Celtic Beliefs in a Contemporary Society

First Week: Introduction. The book list and discussion of the sources. Discussion of class structure, individual interests, meeting times, places. The background and goals of the class are outlined. General chit-chat.

Second Week: History and Lore. Magick in Egypt, Greece, Crete. Judaic contributions to magick. Early magick in the British Isles. The Picts, the Celts, the Saxons. The Celtic deities. The Fairy Tradition. Stonehenge. Merlyn. Europe in the Middle Ages. The New Religion of Christianity. The Devil. The Inquisition. Salem Witch trials. Relaxation exercise. Discussion.

Third Week: Wicca as a Philosophy. Basic beliefs. The after-life. Karma. The spiritual side of life. A nature religion. Magickal times and seasons. Cycles. The High Holidays. The role of Woman in the Craft. Matriarchy. Witchcraft as civil dissent. Witchcraft vs. Satanism. Meditation. Discussion.

Fourth Week: Magick's moving forces: ESP & PK. Psychical Research. Some "rules" for ESP. Concepts about Space and Time. Frazer's magick: contagious/sympathetic. The role of ritual. The importance of imagery. Developing psi. ESP tests. Discussion.

Fifth Week: A Witch's Trappings. Preparations. The Witch Name. Manner of dress. Signs of identification. Jewels. A Witch's working tools. Candles, Wand, Book of Shadows, Runes. The magickal properties of herbs and incense. Discussion.

Sixth Week: Divination. Astrology. Tarot. Palmistry. Crystal-gazing. Cartomancy. Ouija Boards. Pendulums. Séances. Dreams. Demonstrations of some of the techniques. Discussion.

Seventh Week: "Positive Magick". Love magic. Sex magick. All kinds of counter-magick and magickal defense. Amulets and talismans. The structure and nature of the Magick Circle and Pentagram. How to construct them. Discussion.

Eighth Week: "Negative Magick". Magickal attack. Cursing. The "evil eye". Negative thought force. The question of ethics in magick. Discussion.

Ninth Week: Ghosts and hauntings. The early investigations by the Society for Psychical Research in England. Various theories about apparitions. Differences between the folklore ghost and the "real" ghost. Poltergeists. Discussion of modern techniques of electronic detection and investigation.

Tenth Week: Other Magickal Beings. Werewolves. Vampires. The Witch's Familiar. Nature spirits. Lycanthropy and shape-shifting. "Sending the Fetch". Astral projection and travel. The Owen experiments in Canada. Thought-forms. God-forms. Discussion.

Eleventh Week: The Coven and the Festivals. What a Coven consists of, and how to form one. Coven Hierarchy and the role of the High Priestess and High Priest. The nuclear family vs. the extended clan family. Living environment. Relationships. Discussion.

Twelfth Week: Witchcraft Today. A review of modern ideas about the Craft and their various leading proponents. The modern Traditions of Witchcraft. Magick in contemporary fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. Magick in music and art. A final review and analysis.

Thirteenth Week: Party!


(The perspective from 25 years)

I first put this course outline together in 1970, when I began teaching a Witchcraft class as a Freshman at the University of Missouri, Columbia. I taught the class for the next 20 years, first in Columbia and, from 1976 on, in Kansas City. Although the book list for the course changed nearly every semester, I never altered this course outline. It served me well for the entire 20-year duration of the class. (In fact, when I went to look for this file so I could post it, I discovered it had never been put on computer, so I had to key it in manually.)

Naturally, the content of the class did change over the years, as my own studies and perceptions advanced, but I could always fit it into this same structure. I owe thanks to my first college roommate, Mike Shaw, an education major, for suggesting the thematic unit structure approach. Each class was at least two hours long, lecture format, with a break in the middle, followed by discussion for those who cared to stay late.

I should perhaps comment on certain shifts in content over the years. Originally, there was a bit of "Gothic" flavor to the class, as was typical of Witchcraft interests in the late 1960's, which may explain the inclusion of vampires, werewolves and ghosts, although this was less pronounced as the years went by. The section on the Craft holidays eventually grew to a full two-hour lecture by itself, and was usually a movable class, placed the week preceding the next major holiday. The class that usually got "bumped" to make room for it was the eighth week on "Negative Magick", since I didn't want to spend time on it anyway. The class on parapsychology reflected a long-standing personal interest.

