I’ve been putting off the book-review portion of the DP for some time now. I was/am not sure if I still plan to submit my essays for official approval, so it hasn’t been a priority. But I haven’t been writing anything else on my blog recently, so I figured I may as well write a book review.
Jones, Prudence, and Nigel Pennick. A History of Pagan Europe. London: Routledge,an Imprint of Taylor & Francis, 2011. Print.
A History of Pagan Europe gives a broad but detailed overview of the culture, politics, and religious practices of pagans in Europe before Christian conversion. The book is organized more or less by geographical region. The focus varies from region to region, with some chapters focusing more on religious practices and others on politics, but the overall effect is a picture of how these and culture as a whole are interrelated. The authors’ primary aim, besides documenting history, is to examine how some pagan practices have survived the centuries relatively unchanged despite political opposition and forced religious conversion.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this book is its holistic approach to history. Anthropology, sociology, religious studies, and the cold hard facts of history come together to provide a vibrant glimpse into times long gone. This book is of value to both academics and neopagans alike. Although neopagans do not live in the same time as pre-Christian pagans, it is important that they have an understanding of the context from which the practices they immerse themselves in today come. It is easier to adapt old customs to modern life if we understand their original purpose. And since the purpose of religious customs cannot be separated from culture and politics, knowledge of these is also essential.
Having a long and arduous academic history (in comparative literature among other subjects), this book was not especially eye-opening to me, but I did gain some insight none the less. A lot of it was review, but review of things that I had forgotten. I had a basic understanding of the interconnectedness of all Indo-European religions, but it was fascinating to read the particulars, like a puzzle coming together. For example, I know the number nine is significant in Germanic paganism and is a multiple of three, which is significant to the Celts, but I learned from this book about a Romanian ceremony that lasted nine days and involved nine boundary points (190). It was the random, seemingly trivial facts like these that were of the most interest to me in this text.
I recommend this book to all neo-pagans interested in an European-based pagan spirituality. It isn’t a quick read, but it is worth the effort. A lot of information is contained in the 200+ pages. I ended up reading though the book twice. The first time was a speed-read in order to form an outline in my head to fill in during the second read-through. It may also be helpful to keep a notebook on hand to write down important dates, events, and names, since the book jumps around a lot in time and some names recur often enough that it is helpful to have a reference point. For those lucky few with a superb short term memory, notes may still come in handy for future research endeavors. Regardless of how one choses to tackle this book, s/he will not regret it!