The best books on paganism

Many authors have picked their favorite books about paganism and why they recommend each book.

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Gloriana

By Michael Moorcock,

Book cover of Gloriana: or The Unfulfill'd Queen

Moorcock might be best known for his sword-and-sorcery Elric novels, but he's also a writer of considerable daring and style. Gloriana tells of a Queen of Albion whose empire stretches from the great continent of Virginia to far Hindustan, and then on to Cathay beyond. Half-familiar figures and place names vie with pagan myths and strange ceremonies inside a palace so vast and rambling that every kind of wonder, and the darkest of secrets, have room to hide. The settings and the language are glorious, and the characters, and their schemes and machinations, come vibrantly alive. This is a vivid dream of an alternate queen and an alternate England.

Gloriana

By Michael Moorcock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gloriana as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tiem and again, small numbers of Germans, civilian nad military, noble and ignoble, scheme to topple the Fuhrer, and on several occasions they came within minutes - or inches - of succeeding. Fest explores why they tried, why they found so little support either in Germany or outside it, and why they failed.

Who am I?

I'm an award-winning English writer of what's broadly termed science fiction and fantasy, at least in the sense that most of my work features strange events and fantastic settings. But I'm also deeply drawn to naturalistic fiction and have often found that one of the best and most exciting ways to explore the thrillingly odd without losing touch with the believably real is to take a step sideways in history. Alternate history isn't just about the Nazis winning World War Two, and the Confederate American South defeating the Yankee North. A good, original alternate history can open up the traditional novel into fresh worlds and new vistas.


I wrote...

Wake Up And Dream

By Ian R. MacLeod,

Book cover of Wake Up And Dream

What is my book about?

Amid the glamour of 1940s Hollywood, a failed actor named Clark Gable is ruing the advent of a new movie technology that allows the audience to not only see and hear the actors on the screen but to feel what they are feeling. Clark, now an unlicensed private eye specialising in seedy divorce work, is asked to stand in for a prominent screenwriter suffering from mental health problems with whom he bears a vague resemblance merely so that the contract for his next big feelie, Wake Up and Dream, can be formally signed.

It all seems pretty straightforward, at least until someone tries to kill him and he realises he needs to discover what's really going on inside a corrupt political system if he's going to survive.

The Final Pagan Generation

By Edward J. Watts,

Book cover of The Final Pagan Generation: Rome's Unexpected Path to Christianity

Dr. Watts, a prolific author on Roman history, gives a detailed survey of the lives and careers of some of the last prominent pagan intellectuals who lived from the time of Constantine's conversion to Christianity to Theodosius' outlawing of paganism. He shows the intellectual, social, and religious changes in the fourth century as the Roman world was transformed from a pagan to a Christian society. A fascinating story brilliantly told.

The Final Pagan Generation

By Edward J. Watts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Final Pagan Generation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A compelling history of radical transformation in the fourth-century--when Christianity decimated the practices of traditional pagan religion in the Roman Empire.

The Final Pagan Generation recounts the fascinating story of the lives and fortunes of the last Romans born before the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Edward J. Watts traces their experiences of living through the fourth century's dramatic religious and political changes, when heated confrontations saw the Christian establishment legislate against pagan practices as mobs attacked pagan holy sites and temples. The emperors who issued these laws, the imperial officials charged with implementing them, and the Christian perpetrators of…

Who am I?

Charles M. Odahl earned a doctorate in Ancient and Medieval History and Classical Languages at the University of California, San Diego, with an emphasis on Roman imperial and early Christian studies. He has spent his life and career traveling, living, and researching at sites relevant to his interests, especially in Britain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey Israel, Egypt, and Tunisia. He has taught at universities in Britain, France, Idaho, and Oregon, and published 5 books and 50 articles and reviews on Roman and early Christian topics.


I wrote...

Constantine and the Christian Empire

By Charles Matson Odahl,

Book cover of Constantine and the Christian Empire

What is my book about?

A detailed biographical narrative of the life and career of the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire (A.D. 273-337). Covers the crises of the late Roman world, Constantine's conversion to and public patronage of Christianity, his victorious military campaigns, and his building programs in Rome, Jerusalem, and Constantinople which transformed the pagan state of Roman antiquity into the Christian empire of medieval Byzantium.

