Book Review: Idiot’s Guide to Paganism

This entry was posted on July 9, 2007 under Book Reviews, Dedicants Program. Written by:

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.

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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.
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