So here’s my plan for managing the Pagan Blog Project:
Since each letter gets two weeks and two posts, I’m going to do one post on some long, academic-y rant about a Pagan thing more broadly (something more akin to “A is for Authenticity“). For the other week, I’ll actually show you something immediately relevant to my own personal brand of Paganism (think pictures and “here’s how I do this thing”). Look for another “A” post in the next day or two. Which comes first will be dependent on mood.
But now! Books!
I’m a whore for books. Other people don’t even understand. Pagans tend to be into books, anyway, but I’d be willing to bet that I could still give most anyone a run for their money when purely numbers and scope are considered (while I have a deep appreciation for rare and vintage books, these are not a focus for me because I will always choose “more” books over “better” books). My role as a graduate student, teaching assistant, and neophyte religions scholar means that I have not only the desire but also the mandate to read and acquire books. To be clear, this is not a hobby for me. In the past I have made significant sacrifices in other areas of my life (clothes, food) for the sake of books. I have rejected family life in favor of reading and research and the adventures that these things inspire. My career goal for the last decade has been, essentially, to find a way to get paid to sit around and read (actually, specifically, my goal has been to essentially become Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though lately I’m thinking I’d rather be a Winchester). And, for now, mission-fucking-accomplished. Books are an enormous part of my life. Frankly, I don’t even really know what non-readers do with their time.
So I thought I’d show you my shelves and say a bit about my collection.
1) I’m interested in all things even vaguely witch-related. I don’t discriminate. Often what’s most valuable about the material is the insight into that particular moment in the history of thinking about witches. I don’t care, for example, that the book has an accurate history of Wicca. I care about what the author thinks and why, and I’m concerned with whether or not that’s reflective of wider trends. In other words, I’m not necessarily reading a book because I think it’s full of reliable information relating to my own personal practices. I’m reading it because of what it might say about the field itself. A good example of this would be a book like Silver RavenWolf’s Teen Witch. I’m not going to recommend Teen Witch to someone who’s taking their first steps into Wicca (because, more than ten years after the fact, there’s better material out there). But I do think that Teen Witch is critical reading for someone who wants to understand what Wicca has come to be in the contemporary United States.
2) I often have multiple copies of books, for a variety of reasons. I have four coupes of the Farrars’ A Witches Bible. Why? Because one of them is a cool old Magickal Childe edition, one is my personal copy, and two of them are annotated by their previous owners. I love annotated books. Annotated books function like personal diaries and give me additional insight into the movement. What did the previous owner think was most important? What did they try out of the book? Why might they have gotten rid of it? Often, I can trace names written on bookplates to further owner information, thanks to the magic of the Internet.
3) Interspersed among the more mainstream books (many of you will recognize many of these titles) are journals and magazines (I’ve got everything from NewWitch, Witches & Pagans, PanGaia, Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly, The Crooked Path, and Modern Witch Magazine, as well as several issues of The Hidden Path, The Witches’ Almanac, the Llewellyn annuals, and The Pomegranate). These are often even more insightful than regular books, for my purposes.
4) I also keeps tabs on small presses, limited runs, self-published works, and foreign releases (I have a small selection of witch titles in French and a few mass market paperbacks that only saw release in Britain). Self-published works are particularly fascinating for me.
5) Alongside the books relating to witchcraft (of all kinds), I’ve also included my collections on tarot, Norse traditions, Western esotericism more broadly, African Diaspora traditions (Santeria, hoodoo, Vodou, etc.), and Pagan fiction. A number of titles are also from evangelical publishers and are specifically anti-witchcraft. I find these nonetheless relevant (and wildly entertaining).
6) Owning a book doesn’t mean I endorse its author, its publisher, or its contents. If you want my opinion on a title you see, just ask. I’m sure I have lots of feelings about it.
As a sidenote, here’s another kind of authenticity claim left out in the previous post:
I’VE READ SO MANY BOOKS LOOK AT ALL THE BOOKS I READ. This is practically unavoidable with academically-inclined people like me. If we’re professionals, then it’s our job to Read All The Things, and it shouldn’t be a point for bragging (but, rather, assumed). On the other hand, that doesn’t make reading any less about Pagan dick-measuring. We all know that guy who’s just tripping over himself to let you know how incompetent you are because you haven’t read (or heard of) some oh-so-important text. And the more obscure and expensive the text, the realer witch you are. Except that’s not actually true at all, and we all know it, which is why that guy is so insecure in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously place a lot of value in books and reading. But owning lots of books (even having read lots of books) doesn’t mean that one is a good critical reader, good at research, good at assimilating and processing information, or good at discerning good material from bad (I wish I got paid every time an adolescent Michael Howard-devotee failed to understand Carlo Ginzburg). You can read lots of books and still be incompetent. Likewise, one doesn’t need to be a reader to be a kick-ass witch.