Author: V. Vale
Trade Paperback, 212 pages
Publisher: RE/Search Publications
Publication date: October 2001
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If you are looking for a scholarly, well-organized insightful discussion of modern paganism, Modern Pagans isn't for you. However, if you are looking for a quirky collection of interviews with a variety of well-known Pagan figures, this is the book for you. Unlike the title suggests, this book is not really an investigation of modern pagan practices so much as it is an investigation of modern pagans. While the book seems to regard itself in places as a Pagan primer of sorts, it is more accurately a "who's who" of the Neo-Pagan scene in the United States. It is definitely not a book that I would recommend someone beginning research into Pagan religions. There is little accurate, accessible information about Neo-Pagan religions and many of the interviews are with figures that would be unknown to you unless you are well read about the U.S. Neo-Pagan world.
I had mixed feelings about this book; it has a number of negative aspects. First, this book has terrible organization. The interviews are in no particular order that I can discern. They are not organized by belief system, role of persons being interviewed (e.g. author, priestess, activist, etc.), or even alphabetically. The brief index at the end is not much help. Scattered throughout are random bits of information: a listing of color scales here, a Yoruba primer there.
Additionally, the book provides random scraps of information that are at best tangential and at worst, generally embarrassing to the Pagan community. For example, the "Pagan glossary" at the beginning includes terms such as "Dungeons and Dragons". Stuck in the middle of the book is advice on getting diabetes testing. It's just distracting.
When not concentrating on the interviews, the text tends to bleed into a very Wiccan-centered view of Paganism, e.g., the eight Wiccan Sabbats are described as the Pagan Year on an introductory page. Additionally, some commentary seems a little disrespectful to Judeo-Christian faiths. It's not bad enough to make me say that it is offensive, but it is bad enough to make me a little uncomfortable.
While I had some obvious problems with the book, it does have some good aspects. Despite the fact that it is a little Wicca-heavy, the book does represent a variety of faiths and trends present in the pagan community, including: Asatru, Santeria, Reclaiming Collective, shamanism, Druids, traditional and eclectic Wicca, Church of All Worlds and others. It was interesting to hear the opinions and voices of folks actively involved in these religions rather than reading drier, sociological accounts from more scholarly reading.
The book also does a good job of finding some really important and interesting figures in Neo-Paganism. The book includes interviews with Starhawk, Margot Adler, Isaac Bonewits, Diana Paxson, Anne Hill, and many others. I think the book is unique in printing in-depth interviews from such a large number of Pagan authors, activists, ministers and other types of leaders.
I also enjoyed the quirky, uncensored interview style. Interviewees seemed quite comfortable discussing sex magic, sacred prostitution, and other adult topics that would probably not be welcome at a sanitized publisher like Llewellyn. The book also includes a variety of photos, from photos of authors as children, to public rituals, to a variety of nude and/or tattooed bodies. My very favorite part of the book is that many of the interviewees include resource/reference lists. Would you like to know Margot Adler's recommended reading list? How about Oberon Ravenheart's favorite web sites? This is the place to look.
The bottom line on about Modern Pagans is that this is definitely not a book for beginners, nor is it a book to learn basic information about Pagan religions. It does provide a lot of fun information about some of the movers and shakers of the Neo-Pagan world. This book is not a top pick (unless you really want to see way too many pictures of Morning Glory Ravenheart's naked breasts) but if you are able to pick up a used copy, or Amazon is running a sale, you might consider adding it to your library.
Reviewed by Sperran