Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Life 18: These are Not the Pagans I Was Looking For

I should be asleep right now. Except for a two hour nap yesterday and around the same this evening, I've been up since 9 am Sunday. Stayed up, played D&D, came home, watched the season finale of Game of Thrones, and should have crashed. My body, however, had different plans. So I picked up the next book on my to-read list (at least the next one I have), which is the book you see to the left, Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future edited by Ly de Angeles, Emma Restall Orr, and Thom van Dooren. I was very excited when I bought this book a while back, because as my fellow PSA (Pagan Student Association) members at FSU can tell you, Pagan Ethics is one of those things we can discuss for weeks. Those were some of the most involved and popular discussions at our meetings, in fact. The popular thought is you can ask 10 Pagans a question on anything and get at least 15-20 responses, and it's true. We do love to discuss and pick apart and analyze and debate, which is a good thing. It means we are open minded and civilized enough to realize that we are not going to agree completely and that's okay. Anyway, all of the above is to say I was quite enamored of the idea of this book when I bought it. There aren't very many Pagan Ethics books floating around, after all. However, of the many many books I have read over the years, Pagan literature has been the genre that has most disappointed me, and unfortunately, this book falls into that category.

The introduction rekindled the excitement I had when I found it:
"We make jokes about..."superstar Pagans" and "cash-register Druids," and all the while these people are becoming more and more common...What is so significant about these people is that they are coming to define what Paganism is...to a public that is greedy for anything even slightly sensational."--Thom van Dooren, "Introduction"
I loved this statement and a few other similar to it, because it's just true. Non-Pagans who have delved even shallowly into our literature for their own edification will likely recognize a handful of names like Scott Cunningham, Silver Ravenwolf, and Starhawk; they tend to serve as our emissaries into the wider world whether we wish them to or not, based entirely on their wide availability and copious publications. This is not to say that I have not read them. On the contrary, as a young solitary Wiccan 12 years ago, Cunningham was one of my go-to reads, and Starhawk pops up in Women's Studies and Religion texts all the time. This is also not to say that I like them. Cunningham had excellent information, and I think he's awesome. Silver Ravenwolf I believe is a blight on the Pagan world, and as my friend A'ishah and I have discussed many times, I am tired of Starhawk. From all appearances, she is the only feminist Pagan woman writing anything ever, and not all of it is worth the paper upon which it is printed. Certainly I am not saying that just because these are popular authors they have no worth, but as van Dooren pointed out, this problem is that they are coming more and more to completely represent Paganism. Ravenwolf and even Cunningham represent only one particular portion of the Pagan community, and yet, they are constantly put forth as representatives of our entire community. My Paganism is absolutely not that of Ravenwolf, and it has not been that of Cunningham for years. However, due to their place as spokespeople, we are all specifically Wiccan and solitary and etc. to outsiders.

Wow, I kind of veered off topic there...My point is that this book's intro set it up to be the response to that erroneous appearance with all the talk of superstar Pagans, but then it went down in flames. My excitement over the book made me forget the cardinal rule of buying Pagan books: always read the contributor list. There's Starhawk rearing her over-published head. I realize that many consider her not a superstar Pagan but a classic Pagan author, much like others in various other religious sects. But I can guarantee you, given the experiences I've had in Religion and Women's Studies courses over the past few years, she falls more into the former category than the latter. And maybe these editors see her as that classic Pagan author, but I think to do that, one has to ignore the place she is given in academic circles beyond the Pagan community. By placing her in this collection, they lost all credibility to me. Of course, many of the articles were well-written and maybe thought provoking for those in the particular groups addressed, but for me it was all overshadowed by that contradiction between ideal and published reality.

My kingdom for a good, solid Pagan Ethics book, one that does not privilege Starhawk and/or the Wiccan community. There are other Pagans out here, I assure you.

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