Now that you've decided you want to learn about contemporary Wicca or another modern Pagan path, what should you read? After all, there are literally thousands of books on the subject -- some good, others not so much. Be sure to read What Makes a Book Worth Reading? for some insight as to what separates the good from the bad.
Why These Books?
If you want to learn about birds, you get a field guide about birds. If you want to learn about mushrooms, you get a field guide to mushrooms. Drawing Down the Moon is a field guide to Pagans. Rather than offering up a book of spells and recipes, Margot Adler presents an academic work that evaluates modern Pagan religions - including Wicca - and the people who practice them. The work is based on a survey the author took over two decades ago, but the information within is still a worthy read. Drawing Down the Moon makes no apologies for the fact that not all Wiccans are full of white light and fluff, but instead tells it like it is. Adler's style is entertaining and informative, and it's a bit like reading a really well-done thesis paper.
Raymond Buckland is one of Wicca's most prolific writers, and his work Complete Book of Witchcraft continues to remain popular two decades after it was first published - and for good reason. Although this book represents a more eclectic flavor of Wicca rather than a particular tradition, it's presented in a workbook-like format that allows new seekers to work through the exercises at their own pace, learning as they go. For more seasoned readers, there's a lot of useful information as far as rituals, tools, and magic itself. This book is a classic, and well worth picking up.
The late Scott Cunningham wrote a number of books before his untimely death, but Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner remains one of the best known and most useful. Although the tradition of witchcraft in this book is more Cunningham's eclectic path than any other tradition, it's full of information on how to get started in your practice of Wicca and magic. He goes into depth about tools, how and why they are used, ethics, and the concept of god and goddess. If you're interested in learning and practicing as an individual, and not necessarily jumping into a coven right off the bat, this book is a valuable resource.
Phyllis Curott is one of those people who makes me glad to be Pagan -- because she's really normal. An attorney who has spent her life working on First Amendment issues, Curott has managed to put together a really useful book. Witch Crafting is not a collection of spells, rituals or prayers. It's a hard and fast look at magical ethics, the polarity of male and female in the divine, finding the god and goddess in your everyday life, and the pros and cons of coven life vs. solitary paths. Curott also offers up a very interesting take on the Rule of Three. Whether you're a new student of Wicca, or a veteran, Witch Crafting is worth reading more than once.
Dana D. Eilers spent many years facilitating an event called Conversations With Pagans, and from that she wrote a book entitled The Practical Pagan. She then drew on her experience as an attorney to write Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights. This book goes into depth about precedents in religious discrimination lawsuits, how to protect yourself if you may be a victim of workplace harassment, and how to document everything if your spirituality is leading someone to treat you unfairly. Eilers is an outspoken woman who has a lot of great advice worth listening to.
Gerald Gardner is the founder of modern Wicca as we know it, and of course of the Gardnerian tradition. His book Witchcraft Today is a worthy read, however, for seekers on any Pagan path. He discusses paganism in Europe, as well as the so-called "witch cult", and goes on to demonstrate how many of history's notable names are connected, one way or another, to what we know today as witchcraft. Although some of the statements in Witchcraft Today should be taken with a grain of salt -- after all, Gardner was a folklorist and that shines through in his writing -- it's still one of the foundations that contemporary Wicca is based on. For its historical value, few things beat this book.
Triumph of the Moon is a book about Pagans by a non-Pagan, and Ronald Hutton, a highly respected professor, does an excellent job. This book looks at the emergence of contemporary Pagan religions, and how they not only evolved from the Pagan societies of the past, but also owe heavily to 19th-century poets and scholars. In fact, Hutton points out that a good deal of what we consider "ancient" Pagan practice can be attributed to the novelists and romantics of the late Edwardian and early Victorian era. Despite his status as a scholar, Hutton's breezy wit makes this a refreshing read, and you'll learn far more than you ever expected to about today's Pagan religions.
Dorothy Morrison is one of those writers who doesn't hold back, and while her book The Craft is aimed at beginners, she manages to create a work that can be useful for anyone. Morrison includes exercises and rituals which are not only practical, but teaching tools as well. Despite its focus on the lighter side of witchcraft, it's a good starting point for anyone trying to learn about Wicca, and how to create your own rituals and workings. Morrison also has written a number of other books, including a companion work to this one.