Thinking About – #DefendOccultBooks

Thinking About – #DefendOccultBooks

A couple of days ago I read this article on Jason Mankey’s blog about #DefendOccultBooks written by Georgina Rose. As a Generation X Pagan, I was surprised that this was even a thing. I mean, books, knowledge, wisdom, going deep into myth and magic, that was and still is my passion when it comes to my Path. I know so many Pagans whose bookshelves creak under the strain of all of their wonderful (and sometimes, let’s face it, not so wonderful) books. To read that there are Pagans out there who are purposefully avoiding books based on a ‘what you shouldn’t read’ list astounded me. I mean, when did Pagans ever do as they were told when it came to seeking knowledge and wisdom? Advice is good, but blacklisting authors and topics? That feels a little, well, controlling, to say the least.

It doesn’t surprise me that this cultural directing stems from social media. As I consider the contrasting ways Pagans currently have when seeking their Path I find it odd to think that it might have been actually easier back in the days before the internet to make connections. It certainly didn’t feel that way. Just a couple of magazines on the shelves of WH Smiths might lead you to find more underground groups and journals, then to a local moot and then maybe to a local magical group. It was frustrating, there was an incredible amount of gatekeeping, but man it was also exciting – the hunt was a big part of the Journey. I actually miss those stapled and photocopied journals arriving every quarter – like The Cauldron – and they often held the best information and articles too. But social media is so loud, fast, and reactionary. Just as the people who invented the car couldn’t have predicted road rage, so the creators of social media might not have seen flame wars and cultural division in its future. However, I think we were given good clues with our experiences of the smaller Newsgroups, email lists and message boards that preceded social media. Now we have Facebook, a worldwide message board, with worldwide flame wars and cultural division. I think there was a good reason I was told years ago not to discuss my politics or religion – I simply don’t need to know every single thought my friends have about everything.

But I digress…

There were people back then who said “you can’t learn magic from a book”, but a good combination of personal teaching, experience and guidance, with the extra-curricular activities of book-reading, completed the circle. There was also advice on the best books to read, but when I was told not to read a certain book, it was like a red flag to a bull. I remember the uproar about 21 Lessons of Merlin. Did I ignore everyone and read it anyway? Of course I did. I’ve never let critics make my decisions for me, and I would advise any new, or even seasoned Pagan to also ignore any “Books you shouldn’t read” list and make up your own mind too. By the way, with that book people were right, but I’m still glad I read it to be sure.

I will freely admit, there are problems with some books that were written ‘back in the day’. Some of the language in the books by Dion Fortune is blatantly racist. Am I condoning it? Of course not. The same could be said for Aleister Crowley. The man was… problematic. If those same books were being written now, well, they would be edited and censored. If Crowley was around now getting up to those things I’m not sure it would go down well with today’s magical community. But like it or not these are some of the most influential roots of western magic, and there is both wisdom and challenges held within those pages. If someone is serious about their magic I would still recommend the novels of Dion Fortune, with the caveat that some of the language will be challenging.

I think this ‘book blacklist’ will be just another online trend that will exist, create a lot of noise on social media, then will blow over in due time. My gut tells me that if someone is passionate about their path they may well get to a point on their spiritual journey when intuition alone might not cut it anymore, and they may well feel the pull to explore deeper some of the older books and Grimoires. The balance of the Alchemical Elements includes the intellect of Air, along with the emotion of Water, the passion of Fire, the groundedness of Earth, and in that balance great magic is waiting.

7 responses to “Thinking About – #DefendOccultBooks”

  1. Just curious, are there any recent books you would especially recommend? I realize that’s not really the topic of the blog, but you piqued my curiosity.

    • Thanks for your comment, and absolutely there are. It would depend on your preferred topics, but if you are into Druidry and mythology I would thoroughly recommend the book Cerridwen by Kristoffer Hughes. If you are into Witchcraft then the books by Gemma Gary are also excellent and highly recommended.

  2. Like you, Damh, I was astonished to hear that there was # Defend Occult Books & it horrified me to read that there was. As someone with an interest in history as well as Paganism, my mind shifted to Germany under Hitler when there was widespread book burning – the Goddess forbid that this kind of horror could happen to books about Paganism & the Occult. I too was told not to read books about the Occult & Paganism as they were the works of the Devil & of course I did read them. Books are knowledge & it should be left to the individual to decide whether or not what they read is ‘good or bad’ – some will be, but it is not for others to make our decisions for us. Have those people who condemn books as being ‘bad’ actually read them? Another point I’d like to make is that it should be remembered that certain attitudes – racist, homophobic or anti feminist – were seen in a different way when some books were written & reflect the feelings of that time. To read them is in no way to condone them. Phew that was a bit of a rant ! Thanks for the chance to put my opinion across & it is just my opinion anyone is free to agree or disagree with it. Love & Blessings Anne.

  3. everything is being censored these days. i liken it to a mass book burning. that being said, i think everyone should make up their own mind and that everyone has the right to do so even if the powers that want to control us think otherwise. every bit of info has its place in everyone’s growth in their path through life. i, too, would be drawn like a moth to a flame by something deemed inappropriate or dangerous. that is part of what makes life interesting! it is something that initiates critical thinking! and we sure could use a lot more of that these days!! peace and blessings!

  4. Thank you for those words, so true!
    Open my mind is the most important thing to do… Like for Platon Cave…

    Excuse my English 😉

  5. I think it’s legitimate to say “this book is unreliable because it references an ‘ancient Irish potato cult'” or “this book says most people couldn’t read in a time/place known to have 90+% literacy, so I’m skeptical of several less-checkable claims it makes.” I’ve written savage reviews of several books myself.

    But a simple “don’t read these books” list without explanation or analysis is going to go all Streisand Effect on me.

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