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review 2017-01-10 22:23
Ancestors and Hero Cultus: Walking the Worlds, Vol. I, Issue I
Ancestors and Hero Cultus (Volume 1) - Walking the Worlds

Walking the Worlds a venture spearheaded by Galina Krasskova to put explicitly polytheist beliefs in a semi-academic format. Beginning with the topic of death is entirely intentional, as honoring the dead is something that almost all polytheist traditions hold in common.

 

Many of the essays within ANCESTORS AND HERO CULTUS are written by popular pagan authors and bloggers, and it shows. Topics range from cultus reconstruction to animal extinction, and the quality of the articles varies from author to author. Some articles are rambling opinion pieces, while others are articulate and well-researched in their subject matter. There is at least one article for most Eurocentric forms of pagan polytheism, although heathenism by far has the most attention devoted to it. Exactly how much the reader will take away from the issue itself depends entirely on how relevant highly devotional and reconstructive polytheism is relevant to their practices.

 

Perhaps unrelated to the writings within, but the production value of the journal is top notch. The professionalism of the physical copy in addition to the content itself matches what one would expect from a peer-reviewed journal. It’s a worthwhile beginning to a noble endeavor.

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review 2017-01-10 01:18
An Introduction to Roman Religion by John Scheid
An Introduction to Roman Religion - John Scheid

John Schied's INTRODUCTION TO ROMAN RELIGION is a fantastic short beginner's guide to the complicated beliefs and practices of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. Scheid concentrates on the civic aspects of the religion and how the culture's dependence on rites and omens shaped the society around it. The book takes the reader through the many and often intricate steps that had to be taken in order to honor the gods, and how participation in said activities established a Roman's place in society. The book mainly focuses on practices within Rome itself stretching between the second century B.C. to the rise of Christianity, and pulls from both ancient and modern sources to paint a complete picture for the reader.

 

What keeps AN INTRODUCTION from being a perfect read is that Scheid's interpretation of Ancient Rome feels extremely atheistic. While he dabbles in the philosophical attitudes expressed by prominent Romans at the end of the book, he never quite establishes what the Romans as a whole believed about their own beliefs. While it's repeatedly stated that was no dogma dictating specific interpretations of the gods, it doesn't excuse the lack of a general summary of the major figures of the Roman Pantheon. An unfamiliar reader may feel lost in consequence.

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review 2017-01-06 18:47
Blood and Mistletoe by Ronald Hutton
Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain - Ronald Hutton

So, it turns out almost everything we “know” about the druids can be attributed to blatant fraud and propaganda.

 

In typical Hutton fashion, BLOOD AND MISTLETOE isn’t a history of the druids, but a history of the historians of the druids. As there are precious few accounts and artifacts left of Druids—and what little we have is so unreliable that it isn’t even certain if the legendary order even existed—Hutton cross-references a multitude of sources instead to explain how the modern concept of the Druid came to be. It’s as much as a discussion on the effects of revisionism and belief as it is a book on the druids. The first third of the book focuses on how Roman and British politics and idealism contributed to the modern conception of the Druids in equal measure, while the second portion deals with the transformation of the druids’ image in relation to Romanticism and the rise of the British Empire, while the final section explores the Druids’ place in modern reconstructionism, popular culture, and archaeology.

 

Hutton’s thorough and multi-layered research makes BLOOD AND MISTLETOE a heavy read—person X believes/believed Y because they reinterpreted record Z to mean V, but theory Z was based on possibly flawed accounts of W, etc., etc. The book’s a companion piece to one of his earlier works, THE DRUIDS, so Hutton doesn’t spend a lot of time establishing the basics. Meanwhile, the font is tiny, making the already lengthy book feel hundreds of pages longer than it is. While Hutton is a strong enough writer to give life to the minutiae of details he’s collected, heaven help the reader who’s bad at memorizing names and dates.

 

Someone at my local library must have been very interested in druidry, as almost every neo-pagan book available there is about the Druids or the Celts. BLOOD AND MISTLETOE is easily the most factual of the bunch, and it showcases why Hutton has such a good reputation in both academic and pagan circles. The book was partially funded by the Order of Bards and Druids, and Hutton always takes care to be respectable of modern druidic beliefs, even when he’s criticizing the foundations they’re based on. Highly recommended for history nerds and pagans alike.

