Witches and witchcraft are among the most fascinating topics to explore, whether historically or in a more spiritual sense. The way society and the church treated witches – i.e., ordinary women with a bit of knowledge in arithmetic or mushrooms and herbs – a few short centuries ago is as infamous as it was horrific.
At the same time, however, modern witchcraft and paganism are incredibly interesting, especially as seen in our era of information and rapid technological advances. Whichever angle you wish to look from, witches are a great topic to read about. So, here are our 21 suggestions for books about witches and witchcraft you might want to check out.
7 Books About The Historic Persecution Of Witches
Even if you’re not the biggest history buff out there, reading about the way people treated suspected witches in the past is more than just distressing or interesting – it’s illuminating about the very nature of humanity, our fear of things we don’t understand, and the sinister way in which organized religion and authority figures can drive the masses to do the vilest things imaginable.
1. The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and Other Essays by HR Trevor-Roper
If you don’t have a good idea of the scale of the witch burnings in Europe, the first book to pick up would be The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and Other Essays. Pop culture may have left us with the wrong impressions that these were rarely done things of a single person here or there but Trevor-Roper sets the record straight by listing one horrifying statistic after another.
Don’t be fooled by the small volume of this book – HR Trevor-Roper has expertly managed to cram fully comprehensive descriptions and lots of statistics about the Renaissance, Reformation, and Counter-Reformation periods in just about a hundred pages of the whole book.
A lot of the rest of it is more essays and other historical pieces by the author that were added to the main text later on. Together, all of that gives us a very extensive view of what really these periods meant for the innocent women that were dubbed as witches and heretics by the church, various religious scholars, as well as by civilian lawgivers, and ordinary people.
2. Masks of the Universe by Edward Harrison
In Masks of the Universe Edward Harrison will show you a point of view of the Renaissance that you’d rarely get from anywhere else – as an age not of progress and art but of inhumane barbarism toward the countless thousands of people in society saw as “heretics” or “witches.”
The Masks of the Universe speaks of the different masks or faces of the various eras of human civilization. There, Harrison portrays the Renaissance, in particular, in a rather unique way you’ll scarcely hear from anyone else.
Instead of showing the 15th and 16th centuries as the apex of civilization, Harrison describes them as a time of lunacy, nestled between two otherwise “sane” ages – the Christian medieval age and the progressively more secular Enlightenment period. Instead of either of them, the Renaissance is a period of transition and of extremes – of fantastic and super-human art and achievements and of horrific and sub-human close-mindedness and dogmatism.
3. Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas
If you’re looking for a heftier tome to dig into, Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic explores not just the history of the church’s persecution of perceived witches but also the general decline of many of the old world’s beliefs and traditions because of that persecution.
Nothing happens in a vacuum and the continuous and zealous demonizing and mass murder of thousands of people for “heresy” and “witchcraft” is no exception. It’s easy to just handwave something like those centuries later and say “Oh, that’s just what those times were like!” but the persecution of witches across Europe actually had huge implications for a lot of the millennia-old traditions and practices of the people of Europe.
This is exactly what Keith Thomas’ sizable work examines – how astrology, fortune-telling, magical healing as well as medicinal herbs, omens, love charms, beliefs in ghosts, elves, fairies, prophecies, and countless other such traditions were grouped together as witchcraft and their practitioners were hunted down and either murdered or scared into obedience for centuries. So, if you’re looking for the most comprehensive look at the relationship between witches and the decline of Europe’s many ancient traditions, this is the book to pick up.
4. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Not a book per se but a play, The Crucible can either be seen in theaters or can be read in print. Either way – as long as the particular play you’re attending is made well – The Crucible is a phenomenal experience that has opened the eyes of many people to the horrors of the Salem witch trials.
There are many ways to approach Miller’s The Crucible – some can lead to a lot of praise, others – to a bit of criticism. For example, if you’re looking at it from a purely historical point of view, it can be said that there are some historical inaccuracies placed in there intentionally in favor of the plot.
In light of the rampaging McCarthyism at the time of writing, The Crucible can also feel a bit “on the nose” depending on your predisposition. It’s also worth pointing out that, if you go to watch the play rather than read it, some of its reenactments can seem overly melodramatic when done poorly.
Even with all that out of the way, however, there is no denying that this play – both in written form and when performed well – is one of the best and most emotional presentations of the evils of religiosity, bigotry, and inhumane hatred people can have toward everyone different from “the norm”.
