Review: Listening People, Speaking Earth

Now this, I thought, was a great Paganism primer. Listening People, Speaking Earth‘s author Graham Harvey is Professor of Religious Studies at the Open University, so although he’s also a Pagan himself he brings a reasonably dispassionate, academic approach to the subject. The book covers Wicca, Druidism, Goddess worship and Heathenism among others, looking holistically at history, belief and practice and how each informs each. I really appreciated this linking up of each tradition’s underpinnings with how they manifest in their followers’ day-to-day lives and rituals: understanding the philosophy of life that accompanies these beliefs is a lot more useful to me than just having a rundown of concepts Pagans encounter every day (I’m thinking of books like Paganism 101 and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism). Your mileage may, of course, vary; to me, the philosophical background is something I can build on, researching forms of practice that match what I want to achieve.

Harvey also acknowledges the more problematic parts of Paganism – namely, gender essentialism, cultural appropriation and white supremacy – although he does take some concerns more seriously than others, calling Odinist racism out for what it is while going down the “some people think” route when dealing with accusations of sexism and homophobia. Still, at least he doesn’t completely ignore it as other Pagan works seem to do.

Perhaps strangely, given the academic inclinations of the book, Harvey quotes Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series at every opportunity. Pratchett was not a Pagan, or even religious in any sense, but the more I read the more it becomes apparent that his worldview and Paganism share a lot of ground. His witches especially, with their strong connections to the natural world (attending at births and deaths, raising livestock, cultivating healing plants and generally embodying the landscapes they live in) and their canny understanding of human nature, look a lot like Wiccans. There’s a down-to-earth-ness, a grounded-ness, that his work shares with Paganism. Which makes sense: Discworld is a big part of my moral/ethical makeup at this point.

In short, I found Listening People, Speaking Earth a very useful sympathetic overview of the Pagan movement, which I’d recommend to anyone who’s still working out what Pagan path they’re drawn to, or who’s simply curious and wants to know more.

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