Books for attuning to the rhythms and magical energies of the moon

If you have always wanted to be more in touch with nature or attuned to natural cycles, the new moon is the time to take a step toward it. For me the first step on a new path is often reading books. It isn't just a passive, relatively easy step without a lot of commitment. I follow through on what I read.

Several years ago, I started reading about moon phases, signs and cycles on a new moon. Now I've come through most of a year, focusing my daily spiritual practice and much of my household activities on attuning to the moon's cycles. The result isn't some sort of higher plane of existence, but rather a comfortable routine that feels grounded, healthy and now so utterly natural that I am surprised to realize that it has only been a year.

Here are some books I recommend for learning why and how to synchronize yourself to the moon and use the energies of the moon for well-being. 

Moon Magic

This is a complete guide for those just beginning on this quest. 

A new title from Moon Books, Moon Magic is a modern witch's exploration of everything moon related. It's nominally multicultural, providing the names and symbols of deities from around the world, but the rituals and visualizations all have a modern, Wiccan-inspired atmosphere. All the deities hug you, for instance.

Still this is a good introductory reference, including helpful lists of monthly moon names, rituals and visualizations for each moon phase and the Celtic tree calendar. One of the less common and most helpful things in this book are correspondences of positive and negative symbols, herbs, colors and incense for each  astrological moon sign. 

The book is well-written and concise. There isn't a lot of fluff or talking you into reading further. Moon Magic is a good reference for beginners with the caveat that there is a bias toward modern, European witchcraft and the multicultural aspect is token. 

Llewellyn's Moon Sign Book

I have searched for just the right moon calendar in the English language for years, and haven’t found it. Llewellyn’s is the best I can come up with. That’s primarily because I’m looking for both moon magic, astrology and a practical gardener’s almanac that is in tune with the moon as well. I would particularly like a Pagan-oriented moon calendar with references to a wide variety of deities, beyond Middle Eastern and European.

Yeah, I am a tough customer. I am also less interested in random women’s poetry, affirmations and artwork, which adorn so many moon calendars. 

Llewellyn’s Moon Sign Book has a lot to offer though. The weekly calendar section provides the dates and times of moon transits through astrological signs and phases in a less than ideal format but it can be made to work, extremely brief gardening pointers, a short quote, a practical simple living tip, a tiny black and white picture and three or four lines for notes. 

There follows a good, universal gardening-by-the-moon section, which explains the basic principles but doesn’t include specific daily gardening tips. There is an extensive planting table showing which sign and phase to plant a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs as well as a separate companion planting table.

Both are quite helpful, though I find calendars which simply give specific days in the right part of the year for planting the various types of plants require less astrological study to decode. For instance, the book also includes a Moon Void-of-Course table which shows days when planting is not advisable, despite the sign and phase. So planting by the moon with this book requires reference to several different tables and pages for each calculation of a day or time to plant a specific species. 

That said the book does include a nice table that lists specific dates in each month for a wide variety of activities from weaning children to laying wooden floors. If you’re able to plan activities in advance this is a wonderful addition. Monthly moon tables (including the daily sign, element, nature and phase) and aspectarian charts are included, which allow for more detailed calculations. There are special tables for egg setting, hunting/fishing and pest/weed eradication dates. 

Less helpfully, major portions of the book are devoted to US weather forecasts over large “zones” by moon phase and these, in my observations, bore less than usual correlation to reality. This could be due to climate change and not the publisher’s fault, though climate change was not mentioned or discussed and probably should have been.

Another large section is devoted to a pan-sector business forecast that is both too broad to be effective and to focused on random details that did not in the end prove portentous this year at least. There is an energetic and relationship forecast that includes references to specific signs and this was moderately helpful or at least entertaining to read. 

Each  year the book includes several essays in the back on interesting moon-related topics ranging from healing, the moon phase divisions of various cultures and specific agricultural techniques. These were interesting and decently well written. 

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets provides a list of herbs specifically for attuning to the moon. More than that, it provides a detailed discussion of plants and herbs for the planets as well. 

This tightly packed book takes the reader beyond lists of herbs. It includes the chemical make-up, medicinal and magical uses as well as the history of a set of herbs for the sun, moon and five additional planets. 

This book, though best used as a technical reference rather than read straight through, is helpful in determining which herbs and plants are suitable as offerings or incense when an astrological connection is needed.  

The Spiritual Runes: Pagan book review

I can't recall a time when the runes were not a part of my life. My mother has carried a little bag of clay bits engraved with runes on walks with her ever since I can remember. She'll stop at a bench overlooking an immense view of the Grande Ronde Valley and pull a rune out of the bag to contemplate.

Never content with things as they have "always been done," I've read several books on runes to try to understand them at greater depth. Most of these books discuss making rune scripts or bind-runes for the purposes of focusing intentions and bringing needed energies to a place or a specific issue. But mostly these books make only a token stab at substantial analysis of the spiritual basis for or history of the runes. 

That's why I leaped at the chance to review The Spiritual Runes by Harmonia Saille. Here is a book that claims to occupy the middle ground between the pocket how-to books that are accessible to all but seem to fall short on substance and the dense academic and primary source material.  And it makes good on that claim.

The Spiritual Runes is the first book I have encountered which provides solid historical information--including facts about the modern use and abuse of the runes--as well as rune interpretations for divination and very specific instructions for the use of runes in ritual and intention-based magic. Each section is complete and of suitable length and depth. No corners are cut and the tone is friendly and accessible at all points. 

The book goes into somewhat greater historical depth and provides more credible background for historical claims than most of my previous reading in commercial rune books. Still, the part where I found the book truly shines is the final section on rune rituals. This is mostly personal taste. I love the rituals suggested in this book. They are beautiful, simple enough to be practical and yet well-aligned for focusing intentions. I am sure to try several of them. 

Comment

Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Pagan Book Review: Pagan Dreaming

A review of a non-traditional dream manual

As a person interested in earth-centered spirituality, I've heard plenty of theories on dreams and dream interpretation. I've always been fascinated by the subject, but never committed to a paradigm. I've read both mystical and psychological texts on dreams, but didn't feel that the theories and interpretations made intuitive sense.

Now finally there is a book for people like me--the practical and scientific-minded mystic. Nimue Brown's Pagan Dreaming: The Magic of Altered Consciousness is a non-traditional dream manual that not only makes sense, it is also a comfort to read. The tone is like sitting down to a cup of tea in a homey kitchen with a woman who takes no nonsense and puts on no airs.

Brown's approach is dramatically different from the many dream dictionaries that claim that dreams speak to us in a universal symbolic language. Instead Brown argues that symbols are varied and--in our diverse world--likely to be individual in their language. This book is more about learning your own symbolic language of dreams than using someone else's. 

Pagan Dreaming presents both the physiological and brain chemistry side of dreaming as well as the processes by which giving dreams their rightful place in our lives can enrich a spiritual life. It's more of a manual of techniques and thinking than it is a dream interpretation book. And this sits well with me. 

The premise of the book is that most dreams, probably the vast majority of dreams, are ordinary processes of the body reflecting physical needs or sorting memory--essentially the "system check" mode of our bodies. And then there are a few dreams which may--and then really only subjectively--be considered to have emotional or spiritual meaning. This is the experience of most people.

Many books have claimed that the more one can act coherently in dreams and choose the type of dreaming, the more spiritually aware and integrated the person. Many books have claimed that a truly spiritual or enlightened person should have prophetic or significant dreams. These books are likely to make those whose dreams are more like a"system check" feel inferior and perhaps ready to accept the wisdom of a supposedly enlightened teacher. Brown is selling none of that. 

Instead she gives a guide to learning about one's own dreams, empowering the individual to be their own teacher. As such, I did not find in this book the answer to questions I have about some rare bit eerily predictive dreams I have experienced since childhood. I did not learn how to turn my mundane dreams into more of the predictive kind. But I did gain some ideas and a structure in which to start looking for a greater understanding.

Journey to the Dark Goddess - Pagan Book Review

Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul by Jane Meredith is a startling combination of a spiritual guide book and a very practical how-to manual. It is almost more self-help than a spiritual book, although you can take it in a Pagan interpretation.

Here in one book are the myths of the Dark Goddess and those who journey to the Underworld to meet her--Inanna and Ereshkigal, Persephone, and Psyche--as well as the explanations of why and what these myths mean spiritually and psychologically, personal experience stories and clear instructions for rituals to consciously choose your journey of transformation.

Meredith sees the Dark Goddess as that which has the power to transform us through inner work. Because most people avoid deep inner reflection, we are usually brought to it through hardship, disaster, illness, loneliness, grief or depression. Meredith's concept is that a person can choose to take the steps necessary to meet transformation on our own terms--before it is forced upon us through circumstance or, if necessary, during such circumstances. 

Overall the concept is solid and well explained and executed. There is some moderate repetition but for those inexperienced with the concepts and ritual format, it will likely be helpful. The sections are well labeled and it is possible to navigate in the book, if the repetition does bother you. 

The writing is clear and enough flexibility is left in the instructions for the steps to be practical for a wide variety of people. If there is one thing that left me concerned in this book, it was the author's wise assertion that individuals consciously undergoing such a passage should always have support persons lined up in advance with specific instructions for helping the seeker should she get stuck in her process.

