13 Books That'll Change The Way You Think About Witchcraft

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As autumn pushes the last bits of summer into the past and Halloween grows closer, our contemporary obsession with "witches" is renewed. People love to talk about witches, write about them, build long running television shows around them. And it's pretty obvious why. These are (mostly) women empowered by their magic abilities, who can skirt around society's rules, who can have more fun than anyone else. But the term "witch," despite its current position as a pop culture phenomenon, has a deep, power, often painful history in the United States. Check out these books that'll completely change the way you think about witchcraft.

We all know the story of the Salem Witch Trials: 15 women (and five men), beginning with Tituba, a local slave, were accused of witchcraft, convicted and executed in the late 1600s. They were often outspoken individuals, or those who lived on the fringes of society. They didn't follow the rules. And they died for it. And this tradition, of demonizing women who are fearlessly individualistic, has continued through to present day. "Witch" may be replaced by other words — "slut," in particular, comes to mind — but the sentiment remains the same. These women are "scary" and they're attacked for the fear they inspire in others.

But out of this persecution has grown a reclaiming of the word "witch," joyful and fierce. It's a movement that embraces idiosyncrasy, that loves breaking the rules. And that's why we've continued to be enthralled by witches... and continued to fight for the right to look in the mirror and call ourselves witches, too.

'Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers' by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English

First published in 1971, Witches, Midwives and Nurses illuminates the long-standing tradition of demonizing female healers with the word "witch," and the ways in which women's health continues to be monopolized by a patriarchal system.

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'Witches of America' by Alex Mar

Fascinated by the nearly one million practicing pagans in today's United States, Alex Mar set out to film a documentary on the phenomenon — and ended up writing a book about their journey through the world of contemporary mysticism.

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'Undead Girl Gang' by Lily Anderson

Teenage Wiccan Mila Flores finds comfort from the vicious high school social scene in two places: magic, and her best friend, Riley. But when Riley is found dead, assumed, by the rest of the town, to have participated in a suicide pact with two other girls, Mila is devastated. And then, determined — to bring Riley back from the dead. And to find her killer.

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'Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype' by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

In unpacking the myths and legends of the "wild woman" trope, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés explores the truths hidden within the fairy tales, and the innate power each of us holds deep in our souls.

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'The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More' by Arin Murphy-Hiscock

Ever curious about the mindset and practice of a modern-day witch? Arin Murphy-Hiscocks The Green Witch is the perfect starter for those interested in magic based in the natural world, or those just watching from the sidelines.

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'We Were Witches' by Ariel Gore

As a single, teenage mother hopes to better herself through higher education in the '90s, she becomes the embodiment of a contemporary witch, which is to say, she holds within herself a power that frightens and challenges the culture surrounding her.

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'Mules and Men' by Zora Neale Hurston

A treasury of African-American folklore, Mules and Men marries Zora Neal Hurston's abilities as an anthropologist and storyteller. Gathered in Hurston's hometown of Eatonville, Florida, this collection brings to life the magic, superstition, witchcraft and songs that form the Black Southern oral history.

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'Akata Witch' by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny is 12. Born in America, she and her family have returned to Nigeria. She has albinism. Sunny is an outsider in every way - until she discovers she's in possession of latent magical powers, and finds belonging alongside three other students with the ability to shift reality.

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'Myal' by Erna Brodber

At the beginning of the 20th century, Ella has returned home to Jamaica, after fleeing an unsuccessful marriage in America. Ella, who can pass for white, watched as her white husband put on a professional minstrel show based on her own childhood; in the aftermath, she has been "zombified," her ties with her Afro-Jamaican soul severed. So her family turns to "myal," a religion which asserts that good can conquer all else.

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'Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers' by Taisia Kitaiskaia

Taisia Kitaiskaia hits at the heart of the word "witch" — fearless individualism — by drawing connections between women writers, both well-known and obscure, and the history of Western witchcraft.

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'Basic Witches' by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman

Ready try your hand at some basic spells? Basic Witches will guide you through spells and incantations built for the modern world and modern problems, while contextualizing them within the history of "hell-raising" witches.

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'Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive' by Kristin J. Sollee

In many ways, today's "slut" and history's "witch" are interchangeable; women persecuted for countering misogyny with empowerment, shame with celebration. Witches, Sluts, Feminists explores the intersection of the three identities.

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'Witch' by Lisa Lister

Written by a third generation "hereditary witch," Witch details the history of the word in the United States, from healers centuries ago who were burned at the stake, to the current pop culture obsession. Intertwined with her own family history, Lisa Lister's Witch is a meditation on magic, both literal and figurative.

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