The most important class in my estimation was the third week. It also was the one that underwent the greatest evolution in content, becoming more and more informed by the ideas of contemporary feminist theologians. I usually told my students that "If you have to miss any of my classes, make it not be the third one." I also did not allow students to join the class in progress if they hadn't joined by the third week. You will also notice that I did not even touch on magick until the seventh week, more than halfway through the course. This tended to weed out the sensation seekers, and those who were only there to learn how to turn their ex-lovers into frogs.

You'll notice, too, that outside a relaxation and meditation, the class didn't do anything. I liked to say it was a lecture without a lab. This was by design. I always assumed that although some people were taking the class with the thought of becoming Witches, others were just there for the information, and I did not wish to make them uncomfortable. Still, for the ones who wanted to begin practice, the class afforded ample resources to get them started.

The Texts

Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshipers, and Other Pagans in America Today — 2nd ed. — by Margot Adler. Beacon Press trade paperback. You may have already heard Margot's voice, as she was once hostess of National Public Radio's news program, All Things Considered. This book is the end result of five years of research and interviews. (The 2nd edition is an update published eight years after the original.) This landmark study focuses on the rise of the Neo-Pagan movement (which includes Witchcraft, of course) especially as it relates to the values and beliefs of the counterculture of the mid-60's, hippies, flower children, et. al. It is the single most comprehensive study of modern American Witchcraft in existence.

What Witches Do: The Modern Coven Revealed — 2nd ed. — by Stewart Farrar. Phoenix trade paperback. If Adler's book gives a comprehensive overview of modern American Witchcraft, Farrar's is a complimentary look at traditional British Witchcraft. Concentrating on the Alexandrian tradition (which is only marginally different from Gardnerian, easily the largest Craft tradition extant), Farrar lays stress on the actual working of Covens and the integration of novice Witches into them. Also included is much of the Gardnerian (via Alexandrian) Book of Shadows. So there is plenty here for someone who wants to begin practice.

The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess by Starhawk (pseud. for Miriam Simos). Harper & Row trade paperback. This book shifts back to America again, this time with a slight emphasis on feminist Witchcraft, arguably the fastest growing branch of the Craft. Starhawk is herself High Priestess of two California Covens and her book is insightful, genuine, and beautifully poetic. This overview also contains specific instructions for Circles, chants, spells, invocations, creating rituals and, in short, everything you need to get started. And it is a delight to read.

Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland. Llewellyn trade paperback. British-born Ray Buckland can, with some validity, be considered Gerald Gardner's American successor. Not only did he introduce Gardnerian Witchcraft to the United States, but he also founded his own tradition of the Craft, called Seax (Saxon) Wicca, which has grown to worldwide practice. His early books, like Witchcraft from the Inside, did much to dispel negative stereotypes of Wicca in the 60's. And The Tree: Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft remains one of the best published Books of Shadows to date. The present volume has a practical orientation, with chapters set up as 'lessons', covering every imaginable aspect of modern Wicca. The book is Traditionalist in approach, making a nice counterpoint to works by Adler and Starhawk.

Other Sources

A Witches' Bible, Complete by Janet & Stewart Farrar. Magickal Childe trade paperback tandem edition of Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches' Way, respectively, also called A Witches' Bible, Vol 1 & 2. The first book is an examination of the festival Holidays of the Old Religion — the Solstices and Equinoxes and the cross-quarter days — together with the rich folk customs associated with them. The second book contains the long-awaited remainder of the previously unpublished portions of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. In both of these books, the Farrars had the invaluable help of Doreen Valiente, who actually wrote parts of the Gardnerian liturgy. The three Farrar books taken together form the most complete system of Witchcraft currently available. Their more recent book The Witches' Goddess focuses on the feminine archetype, and contains a gazetteer of Goddesses that is mind-boggling in its thoroughness.

Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, & Politics and Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery both by Starhawk. Beacon Press trade paperback and Harper & Row hardback, respectively. If we have gained new religious insights from Pagan and feminist philosophy, how are we to incorporate those insights into our daily lives? Starhawk, the author of one of our principal texts, pulls together a wide range of materials to answer this question in two books as beautifully poetic as her first. Some of these things have waited a long time to be said — and they couldn't have been said better!