Primarily this includes reminding the person on the journey to the dark goddess to eat, sleep and exercise regularly. It also means providing compassionate moral support. While this is excellent advice, there was very little in the book on how to find such support or what to do when it is lacking. In today's world, it is not always easy for individuals to find authentic support and a large reason for seeking out such a book could well be isolation and social alienation. 

It may simply be that the author has no answers for this particular conundrum. She does not claim to have all the answers and in fact uses examples of her mistakes along the way as useful teaching tools to show how the steps of the journey should and should not be done. 

Using the book

Over the past month, I have experimented with the rituals, imagery and myths in this book. It just so happened that this book arrived on my doorstep at a time when I had to enter a dark and frightening situation consciously. 

I have been legally blind all my life, but my eyesight has largely remained stable. To others it may seem very weak, but I am very glad for what I have. Suddenly in the past year my sight started to fail due to cataracts. And I was told that I am in a high risk category for cataract surgery. I could become totally blind very quickly if the surgery didn't go perfectly... and there is a lot that can go wrong.

The surgery had to be scheduled at the darkest time of the year--November and December--to minimize risks. And so while I normally guard myself against the harsher parts of life at this time of year, I now had to face them fully. I also had a support person available both for the surgery and for the journey to the Dark Goddess.

It was quite a coincidence that the book arrived at just such a time, so I decided to go through it in a practical way. I have been through some dark periods--depression, social ostracism, infertility. So, I know what Meredith means when she describes a journey to one's personal underworld. 

There are a dozen rituals described in Journey to the Dark goddess but not all of them are mandatory for such a journey. I did some of the preparation rituals and exercises with curiosity but little deep connection. Then when it came time for me to consciously descend into the dark, I combined the ritual of the seven gates to the Underworld described in the book with a ritual sauna in an underground cellar and a time of utter silence.

My experience of the seven gates to the Underworld was quite different from what Meredith describes. It was a very powerful ritual, but I felt somehow detached from my emotions, which are usually rampant. It was almost as if I was watching myself from outside myself, watching this person I barely knew falling and disappearing into the gloom. After an entire moon in which I underwent two surgeries, a month of enforced rest and near isolation, and much upheaval in my relationships and household, I finally felt the flickering of returning energy .

Those things I had relinquished on my way to the Underworld--attachments to family, home, status and cherished skills--had reordered themselves and taken on a different significance. In the end, while my experience is not the same as Meredith's, it was very helpful to follow her guidelines and concepts. 

Nature Mystics and the controversy over Tolkien's politics - Pagan Book Review

I'm not sure if readings of J.R.R. Tolkien actually coincided with receiving my mother's milk, but it is plausible in my case. In any event, I am one of those people who loves everything Tolkien. I wrote love-sick poetry about Tolkien's characters and read The Silmarillion as a child.

And I have never grown out of it.

So, I was devastated one night when I was twenty years by a friend's gut-wrenching accusations of racism and Nazi sympathies on Tolkien's part. This was while I was crashing at this friend's house in New York City during one of my globe-trotting journalistic treks. My friend was Jewish and I was very blond. I felt put on the spot. I also lacked the information and research to discuss the issue. 

My friend's arguments were: 

  1. Runes. Tolkien was really into runes and the Nazis were into the same runes at the same time.
  2. Everything evil is dark in Tolkien's books.
  3. Everything evil is from the east in Tolkien's books.
  4. The evil army has elephants or something very like them in Tolkien's books, so he's against Africans and/or Asians.
  5. He was a white South African. That is basically just the definition of racist.

Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I loved Tolkien the way some people love coffee. I needed Tolkien, and yet I was very concerned about issues of racism and possibly even overly educated about the horrors of the Nazi regime because I read a lot of books by Holocaust survivors after I had read everything I could find written by Tolkien. And this friend of mine was something of a journalist mentor.

So, I tried to defend Tolkien and myself. I told my friend that:

  1. Runes are not bad. Just because the Nazis abused them doesn't make the runes bad. And they're part of my spirituality. (This was the 1990s. I still didn't understand entirely about Neopaganism, but I had grown up with the teachings of the runes and divination with runes. Blighting the runes was to me like blighting the Bible is to a Christian. But as it turns out both have been used for nefarious purposes.)
  2. Tolkien didn't write in the time of political correctness, so he used dark to simply mean "night" and "scary things."
  3. Tolkien's primary heroes are small and curly haired. He goes on at length about how the tall Nordic types are not really all that great. This does not sound much like a defense of the Aryan race.

The visit ended without resolution and although we didn't have a clear break, my friend and I were never close again and never again met in person after that night. I am sure this controversy had something to do with it and I have always wondered about it with sick dread and angst in my heart.

I didn't argue with much conviction even then. I was afraid that my friend might be right and a piece of my identity must be destroyed..

What if I am wrong? What if Tolkien was a closet Nazi? What if using the runes in our spirituality is tainted?

And finally, twenty years later. I have the answer to part of it at least.

And that is thanks to the fact that some people don't sit around wondering things like this for twenty years the way I did. Some people do the research and write a book about it. One of them is Rebecca Beattie, author of Nature Mystics: The Literary Gateway to Modern Paganism

Beattie started out with a fairly obscure literary goal: to identify and study authors who laid the literary foundations for modern Paganism, or put another way, who helped to make the revival of European Paganism possible. I am interested in social movements and the book looked like pleasant enough reading, so I took it on. 

First off, the writing is personable and interesting, containing just enough detail to give a feeling for the context of each author presented. The book doesn't utilize an overly academic tone, while still producing evidence for any conclusions the Beattie makes. She states that the book is not an academic work but rather a book in which modern Pagans can seek our roots. For this reason, it isn't overly belabored by in-text citations, but it does have an extensive bibliography and sources are cited where needed.

 All the sections are interesting, looking objectively and at times ruthlessly, at the lives, writings, politics and activities, of the novelists most influential to modern Paganism, including John Keats, Mary Webb, William Butler Yeats, Mary Butts, E. Nesbit, and of course, J.R.R. Tolkien. 

Beattie presents arguments for why each of these authors and more should be considered a "nature mystic" and a significant contributor to modern Paganism. She is not complimentary about some of them, however. Some of these authors had less than savory political connections or personal relationships and she reports all this without hesitation. 

One might expect such a book to make much of the contribution of J.R.R. Tolkien the one author on the list guaranteed to be recognized by every single Pagan today. But the opposite is actually true. Beattie delves into Tolkien's repeated declarations that his books have no spiritual or allegorical message, that they are simply fiction for fiction's sake. And comes up crediting him with telling the truth on that one.

Beattie doesn't include Tolkien in her list because he provided several generations of fans with a medieval mystique, trappings, costumes and cadence of speech to aspire to. She doesn't include him because she believes there is some greater Pagan message in his works. Actually she makes the case for him being the most staunch supporter of mainstream Christianity of all of the writers explored. 

Nope. Tolkien is a nature mystic in Beattie's book very simply because he has great reverence for nature and gives excellent voice to it through his descriptive scenes. That's it. That's the crux of the exploration of Tolkien...

With one addition.

Beattie did the research--which wasn't so widely available through the internet twenty years ago--and found Tolkien's actions with regards to racism and the Nazis. 

He was born in South Africa and left for England as a boy. Later he became active and vocal against the Apartheid regime.  It may be easy to dismiss this as easy armchair criticism from a distance without risking anything. But the same can't be said for his interactions with the Nazis. 

The story Beattie tells--one I have since confirmed--is that in 1938, a German publisher was preparing to translate the Hobbit into German. Tolkien had more than just the royalties riding on this. A friend had a stake in it and Tolkien didn't feel he could opt out of the deal easily. But when the publisher demanded that he produce proof of Aryan descent, Tolkien flatly refused and wrote a scathing letter in reply, only first asking that his invested friend approve his use of fiery language. 

He calls the publisher's inquiry "irrelevant" and says such attitudes threaten to strip bearers of German names of all pride in them. And as to the facts he writes: 

 I am not of Aryan extraction--that is Indo-Iranian--as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. 

He might just as well have joined his countryman Trevor Noah on the Daily Show to ridicule Nazi stupidity in race classifications, pointing out that he Aryan tribes of Northern India that they were so obsessed with really had more to do with the "Gypsies" (i.e. Roma), who the Nazis viciously persecuted, than they did with Germans. 

Tolkien must have felt then a bit the way we feel today with Donald Trump. He fought for England in World War I but by World War II he was too old to fight. All he could really do was ridicule them and be willing to risk his business interests if necessary to tell them off. 

I thank Rebecca Beattie for the leg work on this one.

And as for the late-night debate of twenty years past. I am sorry I didn't know this then because, with all the heartache there is on this subject, my friend deserved to know J.R.R. Tolkien was a voice on her side at a time when many--even in England--were still relatively friendly to the Nazis. 

The Goddess in America - Pagan Book Review

Here's America's answer to Pagan Planet. which focuses heavily on the British Isles. The Goddess in America: The Divine Feminine in Cultural Context, edited by Trevor Greenfield, is an impressive anthology of Neopagan, Reclaiming and Goddess-oriented writers and it provides a valuable study guide for anyone seeking to understand Goddess-centered faith in America.

