Awyn Dawn’s Paganism on Parole: Connecting to the Magic All Around is a continuation from the much needed Paganism for Prisoners: Connecting to the Magic Within. As a follow up, it addresses key areas that affects the formerly incarcerated will encounter such as finding and being with community; the importance of magic and one’s mental, physical, and spiritual health; magical ethics, ritual items, basic practice, magical protection, and the overall journey.
As opposed to Paganism for Prisoners, where the focus is primarily for those on the path of discovery as well as for those who will serve the incarcerated, this book begins with an introduction geared for those who are newly released into the fragile state of being on parole. The individual is in a state of limited freedom, where the ultimate test is to find and make a new life outside of prison walls. As Dawn points out in her introduction, this involves considerations ranging from finding a magical community (online, in person, websites, blogs), where and how to come out of the broom closet to existing family and friends or newly acquired acquaintances; soul mates; and cutting necessary ties.
Dawn gives excellent advice not only for the formerly incarcerated, but for anyone who is hesitant about changing religions to an earth-based tradition, such as the many found under all inclusive term “Paganism”. The best parts of Paganism for Prisoners continues in Paganism on Parole including relevant rituals in each section that facilitate the necessary emotional, spiritual, and physical transitions which a formerly incarcerated individual makes. In addition, a review of these rites is excellent for the new practitioner or the prison ministry advocate looking for suggestions to give to those about to leave highly regulated and confined prison life.
Just as there continue to be few articles on minority religions, such as those under the umbrella of Paganism, this book is a necessary addition to the few that address that incorporates Paganism as a specific category with specific needs. Unlike churches, synagogues, and mosques, Pagan rites can be in a number of locations, and rarely in one fixed building site. Dawn addresses these issues head on with suggestions for the types of format where one can find groups. Furthermore, Dawn notes a very good reason why the formerly incarcerated Pagan might wish to search for community: “…adding supportive people to your connections can make a difference between making choices that lead you back to prison or choices that keep you out of it. (5) This is one of the main benefits for a formerly incarcerated Pagan. There continues to be a need both inside and outside prison facilities to understand the needs of Pagans, Heathens, and other earth-based polytheists who have discovered or renews their specific faith tradition while behind bars.
Paganism on Parole presents as a guide and a reference book for the the newly released individual who is facing life in an outside world with many choices. Throughout the text, Dawn continues to support incarcerated by providing options and questions to consider. Many of the topics can be considered one way while living and living in a correctional facility, and have a broader context when faced with the reality of actually of making a choice once granted freedom from the restrictions of incarcerated life. As with her previous book, Dawn is an author who begins with the disclaimer only slightly altered for those on parole: “Common sense is a virtue, one which you should utilize at every given opportunity…. Remember, we are each responsible for our own choices. Nothing in this book is an order. Even if direction and instruction is provided, it is up to you to determine if you can and should do it.” (p.xiii)
Dawn chooses to emphasize ethics and responsibility especially for the many who are leaving incarcerated environments without a set group or tradition to facilitate their transition back into society. Just as Paganism is growing in the larger population, there will continue to be those who come to find or to renew their acquaintance with earth-based traditions first within the confines of correctional facilities. These individuals find hope in community and the lessons they learn while incarcerated: they will continue to need even more hope and support once they are out and interacting in society at large. There are enough stereotypes and barriers working against the formerly incarcerated including the normal difficulty in knowing where to find others who share one’s earth-based tradition. Dawn’s work provides hope that there is a way to maintain the progress started for those following the beginning lessons, such as those provided in her first work. The benefit of Dawn’s words are a reminder for those whose job or role is to assist in making the parolee a fully functioning part of society by decreasing recidivism.
Dawn’s introduction reminds readers that release from incarceration is a crossroad. In short, “Crossroads, whether real or symbolic, mark a time of possibility, a place that exists between the worlds… The choices you make over the length of your parole/probation will determine if you increase your freedom or if you go back to your “three hots and a cot.” Make no mistake, you do have a choice in the matter.”(1) If Dawn’s choice with Paganism for Prisoners was to demonstrate the effect that spiritual volunteers have on the incarcerated while incorporating her own experience, then her choice in Paganism on Parole rely upon the very lessons that many Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists learn as the continuation of their formal and informal training. She is successful in both, and especially in the text of Paganism on Parole because she gives advice from her own experience, from the heart, and from a bedrock of common sense.
