Archives For Anne Newkirk Niven

FOREST GROVE, Ore. — Pagan magazine publishing might be considered a cottage industry, with a rich tradition that extends back to the days when newsletters were created on photocopy machines and shared ad infinitum among friends. BBI Media might not be operated out of an actual cottage, but it is one of the last remaining publishers of Pagan-focused print magazines in the United States, and it isn’t exactly an empire, either.


“We work out of our basement,” said Anne Newkirk Niven, whose company puts out both Witches & Pagans and SageWoman magazines. “People are surprised when they call and I answer the phone. It’s just my husband, my son, and me.” BBI Media has never been the sort of company that is headquartered in a gleaming tower with the CEO’s corner office providing a command view of the world below. It is more like a shining soapbox, a place where Pagans with something to say have been able to find an audience.

Through a number of magazine titles and a wide variety of blogs hosted at, Niven has provided opportunities for Pagan writers who may or may not be ready to publish an entire book.  She offers an opportunity for thoughtful discourse in a world where reaction often outpaces cognition.

Niven is unable put a date on when she first identified as Pagan, but estimates that it’s been about thirty years. “I’m an eclectic polytheist Witch,” she said. “I do think that different gods have agency, but I have a great fondness for the God and Goddess.”

She considers the fact that her livelihood is based on serving the Pagan community a great boon. “I’m very, very lucky and fortunate,” she said. “I’m sure a lot of people would like to dedicate their professional life to Pagan practice. It’s a great blessing.”

Anne Newkirk Niven [courtesy photo]

Anne Newkirk Niven [courtesy photo]

That blessing came in the form of opportunity or, as she put it, “I got into it by accident, but not entirely by accident.”  Niven was seeking clients for her husband’s printing business, and hand-printed ‘zines were all the rage at the time.

“I had a copy of SageWoman, and cold-called the publisher,” she explained. The timing was right. The publisher “had just had one printed upside-down and backwards,” and was ready to try someone new.  After successfully printing it right-side up for several issues, Niven learned that the publisher had “hit hard times.”

“I offered to buy the magazine with an inheritance from my mother,” Niven said. Three years after making that purchase, Niven took on editing responsibilities, as well, starting with issue 25. SageWoman now has 90 issues published, with Niven editing all those since.

“Don’t quit your day job,” Niven said, as a warning to anyone who wishes to follow in her footsteps. “You won’t draw a salary for a long, long time.”

Building upon SageWoman, a number of other titles have been created over the years: PanGaia, New Witch, Blessed Be, and Crone were all created as BBI periodicals. SageWoman and Witches & Pagans are the only two now being published by the company, and Niven said that there are no plans at this time to create any new titles.

What’s stayed the same through all the titles and all the years, Niven said, is the desire to “tell our stories to each other. Inspirational, relatively upbeat stories. That’s why we’re still around.”

Surviving as a magazine publisher alongside the internet is no small feat. Doing so while serving a Pagan community that is undergoing massive change adds another layer of challenge. “Paganism is more varied and complex” than when the first issue of SageWoman hit the stands, Niven said. “It was very Wicca-flavored, at least the West Coast Paganism I’m familiar with.”

She went on to describe a Paganism steeped in hippie counterculture, protests, and peace movements. It was in opposition to anything that had a whiff of “establishment” to it. “Now, we’re everywhere. Some are working on Wall Street, at least one is in the presidential administration, and there are Pagans in every profession. I even know several Christian ministers who are Pagan. It is no longer scary to say you are a Witch or Pagan,” she added, although acknowledging that the fear still exists in some areas.*

“In a sense, we’ve won,” Niven said, noting that she began this work in the heyday of Jack Chick, the Christian comic artist who died last month. “We no longer have to convince people that we aren’t going to sacrifice their children and cats; that’s no longer a mainstream belief about us. Mostly, we’re seen as harmless goofballs.”

As the number of Pagans has risen — Niven guessed that there are ten times as many as when she started on her path — being seen as “goofballs” is a “sea change” from when most people, as she said, “thought we were evil, or didn’t know we exist.”

She hopes that BBI publications has helped in some way.


While perceptions of Paganism among members of the general public have changed, so too have Pagans changed in how they view themselves. Recalling a time when nearly all Paganism was Wiccan influenced, Niven said, “In the ’90s, we thought it was the ‘old religion’ with an unbroken lineage. Metaphorically yes, but literally no. We now have more sophistication about our roots. That’s important, because it keeps fundamentalism down.”

A 1995 issue of PanGaia published a lengthy article debunking of the trope that nine million women were burned during the so-called “Burning Times.” Niven said that she is still quite proud of that piece. She did add that she likes the song that Charlie Murphy wrote about it, but said that “there are no winners in the victim Olympics.”

Awareness brings its own issues. Pagans, particularly Witches, are now a regular part of Hollywood entertainment. While that in part helps to normalize the idea of Paganism, there are consequences. “I get asked for spells like body-switching from time to time,” Niven said, not to mention requests for instant wealth. “I would have used that myself!” she said.

Today, Paganism has many branches that stem from Wicca, and many more that do not. Polytheists and Heathens do not always consider themselves Pagans, based on what they feel the overarching values associated with that label are. Niven thinks Paganism “resembles first-century Christianity,” in that there are many factions and a fair bit of theological squabbling.

“It’s very cool, and totally healthy,” she said.

Niven hasn’t been a member of an established group in quite some time, and in that way mirrors most of her readers. “I think about Paganism 60-70 hours a week,” she explained, “and at the end of the day, it’s time to have dinner, watch television or play a game.” Repeated surveys have shown her that most readers of BBI magazines also worship largely on their own.

“Back in the day, there was a theory that one became a Witch by saying so three times. Self-initiation is absolutely a thing. There’s no pope setting the rules.” In addition, most Pagans and others stuck with that label tend to bristle at the idea of hierarchy, she has observed.

In a sense, Niven thinks that the trend toward solitary practice is an historical aberration born of the current culture of individualism. “In a hundred years, or 200, it might transform again into set of more socially-controlled religions, and that probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.” Witches, however, will likely always have a solitary role to play, living on the edges of society and providing wisdom and healing to those who seek it.

Continuing to publish on paper also makes BBI Media stand out. “Paper is becoming a premium product,” Niven said, calling it an underrated technology that’s easy on the eyes and doesn’t require a power source. “Comparing paper and digital is like comparing cabbage and a banana,” she said, “they just don’t taste the same.”

Niven feels that paper is superior for long-form writing, and that’s what is mostly what is presented in her magazines. The bloggers at tend to write shorter pieces, which is suitable for that medium. Digital is much better for information such as phone numbers, where a search function makes the data more usable.

Niven believes that there will always be an audience for paper. “The ecological footprint of digital is not zero,” she said, and BBI publications have been printed with soy ink on recycled paper for far longer than most people knew about those options. There’s also a number of her readers that prefer to peruse the magazines while in the bath, which can be trickyr when using a tablet.

BBI became one of the last publisher of print Pagan magazines in North America last year, when Circle Magazine’s final issue was published. She attributes that not to any failing on the part of Circle’s staff, but to a difference in mission. “[Circle Magazine] was never their main ministry. Publishing is all we ever do. We don’t hold services, give degrees, consecrate, or initiate.”

What the hardworking people at BBI Media do instead is provide a platform for mostly positive pieces on Paganism, in all its many forms, including for people who don’t want to be called Pagan at all but would like to be heard by those who do.