Right off the bat, this book passes the first, most obvious and most often failed test when it comes to looking at Goddess spirituality in America. That is it starts before Columbus... long before Columbus and stays there for a solid chunk of the book. Kudos to the editor for that. It isn't a stance without its critics and dangers. 

The issue of the uneasy relationship between Goddess-devotees of European descent, Native American Goddess spirituality and cultural appropriation is addressed without any definitive conclusion. It's a sticky subject and there is essentially no way to satisfy everyone. Several authors weigh in on the topic in this anthology, all offering various versions of a moderate viewpoint: i.e. people should be free to honor goddesses other than those from their own genetic background as long as they do so with true respect and take the time to understand the cultural context of the goddess and give something back to the culture and community that the goddess comes from. Some authors have more exacting standards than others when it comes to correct respect but that is the general consensus.

The book continues with a variety of perspectives on the historical development and contemporary character of goddess spirituality in America. Again, the editor has heard the calls for more racial diversity in such anthologies and the authors represent reasonable diversity within the movement, including Vodun and Hebrew goddess perspectives. 

The book is generally well written, excellently edited and interesting to read. Unlike some similar books there is little attempt to make it easy or light reading, however. The authors state their issues in all their complexity, which will make the book appropriate for university programs and other scholarly considerations. It includes several sections on pop culture, including an essay on representations of the Goddess in pop culture as well as the Goth movement, but these issues are handled from an analytical perspective, with respect for those who are part of these trends and yet without playing to a pop culture tune. 

If there is any issue in which I feel the book is not fully representative of American goddess-spirituality it is in the emphasis of several authors on Reclaiming. My broad experience of the on-line world of American goddess spirituality shows that both formal Reclaiming groups and the general values and ideals of Reclaiming are much less prominent in America than they are represented in this book.

I personally love the Reclaiming movement, however, and I wish these values and ideals had greater sway in the popular goddess movement in America, so I don't take offense at its exaggerated influence in the book. I dearly wish more people today took social and environmental activism to the core of their spirituality and acted on the principles they profess. Instead I find a media landscape which deadens passion and ridicules those who stand up for their beliefs actively.  

Thus to paraphrase the motto of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, this is something like the Goddess in America--as she is and should be.  This book sets out not just to document where we are but also to point a conscious way forward for the goddess community in America. 

All in all this is an excellent anthology on contemporary goddess spirituality and well worth the read.

The Art of Ritual: The difference between laughing at ourselves and laughing at our faith

I once had the honor of guiding a young woman in her first full-blown Pagan ritual. She had been to some drumming circles and Tarot readings but not a ritual with all the besoms and wands. She had also grown up in a household where spirituality was a dire affair, strictly dictated and ruled by an angry God who would supposedly damn anyone who didn’t do it “just so” to eternal agony. 

She was eager for something different, but also anxious. 

Creative Commons image by Anand Krishnamoorthi

Creative Commons image by Anand Krishnamoorthi

What if we did something wrong? She was reverent and serious about learning. That is good and proper, and yet too much seriousness can be limiting.

I was not all that experienced in leading rituals and this was one of the more complex I had done. It was Samhain and I wanted to do it right. I had very specific reasons for wishing to connect with ancestors, mine and others, that year. I had recently adopted two children from a different ancestry than my own and I wanted to approach their ancestors with honor and respect to ask for their blessing on the adoption as well. 

So, it was a serious ritual. But in the first moments, my informal apprentice mixed up the quarters. We all know it happens. She was flustered and worried. But I told her we didn’t have to worry. We started the calling of the quarters over again and did it right.

Then I turned in the dim candlelight and knocked over a small bowl of libation water. I managed to catch the bowl, not break it and even save enough of the water that we could continue without interruption, but water splashed onto the floor. 

I started laughing. First, nervously but then joyfully. 

My young companion was startled. I explained that not being perfect is part of the ritual and so is laughing at ourselves. The rest of the ritual was punctuated by moments of laughter and once when we both started laughing for no good reason and couldn’t stop. 

But it was still one of the most powerful small-group rituals I’ve ever known. The energy was intense and I truly felt the blessing and protection of many ancestors.

I tell this story because it is good to keep in mind that laughter has its place in ritual, as do mistakes and a bit of silliness now and then. Some rituals guide us to laugh away negative energies or to laugh in order to overcome difficulties. And these are good uses of laughter.

That said however, silliness should not be the focus of every ritual. And while we should learn to laugh at ourselves and our troubles, we should not laugh at or mock ancestors, the spirits of the land or our gods, Some people are going to be rolling their eyes reading this and calling me a “pious Pagan,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

But I’m not actually saying that we should remain reverent in order to avoid curses and the thunderbolts of Thor. I was not raised with that jealous, angry god with a hell full of torment and fire, and yet I do see how fearing retribution for irreverence puts one on a slippery slope.
That’s not what I’m talking about here.

It is the mere fact of inner truth and faith.

I was given the task of reviewing the book The Art of Ritual by Rachel Patterson. The book purports to give an overall basis for ritual. And yet it is full of attempts at lightheartedness, which are not particularly funny. It needs a good line edit. And it is more of an example of how to pretend to do ritual while laughing out of the side of your mouth to make sure your friends know you don't really believe this stuff. 

There are word-use and terminology mistakes, such as calling Mabon "the Autumn Solstice." ("Solstice" means "the sun standing still," which is the appearance when the sun’s movement changes direction at the Winter and Summer Solstices. It does not happen in any way at the Equinoxes.) In another gaff, there is an attempt at the re-imagining of the myth of Atlas, which falls flat when the author says Atlas was was relieved of his "turmoil" instead of "torment." There was no sense that the author meant Atlas had some inner conflict and outer turmoil would likely be much less boring than holding up the sky for eternity.. 

The honest mistakes may simply be the consequences of a small, over-taxed publisher and they can easily be forgiven. But errors close to the heart of the matter do dissipate the author’s credibility. 

More troubling still are the author’s references to matters of faith. Patterson says, jokingly, of her attraction to the god of life force and nature by whatever name he is called, “For me, it’s all about the antlers.” This and many other notes in the book insinuate that many parts of this spiritual practice are done for image and the street cred of the priest or priestess. While that isn’t out-of-bounds in and of itself, there is no corresponding depth or sense of real purpose in the rituals. 

The author talks about energy glibly, how to call this kind or dispel that kind. But the only explanation of energy or investigation of the purpose of ritual is contained in a tiny passage describing rubbing one’s hands together to raise heat and feel it between your hands.

It is as if an atheist wrote a how-to cookbook for people who want to dress up as Pagans in order to impress their friends. I doubt that's the case. The author is probably a very spiritual person trying to navigate the market for books on Pagan issues. I think if the book were marketed not as the full "art of ritual" but rather as the outer "ritual tools and scripts" I would have much less to complain about.

At every turn the author describes in detail physical objects for ritual or specific actions for ritual and then goes to extreme in denying any real need for them, never explaining that ritual objects and actions are aids to meditation and focus. Perhaps the author wants to avoid stating any of the reasons for ritual objects and actions to ensure that no one can contradict her. The problem is that this leaves the core of the book hollow.

The focus on image over depth in this book points at a troubling demographic phenomenon in which many Neopagans are Pagan not because they believe in our gods but because they don’t believe in the angry god with those threats of hell. They are accustomed to “not believing,” and they see Paganism as a religion where anything goes and nothing is sacred. It is an identity to wear proudly but not one to internalize.

Everyone has their own path and I don’t think most people dabbling in Paganism or witchcraft are likely to unleash some sort of negativity due to a lack of reverence. Our gods aren’t like that and I’m not here to judge others on their path, least of all those who have been through religious abuse and are most in need of some laughter. On the other hand, an overall frivolous and shallow approach to ritual isn’t what I would recommend. And thus I can’t really recommend The Art of Ritual as a general book on ritual. It may, however, be helpful to those who are too serious or afraid of negativity in ritual.

Ritual to me must be rooted in some authentic belief, even if it is only the inexplicable sense that “there is something out there.” We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, but we should hold something sacred—at least the earth, at least the hunger and need in the world. In times as troubled as ours, when we are threatened by imminent and disastrous human-caused climate change, war and massive multiple refugee crises, the art of ritual should come primarily from what is sacred to those practicing the ritual.

Ritual is first and foremost about deepening either personal or community experience and there is no word about this in The Art of Ritual. When we do rituals imperfectly and laugh to free ourselves from fear, it is an opening of spirit. When one laughs at the deepening experience of ritual, the spirit closes. 

Bringing Race to the Neopagan Table: an exploration of a taboo subject

The Neopagan community today is an odd combination of a publisher’s Summerland and a publisher’s Hel. There are wildly popular markets and bewildering hundreds upon thousands of books on some Pagan topics—cookbook-style spell books, books promising an instant cool factor and a good many serious books on specific gods, goddesses, methods and re-constructionist traditions. But there are some areas of great interest and concern that are untouchable, effectively off-limits to most publishers.

