May. 28th, 2007

Renee Rhodes
Book Review: Modern Paganism
Being A Pagan, Ellen Evert Hopman, Lawrence Bond

I chose to read this book partially because it was the easiest available to me in the modern paganism category- I borrowed it from my roommate- and partially because it was the one I was most interested in.

After the introduction, the book starts out with an interview with Isaac Bonewits. I have not yet read any of Isaac’s books, nor had I read any interviews with him, so it was interesting to read some of the thoughts of ADF’s founder. This interview was proceeded by a couple of members of the Henge of Keltria. I understood that there were some differences in goals and ideology that caused the people to leave ADF and found Keltria, but after reading these two interviews, it looks like the parting wasn’t very amicable, though the comments were innocuous enough. However, I am not reviewing accounts of the ADF/Keltria split.

This book was an interesting read. The interview format and conversational tone made it a very easy and quick read also. I wasn’t really sure what I would find or who was interviewed for the book but I wasn’t entirely surprised to find that many of the interviewees were “Pagan celebrities”. I was disappointed to find that there really weren’t many of your average “Joe Pagans” in this book, a sentiment that has gotten me started on the idea of possibly eventually writing just such a book myself.

I am conflicted over my feelings in a lot of the interviews, but on most points, I can’t fault the authors, it is the viewpoints and claims of the interviewees that I disagree with, such as Zsuzsana Budapest’s “I am a genetic Witch, originally from Hungary. My family tree goes back to 1270 and I am a miracle. We survived the Witch burnings…” (pg. 326) and “First of all, I teach women the female Goddesses and not the male Gods. We just don’t pray to male Gods, period. No more bowing down to male Gods. First we acknowledge that the male principle in the universe is not a patriarch, he’s a good boy. I was raised like that, we never prayed to male Gods.” (pg. 327) I found the first statements to be unbelievable- there is a witchcraft gene? And the second ones to be patronizing and unbalanced. This book was definitely useful in finding out which other authors’ books I might want to avoid..

My main disagreement with the authors themselves comes from the various points throughout the book where they refer to paganism as “a religion” and “one of the Earth religions” (pg 264). The problem with this is that paganism is not “a religion”. “Pagan” is a very broad term for a very large collection of religions which, depending on whom you ask, can be applied to any non-Abrahamic religion.

The other aspect of this book that I had problems with was the constant asking of “When did you discover you were pagan?” This sounds very much to me like “When did you find out you had a learning disability” or “When were you diagnosed with an astigmatism?” It implies that “pagan” is something that you can be without knowing it. I believe that one might hold certain beliefs, and choose to apply the term “pagan” to them once discovering the label, but that doesn’t make the person pagan without knowing it.

In all, the book was worth the time and effort to read once to gain some of the many viewpoints of pagans out there. However, it didn’t make me want to run out and buy my own copy.
Renee Rhodes
Book Review: IE Studies
The Myth Of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Will Not Give Women A Future, Cynthia Eller

For my IE Studies book, I chose The Myth Of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future by Cynthia Eller. As a pagan, I find myself frequently bombarded with the idea that once upon a time, life was peaceful, women were considered to be equal or superior to men, everyone coexisted happily and there was enough food, enough shelter for everyone. Until the evil patriarchy took over that is- at least that is what Marija Gimbutas, Merlin Stone and many others would have us believe.

Eller wrote The Myth Of Matriarchal Prehistory not to show that women really always have been second-class or worse (And illustrates clearly in chapter six, it can be extremely difficult to determine the status of women in a particular society when examining the evidence from different directions, and that may be further colored by the observer's bias) but because "'s my feminist movement too, and when I see it going down a road which, however inviting, looks the wrong way to me, I have an obligation to speak up." (Pg. 7)

I personally do not identify as a feminist, which Webster's Dictionary defines as "of or relating to or advocating equal rights for women". I am much more apt to refer to myself as egalitarian, and there are those who would say that I am nitpicking over semantics, but I do not believe that the word "feminism" can be used to describe equality of the sexes any more than "masculism" could be. I would so much love to believe that there was a time, even in the distant past that women and men were truly equal and if we could just get it together we could return to that way...but as Eller points out, when properly considered, all evidence underlines the fact that this simply never was, however she goes on to conclude that even if it never was, and even if it were never fully possible, equality is still a most worthy and necessary goal to work for.

Reading this book was interesting, if not necessarily pleasant at some points. I had to stop to consider my chosen Hearth Culture and their gods. As Eller points out, the Ancient Greeks were hardly friendly to women, quoting Aristotle's position that men are far superior to women, and that even a good wife will bring her husband trouble. I questioned that I should be honoring the deities of these people; it was not an easy question. But it was not the gods that brought such treatment of women to this world, it was happening well before the worship of these gods was in place.

I found this book to be worth reading because it does address the very common myth, which is presented far too often as historical fact. Eller writes of the risk of breaking up the ranks of the feminist cause, but felt that it was far more important to write about how all evidence in truth points to the contrary. She concludes though, by saying that the idea of matriarchal prehistory is still valuable- as a myth that we can learn from for building a future where women do have equal status in society.

(I wrote this review a while ago. I was going to rewrite it but have decided to submit it as-is. If it's returned to me, I'll need to reread the book to rewrite it. I'm really just trying to avoid falling into the same trap that I was in with the personal religion essay.)



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