I've been a witch for more than twenty years, so you young'uns will have to excuse me for recounting some ancient history, but there was a time (strangely enough, about twenty-some years ago) when it was difficult as heck to learn much of anything about Wicca. This was back before the internet made access to information not only easy but anonymous and during a time when asking your local librarian to search the inter-library loan system for books on Wicca would have resulted in a call from the librarian to your boss in the school system pretty darn fast.
So, and especially because I lived at the time in a fairly rural, isolated area, I would find a book, read it, write down all the books in the bibliography, wait for my next trip to the bookstore in the big city, find a book, read it, write down all the books in the bibliography . . . . I managed, in this manner to read a number of fairly meaty books: everything from "When God Was a Woman," to "The White Goddess," to "Drawing Down the Moon," to "Aradia," to lots of Bachofen.
Eventually, however, Llewellyn
began to publish lots of books on Wicca and I'd buy whatever I could get my hands on. I've recently spent some time going back through many of those early Lewellyn-type books, some of which I can remember pouring over for hours and hours and months and months and - wow. There's so little "there" there. Now, I realize that I'm not saying anything new here. It's become almost cliche in the Pagan community to talk about the dearth of books that go beyond "Wicca 101."
But what really got me thinking was the fact that, at the time, I really did build a serious, active spiritual life on those books and, remember, this was during a time when, for years and years, I'd never met another Pagan (that I knew of). And that wasn't as unusual as it must sound today. So what WAS in those books that fulfilled my spiritual hunger, that kept me coming back for more and more?
I think two things: the pictures and the general leitmotif of a life lived in ecstatic harmony with nature. I never cared very much for tables of correspondences or for pre-determined generic words to say on given Sabbats. But I adored the line drawings of women as priestesses (and the few photographs of "real" witches, generally British Gardnerians and skyclad) and the intimation behind all the cookie-cutter spells and silly, archaic ritual incantations of a life lived in communion with an animate world.
Today, I think, things have changed. The internet allows an interested teen-ager to pull up more information on Wicca than I could have accessed in a year. Witchox, ten years old and may the Goddess grant them many happy returns, allows even someone living in a conservative rural area to find out where Pagans are gathering and to head off to a festival or witchcamp. Amazon.com will deliver the entire Llewellyn library to your door, and all the Llewellyn-wanna-bees, as well. And you're far less likely to get fired if anyone "finds out" that you're a witch (although, it still happens).
But I think that many Pagans still at least start their quest reading whatever they can find on the shelves of their local Borders or B. Dalton's and that's more likely to be "Celtic Magic" or "Wheel of the Year" than anything else. And I think that's ok. Those books have pictures and those pictures are worth a thousand words.
Picture by Joanna Colbert. More of her lovely work is available here