Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review : A History of Pagan Europe, by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick

A History of Pagan Europe is an all too brief but tantalizing overview of the evolution of Pagan religions in Europe, from Greek and Roman to Celtic and Slavic cultures.  Each culture is covered from its earliest archaeological and recorded history, until the arrival of Christianity and the conversion of the people.  In covering this incredibly diverse group of peoples, it is impossible to go into much detail, but the overview gives a fascinating picture of the many differences and also many similarities between the disparate cultures of historical Europe.
             This book is particularly significant because of the invaluable information that can be gained by looking at these cultures in parallel.  By virtue of being adjacent and closely related to one another, each culture has influenced and affected others around it, and before and after it in history; and seeing these cultures all in one place helps to compare and contrast them in a way that is more informative then studying the cultures in isolation.  As a Pan-Indo-European organization, this book is particularly well suited to ADF and its members; we can all gain valuable insight into the practice of our ancestors and also of our fellow ADF members.
            This is the book that helped me to choose my hearth cultures.  In learning about the Paganism of the British Isles, and the many different traditions and cultures that have dwelt there over the years, I was drawn in and truly inspired.  My maternal grandfather is of English stock, and my father's family has maintained strong cultural ties to Ireland; and I found it fascinating to read of the history of these peoples.  I haven't really studied history before, and so A History of Pagan Europe, especially the chapter on the British Isles, opened up my mind and made clear so many things that I'd only vaguely understood about my distant ancestors before.  This book inspired a few conversations with my grandfather about his ancestors living in England and coming over to America; which helped me form a closer connection with my ancestors then I had had before.  I'm now looking more deeply into both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon histories and cultures, and making offerings to some of their deities, just as my ancestors would have done.
            I really enjoyed this book, and would absolutely recommend it to those who were new to ADF or uninformed about history, like I was before reading it.  It did seem to be rather simplistic, as it certainly had to be in covering such a broad subject, so I might not recommend it to someone who already had a good amount of knowledge on the subject.  I also did notice some biases when reading the text, particularly an anti-Christian bias.  Perhaps this is a reaction to the anti-Pagan bias of much of the source material, but nonetheless it was bothersome for an academic text.  Also, I found that one of the stated purposes of the book - to show that Pagan culture and religion survived to this day in some form - didn't really pan out as the authors seemed to have intended.  I enjoyed the overview of history, but I didn't feel that nearly enough evidence was presented to support that conclusion. 

            Overall, I loved the book and found it very helpful to me, both in my general knowledge of history and in inspiring my personal hearth culture search.  I think it's a great addition to the Dedicant Path reading list, and would encourage most of my fellow Dedicants to take the time to read it.

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