Archives For Metaphysical Shops

A massive fire broke out yesterday in Long Branch, New Jersey, claiming 10 businesses and 14 apartments. Luckily, no human life was lost in the fire, though some pets were killed. Among the businesses that were destroyed was Sacred Circle New Age Center, a local meeting point for area Pagans, who were deeply saddened by the news.

Sacred Circle after the fire. (Photo courtesy of NJ Pagans FB Page)

Sacred Circle after the fire. (Photo courtesy of NJ Pagans FB Page)

“…we’ll be there for them when they re-build, once we find out more info, if they need anything we can start a fundraiser or donations…This is so sad today for our Community to lose a business but so grateful they are alive and well.”

The owners of Sacred Circle, Adam Kane and Al Romao, released a statement yesterday about the fire.

“To everyone in our community. With a very heavy heart, today Sacred Circle was burnt down from a fire that started several doors down from our store. We are fine and many of the tennants in the building are fine, but some of our four legged friends in the building unfortunately did not make it. Please send prayers to them. We want to thank everyone in our community for the ourpouring of love, prayers, energy and support coming our way during this difficult time….Adam and I very much felt it and thank everyone. By the looks of everything, the building and store are destroyed, we will update everyone on our process and progress as we find things out.  To everyone, your continued love, support and prayers and very much appreciated.”

The most recent pictures show damage that is near-total, placing in doubt the ability to salvage any stock. This early in the process, it will be difficult to say if the owners will re-build, or open a store in a new location. When shops like this are closed or destroyed, it’s more than losing a shopping opportunity. Since the idea of Pagan temples and community centers are still in their early days, many Pagans still rely on Pagan or New Age shops for local networking and finding a communal safe space. An important face-to-face compliment to connections made via social networking. Hopefully the community in Long Branch can rally together during this time of trial, and use this tragedy to knit closer bonds. I think prominent New Jersey Pagan blogger Mrs. B speaks for us all when she says: “Our prayers are with you Sacred Circle.”

Just a few quick news notes to start off your Friday.

The Day the Lights Stayed on at Atlantis: London’s oldest occult bookseller, The Atlantis Bookshop, was apparently the only business unaffected when an explosion caused a blackout on their street. Could it be magic?

The Atlantis Bookshop

The Atlantis Bookshop

Geraldine Beskin, whose family has run the shop for the past 50 years, said: “The lights flickered, and in the streets I could see everyone else’s go out. But we were left intact. It must have been magic!” Staff at the street’s boutiques and cafés turned to Atlantis, a Mecca for mysticists worldwide, for candles to keep their shop-fronts lit.

Atlantis Bookshop is (in)famous for being a place that occultist Aleister Crowley would visit regularly, though the paper points out he died in 1947, precluding any role for Britain’s “wickedest man” in the blackout.

Pendle Witches House Discovered? England’s “Pendle witches,” victims of the most famous witch trials in that country’s history, have long fascinated tourists and historians alike; now some are claiming that an excavated 17th century cottage may have been the legendary Malkin Tower, where the witches were rumored to congregate.

Photograph: Lorne Campbell/United Utilities/PA Wire

Photograph: Lorne Campbell/United Utilities/PA Wire

“Some historians have speculated as to whether the cottage could have been the fabled meeting point of the Pendle witches. “This could well be the famous Malkin Tower — which has been a source of speculation and rumour for centuries,” Pendle witches expert Simon Entwistle told Reuters. He said the find, right in the heart of witch country was incredibly rare, and was made just a few months before the 400th anniversary of the infamous Pendle trials.”

Why the speculation on this particular cottage? Because a mummified cat was found in its walls. Author and Pendle Witch expert Mary Sharratt, author of the novel “Daughters of the Witching Hill,” noted to me that a “mummified cat was a common country charm to ward off evil so it doesn’t necessarily follow that cunning folk lived in the cottage, but it’s still an interesting discovery.” As for the Pendle Witches, they remain strange celebrities in England, with a statue of Pendle witch Alice Nutter to be unveiled in 2012.

Meet the (University of Massachusetts) Wiccan: University of Massachusetts paper The Daily Collegian does a paint-by-numbers “meet the Wiccans” piece on Laura Wildman-Hanlon, office manager for the school’s psychology department and author of “What’s Your Wicca IQ?” While a positive article, I’m not kidding when I say this is textbook “meet the Wiccans” material.

