Short book reviews on at least: 1 Indo-European studies title, 1 preferred ethnic study title and 1 modern Paganism title. These titles can be selected from the recommended reading list in the Dedicant Program manual or the ADF web site, or chosen by the student, with prior approval of the Preceptor. (325 word min. each)
A History of Pagan Europe is a book that gracefully melds the mythology and tales of different cultures with the important historical facts throughout the ages. I greatly appreciate having both parts included in a way that helps foster the understanding of the lore while also showing the importance of the historical data. This book begins by explaining the evolution of the term “Pagan.” It seems like a simple matter, but it seems like an appropriate place to start. Understanding how a single word has changed and developed over time seems to set the mood for the book in general.
From this introduction the book moves on to explore the different deities that are important through the ages, giving excellent brief explanations of the deities and their purposes, ranging from those that are incredibly familiar like Poseidon and Isis to the more obscured names of history such as Eileihya. It manages to share pieces of mythology from each culture and explain the history tied to each of them, including the kingdom or region involved and the events of that time. It compares different cultures in the process, comparing everything from the Greeks to the Egyptians in a way that shows how universal some messages are. It explores the changes and modifications of temples and places of worship, as well as the different types and reasons behind sacrifice.
The book also explains the rise of different ideas, thoughts, and religions from Philosophy to Christianity to Islam all across the globe. It also discusses some of the political issues and changes such as the different kings throughout the ages and the wars that were happening at the times. For me, these parts were a lot less entertaining to read, but they seemed important nonetheless. It also blended the two topics together by discussing the deification of royalty throughout the ages. I do appreciate that the author is very honest about the fact that some of the details are still sketchy and not well known. His exploration into the different ceremonies and the family members roles and purposes in them I found incredibly fascinating.
Overall, I believe that this book gives a fair, unbiased overview of many of the cultures of Pagan Europe as well as their deities, practices, and cultures. It makes a clear connection between the lives of the people and the roles their faith played in them. Most importantly, the book is incredibly easy to understand and tells the history in a manner that it almost feels like you’re reading a story. It was a very refreshing change from many of the other books I have tried to read that left me feeling like I was reading a textbook well above my level of intellect. (455 words)
Jones, Prudence and Nigel Pennick. A History of Pagan Europe. Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1995.