The choices the formerly incarcerated make within the confines of jail or prison are limited due to the nature, while release permits the individual to make choices that will help or hinder the ultimate goal of maintaining a happy, productive life outside of prison walls. This book is filled with many gems to aid in this journey, such as the following: “What I have found is that the support I get from the gods provides me with the ability to constantly step through challenges…. What often becomes the biggest challenge to those on parole is not the adversity that is faced but the failure to believe that a better future awaits if you choose to walk forward, despite fear, reservations, and the comfort of the familiar, you will be amazed by what you can achieve. (Dawn 1-2)
One of Dawn’s biggest lessons regarding recidivism is her advice for those who are unsure: “If we are being honest, you know the road that takes you back to prison; you know it quite well..What you likely do not know is the path that leads to life, to truly living. You may not feel worthy of this second option, or you may feel like it is not something you can acquire, but these ideas are incorrect…. But [this book] is full of magical ideas that kept me from being a recidivism statistic. If they worked for me, they could work for you too. (3) This is the ultimate key that makes this book different and necessary: it is about choices. The choices we make on a daily basis help free us from our spiritual, mental, and emotional bondage whether we have been among the incarcerated or not. For the newly incarcerated, the freedom granted comes with even more responsibility. Many Pagan and other earth-based traditions emphasize ethics, care for the self, and the need to accept responsibility for ones’ thoughts and actions. Dawn’s practical advice on how to engage in self-care and the integration of spiritual life with the everyday or mundane life flows throughout the entire book. The notion that self-accountability ultimately brings freedom is a powerful one; it is well-integrated within the book.
The strength of this book lies in categorization of the essence that a person needs to consider to thrive not just in earth-based traditions, but in life overall. By starting with community, Dawn addresses a core need that will provide a foundational support. Within that community are support groups, where to find groups for various traditions, and how to address questions that come up about incarceration and being Pagan. The latter portion treads on sensitive matters as being newly released back into society is hard enough without being potentially judged or rejected for one’s formerly incarcerated status or for one’s religion.
The Who, When and Where to disclose these personal decisions is a large part of the first chapter and for good reason. Since this book is geared as support for those re-entering society, the practical tips are meant only to help the individual make decisions that work for the long-term, while avoiding recidivism. This is especially crucial for readers among the formerly incarcerated with toxic families or friends who may still be a part or their lives upon reliease from jail and prison. The chapter ends with two powerful spells to attract friends and to cut cords from those relationships which no longer serve the individual.
If first chapter’s focus on community provides a solid foundation, the second chapter, “Mental Health and Magic” is a reminder that all who undergo the rigor of incarceration are traumatized. Just as the release is a crossroads, the time of incarceration also is a liminal space between full and complete freedom and its absence. The individual mentally is no longer the same;therefore, full support through magical tools including stones, herbs, affirmations, meditations, and selected readings. Dawn’s focus on including emotional health, the use of empathy and the importance of maintaining both mental and emotional health make this a strong chapter. The tips given apply to doing spell work and are well noting as reminders for anyone, but also as suggestions for parole officers to understand the newly incarcerated Pagan who is under stress. Dawn includes a list of mental health resources in the appendix in her reminder that asking for help and seeking help is truly important.
The third chapter’s focus on “Physical Health and Magic” stresses the role the body plays in life and the tools that will help maintain strong health: care with what the body ingests, getting good exercise and sleep, using breathing techniques, and alternative medical systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, seeing a Naturopath or Osteopath, prayer, stones, herbs, and a variety of options to help revitalize the body during its freedom from months or years of incarceration.
Trauma and balancing one’s spiritual life is the primary focus in many ways for the fourth chapter’s focus on “Spiritual Health and Magic”. While all the chapters are excellent, this one covers ground that is crucial for the formerly incarcerated Pagan: the role of spiritual “dis-ease” and how to recover. In contemporary society, trauma afflicts many;however, for those recently incarcerated, trauma can be a blight upon the path to a successful societal reintegration. Failure to address trauma can lead to many things.
