Beliefnet
A Pagan's Blog

I have been re-reading Jordan Paper’s The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology while working on a new book of my own, and am again impressed with what a wonderful book he has written. It is even better the second time through. First appearing in 2005, his small but rich volume takes serious study of Pagan spirituality to a new height. Professor Emeritus of Humanities focusing on Religious and East Asian Studies, Paper has practiced East Asian and native American traditions for many decades, and in the process accumulated an unusually rich knowledge of the diversity and vitality of Pagan religion. Well awaree that there is a commonality to pagan religion (though he prefers the term “polytheistic”) his volume discusses most of the world wide practice of paganism.

Curiously lacking is much if any reference to NeoPagan traditions. But while most westerners who will be attracted to his book are NeoPagans, this lack should not be a turn off. I suspect Paper knows little of NeoPaganism, having himself been involved in Traditional Chinese and Native American practices and deeply immersed in mainstream academia. And all too many NeoPagans are just feeling their way along because so much has been lost and must be relearned or de-discovered, such that if he had heard of us, he may not have taken us very seriously.

it doesn’t matter. What Paper has written dove tails so splendidly with NeoPaganism that it is confirmation that we are a part of a wider and far older spiritual tradition largely obscured because so much Western study of religion focuses on doctrines rather than practices. And we ourselves can enrich and deepen our understanding of what we do by reading his book.

When I wrote Pagans and Christians in 2000 there were no substantial studies of Pagan spiritual principles. A few of the better books on neoPaganism had short but good sections on Pagan spirituality, as in Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon and Stewart and Janet Farrar’s work, but for the most part the pickings were slim ones indeed. One of my major goals was to write an accessible account of Pagan religion that was also rigorous enough to be useful for more advanced readers. I think I succeeded. But whatever its strengths, (and I think it is till the best book placing NeoPaganism in the larger Pagan tradition), as an introduction to Paganism in general, it must now step aside in favor of Paper’s wonderful book.