The Path of Paganism by John Beckett

The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice
John Beckett
Llewellyn Publications, 2012

wp35_The Path of Paganism Beckett

Review by Rebecca Buchanan.

John Beckett is a well-known writer and speaker, and a member of the OBOD, CUUPS, and the ADF. In The Path of Paganism, he offers practical, heart-felt, hard-earned advice on how to be Pagan in the world. Not just offer lip service to the idea of Paganism, but how to actively honor the Gods, live their virtues, and find our true purpose.

Beckett divides the book into four sections: Building a Foundation (the origins and purpose of religion, the different types of Paganism, the place of nature in Paganism, the nature of the Gods, and so on); Putting It Into Practice (the importance of prayer and meditation, piety, how to build an altar, ethics, and so on); Intermediate Practice (individual and group practice, sample rituals and circles, initiation, and so on); and Living at the Edge (the importance of continuing to learn and experience and grow our Paganism, whatever tradition it may be). Most chapters end with questions for contemplation or suggested rituals.

Following his proposal that life, experience, and learning are helical or cyclical, not linear, each section builds on the last, returning to previous discussions and ideas with new insights and information and suggestions. For example, in the beginning Beckett discusses growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church; the seeds of doubt planted in his childhood continued to plague him until he really began to take his Paganism seriously; when he finally answered the calls of Cernunnos and Danu and the Morrigan (or maybe, began to hear the calls for what they were is more accurate), everything fell into place and he came to understand why he was here and what he was meant to do.

It has been a long time since I underlined anything in a book. I underlined a lot in The Path of Paganism. The pages are filled with both practical advice and real wisdom. I found myself pausing more than once to wonder how this or that line could apply to my own life, or how would I react in this situation, or gee, I should really try to incorporate this into my practice because it sounds useful! Beckett is a Druid and he does honor the Celtic pantheon; if you’re not, don’t let that scare you away. Much of what he discusses — how to answer the call of the Gods, how to live faithfully in troubled times, how to care for the world and the people around us — can be applied across any tradition.

One element that I found particularly compelling was Beckett’s emphasis on science. More than once, he notes that “bad science makes bad religion.” This, in turn, ties into the over-emphasis we place on literal truth and scientific validation. “When we misuse and misunderstand science we are doing exactly the same thing Christian fundamentalists do when they insist the Bible is inerrant [….] The foundation of their proof has crumbled, and they are forced to deny established facts to pretend otherwise. [….] Science has become the arbiter of truth in our materialistic society and we want science to bless our religion. At the root of this desire is the idea that the only truth worth having is the kind of truth science can validate, that the only knowledge is literal, material knowledge. This is why fundamentalists insist the Bible is literally true — if it’s not literally true, they think it’s worthless. They ignore the value of mythical and mystical truth.” (pp. 32-33) For Beckett — a Druid, an engineer, and an environmentalist — science and religion are the twin branches of a helix, twining together to create a life of virtue and knowledge, a life worth living.

Highly recommended to both those new to Paganism and those already far along their chosen path, especially when read in conjunction with Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up by Lupa, The Earth, The Gods, and the Soul by Brendan Myers, The Earth Path by Starhawk, and A World Full of Gods by John Michael Greer.

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