The White Goddess by Robert Graves. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux trade paperback. A rather weighty and yet poetic book, tracing the female deity of Witchcraft — Goddess of Birth, Love, and Death; of the New, Full, and Old Moon, worshiped under countless titles. Fascinating for the advanced student. Know your Celtic mythology (particularly Welsh) before you start, though! Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft by Gerald B. Gardner. Magickal Childe trade paperbacks. Gerald Gardner has the distinction of being the first practicing Witch to write a book about Witchcraft. He was initiated into one of the surviving traditional British Covens, and onto the tattered remnants of magick and ritual inherited from them, he grafted elements of ceremonial magick. The synthesis that emerged came to be called 'Gardnerian' Witchcraft, and it became the major cause of the Witchcraft revival of the twentieth century. Because Gardner was the first to deal with this material in written form, it sometimes seems very disorganized, but its historical importance is immense An ABC of Witchcraft, Natural Magick, and Witchcraft for Tomorrow all by Doreen Valiente. Phoenix trade paperbacks.

British Witch Doreen Valiente is perhaps best known for her work with Gerald Gardner in creating the Gardnerian canon of liturgy. However, in her own books, she really shines as an amateur folklorist, managing to convey a sense of Witchcraft as a folk religion, tied very much to the locality, the land, and the oldest strains of folk wisdom and nature. Her sense of history and tradition is rich and deep, and she often presents fascinating historical tidbits about the Craft. From no other author can one gain such a rich sense of heritage.

A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, & Pagans by Jeffrey B. Russell. Thames and Hudson trade paperback. This book represents the approach of a gifted Cornell historian. Although Russell doesn't always adequately cover modern sources, he has become famous for his ability to integrate a sensible approach to the evidence of medieval Witchcraft with an acceptance of modern Neo-Pagan Witchcraft.

Magical Rites from the Crystal Well by Ed Fitch. Llewellyn trade paperback. A book of rites, simple celebrations of land and water, wind and fire. Rites of passage, seasonal celebrations, magickal workings, healings, and many more. Ed Fitch (one of the founders of Pagan Way) is truly in his element here. And it is one of the most beautiful books on the Craft ever published. The art work alone is worth the price of the book!

A Book of Pagan Rituals by Herman Slater. Weiser trade paperback. Originally published in two volumes as the Pagan Way Rituals, this extremely beautiful book is just what it says it is: a book of rituals. Not authentic Wiccan rituals, but very nearly so, these rituals are often used by covens in the training of neophytes. Like a good Catholic missal, the words are printed in 'sense lines' using bold print (easier to read by candlelight). Anyone who is at least part animist or nature-lover is going to cherish this beautiful book.

Celtic Heritage by Alwyn and Brinley Rees. Thames and Hudson trade paperback. A good deal of modern Witchcraft can be traced to ancient Celtic sources. This book, based in comparative religion, mythology, and anthropology, gives one a clear picture of the Celtic world-view. Drawn mainly from Ireland and Wales, the study focuses on the interplay of Light and Darkness, Day and Night, Summer and Winter, and all the seasonal myths and rituals that make up the great Celtic yearly cycle.

Other Useful Books

The Politics of Women's Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritualist Power Within the Feminist Movement by Charlene Spretnak. Doubleday trade paperback. A huge (and, one is tempted to say, the definitive) anthology of feminist and Pagan theology. Many familiar authors here: Starhawk, Weinstein, Daly, et. al. Subjects range from Amazons to the ethics of magick.

Sex in History by Reay Tannahill. Stein & Day trade paperback. It has often been said that Witchcraft grew out of an earlier 'fertility religion' and, although 'fertility' is probably the wrong word here, it is undeniable that the history of Witchcraft is irrevocably bound up with the history of sexuality. Like Tantrists and many others in the East, Witches tend to view sex as sacramental. Since this is quite contrary to the reviling attitudes of our own culture, it may be helpful to understand how our culture acquired such negative ideas about sex in the first place. Ms. Tannahill's unique landmark study will not only answer this question but also indicate the many options other cultures throughout history have chosen.

When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone. Harcourt, Brace, & Jovanovich trade paperback. At the foundations of the religion of Witchcraft is the religion of the Goddess. Ms. Stone's book is an archaeological tour-de-force of that religion, which is found at the beginnings of virtually every known culture. In this book, one learns about the worship of Astarte, Isis, Ishtar, and many others. Also recommended is her Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood. Both are splendid books!

