Jack of Many Trades

Review: The Baby and the Bathwater

Originally posted: 2012-02-08

We're a week into February already? Seriously? Time to stop putting things off. I've been thinking about joining a pagan reading challenge - yes, I'm late to the game, thank you very much. I've been going back and forth on the idea for a couple of weeks now. I think what I've decided, though, is that what I really want is an excuse to link to and review pagan ebooks, since it often seems like such an egg hunt to find good pagan ebooks from small presses.

And then it occurred to me that I don't need an excuse to do anything on this blog. It's my blog!

I'll start with the book I finished today, The Baby and the Bathwater: What I Learned About Spirituality, Magic, Community, Ecstasy and Power from 25 Years in Reclaiming by Anne Hill. I want to start by confessing that I know pretty much zero about Reclaiming. I'm familiar with Starhawk as an author, but that's about it. Clearly I'm not the intended audience for this book, but I am always interested in what people have learned and in experiences, and those things are much too thin on the floor in pagan publishing as it is, so I decided to plunk down my $2.99.

I should mention that all of the essays in this book originally came from Anne's blog. If you're a regular reader of her blog, it probably won't tell you anything you don't already know - but then, if you're a regular reader of her blog, you're not hearing about this book for the first time from me, are you? Unlike most books that are collections of blog posts, Anne also includes a curated selection of comments from each post at the end of the essay. In general, these comments don't come off as cheerleading or making herself look good, but I do think they detract from the ability of each essay to stand on its own merits.

Each essay is a progression in Anne's movement away from Reclaiming and onto a more personal path. Even without any real background in Reclaiming I can appreciate them on two levels - first, I definitely feel like I've learned something about the path itself. I do think the book could appeal to a wider audience with only a little editing for the benefit of people unfamiliar with the tradition, however. The primary value of the book, though, is that in discussing the weaknesses of the Reclaiming community, Anne is discussing issues that seem to come up all to often in almost any "mainstream" pagan group. I've never heard of Reclaiming, but much of the discussion about group dynamics and pagan politics still sounds familiar, and probably would to anyone who's been involved with established pagan groups in any good-sized city.

It's always good to be able to take a step back and look at the politics that make your community function, or not function, and Anne has done a good job of pointing out many of the weaknesses inherent in the system. If you're trying to remind yourself why you stepped away from your local community, or you just want reassurance that it's not just you, this is not a bad book to check out.