Dedicant Path: Week 40 – “Third Book Started: Hearth Culture”

This week I started Edda by Snorri Sturluson.

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Book review – Modern Paganism

Being A Pagan: Druids, Wiccans, and Witches Today

by Ellen Evert Hopman & Lawrence Bond

The modern Neo-Pagan movement is made up of a diverse group of people and religious beliefs, and is arguably one of the fastest growing religious groups in the world today. Being A Pagan: Druids, Wiccans, and Witches Today by Ellen Evert Hopman and Lawrence Bond is a collection of interviews from 50 members of various traditions throughout the Neo-Pagan community, with the goal of exploring the diversity of their beliefs while examining what it means to be Pagan in a modern world. As Neo-Pagan religions have grown, this work demonstrates that the people who have been the engine of this revival are human beings, with their own hopes, fears, successes, and failures.

What initially caught my interest within this book is the myriad of ways that each person came to Paganism and first experienced their spirituality. For some, it was as simple as a connection with nature since they were young, like Michael Marra (Theitic), who is a high priest in the Coven of Minerva (Hopman and Bond 44). For others, the experience was far more intense. Francesca Dubie, who is a priestess of Faery, describes being kidnapped by the fey folk. When she woke the next day and went for a walk, she found that she could hear the spirits speaking to her in all things, which prompted her to seek out Paganism (Hopman and Bond 69). Yet, there are those Pagans who have had a more subtle influence. Dennis Carpenter of Circle Sanctuary explains that he has never had “a 3-D technicolor vision of the Goddess or anything like that. It’s more kind of a diffused sense of oneness with nature” (Hopman and Bond 225).

Not surprisingly, there is also a wide variety of opinion on where each person would like to see Paganism go in the future. Isaac Bonewits, founder of ADF, explains that he’d like to see Neo-Pagan Druids have the ability to bring diverse groups of Pagans together to worship the Gods, much like to Paleo-Pagan Druids did in ancient times (Hopman and Bond 7). Sable Taylor of the Henge of Keltria believes that more organization would be beneficial in order to establish a better sense of community (Hopman and Bond 18). There are others who believe that there needs to be more education within Paganism, like the Norse tradition priestess Solfinna who states that she’d “like to see people who claim to be Norse Pagans actually learn the language” (Hopman and Bond 94). In many parts of the world, there is discrimination against Pagans. Terry Riley, a Celtic Wiccan who opened an occult bookstore in Arkansas, claims to have had his store closed by a landlord who succumbed to pressure from local Christian ministers. He would like to see more Pagans be open about their religion in order to dispel the myths that the general public still has about Paganism (Hopman and Bond 153).

Despite these differences, there is one aspect of Paganism that nearly every interviewee held in common: care and concern for planet Earth. Starhawk, an influential Pagan writer and activist, feels the Pagan movement is “about the sacred being embodied in the earth and in the human community,” and environmentalism is a way to actively preserve the sacredness of the Earth (Hopman and Bond 307). Even Harvey Wasserman, who claims a very loose connection with Paganism, sees the movement’s environmental leanings as useful in creating awareness in that what affects nature affects all of us (Hopman and Bond 349). I was very surprised to find that Magnus (Jeff) McBride, a stage magician, has performances outdoors in order to connect with the “magic in nature.” He is even working on “enviromagic,” which attempts to bring awareness to the audience of  how inseparable nature is to each of us as a human being (Hopman and Bond 303).

Overall, I felt that Being A Pagan is effective in covering the sheer diversity of people in the Neo-Pagan movment, but there were some issues I had with the text. For instance, I felt that the main weakness of the book was a lack of insight in the core issues that were covered in each interview and it would’ve been nice to see what the authors gathered from the interviews as a whole. I also had some minor issues with a few of the interviews. Some of them came off as tense when the topic of sex was addressed, and it made Hopman come off as fairly conservative. Others interviews were bizarre, particularly Victor Anderson’s, and Hopman’s common line of interview questions seemed to get tossed out the window when it came to the founder of the Faery tradition. While Victor Anderson had interesting things to say, it wasn’t quite as revealing as I had hoped. I felt that the selection of people who were interviewed was good, however I was rather surprised that Raymond Buckland, the man credited as bringing traditional Wicca to the states, wasn’t interviewed for the book.

Despite these issues, I still feel that Being A Pagan is a useful book for anyone who is interested in reading about the people who make up the modern Neo-Pagan movement. Even the controversies and concerns, like paid clergy for example, are still relevant 20 years later. I found myself surprised that certain groups even existed and this goes to show how truly cosmopolitan modern Paganism has become. Much like nature itself, diversity is a strength of Paganism. This book not only demonstrates that when it comes to belief, but also the individuals at the core of these groups and traditions. They don’t consider themselves gurus or saviors to be followed, but human beings with their own strengths and flaws who are dedicated to creating a modern religion with spiritual roots in ancient practice.

Works cited:

Hopman, Ellen Evert and Lawrence Bond.  Being A Pagan: Druids, Wiccans, and Witches Today.  Rochester: Destiny, 1996.  Print.

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