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review 2016-07-20 02:51
White Rose of Avalon
White Rose of Avalon - Kelley Heckart

Whenever I can, I try to buy books from local self-published authors, doubly so when it comes to local pagan-ish authors, and triply so when the book title is inspired by one of my favorite songs. Thus is how I wound up with this smutty retelling of the tragic Guinevere/Lancelot romance.

 

WHITE ROSE OF AVALON clearly owes its roots to books like the MISTS OF AVALON, as both femininity and religion are major focuses of the story. In this version, fairy folklore is interwoven into a historical narrative to give credence to both the supernatural and political origins of the mythos. Heckart assumes that the reader is already familiar with the time period and plot of the original legends, and therefore wastes no time getting to the action. And what action it is! Lancelot, Gwenhwyfar, Morgaine, and Nimue are the four main characters, and the book uses their sexuality to illustrate both their innate power and helplessness in context of the world around them. Make no mistake, though—WHITE ROSE OF AVALON is erotica through and through, even if it’s well-written.

 

One of the most interesting minor changes is that King Arthur is given a roman nomen, Artorius, and he is clearly a Roman amongst the Britons. His presence and relationship to the fall of Rome lends well to the theme of a cultural and religious division when used alongside the Welsh spelling of Gwenhwyfar, the French origin of the name Lancelot, and druids of Morgaine. It’s a level of depth that I wasn’t expecting in otherwise straightforward romantic drama.

 

As a historical fantasy/romance from a small POD imprint, the quality is about what I expected. Kelley Heckart is a talented writer, but the help of a content editor might have made the manuscript shine. WHITE ROSE OF AVALON isn’t bad, but it would have been better off as a film script than a book.

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review 2016-07-13 21:29
The Hero With a Thousand Faces
The Hero With a Thousand Faces - Joseph Campbell

The idea that there is no such thing as an original story isn’t even original in of itself. Joseph Campbell may have coined the monomyth, but writers and orators have been following set standards and conventions for thousands of years. What set THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES apart is that it applies these conventions to worldwide religious/mythological beliefs and human psychology.

 

Whether or not the titular hero is a worthwhile concept depends entirely on how much the reader likes seeing Nietzsche’s übermensch conflated with the Aristotelian tragic hero and Freudian id. Campbell draws from a wide variety of sources for his analyzes, and he correlates them all to spirituality and a shared subconscious with some success. At the same time, Campbell’s comparative approach makes multi-faceted classic heroes and gods appear dull and shallow in contrast to the one-off monsters or problems they encounter. If Campbell has to remove key elements of his examples in order to make them fit his theory, shouldn’t that invalidate his claims of the hero’s universal appeal?

 

Campbell’s thesis is compromised by the time in which it was written. HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES primarily uses Freudian psychanalysis to support his claims, and he unfortunately embraces very outdated conventions in the process. Perhaps due to the academic writing conventions of the time, he also tends to over-describe everything. The end result is that Campbell goes on and on about evidence or theories that I, as a modern reader, know for a fact are inherently flawed without his adding any significant insight.

 

The biggest problem with the book is that Campbell wildly misinterprets his subject matter. While it’s easy to grasp basic ideas Campbell presents, the text itself fails to substantially support them. His ideas often prioritize the functions of gender or hierarchy, but the numerous supporting examples he gives prioritize action and effect instead. The discrepancy could be explained by overreliance on 20th century gender roles, but Campbell is the first to claim that gender doesn’t matter. The contradictions are rarely resolved because he goes on to write about the dreams of random strangers or completely different myths instead. It’s telling that best written parts of the book are where Campbell focuses on obstacles instead of archetypes.  

 

Many of his sources date from the 1930s or before, and it shows. Even though he goes out of his way to condemn some of his peers’ imperialistic attitudes, Campbell can be just as judgmental. His opinions and exotification of aboriginal practices in particular is damning enough, but his some of his scientifically improbable “sources” read more like propaganda or bad pulp fiction. It wouldn’t be a problem if these segments weren’t used to support huge chunks of the monomyth. The issue is not a matter of offensiveness; if I can’t trust the accuracy of the material, I cannot trust the analysis thereof either. 

 

My pagan book club had a lot of fun discussion about the book, though, so at least I’m not walking away with a completely negative experience. Not recommended for solitary reading, in any case. 

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