[Author’s Note: This interview took place prior to the recent presidential election, and does not reflect any events that have occurred since that time.]

ENGLEWOOD, Co. — Last week came the announcement that religion site Beliefnet has acquired Patheos, the far more popular home of a wide variety of religious blogs, include a vibrant Pagan channel. While Beliefnet also once hosted Pagan bloggers, since being acquired by the Christian-focused BN Media company, those writers all eventually moved on. With the new purchase, it has been stated that plans thus far are to keep the two sites independent of each other.

beliefnet-logo-6-25-10 A Wild Hunt investigation into BN Media buying Beliefnet in June, 2016, disclosed the company’s focus:

BN Media seems to be a different sort of owner, if their two largest initiatives, Affinity4 and Cross Bridge, are any indication. In short, it seems they are a conservative “family friendly” Christian group. All you have to do is pay attention to all the subtle buzz-words. . . . It doesn’t paint a very rosy picture of future interfaith interactions and diverse viewpoints on Beliefnet.

It’s true that, while Beliefnet no longer hosts Pagan blogs, Patheos Pagan channel editor Jason Mankey isn’t expecting any purges at Patheos. Mankey told The Wild Hunt:

There are currently no plans to change anything at Patheos and at Patheos Pagan. Patheos will continue to maintain its own brand and the sites will be run as a separate entities. As in all acquisitions, there will be some changes but we believe these changes will be in the background and focused on the technology and supporting infrastructure, and we anticipate that these changes will be about improving the experience of the reader.

I’ve spoken to many of the folks coming in from Beliefnet and genuinely believe they are excited about both Patheos in general and more specifically the Pagan Channel. Change is a part of life, and I’m looking forward to this one.

Mankey has earned the respect of people in the Pagan blogosphere since he took over as channel editor, including that of Anne Newkirk Niven, who runs one of the largest independent Pagan blog sites,, who called him an “excellent administrator.”

patheospagan-300x300Niven’s sentiments were echoed by those Patheos Pagan bloggers who agreed to comment for this story as well as Star Foster, who was the channel’s first editor. In her statement, she also touched upon the value of purely Pagan alternatives.

Like many people, I was sad to watch Beliefnet lose its initial luster, particularly after it was bought by Fox and then by an Evangelical organization. The purchase of Patheos by the same Evangelical organization is momentous. An acquisition means merger and all that comes with it. Resources are allocated to the segments of a company that make money, and cuts are made to increase profitability. It will be interesting to see how this acquisition affects Patheos, particularly those writers who left other platforms with whom they had become disenchanted.

For minority faiths, who cannot easily compete for resources with larger faith demographics, it may prove more fruitful to invest talent and resources in quality, homegrown religious journalism, columnists, devotional writers, and cultural analysts. Since the dawn of Beliefnet the religious internet has undergone dramatic changes, and it will be fascinating to see how it continues to evolve.

Support your Pagan media, wherever you find it to be doing good work. In anticipation of The Wild Hunt’ drive, I have already made my contribution.

Editing the Agora for Patheos Pagan is David Dashifen Kees, who agreed with Mankey’s assessment. “I’m cautiously optimistic. My understanding is that, after the purchase, Patheos will be operating essentially as it always has been. We’ll keep writing what we write and the readers will hopefully continue to visit.”

Gus DiZerega has been a presence at many major Pagan blogging sites, including Pagan Square and Patheos. He also wrote for Beliefnet, and he’s more suspicious. “The people who controlled Beliefnet acted unethically in my experience, and cannot be trusted,” he said.

After he wrote a post criticizing management, “they removed comments and when [he] objected.”  He said, “They told me it was their site and they could do what they wanted, I also left. I see no reason to legitimize anything controlled by Evangelicals such as that. Perhaps the Parliament of World’s Religions could someday host a genuine interfaith site free from the imperialistic ambitions of Evangelicals.”

Druidic blogger John Beckett doesn’t think it’s the end of the world. He said:

Nothing is constant in life, much less on the internet. While I had no idea this merger was coming, I’m not the least bit surprised it happened. We’ve been told the merger will have no effect on bloggers – Patheos will remain a unique site and all the changes will be on the technical and business side. That could be helpful.

As long as Patheos stays within its mission of being a multifaith religious site, as long as Pagans continue to be treated with the same respect as everyone else, and as long as I continue to have full control over what I write, I plan to stay.

If any of that changes, I own all my content and can move at any time.

Others also see two sides to this coin. “It seems that the merger is a pretty mixed bag,” said David Pollard, who edits the UU-centric Nature’s Path group blog at Patheos Pagan. “While a lot has been made in the Pagan blogosphere about Beliefnet’s incivility towards Paganism in recent years, when they started they were able to get some very high profile Pagans like Margot Adler and Starhawk to write for them.

“The problem was, that’s where they stopped,” Pollard continued. “They never really developed a second tier of writers, which is something that Patheos through its Pagan Channel editors has really excelled at.”

Pollard said he very much hopes that Patheos bloggers will be left alone, “given how many times Beliefnet has changed owners over the past decade, who knows what their next owner will want?”

One thing that any owner of Patheos is likely to want is a profitable venture, and the main way to achieve that with a content site is through advertising sales. The ads on the site now have been the subject of criticism by Pagans over the years, including from The Wild Hunt founding editor Jason Pitzl, who entered into a partnership in 2011-12.

In announcing the relaunch of an independent Wild Hunt, he promised “zero ads endorsing Mormonism or Liberty University.” Those result from buying into pools such as ones offered by Google, which serve up ads based on a variety of factors, including one’s behavior generally on the internet and search terms used.

Quaker Pagan Reflections blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop has also been concerned about the push for profit. “It has sometimes seemed that there’s been an increasing stress on monetizing our writing, and I have wondered whether the finances were really working out: the ads have always been off-putting, not always relevant to Paganism, and so slow to load some of my friends tell me they can’t read my blog at all. I’ve wondered if we Pagans have been a good investment for the owners, and whether the site is a good fit for us, to be honest. I guess my questions have only grown with this news.

“Patheos has been good to my blog, in that I’ve seen a big increase in readership, and I’ve been part of a conversation with other writers I really admire,” Chapin Bishop said. “Still, I’ve often wondered if it would make more sense to go it alone, or at a Pagan-owned, Pagan-run site.”

“They’re not going for direct-place ads,” agreed Newkirk Niven, who runs such a Pagan site. When she recently looked into advertising at Patheos, she was told that “they don’t even talk to people who aren’t able to spend a grand a month. I think we’re operating in a different universe.”

For most Pagan advertisers, she said, $12,000 is impossible; even $100 a month can be a challenge from owners of businesses the size she works with, she said.

For now, Patheos remains independent, but it’s likely that the new owners will seek to find ways to use this property to improve Beliefnet and other sites. As of this writing, Patheos is ranked 1,922 by site-ranking service Alexa, while Beliefnet stands at 12,451. It’s a question of when and how, rather than if or why the Patheos traffic will be captured. The Wild Hunt will cover developments as those changes unfold.

Our society often equates popularity with worth or with power. The status system created by celebrity culture is not something new, and it exists in many societies. One of the unfortunate side effects of living in a modern day celebrity culture is that it often separates people from the humanity of one another. We see this with celebrities within popular mainstream culture, and we also experience this in the much smaller segments of our own interconnected communities.

