Review: The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide

My previous experience with books like The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide: How to Thrive in Any Community hasn’t been positive. For the most part the authors are pedantic, convinced that their way is the right way (even while giving lip service to tolerance), and very much concentrated on traditional families with small children. The tone reminds me of sitting with graduate students, discussing what’s wrong with the world and how if only their advice was followed all would be well.
 
From the “Introduction” I was intrigued. ”For the purposes of this book, if you think you are a Pagan, you are.”What a very tolerant, non-dogmatic statement. I also liked the assertion that if you think you live in a small town, then you do. Small town, I have found, is more about an attitude than size.
 
The author, Bronwen Forbes, draws on her personal experiences living in cosmopolitan cities, suburban towns, small rural towns, and geographically isolated areas. An active Pagan organizer, she met and talked with Pagans of many different belief systems and locations. Forbes conducted a survey of Pagans living in small communities covering several years. She quotes liberally from 50 of those surveys, as well as personal and phone interviews, to give the reader a variety of differing viewpoints and experiences on which to base personal decisions. She also provided a Yahoo groupso isolated Pagans could network.
 
As a child, and later wife, in a military family, I moved frequently during my childhood and young adulthood. Learning to fit into new environments, although never easy, became second nature to me and my sisters and children. A Catholic, Jewish, Moslem, or Hindi family might have some of the same issues. Those who don’t move around much will find that some of the suggestions would serve anyone well who moves to a new area. The suggestions include such simple ideas as being a good neighbor and getting involved in community activities.
 
A good portion of the book covers how to reach out to other Pagans, form associations (not necessarily a coven), and build a positive image in the local community. Of particular interest, because it’s not often addressed in print, is the section on Pagan “manners.” Forbes goes beyond the simple “Don’t Out Others” to address what to expect at Pagan gatherings, handling personal tools, and what social gaffes to avoid when meeting others.

What impressed me most was Forbes’ approachable style of writing. It’s humorous without being satirical, scholarly without pedantry, and knowledgeable without being overbearing.

It’s really tragic that Bronwyn Forbes died suddenly of a heart attack in the Spring of 2011. She may have grown to be one of our most influential writers in the modern pagan movement. Especially considering today’s mobile society, The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide: How to Thrive in Any Community contains many gems not only for Pagans of all persuasions, but of anyone who professes a less-than-mainstream spirituality and who find themselves changing communities for whatever reason.

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