12 Books that Changed my Life
Pagans like books. You go to any Pagan’s house and the bookshelf will be there, and often it’ll be big, and packed with esoteric knowledge. Books accumulated over many years. A bookshelf with pride of place. Our house is no different. Some of those books I bought and never finished reading, others I read from cover to cover, and over the years there have been some that have stayed with me. Had a profound effect on the direction of my spiritual path. So I thought I’d share some of those with you today.
There are many, but here are the twelve that feel most important. Of course, as soon as I press publish I’ll think of more, but maybe those can be the topic of a further post. They are, as far as I can remember, in the order in which I read them.
1. Magick in Theory and Practice – Aleister Crowley – My introduction to all of this was the works of Uncle Aleister. Back in the day there was no internet. The only book on Druidry was Stuart Piggott’s The Druids, books on the Craft were rare, the New Age bomb had yet to explode. My interest was with the supernatural, the occult (like many teenagers I guess…) and luckily I had understanding parents. I joined Encounters Books Club, an occult book club run by W H Smiths, and they gave away 4 hardcover books for 50p as the introductory offer. One of the books I chose was Magick in Theory and Practice by Aleister Crowley. For years it was the text book I reached for. I joined the Occult Church Society and spent years studying Ceremonial Magick. This book guided that for quite some time.
2. The Spiral Dance – Starhawk – After my interest in Magick took a turn to more earthy folk magic, on a trip to Glastonbury I bought two books, The Book of Druidry by Ross Nichols, and The Spiral Dance by Starhawk. I was at that moment where I felt I had to decide where I would point my wand (so to speak) and so I went back to my hotel room at the George and Pilgrim and began to read both books. Starhawk’s book is the one on this list as it was the book that helped me realise that Wicca wasn’t the direction I was going to be heading. It might not have been the best introductory book, but it did the job, hence it’s inclusion here as an influence on my spiritual path. In truth I didn’t really understand a word of Ross’ book. It wasn’t at all what I expected, the language was odd, the history a little weird, but the topics it focussed on ignited a fire in my head, and showed me a path that I have been walking ever since.
3. Witchcraft – A Tradition Renewed – Doreen Valiente and Evan John Jones – Although I had chosen my path and entered initiation as a Druid with the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, my heart still yearned for a slightly more earthy magic. I wasn’t completely put off by The Spiral Dance. I knew that there had to be more to The Craft, so I took the advice of some Traditional Craft friends of mine and read this book. It was gritty, a little dodgy in places, but got to the heart of what I thought Witchcraft was, or could be. I realised that my Druidry would forever be influenced by Magic. It’s not that kind of path for every Druid, but I am a Druid with the beating heart of a Magician.
4. Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain – Caitlin Matthews – I was so happy to have found a path that, at its heart, had the love of story, poetry and music. The Bard and all that went with it was the Fire in my Head and with that came a realisation that we had our own ancient Gods that had been borne from the very mud of this island. I had learned about the Greek and Roman Gods in school. Why on earth had I not even heard of our own? So I began to explore. Nodens, Epona, then the tales of the Mabinogion caught me, and I met Gwydion, Ceridwen, Taliesin, Rhiannon, Arianrhod, Blodeuwedd. This book might be a little dated now, but it did the job for me at the time when those doors were opening.
5. The Druid Way – Philip Carr-Gomm – If other books were teaching me about my inner landscape, this book opened my eyes to the physical one surrounding me. A tale of a pilgrimage. A walk through the countryside, pondering Druidry and what it means to be a Druid in this modern age. And it was set right in the landscape around me in Sussex. After reading this book, every year for three years, on the weekend nearest to the Summer Solstice, I walked the same route as Philip. Sleeping out under the stars, connecting with the land.