5. Thinking with Demons by Stuart Clark
Clark’s Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe is as voluminous as it is enlightening. In this sizable tome, you will find a very insightful breakdown of just how and why demonizing and othering “witches” didn’t just stop with the coming of the Enlightenment.
Thinking with Demons may be large but that’s only because it has a lot of myths to dispel and misconceptions to clear out. Mainly, the book deals with the widely shared notion that witch hunts were only done during the Dark Ages, only by religious zealots, and that the practice stopped once the Enlightenment period came about.
Instead, as Clark makes clear, the ascent of science didn’t just instantaneously deal with people’s inherent hatred for those they saw as witches and heretics. On the contrary – people’s shift in focus toward the arts, education, and mechanical philosophy only made them look down upon those demonized even more. This insight, together with much more, a deep philosophical analysis, and lots of gruesome statistics are expertly listed in Clark’s work.
6. Witches and Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of Witchcraft by Robin Briggs
Robing Briggs’ Witches and Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of Witchcraft views the West’s attitude toward witchcraft through the ages not so much through the lens of religiosity but through cultural and social trends. As such, these 500 or so pages offer a very unique look at witch hunts and why and how we put a stop to them.
The position Robin Briggs takes in Witches and Neighbours is seen as somewhat contentious by some as he tries to deemphasize the effects of the Enlightenment on the persecution of witches and instead focuses on purely social and cultural factors.
Even the authors and historians who disagree with Briggs’ position, however, tend to agree that Witches and Neighbours is one of the key books to read when examining the question of witchcraft and its persecution as the book offers a very comprehensive look at that time period and the events that took place throughout it, and the shift in perspective is incredibly valuable even if you don’t agree with Briggs’ conclusions.
7. A Delusion of Satan by Frances Hill
The not-so-inconspicuously named A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story Of The Salem Witch Trials by Frances Hill offers another illuminating look into the history of the Salem witch trials and what they meant for the soul of America.
A near-perfect merger between history, drama, and horror, Frances Hill’s A Delusion of Satan is one of the best retellings we have of that horrifying event in Salem some 5 centuries ago.
Reading through Hill’s work, you’d be forgiven to assume that it’s a work of fiction – it certainly reads as one. But that’s only because of the inherent lack of plausibility of the events that unfolded back then. Hill’s accounting of it all is actually incredibly research-based and historically accurate. It’s just that said research, when combined with the skills of a great writer, can lead to a truly hard-to-swallow yet impossible-to-put-down read.
7 Books About Witchcraft
Onto a more light-hearted side of the topic of witches, let’s look at some more modern views on witchcraft and paganism, how they relate to the spirituality of modern people, and what positives we can draw from this topic in our everyday lives:
1. The Witch’s Book of Self-Care by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
The perfect starting book for any aspiring witch, The Witch’s Book of Self-Care: Magical Ways to Pamper, Soothe, and Care for Your Body and Spirit offers lots of tips for self-care, meditation, channeling activities, mantras, and more.
The joyous fact that witches today don’t need to worry about persecution and witch hunts – or, at least not as much – doesn’t mean that they don’t still need to know how to best care for themselves and their craft.
Arin Murphy-Hiscock’s book is one of the most ideal handbooks for this very thing as it contains everything from recipes for body butter and essential oils, through tips for powering up crystals and recharging your energies with the right mantras and meditation, to mastering special rituals for releasing guilt and purifying the spirit.
2. The Green Witch by Arin Murphy-Hiscock
The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More is probably the best book for those witches looking to learn more about the floral side of witchcraft such as herbs and essential oils.
An even more famous and critically acclaimed book of Murphy-Hiscock is The Green Witch. In this expertly written tome, the author goes over the ways of the green witch, i.e. the herbalist and naturalist who knows and understands nature.
The book includes lots of essential information about the most common herbs and flowers a green witch needs and how to use them, recipes for potions, ways to utilize crystals and gemstones in witchcraft, and more information on sacred food recipes, herbal blends, and general advice for living in balance with nature as well as possible.
3. Witchery: Embrace the Witch Within by Juliet Diaz
Diaz’s Witchery: Embrace the Witch Within is focused on the road to self-discovery every would-be witch has to go through if she is to eventually realize her full potential.
In this book, Juliet Diaz focuses on both practical and spiritual tips for young witches that are still learning to on realizing and embracing the magic within them. The book includes various psychological and spiritual tricks for connecting with your inner witch, as well as a lot of more outwardly tips on rituals, spell and potion recipes, altar creation know-how, and so on.
