"The Pagan Path" by Janet and Stewart Farrar and Gavin Bone
Thinking about choosing the Pagan path? Me neither. But I came across this book in a Seattle thrift store, thought "What the hell," and used my pocket change to buy it.
"The Pagan Path" was written in 1995, by a couple of self-described witches who live in Ireland. The male half of this couple also refers to himself as a witch, since apparently the word "warlock" was a term of abuse in Scotland. I'm not sure what the third author, Mr. Gavin Bone contributed, though all three are mentioned in the book. I have the feeling that Mr. and Mrs. Stewart supplied the content, and Mr. Bone was the one who wrote most of it down.
As it turns out, seeing the world through the eyes of a modern pagan is somewhat interesting. I had never really thought about how pagans might view other religions, or about schisms within their particular group, or about how they might approach issues as varied as homosexuality, abortion, or freedom of speech.
My favorite part of this book was the digression into spells and rituals. I loved the fact that they tried to make some of this stuff seem "scientific," even if it is anything but. Many of their justifications for these numerological, astrological, and hallucinogenic excursions were culled from Jungian psychology, and sound even more dated in 2011 than they did in 1995. Not to sound too condescending, but I had fun imagining portly married couples in their living rooms, chanting over pentagrams and lifting their "cones of power."
Apparently (and I am NO expert!), modern paganism is primarily made up of those following a Wiccan belief system. To these are added the shamanists, the believers in Thor and other nordic deities, as well as an almost overwhelming number of Hindus and Shintoists throughout Asia.
The book tries to present itself as "a book for all pagans," though I think the glossing-over of differences between Western and Eastern pagans was a mistake. Yes, Wiccan beliefs incorporate the study of chakras and share a common Indo-European origin with Hinduism, but I think a belief in Irish fairies or Egyptian fertility goddesses is a far cry from the polytheism that most Hindus embrace. Hinduism (if not Shintoism) is a world religion, with over a thousand year of history, while most modern pagan movements can only trace their history back to the 1800s, if that.
But this aside, "The Pagan Path" offers a relatively thoughtful overview of modern pagan beliefs and practices. It also advances several thoughtful arguments in favor of paganism. While these arguments failed to convert me, they did much to enhance my respect for this (let's admit it) fringe religion.
And anyway, it makes more sense than Scientology, right?