Creative Commons image by Debs of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Debs of Flickr.com

One of those issues is the quagmire of Neopagan race politics. It’s a scary swamp of murky definitions, guilt, fear, hate and accusations—cultural appropriation, stifled multiculturalism, isolated Santerians, Neo-Nazis masquerading as re-constructionist Heathens and lots and lots of white people confused about the concept of being a “minority” versus having “privilege.”

There is no conceivable way to enter this swamp without being criticized from one quarter or another (or all at once). It reminds me of writing articles from the interethnic war zones of the former Yugoslavia. The only way I knew I was even slightly on track was when I worked very hard to understand every side and then everyone was angry when I went to press. When one side was totally happy with me, I worried. 

That makes me think the book Bringing Race to the Table, which tackles the issue of race in the Neopagan community is doing a damned good job in a difficult crossfire. There is no way that anyone will be 100 percent happy with all of the opinions expressed in this anthology, because the authors don’t all agree with one another on all issues.

I would give this book top marks, five stars or whatever the equivalent, not because I agree with everything in the book. I have some quibbles. But because it does an excellent job of tackling such an incredibly difficult issue. And my quibbles are all on matters in which I agree with some of the authors but not others. I learned a massive amount by reading this book.

Being white, I learned fast and hard during the first half of the book, which reflects more the perspectives of people of color in Neopagan communities and I squirmed uncomfortably at times in the second half which reflects more the perspectives of white people. But this anthology represents most essentially an act of great courage both by the publisher and the authors, treading into a minefield and making a blessed good stab a very hard task.  

As a white Pagan who is part of a racially mixed family, I have become convinced over the past five years that the issue of race is the Achilles heel of the Euro-centric Neopagan movement. I believe that we either solve this problem, clean the skeletons out of our closets and lay them to rest or our movement will go the way of the Flower Children, to be remembered by future generations as a short fling with reinvigorating ancient Paganism, an attempt that was doomed by deficits in spiritual depth and inclusivity. 

Is Paganism a fashion statement or a religion? That is the question and oddly enough race is at the core of it. Many Neopagans have been hiding from the issue of race, pretending that “European Paganism,” which somehow ended up including Egyptian, Romani (Gypsy), Middle Eastern, Classical, Celtic and Heathen Paganism but nothing else is somehow distinct as a “religion” and that we can clearly identify a tradition, a goddess, a culture or an individual as “European” or not. In this paradigm race becomes a non-issue because the nature of this “religion” is that it originated in Europe. 

Creative Commons image by Duncan Price

Creative Commons image by Duncan Price

I hate to break it to those folks, but Egypt is not in Europe anymore than Nigeria is. And there is nothing all that unique or unified about European Pagan traditions. Celtic traditions share a lot of similarity with Native American beliefs. Most Pagan traditions worldwide share many similar tenants and often eerily similar details in mythology. Any line we draw around one continent’s Paganism is an arbitrary line and thus a line that cuts open the can of worms called “race,” no matter how hard we try to hold it closed.

The trouble Neopagans have with race begins with the fact that we don’t talk about race. When Moon Books sought to create an anthology of Pagan thought in the 21st century and titled it Pagan Planet (not Pagan Anglo-Empire), they forgot to include anything about non-European Pagans. It’s an all too common pitfall. 

But worse than that, some Pagans do talk about race—just carefully and when it is about the white race. During recent racially charged incidents in the United States and Europe, I have seen several news items posted on Pagan forums with emotive posts in support of white parties in the conflicts, but I have not seen Pagan posts sympathetic to victims of crime who are people of color. 

When I recently posted a news item critical of white supremacist groups in the United States on my own page (and thus not intruding on specifically Pagan forums) I was insulted and shamed by several members of Neopagan groups to which I belong who noticed my page. This may seem little different from the regular verbal sparring over political and social issues that goes on every day on social media, but after long observation on Pagan forums, a pattern emerges in which most members of Neopagan groups are silent about injustices against people of color. 

A vocal minority in the Neopagan on-line community shames and attacks those who speak up for people of color while posting their own racially charged items that favor people of white appearance. No one in turn shames or insults these white-favorable posts in Neopagan forums. Those of us who dislike such posts generally want to keep the peace and we hope the racist end of the Neopagan community will somehow just go away. In the end, there is an atmosphere where discussions of racial tensions in society is taboo with the exception of posts favorable to white-supremacist and European-heritage-only Pagan groups. It is difficult to imagine that people of color could feel comfortable in such a community. 

The lack of a non-European perspective in the book Pagan Planet is a clear symptom of the problem. A book that references the whole planet, that is supposed to take a broad look at Paganism in the twenty-first century, published by a respected Pagan publisher—one of the most up-to-date books of its type—contains almost no mention on race. That’s why we needed Bringing Race to the Table, edited by Crystal Blanton, Taylor Ellwood and Brandy Williams.
Crystal Blanton describes some of the things that people of color encounter when attending Neopagan meetings and events: “From strange, questioning looks when someone walks into circle to asking a Hispanic practitioner if she is the maid at a Pagan event, all of these types of interactions happen within our community.” 

There is a difficult interethnic tension in the very term “Pagan.” Many non-European indigenous religions that would otherwise fit the definition of an earth-based polytheistic spirituality, are not considered Pagan either because their adherents vocally reject the Pagan label or because European Neopagans fear that they might be offended. Thus Hindus, Native American spiritual practitioners, Santerians and many others are often not considered “Pagan,” despite fitting all of the definition except the “European” part. 

Blanton theorizes that the root cause of incidents that are unwelcoming of people of color is inherent in this assumption that European Paganism is the norm in the Neopagan definition: “The fundamental assumption that we are attempting to integrate into a community that is not ours is the root of all these microaggressions. The Eurocentric construction of the Pagan community lends to a structure that coincides with greater society, making Caucasian the default, the overculture. This structure automatically “others” people of color.”

Creative Commons image by Porter Rockwell

Creative Commons image by Porter Rockwell

There are some corners of the Neopagan community where groups openly state that they are only open to those of European heritage, justifying themselves by saying that there are groups which are only open to those of Native American or African heritage and insisting that they wish to have an authentic Re-constructionist experience of their ancestral spirituality. 

Blanton explains, “I was recently told that I could not join a specific group of Heathen practitioners because I was not of European descent. When I challenged that, and actually concluded that I was [of European descent], I was told I still could not participate because I was not of ‘primary European descent.’ When I asked how that was measured, I was not given an answer that was consistent among those who would apply. In the end, I concluded that looks would be the determining factor of whether someone was of primary European descent, and although I would not qualify, my son would because of his sandy hair and blue eyes.”

I personally have encountered a related problem. As an obviously white person with light-colored hair, I was allowed to attend several Neopagan events in Central Europe until local groups met my children, who have darker skin and hair. Then I was given the cold shoulder and told that only European practices and deities were acceptable, even as organizers of the event held a large ritual honoring Egyptian gods. Somehow European Neopagans have decided that Egypt is part of European, not African, heritage.

Genetic exclusivity is a thorny issue, because there are indigenous spiritual groups from many continents who maintain genetic exclusivity as a means of protecting their cultural and spiritual treasures from continued exploitation and colonization by those in possession of greater wealth and power. This is one of the areas where I disagree with some authors in Bringing Race to the Table.  I understand that there are good reasons people of color must protect indigenous traditions and European Neopagans don’t encounter the same pressures. 

Creative Commons image by Dan Meineck

Creative Commons image by Dan Meineck

However, the world is now full of racially mixed individuals such as Blanton as well as the descendants of indigenous individuals who were removed from their culture of origin and either adopted or “reeducated” in boarding schools and other institutions. These individuals, both mixed race and those whose cultural heritage has been stolen or hidden from them (and thus who may not even know of their genetic background) are harmed most by genetic exclusivity. Beyond that, many people of European heritage now live on land that was stolen from indigenous peoples many generations before. While wallowing in guilt over what one’s distant ancestors did helps no one, to simply transplant European Neopagan traditions to these lands and utterly ignore the indigenous traditions of the land on which one lives feels callus and simply spiritually wrong.

The issue of cultural appropriation is related, however, and it causes significant confusion in Neopagan communities. Unlike the few genetically exclusive groups, most Neopagans insist that they want more people of color in their circles and that because they embrace various parts of Native American, Asian or African cultures or spiritual teachings, they are multicultural and welcoming of people of different races. The problem is that this very adoption of bits and pieces from other cultures (and most often the adoption of the titles of spiritual leaders such as “Shaman” or “Medicine Woman” and identifying one’s self as one of these without clear knowledge of even which culture the term belongs to) is often felt as a slap in the face by people of color. It can feel like the flaunting of the spoils of colonialism and when those from outside the culture set up shop as teachers of an indigenous culture in order to profit from their incomplete knowledge, it adds insult to injury.

Neopagans often struggle with these issues, trying to be sensitive to indigenous cultures but feeling the need to connect beyond cultural boundaries. Yvonne Ryves writes about her shamanic practice that is guided by spirit allies of various cultures: “My guides are also not Celtic, nor is the shamanism I practice. In fact my shamanism still doesn’t link to any particular culture, but this no longer concerns me. As I am taught by my guides I may learn something that links to the culture they are from, for example early on, my Native American guide taught me how to make an offering to bird spirits with sage and feathers. This doesn’t make my shamanism Native American in any way though, especially as I make my own sage bundles from the sage I have growing in my garden, working with the spirit of that which is native to where I live.” 

