Yet another intro to paganism book

Paganism: Pagan holidays, beliefs, gods and goddesses, symbols, rituals, practices, and much more! An Introductory GuidePaganism: Pagan holidays, beliefs, gods and goddesses, symbols, rituals, practices, and much more! An Introductory Guide by Riley Star
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is an introduction for someone that has nowhere else to start. If you want a quick lay of the land. Right off the bat I appreciated the author’s eloquence. But this is a Wikipedia article in book form at best. And at worst it is a reassurance to mom that the author isn’t evil and going to Hell.

But soon I came upon the 4 Myths of paganism, which are all quite mistaken. Reading the rest of it, I assume the author is aware of the Left Hand Path, histories of dark gods/goddesses, hexing, and more. Such statements of these were outright incorrect. As wonderful as her introduction was, there are portions (such as the so-called myths, that is to say, ‘falsehoods or lies’ and not myths as in ancient stories along universal themes) that seem to be written to appease a nervous christian mother worried about what her child is up to. Many pagan authors will have these sections in their books. We spend so much of our energy in appeasing christians around us that we don’t have orgies, don’t hex people, don’t worship the devil, and are really nice people. When in truth, I will ruin you with a heart of glee, whether by axe or bullet, if you fuck with me. I’ll have a wild orgy on a beach, having sex with whomever I wish, and more.

She starts out with the idea that all paths are valid, to give love and respect to the Christian path, as it too is a manifestation of deity. Yet later says “pagans do not recognize the Christian concept of Satan, nor do they worship him.” This is incoherent with her opening remarks. As someone professed to be deeply influenced by Campbell, and others, a more scholarly look at the dark would be helpful. But, again, this seems written more to appear a nervous christian mother than an exploration of deity.

Later on she writes about some core beliefs of paganism.The hidden knowledge part that we all have? That’s straight up Plato. Not all pagans believe this. See the “what is evil” section header. This section needs a lot more work. The existence of evil needs better definition and there are many differing ‘pagan’ philosophies about what this even means. Just pick ancient Roman alone and you’ll come across differing ideas. Now add Teutonic, Celtic, Persian, just above the equator… Even more if you go south, and the discussion about what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ becomes quite complicated. The author follows the convention of saying there is not good/evil split, but there is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (putting it in quotes) as if to say that we know what these mean. That the ‘gut’ is given such high regard is at odds with the very notion that we ‘know’ what is good or bad. That is if you’ve read your Plato and understand the primacy of reason in deciphering this. This was not a book of philosophy at all and the sections on ethics were quite weak.

And don’t get me started with the idea of “The Rede” being one of the highest ethical codes. You simply must be joking, or you’ve never tried your hand at understanding ethics and morality.

On symbols. “This [pentacle] has nothing to do with Satanic worship and is not a symbol of the devil.” Please pick up a Motley Crue album. (joke). Or pick up any Satanic literature. The pentagram is used everywhere. It IS a symbol of the devil. But lets not talk about that and instead just outright deny it. I have a tattoo of Sowilo on my arm. Take two of these and cross them together and you have a swastika. Everyone knows these symbols as those of the Nazis. There are many who say they are NOT, but are ancient symbols. True, they are, but symbols are not static. They have meaning because we put meaning into them. Sowilo is, like it or not, also a symbol for the SS in Nazis, as well as an ancient rune. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away. It grows in power. Instead you’ll see many in the Ásatrú community directly facing the white supremist/nazi connections head on. When someone confuses my tattoo for a Nazi one, I see it as an opportunity for education and not denial.

The connection with the Triquatra and The Morrigan is a stretch.

Celtic knots. Not much is given as to why the Celts loved knots. Could’ve gone a lot deeper here to give the worldview of the Celts. Such a fundamental understanding goes deeper, on why boundaries with shores are important, why a misty night holds possibility, crossing from one season to another, the wheel of the stars above, reincarnation, and more. More so than listing Oak and Holly as important.

This book is, again, written for someone who has no idea where to begin, is probably stepping out of a Christian worldview and wanting to step into a ‘pagan’ (non Christian) one, but is worried about going to Hell and perhaps that Satan is behind it all and is leading one astray. That’s who this book is for. It isn’t for the person looking for a mature exploration of the depths of beliefs in any of the examples (Wicca, Druid, Odinist), in nuanced understanding of ethics, or the like.

I don’t mean to come across as mean spirited. Overall the book was clear. But yet again we have an “introduction” book that lists names and associations, dates for holidays, and an underlying theme throughout that we are not evil, that we recognize all of Deity (just not the scary parts or offensive parts, we’ll deny that) and no depth. Our pagan bookshelves are bursting with introductory books. Our community is suffering because of it. We are more than “attuning with nature”, whatever that means (go outside and get a ‘forest bath’ and feel good). If our worldview truly IS different than the fundamental one of Christians, then let’s skip the intro and get to the bones. The holidays are not the point. They are the flowers on the vine.

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