Modern Paganism book notes: Chapters 4 & 5

Well I had trouble sleeping last night with all the storms, so I did some more reading.

Chapter 4 is entitled “Wicked Good” and is about Wicca.  Here are my notes:

  • The author reminded me of a good point–that some people use the word “Wiccan” instead of “witch” because of the baggage associated with the latter word.
  • There is mention of the so-called Burning Times.  Their scope here is listed as “thousands of innocent people–mostly women…” which may or may not be true.
  • Gerald Gardner and his relationship to modern Wicca is explained.
  • Important point:  Incidentally, one of the biggest differences between Wicca and other forms of paganism is that Wiccans tend to see God and Goddess as unified entities, whereas folks like the pagan druids tend to think in terms of many unique Gods and Goddesses rather than just one Great Lord and Lady.”
  • “The word [reiki] means ‘universal life force energy.’ ”  Incorrect.  I haven’t had much Japanese, but what I do know tells me that “reiki” simply means “spirit energy.”
  • “[M]ost Wiccan traditions consider the priestess as more important than the priest in the function of Wiccan ritual. For many women, this is a wonderful alternative to the sexism in many other religions. Even men find this attractive; for although the priestess is “first among equals,” the equality of men and women is still stressed[.]”  I don’t understand how there is equality if the priestess is more important than the priest.  Isn’t this contradictory?

I knew most of the rest of the info in this chapter, so it wasn’t very exciting.  Chapter 5 is entitled “The Philosophical Pagans:  Druids and Other Revivalist Groups.”  The title of this chapter is straightforward.

  • McColman points out that Druids did NOT build Stonehenge, nor were they simply tree worshipers.
  • He also suggests to think of Druids as shamans in kilts.  I am a Norse Druid.  We Vikings did not wear kilts.
  • Three ages of Druidry:  ancient Druids, Renaissance Druid orders, Neopagan Druidry
  • Concept of reciprocity is mentioned
  • Random hints of ADF cosmology throughout the chapter, plus a section a few paragraphs long specifically about ADF.
  • Chapter ends with mention of Asatru and Reconstructionist groups.


Modern Paganism book notes: Chapters 2 & 3

Chapter 2 is entitled “All-Natural Ingredients.”  It’s basically about connecting with the Earth Mother, since She is Who unites us.

  • “…pagans regard nature as a manifestation of Spirit.”  Key point.
  • “Many followers of the old ways understand Spirit as having both a physical and a spiritual dimension, just as human beings have both a body and a soul.”  Another key point.
  • There’s a statement about most spiritual revelations taking place outdoors, which is something I never realized.  Whether it was Mohammed in a cave or Jesus preaching from the side of a mountain, Nature plays an important role in the “revealed” religions.
  • Mention of the fact that experiencing Nature is not just for physical enjoyment, it is also for spiritual nourishment.
  • “We live in a society heavily slanted toward seeing the spiritual world in terms of just one male God. All of our money says ‘In God We Trust,’ and even our swear words get their wallop from the idea of a single God whose name can be used in vain.”  A good point.
  • There is a statement about archaeology showing that “ancient religions often put more effort into worshipping a mother Goddess than a father God.”  This is an inaccurate statement.
  • Later there is a mention of the Earth Mother and Sky Father, which does have an ADF ring to it.
  • We still have concepts of Mother Earth and Mother Nature.
  • Never heard of “matrifocal” spirituality before.  It’s basically one that honors the Goddess primarily as a mother (not as a queen).
  • The rest of the chapter is just some tips on connecting to the Earth Mother, along with ideas on learning more about one’s area from an ecological perspective.

Chapter 3. “Please Don’t Squeeze the Shaman,” is about shamanism.  I hate the cheesy chapter titles in this book.

  • Key point:  “We human beings are part of the physical world. We do not exist “above” or “outside” of nature but are an integral part of the earth’s ecology.”
  • Definition of shamanism:  “it has become a catch-all term for just about any kind of spiritual practice from a culture without modern technology—in other words, a culture that lives closer to the rhythms of nature than the people of modern urban societies do.”
  • “[T]he word ‘shaman,’ technically speaking, only refers to a specific kind of spiritual figure from an indigenous culture in Siberia.”  This is not true.  Anthropologists themselves have broadened the definition of the term “shaman.”
  • “The first important quality [of shamanism] is that most shaman traditions are animistic. In other words, shamanism recognizes the universe we live in not as some mechanistic world devoid of spiritual consciousness but as a cosmos teeming with spirits, both large and small.”  Good point to remember.
  • Minor quibble with calling the realm of spirits “the otherworld, the underworld, or simply the spirit realm.”  In ADF tradition, the Underworld is part of the Otherworld.  Only the Ancestors dwell in the Underworld, but the Otherworld contains all the Kindreds.
  • The author describes a bit about shamanic initiation and explains how they heal.
  • “The common elements of the shamanic experience usually involve some form of journeying to the realm of spirits to subdue unfriendly spirits and to appeal to helpful ones for guidance and aid.”
  • Shamanic drumming to enter trance is described.
  • The chapter gives ideas on incorporating elements of shamanism into your own spirituality, and also states that Paganism has shamanic aspects.
  • The chapter ends with a note on honoring Ancestors.

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.