The following books have been with me on an extended loan, but I have to return them so I am listing them here:
Jon D. Mikalson, Ancient Greek Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005)
Mikalson analyses the character if Greek religion from the standpoint of cultic practice. I found his approach most helpful in how it clearly demarcated the role of poetics from the role of liturgical remains, both archaeological and textual. This was seated in his commentary on Herodotus’ attributing of the genealogy, skills and powers of the gods to Hesiod and Homer, but was fully developed in his analysis of how individual gods manifested in different cultic contexts.
A.A. Macdonell, Vedic Mythology (Delhi: Molital Banarsidass, 1995; or. Strassburg, 1898).
I found this book helpful but frustrating as it was extremely dense and lacked what I would consider to be an efficient introduction. References to individuals and terms were not properly introduced, so I found myself having to jump around, locating different passages on specific topics in order to understand what I had started reading. The effect was such that I never really felt confident that I had understood the matter Macdonell was trying to analyse.
Jaan Puhvel, Comparative Mythology (Baltimore, London: Johns Hopkins University, 1989).
Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe (London, New York: Routledge, 1995).
While this book was very readable (at least the first third – I had not time to finish it), I found the assumption of the authors annoying. Their argument, so far as I could discern, was that historical Paganism in early Europe was characterized by the same duality as the modern Wiccan paradigm: i.e. a single god and goddess who have many manifestations. I found this so jarring while reading Mikalson’s very insightful commentary on Greek cults that I tended to read this with perhaps more of a critical eye than I otherwise would have. I have not finished with this book, though, and look forward to ‘giving it another go’ at the first opportunity.
Walter Burkert, Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical, trans. John Raffan (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985).
From the standpoint of understanding Greek theology from the inside, I found this book most helpful. Burkert’s discussion of the different ‘fields’ (for lack of a better term) in Greek religion – e.g. attitudes proper to different kinds of rituals, the layout and functions of various rites and sanctuaries – were both complete in consideration, and his estimation of both the sources and particularly the earliest period of Greek culture and settlement were both enormously informative. I own that this may be to my own present ignorance in the subject, but this book is another to which I plan to return as soon as I can manage.