Review: The Path of Paganism – John Beckett

Before I get going too far, I do have to note – I know John in real life. I am also an avid reader of his blog. And while both of these provide some degree of prejudice when it comes to reviewing his book, I like to think I am capable of being more than just a raging fanboy. With that noted here at the onset, let’s take a voyage into The Path of Paganism.

First off, the cover depicts a forested scene, where a part of the upcoming pathway seems to be lit from the sun above. After reading this book, its apparent that this is an appropriate image for what John has written. We all travel a path through the forests of our lives. Occasionally, we come across something – music, books, lectures, experiences – that illuminate the Path for a moment. We cross through those moments of light, feeling the warmth and depth of the light in comparison to the denser parts of the forest where the same light struggles to penetrate to the floor below. This book, I believe, will be a moment where the light penetrates to the forest floor for many of those that read it, and take meaning and experience from it.

This book is a 101 Paganism book, but then again – its not. Instead of endless pages on the same rote concepts of the Wheel of the Year, how to perform ritual, or ways to meditate – John provides a bit more. Steps beyond those positions. Granted, in some of the instances, John does revert back to basic-level explanation to get the reader to a point where the next steps can be taken, thus my 101-sticker application. However, once that context has been exposed, and provided appropriate explanation, the next steps are taken on ground that is far more solid than it would have been without the lead-in.

At the end of each section, John provides small statements of food-for-thought, or even questions for you to spend time on. Some of these have even made it into my daily journal entries, and were the stepping stones to even deeper questions that I posited to myself. For me, these ending aspects provided an entire cache of intellectual and spiritual fodder that I will be working my way through for quite some time. Or, as I said to myself when I realized I had seven pages of hand-written questions to work through:  “Thanks John. Just what I needed. More stuff to write about.” But I am kidding. All of that writing helps me work through concepts and issues in my mind that I had never thought of before. And I am grateful to have the chance to do so now and into the future. For that’s how I grow. Writing and thinking and doing and experiencing.

Writing and thinking and doing and experiencing. Well, if you were looking for a summative phrase for John’s book, this might be it. The material in the book is about more than just reading though. Its about doing. Its about experiencing. And sitting back and reading is only the measure of opening the door. Utilize what’s written there, take on the suggestions he sets forth, and improvise when he feel comfortable enough. In short, experience it, for real.

So, if you’re new to Paganism, this is not a bad starting place – though the concepts might be better handled if you read other books first, and then turned back here immediately afterwards. Just to have a good base to work from. If you are not new to Paganism, give the book a read. You never know, you might find something different to muse over. You may see things in a different light. And after all, that’s really what this book seems to be written towards:  seeing things on that Path with a different light. Hence, the gorgeous book cover.

In my opinion, biased as it may be, get it. Read it. Try it. Experience the world around you through some of the suggestions contained within its pages. Think about the concepts. Ask questions about those concepts with your friends. Discuss. Talk with others. Experience it together.

Book Review: Creating Change Through Humanism

cover_final_web2Earlier this morning, I reviewed a book on interfaith dialogue – Celebrating Planet Earth. It was a delightful read on how people from diverse backgrounds and points of view can come together for a discussion, and locate common ground.  “Creating Change Through Humanism” by Roy Speckhardt, which I was reading at the same time – is nothing of the sort. However, before I get any further, let me make this one statement: the intended audience for this book is most assuredly not me. I am a very religious Pagan. Mr. Speckhardt is a very anti-theist individual. We will approach topics from a very different point of view.

Anti-theist. Not Atheist. No, this book is definitely geared towards the individual who does not have a spiritual or religious bend to their nature. Furthermore, this book BARELY addresses the idea of creating change – unless that change is to drop whatever “superstitions and imaginary beliefs” you may have to embrace the anti-theist point of view. Outside of that, there’s some nods towards aiming towards a political recourse to effect change, but the author spends the other 99.5% of the book railing against the concepts of theology and religious belief.

Some of the credit for this shift in thinking is due to those we’re less inclined to thank. We’ve seen Religious Right leaders like Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed in the ’90’s, followed by right-wing politicos like Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, and the anti-intellectual George W. Bush, followed by new creationist/intelligent design advocates like Ken Ham and Sarah Palin, followed by tea partiers like Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann. Each of these people, by shoving their extreme beliefs in our faces at every turn, made a contribution to galvanizing our struggle for a more humanistic view.  (p. xi)

In this quote from the introduction, I notice that the author tends to lean towards holding up more extreme elements as the primary examples of the “enemy of the cause”. The reality is that most Christians (his primary target here) are not really like this particular loud, cartoonish examples. Each would believe that they are a leading element of ALL of Christianity but are really leaders of more radical, far louder, far smaller groupings of individuals who twist their own theology to accommodate their own personal hatred. Interestingly enough, the author also engages in an insult by referring to former President George W. Bush as an “anti-intellectualist” in order to add another glossy coat to his own thinly disguised point. Let’s be clear — these “pillars” that the author holds up as examples, are the same people that would have no compunction towards having me swinging from the end of a rope draped over a high tree branch. So I have no real interest in defending these particular people. However…this type of attack does nothing to bolster one’s argument — particularly when trying to hold yourself and your cause up as a shining example of “something better”.

