PEOPLE OF THE EARTH: The New Pagans Speak Out
Ellen Evert Hopman and Lawrence Bond
Destiny Books, Rochester, VT, 1996

Ellen Evert Hopman has written the book that will usher Pagan literature into the next millennium. People of the Earth: The New Pagans Speak Out is destined to become the vanguard of work by Pagan writers. Striving to express the spiritual richness and diversity within the world of Pagan belief, Hopman has taken up the thread of inspiration offered by such pioneers as Margot Adler. The result of her labor is a complex tapestry of faith representing the practices and beliefs of individuals who identify themselves as Pagan, despite the lack of cohesive doctrine within this emerging religious group.

Hopman and her collaborator, Lawrence Bond, through thoughtful and at times incisive questioning, have revealed a new level of self-awareness among adherents of Pagan spirituality. Through interviews conducted both in person and over the telephone over the past few years, many Pagan people have been given a unique forum in which to express themselves in their own words for the first time in decades.

The book is well-organized in sections which include interviews in a concise question-and-answer style, arranged by themes such as Pagan Artists, Military Pagans and Sacred Prostitutes, as well as profiles of many acknowledged leaders in established groups comprising Wicca, Druidism and Faery, among others. The interviews themselves are an immensely valuable research tool for those wishing to explore the topic of earth-centered religion whether as social scientist or spiritual seeker. Of equal value is the considerable section devoted to resources which includes a well-researched bibliography, a selection of audio and video tapes, publications, organizations and so on. Information is given about electronic mailing lists and newsgroups, putting this book on the leading edge of reference works for this generation of Pagan development.

The material is enhanced by photographs of the people whose images are depicted in the printed word. The only criticism which can reasonably be leveled against this book is that the individual interviews themselves are grouped, with only a tiny graphic icon dividing them, so that a less than careful reader may miss the signal that a new interview has begun. Hopman does, however, introduce each person with a capsule of "insider information." On balance, the structure of the book makes it easy to approach whether one interview at a time or in a marathon reading session.

I'm not a big fan of Hopman's style, but I feel that the book itself is very important as a good record of what people wanted to say about themselves as filtered through the agenda reflected in the questions and the editing process. Hopman tells me that some errors occur in the intros that were written for some of the entries, so the whole book may seem somewhat fictitious. It's not hard to figure out that the claims some people make about themselves have changed radically over the years and are inconsistent.

Another issue is the matter of who is included in the book and who is not. It is not clear if any kind of objective method was used to interview a true cross section of modern Pagans. Are those included people who represent the views espoused by Hopman or who can provide her a convenient opponent whose answers can be edited to suit? It has been said that the historical picture will be skewed by the fact that we can only record that which is said by those who are willing to give an interview, the beliefs and practices of those who remain silent will forever be a mystery. But what of those interviews with the ones who only stand to gain by the claims they make and are allowed to say nothing which will make the Pagans look bad? Clearly, Hopman's standards are not the only ones. Hopman has attempted to represent the Pagans as she would like them to be seen. I am certain that her work will inspire others to add to the effort.

Hopman says as much about herself as she does about others in this book. As a Pagan leader, author and teacher she gives voice to the creativity and pride of the Pagan people, but she speaks, too, of their questions and concerns. She unflinchingly asks respected Pagans to explain themselves on the subjects of sex and death, as well as healing and community. What they have to say is fascinating and insightful. In Hopman, the new Pagans have found an uncompromising spokesperson.

Reviewed by Karen Forrester Junker

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