Diaz also goes over the best practices when it comes to working with other books such as the Book of Shadows, how to connect with one’s witch ancestors, and more. In essence, Diaz’s Witchery is one of the best introductory guides for young witches who’re just getting started.
4. A Modern Guide to Witchcraft by Skye Alexander
If your focus is on mastering spells, A Modern Guide to Witchcraft: Your Complete Guide to Witches, Covens, and Spells is one of the best starting points we can recommend.
As a spellcraft expert, Skye Alexander offers lots of invaluable advice for any young witch, as well as some great tips that can catch the eye of even a more seasoned witch. Still, the book is mostly meant for beginners, so, don’t go into it with false expectations of you’re already experienced in witchcraft.
While Alexander’s A Modern Guide to Witchcraft focuses predominantly on spellcraft and spells’ incantations, however, it also includes potion recipes, charms instructions, sacred space preparations, spiritual advice for tapping into your own inner force, and an introduction to covens.
5. Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner isn’t really a book exclusively about witches and witchcraft – it’s about spirituality, non-conventual religion, about our relationship with Mother Earth, and about magick in general.
With Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Cunningham offers both an introductory and a very comprehensive introduction to Wicca. This makes Cunningham’s book ideal for lots of people – for newcomers to Wicca who are just looking for help with their first steps into Wicca; for people who’ve already made those first steps and need guidance along the way; and for those that are ready to walk into Cunningham’s version of the Book of the Dead, his tips about occult supplies, and his appendices of periodicals.
Ultimately, Wicca: A guide for the Solitary Practitioner is probably the ultimate starter set for everyone who’s ready to get to know the modern and gentle side of this otherwise ancient religion, and to get into contact with Mother Earth in a proper way.
6. Wicca Book of Spells by Lisa Chamberlain
Lisa Chamberlain has constructed her Wicca Book of Spells: A Book of Shadows for Wiccans, Witches, and Other Practitioners of Magic with two obvious intents in mind – to be as useful as possible to witches of as many experience levels as possible.
Chamberlain’s book is one of those rare gemstones that feel perfectly balanced between giving newcomers all the tools they need and giving relatively experienced Wiccan practitioners some new insight to incorporate into their daily routines.
Does this mean that the Wicca Book of Spells is fully comprehensive? Not really – it does contain 50 spells out of thousands of possibilities. However, those fifty are some of the best witchcraft spells and enchantments about love, relationships, family, health, wealth, and prosperity out there.
7. A Witches Bible: The Complete Witches’ Handbook by Steward Farrar
A lot of books claim to be a “complete handbook” but few come as close as Steward Farrar’s A Witches Bible: The Complete Witches’ Handbook.
Really two books into one volume, Farrar’s A Witches Bible is comprised of Eight Sabbats For Witches and The Witches’ Way. Both books are often cited as must-reads by veterans in the field which makes their merger into a single tome all the more valuable.
In this combined duology you will find all the main and most comprehensive guides for witches’ principles and rules, the best practices for witching rituals, and a thorough explanation of modern witchcraft and what it means to be a witch at the end of the 20th and the turning of the 21st century.
7 Novels About Witches
If rather than learning about history or spirituality you just want to get your “witchcraft fix” and have some fun with this topic, there are lots of great novels about witches. Some take place in contemporary settings, others – in history, and many are just straight fantasy set in lands far beyond our world. If you’re looking for specific suggestions, here are some of the best novels about witches to start from:
1. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
A proud bearer of the Newberry Award, The Witch of Blackbird Pond tells the story of a 16-year-old girl that’s been forced to move from her home in Barbados to the conservative state of Massachusetts where she immediately gets met with accusations of witchcraft.
Moving in and of itself is always difficult, especially when the two places of transition are so entirely different. Speare’s novel explores much more than that, however, and delves into the group-think of rural conservative communities and into their inherent distrust toward everything new as well as everything different.
The book follows the first steps of the orphaned Kit Tyler into North America, her friendship with an old Quaker woman and alleged “witch”, as well as with the young sailor Nat. This combination between a newcomer and a couple of already mistrusted local outcasts, however, is enough for the Massachusetts puritans to rise up against Kit and take matters into their own hands.
2. The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams
An international YA best-seller that sparked a Netflixed adaptation, The Babysitters Coven is an incredibly dynamic yet poignant examination of the undervalued responsibilities of young adults through the prism of budding witchcraft.
