BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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In Honor of the Polytheistic Day of Protest and Remembrance

Today, 31 July, marks to first Polytheistic Day of Protest and Remembrance. This Day was established to honor the numerous ancient and sacred sites threatened, or even destroyed, by Daesh. As the official website notes:

This is not a Syrian issue. This is not a Muslim issue. This is a world issue. It is a human issue. Daesh is purposely targeting memory. They’re targeting their history, and their own physical connection with their polytheistic ancestors. It is done to demoralize, terrorize, and desecrate.

As part of my own activities this day, I have compiled a list of some books from my personal library which focus on Pagan sacred sites, sacred festivals, great rulers and philosophers and poets, and even Pagan martyrs. I hope that this list will inspire those who read it to reflect on all that came before, all that has been lost, all that might still be lost -- and what we might do to ensure a future that is safe of polytheists and Pagans everywhere.


An Anthology of Sacred Texts By and About Women edited by Serinity Young; and Wise Women: Two Thousand Years of Spiritual Writing by Women edited by Susan Cahill; and Women in Praise of the Sacred edited by Jane Hirshfield. Excellent collections featuring poems, essays, and excerpts from longer texts from around the world. Arranged chronologically, so, for most polytheists, the first chapters will be of the most interest.

Anointed: A Devotional Anthology for the Deities of the Near and Middle East edited by Tess Dawson. While it focuses on Deities as opposed to people or places, I have included it here for one simple reason: Daesh is most heavily active in the Middle East, and it is the Deities who were once honored there whose sacred sites are immediately threatened. 

A Chronicle of the Last Pagans by Pierre Chuvin; The Death of Classical Paganism by John Holland Smith; The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World by Adrian Murdoch; and Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox. These are heart-breaking reads, but they are also inspirational; the polytheism of the ancient world did not go gently into that good night.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff; Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh by Joyce Tyldesley; Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr by Michael AB Deakin; Hellenistic Queens: A Study of Women Power in Macedonia, Seleucid Syria, and Ptolemaic Egypt by Grace Harriet Macurdy; Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible's Harlot Queen by Lesley Hazleton; The Woman Who Would be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney. Okay, with the exception of Hazleton's Jezebel, this list heavily skews towards Egypt and the Hellenistic World. I admit, I have a soft spot for Cleopatra and Hatshepsut; they were not only amazing women, but they were amazing, devoutly polytheist women. 

The Earth, the Gods, and the Soul: A History of Pagan Philosophy: From the Iron Age to the 21st Century; and A Pagan Testament: The Literary Heritage of the World's Oldest New Religion; both by Brendan Myers. Excellent resources. Highly recommended for any polytheist's reference library.

In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Cultural, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth by Tikva Frymer-Kensky; and The Old Ones in the Old Book: Pagan Roots of the Hebrew Old Testament by Phillip West. In their own way, both address the polytheist antecedents of well-known and little-known Biblical tales, rites, laws, and customs. I recommend reading them in conjunction with Hazleton's Jezebel.

Dictionary of Women in Religious Art by Diana Aposotolos-Cappadona; The Mirror of the Gods: How Renaissance Artists Rediscovered the Pagan Gods by Malcolm Bull; and The Survival of the Pagan Gods by Jean Seznec. Recommended to anyone with an interest in art history, or any artists out there looking for inspiration. Reading these books, though, did leave me to wonder how much Pagan art has been lost to neglect and religious fundamentalism.

Heroines: Great Women Through the Ages by Rebecca Hazell; Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia by D Anne Love and Pam Paparone; The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana and Trina Schart Hyman. As modern polytheism continues to grow, more and more children are being born into various Pagan traditions; and giving those children a solid grounding -- providing them with role models -- is vitally important. These are just three of the many books out there which fill that need. 

Goddess Sites by Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson; Sacred Places by Jane Yolen and David Shannon; and Sanctuaries of the Goddess: The Sacred Landscapes and Objects by Peg Streep. Daesh explicitly targets sites which are sacred to polytheists, as well as Christians and moderate sects of Islam. A few of them are shown here. Hopefully, books such as these will inspire pilgrimages (when it is safe), prayers, and even reconstructions.

Finally, there is After Patriarchy: Feminist Transformations of World Religions edited by Paula M Cooey; Nothing Sacred: Women Respond to Religious Fundamentalism and Terror edited by Betsy Reed; Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future edited by Ly de Angeles, Emma Restall Orr, and Thom van Dooren; The Politics of Women's Spirituality: Essays by Founding Mothers of the Movement edited by Charlene Spretnak; Walking an Ancient Path: Rebirthing Goddess on Planet Earth by Karen Tate. These books reflect on many of the problems currently facing the world -- from poverty to sexual violence to education inequality to environmental degradation -- and offer critiques and solutions from different Pagan traditions.



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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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