Here are some of my favorite books for absolute beginners, in no particular order.
The Spiral Dance by Starhawk
The Spiral Dance was written around 1979, when there were almost no beginner Wiccan or Pagan books on the market. Many, many people were introduced to the Craft through this book. It’s well-structured and full of great information and extremely useful exercises, meditations, and rituals. I have some quibbles with Starhawk’s view of the Goddess in history, and this book is a bit female-centric, but it is gorgeously written and can help women and men alike build a strong foundational practice. Get the most updated version if you can.
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
Some people have made the argument that solitary Wicca exists because of this book. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but Cunningham was certainly one of the first to take all of the core ideas and practices of Wicca and make them useful, accessible, and practical for solitary Wiccans. This book and the follow-up, Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, are clear, easy to follow, and deceptively simple. There’s a lot more meat in these titles than what’s obvious at first glance. A beginner could practice Wicca for quite a while using these two books alone.
Positive Magic by Marion Weinstein
Personally, I see Wicca as a path of transformation, so I love that Weinstein writes that the purpose of our path is to “transform, uplift, and so fully develop the self that the whole Universe may benefit thereby.” Positive Magic covers the beginner basics while focusing on ethics in a positive, warm, and accessible way. The Words of Power are particularly useful.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft by Denise Zimmerman and Katherine Gleason
Yes, you read that right. I’m recommending an “Idiot’s Guide” book. Why? Because it is an easy-to-understand, comprehensive, “just the facts, ma’am” introduction to Wicca that gives an overview of everything from history to deities to magic and even throws in some astrology for good measure. The tone is light, positive, and practical, and the content is broken up into easily digestible chunks. Will it become your book of shadows? No. Is it a sound jumping-off point for deeper exploration and practice? Absolutely.
A Book of Pagan Rituals by Ed Fitch
Legend has it that after Alex Sanders published King of the Witches, in which he said he was initiated by his grandmother into an ancient Craft tradition, there was a rash of Wiccans claiming that they, too, were initiated by their grandmothers into traditions as old as the cave paintings. As evidence they offered up some lovely rituals that supposedly came down to them through the ages, but which were traced back to this book, which was written around 1974. This earned Ed Fitch the affectionate nickname “Grandma Fitch” and enshrined this book as a Wiccan classic. It is a very useful collection of rituals that are great as written or easily adapted to suit your needs.
Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium by Vivianne Crowley
Crowley applies Jungian theory to describe Wicca not only from a practical point of view, but also from a psychological and sociological one. This book provides a solid, thorough foundation in the Wiccan basics, with a lot of exploration of why Wiccans do what they do. It has more of a traditional than an eclectic perspective, but it can be useful and thought-provoking for anyone learning Wicca. I recommend reading it after finishing a couple of the more “nuts and bolts” titles, because it’s the kind of book that will have you deepening your exploration of the path. A personal favorite.
The Inner Temple of Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak
The first three things I teach my students are grounding, meditation, and visualization. The Inner Temple of Witchcraft is a thorough introduction to these types of practices and psychic and energy work, all of which are foundational to Wicca. This book goes beyond the mechanics of Wiccan practice and gets into the why and the how. It’s particularly useful for beginners who have trouble initially visualizing or meditating, which—judging by the questions in my inbox—is pretty common.
Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions by Pauline and Dan Campanelli
The Campanellis have written several books, all of which attempt to help readers reconnect with the cycles of the seasons and integrate magic into their daily lives. Ancient Ways includes rituals and crafts for each of the eight Wiccan sabbats. The Campanellis’ strength lies in how beautifully they evoke the feeling of each sabbat, and Ancient Ways will help you think meaningfully about what each one means to you. The material is a little bit on the bucolic fantasy side—it’s hard to achieve some of what they suggest if you are a city-dweller—but it’s warm and inviting, like sitting by the fire drinking chamomile tea, and it will definitely bring out your latent Martha Stewart.
Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner
Whether they’re eclectic or traditional, many—if not most—Wiccan practices today have their roots in the work of Gerald Gardner. Gardner’s books, published in the 1950s, brought Wicca into the public consciousness. Rather than being a “how-to” book, Witchcraft Today describes practices and beliefs of a group of Witches Gardner met in the New Forest in England in the 1930s, and details Gardner’s (sometimes fanciful) theories on where their traditions originated. Gardner, like anthropologist Margaret Murray, believed the Wicca he found was the survival of ancient Pagan religion. This theory has been largely discredited, and Gardner’s writing is a rambling reminder of the Victorian age in which he was born, but this book gives valuable insight into the philosophical underpinnings that gave birth to modern Wicca.
Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente
If Gerald Gardner is the father of modern Wicca, Doreen Valiente—who was one of his priestesses and is credited with writing many poetic ritual texts—is its mother. Witchcraft for Tomorrow is a very accessible, down-to-earth beginning book that includes both Wiccan basics and a full book of shadows.
Bonewitz’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca by Isaac Bonewits
This is a collection of writings from the late, great Isaac Bonewits. It’s a concise, thoughtful, honest, and irreverent look at the history and practice of modern Wicca and Witchcraft. If you’re a fan of cutting through the fat to get to the meat, this book is for you. Bonus points for including Jenny Gibbons’ excellent essay “Recent Developments in the Study of the Great European Witch Hunt,” which (in my opinion) should be required reading for new Wiccans.
Finally, at the risk of sounding a little self-serving, I’d like to recommend my own beginner book, the oh-so-creatively titled Wicca for Beginners. It’s a practical, down-to-earth introduction to Wicca with lots of helpful exercises. I think it’s pretty cool.