Assignment submitted October 23, 2011. This assignment did not pass; there is no synthesis or personal application. It was eventually accepted after a considerable verbal (online) examination.
if you want to be a witch, Edain McCoy
The Practical Pagan: Commonsense Guidelines for Modern Practitioners, Dana D. Eilers
Witchcraft for Tomorrow, Doreen Valiente
Taken together, these three books seem to be an excellent introduction to modern NeoPaganism. McCoy is aimed at the solitary practitioner and may be meant to serve as a year-and-a-day course of study; Eilers is more about how to balance non-mainstream religious beliefs and living in mainstream society; and Valiente is actually two books in one: a somewhat scholarly overview of the history of British Traditional Witchcraft, and a sample Book of Shadows. I understand from my discussions with you that some of Valiente's claims have been contradicted or disproved by other researchers.
The books appear to be aimed at different audiences. Eilers strikes me as being meant for a somewhat younger reader (frequent references to "if you still live with your parents") who has little or no background information – or primarily misinformation! – about Paganism, and provides leads for finding study material and teachers, rather than teaching specific Pagan practice. McCoy also seems to assume limited knowledge, but appears to be directed toward established adults, and provides specific information about meditating, conducting rituals, and working with magickal energy. I'm not sure I can pin down Valiente's intended audience; on the one hand, the Book of Shadows and practical discussions appear to be meant for potential practitioners; on the other hand, the historical material seems to be intended for a general audience that wants to learn about historical Paganism and possible cultural links, but may not intend to practice the religion.
Both McCoy and Eilers take a fairly eclectic approach to their practice; Valiente, as noted, is strictly British Traditional Wicca. McCoy and Eilers also appear to be – not casual, exactly, but perhaps free-form – in their approaches, while Valiente is very exacting. Given that my personal background is rather more eclectic than not, I'd be more inclined to use McCoy and Eilers for reference if I had to choose. However, I found Valiente's ritual poetry more impressive and less precious than McCoy's.
I'd rank McCoy first in terms of reference-books-to-keep, because of the detailed appendices and other breakdowns of information in the body of the text. I'd be more inclined to give Eilers to a curious newcomer, and hand Valiente over to a historian, a sociologist, or an anthropologist.