Recommendations by Ronnie

At the beginning of 2021, I finally admitted to myself that I was feeling a call to Paganism. Paganism is an umbrella term for a large number of religions, spiritualities, and practices with roots in pre-Christian Europe. I was somewhat familiar with witchcraft, but I wasn't sure what exactly about Paganism was drawing me to it.

So, I started researching. I devoured whatever information I could get my hands on, from podcasts to youtube videos to blog posts and, yes, books! In fact, the vast majority of my personal check-outs at the library for the past two years have been related to my studies of Paganism. It’s taken a lot of work to determine which sources I trust and which I simply need to put down and say “This isn’t for me, and that’s okay!” What follows is a summary of these sources, paring down our library’s wide collection into a selection built for newcomers and seekers who want to learn more.

If you're curious about Paganism, what it is, and why it’s gaining popularity, here's 5 things that you can learn about right now using the materials available at the Peterborough Public Library!

Paganism in General

Paganism is an extremely diverse set of beliefs and practices that frequently contradict each other and are difficult to summarize. A popular anecdote states "Ask three Pagans a question and you'll get five answers!" However, there are a few books that do it well.

Paganism Book JacketPaganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions by Joyce and River Higginbotham weaves survey information and personal experience in Pagan communities to give outside observers an overview of what Pagans believe and what they do. I keep this book in my back pocket in case I have friends or family who are not interested in practicing but want to learn more.

Path of Paganism Book JacketThe Path of Paganism by John Beckett is centred more for people who are considering taking on Pagan practices themselves, with activities and questions for consideration in each chapter. Beckett doesn't shy away from the tough questions, such as "Can Paganism and science coexist?" and "How do I know any of this is real?" It allows readers with strong inner critics to consider where their path leads. This book is what really solidified my certainty that Paganism was what I was being called to.

Specific Paths in Paganism

Once you've learned about Paganism in general, you may have found some specific practices that have caught your attention, or maybe you simply want to learn more. Here's some books that may help the process of narrowing down where you want to go next.

Wicca book jacketWhile Wicca is slowly declining in popularity as a practice on its own, it still laid the foundation for much of Witchcraft and other modern Pagan practices. Wiccaby Scott Cunningham is a huge part of that legacy, expanding Wicca from a secretive practice that one could only learn by being initiated into a coven into something anyone could learn and practice on their own. Cunningham writes in a way that is accessible to people even decades on from publication.

Druidry Handbook book jacketDruidry is another one of the most popular Pagan practices today, and The Druidry Handbook by John Michael Greer lays out its history, mythos, and many practices in three easy to read parts. It is a gateway to wider Druid practices and was originally part of the curriculum for newcomers to the Ancient Order of Druids in America. I especially appreciated that the book did not claim that druidic practices are somehow ancient, as many Pagan and New Age practices have a reputation for doing. That, combined with an emphasis on the powers of nature and creativity, is what led me to become a member of the AODA myself.

History of Paganism

Pagans book jacketI delight in learning how we got to where we are. Paganism as we know it today is built of a complex weave of past practices learned from archaeology and folklore, present practices borrowed from modern non-Christian religions and spiritualities, and personal experiences. Studying the history of Paganism involves picking apart that weave and deciding what parts to keep and what to leave behind.

Pagans by James O'Donnell tells the story of the rise of Christianity in Rome from the perspective of the common people, pious polytheists who thought the worship of a single god was strange and that Christianity was a cult or fad that would soon fade. It helps readers understand some of how the dominant religion in North America came to be from a new viewpoint.

The Celtic World book jacketMuch of modern Paganism, often called Neo-Paganism, is based on the beliefs of the Celtic peoples. Really a diverse group of tribes spanning the British Isles to Romania, the Celts are collected together by academics because of similar language and art styles. The Celtic World by Jennifer Paxton is a series of videodiscs covering everything from ancient history to the modern Gaelic Revival in Ireland.

The Myths

Another way to learn about the weave that makes up modern Pagan practices is to learn the original myths and stories. They show what people, at the time, valued, what they feared, and how they believed the world worked. The library has a wealth of myths and folktales. However, many translations of these tales have a reputation for being dry, written for an academic audience that has more knowledge and investment in the material. Here's a couple examples of retellings that keep newcomers to the stories in mind.

Norse Mythology book jacketNeil Gaiman has already proven himself a storyteller adept at myth as the writer of American Gods, Sandman, and Good Omens (with co writer Terry Pratchett). Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman draws from that experience and balances the inclusion of cultural context with appealing to a modern audience.

Olympians book jacketThe Olympians by George O'Connor covers twelve major deities in the Ancient Greek pantheon over twelve volumes, from Zeus to Dionysus. While marketed for children, the author and artist doesn't shy away from the violence or strangeness inherent in Greek myths. And, by using the word and image together in comics, the stories are easier for many people to digest. It's a great introduction to the pantheon and some of its stories.

Nature

Many definitions of Paganism specify that they are a set of Nature-centred spiritualities. Many paths have nature-based deities or honour the cycles of the sun, moon, and the changing of the seasons. So, in order to learn more about the spiritual world of Paganism, it can be beneficial to also learn about the physical world.

Nature's Year in the Kawarthas book jacketNature's Year in the Kawarthas by Drew Monkman breaks down seasonal changes in the region month by month, covering the migration of birds, the blooming of plants, the spawning of fish, and more. The book is easy to read and encourages readers to join in naturalist activities, including bird watching and counting butterflies. It helped me understand what I was observing when I was walking in parks and my neighbourhood. I watched the blooming of asters and goldenrod in the late summer and listened to the gathering of crows after the end of nesting season with a new enthusiasm, and I owe that joy to this book.

Never Home Alone book jacketLiving close to downtown Peterborough, it often feels like I have to go out of my way to experience nature. However, Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn argues that nature lives everywhere, even in our own homes. Despite our best efforts to eradicate them, creatures adapted so that the human household has become its own unique environment. From the frightening house centipede to the microbes that live on my kitchen counters, this book helps me to learn to live with the wild things that live with me.

Whether you have a loved one who is practicing, are interested in practicing yourself, or simply want to know what all the fuss is about, the Peterborough Public Library has a wealth of resources for learning about Paganism. You may not have the kind of calling that I did, but learning about the diverse beliefs and practices in our community is always a good thing in my book!