Book Review: Drawing Down The Moon by Margot Adler

Drawing Down The Moon - Margot Adler.

Drawing Down The Moon – Margot Adler.

Since it’s first publication in the late 1970’s, Margot Adler’s Drawing Down The Moon has been viewed as one of the most comprehensive and honest books on the revival of Neo-Paganism. With painstakingly detailed research and practical experience, Adler pieces together a surprisingly unbiased look at not only the revival, but also the conception and (in some cases) the invention of reconstructionist religions and traditions.

Drawing Down The Moon opens with a preface discussion on it’s own evolution. I found this essential to my mindset, as, in a lot of cases, the conflicts being covered in the following pages were issues belonging to the generation before mine. There were annotations and addendums to the original text which were very helpful with making Drawing Down The Moon useful as both a historical account as well as an updated resource. Following the preface, Adler went with an overview of Paganism and a discussion on how an ancient, earth-based religion fits into a modern world. I found her approach to this admirable; her information compiled from hundreds of interviews to offer a well-rounded look at Neo-Paganism instead of based solely on her own thoughts.

Following the section entitled Background, Adler delved into the Witchcraft/Wicca revival. Much of this section rang unabashedly true. As a former Wiccan, much of what I was taught in my early 20’s (and have since come to view as a stepping stone and nothing more) was expectantly, albeit bluntly, rebuked. Many in the Wiccan community still view the work of Margaret Murray and Robert Graves to be historically accurate, and Gardner’s tradition be divinely delivered; Adler delved deep into the accuracy of claims of such authors and tried to set the record straight. However, the distinction made between accurate historical records and inspired fantasy writing was greatly appreciated. I’ve often felt that in the search for finding out “what the Druid’s really did” many have overlooked beautiful fiction/invented ritual because it wasn’t used 2,000 years ago. We need to encourage and preserve myth of any age.

Also in this section was a look at Magic and Ritual. I found this section short and inconclusive. While there were some interesting accounts of ritual work for specific groups, I found the conclusions drawn as to the purpose of rituals to be a little narrow. This section was included under the banner of “Witches,” which could account for the inconclusiveness, but a broader look at ritual and magic would have been very welcome.

Adler concluded the section on Witches with a look at feminism in the Craft. It was informative but lacking the juxtaposition of militant feminism with the often-overlooked soft aspect of the Goddess. The women she interviewed for this section were political and at times came across as aggressive or dogmatic in their views, which ended the section on Witchcraft on a negative note; not every feminist is angry, not every Goddess worshiper a lesbian. One can be a strong woman without the exclusion of men.

Other Neo-Pagan religions were covered next. Some were so obscure I hadn’t heard of them, while others, more well known organizations and ideas were barely touched on. I was quite disappointed that for a book claiming Druidry as one of the main topics, it didn’t receive a lot of attention. I found the section on Heathenism especially interesting, as not many Asatru/Norse groups are willing to discuss the perversion of their religion by the Nazi’s, of which Adler did and it filled in quite a few blanks for me.

Following the content of Drawing Down The Moon, Adler included an extensive appendix offering resources and contacts for any looking for groups, covens, camps, etc… within the Pagan community. This was a lovely touch, regardless of the geographical restrictions and the expiration date on such lists.

In conclusion, while I enjoyed aspects of Drawing Down The Moon, I’m not sure how applicable it was to my path or Druidry in general. Beyond the historical information given for the Neo-Paganism revival, this book dealt mostly with Wicca and offshoots of Wicca. While Adler included many quotes from Bonewits, they were mostly pertaining to his pre-ADF/Druidry days, and therefore directed more towards Neo-Paganism and Wicca, and not to his later views and development of ADF. However, I am glad this book was on the reading list, as I would not have read it otherwise.

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Book Review: Travels Through Middle Earth by Alaric Albertsson

Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path Of A Saxon Pagan by Alaric Albertsson

Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path Of A Saxon Pagan by Alaric Albertsson

Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path Of A Saxon Pagan by Alaric Albertsson is an introductory look at who the Saxons were as a people, and how their culture has been kept alive through what Albertsson refers to as a “living religion.”

The content of Travels Through Middle Earth provides a brief overview of the many elements of Saxon Paganism necessary for a someone new to its concepts. This book is not designed as an in-depth history lesson, but rather equips the reader with the basics needed to begin their own practices, should they desire, or as a starting off point for further studies. For one such as myself, who is interested in the Saxons from a cultural inheritance standpoint, it provided me with what I found was a sound basis.

Albertsson starts by discussing who exactly the Saxon’s were, with a focus on historical fact contrasted with his own opinions and experiences. He then takes the reader through an overview of the Gods worshiped by Saxons, along with their relationships to the different worlds and how sovereignty is assigned and awarded through action. We are introduced to the Elves and Dwarves, as well as the Ettins and Wans. Albertsson then gives great attention to the Wéofod, the Saxon shrine, and how piety and daily worship translates to a way of life beyond study and understanding. The most complex aspect of Saxon Paganism is their honor system; how our actions and those connected to us affect our orlay. Through Albertsson’s clear and thoughtful writing, this truly complex notion was easily digestible and sparked a lot of afterthought on my part.

Albertsson rounds the book off by giving examples of rites, rituals, and how the inhíred works. He offers a Saxon take on the High Days (called Holy Tides.) He even includes a chapter on mead making and the relevance of this historic drink.

Albertsson’s conversational style of writing makes the deep, layered history easily digestible and, maybe more importantly, relatable. I went into this book with very little knowledge of who the Saxons were, mainly because my focus has always been on the Celts, and I was surprised at how many misconceptions I had about a culture that is not only important genealogically to myself, but to the entire English-speaking world. (It may also surprise readers how much they do already know about Saxon culture.)

By sharing the etymological roots of ancient Saxon words, Albertsson gives readers a context with which to begin. For one such as myself, who is a student of English literature as well as a life-long lover of Tolkien’s work, the connections Albertsson makes between the two was (I admit) exciting; there were countless moments of titillation as more parallels were drawn. Albertsson also provided careful descriptions and pronunciations that were well placed, leaving the reader feeling informed and not like a complete outsider.

On a personal note

Personal responsibility is a notion consistent through most Neo-Pagan organizations.  While I’ve found that many organizations adhere to this idea with a vague flexibility, Saxon Paganism doesn’t view this concept as negotiable. Albertsson’s discussion on orlay was inspiring. The idea of being personally accountable, not only to those in your immediate surroundings, but to everyone past and present is something we should all spend a little more time reflecting on. The way orlay was introduced, especially in relation to personal wyrd and to the Well of Wyrd, forced me to put the book down and consider my own life. I think, whether you’re an identified Saxon Pagan or just one who has an interest in Saxon culture and history, Eormensyl (the tree connecting the seven worlds) is an important thing to consider. If our own personal deeds and actions contributes to the Well of Wyrd, and thus sustains Eormensyl, then surly this is at least partly responsible for the state of our planet. If I’m interpreting Albertsson’s work correctly, our collective actions and deeds are cosmically connected, and that must make for a very sick Well of Wyrd.

Finally, I was surprised at the kinship I felt with the Gods and Goddesses of Saxon Paganism. In the past, whenever I’ve approached Pagan pantheons not of my own hearth, I’ve always strongly felt that I was reading a book on mythology. Without personal connection, reading about Gods and Goddesses not of your own belief can very easily feel like fiction. I think the Saxon belief that deities are physical beings coupled with Albertsson’s approachable writing made the availability of that connection undeniable; it was such a pleasure to experience this hearth culture through his eyes.

Eira Silversage
April 2013