One of my recent favorite books to recommend to new Pagans (or to Pagans that feel like they’ve strayed or stagnated from their path a bit) is To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day by Alaric Albertsson (Book stats: 275 pages (10 chapters), published by Llwellen in 2014). Albertsson is an Anglo-Saxon Pagan and a member of ADF who has clearly and concisely created a book that meats his goal of being a “tool kit for building a Pagan life”p. 2. This book really does create a framework (with plenty of IRL examples) for Pagan to live more fully their religious and spiritual beliefs with (as he puts it) “intentional effort, and usually a little planning”p. 2. Throughout the book, Albertsson uses the example of his own path, which includes the “attempt to follow what the early Saxons might have called Hal Sidu, meaning healthy or holistic traditions”p. 7, as well as the incorporation of other traditions based in ancient pagansims by other practitioners* to really allow the reader to see ways in which they might integrate their own path into their daily lives.
The goal with this set of blog posts (maybe weekly? we’ll have to see how life goes) is to go chapter-by-chapter through the book. I’m not so much doing a book review as maybe a bit of a summary and I’ll sort of relay my favorite bits, my impressions, and what I do with regard to each section. Also (in the interest of my own sanity) I’m forgoing proper use of footnotes for a page reference superscript for any quotes I use (sorry, its just easier in an internet format). If you have the book and haven’t read it yet, feel free to read it with me and offer your own comments and ideas. If you don’t have the book, consider getting it and doing the same. But even if you don’t have the book and may not have the resources to get it, hopefully I can do this in a way that is still a useful reading experience!
This week, I’m going to start with a discussion of the first chapter. While fairly short at 30 pages (p 5-35), it covers quite a bit of ground, so I’m not sure that I can relay all of my impressions and own experiences and relate them to what he’s written in just one post (without writing my own book, lol). The chapter is titled “Seven Steps to a New Way of Living” and seeks to answer the question that is the first sentence to open the book–“How do you express your spirituality from day to day?”p. 5 If you’ve never read the book before, and maybe even if you have, I recommend stopping at that very first sentence and pulling out a pen and paper. Take a moment to inventory what it is that you *do* on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis that inspired you to claim the label (whatever adjectives and caveats you might throw on it) Pagan.
Now think for a moment about what led you to Paganism. Albertsson goes on to briefly discuss a number of different ancient paganisms and their role in the cultures from which they originate. He compares it to contemporary Paganism, where many of us are first (or maybe second) generation Pagans (or maybe first generation Pagans raising second generation Pagans), and makes an obvious and simple statement that is none-the-less profound for its accuracy. While there are many differences between ancient paganisms and contemporary Paganism’s many tradition (available technologies for understanding the physical, biological, and chemical realities of ourselves and the world around us is a biggie), there is something to be said for his idea that “intentional choice may be one of the most significant distinctions between contemporary Pagans and our Paleo-Pagan ancestors”p. 6. Paganism today is a conscious and intentional action, rather than a byproduct of cultural norms and societal pressures–and it has been my experience and observation, Western cultural norms and societal pressures are frequently in conflict with the intentional actions of a Pagan life (and I’m not talking about religious bigotry here, though that doesn’t help either).
The chapter next covers another topic near and dear to my heart–praxis. Albertsson says here “”belief” is relatively unimportant in polytheistic religions” because ancient pagans believed in their gods “in the way modern people believe in gravity or electricity, not in the way a child believes in the Tooth Fairy”. He goes on to say that “it is patently obvious that the gods are real” because (using the example of Athena) “she has spoken to and interacted with thousands of people over thousands of years–and she is no “less real” just because Bob decides, for whatever reason, not to believe in her existence. Early Pagans knew the gods were real; for them it was not a matter of personal belief.”p. 7-8
I agree that it is accurate to say that praxis (practice) was more important than doxa (belief) among ancient Pagans, but I’m going to disagree a little bit in the idea that all ancient Pagans had the same sense that the gods were “real”. First, ancient Greece has a well documented tradition of the questioning belief and theorizing on the nature and existence of the gods, as did ancient Hinduism (and I’m fairly sure, even if it wasn’t documented that other cultures likely had folks that did the same, even if they did so only in their own heads). Secondly, I have issues with equating the reality of gods as analogous with the laws of physics in terms of being “real” as being overly simplistic–our understanding of the mechanics and nature of the world around us is very different now than it was in the ancient world, the idea that the contributions of our ancestors in expanding our knowledge so thoroughly in this regard wouldn’t change our understanding of the nature of what it is to be a god or to be divine seems to me to be its own sort of hubris that denies the very real struggle that our predecessors went through (Pagan or not) to gain that knowledge.
Either way though, I’m pretty sure the author’s point isn’t to spark a debate on the nature of what it means to be divine (that’s just my own brain thinking about things), but to point out the importance of praxis when it comes to being Pagan…which is something I am down with. He and I can fully agree on the lack of such resources that “address this issue of how to live as a Pagan after closing the ritual and washing up the chalice or mead horn.” p. 8 Towards this goal, he very strongly suggests considering a dedication rite as a first action to take, signifying one’s intention to live a Pagan path. I recently posted my personal (and very adapted) dedication rite on Pagan Devotionals (knowing that I was going to be doing this series of posts and not wanting to take up the extra space here). One of the things I noticed by the time I got to this point, when I first read this book, is that Albertsson’s ADF background certainly shines through! If you are familiar with ADF’s Dedicant Path, you will notice the ADF influence (which I see as a positive, as I think the program is quite good**) in the example dedication rite that he offers.
And this is probably a good stopping point, in discussing the book’s text. To really do as Albertsson suggests, to start to live as a Pagan every day, to dedicate yourself to this endeavor, requires some forethought and some reflection. To, as he says, “do something, some little thing each day to connect with your gods and with the world around you.”
Next time, we’ll actually get to discuss the seven steps that the chapter is named after!
*A bit about my use of paganisms vs Paganism…perhaps it is idiosyncratic of me, but when I refer to historical/ancient paganisms, I don’t capitalize because IMO, “pagan” is a description of the type of religions practiced by these cultures (non-Abrahamic, with a pluralistic view of divinity, a sacralization of the material, and an emphasis of right practice over right belief). Contemporary Paganism on the other hand (IMO) is a modern set of recreated traditions in this ancient model (sometimes with very modern twists)—it is a religious movement, and as such, a proper noun. Additionally, I *always* pluralize paganisms when referring to ancient religious traditions as a group, though I may or may not depending on how I am refering to Contemporary Paganism (whether I’m talking about it as a distinct modern religious movement or a series of modern religious traditions). For more info on (the evolution of) my views here (whether you agree or not), I’ve written a bit on the topic here, here, here, and here.
**If one is planning a Druidic path whether they are going to join ADF or not (or complete the Dedicant Path, or not), I fully recommend working your way through The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year, which I think is free as a PDF if you are a member along with Our Own Druidry and some other books (which you need to do justice to the course), but you can also get them on Amazon if you aren’t going the ADF member route.