Third Book Report – Indo European Studies

12 10 2013

Mallory, J.P. In Search of the IndoEuropeans. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1989.

This book considers the history and roots of the Indo-European languages. It is a search for the original homeland and peoples from which this family of languages, now spoken by over half the world, came. The central thesis of the book is that the first Indo-Europeans lived in the Ponti-Caspian region in south Ukraine between 4500 and 2500BCE. From there they spread out east into Iran and India and west into the Balkans and North-Central Europe. The author looks at the linguistic and archaeological evidence available to him in the late 1980’s to come to a fascinating conclusion that the world was completely changed by the actions of this pastoral nomadic community through their ingenuity in using the horse and wheel.

Chapter one begins by looking at the key figures and history of Indo European studies since the 18th century, explaining the linguistic similarities between many different languages and the theoretical models of development put forward by various scholars. The next two chapters look at the development of Indo-European cultures in Asia and Europe. He concludes that the evidence shows they were an intrusive people that mixed in with local populations. Chapter four was the most interesting chapter for me. The author looks at Proto-Indo-European culture, primarily from linguistic evidence as he believes there are major problems with just looking at archaeological evidence. The linguistic evidence suggests that they lived in a diverse environment, had an economy built primarily on stock-breeding and had invented the wheel, pottery, dairy products, ploughs, boats, weaponry and, most importantly, domesticated the horse. Their social organisation appears to have been male dominated and may have had a king or clan leader. In the next chapter, he looks at Indo European religion and focuses a lot on Dumezil’s theory of Tripartition ie that society was split into three functions – priest-kings, warriors and herder-cultivators. He especially considers how it relates to mythology. The author also considers the role animals, and particularly the horse, may have played in their religion.

The problem of where the Indo-European homeland might be is investigated in chapter six. Mallory points out the similarities with the Finno-Ugric languages and the important role this plays in helping to locate the homeland. He then looks at the internal linguistic evidence, linguistic palaeontology and archaeology to come to the conclusion that the homeland was in the Pontic-Caspian region – the Kurgan steppe and forest steppe of southern Ukraine. He also considers other theories about the location of the homeland e.g Renfrew’s theory of an origin in South east Europe but persuasively tears it apart. In Chapter seven, the author looks at the archaeology of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and finds a close match with the Eneolithic cultures of the Pontic area e.g the Yamnaya culture. Finally, he explores the Indo-European expansions in chapter eight. He starts with the expansion into Asia, followed by the Balkans and then South West Europe. He looks at the arguments for expansion into the Caucasus but concludes that there is not enough evidence. He argues persuasively for the Asian and Balkan migrations but, after reviewing the evidence for different expansions into central and northern Europe via the Corded Ware culture, he finds that there is no enough evidence to satisfactorily prove it at this time. He finishes by looking at how languages expand and suggests that it was primarily through the migration of small groups into different areas as well as changing social and environmental factors that proved most advantageous to the spread of the Indo-European language.

I learned a lot about the book, including how well established the Indo-European theory is despite the fact that it still has big holes. I enjoyed finding out more about Dumezil’s theory of Tripartition in more detail as well as what the culture of the Proto-Indo-Europeans was like. I was disappointed to discover that there was no archaeological links between the Pontic-Caspian area and Central & Northern Europe as it calls into question the links between the Proto-Indo-Europeans and my own country – the United Kingdom. However, this does show that the author was being honest and not trying to twist the evidence to fit his own theories. Consequently he has sparked an interest in me to research more recent scholarship to see if any advances have been made in this area. I liked the fact that he always pointed out assumptions or where there was a lack of evidence or debate within the linguistic and archaeological communities. My biggest criticism has to be the lack of large scale maps and in different time periods so that I could orient myself and understand how the smaller maps related to the larger world.

Overall this was a much more interesting book than I thought it would be, even if I found it hard going at times. I learned a lot and am inspired to research the topic further. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone interested in ancient cultures or ancestry. However, I’m not sure that it will influence my own practice other than to emphasise the importance of the tripartite system to a Druidic worldview.

Dedicant Path Week 23 – Second Book Report – Modern Paganism

18 08 2013

Adler, Margot. Drawing Down The Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and other Pagans in America. USA: Penguin Books, 2006.

