Book Review: Modern Paganism
The book I have chosen for the Modern Paganism requirement of the ADF Dedicant Path is Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler.
When I was just starting out as a budding pagan I was recommended this book and never got around to reading it. This is something that I now regret as it really is a great overview of the progression of modern paganism.
While not a small book, it is very easy to read to a degree that I power read it within a couple days. In the chapter Neo-Pagan World Views I found one of the very things that drew me to paganism to begin with, scholarly work. The term “hands-in-the-dirt archaeologists” digging out odd facts and titled “scholars without degrees” (pg 37) really hit close to home for me as I was previously an Anthropology major who’s passion has never died despite the fact that I did not obtain that degree. Its very true that all the pagans I know, read. I cannot say the same about the Christians that I know.
My ears pearked up any time that Isaac Bonewits was mentioned and I enjoyed reading about his involvement with both the Pagan revival and Druidic movements (and ADF creation). These are areas of interest to me but I didn’t expect to learn that his relationship with the Wiccans/the Craft was so stormy (pg 67). It made sense, however, as Bonewits was more focused on scholarly work (often seen as spiritually inflexible) as opposed to more free-thought spiritualties. He valued order and historically accurate knowledge and wrote a book on the “Myth of Wicca”, which naturally made waves and enemies of practitioners of the Craft.
The whole chapter on interviewing the modern witch was very outdated and not very useful to help me understand modern practice, but that is also because there is such a wide variety of modern ways to practice witchcraft/wicca/the Craft.
The chapter on Women, Feminism, and the Craft opened my eyes a bit to the political link between the 60’s and 70’s rise of feminism in America in general opposing a patriarchal system of government. Feminist witches began to state that “Witchcraft is not incompatible with politics” and that “the Craft is a religion historically conceived in rebellion therefore it continues the ancient fight against oppression” (pg 178). While I agree that this is a very important way to think I did get a lot of man-bashing on an overall level in this chapter and the exclusion (and sometimes outright denial) of men in Witchcraft practice. Such was the case of witch Z Budapest when she declared the craft to be “Wimmins Religion” not open to men. (pg 178) I have witnessed this first hand in modern Wicca/Witchcraft groups as well and does not reflect my views on true feminism equality.
In contrast to the chapter on Women Feminism and the Craft was the chapter on Radical Faeries and the Growth of Men’s Spirituality. I was very disappointed with the size of this chapter for the very reasons listed above. Men began to feel like the pagan “Goddess” focus was a bit too extreme in only one direction and that male “God” deities had been forgotten and/or shunned outright despite historical evidence to their practice. One of the reasons I am particularly fond of ADF Druidry is that it is not strictly Goddess centered and instead includes focus on both female and male (sometimes other genders as well) deities. This chapter talked about men who felt very isolated and rejected in their practice and their wanting to work with their Sisters on issues that effect everyone (pg 339). I was a somewhat relived to read about witch Z Budapest’s inclusion of male practitioners in the 1980’s as guardians and protectors of the skyclad women in the circle but then frustrated that they were not allowed to participate within the rite itself. The statement from one man, “If you think it’s hard to free yourself rom being the oppressed, think how much harder it is to free yourself from being the oppressor” (pg 348) really sums up the uphill battle that men have been fighting to be included in modern pagan practice. It is nice to see so many men at the pagan events I attend in modern day, but the prejudice is still out there for sure.
Lastly, I would like to comment on an element in Appendix III that I found particularly fascinating; Isaac Bonewits’s “Cult Danger Evaluation Frame” checklist. When I first saw this list I chuckled to myself thinking about how many times I have been accused of joining a cult by my Christian/Atheist/Agnostic friends. Upon really reading the list I felt that there were a lot of really good points listed. One of the main ones to me is “Wisdom Claimed” by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared about decisions. This is so fundamentally anti-ADF from my perspective as ADF cultural understanding is constantly being updated by modern archaeology and open to so many new ideas. Unlike books of the bible, we allow Archaeology to change our perspectives or at the very least, encourage practitioners to know the most accurate, proven information not strictly in a religious context.
Overall, I really liked this book. I learned a massive amount about early Wicca movements and about Druidry movements as well. I wish there had been more written about ADF Druidry but I was thankful to have so much content on Isaac Bonewits to read about. I understand why this book was recommended to me and would highly recommend it to others.
Adler, Margot. Drawing down the Moon: witches, Druids, goddess-worshippers, and other pagans in America today. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. Print.
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