My “to be read” pile never seems to shrink, but I recently finished two new books of interest to Pagans and especially to polytheists.
I don’t review books differently based on how I get them, but for those of you who care about such things, neither were review copies. I bought both of them myself. I consider both of these authors my friends, but my obligation in a review is to the reader, not the writer. If I couldn’t give them good reviews, I’d conveniently forget to review them.
Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods
by Kirk S. Thomas
published by ADF Publishing, August 2015
Paperback: $14.95, Kindle $4.99
When ADF Archdruid Kirk Thomas told me he was writing a book on reciprocity, I smiled and said “Good! Our community needs that book.” But I also wondered how he could write a book-length piece on reciprocity. While it’s an important concept, I thought it could be covered in two blog posts.
Kirk explains reciprocity in the Introduction:
The basis of relationship is the idea of reciprocity – I give so that you may give. We give of ourselves to our friends, family, and society and they, in return give back to us. This is no simple commercial transaction or quid pro quo, but something far more subtle. It requires trust and a knowledge that it’s OK if each gift we make isn’t returned immediately. No one is keeping score, but things tend to even out in the end, and if they don’t, the relationship falls apart.
Reciprocity is only one part of Sacred Gifts. It covers both historical and contemporary sacrifices and offerings, the obligations of hosts and guests, the concept of pollution (miasma) and purity, and the importance of building and maintaining relationships with Gods and spirits. It includes two rituals, one to find a spirit ally and another to create an alliance. If you’ve used the ADF Core Order of Ritual, the structure of these rituals will be familiar (what else would you expect from the Archdruid of ADF?).
It also makes a key point about sacred space:
Sacred space is not necessarily a container, as in ceremonial magic or certain forms of Witchcraft. It is rather the Center of the Worlds.
And from this sacred center we can communicate between all worlds and, perhaps, all times.
Perhaps my original reaction was due to defining reciprocity too narrowly – it is a core principle and virtue of modern Paganism and polytheism. In any case, Sacred Gifts is a work of polytheist cosmology. It explains the way the world works at an interpersonal level, and it presents tools and techniques we can use to successfully navigate it.
Sacred Gifts would be especially helpful for beginning polytheists, particularly those whose path has been vague and New Age-ish, and those who are hearing the call of the Gods but who are still immersed in our materialist overculture. It presents concepts and techniques our ancient ancestors understood intuitively but that are absent from our modern culture.
I’m still not sure if Kirk Thomas wrote a book-length work on reciprocity. I am sure he wrote a book our community needs.
Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism
by Morgan Daimler
published by Moon Books, October 30, 2015
Paperback: $9.95, Kindle: $3.49
This is another in Moon Books “Pagan Portals” series of short, focused works on topics of interest to contemporary Pagans. I’ve read several of them, including Morgan Daimler’s The Morrigan – Meeting the Great Queens, which I found to be a solid introduction to a complex Goddess.
Irish Paganism is another good introduction. It describes the approach reconstructionists use to re-create the religions of our ancient ancestors, gives a brief biography of the major Gods and Goddesses of Ireland, and discusses the importance of the Fair Folk and the land spirits. It gives a brief description of daily and seasonal practices, and tells what we know of ancient Irish magic and cursing. Fitting for an introductory book, it covers the contemporary issues of racism, sexuality, and cultural appropriation – issues where there is misinformation and thinly-veiled hatred that can trip up a beginner (and some not-so-new folks as well).
There’s only so much you can cover in 98 pages. This isn’t an encyclopedia of Irish Paganism or a handbook of Irish Paganism. It is a good place to start, and as such the bibliography and the recommended reading list are particularly useful.
While I do not consider myself a reconstructionist, there are significant advantages to its deliberate, scholarly approach to building a religion, an approach that is very different from more widely-known forms of Paganism. As with Sacred Gifts, this would be a very good book for beginning polytheists.