One of the problems with books about a religion as broad as Paganism is that authors can sometimes take a stance that their way is the ‘correct’ way, and alternative traditions are only included as a passing afterthought.
As far as I’m concerned, this kind of gatekeeping should have no place in spirituality whatsoever, especially a polytheistic religion.
So, I’m incredibly pleased to see that Paganism for Beginners takes quite the opposite approach. The book explores each of the traditions in the same amount of depth. Unless you follow Althaea Sebastiani on social media (Twitter and Instagram), you would find it difficult to discern which of these traditions is her own, which is exactly as it should be.
As a result, this book is an objective, balanced view of a religion that can sometimes seem confusing in its complexity.
What’s covered in Paganism for Beginners?
Sebastiani breaks down each of the major areas, such as celebrations and holidays, magick, spiritual traditions, and Deities, to give the best primer on the subject that I’ve read for a very long time. Her emphasis that Paganism is a religion that allows you to choose for yourself is a welcome one. This is especially given some of the recent online problems around gatekeeping. Your religion is, and should be, between you and the Gods.
Sebastiani does give equal weight to each tradition. But note the book’s subtitle for her sole caveat. It’s called ‘The Complete Guide to Nature-Based Spirituality for Every New Seeker’, which gives plenty of clues about the common thread to these traditions. As in, nature.
This in itself is another strength of the book. Too many forms of ‘modern spirituality’ see nature as something to be plundered and plastered all over Instagram. If I see one more person advocating that you “take a walk in nature” to make yourself feel better, I will scream. Yes, take a walk in nature. Feel better. But what are you doing to give back to nature?
In Paganism for Beginners, Sebastiani’s animist perspective, that of the existence of spirits in all things, does poke through. As it should, quite frankly. If more books reminded seekers that they’re part of a living universe, then we might have more people trying to care for it. But I digress.
Please, you do not need ‘stuff’ to be Pagan
I also applaud Sebastiani’s stress on how little your new religion has to cost in a financial sense. It often feels that too many books focus on the tools and paraphernalia that you need to be a “real” Witch/Pagan/etc. Some of them are either expensive or wholly unnecessary. For example, outside of ceremonial magic, I have no idea why anyone would ever want a sword. This book is a welcome reminder that intention and values are just as, if not more, important.
Other books can have the tendency to focus on your needing just the right ‘things’ to celebrate seasonal festivals. This can turn magickal workings into a headache. What if you don’t have a particular crystal to hand, or you can’t burn incense indoors due to allergies?
I always liked Marian Green’s attitude to these things in her books. Items are nice, but practitioners of days gone by would work with whatever they could find. And so can you. It’s good to see a similar approach in this book too.
Is it worth a read?
Are you a beginner looking to get started? Or a seasoned Pagan curious about other traditions? Perhaps you’re an atheist who wonders how Paganism works. If you follow my folklore articles about witchcraft, you may want to learn about how modern Pagans actually practice. (Yes, I know, witchcraft and Paganism are not the same thing. This is a book review, not a dissertation).
It may look like a slim volume but the book still packs a punch. You’ll also find a list of resources at the back so you can continue your research further. After all, Paganism is a religion heavily dependent on personal research, reflection, and study.
Put simply, if you want a wise mentor to guide you along the first steps of your new Pagan path, choose Sebastiani and you won’t go far wrong.
If you like the sound of Paganism for Beginners, click here to buy your own copy! (t is an affiliate link but I highly recommend the book either way)
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