Beckett, John (2017). The Path of Paganism: An experience-based guide to modern Pagan practice. Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
John Beckett is an OBOD and ADF Druid and has years of experience not just studying and writing about Paganism, but living it daily, and it shows. His blog, Under the Ancient Oaks on Patheos, is one of the Pagan blogs that I read regularly. While I have areas of theological disagreement with John, I find myself in agreement with him far more often than not, when it comes to living a Pagan path in the everyday world. If you’re familiar with John’s blog, you will notice the similarity in style and tone in this book.
Which is why I thoroughly enjoyed The Path of Paganism. I read through it quickly when it first came out, and have recently re-read it more slowly as a way to reconsider my own Pagan practice for the new year, and to rebuild a firm foundation for it.
And that’s what The Path of Paganism will give you – a firm foundation upon which to build your own Pagan life. John writes from experience, with a warm and conversational tone, yet his research and deep philosophical, theological and ethical thought is clear to see throughout the book. There are discussions of the nature of religion, belief and practice, the different types of Paganism within the “big tent”, living a Pagan life in the everyday world, and more, as well as meditations and rituals to try out which are great for beginning and more experienced Pagans as well.
In fact, I did try out the rituals and had an experience during the Cernunnos ritual which I still cannot quite put into words.
While The Path of Paganism is an excellent book to serve as an introduction to new Pagans, it is not a typical Pagan 101 book packed with the same lists of symbols and correspondences, far from it. John doesn’t tell you how to practice or what to believe to be a Pagan, rather he gently encourages you to think really deeply about what being Pagan means for you: what is your relationship to gods, self, nature and community? What are your values? What commitments are you willing to make? How will being Pagan shape your ethics, your worldview, the actions you take each day?
Now, there were parts of the book that didn’t jive with me as much as others. John is a polytheist and he is unashamedly and unapologetically up front with that. And good for him. People should be able to stand proud in their religious beliefs and advocate for them, that’s part of being in a free and diverse society. I’m not a polytheist, so I felt like certain bits of the book were not meant for me, or rather not applicable to me.
John never tells you what to believe, but he clearly lays out what he believes and how that is central to his personal Pagan path. But if you’re not interested in the gods, then there may be some bits you’ll be tempted to skip. I’d recommend reading them through though, and engaging with them, seeing what questions they spark in your mind and working through your response to them. It helped me understand polytheism more, and I think that helps me to be a better Pagan even though I don’t share that belief.
That minor caveat aside, I can and do recommend The Path of Paganism to anyone who wants to get an insight into Paganism in all its complexity and variety, and who wants to engage with the “big questions” of religion in order to walk their own Pagan paths, whatever those may be.