While such practices are well-meant and authentic to the practitioner, adopting a term such as “Shaman” and using it out of context—Shamanism technically is Central Asian and does not refer to all out-of-body journeying techniques—can make people from indigenous cultures mentioned uncomfortable and thus alienate them from Pagan circles, where they might otherwise find an appropriate umbrella for their spirituality. 

As a result, some among both whites and people of color insist that cultural appropriation occurs when those not born to or given primary access to a certain tradition use the symbols, teachings, terminology or practices of that tradition.  However, this is another area where the authors of Bringing Race to the Table don’t have consensus. Reluctant Spider, a writer of African heritage, rejects the rigid genetic/ethnic measurement of cultural appropriation. She points out that unbiased application is impossible when some Greek myths have African origins and even Thor has ties to Ethiopia. 

Several authors of Bringing Race to the Table struggle to define the exact boundaries of cultural appropriation. Is it a question of power imbalance, when those with greater access to education, wealth and leisure time take what they want from those with less resources for spiritual study? Is it the cherry picking of only some terms, images or misrepresented concepts from other cultures and interpreting them through the lens of one’s own culture? Is it when the mystery of another culture is used for gain, whether to sell something or to claim titles and positions of spiritual authority? There is no easy answer but the common theme seems to be the attitude and respect with which we interact with other cultures. Neopagans do often give that respect when taking from other sources but sometimes they don’t.

Paradoxically, the final reason that people of color often don’t feel welcome in Neopagan communities is a lack of respectful and culturally sensitive inclusion of the deities, terms and practices of non-European earth-based traditions. Essentially, there must be some respectful cultural integration in order for Neopaganism to become inclusive. 

For instance, most encyclopedias of deities popular in the Neopagan community either put the vast majority of their focus on European and classical deities or include deities of various continents with the conspicuous exception of sub-Saharan Africa. Naming the Goddess, edited by Trevor Greenfield is an example. The latest edition of the Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines by Patricia Monagham  includes some African deities but they are only either Egyptian or African diaspora deities and this is the far progressive end of the spectrum with countless books entirely devoted to northern European and classical deities.

Reluctant Spider, one of the authors of Bringing Race to the Table, set up an objective experiment to determine the acceptance and placement of non-European deities and images in the Neopagan community. Because so much of the community is on-line, the on-line reflection of the community can be assumed to be fairly true of overall attitudes. And because the rankings of Google searches are based primarily on popularity statistics, such searches can accurately reflect what is appreciated in a community, as well as what has the backing of major organizations and funders. Therefore, Reluctant Spider used Google Image searches as an objective measure of the prevalence of images of non-European deities in 2014. She searched for specific terms and then counted the number of images of Caucasian deities one had to pass by in order to reach a single image of a non-European deity. 

First she simply entered the term “Goddess.” After 21 images of European goddesses, she encountered one Native American goddess. After two more, at number 23, she encountered a Hindi image. There were 35 images before she found a goddess image with skin dark enough to be conceivably African, although the image had European nose and lip features as well as bright green eyes. After 65 images she finally encountered a tree nymph with a green leafy afro. There were occasionally other Hindu images as well as Egyptian iconography, but there were no other black African goddess images. She stopped counting at 200.  

While a Google Image search is a reasonably objective tool Reluctant Spider’s first search was simply the term “Goddess” and it would not only produce results from Neopagan sites or forums. It would produce all images associated with the term “Goddess.” She also entered the search terms “Black Goddess,” “African Goddess,” “African American Goddess,” and “Latina Goddess.” Instead of resulting in a flood of more culturally diverse goddess images, these terms resulted in lists of images featuring secular celebrities and sexualized models. Then she tried “White Goddess” and she was returned to actual goddess images, primarily those of the Neopagan community with a scattering of historical sites. But of course the real test was when she put in the term “Pagan Goddess.” In this case there were no results showing a goddess resembling an African within 200 results. (Reluctant Spider 2015, 8-9%)

Kids cellebrating Samhain - CC image by Steven Depolo - all good.jpg

Clearly, filtering the original search for Neopagan sites resulted in an even more extreme lack of multicultural images. I have unintentionally replicated these experiments many times while searching for appropriate Goddess images for my racially mixed family and coming up frustrated. It is important to remember that it is the actions and preferences of millions of Google users—what they share and pay attention to—that is reflected in such a Google Images search. This makes these results all the more troubling. We have no one to blame it on and it is very likely to be a true reflection of the aesthetics preferred by most English-speaking Pagans today. 

After reading Bringing Race to the Table, I must conclude that the Neopagan community falls woefully short of meaningful inclusivity at the present time. While the authors sometimes don’t agree with one another, their differences are invariably about details, such as the exact definition of “cultural appropriation.” 

Blanton argues that this unfortunate state of affairs will not change until Neopagans openly take action for racial inclusivity: “We cannot pretend that our spirituality makes us decent people if we are not out there fighting to make things right in areas of inequity for people of color. We justify away what makes us uncomfortable. We also excuse rules, prejudices and guidelines that eliminate the participation of people of color. Then the community ignores the lack of black and brown faces in our circles or conventions, excusing it away instead of exploring it.”

Bringing Race to the Table is the best source of material for investigating these issues at present. I wish it could be required reading for all Neopagans. Given that that won’t happen, I hope that Neopagans who do care about these issues will read it and be vocal about the problems. Our future depends on it.

“The road forward in an inclusive community would have to start with an honest evaluation of how our actions are causing intentional and often unintentional harm by setting a culture that is not welcoming or embracing of those who do not fall within the walls of our Euro-centric overculture,” Blanton writes.

Pagan Book Review: Pagan Planet looks at how modern Pagans live and act on their beliefs in the twenty-first century

What are the diverse experiences of contemporary Pagans of an indigenous European bent? What are the challenges of reclaiming and integrating ancient beliefs in the twenty-first century?  What are our values and how do we act on them?

There may be some blogs and other online sites that discuss these intense and complex issues that take the Pagan community beyond romantic ideas of candles, crystals and witchy hats, but they are scattered and often jumbled in with other things. Getting a balanced view of where the Pagan community really stands by skimming such websites would be a daunting task. That’s where the book Pagan Planet (edited by Nimue Brown of Moon Books) comes in. 

This is an anthology that sets out to chart the breadth and depth of the contemporary Pagan community. The subtitle Being, Believing and Belonging in the 21st Century brings issues of identity, faith and ethics to mind. Here at last is a credible attempt to take a serious look at Neopaganism without any delusions or fetishes, simply as a contemporary way of life. For that, it is most welcome.

The list of authors and topics in the anthology is delightful and intriguing. There are essays on specific issues and musings on life as a modern Pagan, even a poetic or fictional bit or two for added flavor. All around, I was not bored reading this. The writing is varied, and professional--the cream of the Neopagan community. I found a few of the insights particularly gripping, especially when they had to do with how Pagans act on the values promoted in our teachings, such as honoring elders and ancestors, helping those in desperate poverty to gain self-reliance through Pagan Aid and protecting the earth in many valuable ways. As a Pagan parent I found the pieces on Pagan parenting entertaining and the entry on Authentic Shamanism was fascinating. All this is contained in the book.

At the same time, many of the authors were clearly aware of the eyes of history reading their words as well as today’s readers. They were not only setting out to reflect our community back to us. They were also attempting to document a moment in the development of Neopaganism to say essentially: “Here in 2016, this is where we stand. These are our struggles, concerns and achievements. Let it be remembered.” That too is a good and honorable task.

Because of these goals, this anthology is almost too broad. In trying to look at all the diverse aspects of Pagan life, it is limited in its ability to explore in great depth. That isn’t a serious flaw because we need a book that takes into account many different issues. There are already books on many of the specifics. And at the same time, I was disappointed in one aspect of this book--its focus not just on indigenous European traditions but the heavy emphasis on the British Isles in particular. This is a more serious limitation because it purports to give a global perspective. While there is a southern hemisphere piece and a few North American entries, most of those that mention place are in the UK or Ireland. 

It is beyond sensitive to tread on the borderlines between European Pagan traditions and other indigenous and earth-based traditions that have mostly not adopted the word “Pagan” though they essentially fit the description aside from not being European. I recognize the difficulty of forming bridges to other earth-based cultures because of the issues of cultural appropriation and historical colonialism, However there are so many of us who dwell in the borderlands between European and non-European ancestry, lands and cultures (whether we like it or not) that we ignore this aspect at our peril.

This book shies away from earth-centered traditions of non-European in origin with only the briefest mentions of trading vague comments with a fellow Shaman in Africa and one author who admits to mixing in some Native American ideas with a careful caveat against usurping Native American culture. However, this last was another case of someone living in Ireland, not dealing with Native American culture because of proximity or the ancestry of one’s land, but because it is personally interesting. 

