This was my third time reading Margot Adler’s massive tome, if one can say that it is possible to “read” it at all. The book is almost encyclopaedic in nature, lending itself more to targeted research on specific topics rather than reading from cover to cover. I first encountered it back in the late 80s shortly after becoming involved with the Wiccan Church of Canada. I recall feeling quite overwhelmed at the sheer number of different types of Pagans out there, having only been familiarised with Witches. I read it again after purchasing the 2006 revision a couple of years ago, and my latest reading was just recently after finding it on the ADF book list.
The first section of the book contains three chapters which seem aimed towards non-Pagan readers and does an excellent job of introducing Paganism, offering several different definitions, as well as providing an overview of the typical Pagan world view and describing some of the most usual ways in which people find their paths.
Adler is adept at using engaging real life anecdotes to bring the concepts under discussion to life. One of my favourite such stories involves her visiting a farm run by a small coven in Colorado. Adler was put to work trying to catch fish before the river they inhabited dried up as it did every summer. She found the task near impossible until Michael, the high priest of this coven, had her visualise being a bear, hungry and in need of fish. By taking on the mind of the bear, and going after the fish as a bear would, she filled up her buckets in no time. This, explains Adler, is the essence of magic.