Pagan Bookshelf: Magick

Image of a human body in a pentagram from Hein...
Image of a human body in a pentagram from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Libri tres de occulta philosophia. Symbols of the sun and moon are in center, while the other five classical “planets” are around the edge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many books that are available on the topic of magick present it from within a specific religious framework.  Many of these sorts of books end up being mostly about religion and have only a small bit that is about magick.  What’s a person to do if they want to learn about magick but are not as interested in the religious aspects?

You could just learn to deal with the religious overtones in the commonly-available books and ignore the religious parts or translate them in your mind to your own religious framework.  Fortunately there are alternatives.  There are some books that present magick and keep the religious parts to a minimum so that the reader can fit the magickal theory to their own spiritual path.

Here are a few of my favourite books on magick, what it is and how to do it without a lot of religious material thrown in.

“Practical Solitary Magic” by Nancy B. Watson is one that I always recommend.  Nancy’s explanations are clear and no-nonsense.  She provides a solid foundation in magickal theory along with easy to follow instructions on how to put the ideas into practice.

“Power Spellcraft for Life” by Arin Murphy-Hiscock is a newer book from a Canadian author.  Her book is similar to Nancy B. Watson’s, but where Watson’s leans more towards ceremonial magick this one is based more on witchcraft.  If you’re more inclined towards witchcraft than ceremonial magick you’ll probably like “Power Spellcraft for Life” better than “Practical Solitary Magic.”

“The Goodly Spellbook” by Lady Passion and Diuvei is another relatively recent book that focuses on magick rather than religion.  It’s similar to “Power Spellcraft for Life” in that it is definitely more about witchcraft than ceremonial magick.  This book though provides more examples of spells for specific purposes than the previous two books.  My only turn-off about this book is their affected “olde Englyshe” silliness.  This is an example of where an attempt to use a distinctive style detracts from the material they are presenting.

When it comes to books listing all sorts of correspondences and examples of spells for specific purposes, “The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells” by Judika Illes is my personal favourite.  It’s a huge book and is now available in both hardcover and soft cover editions.  My hardcover copy is starting to look well-used with creases on some pages and the occasional stain from spilled ingredients.  Illes provides a solid explanation of different ways of practicing magick with the bulk of the book comprised of spells gathered from all over the world from many different cultures.

Yasmine Galenorn’s “Embracing the Moon” is a classic, as are Dorothy Morrison’s books such as “Everyday Magic,” “Everyday Moon Magic,” and “Everyday Sun Magic.”  If you want just one spellbook then any of these would be well worth it.

For those who want more of a ceremonial magick textbook the most often recommended one is “Modern Magick” by Donald Michael Kraig.  It’s been around since the 1980s, and is so popular that there is a newer revised edition now in print.  While it does focus mostly on Hermetic and Kabala-based magick, it is general enough that it’s one I frequently recommend to witches as well as ceremonial magickians.  It covers all sorts of topics from banishing and protection, working with spirits, talismans, and even sex magick.  It’s an excellent introduction to more formal ritual-style magickal working.

“Learning Ritual Magic” by John Michael Greer, Clare Vaughn, and Earl King Jr. is another introductory manual for those wishing to learn about western ceremonial magick.  It’s a good place to start if you want to ease into studying systems such as the Golden Dawn or Thelemic forms of ceremonial magick.

“High Magic” and its sequel, “Hig Magic II” by Frater U.:D.: are more recent additions to the list of books available to take you from zero to informed seeker in the realm of ceremonial magick.  These books are an expanded form of a correspondence course that the highly-respected Frater U.:D.: used to teach, and the years of interacting with students shows.  His material is very clear and provides a lot of excellent hints to help the reader absorb the concepts.  It’s not all theory either.  Readers are expected to complete exercises and explore their own magickal abilities, refining their talents and uncovering new ones as they go.

If neither straight-up witchcraft nor ceremonial magick appeal to you but you still want to learn about spellcasting and magick, you might want to check out the following:

“Jambalaya” by Luisah Teish.  This is one of my favourites by a talented African-American woman.  After reading this you really feel like you know the author as she shares a lot of personal insights.

“In the Shadow of the Shaman” by Amber Wolfe.  An interesting blend of Wicca and Native American style work.  Some people don’t like this book because it’s not just Wicca, and it’s not just Native American shamanism, but a clear blending of both.  Personally I find it inspiring to see how people make things their own.

“The Way of the Shaman” by Michael Harner.  A classic handbook for learning shamanic-style magick.  Presents some historical shamanic techniques in ways that modern people can use them.

“Carmina Gadelica” by Alexander Carmichael.  A collection of English prayers and incantations from Scotland gathered in the late 1800s.  Overtly most of the prayers and spells are Christian, but it’s easy to see how many of them could easily be Pagan with just a couple of minor changes.  People with Scottish backgrounds will find this book a goldmine of source material for magickal practice.

“The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation” edited by Hans Dieter Betz.  An amazing collection of English translations of magickal spells that date back to B.C.E. times!  There are spells in this book that come from Egypt, Greece, and Rome that provide an enlightening peek into how our ancient ancestors practiced magick.

And finally, Isaac Bonewits classic “Real Magic” explores magickal theory in one of the best scientific approaches available to date.  If you can get your hands on a copy you won’t regret it!

I’m sure there are other good books on magick that are out there.  The ones listed here are only a few.  If you are having trouble finding them in your local bookstores ask the people who work in the store to special-order the ones you want for you.  Or check your local libraries, and if they are not on the shelves ask the librarians about getting the books through inter-library loans.

All of these books are available on the web through various booksellers such as http://www.amazon.com (check for country-specific Amazon sites too for where you live – sometimes books are available in one country that aren’t in the main Amazon.com site!)  To hunt down hard to find and used copies of books, I like to use http://www3.addall.com/ or http://www.ebay.com/  Sometimes it takes a while to find a specific book but persistence is usually rewarded!

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