Saturday, July 6, 2013

Every Pagan Book I Own: Part I

This is something I tried to do on a different blog that fell through after a while (I'm terrible at one-subject blogs).  I have lots of books in the Pagan/Wicca/Witchcraft/NewAge/Magick categories.  They all have their pros and their cons, so for anybody who is interested in whether or not I feel these books are worth reading, well, here you go.

There are a couple books in each post, with each book given certain categories:
Pros are my favorite things about the book.
Cons are general things I tend not to like.
History Level is how good or bad the history is.
Appropriation Level is how much cultural appropriation is in the book (low, medium, high) as well as what kind of appropriation it contains and whether I feel it's appropriate or not (it's practically impossible to be a Neopagan and not appropriate something).
Relativism Level is whether or not the author says weird things about what Pagans supposedly do and do not do.  This is only really relevant to generic Pagan books; books specifically about Wicca or a particular tradition I generally consider to be talking from their own experiences.

The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess by Starhawk
It used to be that I heard about this book everywhere, although these days it's not quite as likely to be recommended.  If you buy this book, make sure you get the 20th anniversary edition.  This provides useful footnotes and information which puts the things Starhawk wrote in the original 1979 edition in its appropriate context.  This book is written from the perspective of the Reclaiming Tradition but is useful for others, too.
Pros
This is an excellent book for learning Pagan fundamentals.  Grounding, centering, circle casting, consecrating tools, and other basics are explained here better than any other book I've owned.  I still use what I've learned in this book on a regular basis, and I've owned it for almost a decade.  Reclaiming uses a lot of trance and visualization, so if you need help with these you should read it.  This is also pretty well-known as a book you should read if you plan on creating a coven (although Starhawk has other books that would likely be better for this purpose).
Cons
Although I wouldn't consider this a "con," I will mention that this book will be frustrating to more right-wing-leaning Pagans, Pagans who are dead set on strict gender binarism in their practice, and people who spend their days moaning about "fluffy" Witches.  The history is bad, too, but I have a category for that anyway.
History Level
Bad.  Really.  Keep in mind that back in the late seventies Witches pretty much believed all the garish history we'd been promoting for ourselves and so believing the European Witch Trials was a massive conspiracy against real Witches was not at all uncommon.  The original text of the book claims "nine million" Witches were executed among other suspect things.  One could consider these a sort of "origins myth," but it's not good history.
Appropriation Level
If you don't count the history section, it's relatively low.  The history section is pretty much "cave painters were US!" "burned Witches in Europe were US!" and so on.  Aside from some noncontextual use of God and Goddess names, it's fine.
Relativism Level
This book is based in a specific tradition, but I still don't recall anything terrible in this regard.



The Path of the Green Man: Gay Men, Wicca, and Living a Magical Life by Michael Thomas Ford
This is one of my favorite books.  The reason is that I'm so used to seeing people write on queer people in Witchcraft only to jump through hoops to explain why heterosexist imagery totally still applies to us... even when written by gay Witches... and this book deters from that sharply.  It has eight chapters, each with a topic of discussion and a queered-up story about a Sabbat.
Pros
This book is excellent if you are interested in queer male mysteries and do not desire a heterosexist framework for Witchcraft.  Although there are still elements of this in the book, there is also a seriously awesome resource:  Each chapter has a Sabbat story detailing the Wheel of the Year from the perspective of a gay male figure called "The Green Man" in the book.  When I write Sabbat rituals I always reference this book.  There are also a lot of fantastic activities that can be done alone or in groups.

Cons
Claims the difference between Wicca and Witchcraft is one of aesthetics and political correctness (in today's vernacular it isn't).  Makes the same frustrating claim that male Witches are never called Warlocks (plenty of Pagan men are beginning to reclaim this and in the past three or four years I've only rarely had somebody self-righteously proclaim that I'm wrong for claiming it).  I don't like his definition of "Paganism."
Appropriation Level
The creation of new stories in this book might be considered sketchy.  There are Gods and Goddesses from living traditions referenced out of context.  If one considers the use of the term "Wicca" while making the clear assumption that it is synonymous with "Witchcraft," I'd give this book a medium.
History Level
Not terrible.  Makes the connection between the European Witch Trials and modern Witches as a metaphor regarding the word "Witch" rather than the assumption that we are one and the same.