Book Review for Modern Paganism: Drawing Down the Moon

C)   Book review, Modern Paganism Title:

Drawing Down the Moon

by Margot Adler, printed 1979, 1986, 1997, 2006.

Margot Adler has been a journalist and has worked in radio since 1968.  She has written several books, though in my personal opinion, this book, “Drawing Down the Moon” is the most important.  I read the first printing in 1979, and I am writing this review on the 1986 and the 2006 editions as I wanted to see what changes and growths have been noted in the Pagan community in those years.  This book is the one singular book I have handed out time and time again to people who have come into my life and wanted to understand what is it I am about, what people like me are about, when they themselves come from Christian backgrounds with complete confusion that anyone could be anything but of their own faith.  I have used it to open eyes to quite a few people that took for granted that their way was the only way and had spent their lives assuming that everyone inherently followed and believed their own path.  Repeatedly, those that have borrowed this book from me have returned it with more open eyes and more questions, which is a good thing, for having those questions means growth…but back to the book.

Like most books it is broken down with a table of contents.  As the preface notes, all our ancestors were Pagans practicing religions that had few creeds or dogmas.  There were myths and legends instead of charismatic prophets.  Those myths and legends taught like parables; they were not scriptures to be dissected by fundamentalists.  As Adler credits James Breasted with, “Monotheism is but imperialism in religion.”   The historical portions of this edition remain the same as previous editions of this book with a few updated notes, while resource sections such as festivals and current groups that have risen to take the place of groups now defunct have been edited and updated.   She also makes note of how the rise of the internet has affected Paganism. This is quite a big book so this may be a big review, so please bear with me as I go through section by section.

In the preface she defines the Pagan movement as the revival of ancient European religions of Norse, Roman and Greek and Celtic cultures along with some surviving tribal paths.  She excludes the Eastern philosophies, Christianity, Islamic and Satanists but also includes new religions based on science fiction.

The “Background” section covers “Paganism and Prejudice,” “A Religion without Converts” and “The Pagan World View.”  In “Paganism and Prejudice” I’d have to say my favorite quote (page 5) is as follows, “I have noticed that many intellectuals turn themselves off the instant they are confronted with the words “witchcraft, magic, occultism” and “religion” as if such ideas exert a dangerous power that must weaken their irrational faculties yet many of these people maintain a generous openness about visionaries, poets and artists, some of whom may be quite mad according to “rational standards,” This is precisely why this is the book I shove into the hands of those who are clueless what my path really is about.  Ignorance feeds fear and this book is enlightening and dispels this fear.  She offers several definitions on just what magic is, as well as “pagan” and “witch,” all three of which are misunderstood terms, and the lack of that understanding fuels the subconscious fear of those terms.   This background chapter covers the prejudices of the world to this topic as the world looks into the Pagan World, and what brings people to this path and how Pagans look back out to that world.  There is a lovely story giving a working example of what magic can be defined as involving catching fish bare-handed, a story of which I have repeated myself in explaining magical methods.

In this “Beginnings” section of the book she speaks of how there are few “conversions” but rather a sense of “coming home” described time and time again.  She addresses the “how” people have come to Pagan paths such as seeking intellectual satisfaction (and that Pagan’s are avid readers), to visionary quests for beauty and creativity, to expansive growth (opposed to life being a linear path,) and that many came through other doors such as environmentalism or feminism.  Finally, she cites that some Pagans come from an “unexpected” door, that of “freedom.”  That there is an oppression in the majority dualism religions and “our way is the only right way” mentality where one must earn a ticket to heaven and that only the church leaders have the power to teach the way to catch that brass ring where Pagans want the freedom from the “middleman” to have direct and personal experience of their spirit to their gods.

