The Earth, The Gods and The Soul was published by Moon Books on 29 November 2013 and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to review this book prior to publication. My review was first posted on www.ingridhall.com on the 28 October 2013.
About the author
Brendan Myers is a Canadian author and philosophy professor who has worked in Canada and Ireland and has been a frequent visitor to England and Germany. He has written on many topics including environmental ethics and climate change and his research into druidry won him the Mount Haemus Award from the Order of Druids, Ovates and Bards in 2008. You can find out more about Brendan on his website: http://www.brendanmyers.net/wickedrabbit/
The Earth, The Gods and The Soul by Brendan Myers
The Sub-heading for this book is: A history of Pagan Philosophy, from the Iron Age to the 21st Century – and it certainly does what it says on the tin! This is a weighty book and yet it is also a very lucid introduction to a vast range of philosophers and proto-philosophers from the ancient to modern. Myers traces the roots and branches of Pagan thinking and philosophy over several thousand years – analysing the various philosophical arguments and propositions presented in the various sources: from the Classical world and its renowned philosophers such as Plato and Socrates, through the lacuna in pagan writings during the Christian era, to the stirrings of pagan philosophy found in ‘Barbarian’ works of the Irish Wisdom Texts and Poetic Eddas. He follows the route of pagan thought through to the Age of Reason and to the Nature writers of nineteenth century America – who brought nature to the fore in their world view.
Myers explores the nineteenth and twentieth century revivals of paganism via Madame Blavatsky, James Frazer and Robert Graves, Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardiner and Doreen Valiente and brings the work right up to the present day via the birth of modern Neo-Paganism. Finally he considers whether Pagan Philosophy has developed a critical tradition (with argument, criticism, counter-criticism etc shaping and re-developing/re-interpreting ideas) whilst being effectively denied the institutional support of museums, universities and the like due to the ascendancy of Christianity for much of recent history.
I have to say, this book took me a while to read. Although I had heard of most of the philosophers mentioned (and even read some of them) I have never studied philosophy so, frankly, don’t really understand it very much!! Hence I was expecting to be just a bit out of my depth with this book. However, I was happily surprised. Myers is a very good writer and presents his arguments with passion and clarity.
Myers takes time to clearly lay out what makes a philosophical argument: basically asking really BIG questions and using ‘systematic critical reasoning’ to investigate them (N.B. but to avoid dogmatic ‘Answers’ as philosophy is an ongoing process!) He also outlines how he proposes to define ‘pagan philosophers’ as clearly many of the writers in the ‘Christian Era’ may have held more or less recognizably pagan views but would not necessarily have identified themselves as pagans. To justify his choice of writers, he explains the three main strands of paganism that he considers are identifying factors in pagan philosophy: Pantheism, Neo-Platonism and Humanism.
I could write A LOT on this book. I found it utterly fascinating and extremely well researched. The second half of the book, which deals with writers who may be more familiar to Modern Pagan readers (Blavatsky, Frazer, Graves, Crowley, Bonewits, the Farrer’s) I found to be easier to read simply because they were more familiar to me. Myers also examines the influence of Feminist Philosophers (including the legendary Simone De Beauvoir) on pagan thinking, and the intersecting of eco-theory into the mainstay of pagan world views – I found these sections to be of particular interest as they seemed to show the beginnings of a critical tradition within paganism.
The history of Paganism and Neo-Paganism and its philosophical heritage deserve to be considered worthy of serious study. Modern Pagan need to re-evaluate some of the ‘accepted truths’ of Neo-Paganism – such as Murray’s surviving witch-cult; Daly’s ‘Burning Times’ – and consider that they are more akin to foundation myths rather than history. However, as Myers notes, this does not diminish their importance because they still clearly have mythical and poetic truths contained within them. Nevertheless recognizing this will help in further developing a serious ‘critical tradition’ for Pagans which can only be a good thing. I think that Brendan Myers book is an important part of this growing trend for serious study of paganism and its philosophy.
The Earth, The Gods and The Soul by Brendan Myers was published on the 29 November. It is available to order on Amazon: