Review: Paganism: A Very Short Introduction

Part of Oxford University Press’ Very Short Introduction series, Owen Davies’ Paganism: A Very Short Introduction whisks the reader through approximately 12,000 years of religion, beginning with the burial rituals of the Upper Paleolithic and ending with modern Wicca and Neopaganism. It charts the pagan pantheons of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the early inroads of Christianity into Celtic and European paganism, the imperialist dubbing by Westerners of various religions from around the globe as “paganism” and finally the rise of the Neopagan movement in the twentieth century.

It’s a lot of information packed into about 120 pages, and as such is not especially helpful. It feels largely unstructured, thanks to its longish chapters and lack of any organising principle beyond the broadly chronological: I couldn’t find any theoretical or conceptual arc to hang onto through the onslaught of Facts. The use of the word “paganism” has undergone such shifts, and taken on so much baggage over the centuries, that an introduction like this is too short to cover it meaningfully. There are better, longer, more accessible introductory texts out there, although none that cover so much ground, admittedly: I think you’d get more out of reading a couple of those (say Graham Harvey’s Listening People, Speaking Earth and Carl McColman’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism) and getting a firm hold on some of these concepts than reading this and taking away a very shallow understanding of a lot of different things.

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