In the Pagan “world view” she cites that the three most important words are “animism,” “pantheism, and polytheism” and she defines these terms.  One of my favorite quotes she lists from Harold Moss (page 24-25), “Today, in place of a single Christianity with multiple Gods, we see a shattered Christianity, each sect worshipping a slightly different God.” I found myself nodding my head in agreement as she talked of the notion of “idolatry” and the image of natives bowing to stone idols and of monotheistic religions patronizing superiority over those poor uneducated natives, while I found myself reading this and flashing back to childhood memories of being perhaps eight years old and just agog at the adults who were crying and singing and having ecstatic episodes before a stone statues of a half naked man up on the wall in front of us nailed to a cross. How is it so different?  If the monotheist were seeing beyond that artistic (and gruesome) statue mounted up there on the wall of the church to the God it represented, why could they not see that other faiths were capable of doing the same, seeing beyond the pagan statues and symbolic imagery?  It seemed perfectly logical to my eight year old mind.

A final note on this book’s “Background” section, I have to take note to a few references to “polytheistic psychology”   which gives reign to various parts of the self. Adler quotes Miller with saying that polytheism is an attitude that allows one to affirm “the radical plurality of the self” in psychology (page 27), Reading Miller’s take on this let me to investigate just how Jungian my own philosophies are now leaning in my late life.

Section II is on Witches…and covers a whole lot on Witches from the” Wiccan Revival,” “the Craft Today,”  there is a not so modern interview with a modern witch, a chapter on Magic and Ritual and finally a chapter on feminism and it’s connection to the “craft.”   In the “Wiccan Revival” she speaks on how the Craft evolved from myth, or did it?  She talks about how our Isaac Bonewits dashes away with the myth and is met with many cranky-pants romantics that cling the literal myth.  She goes into the controversy of writings of the anthropologist, Margaret Murray.   Something that niggles at me in this section of the book is how she sidetracks greatly on witchcraft as though Wicca is one and the same as the Witchcraft revival.  In “The Wiccan Revival” chapter she seems to be using Wicca and Witchcraft interchangeably.  While the sources of the witchcraft revival can point to Gardner, Alex Sanders, Crowley, Buckland, Valiente, the Frosts, Farrer, Graves and Starhawk, this points to the history and revival of not only Wiccans but all the divisions of witches such as ancestral, traditionalists, Dianic, Heathen and Kitchen Witches.  This chapter would have been better named as Witchcraft Revival, not “Wicca Revival” for while all Wiccans are witches, not all witches are Wiccan.  At this point in the book I have seen so many quotes by our own Isaac Bonewits that I cannot help but feel a warm sense of pride and possession of the man who is the founder of our ADF.

In “Craft Today” she talks about the attempts for various witchcraft paths to come to agreements on definitions and creeds, and such attempts of course failed as one of the most common characteristics of neo-pagan faiths seems to be the dislike of dogma and organized religion systems though they all do seem to agree on some form of reincarnation and many believe in the “threefold law” and karmic retribution.  Adler talks about what holidays and sabbats are celebrated within the paths.  She talks of some of the differences between one sect to another and goes into more detail on traditionalists vs Gardnerian vs Alexandrian vs Georgian vs NROOGD, Feri, Minoan, and Dianic traditions as well as the controversial School of Wicca.  In this 2006 edition she adds Greencraft which grew from the Alexandrian tradition in 1994.  Since its birth, Greencraft has grown from its Benelux beginnings and spread into Europe and the United States and has an emphasis on the nature aspects of their religion.   On a personal note, I found myself underlining a quote on page 108, “Most craft rituals that I’ve observed are completely absurd, because they are rooted in traditions alien to the people who are performing them.” I have found this quite true in my own observations in the last 30 years and this has had me scratching my head at more than a few Reconstructionsists.

“Interview with a Modern Witch” is from the original edition, and the interview takes place in 1976 so it’s really not all that modern being from 34 years ago though it is interesting.  Since that time, as the author notes, a great deal of growth has occurred in ritual and associated activities.   In the chapter titled “Magic and Ritual”  the book talks about the purpose of ritual magic and I found this to be a very important chapter, especially to those that I pass this book to in order to educate them in the purpose of some of the things that I do.   In fact quite a great deal of this chapter has been circled and underlined with my red pen and notations made on the borders.   I have pages 156 through 164 thoroughly coated in red ink and found the ideas Adler has put together here mirrors the same concepts that I found particularly important in the UCLA course on Religion, Magic and Science.