I offer that as a critique not in order to tear down a good and much-needed book, but to ask for our community to stretch even further in the issues we dare to talk about publicly. I grew up on a plot of land that tangibly spoke of fairly recent Native American ancestry and this influenced my understanding of the world, history and spirituality. I am now raising two children of mixed ancestry, who will have to bridge the gaps between Europe and other continents. I would like them to grow up into a Pagan community that is more inclusive of those who are not all European. Globally as well, the issue of race cannot and should not be ignored. 

Another enormous issue that is barely touched in this book is climate change. Many of the authors in this anthology are active in the anti-fracking movement, an extremely important part of the environmental struggle. And yet there was almost no mention of climate change and the challenges the next generation will face, including ethical issues when faced with massive waves of refugees and real hardship encroaching on the edges of our community. Our children will struggle with these and other heavy issues. Can we give no sign posts or explanation to the next generation who will have to struggle with issues so painful that we barely dare to touch them? 

All in all, Pagan Planet is a good book discussing issues important to the Neopagan community with some geographical and cultural emphasis on one area. It should be included in comparative religion and multicultural courses, studied by those beginning a Pagan path and discussed with passion and gusto by experienced Pagans. 

A book review and then some: How I found the goddess Brigid

I think a Goddess may have chosen me. I say this not with the connotation that I am special. Instead I feel as though I was trying in vain to find my own Gods for a good part of my adult life. I'm too analytical for this to be a conscious task. Instead, I think a Goddess has finally chosen me--in the same way that I think a God or Goddess would choose every one of us if given a chance.

I was brought up with earth-based spirituality, but not much focus on deities. We had Greek, Norse and Native American myths and I felt a spiritual connection to the stories of Persephone and Demeter and I liked Thor simply for his brashness. But other than that, they were just stories—stories of significance and meaning, sure, but not infused with that sense of powerful consciousness and personality that seems to mark the true presence of a deity for others. 

Then a few years ago, I began noticing references to Brigid in increasing frequency—in stories that I read or in spiritual books and divination. The name kept coming up. I had never even heard of a Goddess named Brigid before that time. And I felt it was too cumbersome a name to give to a child, even though I had good reason to like it.

When I was sixteen, I ended up alone and frightened at a strict Catholic school in Germany among strangers who vocally rejected me because of my vision impairment. The one person who was kind and accepting toward me was a classmate named Birgid, obviously a variant of Brigid. I was not able to stay in contact with that classmate, but over more than twenty years, her memory has always stayed strong with me. And so when I began to hear the name Brigid, I connected it to that memory.

As such, Brigid had a head start in my heart. But at first, I thought that this Goddess was only one among many. Despite the fact that she is quite popular in some Neopagan circles, I did not find her in many of the lists and books about European Gods and Goddesses. From her conspicuous absence from some anthologies, I would have thought she was a minor figure. But as I have since learned, that is far from the truth. 

Brigid began to come into my life more forcefully in the past two years, when I became a published author. I heard more about Brigid, although it was usually in a passing comment or a random story, rather than in weighty spiritual books. After I had published my first three novels, I decided to begin my hearth-side email circle and make the theme of my website an online hearth that welcomes all and particularly those who have faced injustice in society. 

The idea first came to me while I was traveling in Portland, Oregon and one night I sat down with friends for a little wine and Tarot. I was telling my friends about my new business plans, when one woman--who says she doesn’t even remember doing so--turned to me and said, “Well, you know. There is a connection you should make. The hearth, writing, your healing work with herbs and your activism—it’s all very much the work of Brigid.”

I was taken aback and momentarily confused. Here was Brigid again, this time not just a passing reference but one very specifically directed at me. At the same time, I was struggling to integrate my new ideas and I didn’t have the patience for any digression. So, I let the comment pass. 

But Brigid didn’t let me be. Over the next few months, it seemed as if her name came up in every book I picked up. But there was precious little real information to be had about her until I ran across an Amazon recommendation for a book called Brigid: History, mystery, and magick of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber. 

I’m a shrewd shopper, so I looked at other books on the goddess, but that one that I came across at random called to me. And I didn’t have the money to buy any book at the time, so I put it on my wish list. 

Then this past month, I ended up on the other side of the world in Portland, Oregon again and went into a Pagan bookstore with a little money in my pocket and a promise to get a gift “from my higher self to myself” as my mother likes to put it. And that was where I finally found a real goddess.

So, here is my review of the book with one caveat. This is a highly subjective, personal thing. Many people may be inspired by another deity or another book. And this book may not speak to everyone in the way that it speaks to me. But there it is.

I very rarely find a non-fiction book I can’t put down, but I read this book in record time, snatching every little minute and skimping on sleep while trying to juggle work, writing, herbal practice, activism and children—much the way Brigid juggles the aspects of hearth-keeper, bard, healer, smith and occasional warrior for just causes. The writing is that good.

Within these pages I found a reflection of the divine that I can embrace personally and wholeheartedly as never before. The author Courtney Weber does a masterful job of telling her own story of discovery in a way that is humble, credible and humorous while presenting spirited retellings of traditional tales, historical research, personal reflections, meditation exercises, ritual templates and divination practices.

The structure of the book is both organic and quite clear to me. Reading it felt like gaining two spiritual allies at the same time, Weber and Brigid—one immediate in this world and the other a picture pieced together from fragments until it became the goddess.

I had long since despaired of ever finding a specific path or teaching that I could adopt as my own. And I am very excited to have been proven wrong in that jaded belief. Weber’s approach to Brigid is as close as I have ever found to my heart’s way. I recommend that particularly those devoted to writing and other poetic arts, healing and activism give this book a try. It may just have more miracles to work.

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Pagan Book Review: A sound and a readable explanation of Irish Reconstructionist Paganism at last

Every religion has it's sub-categories, nooks and crannies. And given that these are matters of spirit, faith and passion, there are often vehement disagreements and a bit of prejudice between various factions. Modern Pagans are really no different from anyone else in this. I have heard my share of grumblings between "reconstructionists" and other types of Neopagans. 

It's easy to be confused and I withhold judgment until I can find good sources. 

I have been curious about recontructionists and Irish paganism specifically for some time, but most of what you can read on the subject is exceedingly dry and arcane or else overly influenced by contemporary pop culture. So,  I remained largely mystified until now. 

Morgan Daimler's book Pagan Portals - Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism has provided exactly the clear, friendly and readable introduction I needed. I am sure that some who have studied Irish and/or Celtic reconstructionism in depth may find this too simplistic but for those of us who simply want to understand it and have a readable and even entertaining introduction to the concepts without a lot of intellectual jabber this is perfect. As in her other books, Daimler presents complexity in an honest yet understandable way and then relates it to personal stories. The result is both fun and informative, backed by a wealth of research.

Here are the key points about this book.

  • There is no fluff in here at all. It's all brisk, concise information.
  • It's eminently readable with a pleasant voice for a scholarly book.
  • It's extensively researched and has good reviews by credible scholars.
  • It is clear and never wishy-washy. Daimler doesn't try to manipulate, but rather simply states when she has come to her own conclusions and when it's a matter of established record.
  • Daimler isn't afraid to use practical, personal experience to both liven up and engage the text.
  • The book tackles some controversial issues around race, cultural appropriation and sexuality. While I do wish she had included something on environmentalism, that is simply because I would love to know her take on the issue and that of other reconstructionists.
  • There is also a chapter about the false myths many people believe about reconstructionism, a chapter on the Irish Pagan beliefs, including a list of the most important gods and goddesses, a very practical chapter on modern practices and how it is actually done today, a chapter on the holy days and more.

Many books on reconstructionism that I have encountered focus so narrowly on specifics and are so bent on proving the author as "the" scholarly authority on the subject that the average person with sincere interest could easy be lost. The mark of a truly broad and informed scholar is not so much one who can delve into the greatest detail on obscure subjects but one who knows the field well enough to present a coherent picture of the whole in terms that are understandable to outsiders. This is what this book does. I appreciate the clarity and warmth Daimler brings to this subject.

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Book Review: The Other Side of Virtue and a vessel with which to drink the good life

"Pagan is a negative term," I was told. "It means wanton, imature snotty, rebellious and without morals." 

And this was not said by someone ideologically opposed to earth spirituality. Quite the opposite. It was said by one who taught me much of my spirituality and who finds spirit in nature and in authenticity and compassion. But the term "Pagan" has become negative for this person, through media messages, the words of critics and the words and deeds of some visible Pagans as well. 

And I while I vehemently disagree with that negative definition of the word "Pagan," I can't entirely refute the connotations of the social movement that has grown around the word in pop culture. Google it and you'll get endless pictures of objectified women in slinky black clothing with ugly makeup and suggestive poses. I have found spiritual sisters and brothers among Pagans, but I also often find a lot of nihilism and immature rebel-without-a-cause mentality. I find a subculture where many proudly claim that morals are for brainwashed idiots and that they have no spiritual obligation to do anything but satisfy their own desires as long as there isn't obvious harm done to someone else. And if there is harm done, well then "that so-and-so shouldn't have gotten in the way."

The most popular thread in one of the largest Facebook groups for Pagans for the past year has been one about how sick of "nice Pagans all full of light" the members are. These posts are full of adolescent self-righteousness, denial of spiritual meaning and flaunt-your-sex-because-it-annoys-Christians messages. By contrast, when I posted about my personal struggles around responding to climate change as a Pagan, I was met with several angry responses that demanded, "How dare you suggest that Pagans should be specifically concerned about climate change?" and "I'm so sick of Pagan popes."  