6. The Mysteries of Britain – Lewis Spence – Okay, I know the history might be dodgy in places, but this book helped to connect all I was feeling about the Mabinogion and the Druid path I was walking. It’s explanation of ancient British cosmology, it’s tales of the Otherworld of Annwn, it’s fantastical theories just added more and more to my connection with this glorious land and my Path. Very dated now, but still a good read.
7. The Works of W. B. Yeats – What can I say about this. I read Yeats’ poetry and it took me to places I’d never been before. His lyrical prose holds so much magic that, at times, I would become aware that I was physically crying whilst reading his words. To me Yeats is the benchmark of magical prose. Bringing the Otherworld of the Fae to life in ink of paper.
8. The Language of Birds – Fiona Davidson – I’m going to cheat for the next two entries. See I say books, but I would feel as if I had utterly betrayed my journey if I didn’t include these two CDs. Words on paper are one thing, but to hear a Master Bard play music, or tell a tale is altogether a different experience. I first heard Fiona at a Pagan Federation conference in London. I sat in the audience as she played her harp, and took us on a journey to meet the Old Gods and Heroes. As I watched her I realised what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to make this Bardic Journey a reality for me. It was seeing Fiona do her thing on stage that placed my foot on the path that years later would see me standing in front of the Sydney Opera House, the day after playing my first concert in Sydey, and realising that Music and the Bardic tradition had got me there. Years later I managed to tell Fiona that story, and she now calls me Son. See, how could I leave that out…
9. Five Bardic Mysteries – Robin Williamson – After I sold my drum kit and bought a harp, I also began to write songs. I was given the opportunity to play support at a concert by Robin Williamson (a master Bard, and founder of The Incredible String Band). This CD could really be included alongside the one above. They both changed my life.
10. Triumph of the Moon – Ronald Hutton – For years Pagans had been trying to link what we did now, with what had been done in the past. People claimed direct ancestry to the ancient Druids, 21 Lessons of Merlyn said is was ‘Authentic Celtic Magic’, many were desperately trying to find authenticity in the claim that Wiccans, Druids, Heathens and Witches were the inheritors of ancient wisdom, passed down through the ages. Then Ronald came along. And nothing would be the same again, ever. And thank the gods he did, because in my opinion, he helped us take off those shackles to the past, to put down that baggage, and take a fresh look at what we actually had. He showed that Wicca was created in the 50s, and that Druidry also could only really trace its modern expression to around the same time (I know some would say that modern Druidry began in the 1700s with Iolo Morganwg, and maybe there is a good case for that, but the spiritual expression we see all around us now probably has closer ties to the conversations between Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols than it does to Morganwg’s Barddas). This was a GOOD THING. We didn’t need to try to find tenuous links to the past. We could be proud of what we had now. It was alive and thriving. We no longer needed authenticity, because we had validity. So cheers Ronald!
11. The Warlord Chronicles – Bernard Cornwell – A trilogy of Arthurian novels (The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur). These are like modern day myths that took me straight back to the times of the ancient Druids, of Merlin and Arthur. Just because we had unshackled ourselves from the need for an authentic ancient connection, doesn’t mean that we can’t take our inspiration from that past. In fact that that is what we had been doing all along. The Druids in this books aren’t Percil-white ironed robed Druids. They are Shamans. They are Magicians with dung and bones in their hair. I loved it. It might not take on as a modern Druid fashion, but it was wonderful to be taken back to that time for a while.
12. Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim – Peter Owen Jones – some might find it odd that I have included this one, but wisdom can come from many places, and I’m happy to learn from anyone, of any path. Peter is a Christian Vicar who has become somewhat of a celebrity over the years with a few rather good TV programs. This book is a result of one of those shows called Extreme Pilgrim where he travelled the world going through the challenges of some of the world’s religions’ practices. One of these was to spend a month in a cave in Egypt completely alone. He wrote this book during that time in contemplation. A deep and wonderful read. not long, but powerful none the less.
So there you go! What have been the books or CDs that have helped to direct your Spiritual Journey?