The final chapter in this section covers feminism and she begins it with a note in her emotions in regard to the original writing of this chapter and the emotions she holds now 31 years later.  For myself however, though it is an important chapter in feminine history and was a powerful movement in neo-paganism, it is not one that I can relate personally to as I have always had a dislike for combining spirituality with the fuel of politics, and much of the feminist movement  was heavily grounded in politics.  Important, yes, but I dislike the politics of mankind (or womankind) in bed with the spirituality of my spirit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important what the feminist movement gave to us and the points in the chapter are important history, I just don’t relate to them.  Today, the author observes that feminism has made roads into many other religions as well, roads into Judaism and Christianity and the idea of Goddess has become main stream.  Indeed, women’s studies in general have flourished.

The next section of the book covers the “Other Neo-Pagans”  including Reconstructionsists, religion based on the future, and religion based on “paradox and play” as well as a chapter on “Radical Faeries and the Growth of Men’s Spirituality”.  Among the Reconstructionists she includes The Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia, the Sabaean Order, The Church of Eternal Source.  The 1985 version includes Odinism, Asatru and Norse Paganism here but the 2006 edition she re-titles this as “Heathenism.” There is an addendum to this chapter with “Heathenism in the Twenty-First Century” with its growth both in the practicing population and with its growing diversity.   The chapter on “The Church of All Worlds” is on a religion that is based on the future, calling science fiction “the new mythology of our age” and that they consider science fiction important as their religious literature.  This sect was founded upon Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land’ and the chapter is quite an interesting read.  I had no idea that they were the force behind The Green Egg publication.  Oberon and Morning Glory Zell have quite a colorful history that I enjoyed reading about.

Among the “Religions of Paradox and Play” we find the RDNA and its history.  Can any religion founded primarily by college students fail at having good humor?   I am however a little confused that the druid movement is delegated to this section rather than in with Reconstructionists.   True, the RDNA started out in a playful manner but since then, the druid movement and its various sects have become as serious as any other of the neo-pagan paths.  As of 2006 the RDNA boasted about 50 groves and proto-groves and around 3,000 solitary members.  And though it has been said of the RDNA that “over the years it grew and mutated, much to the horror of the original founders” (page 340) it has sprouted from what was once more or less a joke to not only a genuine religion but has off-shoot branches such as Norse Druids, Zen Druids, Wiccan Druids, Hassidic Druids not to mention NRDNA and now we have the ADF.  This chapter is not solely about the druid movement, there are other types of neo-pagan groups described here as well that fit her criteria of “beginning in a spirit of play”

The chapter on “Radical Faeries and the Growth of Men’s Spirituality” cites that the men’s movement sprung up almost parallel to the women’s spirituality movement.  The Radical Faeries began around 1978 around the gay male culture and gay spirituality and while it is not something I can relate to as a straight female, I have had quite a few good male gay friends over  the years that would have been quite happy if they’d found the groups described in this chapter.  Since then the gay spirituality movement has grown and diversified, much like the other pagan sects which is, I think, a healthy and necessary growth in our strive for fair co-existence.

