12 (May-Jul 2006) as “Warming Trend: Pagan Non-Fiction Comes in From the Cold.”  

 

Books Referenced and Sources

Adler, Margot.  Drawing Down the Moon. Beacon Press, Boston, MA. 1979

Amazon.com. www.amazon.com.

Anderson, Victor. Thorns of the Bloodrose. Cora Anderson, San Jose, CA 1987

Beyerl, Paul. The Master Book of Herbalism. Phoenix Publishing Inc. Blaine, WA. 1984

Bonewits, P. E. I. Real Magic. Creative Arts Book Company, Berkeley, CA. 1978

Buckland, Raymond. The Tree: Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. Samuel Weiser, York Beach, ME. 1974

~ Witchcraft from the Inside. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. 1971

Budapest, Zsuzsanna.  The Goddess in the Office: A Personal Energy Guide for the Spiritual Warrior of Work. Harper SanFrancisco, CA. 1993

Clifton, Chas A., ed.  Witchcraft Today - Book One: The Modern Craft Movement.  Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. 1992

~ Witchcraft Today - Book Three: Witchcraft and Shamanism. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. 1994

~ Witchcraft Today - Book Two: Modern Rites of Passage. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. 1993

~ Living Between Two Worlds: Challenges of the Modern Witch.  Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. 1996

Michael Conlin ‘appointed keeper of Weiser knowledge,’ Red Wheel/Weiser. October 29, 2003.

Crowther, Patricia and Arnold Crowther. The Witches Speak. Samuel Weiser, New York, NY. 1976

Cunningham, Scott.  Earth Power: Techniques of Natural Magic. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. 1987

~ Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul. MN. 1995

~ Living Wicca. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. 1993

Farrar, Stewart. What Witches Do: The Modern Coven Revealed. Phoenix Publishing, Blaine, WA. 1983

Fortune, Dion. Practical Occultism in Daily Life. Samuel Weiser, York Beach, ME. 1935

~ Psychic Self-Defence. Samuel Weiser, York Beach, ME. 1957

Gardner, Gerald. Witchcraft Today. Citadel Press, New York, NY. 1955

Hunter, Jennifer.  21st Century Wicca: A Young Witch's Guide to Living the Magical Life. Citadel Press, Seacaucus, NJ. 1997

K., Amber. Covencraft: Witchcraft for Three or More. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul. MN. 1998

Leek, Sybil. The Complete Art of Witchcraft. Signet, New York, NY. 1971

~ Diary of A Witch. Prentice Hall, New York, NY. 1968

Leland, Charles G. Aradia: or the Gospel of the Witches, original publisher unknown. 1896; Phoenix Publishing, Blaine, WA. 1990

Llewellyn Publications. www.llewellyn.com/history.

Mariechild, Diane. Mother Wit: A Feminist Guide to Psychic Development. The Crossing Press, Trumansburg, NY. 1981

O'Gaea, Ashleen. The Family Wicca Book: The Craft for Parents & Children. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul. MN. 1993

Publisher’s Weekly. http://publishersweekly.reviewsnews.com/index.asp.

RavenWolf, Silver. Teen Witch. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul. MN. 1998

~ To Ride A Silver Broomstick. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul. MN. 1993

Starhawk and M. Macha Nightmare, ed. The Pagan Book of Living and Dying: Practical Rituals, Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations on Crossing Over. Harper, San Francisco, CA. 1998

Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill. Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions. Bantam Books, New York, NY. 2000

Starhawk.  Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery. Harper and Row, San Fransisco, CA. 1987

~ Dreaming the Dark. Beacon Press, Boston, MA. 1989

~ The Spiral Dance. Harper and Row, San Fransisco, CA. 1979

Stein, Diane. The Women's Spirituality Book. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN. 1986

Teish, Luisah. Jambalaya: The Natural Woman's Book Of Personal Charms And Practical Rituals. Harper SanFrancisco, CA. 1988

Valiente, Doreen. An ABC Of Witchcraft. Saint Martin's Press, New York, NY. 1973

~ Natural Magic. Phoenix Publishing, Blaine, WA. 1975

Weinstein, Marion. Positive Magic. Phoenix Publishing, Blaine, WA. 1981

Wood, Robin. When, Why… If. Livingtree Books, Dearborn, MI. 1997

Bly, John. Iron John: A Book About Men. Vintage Books. Boston, MA. 1992

Browne, Sylvia. Life on the Other Side: A Psychic's Tour of the Afterlife. Signet Books, New York, NY. 2001

Vanzant, Iyanla. Until Today! Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind. Fireside Books, New York, NY. 2001

  



[1] For the purposes of this article my definition of nonfiction does not include titles that are easily placed into other categories, such as astrology, archaeology, history or psychology. Therefore, the works or Graves, Campbell, Gimbutas, or Jung are not included.

[2] Both books appeared on Publisher Weekly’s Bestseller list. Maryles, Daisy “How They Landed On Top” in Publisher’s Weekly with research by Laurele Riippa. http://publishersweekly.reviewsnews.com/index.asp,  March 19, 2001.

[3] Rose, Judith, “Casting A Wider Spell” in Publishers Weekly, http://publishersweekly.reviewsnews.com/index.asp, September 1, 2003

[4] Rose, Judith, “Crossing the Boundaries” in Publishers Weekly, http://publishersweekly.reviewsnews.com/index.asp, May 27, 2002

[5] Kiesling, Angie, “Tuning in to the Teen Soul” in Publishers Weekly, http://publishersweekly.reviewsnews.com/index.asp, March 11, 2002.

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