Dancing the maypole (courtesy EarthSpirit Community)

(Courtesy EarthSpirit Community)

Modern Pagan communities have their own definitions for popularity status. There are even varying categories that distinguish where people fall on the continuum.Author, Blogger, Ritualist, High Priest(ess), Artist, Musician, Academic or Leader. All of these are not only functional roles within the Pagan and modern Polytheist world, but they are also titles that come with expectations, a bit of status, and some relative privilege. The common use of the internet within Paganism makes it that much easier to know who people are, who is doing what, and where people will be at any given time. Articles go viral in our community, and it can be one of the most effective ways that someone’s name gets recognition.

What does this carry-over of culture mean in our community though? How does this kind of celebrity culture challenge true connection within such a small, overlapping grouping of individuals?

This past weekend several thousand Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists convened once again to the west coast for the annual PantheaCon convention. It is a time where people get to meet, learn and experience the teaching and the works of artists and leaders from around the country. This year’s con embodied many of the people, activities and things that most of us go there to experience. Author and Priest Devin Hunter explained this well in saying:

Pantheacon 2016 was powerful, drama free, and really fun. We were a bunch of Pagans and Witches getting together to share our work and support our common goals as modern mystics. My tradition, Black Rose, hosted a suite all weekend and we presented a deep ritual working on Friday night (The Sacrament of Hecate Triodia). I got to discuss some of the amazing things the Temple Of Witchcraft (Salem,NH) has been doing with their founders, meet fellow authors from all over the country, and host two amazing parties. Only at Pantheacon can you manage to do all of this! This was my fifth consecutive Pantheacon and my favorite!

This was very much like my own experience. It was a wonderful time of meeting, engaging and sharing with others that I would not normally have the opportunity to do so with. But in all the business of the weekend, I continued to think about how the many ways in which we support each other also serve as barriers to equity in voices and genuine relationships with those who are in different places on the continuum. Do we really get to know one another, or are we just familiar with what each person does, or what they stand for?

Lack of genuine connection with the people behind the names can lead to misconceptions about who they are and project unattainable expectations on these leaders, authors and artists. Social media and the workings of the internet make it easier to know a face or a name, but not the person behind those things.

Since I find that I have had to confront some misconceptions about myself, I thought it would be interesting to reach out to several different people within the community to see what misconceptions they often face from others.

Christopher Penczak

Christopher Penczak

Probably the biggest misconception about me and pretty much many of my peers is misconceptions of motivations and just because you are deemed successful what success looks like and how it translates into everyday life. When someone takes the leap to be an author, teacher, healing facilitator, reader, artist or pagan minister, it’s because we feel a call to it from a deep power. We feel a great love for the teachings, the gods and the community and often against our personal preferences and desires, feel guided to act upon it and do.

While there are great rewards and blessing, and I treasure my life and opportunities, there are also hardships.No one really enters this world to make easy money. I could make more in a regular office job with health insurance and vacation time. I’ve gotten a lot of freedom on one hand but miss out on time with friends and family and a lot of the regular security I crave. When folks are off and free I’m often working. Travel is fun but also gets tough when you are away a few times a month. It’s only through the many hats that I wear that I can make a full time vocation and it takes a lot of planning and juggling. When I switched from my first publisher to a larger publisher, I was accused of “selling out” and someone made comment that I bought a house with the advance for that book. The advance could barely cover a month’s rent. And my first publisher rejected the book while my new publisher was interested in a five book series with CDs. But those are critiques I hear directly and indirectly often about well know teachers and authors. – Christopher Penczak

Niki Whiting

Niki Whiting

If I am well known, then I assume it is because of co-founding and putting on Many Gods West. I think people assume that I am the sole person behind this event and that isn’t true! There are others working behind the scenes, but Syren Nagakyrie is a strong force keeping us on track. I have no desire to be the “voice” of polytheism – I don’t think that is even possible! I just want to encourage and support our communities, and by extension find the support and camaraderie I need as well.” – Niki Whiting

Well, I think that the biggest misconception wouldn’t be about me (people don’t really know me personally that much) but about our company. A lot of folks think that we are a) a coven/circle/commune-based community or b) a huge corporate behemoth. We are actually a small family business run entirely by me, my husband, and our kids. – Anne Newkirk Niven

Beverley Smith

Beverley Smith

I’d say that some of those who have known me as a long-time Druid priestess are surprised by my passion for social activism. They are somewhat taken aback to see that I’m very involved in civil and human rights causes. They are sometimes put off by the idea that I actually care. It always surprises and irritates me that many people prefer their spirituality easy and watered down: Witchcraft Lite. And because that’s how they roll, that’s how they expect me to approach my spirituality also.

I don’t believe that we separate our spiritual lives from other aspects of our reality. I don’t feel that sitting in sacred space, smudging, anointing myself with oils, meditating or participating in rituals are any more uplifting or inherently sacred than bringing awareness of injustice, standing in solidarity with the marginalized, and protesting in the street. My sacred space is the space I’m holding as we chant “no justice, no peace”. Nothing can be more sacred to me than to fight for a fellow human’s rights and stand up to evil together.

I am a Pagan. I am a priestess. I am a child, a daughter of the Earth and social justice is my creed. And yes, I am unabashedly, fearlessly, and unapologetically Black.- Beverley Smith

Devin Hunter

Devin Hunter

I think the largest misconception about me is that I am competitive. Competition has it’s time and place in life but I think being a comrade is much more important. I don’t view other practitioners, teachers, or leaders as competition, I view them as members of a big team of people who are on a journey with both shared and separate paths. I think those that know me know that I will bend over backwards to help when I can, especially when it comes to professional advice. I am a pretty simple guy, if you’re my friend I’m always there, if you’re someone I have never met from the internet, chances are I am not going to give you the same degree of energy as those I am close with. That doesn’t mean I view you as competition, I just don’t know you that well. – Devin Hunter

I’m an initiated Witch and a former First Officer of CoG. I am Pagan theurgist. I am a Thelemite, a member of Ordo Templi Orientis and ordained priestess of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. The connections between these systems make them compatible; I’ve dubbed this connection “Western Traditional Magic.” However the increasing tendency to pigeonhole practitioners leads people to know my work in only one silo. Witches don’t know my work in O.T.O., Thelemites have no idea I am a Witch. So it’s hard to talk to them about the whole of my work and how the several parts feed each other.

Brandy Williams

Brandy Williams

I’m also seeing the effects of ageism. “In your day that was true, but now…” We associate people with the era of their early adulthood and reject their continuing contributions at right about my age. The Pagan community has just as marked a tendency as the dominant culture to devalue accumulated experience. The local Suquamish tell me “we honor our elders” while Pagans tell me “we don’t need elders.” I find myself longing to be as honored by my own people as my neighbors are by theirs.

It’s especially frustrating to be dismissed as a “second wave feminist.” I’m quite proud that I was active in feminist community as a very young woman and that reforms I fought for have made women’s lives better for decades. Third wave feminism has taught me the importance of intersectionality, especially that that feminist progress depends on confronting racism. Presently the development of feminist thought is framed as generational antagonism –  third wave feminists are “daughters” of the second wave, fourth wave their “granddaughters”, rejecting the feminism of their “mothers” to form their own ideas. This framework hampers our ability to accumulate power over time by building on each other’s work. I don’t see the “waves” as generational but as a sequential development of critical thought structures. I am a feminist who will never stop learning! – Brandy Williams

If we had a chance to get to know one another without the filters of status, or the preconceived notions that we have about our various positions, what would we know about one another? What would we want others to know about us? Here are some answers from those in the community.

