This list is somewhat outdated. However, an absolute beginner may want to start with one of the currently available books that cover a large variety of contemporary Pagan religions to get a sense of the the breadth of the Pagan community, then move on to others that have a more narrow focus.
Puzzled as to why some of the more prominent authors or books commonly found at the bookstore do not appear on this list? Either they repeat the same information found in the above books or are authors to be avoided because their sloppy scholarship. Please contact us or comment below if you have questions about or would like our opinion about a beginner’s book you have read that is not included here.
Critical Reading Skills for Pagans
The following are several web sites that offer advice on developing critical reading skills when reading books on Pagan practices or history. If you are just starting out, please read the advice on these sites.
- The Cauldron’s “A Pagan Primer” — http://www.ecauldron.com/newpagan.php
- “How do I know what to believe? Critical thinking and Pagan books” — http://www.tangledmoon.org/critthink.htm
- “Scholarly Books and Lookalikes” — http://www.ecauldron.com/opedbooks.php
- The Cauldron’s Book Reviews — http://www.ecauldron.com/bookstore.php
The Witches' Voice "Pagan Traditions" section presents a large variety of Pagan religions and is an excellent resource for exploration.
Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. 4th Edition. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
An excellent guide to the variety of Pagan groups and philosophies found within the United States. Still highly recommended. (SR)
In this most recent edition of the classic work on Neo-Paganism in America, Adler has increased the information on non-Wiccan traditions, and expanded the listings of Pagan festivals, magazines, websites and the like. This makes it an even better resource. (LC)
Paganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered Religions. Minneapolis, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2002.
Disclaimer: I have not read this book all the way through, but have skimmed it fairly thoroughly. The Higginbothams begin with definitions, continues with how deity is viewed, what constitutes belief, Pagan world views, magic and ethics. The main flaw of this book is that is lumps all (or most) Pagan paths into one religion, rather than recognizing that different Pagan paths are different religions, some paths of which cannot be reconciled with other paths. While the exercises for exploring one's spirituality can be very useful and enlightening, the rest of the content can be misleading and should be read with caution. (SR)
Being a Pagan. Rochester, VT.: Inner Traditions, 2001. Originally printed as People of the Earth; The New Pagans Speak Out. in 1996.
This is a more recent exploration of the varieties of Pagan religions than Adler's Drawing Down the Moon. The author's conducted a series of interviews with Pagans of many flavors The book includes almost 20 pages of bibliography and contact information for a large number of groups. (SR)
The Paganism Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004
The Triumph of the Moon : A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Hutton documents the history of Wicca or “Modern Pagan Witchcraft,” as he calls it. He looks at what evidence supports claims of Wicca being an ancient religion and what contradicts those claims, and charts the development of Wicca from the mentalities and cultural milieu of the late 19th century and the 20th century. His research is extensive and thorough. Every Pagan should read this book before they are exposed to other books that make unsubstantiated historical claims about Wicca, the persistence of Pagan worship, or the “Burning Times.” (SR)
The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989. There is now a 20th-anniversary edition.
A widely-used book of exercises, ritual, and philosophy of what is often called an ”eclectic” tradition. If you like her philosophical and political stances, I also recommend her Dreaming the Dark, Truth or Dare, and The Fifth Sacred Thing (a novel) as well. Starhawk is an prime example of someone who really lives her religion and shows how others can, too. Do note, however, that some of her historical claims do not accord with historical evidence. (SR)