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.