This book review is part of the requirements for the reading list for the Dedicant Path. It intends to fulfill the requirement for the Modern Paganism title.
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America. 3rd Ed. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. Nook file.
The stated goal of the Modern Paganism book is to understand where Neo-Paganism has been, and Drawing Down the Moon fills this role very nicely. Adler sets out to catalog the history of American Neo-Paganism, from the first offshoots of reconstructionist religions in the 30’s all the way up to the (then) current events of 2006. Her main thesis is an interesting one, but appropriate given the subject matter – that “the spiritual world is like the natural world – only diversity will save it” (8), and Neo-Paganism is nothing if not diverse.
From that stance she sets out to describe the main movements in American Neo-Paganism, from basic definitions and word usage, through the Witchcraft revival, through all the other flavors of Neo-Pagan movements, and into the relationship all these movements have with American society. She devotes an entire section of the book to the rebirth of Neo-Pagan witchcraft, but given the sheer numbers of men and women who have identified with various facets of modern witchcraft, in its many derivations, this isn’t all that surprising. As someone who comes to Druidry through traditional-flavored Wicca (with some time spent as a solitary), I think my situation is not unique – while some Druids obviously come to ADF as their first foray into Paganism, many people will come through the more public, more obvious, and more populous traditions that are so readily available via the internet, bookstores, new-age and spiritual stores, and 101 classes.
One of the most interesting things about this book is the overarching deductions that Adler is able to make, via her years of research and through use of surveys and interviews, about Neo-Paganism as a whole – things like sensing an “aliveness and ‘presence’ in nature”, a penchant for polytheism, animism, and pantheism, a gravitation toward “ancient symbols and ancient myths” (21) and the ability to have escaped certain forms of enculturation (54). However, as with any part of the Neo-Pagan movement, she can only ever use the words “most” and “usually”. Pagans are, as always, a religion of exceptions. This is true both of the movement as a whole and of the divisions within it. Even within a fairly well-defined path like the Dedicant Path, a prescribed subset of study and experience specific to ADF style Druidry, there is great variation. The Dedicant’s list is full of conflicting opinions, and the work itself is frequently about deciding how each particular Dedicant will experience things within a larger Druidic context – not about learning a set of beliefs by rote. While many of the Neo-Paganisms that Adler studies are similarly orthopraxic (as opposed to orthodoxic), not all fit that bill, of course, reinforcing the sheer diversity of the movement.
Adler spends a good deal of time talking about the various divisions and practices of modern, Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, and takes from this a very interesting attitude toward myth that I really found myself drawn to. Rather than be as worried about the actual, factual basis that many Witches began from (of which, as with so many things that happened even 50 years ago, the full story can never be known), she focuses on the more modern take, which is to accept the spirit of the myth for what it is – an inspiration – and let the actual craft work itself out, regardless of how old (or new) it is. “The realization has come around to everyone that it doesn’t matter whether your tradition is forty thousand years old or whether it was created last week” (Ed Fitch qtd. in Adler 97).
This attitude is important for ADF to remember, since we are both a Neo-Pagan religion and (at times) a reconstructionist one. The balance has to be there; a balance between what is ancient and what actually works in the modern day is crucial.
Of particular interest to me were, of course, the section on Norse Paganism and the section on Druidry, from it’s earliest start in the RDNA through the creation of ADF in the early 80’s (329). One thing I did find was that I’m more drawn to a practice of Druidry within a Norse hearth culture than I am to the practice of true Norse reconstructionism (at least for now). I am, at heart, a modern Neo-Pagan, and while I can learn a lot from Asatru and its offshoots, I like the balance of ADF. I thought it curious to have modern Druidry in the same section with the Discordians. I think perhaps this is more true of the earlier Druidic movements – the RDNA certainly seems to have more in common with the people who worship Eris than modern ADF does (at least to this solitary practitioner), especially given that Isaac Bonewits is quoted as saying that ADF would “keep nonsense, silliness, and romanticism down to a dull roar” (334).
I wish there had been more information about ADF in particular, but we are a much smaller group in the larger Pagan world. I also think the section on ADF could have been updated more recently. Still, I liked Adler’s final take on what became Druidry, that “when one combines a process of inquiry with content of beauty and antiquity, when, even as a lark, one opens the flow of archetypal images contained in the history and legends of people long neglected by this culture, many who confront these images are going to take to them and begin a journey unimagined by those who started the process” (336).
Overall I found this book to be a fascinating look into both the big picture of Neo-Paganism and the small snapshots of individual practicing Pagans. While I don’t see it becoming much of a reference, I truly appreciated the discussions about the definition of magic and ritual, and I look forward to participating in whatever the future holds for Neo-Paganism.