The State of the Pagan Press and Periodicals

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 16, 2009 — 8 Comments

Even though Newsweek claims we are no longer a Christian nation (we are apparently all “Hindus” now), it seems like the Pagan press hasn’t gained much benefit from the rising tide of “spiritual but not religious” folks who believe in reincarnation and that there are many paths to religious truth. After the recent merger of PanGaia and newWitch into Witches & Pagans, and the announcement of Thorn magazine ceasing their print edition, I decided to take the temperature of various Pagan periodicals and the resulting picture is rather grim. Of the 32 periodicals listed at the Witches’ Voice, only a handful seem to still be active, operating on a regular publishing schedule, and dealing primarily with Pagan subject matter. Modern Witch Magazine is “out of publication” after one year and three issues, Witch Eye: A Journal of Feri Uprising promises to return in 2009, but the clock is quickly running out for that deadline, and the two best-known Pagan newspapers PagaNet and Widdershins have been out of commission for years.

When you factor in publications that actually have a national or international reach that small grouping of surviving publications becomes even smaller. And the ones that do survive seem to focus less and less on news and current events and more and more on “evergreen” content suitable for journals that come out only two or four times per year. Perhaps Jack Lux and Michael Night Sky are correct when they asserted in the latest issue of Thorn magazine that Pagan periodicals in their current state can no longer act as a functioning news organ for the modern Pagan movement.

“…the purpose of a magazine changes to suit its audience, and Pagan journalism may be fixating on a role for which it is no longer useful … perhaps the most useful goal of Pagan publications is no longer to disseminate information about outer limits, but to delve deeper into the ideas of the past forty years and fill the gaps between them. With the Internet and the growing festival network, magazines are best suited not for community building, but for culture building.”

As if to confirm the idea of a shift toward culture-building within our publications, Treadwell’s bookstore and Fulgur have announced the launch a new journal of occultism entitled Abraxas. Scholarly and cultured, printed in a limited edition, it is marketed almost as a collectible art-object rather than a “zine” to thumbed through at your local newsstand.

“Nearly all the material is published for the first time. Here may be found inspiring essays from luminaries within the esoteric community, many of them written especially for the journal. Artists too are well represented, both established masters and emerging talents: a feast for the eyes and soul. Our poets include Allyson Shaw, Zachary Cox and, from beyond the veil, Aleister Crowley, whose evocative verse ‘Babalon’ finally finds itself in print more than sixty years after it was written. Produced in a large quarto format, with 128 pages printed on high quality paper and richly illustrated in colour and monochrome, we hope Abraxas will offer you a strange mirror through which may be glimpsed the zeitgeist of the global occult community today.”

I’m not singling out Abraxas for any sort of criticism, it looks very lovely and inviting indeed, but to point to what might be needed to succeed today in a contracted world of niche publishing.

So where does that leave Pagan news and Pagan journalism? It seems almost solely in hands of bloggers, podcasters, and e-zine editors. While there are several excellent places online where you can find news and incisive editorial aimed at a Pagan audience, a large number of Internet publications seem to mimic the world of print, publishing sporadically and sticking to think-pieces, rants, and lighter fare. This leaves Pagan journalism in a precarious position, one that could cast us back to a place where dissemination of news to our communities becomes increasingly haphazard, prone to errors, and one-sided. A place where rumor and baseless speculation runs rampant. A place where mainstream journalism defines almost unilaterally who and what is newsworthy within the world of modern Paganism.

We need to start having serious conversations about how Pagan news is created and disseminated. We need to ask how well our surviving print publications are serving us, and, if Internet publications are indeed the future of Pagan journalism, how they can become more stable, sustainable, and accountable to the readers. In the next six months I’ll be attending major Pagan events on two coasts, in Florida at the Florida Pagan Gathering for Samhain (where I’m presenting), and at Pantheacon in San Jose during February (where I’m going to see if I can do a presentation). For those of you concerned about the Pagan press, and attending one of these events, perhaps you’ll join me in-person for that discussion. Otherwise, I urge all of you to get together at your own local gatherings, large or small, and talk about the future of our news, our periodicals, and what we’ll need to keep subsequent generations informed about the day-to-day events and changes that surround us.

Jason Pitzl-Waters