In my late teens and early twenties I worked at a couple different book-selling chains, and after that I was a regular visitor to, and prodigious buyer at, a number of different bookstores. Throughout those years I remember often voicing a common complaint: “Why are books about Pagan religions shelved next to crystal healing and channeled hidden masters instead of in the religion section where they belong.” I felt, as many others did, that it created a two-tiered hierarchy: “real” religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and those religions relegated to what was once known as the “occult” section. Now, my complaint has seemingly been answered, as Elysia Gallo at Llewellyn explains in her excellent run-down of the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) new BISAC Subject Headings List.
“Obviously much has changed in American society at large. These are recognized religions in the eyes of the IRS. They are religions in the eyes of the US Army Chaplain’s Handbook, and, since 2007, the Veteran’s Administration. These are religions in the eyes of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Pagans are taking an increasingly larger role in interfaith efforts, working at legitimizing our various paths or religions even if we continue to operate as decentralized, individual groups with no organizing body or imposed tenets, tithes, institutions, hierarchy, or dogma.
So here’s the news – Wicca, in the eyes of the book selling industry, is now a religion. It crossed over from OCC026000 Body, Mind & Spirit / Wicca and Witchcraft, to two separate BISAC codes. One remains in the occult section – OCC026000 is now simply Body, Mind & Spirit / Witchcraft. But Wicca itself is now REL118000, or Religion / Wicca. [...] there’s more. The BISAC code that used to be OCC036020 Body, Mind & Spirit / Spirituality / Paganism & Neo-Paganism (a relatively recent addition on its own) is also now listed in Religion, as REL117000, or Religion / Paganism & Neo-Paganism.”
I have often pointed at links here at The Wild Hunt and told you to go read the whole thing. This time, let me emphasize, Elysia Gallo is the first person in the Pagan community to write about this development, and you really should take the time to give her work its due and go read her entire post before continuing on here. She has an insider’s understanding of these developments, and no one should move forward in commenting on this matter without hearing what she has to say.
This is clearly a momentous decision, one that, as Pagan scholar Chas Clifton points out, comes after the Library of Congress moved books on Wicca out of “Abnormal Psychology” and into “Other Beliefs and Movements” back in 2007.
“In 2007, the news was that books on Wicca were re-categorized by the Library of Congress from BF (psychology, abnormal) to BP 600, a sort of catch-all for “other beliefs and movements.” A new Dewey Decimal number was assigned as well, for libraries using that system.”
So the occult section (hence the “OCC” prefix code), which in time became known as the “New Age” section, and finally, the “Mind, Body, Spirit” section, will soon see an exodus of Wiccan and Pagan books to the religion section. For most of us who still visit brick-and-mortar stores that most likely means your local Barnes & Noble (or possibly Books-A-Million) will soon be seeing some changes. How quickly these changes will happen remains to be seen, and it may take some time as stock rotates in and out of the stores. In addition, Elysia points out some sticky problems with the new codes moving forward into this new era.
“Let’s not even stop to think about what a headache it will be for me to decide whether any given book should go into the occult “Witchcraft” end of things or the religious “Wicca” end of things. Sometimes this distinction is made crystal clear by its author or its content, but much more often it’s a very blurry line. [...] There is still no code anywhere for Druidry (we usually use Body, Mind & Spirit / Spirituality / Celtic) and no code for Heathenry or Asatru, which will just be lumped together with Paganism. These things might not matter much to book buyers, but they matter to the end consumer.”
Elysia also wonders if some Pagans will balk at their books being put in the religion section, but I think her most salient concern will be the effect religion-section buyers might have on the range and quality of selections. What if the buyer knows nothing about Paganism? What if they are actively hostile to Wicca and Paganism? These aren’t unheard-of scenarios. Additionally, simple economics might push Pagan titles out of stores in favor of religions with more buying power.
“If the Religion buyer has only X amount of budgeted dollars to spend across their entire category, they will choose to spend it on mainstream religions, because hey, there are simply more of them, and more potential for greater revenue. It’s a business, folks. And yes, I can see how that could be potentially disastrous for book sales. If we were pushed out of the chain stores, we’d still have independent metaphysical shops to fall back on, but not everyone has access to one and they operate on very limited budgets, meaning we simply wouldn’t be selling enough books to survive. Amazon and ebooks would become our main lifeline if chain bookstores stopped buying our books.”
So my teenage (and twenty-something) dreams have come true, but the victory could turn out to be Pyrrhic in nature. Pagan religions take another step towards being normalized, but at the potential cost of us seeing even fewer Pagan books in physical book stories. The destabilizing effects of Amazon and the growing ebook market (currently around 22% of the book market) mean that the future of Pagan publishing is only going to become more uncertain. Still, even with the circumstances, this is an important moment in our history, one that could have far-reaching ramifications.
- BISAC Subject Headings List, Body, Mind and Spirit