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    RQ Review

    Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars

    by Sabina Magliocco

    If Margo Adler's Drawing Down the Moon is the comprehensium of Pagan history, ideology, culture, and practice, then this gem by Sabina Magliocco is the IDG-type synopsis. It distills all that is essential in, characteristic of, and beautiful about Paganism. But whereas IDG resorts to reducing the Akashic record to digestibles "for Dummies," this well-written book amounts to Paganism for Smarties.

    The book is divided into two main parts: a section on altars and ritual, and a section on costume and jewelry. The unifying theme is the threefold nature of sacred art and its creation by individuals and communities - a consciousness-altering act of devotion, meditation, and union with the Divine. It is an act of exuberant creativity for the sheer joy of it, and a magical working undertaken to focus will and intent, raise energy, and manifest tangible physical changes in the material world. In addressing all three purposes, Magliocco says, "The creation of [Š] art [is] a sacred act in and of itself. ŠIt is the creative process itself which is the core of religious experience. Š Because creativity and artistry involve transformation, these processes become analogous and equivalent to magical acts: the artist is by definition a magician."

    Because life imitates art, a study of Neo-Pagan ritual necessitates backward chaining from its sacred art forms to the history, philosophy, symbolism, and contemporary cultural contexts of the Pagan movement, as diverse and multilithic as it is. Magliocco shines as a folklorist and professor of anthropology whose field studies at festivals and in the homes of artists result in the ethnologist's credible, dispassionate yet appreciative, and agenda-free descriptions.

    The one missing link in this book's great chain of being is the omission of any reference to the considerable body of theory and research in academic parapsychology that substantiates and clarifies the relationship between emotion, intent, and physical result. In several places the author alludes to how altars "work" (to create magic) and how magic "works" toward a result. But the reader runs into a cul-de-sac that could be opened up by a few sentences on recent psychokinesis studies. Mention of paranormal phenomena would have been no more tangential than the brief digressions into the philosophies of the Enlightenment, positivism, and Romanticism, into feminist ideology, and into Wiccan roots in Gardnerian tradition. Future editions could also benefit from an acknowledgement of Aleister Crowley's role in establishing the vernacular of praxis in the interplay of art, consciousness, and ceremonial magic.

    It must have taken some ritual magic to banish the publisher's typical resistance to including so many color photographs. There are multiple drawings and black and white photos, as well as color plates of Spiral Dance altars, personal altars, and beautiful hand-made artifacts. The photographs of the Bast cat goddess sculptures by Catherine Farah and the Neolithic-style carvings by Reva Myers are so evocative that one could make altar pieces of the pictures themselves.

    This is not only a charming and yet substantive book for those in the "movement," as Magliocco repeatedly calls Paganism. It is also wonderfully appropriate for those uninitiated smarties who need an antidote to mass media misrepresentations of Paganism. In this book Paganism is happily recast in the light of positive aesthetic and meaning. A gift idea for those in or out of the Pagan movement - the latter including teenagers, the curious, or parents who are unclear on the concept - would be this book plus some small starter artifact for the recipient's first altar.

    Reviewed by Beverley Kane, MD. is a developing experiment -- give us your feedback! Write us at

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