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Do You Really Need It?

"Have you heard of this book? Everything I'm seeing is telling me to buy it, but it's sooooooo expensive!"

Uh oh.

"What's the book?"

The typing dots appear, disappear and reappear 3 times over.

"Folklore of Britain. It's £100 on eBay"

"Do you mean Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain? The Readers Digest one from the 70's?"

"Erm, it's new isn't it?"

"The one with the gold horned head on the cover? Nope! It's older than me!"

"Yes, that one. Do I need it? All the witches on IG and TikTok have it. They say it's the best."

I can't tell you how many times I've had that conversation over the years. The obscure and expensive book title is different every time, but the peer pressure and the rising cost is the same.

Fads and obsessions aren't just the territory of clothing brands and catwalks, they happen in all walks of life. The Pagan world is far from immune. Some fashions are easy to join in with, especially those that involve plentiful or cheap things. Others are much harder and involve sourcing rare, older or expensive items. Sometimes the items start off unpopular and/or cheap and the price skyrockets (erm, moldavite anyone?!). The darkest side of this trend is when a rare commodity gets obliterated, what is happening to wild white sage is the perfect example.

This season's obsession is a book; Readers Digest Folklore Myths and Legends of Great Britain.

It's currently selling on eBay for anything between £65 and £120, depending on the edition and the condition.

The big question is, of course, is it worth it?

Short answer; For that kind of money? No.

Long answer; Yes, if you stumble across one in a charity shop or at a boot sale, nab it. As a reference book, it's very useful. Especially if you use it to then go and do deeper research into a specific person, place or story. It touches on an awful lot. The book begins with a collection of myths and legends. Essentially a brief history of all things supernatural or non/early Christian. The bulk of the book is a collection of local stories separated by region and place. The last section features stories about people. A mix of royalty, saints and characters of infamy. It's interesting and fun, but it is a product of it's time. Many facts have been debunked or clarified in the years since it was first published in 1973. Our understanding of history has changed, as has our understanding of humanity.

For me, it's worth having for the regional stories, but take the historical sections with a pinch of salt. If you want accurate history, you need Ronald Hutton!

A few years ago the fashionable must have book was at least easier to find, and much cheaper.

A Witches' Bible, by Janet and Stewart Farrar.

Now let's be clear, this book is about Wicca. Alexandrian Wicca mostly. If you want to learn about Wicca, it's a pretty good book to have. It's filled with rituals and spellwork, the wheel of year and more. When the book hit peak popularity on social media, it was touted as the be all and end all of Witchcraft books. Everyone was told to use it, stick to it and virtually learn it by heart. If that's your thing, great. If you're looking for information on other aspects of Witchcraft or Paganism however, you don't need it. In fact, you're better off ignoring it.

As with the previous book, we need to remember that it is a product of it's time. First published in 1981, it has been criticised for it's use of gender roles. Wicca as a whole has been quite rigid with it's gender roles in the past. As society becomes more inclusive, Wicca is too.

When I was a young and impressionable witch, and MySpace was the way to find each other (ok, I know, I'm old!), we were also subject to social media fads. I spent far longer than I'm willing to admit looking for a copy of the Malleus Maleficarium. Everyone that was popular seemed to have one. Buffy, Charmed and The Craft were huge, the power and the persecution of witches seemed to be what everyone was talking about and that book was at the centre of it all. I don't believe any of the social media witches ever actually read it. It was just a prop for their jaunty angle and big hair profile pictures. I found a few copies, but could never afford the insane price tags they came with. A few years ago my husband found a folio copy from 1968. He bought it for a very cheap price, mostly because no one wants them any more.

It's a hard read, but as a slice of history it is morbidly fascinating. It was probably first printed in 1486, and was republished at least 29 times before 1669. Initially in German, it was also published in Italian, French and English. It was the book that served as the guide to hunting and persecuting witches. It was written by Jacob Sprenger and Henricus Institoris. Both men were Holy Inquisitors working for The Vatican. I won't go too far into what it is, I'm sure you have a good idea already, I'll just say that of all the books I've seen fall in to, and out of, fashion over the years this one is probably the most niche. While it is an important piece of our history as witches, it's not actually written about us. It's a book about what Christianity at the time thought the devil, and people that believed in him or worked with him, were doing. Pagan witches generally don't believe in the devil because he is created by Christianity, and we're not usually Christian. If the witch hunts are a piece of history you are interested in, then this book could be interesting to you. If it's not, or you don't feel the need to go into this much detail with your studies of it, then you really, really, don't need this book!

Phases come and go. Fashions come and go. If something you've seen on social media piques your interest, then seek it out. Don't ever feel you must do something, buy something, or read something just because everyone else is. Don't let the glitz of social media pressure you into spending silly money on something you don't need.

The joy in Paganism is that we are all individual, we all forge our own way and follow our own path. Sometimes others walk with or very near to us, sometimes they are parallel but walk at a distance. No matter what your path, or your interests, there is something out there for you...

...but if you see the Readers Digest book, flick though it and see if there is a story that hails from your home town. You don't need to buy it, just look at it!

By Louisa Chisholm-Kelly

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