The person who told me that "Pagan" is a negative term has glimpsed this side of the Pagan community and been repelled with disgust, even though her spirituality is not far from true Pagan roots at all. And I struggle because I want to cry that there is no truth at all in the lies of the church-influenced media. Because this has nothing to do with the spirituality I know and love. But I do know that it isn't entirely a figment of evangelical propaganda. There are Pagans who say these things and openly espouse the values of wanton, immature, rebellious nihilism.

And I have searched for a coherent answer, a common definition or even a code of ethics broad enough and yet specific enough to be called "the Pagan way." And I've been told again and again that we are too broad, that nothing but external trappings connect us. And perhaps that is true, if you count everyone who ever used the word Pagan.

But today I've found a surprising spark of hope in this search.

It comes from Brendan Myers, who holds a doctorate in philosophy and writes extensively on environmental ethics and Neopagan topics. Many of Myers books may be too specific to one path or another but in The Other Side of Virtue (first published in 2008) he makes a credible, scholarly study of ethics and the meaning of a virtuous life, from ancient times to Harry Potter. Every other philosopher I have read and in fact my entire university philosophy program where I read Plato and the other thinkers that have shaped western society limited their study to the classical Roman and Greek period onward. Myers does what has been taboo and reaches beyond that boundary to explore the definition of "virtue" apparent in the remnants of ancient "heroic societies," the term he gives to pre-classical European tribal civilizations. 

Myers does not say in his book that he is defining indigenous-European Pagan ethics. It would be a very controversial claim. But he does it without the fanfare nonetheless. 

It is true that his entire study is limited to European thought, but the vast majority of those who self-identify as "Pagan" today do so in reference to spiritual paths that are at least inspired by indigenous European ideas. Even Wicca, which is so clearly not reconstructing a pre-Christian European Pagan faith, uses terms and concepts that are a clear reflection of its European roots. While I and many others may believe that Native American, Hindu, African and other earth-centered spiritual traditions are also "Pagan" in that they are non-Judeo-Christian and nature-based and involve similar ideas of deities, these communities generally do not use the term "Pagan" to describe themselves and thus they have to at least be given their own categories. Myers speaks specifically, though perhaps not exclusively, about indigenous-European Paganism--whether it be reconstructionist Celtic, Nordic, Slavic or Hellenistic or Wiccan, non-reconstructionalist Druidic or eclectic. He doesn't claim to speak to or for all these groups himself, but I assert that he makes a very good stab at it. 

The first half of The Other Side of Virtue is primarily a scholarly treatise on the development of European thought about what constitutes "virtue" and "the good way to live" since ancient times. Rather than glossing over the ancient Pagan era, Myers devotes the most pages and detail to that period and from what I have read of reconstructionist literature, his general conclusions easily apply to Celtic, Nordic (Germanic), Roman and Slavic belief systems of the times. This part of the book then presents today's Pagans with at the very least an interpretation of what ancient Eujropean Pagan ethics and philosophy was like.

And it is not a view without its uncomfortable corners. According to Myers the highest virtue for these "heroic societies was "honor" and that honor was something seen through a social lens. Those who were held in high esteem were truly believed to be good. The fact that a person was born with strength and physical beauty made them virtuous, as did their deeds. Virtue, including honor, meant being a strong chieftain or being the supporter of a strong chieftain. Those who won gained honor and those who lost were bereft. Honor can thus be seen in this ethos as more important than life and thus the focus in so many ancient tales such as Beowolf on saving honor even when it means giving up one's own life. And yet the way in which Myers shows the development and application of these ideas makes it eminently useful for modern life. 

Honor in Myers's study becomes the living of a life that is worthy of being told as a story. Honor and thus a large part of virtue can be attained by being an excellent craftsperson, a skilled and ethical businessperson, a leader who makes difficult decision, a soldier who thinks while also working within a team, an artist who creates something great. Honor is in the worthy use of the gifts one is given by "fate," whether they be physical attributes, wealth, position or internal talents. Thus while some honor may be due to a person who is famous for great beauty or success in business in their own right, far greater honor comes to those who have these gifts and use them for a great purpose. It is more in what you do with your blessings than what blessings you acquired. It is more in the sacrifice offered than in the size of what was horded. 

The second half of the book deals with a logical, philosophical argument, presented in clear, lay terms that are easy for those without a doctorate in philosophy to follow. Myers's thesis attempts to show what he believes can be proven based on natural objective principles to be the basis for living a good life, defined as a life of virtue or excellence. The ultimate measure of virtue in Myers's thinking is not what is applauded by others or what stands up to the laws of gods or human beings, but what way of life allows the individual to flourish and find greatest happiness and fulfillment. And so while Myers admits that there are unflattering strains of European thought, such as Nietzsche's concept of the ubermensch, which use the same ideas of honor to create great suffering, he shows where their logical pitfalls lie. And he does this without preaching about what is morally or ethically necessary by any law or teaching of society or gods. Instead he shows how living a life that can be told as a story of excellence is also to live the good life for one's self. 

The end of The Other Side of Virtue presents a deceptively simple test by which a person can determine--very individually and without the judgment of others--how to live with virtue and honor.

Because the underpinnings of the historical study and the logical argumentation are both sound and rooted in diverse Pagan philosophies, I would argue that Myers has a great deal to say about how one can find a moral compass for Neopaganism. It is true that such a compass may be different for different people. Myers doesn't offer any fully baked answers that don't come from within the individual, but he does give the raw materials by which a compass can be constructed.  

The Other Side of Virtue is both well written and readable but it is also groundbreaking in its gathering of today's Pagan movement. Certainly there will be those who continue to claim that we need no moral compass or even that such a thing is antithetical to the broad scope of modern Paganism, but I believe that if one reads Myers with an understanding that his descriptions of various historical beliefs do not mean that he sees them as any sort of law for how we should behave but simply a historical study and if one employs the objective tools he provides to look at one's own life, there can be some real conclusions drawn about what is true to Pagan beliefs and what is a pop-culture picture based on what Myers would term "modern malaise." No one is going to make that distinction for the individual but if individuals  pour their life into this vessel and look at the reflection, they may find their own definitions of what a life of great spirit and excellence looks like.

Book Review: Pagan Portals - The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens

Irish reconstructionist author Morgan Daimler is better known to me for her fiction, which is quite entertaining. I picked up her nonfiction book Pagan Portals - The Morrigan because I have been hearing a lot of murmurs among Pagans of various stripes about "dark Goddesses" and I wanted to understand the trend and its roots as well as learn about a tradition that isn't so distant from my own.

Pagan Portals - The Morrigan is essentially a beginner's text. As the subtitle Meeting the Great Queens suggests, it is an introduction.  As such it is tightly packed with information. The author presents concise and well-researched chapters on the history and stories surrounding various goddesses known as or associated with the Morrigan, which is presented as both a title held by several goddesses and the name of one goddess. This part of the book can be rather dry and difficult for those who have no access to the cultural atmosphere and tradition it comes out of. 

To help alleviate the dryness, Daimler presents poems, invocations and prayers of offering to the various goddesses highlighted and then a short passage on her personal experiences with the goddess or issue presented at the end of each chapter. These parts of the book serve to focus the scattered information and ground the reader on a sensory and emotional level. 

Many reviewers view it as a positive thing that Daimler presents all sides of various disagreements among Pagans on the goddesses and issues presented. She lets the reader know which side she favors, but this is simply f information. There is no attempt to persuade the reader of the various arguments and thus for a beginner it can be disorienting. Some of the information and arguments are contradictory, and Daimler isn't going to tell you what to think. It's hard to keep straight what is debated from this short tight text. And I come out of it with very few questions actually answered, although I do know a lot more.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the Morrigan in the context of contemporary neopaganism. It's full of welcome practicality and clear definitions. It can be viewed as a very broad how-to and with creativity and focus, one could begin a relationship with the Morrigan on this basis. 

As Daimler mentions, this is an introduction. It can give a sense of what there is to learn about the Morrigan. And it gives distinct hope for those, particularly women, seeking strong spiritual guidance and direction. Anyway you look at it the Morrigan is a fierce goddess of feminine power and intensity. For those who face a hard road in life and need strong protection and courageous support, there is hope here. And for those who have been made to suppress their inner fire and to feel shame for their intensity, this can be a breath of fresh air. 

You can find this book, Pagan Portals - The Morrigan here.

I have no affiliation with this author, but I do occasionally get free ebooks from her publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Book Review: Naming the Goddess

A defining work for today's goddess spirituality

I'm delighted to share this next book with you. Naming the Goddess, an anthology of over eighty Pagan writers edited by Trevor Greenfield, is a wonderful reflection of Pagan community and writing craft. I expect it will become a mainstay on the bookshelves of Pagans for at least a generation. 

Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture: image by the  Borghese Collection

Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture: image by the Borghese Collection

The book has two parts. The first section is a series of essays tackling crucial and often divisive issues within goddess-oriented communities. There is no attempt to gloss over or hide from the issues that trouble us. They are brought out and discussed both thoughtfully and eloquently from a variety of perspectives, some of which conflict with each other. The reader is allowed to see differences in perspective and to form independent ideas. 

