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ADF Dedicant Path: Book Review #3

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2009. Print.

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Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan provides pagans new to the path with a brief introduction to the practices of modern Anglo-Saxon paganism. While the author, Alaric Albertsson, references ancient practices and history for context, his focus is on modern practice. He is careful to note that the information he presents reflects the practices of his own inhīred (a group of practicing Saxon pagans) and is neither universal, nor indicative of exactly what ancient pagans would have done. Topics covered include cosmology, deities, altar set-up, Holy Tides, ritual format, and mead-making. Although broad rather than deep, the material covered is just enough to get the aspiring Saxon pagan onto his or her feet with a living practice.

The most frequent criticism of this book is of its cursory nature. Indeed, no topic is covered in depth. Instead, the text (hopefully) whets the reader’s appetite for more, provided that Saxon paganism is the right path for them. Someone new to paganism, Saxon paganism, or both is not looking for a heavy coverage of lore and history.

The to-the-point manner of this text is most-likely why it is recommended reading for ADF’s Dedicant Path (DP) program. The DP program does not assume that new members come into it knowing what hearth culture is right for them. This book is intended for those who are initially drawn to or curious about Anglo-Saxon paganism and who would like to get started with active practice right away before delving in deeper.

I appreciate this book for what it is, but by they time I got around to reading it, I was already certain of and decently well-read in my hearth culture. I came into the DP considering Norse, Saxon, and Gaelic hearth cultures. I purchased this book right away along with several others and used it for reference occasionally, but found myself fully immersed in the world of the Saxon pagan long before I picked it up for a proper read-through. For this reason, I sometimes disagreed with Albertsson, but my biases in no way negate the merit of this text. My disagreements were not over matters of fact or “correct” methods. For example, I recognize Hrethe as a different deity than Hertha/Eorðe, while Albertsson introduces her as the as Hertha. Scholars do not agree on this matter, so either view is viable.

Although short on scholarly details, I highly recommend this book to any pagan wishing to get their feet wet with Saxon pagan practices. Lore and history is certainly important, but at the heart of any polytheistic religion is a relationship with the gods, ancestors, and nature spirits. This book will get you started with building such a relationship, while providing just enough detail to set it apart as uniquely Anglo-Saxon.

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Book Review #2

Clifton, Chas S. Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2006. Print.

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Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America follows the rise of Wicca and other neopagan religions from their beginnings in the early 20th century to the present day, with especial focus on developments in the 1960s and 70s. While the story of Wicca itself is the driving force of the text, Author Chris Clifton could hardly ignore Wicca’s influence on and by other pagan religions, thus resulting in a well-researched comprehensive text chronicling the growth of many of the biggest Neopagan religions to take root in American soil during the 20th century.

This text takes a much needed comparative-studies approach to American pagan practices. Studies of pre-Christian, European pagan religions are necessarily comparative in nature, so too should be the studies of the neopagan religions inspired by them. There is an unfortunate tendency for followers of non-Wiccan pagan paths to distance themselves from Wicca as much as possible. It is this distance which Clifton successfully bridges by demonstrating how Wicca has touched, however indirectly, all American Pagans, from the “traditional” witches claiming a pre-Wiccan lineage to the reconstructionist Heathens who refuse to associate with the broader pagan umbrella, much less Wicca.

Although Clifton gives more attention to some (non-Wiccan) religions than others, with reconstructionist-based paths receiving the least of it, the over-all scope of the text is impressive for its size. Clifton, in fact, addresses this very issue in his introduction by means of a clever island analogy wherein he concludes that “to tell one story . . . is to tell many stories” (4). And hence, the story of Wicca becomes the story of American Paganism. Or rather, the story of a British mystery tradition which makes its way to American soil and evolves into the nature religion we recognize it as today.

I highly recommend this book to all Indo-European-based Neopagans, Wiccan and non-Wiccan alike. Don’t let preconceived notions or biases put you off. I, myself, came to this text with little enthusiasm. Had it not been recommended reading for my Dedicant Path studies, I may never have picked this book up on my own. I hope that my review can convince others not to pass this one by!

ADF Dedicant Path: Book Review #1

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.

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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!

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