Books To Read: A Druid’s Primer

druid's primer bookLuke Eastwood, ‘A Druid’s Primer’. Moon Books, 2012. ISBN 1846947642.

Eastwood has created a really interesting approach to modern druidry here. He’s done a lot of good research into histories of pagan practices, both ancient and modern. He then merges everything he’s learnt into a mix of existing and new philosophies and practices. This is a good book for anyone fairly new to druidry who wants to be better informed about some of the sources we draw on, as well as for more established druids who want to try a new approach to mixing the old and the new. It’s a very Irish-focused book, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (though you won’t be surprised to hear that that worked well for me), but he does draw on British and other myths and folklore too.

But the problem with separating books into ‘recommended’ and ‘not recommended’ categories is that most Pagan books have parts that I like and parts that I… don’t. This book is no exception. Overall, I really enjoyed it. But let’s get into the things that I didn’t enjoy.

I’m getting really tired of books that repeat myths that we know are simply not true.

First myth: Let’s address this once and for all, shall we? The snakes that St Patrick drove out of Ireland were NOT THE PAGANS. There is absolutely no evidence that anyone thought they were, until very recently. The first reference that I can find to this idea is in Marion Zimmer Bradley – from the 1980s. It’s a modern Pagan idea. And I really wish this particular myth would burn and die. Eastwood doesn’t endear himself to me by repeating it.

Second myth, more problematic as it runs through the whole book: Modern Druidry is not ancient. Eastwood has a good grasp on the history of modern druidry, and that of ancient druidry (as far as we know anything about it). His problem is mixing the two up, believing the commonly-held view that modern Druids are the direct inheritors of the wisdom and knowledge of ancient druidry.

And that’s not entirely his fault. This myth is everywhere, after all. OBOD has its own version, as do other druid orders. But it really is a myth. Modern druidry has very little to do with ancient druidry, other than basic inspiration – and everything to do with being a beautiful modern spirituality rooted in the old sacred earth that we could do worse than embracing as, well, modern.

So now that I’ve started with the things I disliked about the book, let’s get into the good stuff – and there was quite a lot of it.

For example, he has some great chapters that merge ancient myth with modern druid ideas, such as the light body exercise. He relates the modern sun and moon cycles celebrated by most modern druids, to ancient myths that contain echoes of cosmological and solar folklore – including the myth of the Dagda and Aengus at Bru na Boinne, and the story of the Mabon. The chapter on elements is largely based on the Western magical tradition, but mixes some Irish mythology in. His chapter on healing, with botanical information on herbs/plants and their mythical and folkloric uses, is a lovely addition that I didn’t expect to see, but enjoyed.

My favourite chapter was on Ogham. This was a surprise, as I’ve done a lot of work with Ogham, using both new and old ideas on it, and I find that a lot of what’s written on it can be fairly terrible. But Eastwood’s extensive research really comes into its own here. He combines medieval and neo-Pagan sources on Ogham into a really lovely set of interpretations on each of the feda. He could have written a whole book on Ogham – as he says, he’s only had time here to skim the surface of all the sources, myths and ideas relating to it. If he does write more on the subject, I’ll read it!

As long as you’re aware of the limitations, this is a really good book with some refreshing approaches to the modern druid way of drawing on the old while being rooted in the new. I’ll be using a lot of this book in my own practice.

My rating: 7/10.

Books To Read and Books To Avoid

So, I read a lot of books. Most, I do NOT read from cover to cover. I do a whole lot of ‘dipping in’. And while that’s great for a lot of books, it does mean that I sometimes miss out.

When I do read a book cover to cover, it tends to be either a book I really enjoy, or really dislike. The latter, because I usually want to see if it can be redeemed by the end, and I want to give it a chance. The former, because there *are* some really good Pagan books out there, even though you often have to sort through the dross to get to them.

I’m going to do a series on Books To Read and Books To Avoid. Hopefully, this will help me to read more books cover-to-cover and give me a reason to talk about them (and I love talking about books). You will probably not agree with everything I say about these books. You might think some books I put in one category should be in the other. Go for it – tell me in the comments about why you love a book I hate, or why you hate a book I love. Let’s debate it, and together maybe we can put together some crowdsourced thoughts about Pagan books that readers would find useful.

I suspect some of my choices will be very controversial. I often hate books that others love, and sometimes vice versa. But there are plenty of other reviews out there to read besides mine. If I un-recommend a book, read some other reviews and see whether you think you’d like it, on balance. But I don’t like tiptoeing around what I really think, in my reviews. So I’m going to get bolder about what I think.

I’ll be writing a review of Luke Eastwood’s ‘A Druid’s Primer’ later today. Stop back here later to find out what category I put it in. Cliffhanger…!

Book Review: ‘Hoodoo: Folk Magic’, Rachel Patterson

Patterson, Rachel (2013), Hoodoo: Folk Magic (Pagan Portals series). Moon Books.

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On the whole, I would usually prefer to read about another culture’s folk magic from someone who is from that culture. Hoodoo, in particular, is one of those culturally-embedded practices (embedded in African-American culture, in this case) that it’s easy to misappropriate. Those of us outside of north America should be especially aware of this, since we don’t know all the history of oppression and suffering that is the cultural context of hoodoo. But there are ways to practice being a good guest when relating to another culture’s folk magic. However, it can be overwhleming to try and jump right in, and it’s often unwise to do so without a great deal more knowledge than most foreigners will have. That’s where a beginner’s book can be very helpful. Here, Rachel Patterson introduces the reader to hoodoo in a very accessible way. This is a book written by someone like you, working from a Pagan perspective in Britain. That makes this a good introduction for people without much experience of this particular form of folk magic or its wider culture.

Also called conjure or rootwork, hoodoo is an African-American folk magic practice, often with a strongly Christian flavour, and with influences from Africa, the southern United States, and beyond. This book introduces some of the key concepts and practices in hoodoo: working with roots, mojo bags and doll babies; foot track magic and candle/lamp magic; baths/washes, oils and powders; prayer and petitions; working at the crossroads; working with spirits, and many other ideas. It’s a really comprehensive overview of the practices, but at a beginner’s level.

Rachel Patterson is not afraid to admit that she isn’t as familiar with hoodoo as she would like to be, which is a refreshing change from writers who claim to be experts in something and then turn out… not to be. In places, this led me to wonder whether she could have done more research on one or two things. At the same time, it makes the subject much more accessible for her audience. For British readers in particular, Rachel’s relative unfamiliarity with American culture and history means she takes nothing for granted on the part of the reader – for example, she introduces terms and cultural concepts that a complete beginner will find very helpful.

This is a starting-point book. Start here – but then move on to more in-depth experiences of hoodoo. We live in a global world, and you don’t have to go to the USA to find out more (although it’s extremely helpful if you can!) There’s lots more information out there, from the Lucky Mojo podcast, to books written by conjure folk themselves, to histories of hoodoo and some of the people associated with it, and even anthropologies of American folk magic and hoodoo. The world is your crossroads. Enjoy!