Update: AP Stylebook Initiates Journalists To Term Wicca

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 22, 2014 — 20 Comments

Last month, Wild Hunt Managing Editor Heather Greene reported on the new Stylebook put out by the Associated Press, pointing out that despite a large number of new definitions and entries regarding religion, the influential guide for working journalists neglected to include any entries relating to the modern Pagan movement.


“The 2014 AP Stylebook does indeed have an expansive in-depth chapter on religion which includes definitions and details on a variety of minority religion terminology such as Brahmin (Hindu) or gurdwara (Sikh). The guide includes short informational entries on Baha’i, Buddhism and other non-Abrahamic faiths as well as minority sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It says that Christmastime is one word and suggests using Hanukkah as the standard spelling for the Jewish holiday. However, it says nothing about “Paganism.”

In fact the updated religion chapter makes no mention at all of modern Pagan or Heathen religions. It does not include Druidry or Druidism, Wicca or Asatru. With the exception of Yule, it does not recognize the names of Pagan sabbats or other important festivals and holy days. The word “pagan” only appears once in a recommendation to capitalize the names of mythological gods and goddesses such as Zeus, Athena and Poseidon.

When asked if the inclusion of modern Paganism had been considered for the chapter, the editors responded immediately saying that the Stylebook uses the dictionary for such groups. So what does Webster say? The online version includes a definition for Neo-Pagan and Neo-Paganism both of which use a capital letter. The same dictionary, however, does not include an individual entry for the term “Pagan” with capitalization. The two “pagan” entries define the term as those people who are anti-religious or polytheists from ancient Greek or Rome. Webster does include an entry for Wicca but no other practice.”

Well, it now looks like things might be changing. Maewyn, a copy editor and Witch who uses the AP Stylebook online, alerted me that an entry for Wicca was added on July 14th. Here’s the full text:

Altar from the Edwards Air Force Base Wiccan service.

Altar from the Edwards Air Force Base Wiccan service.

“Wicca: Religion shaped by pagan beliefs and practices. The term encompasses a wide range of traditions generally organized around seasonal festivals, and can include ritual magic, a belief in both female and male deities, and the formation of covens led by priestesses and priests. Wiccan is both an adjective and a noun. Uppercase in all uses.

Stylebook Editor’s Note
2014-07-14: Added to stylebook”

This new addition was then tweeted out on the AP Stylebook’s official Twitter account on July 16th.

 So that’s a start! So far, according to sources, that’s the only modern Pagan term to make it into the online AP Stylebook proper. Other terms, like Druid, Asatru, or Pagan and Neopagan, are absent, with an official policy of using the dictionary standards for terms not in the Stylebook. Whether the recent campaign by a coalition of Pagan Studies scholars for the capitalization of “Pagan” in major journalism stylebooks when referring to our religious movement will eventually bear fruit remains to be seen.

Why is this issue important? Because as Heather Greene said in her initial article, the AP Stylebook’s decisions change journalistic conventions.

“If you are not a writer, you may ask, “Why should I care?” The AP Stylebook does not affect you directly. However, it does affect you indirectly. The guide is used by journalists and editors all over the country as a writer’s “bible,” if you will. While the AP Stylebook is not the only guide of its kind, it is one of the front-runners that establishes a style standard for journalism that is dependable and regular.

The guide, for example, solves those ever-frustrating grammatical debates over commas and semi-colons. It recommends date and time abbreviations, fixes transition words, and clarifies what should be or should not be capitalized. All of its suggested rules and information are absorbed into the articles published in American newspapers and magazines since the 1950s.”

Guides like the Religion Stylebook, produced by the Religion Newswriters Association, are more comprehensive regarding Pagan faiths, but they are also less influential. I take this new addition as a sign that the AP Stylebook editors are listening, and hope this is a good omen for further entires to come. We’ll keep you posted as this story develops.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    It’s a good start.

  • AnantaAndroscoggin

    That ol’ “inertia” getting in the way, as usual.

  • Merlyn7

    Woot! Not too shabby.

  • kendraro

    If only the AP stylebook could instruct against the use of Goddess names as abbreviations for terrorist groups.

    • AP uses and recommends the abbreviation ISIL. Not all media outlets use AP and the decision is ultimately that of the editor.

    • TadhgMor

      Context is pretty bloody obvious in that usage.

      Besides, the group has changed their name to Islamic State anyway, so IS or Dawlat al-Islamiyya are being used.

  • Narthex

    I’m appalled to hear the editors talking about “the dictionary.” Are they truly unaware that every dictionary makes its own individual decisions about what words to include and how to define them?

  • iamnotmakingup

    Which dictionary? Was the mention of Webster serious? That’s what AP uses? Just for fun, I looked: the OED has “pagan” in lower case. The init-caps question may be illuminated by their citation from Hardy, “Tess”: 1891 : “The æsthetic, sensuous, pagan pleasure in natural life and lush womanhood.” It makes it clear that pagan is considered a synonym for heathen, me thinks.

    • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

      Define “heathen”. 😉

      • iamnotmakingup

        Indeed, good point! I myself use the word “heathen”—hmm, how to say this in less than a dissertation? The imperialist-capitalist-masculinist hegemony used demonizing language to discredit, marginalized and ostracize those who . . . with lower case. 🙂

        • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

          As a Heathen (read “adherent of the polytheistic religious practices of Northern and Central Europe, prior to and during the spread of Christianity, including their customs, symbols, traditions, and general religious “worldview””), I’ll have to take exception to that.

          I imagine a fair few other Heathens would, as well.

          • iamnotmakingup

            Just to make sure: I do hope you understood that I was rephrasing the derogatory, not advocating it. Maybe ambiguous. The again it’s ambiguous what “that” can mean in yours. All the more reason to embrace more respectful and accurate terms, eh, so as not to be confused in discussion that is *not* derogatory.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            It is an inherent problem with the reclaiming of words that, for a long time, have carried a derogatory connotation.

  • TadhgMor

    “Shaped by pagan beliefs” has got to be one of the vaguest sentences I’ve ever read.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s progress, even if it’s just for Wiccans, but that sentence really leaves a lot of room for abuse by some less than charitable sources.

  • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

    Possibly, there is a need to engage dictionaries about inclusion, if the AP (and, I presume, others) refer to dictionaries for terms that are not defined by themselves.

  • kenofken

    Does this mean I’ll get to be a real Wiccan in the media as opposed to “self-styled witch”?

    • iamnotmakingup

      Sheesh! No more “self-styled” in the stylebook? 🙂

  • W. Keith Baldwin

    Didn’t Karl Siegfried do entries for Asatru? Or was that for a different Stylebook?

    • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

      That was for the Religion Stylebook. It also was not without its criticisms.

  • As a Wiccan, I think this news is fantastic.