Funny and action-packed, Kate Williams’ YA novel is perfect for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer who want something new and fresh without the stink of Joss Weadon all over it.
The book follows the story of two teenage babysitters, Esme and Cassandra, who are just now discovering two world-shattering things – that they have witchcraft powers and that they need to learn how to use them as soon as possible if they are to manage to protect the kids in their care.
3. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Hargrave’s The Mercies is one of those harrowing novels that are shaped around a true story and cut so deep and so true that you wish they weren’t.
In The Mercies, Millwood Hargrave tells the story of a woman from a small Norwegian island village. Or, rather – the story of two women, in particular.
After the village’s men get killed in a storm, the women have to fend for themselves. With the help and leadership of Ursa and Maren, the village not only survives but starts to get back on its feet. All that comes into conflict with the zealous eye of Absalom Cornet, however – a witch hunter from Scotland.
The novel goes on to tell the harrowing story of the 1620 witch trials in the village of Vardø – one of the most notorious tales of witch persecution in recorded history.
4. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
As the first book of the All Souls series, A Discovery of Witches leads us into a world of magic, vampire genetics, and parallel universes that is so gripping that it got its own TV adaptation on Amazon Prime.
A Discovery of Witches follows the steps of Diana Bishop who, together with a centuries-old vampire geneticist stumbles upon a magnificent discovery – other universes!
Using a bewitched alchemical manuscript buried deep in the Oxford Library, Diana embarks on a journey that will lead her to discover both otherworldly witches and the witch within.
5. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Akata Witch is the first book of the critically acclaimed Nsibidi Script 4-book series and a well-deserved best-seller by Nnedi Okorafor.
A touching story about a 12-year-old child that was born in Nigeria, raised in the US, and later returned to her home country, Akata Witch follows the step of the albino witch Sunny under the sun – literally and figuratively.
A young-adult kidnapping and murder mystery, a witchcraft novel, and a superhero story all in one, Akata Witch is a gripping adventure the likes of which Western audiences rarely get to read.
6. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
As one of the most notorious novels about witchcraft, Practical Magic hardly needs an introduction. A glorious book about sisterhood, family bonds, and magic, Alice Hoffman’s bestseller is a must-read for any aspiring witch or fan of the genre.
The orphaned sisters Gillian and Sally Owens are raised by their aunts in a small Massachusetts town as they delve deeper into the magick within them. Resisting that strangeness both within them and within their aunts, the two sisters try to blend into “normal” society only to discover that “normal” doesn’t equal “good”.
A funny, romantic, and literally haunting classic, Practical Magic is an endlessly entertaining must-read for anyone, regardless of their affinity to witchcraft or interest in the witch novel genre.
7. Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch by Rivka Galchen
A very historically-accurate novel about early 17th century Germany, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch by Rivka Galchen is a stunning reimagining of what life was like for alleged “witches” in Europe at the time.
Galchen’s inspired novel is based on a lot of research on historical documents and survivors’ letters. It follows the life of Katharina Kepler in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War, a plague, and rising fears of “witchery” and “dark magicks” rising in the community.
All because of her knowledge of medicinal herbs and the academic successes of her children, Katharina gets accused of witchcraft and faces the risks of not just public shunning and financial ruin but outright torture and execution as did many others in her time. From there, the book follows Katharina’s and her son’s desperate efforts to appeal to their neighbors and save the innocent woman.
Some Notable Suggestions
Hopefully, all these suggestions will be enough to satiate your craving for books about witches for now. If not, the good news is that there are literally countless others out there for you to check out.
If you’ve already read most of these and you want more titles to explore, you can check out some other historic texts such as The Bewitched by Peter Barnes, Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Krämer and James Sprenger, or Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700: A Documentary History by Alan C. Kors and Edward Peters.
If you want more works that lean on the spiritual side of things we’d also recommend Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler, Moon Spells: How to Use the Phases of the Moon to Get What You Want by Diane Ahlquist, A Witches Bible: The Complete Witches’ Handbook by Stewart Farrar, or Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland.
There are even more choices if you just want more witches-related fiction as the last couple of decades, in particular, have produced thousands of awesome works of fiction about witches. Here are a few examples: Witches of America by Alex Mar, The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen, The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin, and The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston.
Of course, the topic of witches and witchcraft, whether we look at it historically, spiritually, or in fiction, includes much more than just 21 interesting books. But these 21 encapsulate much of the discussions and controversies surrounding the topic and give an in-depth look into it.