For their book The Arc of the Goddess, Patterson and Roberts have put together a very straightforward approach to learning more about goddesses, broken up into twelve months of learning. Though most books dedicated to goddess worship seem to at least have some of their roots in the Dianic tradition, this book steers clear of any type of affiliation. The authors’ main goals seem to be: hey, if you want to learn more about goddesses, here’s a plan for you so you don’t get overwhelmed. When a novice enters any kind of polytheistic religion or delves into myths, one of the first questions can be ‘how do I keep all these names straight?’ I know that was one of my concerns when I was fifteen and first exploring these kinds of texts. It’s very easy to get choice-blind and pick one pantheon (Greek, Roman, Hindu, Celtic, etc) and stay there for years. Most of the beginner witchcraft books out there suggest only picking one to study for that very reason.
Patterson and Roberts stay clear of that type of limited thinking. Instead of paring down choices, their book gives a sampler plate with an encouragement to strive for more learning when the reader has completed the course. For each month of the year, they’ve chosen nine goddesses from different pantheons associated with a specific theme they’ve assigned to each month — and they choose nine for a very specific reason. This is what they say:
Twelve times nine equals 108 and that is a pretty special number. There are 108 energy lines in the body leading to the heart chakra. It is believed that there are 108 stages to a soul’s journey. Apparently the diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. And of course there are twelve houses in astrology and nine planets. For the nerdy maths geeks out there, when the digits of 108 are added together –- 1+0+8 –- it equals another magical number … nine … the number of the goddess.
This kind of numerology is exciting to me, but I also appreciate the tone of this passage — which also permeates the entire book. By virtue of writing a book, they had to eliminate some goddesses, but it wasn’t done from a place of under-valuing the reader. They had to limit choices (as we all do in our everyday life), but by imbuing what remains with a sense of mystic purpose, it allows for the reader to explore on their own. They are given the responsibility that so often readers seem to lack in other texts that have twelve month plans. Many of those authors dictate what needs to be done in order to become a “true” witch (or whatever moniker is used), whereas Roberts and Patterson says that we’re already magic (or a true witch, or whatever), so let’s explore from here. The entire tone of the book was one of encouragement to get in touch with myself, my own journey, and find what I needed out of this book. And for someone like me who has a complicated and sometimes thorny relationship with these types of books (which I’ll discuss later in the review), that was a relief.
I want to highlight some of the organization of this book, though, because I think they did a really good job picking unique aspects for each month. March, for example, was a chapter devoted to Mountains and Spring Goddesses, where there are Celtic, Hopi, Greek, and Norse figures to learn from. Patterson and Roberts include festival days (which often include write-ups about even more goddesses), a meditation to get you connected to some aspect of a goddess, a suggested list of energy and spellwork useful during this time period, moon lore (one of my favourite sections), and other typical associations common in many other books of its kind, like an oil/incense list, a crystal list, craft ideas, and feast ideas. Instead of merely listing each association, however, each section often gets its own write-up where they spend time devoted to one particular crystal (like Ruby in March) and share a personal recipe (which I still have yet to try, but I’m excited to). All in all, each section is organized, clear, and there is a fine line they walk between talking to a novice reader or someone with years of experience. This tone — both respectful of past knowledge and informative at the same time — is one of the better aspects of the book, and I find myself recommending it to people I know (who’ve practiced for years or are barely into a year and a day).
The other reason I find myself recommending it to other people is the even-handed gender tone of the entire book. This is a book about goddesses, yes, but Roberts and Patterson do not assume the gender of the reader. This is hugely important, and something that is not always done. One of the main reasons I “left” all kinds of paganism behind when I was in my early twenties was because of how gendered everything felt. Each time I picked up a book, it was as if I was somehow failing everyone because I didn’t think of myself in the same terms each book spoke about. I didn’t want to find my inner goddess or inner feminine self because to me, there wasn’t really a feminine self. But when I’d find the handful of books that were geared towards young men and older male witches (thanks Chris Penczak), it still didn’t feel quite right. The binary divide in many pagan and earth-based religions seemed to tear me apart more than unite me, so I left.
It wasn’t until I found non-binary identity (along with critical trans discourse) that I could feel okay with whatever “inner” self I had, and from there, read about paganism, and earth-based spirituality again. At first, when I received this assignment for a review, I was nervous that I’d start to feel the same way in my early twenties, but I was pleasantly surprised. Roberts and Patterson do not assume that the reader is a woman who wants to get in touch with her feminine self. Sometimes they’ll make assumptions about the gender of the person reading, but honestly, it wasn’t enough to disrupt my own reading process. This is one of the few goddess books out there that can be read by a general audience — and that is astounding to me. Everyone, no matter the gender they feel themselves to be, should want to work with goddesses. And those goddesses and the choices associated with them shouldn’t be limited, either. Patterson and Roberts’ work is as encouraging as it is inclusive, which is the most I could ask for. Those who have read Chris Penczak’s work (especially Gay Witchcraft) and still find themselves wanting in terms of gender representation, should definitely check this book out.
[Evelyn Deshane has appeared in Plenitude Magazine, Strange Horizons, The Rusty Toque, and Lackington’s. Their chapbook, Mythology, was released in 2015 with The Steel Chisel. Evelyn (pron. Eve-a-lyn) received an MA from Trent University and currently studying for PhD at Waterloo University. Visit them at: evedeshane.wordpress.com]