The large majority of the book is a treatise on why Humanism and Anti-theism are what society should choose – complete with more thinly veiled insults and attacks against the Christian belief system in much the same manner. And that’s a shame. There are elements of Humanist thought that could be excellent vessels towards creating a more tolerant, and understanding society. In the end, the author chooses to utilize the book as an attack vehicle and as an odd Chick-like tract evangelizing his particular brand of non-belief. The title is certainly misleading in this regard. A real shame….

Rating:  one-half (reluctant) star out of five

Book Review: Celebrating Planet Earth

Celebrating Planet EarthI am a big fan of causes that cross faith lines. After all, we all live on this massive floating rock in space, there has to be something that we can all agree on — aside from killing one another in pointless battles over whose religion is right/wrong. The human race can certainly agree that pointless actions such as this are certainly the “vogue” moment in time. No, setting the sarcasm to the side, I have just finished an interesting title from Moon Books – Celebrating Planet Earth, a Pagan/Christian Conversation: First Steps in Interfaith Dialogue. Unlike many interfaith dialogue titles that I have come across, the point of this book is not to solve a problem and provide a conclusion that sets the steps towards a solution. Rather, the point – as I discerned it – was to seek that rarest of positions: common ground. And to achieve this, the individuals who are involved start by discussing the negative perceptions that each area of belief has towards the other. There’s no debate. There’s a lengthy discussion of how negative perceptions come about, an honest acknowledgement of where differences are, and an offering of where common ground can be achieved. Once this is established, a discussion of how each side of the discussion sees the environment is made.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this – for me – was that this took place in the physical sense. The event started as a face-to-face meeting/discussion between Druids and Christians in Somerset, UK. Then, the event was widened considerably to include more Pagans into the conversation. I certainly wish that I had been included in a discussion like this. As a book read, it was a very interesting, and compelling discussion. I can only imagine how dynamic it was when it happened in person!

I’m quite a bit biased when I say that this is definitely something to pick up and read. The topic – the natural aspect of this planet we all inhabit – is one that is near and dear to my own heart and beliefs. The idea – an interfaith conversation between Pagans and Christians in order to find common ground – is a concept that I have been championing for many years. Plus, there’s no debate held here. Each side acknowledges and understands that we have a role as a caretaker of our environment. Its the first steps of a dialogue – a conversation. And if I may be so bold to say – its not only rather ambitious, but also spot-on!

Rating: Five enthusiastic stars out of five!

Book Review – Druidry and Meditation (Nimue Brown)

19251333Druidry and Meditation — Nimue Brown
Published 2012 by John Hunt Publishing/Moon Books
ISBN: 1780990286
ISBN13: 9781780990286

I meditate. Quite frequently, in fact. Its my way of finding my center when life tosses me an unexpected curve ball. Its my way of de-stressing after 45 minutes to an hour or more in traffic. Its my way of connecting to the world around me. Its my way of communing with the Gods and the Spirits of the Land. Meditation is a useful tool for me.

I also follow a personal Spiritual Path of Druidry. So Nimue’s book was of interest to me. I was not sure what I was expecting. A self-help book? A how-to on Druidry? A how-to on Meditation? What I found was a very useful tome on how to approach meditative techniques from a perspective of Druidry.As Nimue points out several times in the book, Meditation techniques are different for each individual. For instance, I do my very best meditations when I am walking in the forest. Not sitting, but actively moving. For others, sitting in the classic lotus position works best. And so on. But taking a Nature-based approach requires some fine tuning of the mind, and the attitude prior to starting. Nimue presents a wonderful approach to the inner Sacred Grove, as well as a splendid chapter on facilitating group ritual – which requires a far different mindset and approach. She also adds some wonderful little exercises in the book that I think are wonderful starting points for those interested in meditation techniques, but unsure of how to start.

