The Best Nonfiction Books About Witches - 2024

February 27, 2024

Why are we so afraid of witches? What does it mean to be a witch? How does one get started with witchcraft? This list is geared towards answering these questions. If you’re ready to look deeper into witchcraft--it's history, society's relationship with it, practical tips--take a look at these fascinating nonfiction musings from a few brilliant minds:

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power by Pam Grossman

What does it mean when we say, "witch?" The label has implications in pop culture, politics, art, sexuality, and pretty much any place that women intersect with the public sphere. Engaging, thought-provoking, and wonderfully approachable, this memoir slash cultural commentary is a great place for the magically curious (or feminists, really) to reflect on the big picture of all things Witch-related.

Ashes and Stone by Allyson Shaw

A personal memoir steeped in historical research, Allyson Shaw's enchanting prose takes us on a journey across Scotland's witch hunt-riddled past. Shaw's voice is lush and intimate, but smoldering with ire. An absorbing look into the past, this memoir is a rallying cry to reclaim the word "witch" and remember those who were persecuted. It's equal parts absorbing and educational.

The Witching Year by Diana Helmuth

Part memoir and part Witchcraft 101, The Witching Year will make you laugh, cringe (in a good way), and wonder. What's great about Helmuth's book is that it demystifies witchcraft, making it approachable to readers who may be curious but reluctant or skeptical to investigate witchcraft. Diana Helmuth's dry wit and self-deprecation makes her journey easy to follow and the moments of reverence land deeper.

The Witch by Ronald Hutton

Our most academic recommendation, The Witch is a canonical look at witches throughout history, teaching us that, "A belief in witchcraft, and all the horrors that can come in its wake, is demonstrably not a phenomenon that can be tucked up safely in a storybook past. Rather, on the evidence of Hutton’s analysis, it is a set of free-floating anxieties that can be conjured at those moments when the world seems out of joint and there is not quite enough of anything to go round" (The Guardian). Though Hutton may have a Euro-centric viewpoint, his research looks at the global anthropological history of witch hunts--when, where, and why they happen. And the overlaps are eery.

Missing Witches by Rish Dickens and Amy Torok

For a break from the grim history of witchcraft, dive into Missing Witches, which will satisfy the worldly, contemporary reader with stories about famous (female) witches of the past. A blend of stories and practices, this book offers a sense of rootedness and ancestry to those practicing magic today.

Becoming Dangerous by Katie West and Jasmine Elliott

A witchy, empowering collection of essays by authors on the margins of society: "twenty witchy femmes, queer conjurers, and magical rebels" (Goodreads). This is nonfiction magical realism, witchcraft and manifestation alongside pop culture and modern-day life. An intelligent meditation on fear and power, this book will appeal to those who forge their own paths, wanderers who are tired of being seen as lost, and who would happily take up the title of "witch."

The Ruin of All Witches by Malcolm Gaskill

Equal parts frightening and fascinating, this brutal account of early America sets the stage for the New England witch hunt craze. What's remarkable is that it manages to generate sympathy for all parties involved: the accused witches, the accusers, and those caught in-between. Because they're all flailing in the same harsh, terrifying soup of early Colonialism, trying their best to survive. Gaskill's book is remarkable context with modern-day resonance.

But how do I become a witch?

For practical books about witchcraft, i.e. tips, guidance on rituals, spell casting, and leading a witchier lifestyle, check out these reads:

About the Author: Sasha Bailyn lives in New York state surrounded by trees and her son’s pillows forts. She writes memoir and magical realism. For regular content on the life of a bibliophile / writer / mother / magician, follow her on Substack.

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