16.9.15

How To Recognize a Bad Information Source?


In the past, I have received several comments on my blog in which people ask me for my opinion on web sites or books regarding Wicca and/or Paganism. This motivated me to write a post on the dilemma of quality in hopes of stimulating critical thinking and quality awareness in the companions on my spiritual journey, that is to say all of you.

I would like to emphasize that this post does not offer invariable rules for recognizing quality sources of information because everybody's idea of quality is different in the end. Still, I would like to offer my own understanding of quality Wiccan and Pagan information sources because I know that other peoples' advice and literary recommendations were extremely useful for me which I myself wasn't sure where to start.

Novels, Series and Movies Aren't Reliable

It was interesting to notice how many people use novels, movies and series as "sources" of information about Wicca and Paganism. Of course, those of them (the sources) that really are concerned with this topic can and usually are based on the truth but, as the saying goes, the devil is in the detail. Even though their groundworks are firm, the stories that are built upon them are more often than not made up, overblown, too fantastical, or simply untruthful. If they weren't like this, the books wouldn't sell and the movies/series wouldn't achieve such popularity. These are not scholarly sources - they do not offer concrete, practical information or explanations. At best, they can offer inspiration for something, but at worst, they can convince a person into believing complete nonsense which will ultimately harm their spiritual development.

When people approach me with practical questions regarding Wicca, I regularly ask them which books on this topic they have read so far. I always ask this just to get a better understanding of the scope of their theoretical knowledge because I think of it as being the basis for practice and that it therefore has to be firmly constructed. Many times, the replies included some books by Paulo Coelho (more precisely Brida and The Witch of Portobello). I have read these books and they are enjoyable, but they can on no account be seen as a serious information source for Wicca or Paganism. The same goes for movies (e.g. The Wicker Man, Bewitched or The Craft, and also Harry Potter) as well as series, which have piled up in the last few decades - Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Merlin and so on.

Basically, novels, movies and series can be pleasurable once in a while, they can be used for inspiration, to arouse curiosity and so on, but they cannot be, are not and will never be scholarly sources of information on the topics of Wicca and Paganism.

Recognizing Quality Books


When I say "quality books", I am referring to quality scholarly sources. Novels can be written nicely, but they cannot bear comparison to scholarly literature in terms of the quantity of information they provide.

There is a great deal of books on the market about Wicca and Paganism, but also on the topics of occultism, spirituality and so on. The main issue here is how to recognize quality books in this heap?

There actually isn't one unified understanding of quality books because people have different definitions of quality. So, in this heading, I will guide you through my own system of recognizing quality books, that is through the process of eliminating low-quality ones.

When I started reading up on Wicca and Paganism, I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon a virtual group of people who were, at that time, already seriously devoted to this path and who had read many books on the topic. I was receiving book recommendations from all sides, and also reviews of them which helped me understand which books were good for what. It is important to remember that no book is perfect and will not offer all the information you may need. Nevertheless, every book has its forte, but it can also have flaws which we should be aware of if we want to get the best out of it. It is precisely because of this that it is important to develop the ability of critical thinking towards literature, and this is best done by reading, reading and reading some more. In time, this enables you to understand what coincides in certain books and what clashes (and why), what writing style you prefer, which suggestions really make sense to you, which of them you are able to actually apply in your life as well as those that you didn't find useful at all. Because this helped me so much in the beginning, I made a list of about 15 books on this blog which I would recommend to any beginner. I listed these books because I personally found them very useful (although this does not mean that everyone has to like them), because they shaped my spiritual practice for the better and because they correspond to my understanding of quality which I will continue talking about in this post. You can find this list in the "Recommended Reading" section of the blog. But let us continue with some more practical, active suggestions.

When I am looking for a book on the topic of Wicca or Paganism (or really any scholarly book), I first look at its contents. If the chapter titles correspond to what I am looking for in this book, then I continue to examine it. Of course, what I am looking for can differ. At first, I looked for substantial overviews which could cover a bit of everything - the history of Paganism, Sabbats and other celebrations, traditions, ritual practice, magic and so on. When you have read a certain number of books of this kind, you slowly start to understand what interests you the most and continue in that direction. This is when you start looking for books of a more narrower scope which tend to get more and more scholarly as you go deeper into this area. But these further books are not problematic to find because, by the time you get to this phase, you will have learnt how to differentiate the high from the low-quality books. Although, it is important to be able to notice a quality book in a sea of others at the very beginning of your search when you will probably be looking for a compendium of sorts.