A Different Heaven and Earth by Sheila D. Collins. Judson Press trade paperback. By one of the leading feminist theologians of our day, this book asks what are the psychological and social implications of worshiping a male deity exclusively, while ignoring the feminine principle in religion. This is one of the most influential books I've read in the last ten years.

The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates. Harper & Row hardback. What Carlos Castaneda did for Native American tradition, this author does for ancient Pagan Anglo-Saxon tradition. Subtitled 'The Book of a Sorcerer's Apprentice' and based on authentic manuscripts found in the British Museum, it is the chronicle of a young Christian monk sent into the wilds beyond Mercia in 674 to record the heresies (beliefs) of the Pagans. He is lucky to have as his guide the Anglo-Saxon shaman Wulf. Throughout this documentary novel, the Christian and Pagan beliefs are juxtaposed for a better understanding of both. Not since 'The Mists of Avalon' has a book accomplished this task so neatly.

Positive Magic — revised edition — by Marion Weinstein. Phoenix Publications trade paperback. Although a book about how to use magick to change your life could be extremely tedious, this one is far from it. While it is true that Marion uses a simple and direct style of writing, it is used on such difficult and subtle questions as the ethics of magick. She draws upon her own experiences to create a book that is truly positive.

Earth Power by Scott Cunningham. Llewellyn trade paperback. Scott is arguably the strongest of the young writers in the immensely popular Llewellyn's Practical Magick Series. This is, in fact, a book of spells. Practical, down-to-earth, useful, everyday, garden-variety spells. It is the only such book in this bibliography. Although I do not recommend a 'cookbook' approach to magick, this book will be extremely helpful when used as a guide for creating your own spells. Also, Scott concentrates on 'natural' or 'folk' magic, as opposed to 'ritual' or 'ceremonial' magick. This is the type of magick (involving Sun, Moon, stars, trees, rocks, springs, etc.) that is the natural heritage of Witchcraft. An excellent starting-place for the novice spell-wright. His many other books, especially The Magical Household, are all highly recommended.

The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist and Alternate Realities by Lawrence LeShan. Ballantine paperbacks. Dr. LeShandoes not deal with magick or Witchcraft per se, but what he has to say about the nature of the cosmos is magickal indeed. He is an experimental psychologist, an Esalen veteran, director of ESP research, psychic healing, and other projects. His is a synthesis of philosophy, parapsychology, and Einsteinian physics. His other books, especially How To Meditate (Bantam paperback), are also of great value.

Seth Speaks and The Seth Material by Jane Roberts. Bantam paperbacks. Yet another startlingly clear (albeit less scientific) look at metaphysics. This is probably the cream of the crop of all modern mediumistic data: Seth is the communicant, and the late Jane Roberts is the medium. The other 'Seth' books are also of value.

Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science by Edgar Mitchell, edited by John White. Putnam trade paperback. This anthology serves as an excellent introduction to the scientific field of parapsychology. Each chapter is an extensive review article on laboratory work carried out in one particular sub-genre of the field: telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, OOBE's, apparitions & hauntings, etc. These excellent articles will bring you up-to-date on virtually everything that is currently known about the topic in question. Other chapters deal with the history of the discipline, social & psychological implications, military applications, etc. This book could open the mind of the severest skeptic. But at the same time, it could serve as a necessary check on those too-credulous souls who have a tendency to 'believe everything'.

Books on Related Subjects

Astrology: For the absolute beginner, Chart Your Own Horoscope by Ursula Lewis. Pinnacle paperback. The find-at-a-glance tables and charts are worth their weight in gold. For the more advanced students, Michael Meyer's A Handbook for the Humanistic Astrologer is highly recommended for its 'humanistic' (a la Dane Rudyar) approach. If you want to really learn to do astrology, try The Only Way To Learn Astrology, Vol I-IV by March & McEvers. Books by Linda Goodman, Grant Lewi, Ronald Davison, and Liz Greene are also recommended.

Tarot: Secrets of the Tarot by Barbara Walker is the best of the newest books on Tarot. You may know Barbara as the author of the amazing Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Bill Butler's Dictionary of the Tarot is a wonderful reference book which encompasses works by such authors as Case, Crowley, Douglas, Gray, Huson, Kaplan, Mathers, Papus, Waite, et. al.