Review: Talking to Spirits

The first time I ever heard of an “Unverified Personal Gnosis” or UPG, I was responding to a post on John Beckett‘s blog. After a little back and forth, I realized I needed to get to know a bit more about the term, as well as the underlying definitions – especially since it seemed to apply directly to me. Some short searching on Amazon’s website turned up the title: “Talking to the Spirits: Personal Gnosis in Pagan Religion” by Kenaz Filan & Raven Kaldera. The price was affordable as a Kindle book, so I downloaded it. And it sat on my reader for nearly a year before I finally started reading it.

The first two chapters satisfied my desire to understand the definitions surrounding the area of Personal Gnosis, as well as showcasing some of the differences between Verified and Unverified PG. But shortly after this, the book took a massive turn into the area of overkill. Concepts were presented which revolve around the area of VPG and UPG, particularly in trying to determine what was “real” and “correct” concerning the area of verification. Adding to this was the endless parade of material from other people on the various topics. I’m quite sure that this works for other folks, but for me it was quite the distraction. In fact, the material did nothing to answer questions, and only raised the question of why the authors had chosen to write the book this way. Until I came to the very last chapter of the book.

The Rocky Road to Intrafaith Dialogue” was honestly the meat that I needed to get. One particular passage has now been added to my little book of quotes:

Discussion involves an exchange of ideas and discourse about their ramifications. It may get intense, even heated at times, but this is fine so long as everyone remains respectful and the questions focus on ideas rather than individuals. Smiling, nodding, and saying “Everyone’s truths are true for them, and every belief is just as good as every other belief” is not interfaith discussion. Rather, it is a way of avoiding questions about the substance and foundation of your beliefs and about the level of your commitment. Instead of sparking conversation, it shuts it down or reduces it to polite superficialities.

This one little passage has me rethinking a particular part of the way I approach discussions about my beliefs with others. That the focus could be narrowed or widened as necessary. And its statements like this – throughout the book – which had me reading at a pace far slower than I am accustomed to. It took me nearly two months to finish reading this book. I kept putting it down, and thinking about what had just been presented to me.

If you are looking for a book that will not only challenge the way you think about beliefs of others, as well as challenge the way you approach discussing that particular touchy area of individual life – this is definitely the book for you. If you are wanting to find out more about the concept of Personal Gnosis, as well as understanding the differences between verified and unverified PG — this is definitely a good starting point. While others may appreciate the infusion of other perspectives from various individuals – I thought the book would have been far better without these interspersed throughout the chapters. Instead, I would have preferred these to have been confined to an Addendum of some sort, but that’s my personal preference.

Review: Journeys of the Soul

Journeys of the Soul by Philip Carr-Gomm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A combination of a biography on OBOD founder Ross Nichols – along with some of his writings, correspondence, and travel diaries that he wrote during his lifetime. Honestly, when I finished this book, I felt that I not only knew more about a man who died shortly after I was born – but that my world is far more enriched by both his contributions and my reading about him. There were a few instances were it was mentioned that Nichols could be considered as “not fun” in comparison to some of the more eccentric contemporaries of his time, but I found the opposite to be true. Nichols certainly sounded like the kind of individual I would enjoy sitting around his kitchen table, drinking some tea and discussing any topic that came to mind over the course of an evening. Or taking a stroll through the woods, discussing some of the more obtuse philosophies of Life. I started this book knowing some vague aspects of who Nichols was – I finished this book with a far greater understanding and appreciation of who he is.

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Review: Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future

Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future
Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future by Ly de Angeles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting book of essays, focusing on questions relating to Paganism, animism, environmental concerns/causes, and a response to anthropocentrism. While I did not find a lot to relate to in most of the essays, there were a few stellar standouts for me:

“The Ethics of Paganism: The Value and Power of Sacred Relationship” by Emma Restall Orr
“Of Worms, Snakes, and Dragons: Can Magic Lead to an Ecological Worldview?” by Dr. Susan Greenwood
“I am the Mountain Walking: Wombats in the Greenwood” by Dr. Douglas Ezzy
“Wild Spirit, Active Love” by Dr. Sylvie Shaw

Each of these essays provide not only a perspective on ecology, ethics, animism, and Paganism that I had not considered – each also sculpted even deeper questions that I generated as follow-ons for myself to answer, while I was reading them. For me, these four essays were the meat of the entire book for me.

A word or two of caution for the reader though… The material presented here is in written (for the most part) in academic style, thus the readability can be some really rough terrain to pick through at times. Also, if you are looking for a Paganism 101 or Ecology 101 or Animism 101 book – this ain’t it. The writers make some really large assumptions as to the knowledge base of the reader – and thus another rake edge to potentially step on while traversing this territory.

Recommend? Highly so. This is a book that you need to take your time with – much like a strong conversation on topics concerning ethical perspectives…its worth your time to read it. Just set aside the time to do so, where you are not trying to race through the material.

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