Is There a Witch's Bible?

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Question: Is There a Witch's Bible?


A reader asks, “I was recently in a local Pagan shop and saw a book that was called The Witch’s Bible. In fact, there were THREE books available, all by different authors, with similar titles. I’m confused - I didn’t think there was an actual bible for witches. Which one is the real one that I should buy?”



Here’s the thing. Because “witchcraft” is not one universal, codified set of beliefs and practices, it’s impossible to put together any sort of Big Book O’ Rules that will apply to all people who practice witchcraft. Several authors - at least five that I can think of just off the top of my head - have used the word “bible” in their book about witchcraft or Wicca. Does that mean that one is correct and four are wrong? Not hardly.

What it means is that each of those authors has chosen to write about their particular flavor of witchcraft and call those collected writings a “bible.”

The very word “bible” itself comes from the Latin biblia, which means “book.” During the medieval period, the term biblia sacra was found in common use, and that translates to “holy book.” Therefore any book purporting to be a “bible” is simply a book of texts and writings that are sacred to the person who wrote it. So that doesn’t mean that any of these authors are less qualified to write a book that they call a bible, because they are writing about their own individual tradition of witchcraft.

Where we, as a Pagan community, tend to run into problems, is cases in which people see something called a witch’s bible and assume that it contains guidelines for ALL witches and Pagans. Occasionally, the media has glommed onto the various versions of “witch's bibles” and used them to damn the Pagan community - a rather horrifying example of this would be in the case of Gavin and Yvonne Frost, who wrote a book entitled “The Witches Bible” in the early 1970s. Their book advocated ritualized sexual activity with underage coven members, which - as you can probably imagine - appalled the general Pagan community. Even more appalling was that many people took this to mean that ALL practicing witches were engaging in sex with minors - after all, it was in a book called “The Witch’s Bible.”

That said, there’s just not a single book of rules, guidelines, principles, beliefs, or values that all witches share (although pretty much everyone will tell you to avoid the Frost book like the plague, for obvious reasons).

Why is there no single, codified set of rules? Well, because throughout most of history, the practice of witchcraft as a skill set was a tradition handed down orally from one person to the next. The cunning woman in the ramshackle house at the edge of the woods, perhaps, might take a girl under her wing and teach her the ways of herbalism. A shaman might select a promising young man to learn about the great spirits of their tribe and carry on their community's traditions. It was information that was as widely varied as the people who used it, and the cultures and societies in which they lived.

Also, the behavioral guidelines from one individual to the next is varied. While many Wiccan traditions adhere to the Wiccan Rede, not all do - and non-Wiccans rarely follow it. Why? Because they’re not Wiccan. The phrase "Harm none" has become a catchphrase for many people in some modern Pagan traditions, but again, it is not followed by all. Some NeoPagan practitioners follow the Rule of Three - but again, not all Pagans do.

However, even in the absence of the "Harm none" guidelines, every Pagan path has some structure or set of mandates -- whether formal or informal -- delineates what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Ultimately, the difference between right and wrong -- and in which way one should act -- must be determined by the individual. There’s simply no way anyone could write up a Big Moral Code for Pagans and expect that everyone was following it.

Today, many practicing witches maintain a Book of Shadows (BOS) or a grimoire, which is a collection of spells, rituals, and other information maintained in written form. While many covens keep a group BOS, typically individual members maintain a personal BOS as well.

So - to answer the original question, as to which book you should buy? I’d say it doesn’t matter at all, because none of them actually speak for everyone in the witchcraft community. For some suggestions on how to figure out which books should be avoided - be sure to read What Makes a Book Worth Reading?