Anne Newkirk Niven

Anne Newkirk Niven

One thing for people to know about me as a person? I guess that I care deeply about our many communities, and I don’t have any kind of delusions of grandeur. Honestly, I don’t think of myself as a “well-known personality” at all. But I hope that the work we do is well-known, and, occasionally at least, well-regarded. – Anne Niven

In truth, despite my hard practiced ability to teach and lead ritual in front of groups, I’m a homebody and an introvert. I find big groups overwhelming. I like smaller quiet socialization. I can be social and in groups due to my musical performance and magickal training, but it takes great effort, so if I seem less friendly at the end of the night at an event it’s usually because I’m at the end of my energetic reserves and want some quiet alone time. People are often shocked about that but it’s true.” – Christopher Penczak

Lasara Firefox Allen

Lasara Firefox Allen

I have invisible illnesses. I don’t always have the ability to interact gracefully. Sometimes I just need to be able to chill out. I don’t want people to take it personally if I don’t have the bandwidth for an interaction. Something that will make me warm to someone is when they ask for consent for an interaction. Maybe even making sure there’s space to sit down if we are going to talk for more than a few minutes.

At PantheaCon this year my body was being very cranky and demanding. I had limited time out in the Con because I had to take so much downtime to maintain myself. That made it so that my time was very precious to me. I had to teach and take care of my other duties, and still fit in time with my family, and try to see some friends. Honestly I ended up missing out on most friend time, which bummed me out. – Lasara Firefox Allen

It is most important to me to be kind. My feminist and social justice work is about advocating for increased kindness. To be kind is not to be weak but to be fiercely honest and strong. When people talk to me I want them to feel that they are heard and respected. I celebrate the courage and success of the people around me. It makes me happiest to hear people say “you would be proud of me!” – Brandy Williams

I am really dedicated to helping people find their power, whatever it is. The drive to help others is behind everything that I do.” – Devin Hunter

My older brother is a dancer and grew up attending his classes, recitals, and competitions. I took classes as well and I think in a different version of my life I would have continued. Sometimes at night I think about the possible realities where I am the dancer, perfumer, lawyer, or biochemist; and reflect on how those experiences continue to inform my work.- Lou Florez

Lou Florez, invokes the ancestors, during the interfaith service. [photo credit Clark Sullivan]

Lou Florez invokes the ancestors during the interfaith service. [Photo Credit Clark Sullivan]

We operate in a world where profile pictures are one of our primary ways of identifying who we virtually rub shoulders with in the world. Likewise, we often see one another through the small lenses of roles, jobs and titles instead of human beings with much more in common than not. Our ability to decrease the multidimensional layers of humanity into a two-sided depiction of a person fits right into the fame game of modern society but does not allow for us to sustain meaningful connections.

When people see me in the hallways of a convention or read my article online, they may not know that I get anxious in front of crowds or when I publish an article, and that I am very driven but also very sensitive.

The persona of a person is often seen before the personality; sometimes a name travels further than we imagine. But our ability to see the person behind the name or the title might be the most magical thing we can do for one another.

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This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

[Unleash the Hounds is a monthly feature that highlights media stories of interest originating predominantly outside of our collective communities. If you like seeing this roundup every month, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive today. These types of articles take time, research and money to produce. It is you that makes it all possible! Your donations go directly back to getting the important news out there. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

News Update …

bloomfield nmIn March 2014, we reported on a story in which two New Mexico Pagans challenged their local city’s placement of a Ten Commandments monument on public grounds. They won that case, but the city vowed to appeal in federal court.

That case is being heard today in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado. The city of Bloomfield will argue for keeping the monument, stating that “the display is legal because it was privately funded.” Prior to the monument’s installation, members of the Bloomfield community, as well as some elected officials, had raised private funds specifically for this purpose.

The ACLU, on behalf of Felix and Coone, maintain that the monument violates the Constitution. As noted in our original article, the ACLU argued that city officials “accorded preferential treatment to the monument’s sponsors, disregarding many city ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate the monument’s installation.” We will update the story as it continues to progress.

Other Links …. 

  • On Sept 25, a special memorial service was held for Mustang 22, a 5-person unit of soldiers killed in combat exactly ten years ago. A member of that unit was Sergeant Patrick Stewart, whose name later became connected to the Veteran Pentacle Quest. Sergeant Stewart’s wife, Roberta Stewart, was at the memorial service, and spoke to the media in attendance. Here is that news report:

  • In June, we noted the passing of Eron the Wizard, a prominent figure in the UK’s magical community and a practitioner of Alexandrian Wicca. He lost his battle with cancer on May 10 and was given a large memorial service that was well-publicized. Just this past week, Eron’s daughter, Rebecca Spencer, reported that her father’s beloved car has now been stolen. It’s a yellow Subaru Legacy uniquely decorated with black stars and witches. She told reporters that it disappeared on Friday from her home near Gloucester. She said, “I have lost my dad and now this has been stolen.” She added that it was one of the few things from him that she had left.
  • Now we move east to Russia. The Moscow Times has reported that city officials are planning to “release a booklet warning Muscovites against unorthodox religious ‘cults’ operating in Russia.” The booklet will reportedly include ways to handle encounters with such cults and how to countact the authorities. The Times also quoted Moscow officials as saying, “cults do not necessarily take a traditional form, many of them are posing as lectures, personal development courses, or even yoga classes.” What does this mean, if anything, for Pagans in the area? The booklet has not yet been published, and there is no indication of whether or not any Pagan groups will be listed. When more is available, we will update the story.
  • Further southwest, in the ex-Soviet province of Tajikistan, the national government is also taking measures against, what it considers to be, dangerous practices. The Tajik Parliament is expected to introduced new changes to its criminal code, which make the practice of witchcraft, “sorcery” and fortune telling punishable with up to 7 years of prison time. The legislation was first introduced in 2007 as a simple ban. Now officials are looking to add more teeth to the measure in order to allegedly protect against charlatans and “witch doctors.”
  • Over the past two weeks, it seems that everyone is talking about the Pope. The Guardian recently featured an article on his visit to Cuba. However, the piece didn’t focus on the Pope specifically. It examined the relationship between his message and the practice of Santeria, also known as Lukumi. The article reads, “The syncretic religion of Santería has unsurprisingly not been mentioned in the pope’s schedule or sermons, but its powerful influence on the island means that many of those listening to his homilies will be interpreting references to the Catholic saints in a very different way from Vatican orthodoxy.” The Guardian goes on to discuss the relationship between the Church and the deeply-rooted syncretic religion that thrives on the island.
  • Back in the United States, changes have been made to one Montana hospital, which allows for a very specific type of healing. In Helena, Montana, a new “Smudging Room” has opened in Saint Peter’s Hospital. The room is intended to be used by Native Americans for a special sacred healing practice that removes negative energy. Montanta Public Radio reports that “Little Shell Tribal member Daniel Pocha said getting hospitals to allow smudging has always been hit and miss.” The article goes on to celebrate the new addition, saying the hospital is “acknowledging the needs of patients who follow native spiritual traditions.”
  • If you haven’t looked at the calendar lately, it’s almost October. And what does that mean? Pumpkins, corn mazes and interviews with Witches. Starting off before the bell even rings opening the month, Oregon Live has posted an article featuring Anne Newkirk Niven. A local Oregon resident, Niven is the publisher of Witches and Pagans magazine and director of In the article, Niven discusses her practices and beliefs. It ends with her saying, “I love words, I love religion, and I’m pagan … What the heck? I’m in my dream job.”
  • In that same vein, BuzzFeed has joined Octoberfest early, offering a list of “spellbooks for the witch in your life.” The thirteen books listed are a mix bag from the newly published to the classic. BuzzFeed’s criteria may be a bit of a mystery. How does this compare to your top 13?
  • Finally, the Vice Channel Broadly has published photographs from this year’s New York Pagan Pride Day event. In July, offered a vivid picture tour of New York City’s Witchfest. Now, its Broadly channel is serving up photos from the annual fall festival. Its cover shot is of Priestess Courtney Weber proudly wearing a shirt that reads, “Where my Witches at?” The article goes on to quote PPD president Beth Mastromarino, saying that their goal is to “Create a space where Pagans can gather and the public can see that we’re just everyday people who happen to have a different sense of spirituality, but share the same values—family, community, caring for the environment and our fellow humans.” The majority of Broadly’s article is simply a dazzling photo album documenting the many people at this year’s event.

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Today, at the Patheos Pagan Channel, Christine Kraemer interviews Anne Newkirk Niven, editor and publisher of Witches & Pagans Magazine, about the current state of Pagan media (among other things). During the interview, Niven expounds on blogs within the umbrella of Pagan media, and the role they serve.

Anne Newkirk Niven

Anne Newkirk Niven

Today, blogs fill a specific niche: real-time, fast-paced information. No print media can keep up with the blogosphere; on the other hoof, even the most super-heated debate in the legendary Green Egg forum (letters to the editor) never got as crazily divisive as what happens in the comment-rich, disinhibited atmosphere of the Web.

Pagans are an information-hungry group of people; reading led many, if not most, of us onto our paths. (Most of our magazine readers are solitaries, which I suspect is true of Pagan culture as a whole.) The purpose of a magazine is to gather together a group of collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge; blogs, on the other hoof, are radically individualized by their nature and are constantly evolving. I see these two modalities as fundamentally complementary—what one does well, the other does poorly. I hope we can see the continuance of literary paper-based culture even as the digital culture continues to grow, which is why I publish magazines (both in digital and paper formats) as well as hosting a rapidly-growing Pagan blogosphere.

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

When I started The Wild Hunt nearly 10 years ago, there wasn’t really a “blogosphere” to speak of. Most Pagan content on the Internet existed in the form of bulletin boards, static (sporadically updated) sites, and e-lists. There were literally only a handful of Pagan blogs when I started this site, and many folks used the new technology at places like LiveJournal for personal journaling, not a soapbox per-se. I was a fairly early adopter of blogging technology when it emerged, and was fascinated by the possibilities of the medium. Like many others, I quickly recognized that the “blog” had capabilities far beyond listing updates to a large website, or writing short personal entires. While some feared the disruptive nature of blogging technology, I realized that it could be used to prove a point. I could use it to prove that people wanted to read about Pagan news every day, and that there was enough news to write about something every day.

Ten years later, The Wild Hunt has more than enough to write about. More, in fact, than our small team can conceivably do justice to. We’ve grown from a one-person personal project into a media outlet that employes several columnists, and one staff writer. We have a yearly budget, one that we raise from donations, and our traffic continues to grow at a steady rate each year. So I see Niven’s generalizations as not only limiting, but subtly insulting. A blog, at its heart, is simply a technology, like the printing press. When you say you read “a blog” that today says almost nothing about what you’ll get (it’s like someone saying they read “books” and nothing more). The biggest media empires use blogging technology on their sites, and the content can range from celebrity gossip to ultra-professional, edited, and vetted, content. Meanwhile, picking up a magazine gives you zero guarantee that you’ll receive “collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge.” 

A medium is a medium, not the content within it. Mediums can be stretched, changed, challenged, and redefined over the course of different generations. A “real” magazine can be experimental and radical, produced on a shoestring budget, or it can be a well-funded venture that engages in the current norms of editorial and news gathering. Anyone who grew up during the ‘zine revolution of the 1990s knows well enough that mediums aren’t limited by the dominant culture’s standards. Likewise, while many tried to pigeonhole blogs in the early years as the tool of the lone opinionated crank (usually writing about politics), the reality is that many different people used the technology for many different things. Is Talking Points Memo a mere “blog,” or is it a news and political commentary site? If we call it a blog, does that mean it isn’t collated, vetted, and subject to editorial oversight? Is The Wild Hunt still a blog? Are we a part of a blogosphere? We use blogging technology, certainly, but I also think we’ve grown outside the expectations that seem to inform the Patheos interview.

Finally, let me talk briefly about the Pagan magazine. Another reason I started The Wild Hunt was because I was hungry for news about my community, and couldn’t find any in Pagan magazines. They had interviews, and columns, and short stories, and poetry, and recipes, and a letters column, but they rarely tackled actual events happening in and around our lives. When they did, it was often long after the dust had settled. It created the sense that modern Paganism should be handled by the professional Pagans, the “Big Name Pagans,” and that the rest of us should simply give our support. It didn’t have to be that way, even a quarterly magazine can write about big issues, can at least inform their readership of all the things that happened in the last few months, but a reliance on “evergreen” content, and a hesitance to embrace these new technologies left the door wide open for The Wild Hunt’s success. When people ask me why my blog got so big, I tell them the truth: no one else wanted to do what I was doing. At least not on the daily schedule I maintained.

Blogging may have been disruptive, but it also empowered all sorts of people to speak up, to insert themselves into the process of how our community is defined and presented. It rejected the old “club” mentality that had held sway from the 1980s, and demanded a more responsive, more inclusive, community. If things are so “divisive” now, perhaps that is simply because there’s 20 years of frustration built up from having no voice at all in national and international Pagan affairs. Now, we can’t be shut up, because our news isn’t centralized into a handful of vetted and edited publications. If someone doesn’t like something in The Wild Hunt (or any media outlet), they can (and do) publish about it. They can rally their own corner of our community, they can create alternatives, they can have the public discussions they want to have. I sometimes bemoan how uncivil things can get sometimes, but I would never, ever, roll us back to some simpler time before this technology existed. We are collectively better for it.

Digital Pagan media is the dominant format today, and I don’t think anyone could convincingly argue otherwise. The separations between a published print magazine, and, say, The Wild Hunt, is only in the format. I would certainly place may content on the same plain of quality as anything in print, perhaps even better (though I may be biased). It is no longer acceptable to generalize about the “blog” without providing a list of caveats that make the comparisons almost meaningless. The larger Pagan blogosphere is many things, and has many manifestations, but it is no longer some ascendent disruptive format, it has become a ubiquitous tool used by every manifestation of the content we consume. From commerce to hard news. We are the media now. 