The second section is among the best references on specific goddesses that I have seen. It is heavy on Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Roman and Celtic goddesses with a smattering of others. There is a problematic lack of non-Egyptian African goddesses. Still the geographical imbalance is less marked than in most similar references and Naming the Goddess represents a step in the right direction. I hope that future editions of the book will expand the cultural diversity of the anthology.

The reason I say this is one of the best references on goddesses is because each entry is written by a different writer--a writer with specific personal experience of the goddess in question. Each entry has a different flavor and a distinct passion that could never be achieved with a reference written by one person. This allows the reader to gain an intuitive sense of the goddesses, rather than just the intellectual understanding of correspondences and stories. 

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Book Review: Wild Earth, Wild Soul

A manual for leading workshops in ecological interconnection

The description I encountered for Wild Earth, Wild Soul by Bill Pfeiffer prior to reading it for review didn't sufficiently prepare me for the fact that this is primarily a manual for leading a particular type of retreat group. The Amazon description makes it sound like the book itself is meant to help the reader tap into ancestral memories, become part of a lasting culture and develop an ecstatic life.  That's a bit misleading.

The book is instead a fairly well-organized manual for workshop and retreat leaders in a specific tradition that the reader is expected to already be somewhat familiar with. The book is well-written with accessible prose and interesting examples. However, its structure as a manual for a specific type of workshop will be less useful to readers who aren't involved in the specific Wild Earth Intensive movement. It also isn't the best introduction to such a movement, with the emphasis being on how to lead groups rather than on the underlying concepts and ideas.

That said the book does have one use for the general reader who is interested in community organizations and leadership. Many of the activities in the book could be adapted to other types of workshops and organizations. While some of the activities and ideas are things familiar to most people involved in environmental movements, some are quite unique and refreshing. There is enough detail that an experienced workshop leader could adapt them to a variety of situations.

The one thing I find truly lacking in the book both for the general reader and for the Wild Earth Intensive movement is a serious treatment of social exclusion in groups. The focus of the book is on developing not only an ecologically sustainable culture but on forming community that will be sustainable through deepening interconnection between human beings in a group and with the natural world. The concept is a good one and mostly it is well executed. However, it comes from the perspective of a person who has always been well-accepted socially and without a deep consciousness of social trauma. There is little or nothing to address the issues facing people with disabilities or other truly marginalized individuals in a group. And these issues will come up for a workshop coordinator in such a setting. They come up at every similar conference or workshop I have attended and I have seen leaders fail time and again to address them well and bring the group to accept excluded members of the group. There is some attempt in Wild Earth, Wild Soul to address the need to balance the more talkative and less talkative members of the group through specific methods, and these are good ones. However, there are also plenty of suggestions of dividing the group up into pairs without the recognition that there will always be one or two individuals who no one will voluntarily pair with because of uncomfortable differences. There can be no sustainable culture and no interconnection as long as these issues are not addressed in the very settings where people are most interested in overcoming social and ecological trauma. The book tackles these tough issues weakly and insufficiently, yet I know of no comparable book that deals with them any better at present. 

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Book Review: Let's Talk About Pagan Elements and the Wheel of the Year

Yet another Pagan children's book with awkward prose and didactic tone

I was curious about Let's Talk About Pagan Elements and the Wheel of the Year by Siusaidh Ceanadach since I first heard about it a year ago, but I'm disappointed yet again.

I have a library of hundreds of children's books, including classics and a great many obscure treasures that teach children about far-flung cultures, social troubles and emotional issues. I can easily tell the difference between the stories that hold the interest of my children and the children who I teach and those that don't. More importantly, it doesn't seem that long ago since I was a kid myself and I read stories hungrily, spitting out the ones that tasted of dry sawdust or cliched cough syrup and devouring those that had the ring of truth and mutual recognition. 

My collection contains some of most well-known Pagan books for children and yet there are regrettably few modern Pagan books that my children want to sit through, let alone ask for. The stories of Pooka the cat and those in Circle Round are the most notable exceptions. That was why I was so excited about Let's Talk About Pagan Elements and the Wheel of the Year.  It isn't supposed to be just a teaching book. It contains stories about children who modern kids can relate to, or so I was told. 

The book's structure is straightforward, a very brief introduction to elements which reads like a short version of a particularly uninspired adult text. Then there is a short, Wiccan-leaning abstract of each of the eight Pagan holidays that make up the Wheel of the Year in many traditions. After each abstract there is a "story," which is in fact more like a character sketch of a modern child having something to do with the holiday. Each section ends with a list of research questions, asking kids to find details about the given holiday with an emphasis on agriculture.

The prose is the primary problem with this book. It is formal, awkward and pedantic. The tone is that of an adult speaking to a child of about the age of six or seven, while the vocabulary and content is suitable for a trivia-oriented twelve or thirteen year old. The book fails every age level. Younger children will find the content and vocabulary inaccessible, dull and out of touch with their experience. Older children will be likely to reject the book due to the combination of the abstract overviews and the condescending tone.

The "stories" which were originally the most attractive part of the book to me are not really stories at all. There is no tension, no problem to be solved, no question to be answered. Each is essentially a moralizing character sketch that Pagan parents who grew up with Christian Sunday school will recognize in tone and style.  The child in each story has no dilemma but randomly comes across some information or inspiration for the holiday. That's it. The prose is again condescending and uninteresting, although somewhat smoother than the writing in the abstracts.

The last part of each section--the suggested research questions--is arguably the best part of the book. If a parent was teaching children between the ages of eight and twelve about Pagan holidays, one could take these questions and adapt them for use as a kind of scavenger hunt. They won't satisfy the interests of teenagers well but middle grade kids, especially those with some experience with farming, may find them mildly interesting. Still there are better resources available both in books and free on-line. 

All in all, I am still hoping for better Pagan children's books. This one is disappointing with no good excuse. I have no specific quibble with the content. It isn't incorrect or offensive in any significant  way. It leans toward Wiccan paths and has a relatively heavy focus on agriculture, making it difficult for many modern kids to relate to. The Wheel of the Year is tied closely to agriculture after all, but there are better ways of making that connection relevant to children living in cities and growing a pot of basil on their window sill. 

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Book Review: Way of the Druid provides a readable, balanced and fascinating overview of both ancient and modern traditions

I grew up with spiritual beliefs adopted from earth-based traditions that floated around the air in my parents' generation. We never had a name for what we believed and were always taught to think that the spirituality of indigenous peoples is to be coveted among those with an earth-based or Pagan bent. Recently I have become interested in more seriously studying the beliefs of various cultures, to understand where our beliefs come from and find appropriate words to describe my own beliefs. 

I jumped at the opportunity to review Way of the Druid by Graeme K. Talboys because I live in an area of Central Europe that was once heavily Celtic. The shadows and echos of ancient Celtic beliefs still crop up in folk traditions from time to time. My own background is mixed enough to contain a little Celt here and there as well. So, I came to the book with interest but a little trepidation. It looked like an academic tome and I wasn't sure I had the attention span at the moment, while dealing with toddlers. 

It is hard to find time to read these days and it takes a lot to hold my attention. It felt a bit difficult to get through the compact section on history at the beginning of Way of the Druid, but when it was over I realized that it was actually fairly painless as histories go. It managed to summarize the history while shedding light on the academic controversies and problems with evidence when detailing the lives of Druids who specifically didn't write down their beliefs. 

After that the book picked up the pace of interest with sections on the Celtic metaphysic, the nature of religion, the history of Druid revivalism and overviews of modern Druid practices, beliefs and traditions. As some other reviewers have mentioned, the book doesn't go into great detail about modern Druid orders or organizations. It isn't dated by a focus on certain groups or events and it is not promoting any particular Druid group or interpretation, which was a great relief to me.

There are controversial matters of academic debate in the book and without going to all the source material, I can't say that the author is correct in all conclusions. However, the work makes a serious attempt at both historical documentation and a solid portrayal of modern Druid traditions, walking a difficult path between being broad enough not to exclude or offend various groups and yet specific enough to make sense.  

I found the prose to be concise and readable. There are dry sections. There is no attempt to make history or the discussion of religion theory into somethihng funny or entertaining. The reader is either interested in these topics or the reader isn't. I am interested and I found the theoretical sections as fascinating as the practical parts. The structure was clear and without meandering. I can easily see where I could come back to the book in the future to find specific information through the table of contents and turn to the right section without trouble, even in the parts that describe seemingly amorphous metaphysical concepts. 

This book would be useful for those interested in comparative theology, religion, European history and anthropology. It is specifically helpful to anyone who wants to understand modern Druids and may be very helpful to those exploring earth-based spirituality. One thing you will find here that I have found lacking in so many other places is a very clear description of the worldview of Celtic peoples and an understanding of how different these views are from Anglo-Saxon, Classical and Abrahamic concepts. It is also very different from the beliefs of indigenous peoples on other continents. It answered a lot of subtle questions I didn't even know how to ask and helped to patch some holes in my web of understanding, linking the diverse cultures that make up our family and social background.  

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.