A Lesson in Thorns

By Sierra Simone,

Book cover of A Lesson in Thorns

This novel is the start of a mesmerizing series about being in love with two of your very dear childhood friends, or possibly five of your childhood friends, and feeling inexplicably compelled to return to the eerie ancient manor home where the six of you first spent the summer together. Rare books, dreams, pagan rituals, and a whole lot of sex—what’s not to love? This book really captures the dark, wintery, haunted, strangely out-of-time atmosphere of the house, and it’s extremely (t)horny, putting all of Sierra Simone’s incredible skill on display. This is the kind of complex, emotional writing I aspire to.

A Lesson in Thorns

By Sierra Simone,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Lesson in Thorns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twelve years ago my mother disappeared into the fog-shrouded moors of Thornchapel.

I left her memory there, along with the others. Of my childhood friends, playing in the woods. Of the crumbling, magical world we found, and of the promises we made beneath the wild roses. I moved on, building a life as a librarian in America, far away from the remote manor where my mother was last seen alive.

And then the letter arrives.

A single word, in her handwriting, calling me back to England. Followed by a job offer I could never refuse, from a person I never…

Who am I?

I write fantasy romance, or romantic fantasy, and one of my favorite things this little genre niche can do is use its otherworldly setting to re-examine our preconceived notions of romantic relationships. Polyamory exists in the real world, of course, so surely it should also exist in worlds with hauntings, spells, magic-powered giant mecha, and gods who intervene in mortal fates. Here are some books I have loved that make polyamory a fundamental part of their fantasy worldbuilding.


I wrote...

Thornfruit

By Felicia Davin,

Book cover of Thornfruit

What is my book about?

Gifted with the ability to read minds, Alizhan operates as a thief of secrets. When she becomes the target of a deadly plot, she escapes the city, aided by quiet farm girl Ev—and the two draw closer as they uncover a sweeping conspiracy.

The Land of Angels

By Fay Sampson,

Book cover of The Land of Angels

Sensitively written with a solid basis in history, we meet – and in some cases come to love – Queen Bertha, Pope Gregory, Archbishop Augustine, and other key players. The hopes and fears that drive Augustine on his challenging mission to convert England and to bring the old-school Christian Britons in Wales back into the fold of the Roman Church, are vividly portrayed. We also encounter the harsh reality of life in the primitive, war-torn, pagan Land of Angels.

This book taught me a lot about a significant period in the history of Britain and inspired me to reflect on the prevailing incompatible Christian perspectives.

The Land of Angels

By Fay Sampson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Land of Angels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Princess Bertha of Paris is shocked to learn of her impending marriage to the heathen king of Kent. But their barbaric world is dramatically changed by the coming of Augustine from Rome, on a mission to impress his hero, Pope Gregory the Great. As the new arrivals face hostility and murder, the powerful king sees a way of using Augustine to further his ambition. However, Bertha's eldest son is in league with the banished priests and she knows her husband's vengeance will be terrifying should he find out...In this Anglo-Saxon world on the threshold between pagan beliefs and Christianity, the…

Who am I?

A yearning for a happy and meaningful life, as well as struggles with fear, guilt, and unfulfilled wishes, are common to mankind of all ages. My books combine historical and fictional characters to address such timeless spiritual issues from a Christian perspective. During a hiking tour of the Isle of Elba, I discovered the cave where the saintly 6th-century hermit San Cerbone lived in exile. Researching his life inspired me to write a work of historical fiction about that colourful character’s interactions with Silvanus, an unhappy local lad who longs to escape but finds new priorities.


I wrote...

Aquila: Can Silvanus Escape That God?

By Vince Rockston,

Book cover of Aquila: Can Silvanus Escape That God?

What is my book about?

Silvanus is angry. Perplexed. And afraid. Angry that his dad made him undertake such a precarious trek. Perplexed about the future. And afraid of the fearful stone god, Aquila the Avenger, who haunts him wherever he goes. His dream? Escape the little isle of Ilva and discover the wide world.

What supernatural power is it that brings him instead to old Cerbonius’ cave? And how will this exiled bishop’s uncanny wisdom shape the lad’s future? Good fortune, villainy, heart-searching, romance, and inspired counsel lead Silvanus to make life-changing choices.

Book cover of The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have

I received The Book of Awakening in 2015 after my husband, Jamie, died of ALS. It collected dust on my bookshelf for far too long. Once I finally cracked it, I made up for lost time by returning time and again to this beautiful, inspiring collection of deeply personal essays — one for each day of the year. Among other things, Nepo is a poet, a teacher, and a cancer survivor. He brings his considerable literary skill to telling moving, high-impact stories about what really matters in life, along with sprinklings of wisdom from a variety of ancient traditions. God isn’t referenced as the Big White Guy in the Sky who’s pulling the strings, but rather as a beautiful, ineffable presence that connects the divine light in each individual. 

