Monday 27 March 2023

Review: Pagans: The Visual Culture of Pagan Myths

If someone was to ask me what book I'd recommend for anyone wanting a great introduction to paganism from ancient times to the present day, I'd say this book. Pagans: The Visual Culture of Pagan Myths, Legends and Rituals is officially published in April, but I was lucky to be sent an advance copy to review. 

As soon as it arrived I started reading it. That's actually unusual - I have a big pile of books waiting to be read for review purposes - but this appealed to me. It's a beautiful hardcover with lots of illustrations throughout that made me want to delve inside. Pictures don't always mean a book is good, but in this case the writing absolutely lived up to my expectations. The author, Ethan Doyle White, has a PhD in history as well a thorough knowledge of Paganism. He knows his stuff, but also has a lovely writing style. He explains the different forms of paganism and its rituals clearly and delightfully.

The book starts by explaining that the word ‘pagan’ can mean many different things, from the pre-Christian origins of the term to the practices of  those who identify as Pagan today. There are three sections after the introduction: Ancient Ways, Ritual, and Community. The first section has chapters on goddesses and gods, myths and legends, and numinous nature - which means places in nature that are perceived as sacred.

Under Ritual, there's a chapter on sacred sites, which is slightly different from the divine within nature as it includes things like temples. Another chapter looks at witchcraft, explaining how the term was historically often used for malevolent magical practitioners but underwent a turnaround in perspective in the 20th century. The third chapter on rituals covers oracles and divination.

The section on community looks at festivals, embodied faith - which is mostly about bodily adornment including amulets and symbols, and then journeying. This final chapter looks at how many pagans view the boundaries between realms to be permeable with various ways to see or travel between them in visions or in spirit.

The book looks at the beliefs and philosophies of pagans and non-Abrahamic religions from all over the world as well as throughout history. That alone makes it a valuable reference for anyone wanting to understand pagan beliefs and practices. However, what I really liked about it is that Ethan has such a gentle way of explaining things, treading that fine line between academic work and popular writing. His words perfectly complement the visual images to create a really lovely book.

Pagans: The Visual Culture of Pagan Myths, Legends and Rituals is published by Thames and Hudson and can be found at Amazon.

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