Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves:
Contemporary Pagans and the
Search for Community

By Sarah M. Pike
University of California Press (2001)
Reviewed by Ed Chapman

This is a book by an anthropologist, relatively free of anthropological jargon, easy to read, and a fairly accurate portrayal of its subject.

I suppose I should say more than that— “easy to read, and a fairly accurate portrayal of its subject” isn’t really a proper review, is it? It seems American pagans are a short drive to a doctorate for anthropologists who can’t get the funding to travel to exotic climes. How many times has your grove or coven been approached by a fledgling anthropologist? “Easy to read, and a fairly accurate portrayal of its subject” means that this book is better than most of its ilk.
Pike’s research into the pagan “search for community” is somewhat skewed: it’s based primarily on her experiences at festivals. I would have liked to see this contrasted with the experiences of people practicing in small or large groups, or more permanent intentional communities. As it stands, it’s like she researched Catholicism by going to Mardi Gras.

OK—maybe that’s an extreme analogy, but not all pagans go to festivals, and the antics at festivals are really not typical day-to-day community behavior for most pagans, even if some among us would like it to be that way.

For the Druid reader, there’s a few tasty bits about ADF and Isaac, and a few paragraphs culled from News from the Mother Grove about the nemeton at Brushwood and the reasoning behind it. Ms. Pike attended the 1992 Starwood when we first dedicated the nemeton.

There are some provocative discussions on the compromises that are made at festivals between individual liberty and community expectations. This is the second-best part of the book. The best part of the book is where Ms. Pike loses her objectivity in the chapter on festival bonfires.

As interesting as this book might be as a study in individuality and its limits at festivals, I don’t think the average pagan needs to read it. Still, reading it in December made me long for the summer.