There's a great pagan song by Catherine Madsen called "The Heretic Heart," part of which goes:
"Though law, scripture, priest, and prayer
Have all instructed me,
My skin, my bones, my heretic heart are my authority."
Many people come to Wicca looking for the kind of self-knowledge, empowerment, and freedom within their spirituality that "The Heretic Heart" speaks of. But once they're inspired to explore Wicca, where do they begin?
Often they start with books, as I did. But when I began studying Wicca—you know, back in the dark ages—there weren't nearly as many books available as there are now. I was grateful to find anything at all. New Wiccans are faced with the opposite problem. Now there is so much material available in books and on the Internet that it can be daunting to navigate the sea of information.
So when a Llewellyn acquisitions editor approached me about writing a beginner's Wicca book, my first response was, "What the heck does the world need another Wicca 101 book for?" I managed to muster enough tact to stop myself from asking her that out loud, but the question loomed large in the back of my mind as I thought about her request. I have hundreds of Wicca or Wicca-related books on my shelves, many of which could be considered "beginner." What could I contribute to the body of Wicca books that hadn't already been done, and done well?
In spite of my skepticism, I have to admit that the idea of writing a Wicca book was subversively tempting. My husband and I run a training coven, and I thought about what kind of book I'd like my students to have. I also thought about those people who were studying alone or who wanted to find a teacher but couldn't. What did I need most when I was a beginner, and do these beginners need the same thing?
A few nights later, I was sitting in a coffee house with my husband, interviewing a potential student. Like many people we'd spoken with, the woman we met with had read a book or two and tried a spell, but was unsure what to do next. After the interview, we decided that she probably wouldn't be happy in our group. I always feel bad when this happens because I know that it can be very hard to find Wiccan teachers—especially ones with whom you click. I also don't want people to walk away disillusioned about Wicca—or worse, themselves—when it was really a matter of chemistry or a feeling that we couldn't meet their specific needs.
But suddenly, writing a Wicca book made more sense. What if I had a book that included everything that I'd want someone to learn in my class in the first six to twelve months? A book that I could suggest to people we turned away that they could work with until they figured out what they wanted to try next? A book that I could also give to the students we did accept to introduce the basics in the same systematic way in which we would teach them?
Wicca for Beginners became that book. It consists of twelve chapters that build upon each other to create a foundation for beginners where they can jump into deeper practice, whether alone or with a group. The idea was not to just rehash all of the information in the perfectly good Wicca books already available, but rather to provide seekers with a structure that they could use to take control of their own study. For example, the book covers the basic skills of visualization, meditation, and pathworking before launching into Wiccan rituals and practice. It features a thorough chapter about "Where do I go from here"—what to do when you're ready to take your next steps on the Wiccan path. And it doesn't include a lot of pre-written spells and rituals, but it provides clear, easy-to-follow steps to writing a great spell or ritual of your own. After all, one of the best things about Wicca is that it feeds the "heretic heart," the piece of each of us that longs to reach out to deity, the universe or spirit in our own unique way, on our own terms.
In addition to serving as a springboard to greater things, I'm hoping that Wicca for Beginners will help to dispel a myth that seems to be common amongst people new to the path: that you have to be "special" or extraordinarily psychic to be Wiccan or do magic. This isn't true. Wicca can work for nearly anyone for whom it resonates. Everyone, psychic or not, is infused with the same divine energy or spirit. But Catherine Madsen is right: To embrace the Wiccan path, it helps to follow your heretic heart.