ESP: Any and all books by J. B. and Louisa Rhine, Gertrude Schmeidler, Thelma Moss, Charles Tart, D. Scott Rogo, J. G. Pratt, Raynor Johnson and Lawrence LeShan would be highly recommended.

Palmistry: The Palmistry Workbook by N. Altman is clearly the leader here. The book actually has hand-prints, not just line drawings!

Ghosts: An Experience of Phantoms and The Poltergeist Experience both by D. Scott Rogo (Penguin paperbacks), who is a kind of historian of psychical research. Also, The Poltergeist by William Roll, director of the Psychical Research Foundation, and this country's leading authority on ghosts. And most importantly, Conjuring Up Phillip by Iris M. Owen, the account of a group of Canadian researchers who 'created' a ghost! This last title is now out of print, but if you can find one in a used book store, it's well worth it.

Survival: At the Hour of Death by Karlis Osis is exceptional. Books by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are adequate, but not as good. And, if you can find it, the out-of-print Life Is Forever by Susy Smith is perhaps the best introduction.

Out-of-the-Body Experiences: Journeys Out of the Body and Far Journeys both by Robert A. Monroe. The narrative of a much-researched psychic, he only one of its kind. Also, Astral Projection by Oliver Fox, and any early works by Sylvan Muldoon and Hereward Carrington, if you can find them.

Mediumship: Firstly, the ‘Seth’ books by Jane Roberts, listed above. Any and all books by Eileen Garrett. Plus, Here, Mr. Splitfoot by Robert Sommerlot, Singer in the Shadows by Irving Litvag, and She Spoke to the Dead by Susy Smith.

Cabalism: Introductory works include The Magician: His Training and Work and Magick: Its Ritual, Power, and Purpose both by W. E. Butler. Later, works by Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley (definitely not for the novice).

Books of Lore & Mythology

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Ballantine trade paperback. This Arthurian fantasy novel, which reached the N.Y. Times best-seller list, is truly superlative. It is narrated by Morgan le Fay and so we finally understand that strange antipathy that exists between her and Arthur. The religious and philosophical conflict between the Old Religion and the newer one of Christianity is beautifully portrayed. An excellent choice.

The Prydain Chronicles of Lloyd Alexander, a pentology on Dell paperbacks: The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King. These award-winning children's fantasies are based on ancient Welsh mythology. Alexander admits that the two authors who most influenced him were J. R. R. Tolkien and T. H. White. The books are also the basis of the recent animation feature from Disney studios. I'm often asked about pagan books to recommend for children. These are them.

The Deryni Chronicles of Katherine Kurtz: Deryni Rising, Deryni Checkmate, High Deryni, Camber of Culdi, Saint Camber, Camber the Heretic, The Bishop's Heir, The King's Justice and The Quest for Saint Camber, all Ballantine paperbacks. Set in the landscape of ancient Wales, the Deryni are a race with magickal powers which must fight for its life against a medieval Church Militant. Kahterine is someone who knows what magick is all about.

The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlyn both by T. H. White. Berkely paperbacks. Sparkling books, and my own personal favorites. The final crystallization of centuries of Arhturian romance. The books on which 'Camelot' was based.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, Elidor, and The Owl Service by Alan Garner. All Ballantine paperbacks. Garner is one of the best British fantasy authors, with a superb sense of local 'color' and folklore. The first two (related) titles are in the heroic quest mold, the third is a story about the four 'hallows' of Arthurian legends, and the fourth is an eerie modern re-creation of the fourth branch of the Mabinogi.

A Wizard of Earhtsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthe Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin. A trilogy on Bantam paperbacks. This is the chronicle of a young boy who is an apprentice mage. LeGuin, a leading science fiction and fantasy author, has some fascinating things to say about the light side and dark side of magick, and how they're related. And she says it very well, indeed.

Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz. Ballantine paperback. In this case, the author of the important Deryni fantasies turns her attention to a historical setting: England in World War II. There is a long-standing tradition that Hitler's thwarted plans for invading England owed a certain something to the many Covens throughout Britain who combined their efforts to stop him. There is even a hint that the Royal Family itself was involved. Ms. Kurtz's historical research is, of course, impeccable.

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