Pagan Bookshelf: Witchcraft History

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Woodcut from an 18th-century chapbook about Mother Shipton, by John Ashton

There are lots of books about the history of witchcraft. Many do not even mention modern practitioners, let alone witchcraft religions like Wicca. Some do mention modern practitioners but fail to fact-check claims resulting in some of the worst speculations being reported as fact.

Here are some books about the history of witchcraft, ancient and modern, that tend towards being more factual and challenge speculations. Some, like the ones by Isaac Bonewits, Doreen Valiente, Michael Howard, and others lower on this list are insiders in the modern witchcraft community so write from personal knowledge as well as actual interactions with many of the named historical figures rather than working solely from second-hand reports.

If you’re interested in reading biographies (and autobiographies) about influential people in the witchcraft community, check out the Biographies booklist.

All of these books have bibliographies listing further books and articles that scholars of witchcraft history can search for to learn more. Happy reading!

“Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca” by Isaac Bonewits.

“A History of Witchcraft” second edition, by Jeffrey B. Russell & Brooks Alexander.

The “Witchcraft and Magic in Europe” series (3 books) edited by Bengt Ankarloo & Stuart Clark.

“The Witchcraft Reader” edited by Darren Oldridge.

“Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft” edited by James R. Lewis.

“Witchcraft, Magic and Culture 1736-1951” by Owen Davies.

“Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic” by Emma Wilby.

“The Big Book of English Magic” by Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate.

“Witch: The Wild Ride from Wicked to Wicca” by Candace Savage (more of a mainstream book, easier to read than the more scholarly ones listed).

“A History of the Pendle Witches & Their Magic” by Joyce Froome. This is a good book if you want an in-depth look at one historical group of people who were practicing magic and were charged, and many found guilty and convicted, of witchcraft in Lancashire England in the 1600s.

“The Triumph of the Moon” and “Witches, Druids, and King Arthur” by Ronald Hutton. (Hutton is a leading scholar; his work explores pre-modern witchcraft and occultism and how it influenced the development of Wicca which was founded by Gerald Gardner.)

“The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft” by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. An excellent resource covering ancient witchcraft as well as modern witchcraft including Wicca.

“An ABC of Witchcraft” by Doreen Valiente. (She was one of Gerald Gardner’s early high priestesses, and perhaps the one that was most influential in the development of Wicca.)

“The Rebirth of Witchcraft” by Doreen Valiente. This one is a must-read if you want to learn about how Wicca developed, written by one who was there herself and writes from personal experience.

“Modern Wicca” and “Children of Cain” by Michael Howard. Howard is another figure in the British occult scene who was involved with all sorts of groups and people, and often wrote with insider knowledge. The first book focusses on the history of Wicca, the second focusses on modern non-Wiccan witchcraft groups, mostly in Britain. Both are must-reads if you want to know more about modern practitioners and groups.

The following focus on modern groups and practitioners in North America, mostly in the USA.

“Drawing Down the Moon” by Margot Adler.

“Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America” by Chas S. Clifton.

“A Tapestry of Witches: A History of the Craft in America, Vol. 1” by Aidan A. Kelly. (He’s apparently working on the next volume but it is not available yet.)

“Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America” by Sabina Magliocco.