Essays in Contemporary Paganism by Gary R. Varner,
Writers Club Press, 2002
Congratulations to Gary Varner for a beautifully written and extensive anthology of his work on Pagan topics. Essays in Contemporary Paganism will definitely be a book I use for teaching and for inspiration. It is a book both accessible and scholarly which for me is an important combination. In recent years, I believe we’ve seen too many books that recycle the same, sometimes inaccurate, information, and Varner’s Essays is a breath of fresh air.
Varner has divided his book into sections, each with a number of essays under the general headings of Gods and Goddesses, Ancient and Sacred Symbols, The Archetypes, Issues in Contemporary Paganism, Pagan Influences in Today’s World, and Resources. The last section has some material which isn’t much use in Australia, but includes some useful standard texts such as The Witches Rede and the Three Fold Law.
The sections that most interested me at first where those dealing with contemporary issues. The essay "Why I am a Solitary Practitioner, or, is the Craft Becoming too Dogmatic?" questions a whole range of dogmatic beliefs and statements made by Pagans such as the supposition that a person cannot be a real Witch unless one joins a coven. Varner uses a variety of sources and writings to counteract this and other statements, and one of his favourites seems to be the ‘Principles of Wiccan Belief’.
When he writes about sexism in the Pagan movement Varner is eloquent. He recognises the existence of and need for women’s and men’s mysteries, but calls for inclusiveness and acceptance rather than dogmatism and exclusion.
Some of the areas Varner covers in the Essays are very specifically American. We don’t have the same religious battles with the christian right here in Australia. (Although we do have some battles and we have to keep a close watch.) American Pagans are witnessing a rise in the power of the christian churches and as Varner says in his essay ‘Another Burning Times?’, "[there is] a renewed effort to control, limit and destroy knowledge and to stifle learning."
I feel there is always something to be learned from the struggles of others, and that we need to keep a close watch on what happens to our American counterparts, and offer our support where we can.
Amongst these more weighty subjects, there are delightful essays about the Goddess and God in their many aspects: Lilith, Brigit, Astarte, Pan, The Dying God, the Green Man. I enjoyed reading Varner’s perspective on these, and learned some new things from his writing. Likewise his section on symbols gave me some new information and insights into the lore of sacred trees, something I had been thinking about and working on recently. I highly recommend this book.
Essays in Contemporary Paganism by Gary Varner is USD $12.95 (about $25 AU) and is available on the internet at www.iuniverse.com
(The Pagan Review of Books on line issue may be read at http://www.pagan.drak.net/paganplace/ )