Dawn’s look at soul loss, fear, the pain of lack of support, and the need to feel safe are each important for many reasons in addressing the role of spiritual health. Using Shadow Work, entering therapy, attending support group meetings are all ways to start healing or re-balancing one’s spiritual health. The strongest part of this chapter is what often is difficult to discuss in general: having health boundaries with others and advocating for oneself. I appreciated Dawn’s comments on Random Acts of Kindness and energy: “Think about the act of holding a door for someone. What that act says is that you value the other person enough to pause your life for a few moments to make theirs a little easier… It is about performing a little kindness without concern for a reward. What this does is puts you in tune with the energy that flows through all beings.” (Dawn 69) The chapter conclusion brings in other types of support including herbs, stones, and symbols, and a solid ritual.
The fifth chapter, “Magical Ethics and Laws” is a solid chapter for consideration by everyone including the never incarcerated, and especially the recently released Pagans who are finding their way. Dawn distills a lot of concepts into a chapter that could be its own book. One of the best recommendations early on is the following: “Keep in mind that morals and ethics in paganism go beyond spell casting. In fact, a lot of pagans aren’t witches and will never cast spells. Having a moral and/or ethical code is something that should expand into all areas of your life. If something gives you a feeling like it is wrong, go with that. Once you have discovered what your own moral and ethical codes are, stick to them unless you have a really good reason to challenge them. (Dawn 83) This chapter emphasizes the importance of finding and sticking to one’s own path. Some past well-known codes are given as examples such as Wiccan codes, Hammurabi’s Code, and the Ten Commandments. Dawn is not saying that anything is a ‘must;’ however, this chapter makes it clear that the emphasis of finding something for the recently incarcerated is key to avoid taking steps that might lead to recidivism rather than freedom. Having a code and ethics that one sticks with are also important in what one will learn or choose to discard within a particular earth-based tradition. An excellent self meditation to help find one’s own ethical and moral code completes the chapter.
The sixth chapter on “Tools and Ritual Items” is an excellent introduction to what the newly released Pagan can finally do without restrictions that ritual and rites in a facility often does not permit including the use of various tools, herbs, candles. Incenses, and the type of altar space preferred by the individual. This chapter also serves as an excellent refresher for all earth-based tradition practitioners, including deity shrines, ritual item consecrations, and the role of metaphysical stores in the journey. Dawn gives practical reminders about the use of athames: “An athame is the ritual knife, usually double edge and traditionally with a black handle. It is never used to cut anything physical, … there is just one problem: your parole/probation officer may (and probably will) veto you having one and any halfway house is definitely going to tell you no… First, if they find it, you could lose your freedom. But more importantly, this is a time in your life when you will be challenged to decide the path you will walk.” (119)
What makes this chapter worthwhile is both the range of options given and the practical advice meant to ensure that the reader who is formerly incarcerated will not find themselves back in jail due to a particular spiritual practice. This draws the reader back to the disclaimer Dawn makes at the start of her book regarding the use of common sense and for the parolee, the choices one makes at this crucial time.
In the seventh chapter, “Basics of Practice,” Dawn covers the range for those may want to decide on worship, deities, moon phases, various magical practices, the difference between evoking and invoking deity, ritual work, symbols, old magic, and concludes with a segue into the eighth chapter on “Magical Protection”. This chapter is an excellent reminder that we each have a right to safety and to protection. Knowing when, where, and how to use or secure magical protection is an important skill. From personal protection to symbols and wards, Dawn covers it well. She concludes with two strong spells that can be performed whether one is a beginner or advanced practitioner.
The final chapter, “Delving Deeper”’ covers all aspects of education from traditional college and GED work to career choices to magical education. Aspects of the degree system and other areas where earth-based tradition practitioners might find fascinating are included. The way Dawn progresses through the chapter mirrors how those new or re-establishing their lives post-incarceration might evolve. The Spell of Insight is timely and well done.
Throughout this book, Dawn reminds the reader of the importance of choices, using your moral code, and why an individual who is recently released from incarceration needs to think carefully about what they are doing to avoid recidivism. The chapters are long and detailed, with each being a mini-book in and of itself.
For those seeking a strong continuation, Paganism on Parole provides guidance for those who are new to re-entering society. Dawn voice and work are filled with empathy and compassion. She has been in the role of the newly incarcerated, and this experience strengthens the text overall. This is an even better addition to the cannon for those seeking to help those who are coming back into freedom or near freedom after months or years of restriction. This also is a great book to help with learning and utilizing self-discipline.
As Dawn continues to address this difficult subject, her work serves the larger community and is a gift for those who are recently liberated from confinement.
~review by Clio Ajana
Author: Awyn Dawn
Llewellyn Publications, 2022
pp. 280, $18.99