I could have chosen The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism by Carl McColman, which I liked, but I would have tremendously loved being able to pick The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Celtic Wisdom, which is also by McColman, and reflect modern Druidry way better in my opinion. Anyway, I opted to read Drawing Down the Moon, written by Margot Adler, for my Modern Paganism studies book review. It’s a book that I already read in the past, but it was fun to revisit it for this review. For reference, my copy is the Completely Revised and Updated 4th Edition, published in 2006.
Margot Susanna Adler (1946-2014) was an American author, journalist, lecturer, Wiccan priestess, and New York correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR). She released Drawing Down the Moon in 1979 and the book made her famous in the American Pagan circles, as it provided the first comprehensive look at modern nature-based religions. It is interesting to note that, the exact same year, another book also settled the foundations of modern Paganism: The Spiral Dance by Starhawk (Miriam Simos). Drawing Down the Moon is, to simply put it, an absolutely unavoidable read for anyone interested in modern Paganism. Like A History of Pagan Europe, written by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, Margot Adler starts by giving some basic definitions, philosophy and a Pagan worldview. She then describes the Witchcraft revival and the modern Pagan resurgences, which is very Wiccan centered. Another part of the book looks at other Neopagan groups like the Druids, the Heathens as well as the Greek and the European revivals. This section was one of my favorites, mostly because she included many ADF references in it; most of them being about the implications of Isaac Bonewits on modern Druidry and Paganism in general. Finally, the last section considers the relationship between all these beliefs to the real world.
What I particularly liked was her definitions of often confusing terms like polytheism, animism and pantheism, and they can be intricately interconnected. She also perfectly describes the similarity and differences between Neopagans groups, like the Druids’ groves, the Witches’ circles, the Wiccans’ covens, with even the additions of rare terms like the Church of All worlds’ nests and the vortices of the Elf Queen’s Daughters. She always perfectly presents the reasons why people are Pagans, and how most of them do not proselytize and are selective when it’s time to choose new members. That section is certainly slightly overwhelming for any neophyte, but the way Adler writes easily help the understanding of such concepts. To me, it was a rather good refreshment and I could totally label myself as a pantheist-polytheist. Margot Adler admirably describes it as someone believing that “all nature is divinity and manifests itself in myriad forms and delightful complexities” (page 23).
Most of all, we can clearly say that Adler’s book is a remarkable gem, full of anecdotes and details about specific modern Pagan groups. It is not the only book on the subject, but it is still, in 2016, the one that can’t be easily dethroned as the best of them all! This book is now a humongous 646 printed pages of small character texts, and I must admit that the whole book is a treasure of information. To a rabid reader like me, it was a great discovery when I firstly read it in 2014. My main focus point in the book still remains when she starts explaining the “paganizing” of the Reform druids and how Isaac Bonewits, who was then Arch-Druids of the Mother Grove of the New Reformed Druid of North America (NRDNA), left the group to start Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) in 1983. Having already read Bonewits’ own accounts in Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism, it was a nice way to summarize the historic facts about these events. It’s hard to think how much the book could have been better, but I must admit that more information about Druidism could have helped it to be perfected. Modern Druidry is mentioned, but the subject appears only as a small portion of the whole work. At the same time, we must understand how difficult it must have been to collect as many information back in 1979, when it was a time where Paganism was still confused with New Age beliefs and considered an occult and evil practice by many badly informed people. Margot did an astonishing effort in collecting these different practices and the book is still universally admired for that achievement today.
What the book teaches, further to the historical material, is how we can choose to create the myths we live by and the way we want to spiritually evolve. Adler entered as a ’60s activist bridging the social reforms she sought with a spiritual dimension that appealed to her even as a girl admiring the Greek deities while growing up in a secular Manhattan family. In this book, she explores the feminine-based, the earth-connected, and the sexually freer array of practices. She also encounters a fascinating variety of communities and people who yearn for change, but who cannot find it within conventional intellectual, political, or religiously dominant frameworks. We understand that modern Pagans built an alternative that doesn’t proselytize or threaten, but a lower profile system of thought and action which awaits those who tend to find in freedom of divine.
Overall, I found this book interesting, entertaining, and a great boost for the Druidic path of my spiritual journey. To replunge into the pages of this awesome book made me regain the desire to learn even more about modern Paganism. I have some similar books in my wish list, like The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft by Ronald Hutton, and it’s only a matter of time before I order them all, to continue where Margot Adler left.
Word Count: 975 words
- Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America. New York: Viking Press, 1979, 1986, 1996, 2006 [Completely Revised and Updated].