When they have just entered the world of Wicca and Paganism, people have the tendency to fall for books with impressive titles. But this does not mean that you should skip books which have completely ordinary titles such is "An Introduction to ____" or simply "Wicca/Paganism". Give every book a chance regardless of its cover.

When I am flipping through a book in a bookstore, or reading through a short sample on the Internet (as can be found on Google Books for example), I always primarily look at the chapter on magic if it exists (and generally it does). The recent trend of reducing Wicca and Paganism to practicing magic is not something I find acceptable at all because this results in the complete disregard for the devotional aspect which is also important. In this case, magic is only one (discretionary) element of Paganism/Wicca. Furthermore, if I notice that the author of the particular book is focused more on serving "recipes" for spells and less on the magical process (which is based on the independent writing and planning of a magical act), I automatically eliminate this book. Of course, this does not mean that some authors won't give an example here and there which really does come in handy at the beginning of everyone's path. But any person that practices magic should be aware that magic is only as potent as the amount of energy that is poured into it. If someone just takes a book and reads from it something that somebody else has written, the amount of invested effort is null.

Precisely because the above mentioned reason, I would recommend to everyone that they, at least initially, avoid spell books and books similar to them which serve everything on a silver platter. Book such as these bear names such as "50 Love Spell To Change Your Life", "Use Magic to Get Money", "Little Book of Spells" and so on. They should be placed on the self-help bookshelf because this is what they are used for. They will not have any effect, but they will comfort those that are in need of them at that moment. They actually give false hope and develop negative stereotypes of Wiccans and Pagans. I claim the latter because they encourage the belief (and practice) that Wiccans, Pagans and witches practice magic out of selfishness and in the process completely neglect the ethical aspect of their spirituality. The more people read these types of books, the more will actually begin to disregard moral values and begin acting just in order to help themselves regardless of the consequences. In addition to all this, the very fact that these books can be found on every corner, from bookstores to newsstands and supermarkets, doesn't instill much confidence (although I have come across quality books on newsstands several times, but the books there are ordinarily low-quality).

Another type of literature which I by no means like are beginner kits in which you get a book and "everything you will need to get you started". This can be cute, but if someone needs to sell a whole pile of things along with a book in order to sell it, then something is suspicious here. Also, I find it hard to believe that you can get everything you will need to get started in a very small (and very thin) plastic bag. In my opinion, these sorts of books are intended for people that don't take Paganism or Wicca seriously, but rather want to satisfy a temporary whim for a small amount of money.

Sine Wicca and Paganism have gained a lot of popularity among teenagers in the past few decades, more and more books are being writtern precisely for them. The most notorious among them are Teen Witch and To Ride a Silver Broomstick by Silver Ravenwolf (interesting fact: the latter is among Llewellyn Publishing's bestsellers). Many people have negative opinions of this author for various reasons, but I won't be going into that here. But I have to bring up some pieces of criticism which are aimed at some of here books as well as all other books which are written for teenagers. First of all, they generally seem quite frivolous because of the way they are written and the examples given. Second of all, along with a simplified language, they also offer a simplified philosophy/history/theology of Wicca and Paganism which definitely doesn't benefit the reader no matter their age. In short, although the authors of these books do succeed in their aim of simplifying and bringing the topic closer to their readers, they tend to do this at the expense of information. Because of these, one needs to be very careful with these and all other "beginner" books. In the "Recommended Reading" section, I listed those beginner books which I think present information clearly and concisely, but in the process do not leave out important information and do not trivialize things. This does not mean that they are the best choices for everyone, but I believe they complement each other nicely and that everyone can build a quality foundation in Wicca and Paganism if they begin by reading this selection of books.

