Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves – Sarah M. Pike

Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community
Sarah M. Pike
University of California Press, 2001
315 pages

There aren’t enough stars out there for this one! This is one of the few examples of academic studies of the pagan community that manages to not be condescending and too concerned with the details. The author immersed herself in the pagan gathering culture by going to Starwood and a number of other large festivals, and the result is superb.

The pagan festival is presented as a place outside of mundania, a piece of Faerie on Earth where pagans can come and explore themselves, *be* whoever they are, without fear. Pike also explores how childhood experiences shape adult identities, and how the child self is brought to the fore in the freedom of the gathering.

It’s not all love and sparkles, though. One entire chapter is dedicated to cultural appropriation by neopagans, primarily of Native American cultures, but also of Afro-Caribbean religions as well. She also describes the hypocrisy of Christian-bashing, though she does explore its roots in negative experiences with churches. And she doesn’t ignore the fact that problems do occasionally crop up, from annoyed neighbors to sexual predators.

Despite being an academic text, the writing is anything but dry. And her citations are flawless, something that I wish more authors would duplicate.

Overall this was a very, very accurate and enjoyable read, good, bad and ugly. I recommend it not only for pagans to get an honest look at themselves from a curious outsider’s viewpoint, but also to nonpagans as one of the best introductions to pagan culture.

Five pawprints out of five.

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