They addressed something I've noticed in real life: the way many people in my culture have a fear of paganism and equate it with devil worship. They looked at how through history, groups have demonized other groups. Over many years, I've seen many people equate neo-paganism with devil worship, and it always seemed incomprehensibly odd that people could be so dumb. It's like the people who are afraid that Obama is secretly a Muslim.
Neo-pagans are mostly Wiccan, but there are also many other kinds of pagans. Wiccans often refer to themselves as pagans (similar to how many members of specific Christian denominations refer to themselves as Christian). The book talked about the various kinds of pagans, but focused mostly on the modern American neo-pagans, especially on Wiccans.
Like those in many other religions, Wiccans use things like candles, incense, ritual words, ritual cleansing, and silent meditation to access the divine. The difference is that Wiccans focus more on our interconnectedness with nature rather than on a male religious founder and a male image of God.
I found some things that I liked. The main thing that I disagreed with was people who take things farther than I would, or take things more literally than I would. I had the same reaction that I do with Christians, "Do you mean people actually believe that this is literally true?" But you don't have to believe that certain things are literally true in order to consider yourself a pagan. I do find that a Wiccan or pagan outlook does contribute something to my spirituality.
Here are some things that I liked in the book:
I read The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. This book follows the development of philosophy over many years and offers excerpts from key philosophers. Some ideas in the book support each other, but many are contradictory. As I read through the book, however, I began to get a sense of wholeness, a sense that all of the philosophers were talking about the same truths and that all of them were "right" even though they contradicted each other....It was as though I saw below the surface arguments and surface contradictions and caught a glimpse of a river that flowed through them all.Page 76:
When it comes to God, religions often get into trouble by stating that a particular idea about God actually is God. ...Those who describe and experience Deity in one way become suspect to those who experience Deity differently....When people make their ideas about God into God, they give Deity a permanent address. If the belief structure declares that God lives at 1 Almighty Drive, for example, then they will no likely look for God living even just next door at 2 Almighty Drive, and certainly not as far away as 7 Chakra Lane or on the Tao Freeway. From this perspective, if such a person encounters Deity on the Tao Freeway, then he or she must have the wrong Deity!Since pagans are often called Satanists, there was an entire chapter about Satan. One thing that I found interesting in that chapter (p. 105) was:
It may come as a some surprise to you, that by the end of the second century C.E. and the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180), most Roman philosophers were monotheists. Although Deity was addressed by many names, the hymns and anthems began to identify the Deities with one divine being. By the time of Marcus Aurelius, many Romans took for granted the unity of all gods, and demons, in one divine source. Part of what upset the Romans about the Christians was not their monotheism, which both groups shared, but their concept of Satan. As Platonic philosopher Celsus wrote in 180 C.E., he believed that Christians showed their ignorance in "making up a being opposed to God and calling him 'devil,' or in the Hebrew language, 'Satan.' It is blasphemy to say that the greatest God has an adversary who constrains his capacity to do good."Meanwhile, the things I'm reading about the scientific method in the textbook for the class I'm taking are remarkably compatible with the things I've been reading about paganism. The textbook is talking about how we don't live in a mechanistic world of simple cause and effect, but how many different things interact with each other.