While most of the books reviewed here focus specifically on Wicca, there are books about wider neopaganism that are worth a read. Reviews follow the Amazon links.
Joyce & River Higgenbotham, Pagan Spirituality: A Guide to Personal Transformation
Pagans face a variety of difficulties in their spiritual development. Their faith and spirituality was formed in a postmodern context, regardless of the time period from which individual facets of that faith originated. Vast amounts of information are available to developing Pagans, and the results can include confusion and loss of direction as conflicting sources and influences pull us in different directions. Moreover, study and worship groups can end up with people of significantly different approaches and outlooks even to the same material, causing potential conflict.
Pagan Spirituality promotes no particular outlook but instead studies a variety of religious outlooks from a psychological perspective. Instead of differentiating between Wiccans and Asatruar, for example, the Higgenbothams differentiate between those who take myth as literal truth, those who see religion as handed down from on high, and so on. They are careful to highlight the pros and cons of every stage of religious development and also remind us that many people generally exist in many stages at once, depending upon which facet of their religion of which you are speaking.
The Higgenbothams also describe these states in terms of natural development, likening the stages to human development. Those who view the world as revolving around themselves (such as believing that they can command the actions of gods) are therefore in a very low stage of development, similar to that of young children, such as those who think that by closing their eyes no one else can see them. Of course, this involves a judgment call, but their judgments are always explained in detail and generally make sense.
They emphasize that all of us must go through the lower stages at some point – no one is born into the highest levels of understanding. Furthermore, they stress that reaching the “top” of their scale should absolutely not be the goal in anyone’s personal spiritual development. The purpose of this book is to better understand our own outlooks as well as those around us. The scale of stages is not so much worse to better as it is simple to complex – and complex is not always better.
John Michael Greer, A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism
Anyone sick and tired of pagan how-to books will find Greer’s A World Full of Gods a delightful read. Rather than laying out beliefs step-by-step, Greer presents an in-depth and mature discussion of the draws of polytheism and gives logical and theological reasons why people familiar with monotheism may still choose polytheism as their belief of choice.
Greer goes beyond the common understanding of the pagan community – that we pray to gods to get stuff – and discusses instead the much more complex reciprocal relationship many polytheists have with their gods. Worship and religion is not just about pleasing the higher powers to get what we want or avoid smiting. Rather it is recognition through giving of what has been granted in the past and will be provided in the future.
A World Full of Gods is a survey work addressing in the broadest sense all polytheists, although the focus is on modern Western pagans and, to a lesser extent, the cultures that most strongly influence them. When Greer wishes to speak only of Wicca or Druidry or Asatru, he clearly states it, but most of the book addresses the polytheistic outlook in general. Thus, this is a perfectly appropriate read for a wide Neopagan audience.
Monotheists might also find the book useful in trying to better understand the reasoning behind polytheism. However, Greer does devote a considerable amount of time arguing against monotheism, which might turn off non-likeminded readers. Nevertheless, it remains an excellent, well thought out and well written investigation into polytheism that will make a worthy addition to a serious Neopagan’s bookshelf.
Graham Harvey, Contemporary Paganism: Listening People, Speaking Earth
This is an academic work on Paganism in general, including Wicca.
Graham Harvey and Charlotte Hardman, eds., Pagan Pathways: A Guide to the Ancient Earth Traditions
Formerly published under the title Paganism Today, this is a collection of essays by academics and pagans, including Vivianne Crowley and Ronald Hutton.
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