Book Review: Modern Paganism

3. Short book reviews.  (325 word min. each)


Adler, M. (2006). Drawing down the moon: Witches, Druids, goddess-worshippers, and other pagans in America. New York: Penguin Books.

This book was well-organized overall and very readable. I read it for the first time right after the 1998 edition was published; there is not much that I remember except being aware that it called into question many of the things about Wicca, which I practiced at the time, that had always been disquieting to me. This new addition includes some useful updates. I do not know that there is a main thesis to the book as a whole. Instead, it endeavored to chronicle the development of a movement, and several ideologies and groups within that movement, from the first publication to the most recent in 2006. It was, to me, these evolutions that were often the most interesting in the book, which is saying quite a bit for a book that caused me to think very deeply about many things.

The book moved from a discussion of terminology in the community through the worldview of the movement and its development over time. It focuses heavily on Wicca and devotes five chapters to the history of Wicca and they myths surrounding its development, the modern craft, magic and ritual, and feminist craft perspectives. There was also an interview with a modern witch that I found personally to be a poor choice; I did not find it was very representative of the ideas and beliefs of most of the Neopagans I know nor of most of the writings I’ve read. I also found some of the attitudes of the woman interviewed to be bordering on the unethical. The book moved on into other Neopagan movements, from reconstructionists to more playful developments such as the discordians and into men’s and LGBTQ spirituality. I thought it interesting that men’s concerns were so sparsely treated compared to the space given feminist perspectives in Wicca; however, this may be due to the huge role women’s spirituality has played in the development of Wicca in particular, especially in the United States.

There were some things within the book I found especially useful or thought provoking. I found the evolution of the neosacral movement into asceticism and back to an earthier, visionary, and connected spirituality very interesting. I also immediately found myself intrigued by her discussion of the idea of magic. It is an area I have significant trouble with as an empiricist. I struggle to embrace the idea that there is this extra step of energizing, that the law of sympathy and attraction is more than the mechanistic response of the environment that reinforces and punishes behavior in such a way as to shape outcomes. Throughout, I found myself thinking deeply about polytheism. ADF takes a much stronger line about polytheism; it is one of the few beliefs necessary for practice in the religion, although how “hard” it is seems to vary considerably across people. This is different from how Adler describes the attitude in much of modern Neopaganism towards polytheism and from my own experience with attitudes towards theistic beliefs in the community. The community does appear to be building enduring structures such as clergy, non-profit organizations, and even seminaries, but it remains one of orthopraxy not orthodoxy. There seems to be in such structures and shared practices a potential to develop orthodox beliefs through shared personal gnosis and the development of expectations of what experiences should arise from that praxis. It is something I think the community must be vigilant for.

Drawing Down the Moon has been an immensely valuable read and I am glad I started with it rather than the cultural material. There are many aspects of my re-engagement with the pagan path, and my new exploration of ADF, that have been personally challenging to me. This book has given me some places to explore as I processed and reacted to the material that have already been helpful. I would highly recommend it to anyone, especially someone returning to Neopaganism after a hiatus as it elucidates many trends in the community. It also points to some areas where we as a broader movement, and ADF as a part of that movement, might benefit from exploration. Building a true community, one that can support and welcome the diverse peoples drawn to various pagan paths in bringing their own vision to that community, can help us create traditions that survive and flourish across generations. The book also helped me situate ADF historically within the movement. I think the most valuable aspect of the book, and why it is a valuable addition to the Dedicant Path reading list, is that history. History gives us an understanding of the forces that shaped where we are today and that continue to be at play in the community. Openly acknowledging and discussing the myths that shaped our history will go a long way towards legitimizing our community. It also gives us a place to stand as we build the future.



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