Lately, it seems a lot of people in the Pagan community are publishing suggested book lists. To my eyes, these lists range widely in quality, but the idea is a good one. So here are some books I recommend:
Godless Paganism, edited by John Halstead. This collection of essays, poems and other pieces collects the perspectives of many nontheist Pagans, myself included (I also wrote the foreword). A great overview of approaches to nontheist Paganism.
The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. Of all the books on this list, if you’re only going to read one, make it this one. Abram’s work is a revelation and a joy. I won’t say more; just read it.
A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. An overview of the state of cosmological physics at the time of writing. Dense, but completely worth it.
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. An essential work integrating indigenous knowledge with science. Beautifully written and thought-provoking.
The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene. The (thus-far) untestable principles of superstring theory may be the solution to the thornily irreconcilable Einsteinian physics of objects and the quantum mechanics of the very small. If you’re interested in answers to the question of Life, the Universe and everything*, this is for you.
The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins. As readers here know, I am not a fan of Dawkins. But in this, he sticks to his actual area of knowledge–evolutionary biology–and his book magnificently tells the story of evolution and the rise of biological diversity.
Believing in Dawkins by Eric Steinhart. Atheopagan academic Steinhart addresses the “New Atheism”.
Nature Spirituality from the Ground Up by Lupa. This is an introductory text that is not condescending, and has plenty to offer the more experienced practitioner. It’s beautifully non-dogmatic, with the ongoing refrain of “do what works” and regular re-giftings of permission to play with the ideas on offer. It’s not a how-to book, more a set of tools to work with on your own terms. Lupa suggests wealth of meditation tools, but there are more in-the-world options as well, including powerful ideas around map-making and map use, and suggestions on how to physically interact with your environment.
Nature is Enough: Religious Naturalism and the Meaning of Life by Loyal Rue. Nature is enough: enough to allow us to find meaning in life and to answer our religious sensibilities. This is the position of religious naturalists, who deny the existence of a deity and a supernatural realm. In this book, Loyal Rue answers critics by describing how religious naturalism can provide a satisfying vision of the meaning of human existence.
A Religion of Nature by Donald A. Crosby. In A Religion of Nature, Crosby takes on one of the most significant and influential claims that has been made (and often taken for truth) in philosophy; namely, that facts and values are separate things and values cannot be derived from facts. For some, this might seem like nothing more than a bunch of dry, academic, point-making. But taking on this position is a vitally important first step in arguing that values can indeed be derived from nature.
Complexity: the Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by Mitchell Waldrop. Why do complex forms arise out of simple ones? This may be the most fundamental scientific question there is. Read about the early seekers of discovery in this deep area of scientific inquiry.
The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, by Carl Sagan. Like its author, by turns ebullient and deeply knowledgeable, this is an inspiring and fascinating read.
Chaos, by James Gleick. Why can’t we precisely predict the weather? Why do the features of our world appear as they do? Why do we see the same general patterns repeated over and over, at large scales and small, throughout the Universe? Read this, and find out.
The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson. A fascinating true story of the power of an idea to override reason, and of the scientific method’s ability to break through the spell.
Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. LeGuin (fiction). A magnificent vision of a future society where kind and sustainable values are sustained by ritual practices. Set in the Napa Valley, one mountain ridge to the east of where I live, so it’s a special favorite.
Earth Prayers: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations from Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon. A lovely collection, and a great source for discovering new poets who revere the Earth.
Local Nature Guides. Can you identify the predominant trees in your region? Wildflowers? Medicinal plants? Geological formations? Birds? Animals? Butterflies? To be connected with the natural world, we must know it. It isn’t necessary to have an exhaustive knowledge, but the more familiarity we have with the ecological context within which we live, the more deeply and richly we can celebrate our love for the Earth.
Ethnographies and Anthropological Books. The rich and extraordinarily diverse details and processes of rituals throughout the world can serve as inspiration for our own ritual workings. I’ve particularly enjoyed books on the shamanic practices of Arctic peoples, on the death rites of the Masai, and on the sacred sings of the Dineh people, as well as about the folkways that are survivals of pre-Christianization of Europe. Broader works that seek to draw patterns between many cultures (Joseph Campbell, e.g.) don’t appeal to me as much because they are far more speculative, but some of them are lavishly illustrated with interesting art.
Got some favorites to recommend? Please leave them in the comments!
[UPDATE 2018: Atheopaganism now has a Goodreads page where books are recommended and reviewed. Click here to visit!]
*Spoiler: the answer is 42.