The Book of Awakening

By Mark Nepo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Awakening as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new edition of the #1 NYT’s bestseller by Mark Nepo, who has been called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time” and “a consummate storyteller.”

Philosopher-poet and cancer survivor Mark Nepo opens a new season of freedom and joy—an escape from deadening, asleep-at-the wheel sameness—that is both profound and clarifying.

His spiritual daybook is a summons to reclaim aliveness, liberate the self, take each day one at a time, and savor the beauty offered by life's unfolding. Reading his poetic prose is like being given second sight, exposing the reader to life's multiple dimensions, each one drawn…


Who am I?

Like many people who consciously decided to leave the constrictive religion to which they were randomly born (and raised), I see retrospectively that the decision was an essential act of self-preservation and self-actualization. I abandoned the transactional relationship with a Judging God, including its barter of mindless obedience in exchange for a heavenly eternity after death. In doing so, I discovered my true soul. Through “godless” practices and continual seeking, I have discovered a profound, meaningful spirituality. The books on this list are among so many that have expanded my thinking and helped me become, I hope, a better human along the way. It is my pleasure to recommend them to you.


I wrote...

Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job

By Maren Showkeir, Jamie Showkeir,

Book cover of Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job

What is my book about?

The physical practice of yoga is familiar to most people—a cat-cow stretch, a downward-facing dog, the majestic Warrior Pose. Yet too many people don’t realize that the physical practice is only a fraction of the secret code that unleashes the transformational powers of yoga. If you dig deeper, you’ll discover that yoga’s simple, yet rich philosophy contains profound insights for confronting the complexities of life.

This ancient wisdom, contained in the “Eight Limbs of Yoga,” offers those in the modern world ways to stay centered, compassionate, calm, and content, even in chaotic circumstances. In this book, the authors filter yoga philosophy through the lens of work to illustrate how to stay positive, productive, creative, and energized no matter what you do or where you work.

The Last Rainbow

By Parke Godwin,

Book cover of The Last Rainbow

This is a novel about Saint Patrick and the end of an age of magic in Great Britain. What made St. Patrick so effective, spreading his faith where others failed? Might it be that he was first tutored by the mysterious “people of the hollow hills,” north of Hadrian’s Wall? When Patrick went to Ireland, was his brand of Christianity infused with a pagan spirituality based on the wisdom gleaned from Mother Earth herself? Did he combine two systems of religion into a faith that was universal in scope and effectiveness? Did that spirituality manage to make its way to America, long before the voyages of Columbus? And is that the Christianity we so need to recapture today?   

The Last Rainbow

By Parke Godwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Rainbow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journeying to a pagan world of old magic in order to spread his religious beliefs, Padree, a passionate young priest, encounters the extraordinary Dorelei, the leader of the mystical Faerie folk, who teaches him about the earth and spirituality. Reprint.

Who am I?

I am an author, theologian, musician, historian, and college professor who has written more than twenty books about ancient and alternative history, religion in modern culture, and long-distance, meditative bicycling. My study of the past convinced me that modern life has, for far too many of us, grown one-dimensional. It lacks the magic and mystery that imbued the ancients with the deep and rich mythology which we inherited from them, but then allowed to grow dormant within our sheltered lives. Remembering their vision and experience is a key to restoring our own sense of self-worth and essence. Maybe we all need to meet a “Wizard in the Wood!”


I wrote...

The Wizard in the Wood: A Tale of Magic, Mystery, and Meaning

By Jim Willis,

Book cover of The Wizard in the Wood: A Tale of Magic, Mystery, and Meaning

What is my book about?

I have come to suspect that life is magical. It’s silly to pretend that magic doesn’t exist because we think we are too sophisticated to acknowledge it. Michael knew that. He lived his life with the certainty that magic surrounded him, through his every word and action. As I moved through my adulthood, I forgot how to see magic. I am the poorer for it. But now that I have finally, and fortunately, discovered it again, I feel the need to tell you about how at least one man lived in the glow of magic, and taught a young boy how to do the same.

Let me tell you the strange story of the wizard in the wood. If you’re lucky, it might change your life.

In Her Own Words

By Brian P. Sowers,

Book cover of In Her Own Words: The Life and Poetry of Aelia Eudocia

I metaphorically danced on the rooftop when I discovered this book. Do you know how likely it is that writing from the wild fifth century comes down to us? Much less writing by a woman? It had to survive barbarian incursions, fires, floods, and ravenous insects as well as “curators” of collections who decide which books get kept and which get used as fuel for the hypocaust.

