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salem witch trial

Examination of a Witch, by T.H. Matteson 1853.

Sometimes European witches get defensive of their traditional craft. While there are always welcoming people, there are also those that are more closeted and want to keep their culture to themselves. Some still comment that we left their country and created a new one and we don’t need to keep coming back and taking all that is good culturally from them and mutating it. Some don’t understand why many American append a hereditary country to our self identification: Irish American, African American, etc. In most cases our mothers and grandmothers were born in America and so why the obsession with the old country? I can express for myself that Ireland is a mystical homeland in addition to being a land of my ancestors. In the melting pot that is America, most people like to hold onto their original roots and preserve cultural traditions of their immigrant or native ancestors. It is part of the American culture to treasure the old country culture whilst still assimilating the language and culture of the states.

However, when seeking traditional witchcraft, Americans do not have to go back to an old country or bastardize Native American practices either. There are American forms of traditional witchcraft that are every bit as rich as the European ones. In addition, the American traditions have a more homey and American feel. They are built around the land, the dominant religions and the feeder old county cultures of the families who have dwelt in this country so long that no one in their family speaks the old language of their “home” country.

I have been enjoying an excellent book The Silver Bullet and other American Witch Stories that imparts the lore of the Appalachian witch tradition. The stories come complete with rituals to become a witch, to create a witch ball, and to attain a familiar. Long before Gardner came out and charged Buckland with spreading the word when he was sent to America, there were witchcraft traditions already. I learned a lot about these various traditions by reading Her Hidden Children by Chas Clifton. Chas writes about both Wiccan, neo-pagan, and traditional witchcraft and pagan practices in America before and after Gardner/Buckland. Clifton makes the case that much of contemporary popular witchcraft and neo-paganism has been influenced heavily by a rather particularly american activist spirit.

Her Hidden Children had a strong affect on my path, and since reading it I have sought out sources on American traditional witchcraft–especially those tied to the American West since that is where I am from. Hopefully I will get time to share my findings as I get a more solid idea of them here.

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Used book stores can be just like in the movies and books, musty crowded places run by witches, pagans or at least those who don’t mind carrying a selection of pagan books.  When you discover a used book shop that carries pre-read magic books, you have hit gold!

Vancouver, Washington:

Cover to Cover Books

(360) 993-7777

6300 NE St. James Rd., Suite 104B

Vancouver, WA 98663

Mel runs a great shop, she is very involved with the local community. I have on and off attended the Ghost Town Poetry readings that are monthly at her shop.  There are a few pagan poets who come now and then.  It can be quite inspiring and a good place to meet people.  Cover to Cover has a full wide shelf of witch and pagan books, and a few shelves of other occult and new age stuff too.  Don’t miss the shelves right by the counter, they have local Vancouver area ghost stories and a few occult thrillers by local great Lilith Saintcrow.  Look up and see some original art by local painters. And the best part? Cover to Cover has a bookstore cat, his name is Smedley.

Cover to Cover Cat

Cover to Cover's Cat

Portland, Oregon

S. M. U. T.

(503) 235-7688

7 SE 28th Ave

Portland, OR 97214

No particular reason that I can tell why this thrift/junk shop is called S. M. U. T. (So Many Unique Treasures).  There is some kitschy stuff, some retro clothes, tons of cheap records, and a bunch of paperback books.  I can usually leave with at least two or three old witchy books for 5-10 dollars.  There are so many books and the organization is a little strange, so I can easily end up spending an hour looking through everything for treasures.  One of my favorite finds that combined the kitschy and the witchy was Chant-o-Matics by Raymond Buckland–after getting my laughs out, I traded it in at Cover to Cover to get different books.  Mel got a good laugh at it too.

So Many Unique Treasures

The rummaging to be had at (S)o(M)any(U)nique(T)reasures

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As a child, I had a few favorite Witch books. I look back at these today and I still enjoy them.

Humbug Witch

Humbug Witch

Witch’s Handbook by Macolm Bird. This book is the real deal. Grown up witches can get a lot out of this book, but of course it is intended for children 9-10. The book is out of print and not cheap, but if you run across it at the library or in a used book store, snatch it up!  I read this one a lot as a kid, and I made most of the recipes in it with my little brother.
This book is truly about the traditional craft. It has an herbal, old wives tales, delicious spooky recipes–I love the kneebones! fashion guides, and horoscopes. All the witches in this book are ugly and grumpy, be warned it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of us!

Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian. This book is for the younger set, perhaps preschool age? It is a darling book about a little witch making potions and wearing cute witch clothes and masks.  I still have my copy of this book from when I was a little girl.  Such a great book and there are tons of cheap copies online.

Mrs Piggle Wiggle by Betty McDonald is a series is about a woman who lives in an upside down house and who cures all the children in her neighborhood of their bad habits with magic potions. These are chapter books and a little longer, better for 10-12 year-olds.  I read the whole series out of the library when I was a kid, it should still be in most libraries.  Worth looking at in my memory.

Eyewitness Witches and Magic Makers by Douglas Hill. I picked this one up very recently at the library. This series of kids books had hundreds of pictures and short descriptions about artifacts, history, and culture. My little brother read a lot of Eyewitness books as a kid so I grabbed this one up. This book is also good for adult witches because it covers a lot of different cultures witchcrafts in a really different and survey fashion. It isn’t like the standard books written for pagans, this has different information. Again, this book paints an ugly picture of witches with warty noses and gross claws. To balance things out it has a really nice section on Wiccans. But that aside this is a fun book for 8-12 year olds.

Where to Park Your Broomstick by Lauren Manoy. This is a great intro to a variety of witchcraft traditions for a teen witch. Much much better than the other books for teens out there. This book has a chapter just for parents to read to introduce the subject, its very mature in dealing with the reality of exploring alternative religions as a teenager under your parents roof. She even wisely points out that if witchcraft is not okay with your parents, then just practice it in your head while looking at the leaves fall in autumn and energy work–leave the candles and spells until you are on your own. Also Manoy practiced as a teen and has quotes from teens interspersed in the book.

Please leave some comments about your favorite witchy books for kids (kid books that grown ups might like are even better!)  What did you grow up reading witches?

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