The final non appendix section of this book is “The Material Plane” which contains the chapter “Living on the Earth” and the Epilogue and they have been cut quite a bit from the original edition as so much has changed in the world since the original printing of this book.  Many neo-pagans, Adler writes (page 375,) “will tell you that their religion is a ‘way of life.’ They live mostly common lives in common homes with common jobs.  A great many are ecology minded. There has been a huge growth and expansion in the pagan movement since the first incarnation of this book.  Adler notes that modern witches are continuing to create their traditions from bits and pieces, from inspirations to find paths and spirituality that is relevant to their current modern lives.  There is still the threat of persecution in many parts of the United States, and yet they continue to occupy necessary and important roles in society as doctors and lawyers, pharmacists and beauticians and taxi drivers.  When asked to define what sets them apart, she speaks of “childlike wonder, acceptance of life and death, attunement to the rhythms of nature, sense of humor, lack of guilt-ridden feelings about oneself and about the body and sexuality, genuine honesty, and unwillingness or inability to play social games.” All of which I have to admit to finding myself fitting into that descriptions as well.   Adler continues to talk about how people go about living neo-pagan in today’s world, some openly, some still in the “broom closet”  and why so many are urban witches rather than rural, how they reconcile scientific occupations with their spiritual beliefs, she speaks of their politics and their views  and actions with the ecology.  She speaks of a very significant trend of the last 25 years in the growth of legalized and recognized Pagan religious groups and while this has caused a lot of debate over the issue of “money,” being legalized as a legitimate religious group is important to other legal aspects and in preserving legal rights.  Also new to the Pagan movement since this books last printing is “Internet Pagans” and the explosion of networking within the Pagan community. At page 419-420 she points to the emergence of Pagan studies a “serious academic discipline.”  Both the United Kingdom and the United States have college courses offered in Pagan studies in history and psychology, and in “new religion movements” as quoted by Fritz Muntean (page 420).  The path to official accreditation of paganism from legal status to theology degrees is fascinating.

Now we come to a section that seemed like a mere footnote in previous printings of this book and holds now in the 2006 edition a more important place, that of Shamanism.  Like witch, shaman is a word that means a wide variety of things across a large scope of those that would define it.  Now her definition on page 423, “a shaman is someone who enters an altered state of consciousness and goes on a journey in order to gather knowledge from a different reality” is something that definitely clicked for me.

Finally, she comes to the festivals, the history of their beginnings through to the more current events and their changes and growth along the way.  Connecting with other Pagans was difficult in the past but better communication and the boon of the internet has greatly aided in the successes of the Pagan festivals some having close to a thousand attendees.  On the other hand, the internet has proliferated a lot of “internet pagans” that have never been in contact with other pagans outside of that artificial medium and the superficiality (I’ve seen the term “fluffy bunnies” bunted about a lot) of some of the internet pagan communities are apparent. That is not to say, the author notes, that it’s the rule for there are places on the internet that she found moving and satisfying experiences.  With the maturing of this book’s subject matter from the original printing to this 2006 edition, Adler reflects on the more public awareness of Paganism, how once there were so many rites of weddings and now there is a bit more focus on funerals.  We are into our second and third generations of Pagans and with more Pagan clergy in place there is also a greater participation of Pagan groups in secular community projects and charities.

Margaret Adler closes this book with a short Epilogue and then a thoroughly extensive Appendix section of 140 pages.  Appendix I talks about scholars, writers and journalists and the angles in which they are coming from in their written work.  Appendix II contains reprints of some of the rites and poems she’s collected from neo-pagans over the years.  Appendix III is a “resource guide” and starts with the sub category of what newsletters, magazines and other written work could currently be found as of 2006, some of which can be found as internet sites either in addition to or instead of the written word as some of the publications have stopped printing on paper all together in favor of internet.  May I interject here that this Appendix III is a fantastic collection of resources that in my opinion beats “googling” for such resources as it cuts through the “fluffy bunnies” and cuts-to-the chase of what each place is about. There is also an alphabetical listing of groups (67 pages worth of groups!) that can be found and how to contact them.  This appendix also lists about 70 of the 350+ Pagan festivals and how to contact people in charge of them.

In conclusion, in my opinion, if anyone were looking for one and only one book to keep around to hand to family, friends and acquaintances who were “iffy” about your Paganism practices, this is the one book hands down that I’d recommend.  It’s informative and honest, not fluffy nor patronizing and “Drawing Down the Moon” is a fantastic resource in educating and abashing the fears of those who are a bit afraid of what you are “into” and opens a discussion between you and the person you are hoping will gain an understanding of you and your Pagan path.


~ by Spider Lily on August 29, 2010.

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