This collection of essays reprinted from Merry Meet magazine (‘an independent quarterly journal of folklore and paganism’) begins with a disarming introduction in which the author, answering the charge that modern Paganism is a made-up religion, pleads guilty. But, he says, the modern Pagan revival is rooted in the findings of archaeologists and folklorists, and he then delivers 28 essays on places, landscapes, myth, folk song, dance and traditional ceremonies, such as the Lewes Bonfire Procession, that are well researched and factually accurate – you will find wilder leaps of fantasy in some ‘respectable’ archaeological publications.
Ron Hutton, writing on similar subjects, does so with the objective stance of an academic historian; Jerry Bird’s voice, by contrast, is that of a writer for whom every echo of paganism is a joy. The tone of the essays is one of delight and pleasure in the evidence of pagan beliefs written in the landscape, preserved in song, carved in church roof bosses or performed as a horn dance at Abbots Bromley. That they have survived at all is a cause for celebration.
I ended up being charmed and seduced – not that I am about to paint my face green and put flowers and feathers in my hair, but this book makes you heartily glad that some people do. Britain has no mass festivals equivalent to the mayhem and inversion of Carneval or the midsummer solstice celebrations of almost every other European country. We are a nation that laughs at Morris dancing and ignores our rich folksong heritage. Thank goodness, then, for the few who are not embarrassed to follow the Pagan path, even if they know they are dressing up and acting a part – they do add greatly to the ‘gaiety of nations … and the public stock of harmless pleasure’, as Samuel Johnson said in his memorable epitaph for the actor David Garrick.