As High Priestess of the tradition practiced by the Church of the Eternal Circle, I've had the opportunity to speak to quite a few seekers on the path. Many people start that journey in solitude, without having anyone to talk to about what's going on in their lives, to help them frame their questions and find answers. That leads many people to try to pick books to read out of the thousands and thousands available on Wicca and witchcraft. If you're a reader, it's important to be mindful of whose work you're reading. Here are some suggestions that I have found helpful for students of our own Celtic Wiccan tradition.
- I always recommend Doreen Valiente, who is considered the mother of modern witchcraft. She was Gerald Gardner's high priestess, and had already been initiated before she started working with him. She has made a huge contribution to the craft of the wise, including the Charge of the Goddess, and any of her writings that you can get your hands on would be a great place to start.
- Kate West, High Priestess of the Hearth Hecate, is a friend who shares my concern that information about the Craft is becoming diluted and disjointed as it is passed down, lost in translation or garbled from an earlier source. Her series, The Real Witches, includes what I consider to be quality information, handed down faithfully.
- Anything by Janet Farrar, like the work of Valiente, is a volume I would recommend. She has written close to twenty books on the Craft, either solo, or with Stewart Farrar or Gavin Bone. They all have dedicated themselves to the Craft of the Wise, and their work certainly shows that.
Beyond the written word, Wicca is a mystery path, and there's no substitute for personal experience. To read someone else's book is to learn about their experience of the Craft, not your own. The only way to really become a witch is to become a working witch: casting circle, building a relationship with deity, speaking the language, immersing yourself in the experiences of witchcraft.
Speaking the language is a metaphor, as much as it is literal truth. In a foreign land, you can point to things to make your point, and people might understand what you mean. You would be in touch with that culture, its energy, but on a mundane level. Keeping in mind that ritual tools all carry some level of energy, of which someone at this level will begin to sense. If you get a phrase book, it's like a Book of Shadows, and you can learn to speak some of the words, but not how they are pronounced. Your attempts could be insulting, or stilted, and you won't be sure until you try the phrases in front of a native speaker. You certainly will speak poorly from a book; you could perform some spells but you aren't that in touch with the nature of what's going on at a deeper level. Once you have a command of the language, and know all the slang and shorthand, you start to truly understand the culture and how to conduct yourself within it. Learning the language means not only understanding the words that witches use for their tools, but also the symbolic meanings: what the chalice represents, how the athame is to be treated, how you can create sacred space, why you use a pentacle on the altar. They all carry meaning in your circle.
We do things in ritual that you might not connect with in a book, because the written word can't always convey all the levels of meaning. Four candles on the altar for the four elements, for example, are really the lights of the watchtowers of those directions, not the elements themselves. You would not expect an air or water elemental to reside in a candle! You would instead have something on the altar to be a good host for those elements. Much of what goes on in ritual isn't easy to convey on the written page, which is why I recommend seeking out opportunities to attend rituals led by experienced practitioners whenever possible, to get exposure to that non-verbal wisdom.
Then, there's building a relationship with deity. It might take you a while to find who's guiding you, and build a magical relationship with a family, a pantheon. Don't just call on a deity that you read in a book does a certain thing well that you want to do, like healing from Hygeia or prosperity from Lakshme; mixing and matching deities is not possible, because gods are not interchangeable parts. If you don't build a relationship with a family, why would you expect those deities to have a commitment to you?
Valiente said that prayer is asking of deity, and meditation is listening to deity. Spend some time getting to know the mother and father of your work. Once you know them, it will allow you to let the craft of the wise to become a way of life for you. You will truly have a place to belong, and that itself is understanding better who you are. The first thing I would say is read those books such as the ones I've recommended, but also start doing the work, walking the walk not just talking the talk. If you open yourself to the gods, they will help guide on the path.
Circle in a Box was created to help people on their own, or with groups that have a member able to lead in the work. If you have a group that will take you under their wing, even better. You don't need all the tools that are described all at once, but you do need to take time with your deities. Be a good friend to the elemental energies and god and goddess; if you only call when you need something, you're not a very good friend, just one who only calls to borrow money or your car or a favor. You want to build a working relationship that helps them be receptive to helping you more easily when you are in need.