Bodies, Magical Selves:
Contemporary Pagans and the
Search for Community
By Sarah M. Pike
University of California Press (2001)
Reviewed by Ed Chapman
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 isnt really a
proper review, is it? It seems American pagans are a short drive to
a doctorate for anthropologists who cant 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.
Pikes research into the pagan search for community
is somewhat skewed: its 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, its like she researched Catholicism
by going to Mardi Gras.
OKmaybe thats 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, theres 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 dont think the average pagan needs
to read it. Still, reading it in December made me long for the summer.