‘Book Reviews’ Posts

 

Book Review: Comparative Mythology

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I picked Comparative Mythology as my final book review, at the recommendation of my friend Zalon Draconis. While in-depth and interesting, I found this book to be the most difficult read out of any of the books I chose. So much that there was very little in the first chapter that sunk in or I even understood. Which widely contradicts several reviews I’ve seen for the book, which attempt to insinuate that this is an easy and entertaining read.

For example, on page 133 he states “Myth presents her (Athena) born from Zeus’s aching head under the obstetric ministrations of Hephaisto’s sledgehammer”, which in laymens terms just means that Athena was born from Zeus’s head after an uber headache given to him when Hephaistos’ whacked him in the head with his legendary sledgehammer. I’m exaggerating a bit here, but all the same I think the writing style of Puhvel is certainly out of my league and understanding.

The book itself is littered with proper cultural phrases from that particular mythos, and while it’s important to be introduced to these phrases and words, I found them distracting from the actual content.

As far as actual content goes, I thought Puhvel’s understandable comparisons between mythos were enlightening. I had never realized before Comparative Mythology, the concept of Universal Mythology and how several different cultures, even Native American and Greek (as stated on page 3) had similarities and patterns in their stories, even though they were leagues apart. It inexplicably shows that there is a common core to a lot of the beliefs from many cultures, and on the same token, that our ancestors were very similar. Unlike modern times where everyone puts so many dividers and obstacles between them and other cultures.

I’m hesitant to recommend this book to other dedicant’s. It is a great resource, and invaluable to ADF students and scholars. But I’m of the mind that literature should be made accessible to all, not just people with a masters degree of the English language.

(Word Count: 330)

 

Book Review: The Druids

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I think by the time I had gotten to this book review, my second to last essay, I’ve finally started to realize the significance and importance of the dedicant’s program. I’ve learned more over the last several weeks, that it really lays to rest any doubts I might have had about my path.

My second book report was the 1994 edition “The Druids” by Peter Berresford Ellis. I had been told that this was a dry read, so I was somewhat apprehensive in reading it, as I’m not remotely a philosophical pagan.

My impressions after spending a good two weeks immersed in this book are somewhat conflicting. I found the book to be filled with sometimes dry referenced material, as well as names of Celtic places, terms, and even unknown (to me) past historical figures. Because of so much content relating to the above, it was almost impossible to read or interpret several passages throughout the book.

However, I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of historical story and detail within the book, of which I absorbed the most of. For example, Ellis seems very adamant about explaining with as much historical comparison as possible that there are indeed no historical facts that relate the Druids to human sacrifice (as noted on Page 17). He goes on to explain that much of what we know of Celtic history, or what the modern world knows in general, had been written by those that are “hostile to Celtic Culture” (as noted on page 14) such as the Romans and Greeks. I would assume that much of the negative history we have seen about the Druids was nothing more than a scare tactic used by the Roman and Greek governments to help denounce what they viewed as a threat. The Celts were not illiterate nor were they barbarians like their circus-craving nemesis. The Author Strabo even comments that “the Druids are considered the most just of men.” If anything, after reading this book, it would almost seem to me like the Druid society was more ideal than our own government.

I also learned that, even though I have no way to really legitimate Ellis’ facts, that he presents a very convincing look at many pieces of Celtic History. It made me realize that before reading this book, I knew very little about theorized OR factual Celtic History. He proposes information on Women in Celtic culture and how they were almost treated as equals, as opposed to other societies where men could not even look at women for fear of seeing the devil. He continues with the religion of the Druids, and the lack of a story of creation or the fact that the Celts looked upon their Gods as their ancestors or heroes, rather than their creators (as noted on Page 115-116).

The most interesting realization throughout many sections of “The Druids” is that the Druids were in fact very revered during the climax of their society. In one story about the King of Ulster, it is stated that even the King could not speak to the assembly before his Druid Cathbad (as noted on Page 75).

I’m sorry to read about how oppressed the Irish were for so many centuries, even up to the 19th century. Irish children could not be taught, Irish books could not be read. It’s no wonder that so much of their culture and history was passed on to each generation vocally, and eventually lost over time.

The Druids was a very informative book, and though dry at times due to much referenced material, I highly recommend it for anyone wanting an unbiased glimpse at Celtic history (though I can’t vouch for the validity of Ellis’ information).

(Word Count: 600 without page notations)

 

Book Review: Idiot’s Guide to Paganism

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I noticed while pushing the book review portion of my dedicant’s program towards the end, that finding time to read in my daily tasks was ridiculously difficult. I finally resolved to reading an hour everyday during my lunch break and randomly during the weekends. Thus it made this task infinitely more difficult. But I found that keeping notes in an online journal while I read made it easier for me to look back and remember portions and pieces that I wanted to speak on during this review.

[Start of Word Count]

I chose the “Idiot’s Guide to Paganism” as the title for my modern pagan essay because it was readily available and loaned to me by an elder at my Grove. I figure an Idiot’s/Dummies book would be an easier read for someone who never finds time to read. And I find that this book was indeed a very easy read, with quirky anecdotes and common sense that I was able to absorb without much trouble.

