Modern Paganism book notes: Foreword, Introduction, and Chapter 1

For the Dedicant’s Path, one requirement is that we write a book review for a book about modern Paganism.  I began reading Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon a few months ago, but wasn’t a big fan.  I believe I stopped in the middle of the seventh chapter.  I just don’t like the huge focus on Wicca when other forms of Paganism are becoming more popular.

I downloaded the Kindle sample of another book on the required reading list:  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism by Carl McColman.  I know it doesn’t sound very scholarly, but so far it’s actually provided a very good overview of contemporary Paganism that is very easy to understand.  The author even thanks an ADF Grove in the Acknowledgments section as one of the groups that helped him on his spiritual journey.

I will be providing my notes to this book as I read it, so here goes.

First, the Foreword.  It’s written by a Witch, Barbara Ardinger, who has authored some books about Goddess worship.

  • “Today most people understand that paganism is a genuine religion.”  I noted that some people disagree with this, while others don’t even know what Paganism is.  I’ve had to explain Paganism to people on campus before.
  • “…it is a new religion that we recreate every time we cast a circle or invoke a goddess or a god.”  Here I noted that not all of us cast circles.  (I didn’t realize the author of this piece was a Witch until the my next note.)
  • “I am a Witch and a writer.”  I wonder why a Witch wrote the foreword for a book about all the major forms of Paganism.  This just reinforces the belief that the only Pagans that matter are Witches and Druids are some fringe group.
  • “Although I don’t like to get the outdoors on me, I worship the ground I walk on…”  Isn’t this somewhat hypocritical?  I always thought so.
  • “Like thousands of other pagans, I also worship the Goddess Who Is All That Is.”  Not all of us believe in One Great Goddess of whom other Goddesses are “aspects.”
  • “…[pagans’] ethical principles of tolerance and doing harm to none.”  These are Wiccan principles.  Not all Pagans believe in them, but that all Pagans do is certainly implied.
  • “It’s been said pagans are going mainstream.  Well, this is partly true.  I think it’s truer, however, that the mainstream is going pagan.”  I actually agree with this statement.  I see “Happy Harvest” signs in the fall at home decor stores and more decorations inspired by things like pinecones and feathers.

After that, you may wonder how I will get through this book.  Well the actual author of the book (Carl McColman) is writing from the Introduction on.  It’s not nearly as bad.  I find this book engaging, though, even if so far I don’t agree with all of it.

Notes from the Introduction:

  • “…approaching Spirit as both Goddess and God.”  This has a Wiccan tone to it.
  • “…the Divine Mother and her Sacred Consort.”  And the Wiccan slant continues.
  • A couple pages later “the Goddess” is mentioned.  We don’t all believe in One Goddess over everything.  This mentioning of the Goddess to refer to the Divine continues throughout the book.

This book is divided into five parts:  1. Pagan Basics; 2. How to Think Like a Pagan; 3. Ritual; 4. Magic; 5. Living the Pagan Life.  Part 1 begins with Chapter 1:  Welcome to the Pagan Path.

Here are my notes from the chapter:

  • “…transform the human soul into a higher state.”  This implies that our current state is low or inferior, contrary to what most Pagans believe.
  • “…the words “pagan” and “paganism” have been used to say not what something is but what it is not.”  (emphasis original)  I found this to be a good point and something I never really thought about.
  • The author proposes that “pagan” become an anagram:  “People Adoring Goddess And Nature.”  See my notes above for my problem with this.
  • “…most [pagans] have some sort of devotion to the Goddess…” Again my problem with only using “Goddess.”  ADF does not have devotion to One Goddess of any sort.
  • Discussion of differences between paleopagan, mesopagan, and neopagan is useful.
  • Erroneous assumption that all ancient cultures worshiped a Great Mother Goddess.
  • Note about Gods and Goddesses of older cultures were transformed into the demons and devils of Christianity.
  • Mention of offerings like incense and food as sacrifices.
  • I thought it was interesting that Pagan beliefs and actual sexual behavior differ.  In other words, Pagans generally believe people can have sex with whomever they wish, but they personally don’t do such things.  I think this may be the author trying to make Pagans seem less “out there” and more “normal.”
  • I agreed with the reasons given for Paganism’s diversity.
  • The connection all Pagans share is reverence for the Earth Mother.
  • I highlighted a few sentences talking about the diversity of Pagan belief, whether it is in Divine polarity, in multiple Gods and Goddesses, or in the Divine as a force.
  • The author does say no one way of Paganism is better than others.  What’s important is your individual preferences.  You, the practitioner, are also the ultimate authority on spiritual matters.




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