Book Review: Drawing Down the Moon, by Margot Adler [Dedicant Path Requirement]

Drawing Down the Moon is a pseudosociological survey of the history, development, and branches of paganism in America. It focuses heavily on Wicca and its many permutations, but it mentions almost every pagan group imaginable. Arranged by topic – politics, ecology, ritual, magic, initiation, festivals – and full of interviews, this unique work creates a sweeping narrative of a vibrant religious movement in the words of its diverse adherents.

This book was significant because it is an academic, factual investigation of something often regarded with deep fear and prejudice. It is an astonishingly comprehensive compendium of history, philosophy, and fact – thoroughly cited and comfortingly journalistic, it is wonderful for educating curious or concerned nonpagans.

Drawing Down the Moon gave me information and perspective on the pagan movement that I had not previously encountered as a disconnected solitary. Knowing that there are so many people out there that share my views, hopes, and dreams makes me so glad. One of the things I found most interesting in this book was its discussion of magic – both the definition, given by a variety of pagans, and how many compare it with science. Isaac Bonewits’ definition of magic was what drew me to ADF, and Grand High Poohbah pagans’ description of it was what kept me far away from organized paganism for years. To see so many people explain magic as an everyday exertion of the will, a natural focus used often for mundane purposes (as opposed to something more like Ceremonial Magic) – a religious tradition wound into everyday life – was a breath of fresh air. This book also caused me to examine my ideas about the relationship of energy and deity. As a queer individual, I thought that I had more ‘enlightened’ ideas about which kinds of energy were important – but I’ve always focused very much on the male/female creation polarity. That is not the whole of life. It can be powerful, but it can also be configured in ways that are not the Great Rite. That is not the Supreme Energy. Two things in this book made that stand out to me – the description of a skyclad all-woman ritual, bounded by a guard circle of men, and the description of a goddess as ‘She Who Is Whole Within Herself.’ The first was so powerful to me because it represented a polarity of energies passive and active, male and female, without being culturally prescribed. The protective/creative energies were irrespective of gender – the men and women could have changed places, and there would have been nothing out of place – but it was a polarity no less powerful than that of the Great Rite. And the idea of ‘She Who Is Whole Unto Herself’ is both fascinating and freeing; the reality of parthenogenesis adds another dimension to our ideas of creation and power. Nature is multiply fertile.

I would unequivocally recommend this book to others. While it was a little dense, I loved every page – I got so much useful information, and the scholarship in it was an absolute joy. Working through it is more than worth the effort.

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About November Jones

November Jones lives in a small but very colorful house with three cats and her very noisy partner, codename: Batman.

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