When I am able to flip through a book, after I've had a look at the chapter on magic, I immediately flip to the chapter on history. I am lucky enough to have learn some historical facts and am now able to judge the quality of the book at hand based on the accuracy of what is said in this chapter. Generally speaking, an author that includes a chapter on the history of Paganism/Wicca in their book and does not have their historical facts straight is not an author worth reading. I recommend you always look up at least some basic dates and names from this chapter if you are able to do so. You can search in other reliable and already tested sources on this topic, or simply use Google until you yourself have gained enough knowledge to assess the accuracy of the presented historical facts.

Some other faults I noticed in low-quality or mediocre quality books are hypocrisy and deficiency. The hypocrisy can usually be seen in the critique of other religions/faiths/spiritualities on the basis of their discriminatory acts from the past and present while simultaneously ridiculing these same religions/faiths/spiritualities and preaching about tolerance and love toward others. Deficiency is an equally bad flaw because it is reflected in scant information which lacks explanations. Too many books simply say "do this" and "do this that way precisely at that time" without explaining why something is done, why it's done in this manner and at that time. Because of this greatly appreciate the book Elements of Ritual by Deborah Lipp, for example. This was the first book I came upon that really explains why certain things are done the way they are in rituals.

A common flaw of all of these books is that they lack seriousness, depth and/or range. That is to say, if you are looking for a beginner book, I recommend you focus more on the range of information so you can get a little bit of information on every aspect of Wicca/Paganism and, from that, discern what interests you the most. Of course, it is great if a book is able to go into depth as well as range of the topic. Now, once you have found out what interests you, I recommend you aim towards topical depth rather than range so you can expand your knowledge on the particular topic and develop a more quality practice. But the book you chose has to be serious! This does not mean that it cannot include a single witty remark, funny anecdote or something similar (many quality authors I have read have this writing style), but simply that it should be objective (although subjective comments and experiences are allowed in moderate doses), that it gives warnings if needed, that it emphasizes the importance and gravity of Pagan/Wiccan spiritual practice, or basically that it doesn't promote it like a thirty-second video/radio commercial would (can you hear the overly-enthusiastic, fake voices which give you a headache?).

The Internet: Caution

The final and perhaps the largest menace in searching for information on Wicca and Paganism is the Internet. You can find heaps of nonsense in books, but the Internet is much worse given the amount of articles, notes, "books" and so on that are posted every day and have not passed through the hands of editors or proofreaders. I also could not believe what kind of nonsense I found among android apps! There really is a great need for caution when virtual information sources are in question because nowadays, everyone can write anything they like without any guarantee of quality.

I recommend you don't even use the Internet as a source unless it's really necessary or unless the source is of exceptional quality! This goes for my blog as well. The Internet can be useful to remind oneself of some piece of information, check or compare certain facts and research different views of a topic. But it should not be taken as a primary information source.

A very important warning which I can give you regarding the Internet is that you must not let yourself be misled by web sites that offer virtual courses on Wicca/witchcraft/Paganism, and this goes double for those that claim they will initiate, cleanse, bless you or who knows what else for a "symbolic price". Priesthood crash courses and little schools of witchcraft...nonsense.

Still, if you are turning to web sites, I recommend you apply the same suggestions that I mentioned in the previous headings. Along with this, intuition can also help you a lot. If you sense that something is wrong with that particular web site, just move along.

Ultimately, experience will will play its part. If you persist and read various sources, you will learn, in time, to recognize at first glance what isn't any good or what doesn't suit you. Anyway, I hope that you will develop your own opinions and learn to criticize and question what you are reading. Never take anything for granted, be inquisitive, motivated and explore further!

Broj komentara: 10:

  1. Hi !
    So, I recently found your blog because one of my European friends recommended it to
    me, since I recently because interested in the whole magic thing . I am deeply sorry if I misunderstood something on your blog, since I'm not best at English :( .
    I would like to ask you a question, since you seem like a reliable source of information when it comes to Wicca/Paganism/Magic .
    The question is, what is actually magic ? Like, is it a force of nature, something connected to mind/brain, or something outside our universe ? Can it be scientifically proven/explained ? Thanks !

