Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jennifer Hunter's "Rites of Pleasure": Book Review.

Researching academic studies on neo-paganism, the title naturally intrigued me, so I checked this out. It's not scholarly but popular in its direction, although endnotes and sources are dutifully cited. A general survey interspersed with 22 accounts from (all but one) American "Witches, Wiccans, and NeoPagans," the result's certainly not nearly as sober or somber as other introductions to this charged and potent topic.

The subtitle's "Sexuality in Wicca and NeoPaganism." But it's not an anthropological treatise of a little-known subculture. It's meant to reassure those already inside (or peeking into) the emerging tradition. It's written in a very breezy-- if for me rather nudge-nudge, wink-wink tone of "we've all been there, we're all in this together" against the system-- tone of solidarity. Understandably given the caution that kept me, reading this at my workplace, to conceal the cover. The supportive, here rather coy, there very explicit style of the presentation may not surprise, on the other hand, the intended audience for this brisk work. I sympathize with the difficulties faced by those popularizing not only marriage and "fluid-bonded" relationships but "condom compacts," a "play party," polyamory and similarly if even more daringly open-minded sexual expressions among those long feeling persecuted for their right to pursue pleasure in life-affirming, yet dramatically subversive or imaginative new-old ways. Hunter's fair-- more than earlier reviewers on Amazon US may have given her credit for-- in appealing to everybody on the continuum from celibates to sex workers; she keeps in mind risks and challenges for all involved.

The author of two books previously on Wicca, Hunter reminds us how rare a religion which encourages open sexuality for all remains. As a researcher, that brought me to read this. That novelty accounts for interest many may have in this subject. Symbolism, relationships, rituals, magic, body-positive thinking, ethics and safety, gender issues, poly & queer paganism, and rites of passage follow a quick history of sacred sex. She tends towards works by pagans themselves but includes scholarship from primarily feminist and sexuality authorities also. Websites, a glossary, and the often frank comments from the informants themselves help orient the reader.

As I've mentioned, the book, despite its rapid pace, tends towards a compendium for practitioners and, it seems, experienced pagans rather than newcomers or academics. I think that the sources for what remains historically an elusive subject to account for solidly-- due to the prejudice and bias heaped upon it for millennia-- could have been stronger, but in time, a more subdued, less giddy text may follow. Hunter writes for her fellow circle, and this is a first start towards a needed conversation and elucidation of sacred sex past and especially present in a nature-based, magically and spiritually flexible context. That being said, the readership for it may be narrower or broader than I'd expected-- but in either case more than the esoteric sociological monograph I'd figured this for unseen, to be sure. (Posted to Amazon US 11-27-09)


alanindyfed said...

For sure, ye're a voracious reader John. Would that I had the energy and inclination to peruse copious volumes of literature as you do!
I let my library go after a mistake understanding of non-attachment.
True non-attachment is holding on or letting go, and it doesn't matter either way....
Thus - freedom from attachment AND its opposite!

Fionnchú said...

Wisely put as usual, Alan. I have been using the library a lot more the past couple years out of a depleted budget, decreasing space, and like you, a wish to let go more of accumulation. That being said, I try to distill from what I read the best to share in my reviews here and on Amazon US, and then to let go and send the book back to the library. But, the books surrounding me are also a treasure that I rely upon for enrichment and research. So, maybe I'm non-attached to the more recent borrowings, while still a guardian of my older acquisitions?