Pergamum Unfurled: Magic with the Greek Gods (Book Review)

Pergamum Unfurled: Magic with the Greek Gods (Book Review) April 29, 2024

Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods is a decidedly witchy take on gods that I’ve held dear since I was a wee child, reading and rereading what turned out to be watered-down versions of the Greek myths. My own spiritual path has taken a circuitous route from reading those child-friendly myths, one that included several years as part of a Wiccan coven before eventually joining a group reviving ancient Greek practices. Knowing what I do about both traditions, I was very interested in what Astrea Taylor and Jason Mankey had to say about the intersection of these topics.

I was not disappointed. What authors Astrea Taylor and Jason Mankey do beautifully is lay out an understanding how witches can relate to these ancient deities. Digging into primary and scholarly sources, they present some history of their human worshipers, and insights into how these gods were understood in antiquity. “The gods of Olympus have been on the lips of human beings for over 3,500 years, something that’s unlikely to change soon, or maybe even ever. While the popularity of Zeus and his extended family has waxed and waned over the centuries, it has remained ever-present.” They are frank about how some of the myths reveal very different views about issues such as gender equality, perhaps reflecting more about the humans telling these stories than about the deities themselves.

What readers should expect is a deeper understanding of how to engage with these gods through the context of Wicca. (If one desires to learn about the practices of the Hellenes of antiquity, including some of my own ancestors, I wholeheartedly recommend Greek Religion by Walter Burkert. I’ve read it cover to cover, but at 512 pages not everyone gets there.) The primary spiritual technology of Wicca is magic, and the authors take the time to ensure that the reader will understand which gods might be appropriate to invite to participate in what magical workings. There are example rituals to help make these important connections.

To be clear, magic has a different place in traditional Hellenic polytheism than it does in Wicca and Wicca-aligned witchcraft traditions. Magic is a central, sacred practice in Wicca, but has no role in the religious practices that draw from ancient Greek sources—practices that predate the word “religion” itself. Modern adherents include those who work magic but don’t see it as part of their religion, to those who avoid it entirely. Wiccans use a different approach to engaging with the gods, and I’ll let the gods decide for themselves whether they wish to participate.

Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

A reason a reader might push back against Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods is simply because it’s not Greek enough. In addressing this, the authors write, “In recent years, some individuals have attempted to place the Greek gods in a gilded cage and restrict their worship on the basis of ethnicity. The Greek gods have never been limited in such a way. While we have respect for those trying to revive the religious traditions of classical Greece, the Greek gods have been busy travelers the last 3,500 years, and some of them would first have to travel to Greece before spreading their wings yet again.”

I do not know that this crosses into the complex topic of cultural appropriation. There is an argument that that one cannot appropriate ancient Greek culture at all, because it is foundational to all of western civilization. However, at least one of my fellow Greek Americans disagrees with that argument.

Appropriation comes from stripping traditions out of the original cultural context, and making claim to it. It’s a form of theft that’s similar to plagiarism, but since the victim is the monolithic culture itself, not every participant in that culture is going to have the same opinions about what’s acceptable. For me, traditions and practices can be subject to appropriation, but gods cannot. Gods have agency, and go where they will. Religion and culture flow move and change like tectonic plates, slowly and irresistibly. Today there are devotees who swear off magic to follow these gods, and others who make magic central to their worship of the very same gods. This is a beautiful thing.

Quirks: the two authors mostly alternate writing chapters. I have sometimes wondered how multiple authors collaborate on a book. This is one option.

Quibbles: there’s more capitalization than I would prefer in this book. My brain is not entirely neurotypical, and my eye is drawn to those big letters in a way that’s distracting.

Transparency: I asked to write a blurb for this book when I learned it was being written. This is because of how the topic aligns with my spiritual autobiography, and also because Jason Mankey has always been nice to me.

Title: Modern Witchcraft with the Greek Gods
Author: Astrea Taylor and Jason Mankey
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications
ISBN: 0738768766

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About Terence P Ward
Terence P Ward is a moneyworker, journalist, Hellenic polytheist and Quaker who lives in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his wife and five cats. He is a hiereus (temple priest) of Poseidon with Temenos Oikidios, based in Rhode Island. You can read more about the author here.
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