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Review: Paganism for Beginners by Althaea Sebastiani

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I don’t typically post reviews here, but I offered to review the book and was unable to post it on the book’s Amazon page. I think it’s a great book and deserves the exposure.

Paganism for Beginners is well-researched and thorough, but also succinct. Althaea Sebastiani covers a wide range of topics — the history of modern paganism, the legal status of paganism in various countries, the overarching values and beliefs of the pagan community, as well as the common material and conceptual tools utilized by pagans. In each, she deftly cuts to the point without losing nuance in her explanations, and recommends resources for further research.

Sebastiani does a great job of showing how crucial personal responsibility and freedom of choice are to paganism, from relationships with deities to ritual methods, and underscores the point that these values also apply to how pagans treat others. This includes a thoughtful and nuanced explanation of religious/cultural appropriation from the perspective of one’s relationships with the deities of living religions. Her explanations are not only thorough but compassionate and affirming.

I’m grateful that she focused as much on pagan values and ethics as she did on the whats and hows of ritual, deities, and holidays. These are crucial things for anyone interested in paganism to consider, yet they are too little discussed in any concrete way, even as they form the substructure of every aspect of our practices. Yet Sebastiani does this with clarity and precision.

Sebastiani’s deep love of the world and of the exquisite (and sacred!) experience of physicality radiate throughout the book. It’s clear that this love and respect are a fundamental value that underpins her knowledge and experience of paganism. Her embrace of the material extends also to her view of humans as inherently sacred and complex, worthy of love and respect.

Another thing I love about Paganism for Beginners is the emphasis on building a personal religious practice, customized to one’s own needs and circumstances. This is something I feel very strongly about myself — making our spiritual practices deeply relevant to and interwoven with our daily lives, such as celebrating holidays in ways that reflect the seasons as they’re experienced in the places we live.

This book is not a “how-to” for getting started in paganism. It won’t tell you what you should do, what tools you should buy, or what you should believe as a pagan. In fact, Sebastiani makes a point to show the array of beliefs and practices held by pagans. It’s more like being welcomed to a banquet, inviting the reader in to glimpse the options available and encouraging them to decide for themselves what provides them nourishment and sustenance. It’s an informative book, meant to give readers an accurate understanding of paganism as it currently is and how it developed over time. New pagans can use this as a reference as they do the work of exploring paganism and their own spiritual needs. I’d also recommend it to those who are not necessarily interested in becoming pagan but are curious about it: who want to know what pagans believe, what we value, and how we engage with this richly complex, multilayered world.

Despite the breadth of topics covered and the spiritual subject matter, Paganism for Beginners is an accessible and quick read. It is thoughtful, inclusive, and encouraging. It celebrates the diversity of pagan belief and experience, and encourages the reader to seek out their own truths and personal paths.

Buy the book here.

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