What I find most amusing after reading this book, is I remember when I first starting on the pagan path at 16 and the difficulty I had transitioning from Christianity to Paganism. I remember reading a list of the 8 Holy Days and thinking “How am I going to remember these?” and now 11 years later they are second nature. This book covers a lot of basics that provide good information for someone just starting out on the path, and I wish to the Gods that I had access to it when I was 16. But regardless of its newbie information, it had several notations I didn’t know and new comparisons and correspondences that I hadn’t thought of, so it was still beneficial and informative.

What I also think adds to the value of “Idiots Guide to Paganism” is the fact that it’s not entirely Wiccan-centric, but it covers two other major forms of Pagan traditions as well as small mentions of other cultures and their examples. It sheds light on Druidism and Neo-Shamanism, and emphasizes the fact that the reader should discover a path that feels right to them, rather than everyone feeling like Wicca is the whole of Paganism in general.

On Page 4 in the chapter “Pagan Basics”, there is an introductory section which acts as a “Checklist of a Pagan Personality”. Already in the beginning of this book it speaks on a subject that really hits home for me, the type of spiritual practice that I do. I often feel like a ‘lesser’ member of ADF because I am not as scholarly or as much of an intellectual. But in this section the author talks about how some pagans consider themselves more spiritual instead of religious. Their spirituality is more of a way of life and how they pursue their daily activities, which precisely defines how I view myself. I much prefer being out in nature and learning primitive skills than reading ancient scholarly knowledge. It reminded me of the quote “Spirituality brings people together, Religion tears them apart” – [Author Unknown].

On page 7 of the same chapter, I learned about a period of time where mesopaganism (the middle era of “pagan worship”) in which several people attempted to revive ancient druidic practices, incorrectly. I imagine these can be related to many of the male-oriented fraternal clubs that we see now. I honestly had no idea that such a time period existed, but often wondered what a lot of these fraternal orders were all about.

On page 31 in chapter “Please don’t Squeeze the Shaman” McColman went over a lot of basics on the Shamantistic spiritual path. I’m glad he included this, but I’m even more happy about him mentioning that a lot of this modern neopagan movement towards Shamanism could be called “Neo-shamanism” simply because it’s not exactly accurate in traditional Shaman worship. This also stems from a lot of the Native American’s, though their spirituality cannot necessarily be categorized as Shamanism, often grow quite upset at the neopagan movement stealing their rituals and ideas and desecrating them for their own purpose.

On page 126 during the chapter on “A Field Guide to the Spirit World” I started getting slightly confused because two chapters prior, in “This World, That World, and the Otherworld”, I thought he had already gone over a lot of the elements of the spiritual realm. I’m not entirely sure why two chapters were included on this subject, but I found myself going back and forth between the two in comparison. Regardless he gives a lot of good information and mundane examples of how the spiritual realm affects our modern day life.

On page 169 in the chapter “Wheel of the Year”, McColman goes into details about the various seasons and high rites performed throughout the year. I found that I often think of the year in terms of 4 seasons, but this chapter allowed me to view the wheel of the year in terms of 2, such as a dark and light half of the year. From Samhain to Ostara, and then Ostara to Samhain, the fertility and harvest versus the dead or feminine time of year, which can compare to terms of night/day, daytime/nightime, and awake/sleep.

In this same chapter, I began to realize that a lot of the rituals that my Grove does throughout the year are not based off of what I would consider folk traditions. I grew up a farmer’s daughter, and intend to stay a farmer throughout my life. I celebrate many of our high rites in a very literal sense when it comes to harvest festivals and fertility festivals. But as I look back on a lot of our high rites, they very rarely relate to these literal folk traditions, and instead these themes act as brief metaphors, which often lead to other purposes during ritual such as healing or balance. I suppose this leads to some of our high rites at the Grove as becoming less meaningful for me than if they were done based off of traditional folk lore. I am actually honoring the Gods for a good harvest of our corn and potatoes.

There are many other chapters in this book which cover the very bare bones, yet still essential, information regarding the pagan path. To be honest I would highly recommend it to even teenagers as a starting point for those serious about their new spiritual interest. I think McColman did a great job organizing this information (which considering how unorganized the whole of paganism can be, is a substantial feat in itself) and setting up a great resource for newcomers.

Edit after the fact (not included in essay or word count)
I received my copy of Oak Leaves for August 2007 today and read an article in it from a dedicant who also read this book. The review was actually fairly negative, denouncing the authors attempt at creating a basic resource for those interested in paganism.

While I agree his assessment that the book covers mainly neo-wiccan theories and basics, I feel the article missed some points. McColman made it very clear in the beginning that Wicca was considered the most popular form of paganism to date, which is probably why the book was primarily neo-wiccan.

Because of the wiccan-centric content of the book, it does not elaborate as much on Druidism and Shamanism. The fact remains that it did give a brief introduction as well as touch base on a few other traditions of paganism throughout the book as a whole. The books was never meant to be a detailed resources on any one particular tradition.

Because of that fact, I still feel this is an accurate newbie book recommended to give a brief introduction to anyone wanting to learn.
(Word Count: 1016)