    OdgovoriIzbriši
    Odgovori
    1. Hello there!
      Well, I have written several posts on the topic of magic. You can find them in the "Magic" section of the blog:
      http://vjesticji-ormar.blogspot.hr/p/english-translations.html

      So I would recommend you have a look at them first if that suits you. Hopefully you will find answers to your questions there, but if not, feel free to ask away.

      The last question you asked is the only really tricky one. There is always a certain amount of tension between science and spirituality. I personally haven't bothered too much with the scientific aspect of the issue (I'm interested more in the psychological and philosophical aspects), although I have written a post that could interest you on this topic as well:

      http://vjesticji-ormar.blogspot.hr/2013/07/can-science-confirm-occult-beliefs.html

      I would therefore recommend that you have a look at these posts and then see if you find answers to your questions. If something is still unclear, feel free to comment on the posts and/or use the contact form to contact me and hopefully we will manage to answer your remaining questions together. :)

      Take care!

      P.S. your English seems fine to me!

      Izbriši
    2. Thank you very much for a quick response !
      Hm, I should definitely check out those posts .
      Anyways, I have another question (sorry if I'm bothering you):
      What are grimoires ? I often hear about them but I don't exactly know what they are .

      Izbriši
    3. This isn't an exact definition just to be clear but hopefully it will make things clearer for you. Grimoire is quite an old term for a book/notebook of sorts that served to collect different knowledge. What is implied here is that this knowledge is of an "occult" nature. You can find many grimoires around the world, some even uploaded on the internet, of that and that magus or something similar. These people apparently kept all their knowledge and findings in this notebook. You could perhaps call it a sort of magical journal (though writing in it every day isn't/wasn't obligatory). It is somewhat similar to the modern-day Book of Shadows in Wicca.

      Izbriši
    4. So The Grimoire of Pope Honorius, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches,
      Heptameron, The Picatrix, Grand Grimoire etc. are all basically spell books, supposedly written by that and that mage at that and that time, serving as some sort of a guide for magic and things like that ?
      Hm, interesting . Thanks for all the information, you really do know a lot of things when it comes to occult :)

      Izbriši
    5. Well I'm not sure that Heptameron falls under this category and the Grimoire of Pope Honorius seems to slightly stand out as it was supposedly written by a Pope. But it all depends on how you define "grimoire". Keep in mind though that the "occult" doesn't necessarily have to mean what it means nowadays (referring to magic, "non-Christian" practices and so on). The occult simply means hidden (and mystical in this sense). But yes, grimoires usually have something to do with the supernatural, and "magic" in one way or another.

      Izbriši
    6. Well, most early magic was influenced by Christian teachings, I think .
      Also yes, Grimoire of Pope Honorius does stand out a little, since it, like many other grimoires, teaches about rituals how to summon demons, while also being supposedly written by a Pope . According to you, would ''Pseudomonarchia Daemonum'' count as a grimoire ?

      Izbriši
    7. I had to Google this one because I had never heard of it before (mainly because demonology is not on my interests list). I guess it would by definition. But mind you, not all grimoires deal with demons. In fact, from what I know, many more deal with magic in the broadest sense.

      While we're on this topic, I would like to give you a piece of friendly advice. I hope I'm not overstepping my boundaries here. But I would really recommend that you stay away from this kind of magic and demons in general. Dabbling in magic is not an good idea. You either take it seriously, do you research and start with baby steps or you don't do it at all. Also, working with negative energies is very serious business and I'm not sure what good could come out of it. Negativity attracts more negativity. So there's some food for thought for you dear anonymous reader.

      Izbriši
    8. Oh, I know that . Most grimoires I've heard of deal with demons, tho .
      Hm . . . Well, that is some solid advice there . Frankly I don't really deal with ''demons'' or whatever they're supposed to be (mostly because I don't believe in them), I'm much more interested in works by Aleister Crowley and Thaumaturgy, and Wicca is pretty nice too .
      I don't get what curses are supposed to be either .
      Malevolent magic of sorts ? Don't know and don't care .
      Thanks anyways .

      Izbriši
    9. Well if you ask me, it's for the best that you don't care about them :)

      Izbriši