Drawing Down the Moon is Margot Adler's encyclopedic survey of, as the subtitle so aptly summarizes it, "Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today". It was originally published on Halloween/Samhain in 1979, the same year Starhawk's The Spiral Dance brought feminist Witchcraft to a much wider audience by --- gasp! --- including men. Both of these books were revolutionary at the time they first came out, and are often mentioned as playing an important role in increasing the awareness and popularity of Paganism/Neopaganism and Wicca/Witchcraft in particular. I read the 1997 revised and updated version of Adler's book first, because Dar Williams mentions it favorably in the liner notes to the song "Calling the Moon", on her 2000 album, The Green World, and because I've been interested in Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism, Neopaganism, and magic in general for years. With Drawing Down the Moon, we're talking about nearly 600 pages of the topics listed in the previous sentence, and as a result I kept it checked out of the Laguna Beach public library for literally months before giving in and buying a copy at my friendly local independent bookstore. At this point, I had taken over 40 pages of notes and it was a huge relief to be able to stop scribbling and switch to littering the pages with book darts instead. Adler's clear writing and attention to detail on a fascinating subject had helped recapture my imagination and sent me on a reading spree that included The Spiral Dance, parts of Robert Graves's The White Goddess, Diane Stein's Guide to Goddess Craft, Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor's intimidatingly huge The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, Charlene Spretnak's Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, and Scott Cunningham's Wicca: a guide for the solitary practitioner, to list a few off the top of my head. It all began with Drawing Down the Moon, though, and it is still one of my favorite books on the subject.
Unlike most books on Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism, Neopaganism, and magic, Drawing Down the Moon is not a how-to guide. Rather, it takes a scholarly and journalistic approach to providing is a historical and cultural survey of the subject, including the philosophy and spirituality of the people involved in these practices. As far as I know, it is the only real overview of the American Neopagan movement. The closest it comes to instructions are in the introduction to the first chapter of her section on Witchcraft, the longest and most extensive in the book, and in an Appendix at the end that contains descriptions of several rituals. Like the how-to guides, it names the leading figures in the various movements, and lists influential books. My impression is that Drawing Down the Moon lists a wider variety of additional reading sources than a lot of Neopagan literature, and tends to be a bit less subjective than the holy writ; however, this is in no way meant to imply that Adler is completely objective, either. As she writes in Chapter 2: "In general, I have tried to be aware of my own biases and to make them clear so that, if you wish, you can steer between the shoals" (21). Note that this statement, like the rest of Drawing Down the Moon, is written in the first person; in fact, in the book Adler relates several incidents, including rituals, in which she was not an observer, but a participant.
To give an idea of the structure and content of Drawing Down the Moon, here is its table of contents:
Preface to the Revised Edition
A note on names and language
1. Paganism and Prejudice
2. A Religion Without Converts
3. The Pagan World View
4. The Wiccan Revival
5. The Craft Today
6. Interview with a Modern Witch
7. Magic and Ritual
8. Women, Feminism, and the Craft
III. Other Neo-Pagans
9. Religions from the Past --- The Pagan Reconstructionists
10. A Religion from the Future --- The Church of All Worlds
11. Religions of Paradox and Play
12. Radical Faeries and the Growth of Men's Spirituality
IV. The Material Plane
13. Scholars, Writers, Journalists and the Occult
14. Living on the Earth
Appendix I: The 1985 Questionnaire
Appendix II: Rituals
Appendix III: Resources
As I mentioned earlier, the section on Wicca, Witches, and Witchcraft is the longest and most in-depth: by comparison, all the other Neopagan religions discussed in the book are given chapters or less, to the point where they at times seemed like afterthoughts. I've tried to pipelink some of the non-Wiccan traditions covered in the chapter titles above. To be fair, many of the groups Adler wrote about in 1979 have since disbanded or changed beyond recognition. Furthermore, the vast majority of American Neopagans today seem to practice some form of the Craft. Still, I think that some topics, such as the chapter on Magic and Ritual, could have been better served by a more general discussion, perhaps in the introductory chapters.
My favorite parts of Drawing Down the Moon were the chapter on feminism, the Craft, and women's spirituality, as well as the later sections on the interface between Paganism and the rest of the world, including attitudes commonly reflected in the media and academia, as well as the political implications of these non-traditional/self-created religious beliefs. Adler's discussion of the relationship between Pagans and ecology, including environmentalism, are quite good as well.
In conclusion, a quick comment on the book's title: The actual phrase "drawing down the Moon" refers to a ritual in Wicca/Witchcraft in which the Goddess is invoked into the priestess of the coven, who then acts the part of the Goddess incarnate. That's about all I know about it; the book Drawing Down the Moon contains brief descriptions and hints at the power of the rite in question, but never out and out defines it. While I know that much in Witchcraft and Neopaganism is hard to define and summarize, because there is so much variation among individual and group practices, I found this one of the most frustrating aspects of the book. It's got this great title, but all it does is hint and tease me with what that title's all about! One full description of a Drawing Down of the Moon ritual, with comments explaining common variations, would have done wonders to satisfy my curiosity. As it is, if I ever find out what a Drawing Down of the Moon is all about, it'll probably be a letdown, given the degree to which I've built it up in my mind! Still, it's fun to imagine what the big secret might be, and why, which may be the point of the mysterious title to begin with.
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. 1979, The Viking Press; 1986, Beacon Press; 1997, Penguin/Arkana. ISBN 0 14 01.9536 X (pbk.)