Drawing Down The Moon is a book about the history of modern Paganism in America. It is a very long, detailed and well evidenced book providing a very interesting insight into how Paganism began and how it has developed over the past century in the USA. It had previously been published in 1979 and 1986, but I read the third edition from 2006. The book is a result of her travels around America in the 1970’s and interviews and questionnaires she had carried out with many leading pagans of the time. In this new edition she has brought the information up to date with developments since the 1980’s.

The book is divided into four sections. The first section looks at what Paganism is and what pagans believe. It explores why people become pagans, what their beliefs are and the pagan world view. In the second section, the author looks at the history of Wicca as that is the largest grouping within Paganism today. She looks at the myth of Wicca and what different historians say about it, and rightly points out that there is very little truth in it but that it doesn’t matter because its the lessons the myth teaches us that are important. The author goes on to look at the craft today, the different traditions, their similarities and differences and then interviews a modern witch. The seventh chapter is about magic and ritual and this was my favourite chapter. I learned a lot about how magic and ritual is interpreted in a more psychological way and one which I think I can fit more in with my naturalistic world view. She finishes the section on witchcraft with a chapter on Feminism. This was interesting to see how feminist ideology influenced the centrality of the goddess and earth mother in Paganism and I wholeheartedly concur with their statement that “All view the earth as the Great Mother who has been raped, pillaged and plundered, who must once again be exalted and celebrated if we are to survive.”

The third section of the book looks at other Neo-Pagan groups and there were many groups here that I had never heard of before so it was interesting to learn about them. The chapter called Pagan Reconstructionists looks at those groups who are inspired by the past e.g Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia, the Sabaean Religious Order, the Church of the Eternal Source and Heathenism. In contrast, she then explores the history and beliefs of the Church of All Worlds and its origins in the science fiction novel Stranger in the Strange Land. The next chapter is about more humorous religions such as the Reformed Druids of North America and the Erisian Movement. ADF is mentioned a lot in this chapter and especially Isaac Bonewits vision for Paganism. As someone who is gay, the following chapter about men’s spirituality and the Radical Faeries was fascinating and I especially liked the idea that, in some ancient cultures, LGBT people were seen as having an extra special spiritual aspect. The idea that there is both feminine and masculine united in one individual is something I felt was a profound insight.

The final section is called Living on the Earth. This chapter explored pagan attitudes to different issues and the author finds them very surprising. She explains how Pagans seem to be more friendly to science and technology than she expected and that they have very diverse political beliefs and lifestyles but are still primarily from white middle class backgrounds. She looks at how pagans have become more open about their faith – even to the point of political action on issues of concern, as well as other changes like the rise of Shamanic techniques, the use of the internet and how festivals have changed the face of Paganism. She finishes off with three appendices including rituals, resources and exploring the attitudes of modern scholars about why people get involved in the occult.

The book is important because it is written in a factual and historical way by someone who has taken a lot of time to be accurate. It is written using first hand accounts from people involved in the pagan movement and contains few biases or personal opinions. The author does not appear to have any agenda other than letting people speak for themselves. It is one of the only books on this topic and is certainly the most comprehensive. I would certainly recommend that every person interested in religion or spirituality reads this book, and especially those who are pagans so they can accurately understand their history and why their religion looks like it does, as well as to explain it to others.

The main thing I will take from this book is the understanding that magic is psychological and the insight that the various props of ritual are key to influencing our subconscious and changing us, which is why ritual and all its trappings is so important. I also better understand how the god and goddess are viewed in Wicca and their differences. As someone who is interested in current affairs, I was especially interested in the mention of the strategy of “re-sourcement” for changing society i.e the need to look for a source deeper than what society is now built on in order to change hearts and minds to live more in harmony with the Earth Mother. The only improvements to the book I would have like to have seen would be a lot more information about Neo-Druidism and the history and beliefs of various groups like OBOD, AODA, ADF and others. It would have also been good to see more information on other Reconstructionist movements e.g. Celtic Reconstructionism. Overall, it was an extremely informative and enlightening book and I really enjoyed reading it.