This one features Empress Aelia Eudocia. Born Athenais, she was a pagan poetess who married the Most Christian Emperor Theodosius II and is the titular Rebel Empress in the third of my Theodosian Women series. Sowers not only provides us with Eudocia’s words translated from Greek, but fills in the history and politics of her life. A real find!

In Her Own Words

By Brian P. Sowers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Her Own Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Her Own Words: The Life and Poetry of Aelia Eudocia is the first full-length study to examine Eudocia's writings as a unified whole and to situate them within their wider fifth-century literary, social, and religious contexts. Responsible for over 3,000 lines of extant poetry, Eudocia is one of the best-preserved ancient female poets. Because she wrote in a literary mode frequently suppressed by proto-orthodox (male) leaders, much of her poetry does not survive, and what does survive remains understudied and underappreciated. This book represents a detailed investigation into Eudocia's works: her epigraphic poem in honor of the therapeutic bath…


Who am I?

I’ve loved history since my grandfather told me tales about my ancestors and their exploits. I haunted libraries, reading up on whatever current era I had a passion for: Roman, medieval England, American Civil War, etc. but I was always disappointed that little or no space was given to women’s stories. They had to have existed or all those famous men wouldn’t have been born. It took some digging and a feminist revolution, but finally remarkable women’s lives began to surface in academia and I now turn their stories into popular fiction. I hope these recommendations help readers learn about awesome women who didn’t make it into the history books. Enjoy!


I wrote...

Twilight Empress: A Novel of Imperial Rome

By Faith L. Justice,

Book cover of Twilight Empress: A Novel of Imperial Rome

What is my book about?

Princess Placidia expects to do her duty to God and empire, marry, and raise imperial heirs. But in AD 410, the city of Rome falls to the Goths, and she must save the tottering Roman Empire from the incompetent hands of her brother the emperor. To do so, she must marry. Will it be her captor, the dashing king of the Goths? Or his enemy the Roman general who’s loved her for years?

In her climb to Empress, Placidia must outwit rebellious generals, defeat usurpers, and secure the Roman borders from Vandals and Attila the Hun. But it’s the knife in the hands of those closest that cuts the deepest. Will a confrontation with her scheming children be the battle she can’t survive? 

The Hill of Dreams

By Arthur Machen,

Book cover of The Hill of Dreams

The Hill of Dreams will appeal to anyone who has struggled to gain creative acceptance. Welsh-born Machen who was admired by Lovecraft spins a wondrous if tragic tale of a faun-like country boy, Lucian who moves to London, hoping to write a novel based on a pagan vision but loses his way in the course of setting magic to paper.

Machen effortlessly captures the poetic hopelessness expressed by Chatterton, Ernest Dowson, and Lionel Johnson, literary waifs all. An exquisite elegy for romantic outsiders of all centuries, it evokes the fading lilt of Pan’s Pipes at dusk.  Although most people consider The Picture of Dorian Gray to be the ultimate expression of Decadent literature, The Hill of Dreams with its morbid beauty and taint of autumnal decay is the equal of Oscar Wilde’s esoteric masterpiece. Machen’s yearning for the ineffable so beautifully expressed in his book was the inspiration for my…

The Hill of Dreams

By Arthur Machen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hill of Dreams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

A cult author who has survived by the skin of her wits. Nina has spent her adult years in London though many believe she is from New York, which sounds like a lot of travelling for someone who has spent the majority of her life in the dream land of writing. What does being a cult author entail? It is to be a literary Will o’ the Wisp, possessing a gem like glimmering in a mist of obscurity, loved by the rarified few. After writing many critically acclaimed books on various nefarious rock n’ rollers, her ardor dimmed with the passing years as those she had loved were no more and so she returned to her first love, which is the strange and supernatural.


I wrote...

Book cover of Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood

What is my book about?

Johnny Thunders – In Cold Blood has existed below the mainstream radar but Mr. Thunders has a devoted fan base that has grown since his death in 1991. In life, he was the stripped-down essence of rock n’ roll and an unquantifiable influence on the musicians who grew up in his shadow from Guns n’ Roses to Green Day. It is rewarding to hear from people a great deal younger than myself for whom Johnny Thunders is an emblem of a freer albeit wilder time. He connects with the disenfranchised and disheartened and reminds them of how liberating a good guitar riff can be.

The commissioning editor of Virgin Books told me there was no future in writing about Punk whilst the editor of the NME declared that neither he nor his staff could find anything redeeming in the subject matter. Happily, it has survived its detractors and has remained in print for the best of 30 something years.