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Radio Network

Pagan Radio Network

After 13 years of operation The Pagan Radio Network, one of the most prominent outlets for Pagan and Pagan-friendly music, shut down suddenly on July 21st. Owner Lew Wirt gave the following explanation for the sudden closure: “Not enough time, money, or energy to keep it up. I won’t bore you with a long-winded explanation, except to say that I attend college and raise a special-needs child. This leaves very little time or money to devote to my hobby of Internet broadcasting (as enjoyable as it was). Thank you for tuning in for nearly 13 years.” While there are other worthy streaming Pagan-oriented stations, few rivaled PRN’s size and scope, showcasing an amazing breadth of music. Currently, the domain names and IP are being auctioned off, and Wirt is recommending alternatives (plus new stations are popping up). As someone who had a show hosted on PRN, I’m saddened to see this essential resource go, and I wish Lew all the best in his future endeavors. Whether this is an isolated and personal development, or something that augurs a larger discussion on money and support within our communities is, I think, something that is still up in the air.

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

PaganSquare, the blogging portal hosted by Witches & Pagans Magazine, has added a new writer: Dan Halloran (who is going by Dan O’Halloran). Halloran, currently serving on the New York City Council, has been indicted in a massive political bribery scandal, and is facing trial sometime in 2014. While the matter of his guilt or innocence awaits due process, Halloran seems to be publicly re-embracing his Heathen beliefs (and the wider Pagan/Heathen community) by writing about Germanic polytheism. Quote: “Now it’s my turn to kick back in life after politics and discuss the things that matter to me from an academic and philosophical perspective. It may stir up some controversy… but that’s half the battle of ordeal, the crucible process of Wyrd. I’m looking forward to the journey….” I questioned editor Anne Newkirk Niven about bringing Halloran on board and she said that she was aware of his history, and was not looking to make any political statement by having him write for PaganSquare. That Halloran “just seemed to fill a gap in our PaganStudies section.” It should be interesting to see how Halloran’s new engagement with the Pagan community is received. You can read all of The Wild Hunt’s coverage of Dan Halloran, here.

Omnia performing at Faerieworlds.

Omnia performing at Faerieworlds.

This past weekend was the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon. As I said in my post this past Friday, it is a very Pagan and mythic event, and also boasted the first American performance for the Pagan-folk Netherlands band Omnia. On their official Facebook page, the band said they are “so very happy that the AMAZING audience here has such a strong reaction to our pure PaganFolk musick, seeing as it’s our first time here in the USA.” Meanwhile, featured workshop presenter T. Thorn Coyle said that she “had a grand time. Blessings of magic, mirth, and music to you.” Standout performances this year (aside from Omnia) included the mythic Pagan neo-folk of The Wicker Men, ethereal singer-songwriter Mariee Sioux, the transcendent world fusion of Stellamara, and a brief Kan’nal reunion featuring guitarist Tierro and singer Kurt Baumann. Also of note was the fact that American Pagan band Woodland officially released their new album “Secrets Told” and closed out the event on Sunday night. There’s a lot more to tell, and many more Pagans of note who participated (S.J. Tucker, for example, who, as always, was universally beloved), but suffice to say that this is an event that more Pagans should discover. Here’s the opening spiral dance for a small taste. Tons of photos at the official Faerieworlds page. [In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Faerieworlds, but I thought the festival was awesome even before I did.]

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Of the many small occult-oriented publishers Scarlet Imprint is probably one of the most acclaimed, and also one of the most outspoken. Over the years they have taken very public stances on everything from matters  political to piracy; at the same time they have published well-received poetry collections and in-depth thoughtful meditations by authors like John Michael Greer. However, while Scarlet Imprint recently branched out into the digital realm in regards to publishing, it doesn’t seem they have found their experiences in the realm of social media as enriching, and they’ve publicly announced their withdrawal from Facebook.

scarlet imprint leaving

“Magicians should be asking themselves very serious questions about how they relate to technology. We engage in this self-interrogation on a regular basis and have come to the decision to leave facebook, the maw that rapaciously devours online traffic, a memetic infestation which trivialises the numinous and significantly alters behaviour patterns for the worse. Facebook in particular is choking under the weight of content, and awaits the same inexorable fate as myspace before it and no doubt diaspora next. 

As we have previously stated, without Scarlet Imprint we would choose not to have any personal online profile at all. As such we have a duty to Her, the daemons, spirits and our authors to get the work out for the serious participants in the occult community. We will continue to maintain an online presence, as a necessary evil. Our friends are scattered like stars, and online has been essential for us to make these connections. We are fortunate to say that many of the best practitioners we know have no online profile, and would suggest that those who are most vocal online should perhaps have their claims taken with a pinch of salt.”

Scarlet Imprint’s co-publisher Peter Grey goes on to question whether the Internet is making us dumber (an idea that has found some popularity in recent years) and suggests that our magical (and I assume mundane) selves would be enriched by unplugging from it.

“We would suggest that your practice would benefit if you get the hell out of it, or at least minimise your exposure to the cognitive load. This is what we attempt to do, whilst still selling enough books to survive, and making sure that the right people come across our work.”

Perhaps not un-coincidentally this move by Scarlet Imprint comes during something of a mini-revolt by small businesses and brands voiced by the alternative media outlet Dangerous Minds. In a post entitled “Facebook: I Want My Friends Back,” Richard Metzger slams the social media giant for breaking the service in a cheap attempt to generate revenue, destroying the small but significant audiences many smaller brands and artists have built at the service.

Zuck background22

“Summing up, Facebook has taken a pee in their own pool from quite a lofty height, turning vast armies of “influentials” against the company, people who are now making plans—born of necessity—to bolt from that pool and to stop putting any effort there. Furthermore, Facebook’s greedy grab will have the knock-on effect of causing many blogs to simply throw in the towel, diminishing Facebook’s own business ecosystem and Facebook’s value to its own users to the point where only Axe Deodorant, Taco Bell and Nike will be showing up in your Facebook newsfeed, which after all, is pretty much the sole point of Facebook in the first place! They’ve deliberately broken their own product’s biggest selling point. Whose idea was that?”

The sentiments expressed by Metzger were echoed by Anne Newkirk Niven, publisher of Pagan-oriented magazines like Witches & Pagans and Sage Woman.

ann facebook

Which makes me wonder: will Scarlet Imprint’s move inspire occult and Pagan businesses and brands increasingly frustrated by the recent changes laid out by Dangerous Minds? Will a confluence of dissatisfactions spark a trend toward exodus? While I can’t see bigger Pagan brands like Llewellyn Worldwide ever leaving Facebook, it’s very possible that niche and mid-size ones might start looking into viable alternatives. What that viable alternative might be is an open question as Google+ and other services haven’t seemed to gain much traction against the Facebook juggernaut. Who knows, maybe the second coming of MySpace will change everything? In the meantime, I wish Scarlet Imprint luck in their Facebook-less future.

On July 22nd the bookstore chain Borders started the process of closing its 399 remaining locations. This move was long predicted by industry watchers as the once-mighty chain wobbled in the face of’s rise (a company it once outsourced to) and costly missteps in non-book merchandise. The last few weeks of media coverage has featured a mixture of fond reminiscences, 20/20 hindsight analysis,  and predictions for the future of the book-selling industry. Many of the predictions haven’t been too cheery, for example, the investment site The Motley Fool predicts that Barnes & Noble will ultimately suffer the same fate, noting that “just because B&N will be the last one standing doesn’t mean that it will be standing for long.” Even if the Borders closure is the last domino to topple as the retail book market restructures itself for a post-ebook and post-Amazon world, that development alone could have far-reaching and possibly disastrous consequences for businesses that cater to modern Pagans.

