Several years ago I first noticed a lot of commotion about not reading certain Contemporary Pagan books as a means of protest to their poor quality, false information, or controversy. The reasons as to why to avoid such-and-such book are well meaning. For instance, a book offering up false information could do great damage to someone new to practicing the Craft. In this same vein, I have told people, “Read this, don’t read that.” My advice in that situation has to do with attempting to give someone a firm foundation from which they can apply critical thinking. I will try to explain in an example.
The scholarship and primary premise that Margaret Murray argues in her book The Witch-cult in Western Europe has long been debunked as not only false but contriving in the manner of presentation and handling of primary and secondary sources and evidence (1921). In short, her scholar peer group rejected both her primary theory as well as the manner in which she made her arguments. One such example is that she would quote out of context or only use a portion of a text when the rest did not support her argument. As a result of all of this, this book is not something someone new needs to be concerned with. However, as a result of Murray’s before mentioned problems and the plethora of recommendations given against this book by scholars and by Elders, it is often pushed to the side and never picked up again; which is a problem. Serious and experienced Witches and Contemporary Pagans need to read this book. NEED!
The primary reason as to why this book needs to be read to so that the practitioner can see the influence that this book has had upon modern practice. Yup. It was one of the foundational shakers-and-mover books that our early Elders were reading when they were trying to piece together not only our history but also fragments of broken lore. Reading it in this context puts you in their position and so the stream of change that occurred as a result can better be seen. Secondly, by reading this book you will gain your own first-hand experience and knowledge of what the book actually says about what. No more taking someone else’s word for it. The last reason I am going to give relates to other lore in the book. Although Dr. Murray drew conclusions that have been dismissed and a lot of her source material was horribly mismanaged, she did cite things and make readily available a very wide range of otherwise ignored folk lore in regards to Witchcraft. Lore regardless of what false information was forged from it can still be of great value to a practicing Witch, the trick is to discern and apply critical thinking about. Read it, pick it apart, think on, and be informed from the source. In the end, who know what you may think. Personally, as flawed as the work is, and I recognize it as being such, I have found bits of lore therein that I really like and am not sure I would have come across otherwise.
As a second example, let’s look at the book, The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft*by Raymond Buckland (1974). This book is often criticized as not being factually accurate in regards to Saxon history, religion, or practice. To old Uncle Buck’s credit, he says right in the beginning of the book that he developed it all. That’s right; he made it all up so as to be able to use a basic Wicca liturgy as a vehicle for exploration into Saxon practice. On the one hand it should be fairly obvious as to why a beginner would want to avoid this book, but what about someone that has been around the Contemporary Pagan block? I say go read it, just do so knowing what you are picking up; a book full of Buckland’s own inspiration, albeit with much inaccuracy, with some interesting stuff in it.
So my advice to anyone that has been practicing for a while and has a good foundational knowledge; go read all of the books you avoided because you were told to, for good or bad, see it for yourself.
"Lost in a thicket bare-footed upon a thorned path."
*Note: Re-released as Buckland’s Book of Saxon Witchcraft.