As I said over the past few days, I read Alder’s Drawing Down the Moon (first edition) when I was a wee, impressionable lad back in the late 80s at the tender age of about nineteen. I actually was told to read it as an assignment by either my sponsor or by my soon-to-be priestess of a coven that went by the name of “Plumage” located in the heart of Minneapolis, in an area spitting distance from where all the turmoil took place this last summer in the city — almost a half mile north and one block west of that intersection. Star (craft name) and Hillary (priestess) both approved of my early education, having read several of Starhawk’s books, as well as Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, and other sundry titles that ranged from mostly fluff (titles with the formula “[Celtic/Norse/Candle/Gypsy] Magic”) to stuff that leaned more occult than most practicing witches would normally read (Crowley, etc.). I’d also attended a few classes at the local witchy bookstore called “Evenstar” put on by the Gardner and Alex folks, so I had a pretty good cross-pollination of the locally-practiced traditions. Before I was to be initiated into Plumage, one of them told me that it would be a good idea to read Drawing Down the Moon (DDM), as whomever recommended it thought it would give me an even broader idea of what might be expected.
Plumage was a self-described “theatrical” coven, with a large emphasis on ritual as theater. I probably should go into it beyond saying that, as I don’t recall exactly how secretive Hillary wanted things to be (30 years and rivers of alcohol do horrible things to memory). I recall we were not terribly secretive, but I think the actual workings within circle and, especially initiation, were considered secret. To be safe, I’ll just keep mum about that stuff.
Star was a scholarly type. She and I swapped books all the time because, while everyone in the coven had a veracious appetite for books, I think we were the two most interested in amassing as much knowledge as possible in order to help define a new approach towards the idea of practice. We devoured herbals, books on the ecstatic practices of folks like the gnostics and the dervish, Dead Sea scrolls, Kabbalah, ceremonial magick, mystic Christianity… everything was a valid source of potential understanding. Her initiation gift? A hardbound copy of the condensed version of The Golden Bough.
It tickled her to no end that I was Michael and she was Star and we met in a manner similar to those namesakes from The Lost Boys. Were she about five years younger, I think she might have dressed more goth than she did.
Anyway, if Star, my sponsor, told me to read something — I was going to read it as prep for my initiation. And you didn’t ignore a request from your high priestess at that time. Whomever it was, I did as I was bid and read DDM.
My recollection of it was that it was more scholarly than I preferred — it didn’t have the sexiness of other books that read more like novels or a conversation over coffee. I recall being impressed and putting it on my list of must-have books to keep in my library and maybe something to reread in a year or two. I did eventually — about thirty years late.
As I read the revised version, I’m struck by the feeling that I should be kicking myself in the ass for not getting back to it sooner — I’m sure much of my recent searching would probably have been less frustrating if I’d not avoided going back to older material in my studies and revisiting ideas from my past. Sure, I could have found some of this information elsewhere, but DDM puts it into a single place and keeps the fluff out of the discussion.
You see, one thing I find really annoying (as I’ve said plainly in the past), is the tendency of a number of nonfiction authors to drift from the scholarly to the speculative and, more often than not lately, complete fabrication. Adler does not (so far) reach into the fantastic and speculative — she may relay what other people believe in those realms, but she presents it as viewpoint or counterpoint rather than an authoritative bit of information. She’s critical of her own first edition and the errors she felt she passed on that people took as fact and she’s much more careful about how she presents information as a result.
Now, I should state that I am intimately familiar with many of the concepts she talks about in the early part of the book, but I have to admit that refreshing my memory has made me say “THAT! That’s what I’ve been trying to get at.” Sometimes I think it is a matter of someone reminding you of the things you already know in a straightforward pattern unencumbered by the brambles of your own thinking that sets the lightbulbs ablaze with eureka moments. Is anything profound? Not by itself. But it is profound in the way that it rekindles certain concepts that were already there, but mere deadwood and fragments.
So I find myself highlighting paragraphs with “anima” and “animism” and reminding myself as to the differences between poly- and pantheism. Nodding as I read that ritual is being deemphasized in a number of groups in favor of spontaneity and recognizing certain elements that seemed radical when I’d sit and discuss these matters with people back in my Plumage years (and the 5-10 years following) now being presented as settled matters, largely unchanged from what was considered divisive thirty years ago. So Star and I were not the only ones looking to be progressive — others saw the limitations in being derivative and too focused on a fog-obscured past. While it doesn’t seem that way in the published books AI sends to me on Amazon, there are people out there who are forward-looking instead of trying to recreate a past that might be entirely a figment of someone’s fugue.
I’m not even a quarter of the way through the book and I’m already anxious to re-read my other favorite from that time period, The Spiral Dance, as I recall it having leaving me feeling the same way in a more narrative manner that DDM.
But, back to my current eye candy….