The Borders Closure and Pagan Publishers

One of the most obvious ramifications of the Borders closure is the elimination of bricks-and-mortar booksellers willing to carry Pagan, occult, and metaphysical titles. At the beginning of 2010 Borders operated 508 superstores in the United States, plus several more “Borders Express” and Waldenbooks outlets in malls and airports. As more than one reporter has pointed out, in some areas Borders was the only significant bookstore within driving distance. Or as a recent NPR report put it, “an entire arm of book sales has been amputated.” No matter how healthy or solvent a publishing business is, that much reduction in retail space is going to hurt. Worse still, at the time of the Borders bankruptcy filing they owed nearly 300 million to its creditors. One of those creditors was Llewellyn Worldwide, the largest publisher of Pagan and metaphysical books. In its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing Borders revealed that it owes Llewellyn over half a million dollars.

As large as Llewellyn may be to the Pagan community, it’s still relatively tiny compared to the larger publishing houses, and losing that much money has to hit hard. I contacted Llewellyn for comment, but there has been no official response. However, I was able to speak with author Donald Michael Kraig, who has worked extensively with Llewellyn, and speaking solely as an individual, offered his take on what some of the ramification of the Borders closure may be.

“As an author, I don’t get paid until my publishers are paid. I probably won’t directly see the loss in “take backs,” although my royalties will undoubtedly be smaller. Those who self-publish may have a different experience and to them (and small publishers) I hope your losses, at best, are small. My guess, however, is that this will hurt the “bottom line” of some publishers and may have a worse effect on a few very small publishers. This is what happens in business.”

The second-largest Pagan and metaphysical publisher, Red Wheel / Weiser, is also owed money by Borders. Though less than Llewellyn, it is still over $200,000. Again, not insignificant for a company their size.

Jan Johnson, Publisher at Red Wheel / Weiser, responding to my questions via email, says that little should change at their company due to the closing of Borders.

“We’ll, of course, miss the stores and the sales from the books they’ve been carrying. Borders supported many of our titles. We don’t expect it to have a direct affect on the number of titles or authors we sign. Borders closure is another indication of the changing way people find and buy books. In order to succeed as publishers, we need to communicate even more with our reader communities.”

A third Pagan publishing company, BBI Media, which produces the popular magazines Witches & Pagans, SageWoman, and Crone, has also been hard-hit by the Borders liquidation. Publisher and editor Anne Newkirk Niven bluntly explained to me how hundreds of outlets disappearing directly impacts the company’s bottom line.

“The cataclysmic news of the final bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders bookstore chain (resulting in an immediate and pressing gap in our cashflow) rocked me back on my heels just as I was setting down to write the editorial for the 25th anniversary issue of SageWoman. In an additional irony, just as Borders was announcing its liquidation, copies of the current issue of Witches&Pagans were rolling off the presses — thousands of which are now sitting on the dock at our printer, with nowhere to go.

The immediate loss — due to the six-to-ninth month gap between distribution and payment of newsstand copies — caused by the Borders collapse is likely to come in between $18,000 and $30,000. Like many other independent titles, this is a clear and immediate threat to our continued existence. Our plan — identical to the one we rolled out in 1997 when magazine distributor Fine Print went bankrupt owing us a similar amount — is to go directly to our readers, and ask them to donate enough to get us over the hump. In 1997, our readers generously donated to keep SageWoman going, and we hope that when we roll out a full-scale fundraising effort in September, our readers will respond again.”

Niven called this event a “body blow” but seemed optimistic that readers and supporters would rally to help save periodicals like SageWoman, which have become an institution to many in the Pagan community. The company also sounded a hopeful note in their recent initiative to branch out into digital editions of their magazines. The Wild Hunt will be following up on BBI Media’s fundraising initiative, checking back in with Anne Newkirk Niven once it launches.

Assuming that the two largest publishers of Pagan-oriented books, and the largest publisher of Pagan periodicals, are able to weather this storm and come out largely unscathed, there are some troubling forecasts ahead. Science fiction and horror author K.W. Jeter recently pointed out that the prevailing lesson some are taking from the Borders closure may be that it carried too many books, and spent too much time catering to the “long tail” that the Internet thrives in accommodating. This is echoed by another genre writer, J. A. Konrath, who predicts that the “midlist is going the way of the dodo.” For those not up on the publishing-world lingo, “midlist” books are titles that are not bestsellers but are strong enough to economically justify their publication. Should Barnes & Noble decide to cut back on its midlist in a post-Borders book market, that could mean metaphysical/New Age sections that are dominated by titles like “The Secret” and  Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth,” and little else. For many Barnes & Noble stores, this is already nearly the case.

Can Independent Stores Bridge the Gap?

While some are mournfully singing eulogies for Borders, others point out that it wasn’t too long ago that the chain was seen as a villain that many wished doom upon. During their ascent in the 1990s book superstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble put many small independent bookstores out of business, and many more nearly so, by offering convenience, big selections, and oftentimes deep discounts the smaller (often niche) stores couldn’t match (illustrator/cartoonist Alison Bechdel famously fictionalized this process in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”). Now that Borders is closing, many are wondering if independent booksellers will benefit, or even grow, in this environment. Jan Johnson at Weiser, when asked about the future of the esoteric bookselling market, said that  “we love it that there are still independent shops who specialize in selling esoteric books, and we’ll continue to support them. We also really like getting feedback and ideas from them.” Will we see independent Pagan and esoteric bookstores rise to fill the gap(s)?

I asked David Wiegleb, current owner of Fields Book Store in San Francisco, an esoteric bookstore that’s been a fixture in the Bay Area since 1932, for his perspective on how the Borders closure will affect business.

“In the short term, we’re seeing some new customers as well as customers returning who we may not have seen in a while. In San Francisco, not only are the Borders stores now closed, but there are no longer any Barnes and Noble stores. This recent uptick for us is certainly welcome, but because of the larger economic and cultural effects our business is still down from prior years. Our challenges are by no means past. There is an opportunity for us to market ourselves to the larger neighborhood as a place people can special order books in any subject and get them usually in only two days. We already carry the Bay Area Bestsellers, and a fair number of customers use us as their “special order” store now. In the medium term, I’m concerned about the ripple effects on publishers and distributors. I’m sure the losses they have incurred with the Borders closing will hit many of them hard, some perhaps fatally, and will impact past and future title availability, as well as pricing. Amazon has already driven list prices up with their demands for deep discounts. This will certainly impact what we can offer.”

Wiegleb also expressed concern that the “next generation will lose the basic cultural experience of browsing in a brick and mortar bookstore,” noting that “more than 1200 Borders and Waldenbooks” have been closing since 2003. Wiegleb’s experience of a recent increase in customers isn’t isolated, other news reports have noted this experience from independent bookshops across the United States. Linda Bubon, an owner at Women and Children First in Chicago, admitted to having “a little happy bookseller who’s jumping up and down” now that “we have this behemoth off our backs.” However, the concerns brought up by Wiegleb are also present. A recent Sacramento Bee report zeroed onto the challenges of growing independent bookstores as more and more people turn to and ebooks,  quoting Mike Barnard, board president of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, who pointed out that “stores that are still left are stressed,” and that “the down economy affects everybody.” Indeed, many reports on metaphysical bookshops I’ve read in recent years have focused on shops trying to stay afloat in a tough economy, in addition to the challenges of the modern bookseller.

