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The Goddess Year.
Nigel Pennick and Hazel Field.
 Capall Bann 1996.  Pb £9.95.

This book begins with an introduction to paganism and the pagan world‑view. The author begins the book by claiming that “Paganism is the universal religion of all human beings, recognising the sacred in many ways, through many divinities, both goddesses and gods.” It follows on with a discussion of the eight‑fold year, and the Goddesses of Nature, and the Queen of Heaven. The second half of the book goes through the months, giving the significance of the months and information about various goddesses whose festivals are in each month.

There is a very strong emphasis on the Northern tradition (so much so that I felt the book deserved a subtitle referring to this). This is very valuable material. For too long the Northern tradition was been seen (certainly by those outside it, and often by those inside it) as primarily a warrior tradition based on gods with little concern for goddesses or for other aspects of human life. This seems to be changing — many writers and practitioners are rediscovering the female aspects of the Northern tradition. Celtic goddesses come second, Roman (and Greek) a poor third, and there are occasional mentions of other traditions.

As is shown by his first sentence, Pennick is not just a pagan but a proselytising one. He is sharply critical of the “religions of the book” which he regards as too rigid. I tend to agree with him on this — it is a useful counter to Christian claims that paganism is too fluid and unrooted. But I find he takes this to the point of distortion — he claims that in those religions “there can be no accommodation to new ideas and new manifestations of spirit”, which anyone familiar with the current ferment in liberation and feminist theologies can immediately see is false.

He works with (two) calendars based on thirteen months of twenty‑eight days. As he says that "The natural time‑cycles have been overridden by literalist machines" this approach does need justification — to me it is a device intended for convenient calculation, and is not based on any natural cycle. The book is copiously illustrated by Helen Field. Unfortunately, while I liked one or two images, the total effect of the illustrations on me was distaste. The young semi‑nude female, with prominent breasts and buttocks is, of course, a valid image of a goddess — but when the majority of the images are of this kind, whether Hela, Ceridwen or Cybele, it seems to me that the artist's preoccupations (or the needs to sell a book) have taken over from any real attempt at portraying the goddesses.

The Goddess Year displays neither the breadth nor the depth of scholarship shown in Lawrence Durdin Robertson's two classic books, Juno Covella and The Year of the Goddess. However, these books are now out of print and difficult to find, and, despite my criticisms, I think Pennick and Field's book makes a satisfying replacement for them.

Wood and Water 66, Spring 1999
© Daniel Cohen

 

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