Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Review: The Triumph of the Moon

by John M Morris, PhD
Ronald Hutton The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchdraft. Oxford University Press, 1999. 486 pp.

The history of modern Pagan religion is filled with fantasy, often masquerading as fact, so much so that we are inclined to ignore all that has been claimed as our history. I think of one picture of a well-known witch cuddling a tiny statue of a fat little goddess, dating thousands of years back into the past, but without any real assurance that the figure is anything more than a pregnant woman, without any religious significance.

We are all familiar with the claim that seven thousand European women we burned alive during the Burning Times, but skeptical historians have shown that this figure has been grossly inflated, and that the great majority of the victims were not witches at all, but Christian women who went to church every Sunday and knew nothing about witchcraft. Ghastly as these scattered executions may have been, they did not compare with the slaughter of the Jews during the Nazi holocaust, or with more recent mass executions in our own time.

In Ronald Hutton's history of the past two centuries of Pagan witchcraft in England, we have a scholarly study of the growth and eventual triumph of the craft and the pagan traditions during the past two centuries.

The changes, particularly during the last half-century, have been greater than most of us have realized. Although we have been familiar with Gerald Gardner and the other English leaders -- there is only one brief chapter on American and Canadian witches -- it is revealing to find how far we have traveled from these pioneers. More interesting has been the degree of bald-faced fraud that has been offered as Wiccan history.
  • For example, "Old Dorothy," Dorothy Clutterbuck, is shown to be a respectable society woman who had nothing to do with Witchcraft. The stories that Gardner told about her probably came from another woman entirely.
  • Similarly, the well-known Gospel of the Witches that Leland claimed to have found in Italy seems to have been a fantasy on his part.
  • Again, one of my favorite texts, West Country Wicca, appears to have been another fantasy.
Altogether, like every major religious tradition, Wiccan history seems to have been simply a fabrication of its followers. If it is a modern fantasy, it nevertheless is one that thousands of us have followed, excited and enlightened by a vision of a beautiful and magical world.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Rational Pagans Forum

I just wanted to let you all know that I have just heard from Jesse at the Rational Forums message board. Rational Pagans is brand new message board for all beliefs to find a common place to talk, but it's run and managed mostly by pagans.

I stopped in and I did indeed find that these folks seem to be rational and intelligent -- just EP's style!

I found the Thoth's Newsstand forum particularly interesting. It's a compilation of recent interesting news articles with discussion. Of course, they note the vandalizing of a pentacle in a holiday display, but they also note that lack of sleep can lead to type II diabetes and that the loss of deep sea species is leading to the danger of the ocean's ecological collapse. You can bet I'll be reading there to make sure I don't miss anything.

There are, of course, all the more usual discussions about ritual spirituality, etc -- but it's 8am and I have to get to work. If I stopped to investigate it all, I'd be getting to work after lunch! So go check it out yourself!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Building a Pagan Kid's Library

Building a pagan children library has certainly gotten easier than it was 27 years ago when I started. I have to say, though, that I am still not finding the rich resources that I would have expected, given the number of extremely creative pagan parents I know.

Then again, I haven't done a whole lot to add to the resources, so I can hardly complain. (One book that I can't publish because it contains only "borrowed" art from the web, and five or six other books on the boards, but not yet completed are no real addition, eh?)

Still, I have found some truly wonderful stuff, so I figured that I'd share what I know about, in hopes that other would do the same and we can all support the writers and artists who are supporting us and boost our kids libraries.

Pagan Books for Kids

For the real littles, I have found only The ABC Book of Shadows by Katie Lydon Olivares -- an alphabet board book full of pagan vocabulary and sweet art. (A is for Altar, B is for Beltaine, etc.) It's a nice start, but the book seems to be out of print and can be hard to find. (It took Amazon 6 months to find a copy for me.)

For the bigger kids who are ready for stories with chapters, W. Lyon Martin has written and found a publisher for two books aimed at early school-aged children: An Ordinary Girl; a Magickal Child and Aidan’s First Full Moon Circle. Ordinary Girl follows the adventures of a little girl called "Rabbit" as she explores her families paganism, starting with an explanation of what paganism means and continuing with Rabbit's own paganing ceremony. She briefly explores God and Goddess, Magic, Circles, the Wheel of the Year, discrimination and how to cope with it, moon cycles, and family magick like house blessings and banishing bad dreams. It's a sweet book and Jack and I enjoy reading it from time to time.

