A recent entry in the Pagan Portals series from Moon Books, as of this writing in late 2023, is Gods & Goddesses of England by Rachel Patterson. It is, I believe, her 11th contribution to the series. A resident of England herself, Patterson is well situated to do her research not just in libraries but out in about on the land itself. The result is a book that present some truly extensive documentation of her findings on dozens of divine entities venerated on her home soil through the centuries. That research makes up the meat of the book - some 50 pages or so. The rest of the book, however, does leave me scratching my head.
As I said, Rachel Patterson is not a novice writer. More than two dozen books currently make up her shelf on the library, and this looks likely to continue expanding. Many of her books are well-regarded; she is particularly ensconced in the "kitchen witch" scene with several popular volumes. It is this very resume, however, that makes this book so puzzling. Not to put too fine a point on it, but large swaths read more like notes for a first draft of the book rather than the book itself. Many sentences seem to hold the notion of an idea to be discussed rather than the discussion itself. To pull an example almost at random: "[e]ventually, of course, Roman Britain fell, there was no specific date, it happened over a period of time." That's not a crime against the language, but it is so wobbly and generalizing that it feels like a speed bump when trying to fall into the book. This happens numerous times. I usually shy away from playing armchair psychoanalyst or Monday morning quarterback (pick your poison), but it feels like this was a project running on a tight deadline, or else something that was worked on in parallel with other demands on her time. Again, it's not "bad", but it is surprisingly mediocre at times.
The center of the book, with 69 (by my count) entries that actually encompass even more gods than that - accounting for naming discrepancies and the like - is phenomenal. Patterson gives the name of the deity, the very specific region of England where the goddess or god was venerated - sometimes down to the village - and all the evidence to support this claim. Sometimes the evidence is simply a passing mention in a text on some other subject; other times it runs to icons, statues, and inscriptions. For each entry, she gives as complete a case as seems possible for why she feels as confident as she is in the existence of the deity. To be clear, sometimes she's not at all confident, but she spells that out as well, not overselling the amount or quality of the evidence she has collected. If you have wanted to go deep on a particular deity of this region, Patterson has the receipts you need to explore. As a reference on this topic, the book is A++. After these listings, she gives a few examples of how she has developed relationships with these deities, and this also would make for excellent guidance in someone creating their practice. She provides ritual suggestions and even a few recipes. Given her background I'm not surprised that these looked effective, though in honesty I did not attempt any of them.
I've read a double handful of books in the Pagan Portals line from Moon Books; I've even reviewed a couple of them here. Not to say that I'm a rabid fan of them, I do think that the line does a good job in general of presenting a topic in a way that can get a reader up to speed on the basics if they had only a passing familiarity (or less, even) before diving in. They are not ambitious works, they are functional and that's just fine. So, while I don't love Gods & Goddesses of England, I concede that it does exactly what it's supposed to do, admirably in some cases. I realize that's damning it with faint praise, but it is at least sincere faint praise - the book does what it says on the tin and is therefore worth a read if you want to get into first or second gear with the deities of Albion.
~review by Wanderer
Author: Rachel Patterson
Moon Books, 2023
pp. 128, $12.95