Lithuania Ascending

By S. C. Rowell,

Book cover of Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East-Central Europe, 1295-1345

This is a look at the evolving Lithuanian state at a key moment in its efforts to fight off western crusaders, expand to the east against Russians and south against Mongols, and accommodate its society and religious practices to its allies and subject peoples.

This was the era when the modern states of Belarus and Ukraine were forming under Lithuanian rule or protection. The cities of those regions, as well as the princes, were all Orthodox Christians, but they preferred being governed by tolerant pagans who lived among them than being heavily taxed by Muslim nomads who despised them.

In the decades to follow, Lithuanians would be deeply influenced by Polish culture and religious thought, so the conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1387 came as no surprise.

Lithuania Ascending

By S. C. Rowell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lithuania Ascending as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From 1250 to 1795 Lithuania covered a vast area of eastern and central Europe. Until 1387 the country was pagan. How this huge state came to expand, defend itself against western European crusaders and play a conspicuous part in European life are the main subjects of this book. Chapters are devoted to the types of sources used, to the religion of the ancient Balts (and the discovery of a pagan temple in Vilnius in the late 1980s), and to Lithuanian relations and wars with Poland and the Germans. Under Grand Duke Gediminas, Lithuania came to control more of Russia than…

Who am I?

I became enthusiastic about the history of the Baltics when my dissertation advisor persuaded me to use my language training in German and Russian to test the American Frontier Theory in the Baltic region. None of the various theories were applicable, but I earned a Ph.D. anyway. Later I taught in Italy, Yugoslavia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic. I've written a number of books and won a Fulbright Hays grant, the Dr. Arthur Puksow Foundation prize, the Vitols Prize, and others. I retired in 2017 after fifty-one years of university and college teaching, but I would still be teaching if my hearing had not deteriorated to the point that I could not make out what shy students were saying. 


I wrote...

Teutonic Knights: A Military History

By William L. Urban,

Book cover of Teutonic Knights: A Military History

What is my book about?

This has proven far more successful than I expected. It was a History Book Club selection in 2003, then translated into Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, Swedish, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, and Chinese. Its central story is the crusade from Prussia and Livonia against Lithuanian paganism and Russian Orthodox rivals. Stories from contemporary chronicles are enhanced by wide reading of documents, articles, and modern histories.

Book cover of The White People and Other Weird Stories

“I wanted to be alone in my room and glad over it all to myself.” In the framing story, two Victorian gents struggle to decipher the hidden meanings of a teenage girl’s diary they have recently uncovered. Partially written in a secret language, that could equally derive from folklore sayings or teen slang, the contents appear to hint at an inauguration into pagan rituals and witchcraft in the nearby woods. A unique attempt to conjure a dark magic out of the missing memories of childhood, this novella explores both the excitement and peril of keeping your first secrets. “I was afraid something had happened to me…”

The White People and Other Weird Stories

By Arthur Machen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The White People and Other Weird Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Machen's weird tales of the creepy and fantastic finally come to Penguin Classics. With an introduction from S.T. Joshi, editor of American Supernatural Tales, The White People and Other Weird Stories is the perfect introduction to the father of weird fiction. The title story "The White People" is an exercise in the bizarre leaving the reader disoriented and on edge. From the first page, Machen turns even fundamental truths upside-down, as his character Ambrose explains, "there have been those who have sounded the very depths of sin, who all their lives have never done an 'ill deed'" setting the stage…

Who am I?

As long as I can remember I have found the world a terrifying yet magical place. My first memories are of reading ghost stories, the best mirrors for my emotional experiences. As a teenager supernatural tales continued to inspire me and still do. Sometimes a starkly realistic approach can prove too dull or intrusive; far better to process or confront issues by presenting them as fantastical. When I return to these books, or discover similar stories, I listen hard to what they are trying to tell me. I won’t learn overnight for, as the villain in The Doll Maker states: “the life so short, the craft so long to learn.”


I wrote...

AfterWitch

By James Stoorie,

Book cover of AfterWitch

What is my book about?

Felicity ‘Tea’ Greene is a new kind of witch, an AfterWitch, although she may not yet know it.

Living in the isolated village of Blight, Tea feels bored and frustrated, yet every time she attempts to leave something goes wrong. At first the reasons appear accountable, mundane: her mum falls sick with an undiagnosed illness, she fails her driving test and she can’t catch a bus as services have been cut. Yet, after a while, Tea becomes suspicious. Could there be a conspiracy to prevent her from leaving? But why would the locals want to imprison her in the village? After all, she had never exactly been popular. Is Tea the victim of black magic, or are her fears triggered by her mental health issues?

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