We only got Aidan this Yule and we haven't had a chance to slow down and read it yet, but the reviews say "Aidan and his parents have been solitary witches for as long as he can remember. At the rising of the Harvest Moon, his family is invited to a local coven’s Full Moon Esbat celebration. Aidan is jittery about joining a Circle full of strangers. While he is enjoying himself around the bonfire, the High Priestess and his mother cook up a plan to get him involved in the Harvest Moon ritual. Aidan learns he is an important member of the Pagan community." Sounds good to me. Of course, Jack has celebrated in community all his life, but the idea that not everyone does is a good thing to share. If Aiden lives up to Lyon Martin's previous book, it will be a treat for us to enjoy when life slows down in the new year.

Anika Stafford has given us Aisha's Moonlit Walk , in which little Aisha celebrates each of the eight Sabbats with her family a friends. It's similar in outline to Magickal Child, but different enough that Jack and I enjoy reading them and comparing how different families celebrate and comparing that to how we celebrate.

Finally, we come to A Witches Primer, Grade One by Lorin Manderly. It's not a story book but a young children's pagan curriculum for use by parents or children's circles. There are a little over 150 pages with no pictures at all, so it probably won't hold the attention of the very young. (Jack loves to read, but it doesn't really keep his attention yet at four and a half.) I do find it useful to read myself for ideas about how to explain some complex concepts for really little kids, though. Even when I don't entirely agree with her, Manderly helps me to find ways of explaining my beliefs that Jack can follow. I look forward to hearing that Grade Two is available, as well.

That pretty much sums up what I have found that is specifically pagan. Of course, there are plenty of less specific books that we enjoy.

Non-Pagan Books for Pagan Kids

I have no idea whether Ellen Jackson is "one of us"; probably not, but I find that hers is a name to look for.

So far we have Earth Mother, a lovely story about the balance of all the earth's creatures that seems like it might be based on a traditional African story. Man thanks the Goddess for giving him yummy frogs to eat, and complains about the pesky mosquitoes. Mother listens calmly and patiently, and then moves on to frog, who thanks her for the yummy mosquitoes to eat, but complains about the pesky and dangerous man. Mother listens calmly and patiently, and then moves on to mosquito, who thanks her for the yummy man on whom she feeds, but complains abput that pesky and dangerous frog who dines on her. Mother listens calmly and patiently, and then moves on, and nothing changes. The world is perfect just as it. The art is lovely, and the message is a very good one for teaching littles about the interlocking of all earth's creatures before we dtart trying to explain the ethics of magick.

Summer Solstice, Celebrating the Harvest/ The Autumn Equinox, Winter Solstice, and Celebrating the Greening of the Earth/ The Spring Equinox are mainly scientific and anthropological but it's good to have books that acknowledge our holidays and talks about the history of people celebrating them through time, anyway. ;)

In a similar vein to Jackson's seasoal books, Wendy Pfeffer's The Shortest Day explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history. It is a more or less astronomical and anthropoplogical review, but again, having books about one of "our" holidays is helpful and this one incorporates a few exercises you can do with your older children.

Eileen Spinelli gives us I Know It's Autumn. In it, the narrator, a child of six or seven, tells all about the signs in her (rather rural) life that Autumn has come, from the change in the light, to pumpkin muffins on the breakfast table, to the harvest at the market and the appearance of winter coats again. It's a simple picture book that younger children will enjoy and older children can read for themselves. Again, I like the fact that it focuses on the changing of the seasons, and although the scene isn;t described in much detail, the family does go to what looks like it may be a Sabbat circle or a powwow at one point. It's kept vague enough that a child who is accustomed to those ideas will respond to the familiarity, but a child who isn't won' t miss much.

Chris Van Allsburg's The Stranger is just plain cool -- and my kids and I have long thought that surely the stranger is a weather sprite or a Pan-like god in charge of wild-life and weather.

Brother Eagle and Sister Sky A message from Chief Seattle isn't neo-pagan, and there is a great deal of controversy about how much resemblance it bears to anything Chief Seattle may have said, but Jack loves it and it certainly send a message of the importance of honouring the earth. That's good enough for us for the time being. I don't encourage Jack to think of it as representative of Native American spirituality, except, perhaps in spirit -- just as it's not neo-pagan spirituality, except maybe in spirit.

In a more classical vein, I highly recommend Mordicai Gerstein's Tales of Pan, a book of silly stories about the classical world's favorite mischief maker.

So, that's what I found one one quick perusal of the book shelves. What books have helped you to educate your baby witchling? Please do share, in comments or in e-mail!