One additional issue for those looking to independent Pagan-friendly shops picking up the slack in a post-Borders world is that there aren’t that many robust Pagan/occult/metaphysical bookshops around. The vast majority of Pagan-owned shops carry only a small selection of books, often bought directly from Llewellyn, fewer still carry Pagan magazines. Books are a high-overhead item, and don’t turn the profit that statues, jewelry, stones, herbs, or consignment items often do. I’ve witnessed first-hand how even a single bookshelf full of books can become a fiscal liability for a shop that is barely making ends meet. High-quality esoteric bookshops like Fields Book Store in San Francisco, or independent booksellers like Powell’s in Oregon that are large enough to have a metaphysical/Pagan section, aren’t as common as anyone would like. Creating a new network of esoteric and occult bookstores, along with bigger independents willing to cater to our communities, will take work and commitment from booksellers, publishers, and consumers.

The Bottom Line

The best case scenario here is that some of our largest Pagan-oriented businesses are able to withstand this massive shift, hold out, and recover; that the larger publishing/book-selling world largely stabilizes, and independent booksellers thrive in a post-Borders world, ultimately creating a more diverse and unique marketplace. A worst case scenario would mean that many of the institutions that have  helped define us and support us would cease to be, or exist as a ghost of their former selves. A situation like this would ripple out, hurting many other interconnected Pagan businesses. Economies, especially those that cater to smaller targeted audiences, are like webs. Pull the wrong strands, and the whole thing could collapse. I’m hoping that isn’t the case, and that something approaching the best case scenario wins out. For that to happen, a renewed and concerted effort to invest our time and money in Pagan-owned and Pagan-friendly business should be a top priority.

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be returning to this story, for it’s an issue that’s far larger than I can encapsulate here. I want to touch on ebooks, and epublishers, strategies that Pagan businesses are pursuing to survive and thrive, and how these changes might affect other sectors of the Pagan economy.


Because I was not able to fully quote the statements of everyone I talked to for this piece, I’m attaching them here as PDF downloads so you can read them for yourself in their original contexts. Statement by Anne Newkirk NivenStatement by Jan JohnsonStatement by David WieglebStatement by Donald Michael Kraig.

The latest issue (#3) of Thorn Magazine is now out, featuring wonderful writing from Thorn Coyle, Sannion, Erynn Rowan Laurie, Phillip A. Bernhardt-House, Lupa, and yours truly (among many others). Of special note is an article on the future of Pagan journalism and magazine publishing by Jack Lux and Michael Night Sky. In it, the authors interview Ann Newkirk Niven about her recent decision to merge PanGaia and newWitch (into the new Witches and Pagans), Oberon Zell about the up-and-down history of Green Egg, and Keter Elan, former editor of the now-defunct Mezlim magazine. In their conclusion, Lux and Night Sky wonder if Pagan publications are stuck in a transitional time due to the influence of the Internet.

“…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.”

In these recessionary times, where niche magazines are folding left and right, it may be hard for the surviving Pagan publications to successfully re-position themselves and weather the economic storm. Which brings us to the sad news that Thorn Magazine is ceasing print publication after its fourth issue.

“…perhaps inevitably, certain market forces have caught up with us at last: the declining economy and the ailing state of print journalism in general. Despite strong enthusiasm for and interest in the work we’re doing, businesses have been unable to afford extra expenses for advertising and potential readers have had their pockets stripped by the Great Recession. Coupled with the usual enormous cost of printing and the spiraling postage rates, these circumstances have finally cornered us into an inescapable conclusion: we no longer have the cashflow available to continue printing this quarterly magazine. The October 2009 issue, Vol 1 Issue 4, will be our last in print.”

They do note that Thorn will survive in an online-only format, with quarterly “issues” and monthly updates, but it remains to be seen how successful that new incarnation will be. As a columnist for Thorn I certainly wish them all the best but the question has to be raised, if a Pagan magazine of such high quality can’t survive for more than a year, what does that say about the appetite for new magazines among the larger Pagan community, and the ability of Pagan businesses to support such endeavors with ad revenue? How many full-size quarterly magazines can our community feasibly support? Will the revamped Witches and Pagans push to the forefront of Pagan publications? Or will it too run into problems?

While I’m certainly a proponent of the Internet for disseminating information and generating discussion, I would find it sad if the world of Pagan publications were to continue to contract. Not everyone reads the Internet, and without a high-quality and well-edited inter-generational touchstone publication we could see the level of discourse within our communities suffer. This doesn’t mean I excuse publishers who remain hostile or obtuse to the new economies and realities of a post-Internet publishing world, only that print vehicles do serve, and should continue to serve, a purpose to modern Pagans. So good luck to the new online-only Thorn Magazine, and the soon-to-be-launched Witches and Pagans, it looks like they’ll need it.

I just received my contributors copy of PanGaia #50 in the mail*, and enclosed with the issue is a letter from editor Anne Newkirk Niven explaining that due to a reexamination of “preconceptions” she will be ending PanGaia and merging its content and contributors into newWitch magazine.

“I have recently come to the conclusion that dividing our editorial into one “popular” magazine and one “serious” one is no longer a functional paradigm. What we really need today, I believe, is a single, united magazine – a Pagan journal of record – that covers a broad spectrum of Pagan lifestyle, theology, and community; equally able to profile Pagan celebrities and deeply engage with the issues of being Pagan in a new millennium.”

The new, larger, magazine will be entitled “newWitch: Creating Pagan Community” and will incorporate PanGaia columnists like Judy Harrow and R.J. Stewart, along with the magazine’s “Toe to Toe” department, into newWitch’s existing content (and keeping, I assume, popular newWitch columnists like Isaac Bonewits and Phil Brucato). Niven also claims that by combining these two magazines she’ll be able to get BBI Media’s stable (which includes Sage Woman) back on a regular quarterly schedule. PanGaia subscribers will receive issues of the new newWitch after issue #50 of PanGaia.

While Anne Newkirk Niven’s letter focuses on a personal/editorial epiphany of Pagan unity, there seems to be an unspoken thread of fiscal difficulties haunting the announcement. It is no secret that magazines have been dropping like flies in our current economic crisis, and many of our co-religionists involved with festivals and public events have noticed a general contraction lately. Perhaps, since Niven’s letter started with “in these difficult times”, it is simply assumed that fiscal problems were an element in the merger decision.

As for my opinion of the merger itself, I think it has some merit. I always thought that any seperation between “serious” and “popular” is a false dichotomy, especially when you’re dealing with a community filled with entrepenuers, impressarios, authors, artists, musicians, and activists. When the individual profiled on the cover of PanGaia #49 also appears in a popular softcore comic book co-created by an illustrator who did freelance work for newWitch you know you’re dealing with some blurry lines. As someone who wrote for newWitch for several years I never thought I was writing solely for “newbies” or that my subject matter was inherently lacking in seriousness, just that I was trying to reach out to a slightly younger demographic who were dissatisfied with the cultural options provided by the older guard.

Though I an outspoken proponent of new media, I wish the new newWitch a sustained and healthy existence. Perhaps this new unified editorial mandate will manage to spark a new creative era within the world of Pagan periodicals. Joining newcomers like Thorn in taking a more holistic approach to covering the Pagan world. Could a new relationship with the Internet and new media follow as well? Anything, it seems, may be possible.

* Issue #50 features my article “The Brightest Lights in Our Sky: Today’s Most Influential Pagans”. Between that and this being PanGaia’s last issue, how can you not hunt one down on the newstands?!