Laura Wildman-Hanlon

Laura Wildman-Hanlon

“Laura Wildman-Hanlon, a practicing Wiccan, is not your Hollywood witch. She doesn’t wear a pointed hat or have green skin, and she certainly doesn’t turn men into frogs. This she says, is not at all what real Wicca and witchcraft are about.”

Still, good on The Daily Collegian for spotlighting a local Witch who is stable, successful, and happy. Here’s hoping a few minds are opened in the process.

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

Greetings from San Francisco! I’ve arrived safe and sound in the Bay Area, and have received warm hospitality from my lovely hosts. While you’re reading this I’ll be immersed in the proceedings of the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting, but yesterday I had some unstructured time, so I thought I’d spend it by visiting the legendary Fields Book Store, a vital outlet for metaphysical and esoteric material since 1932. Braving the BART and buses, and with the help of some kind elderly ladies, I soon arrived at my destination.

Just beyond the Jade Skin Spa

Just beyond the Jade Skin Spa

David Wiegleb, current owner of Fields, who I’ve interviewed via email for a variety of stories over the years, was gracious and open about the challenges of running a metaphysical bookstore in the current economic climate. Over the years he’s seen the number of metaphysical bookstores in the Bay Area greatly contract, and works hard to make sure the legacy of Fields remains in the years ahead.

David Wiegleb and Fields Book Store

David Wiegleb and Fields Book Store

What really hit home to me, after I made a couple purchases, was how essential shops like Fields really are in building community. They are hubs of local information, a place to check in, and a provider of resources for those looking to connect. Today I’ll be exploring theory, theology, and the latest scholarship regarding our interconnected faith communities, but it’s good to remember where community is created. The people and institutions who make sure there is a community to discuss, debate, and study. If you’re in San Francisco, take the time to make a pilgrimage to Fields, you’ll be glad you did!

Minnesota newspaper the Star Tribune does a profile of local business Llewellyn Worldwide, the largest publisher of Pagan and metaphysical books. In the article owner Carl Weschcke addresses the recent collapse of Borders, which cost the company half a million dollars, saying they’ve managed to stay profitable.

Carl Llewellyn Weschcke with author John Michael Greer

Carl Weschcke with author John Michael Greer

The company has weathered the Great Recession despite losing $500,000 in the Borders bankruptcy, Weschcke said. He credited stringent controls put in place by his wife, and company president, Sandra Weschcke, for keeping the company profitable despite the Borders loss. Their son Gabe Weschcke is Llewellyn’s vice president. The company ended its 2011 fiscal year June with $15 million in sales. “For every change, there is opportunity,” Weschcke said. “The main thing is to recognize change and be flexible and say that change is not bad. The only things that are bad are taxes.”

The article also discusses plans to expand more into fiction, and the central role the business plays to metaphysical booksellers. Quote: “Joseph A. Amara, vice president of business development and an owner of Magus Books in Dinkytown, said that Llewellyn is “one of the great pillars” of its industry.” Considering how close-lipped the company is about its finances and internal workings (they wouldn’t talk on-the-record to me about the Borders closure), its nice to get some news from a company that’s so central to the Pagan economy.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

Open Hearth Foundation Signs Lease on Community Center: On Thursday, PNC-Washington DC reported that the board of the Open Hearth Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1999, signed a lease for a long-planned DC Pagan Community Center. This places the foundation ahead of schedule in its goal of opening a community center by Imbolg 2012 (February 1st).

An interior shot of the new space.

An interior shot of the new space.

“The property is on the second floor of a stand alone building at 1502 Massachusetts Avenue NE, in the Eastern Market neighborhood of DC. The space has two partitioned rooms that will be reservable, one of which will double as a library, a foyer area, full bathroom, a kitchen, and two refrigerators.  Build out is minimal and will include a fitting one room with book shelves, installing an electric stove, as well as installing a wheelchair lift. The two-year lease begins on October 1 and the official date the center is open for business is still to be determined. It likely will not be until November 1st or later.”

Stay tuned to PNC-Washington DC (aka Capital Witch) for future updates on the progress of this community center. As for the Open Hearth Foundation, they are in the midst of fundraising to meet their fiscal needs once the center is open. You can view their goals checklist, here, and the OHF business plan, here. Our congratulations go out to the Open Hearth Foundation on this major step forward!

Gender and Earth Based Spiritualities Conference: Today, September 24th,  is the 1st Annual Conference on Earth-Based, Nature-Centered, Polytheistic & Indigenous Faiths. The theme for the one-day conference in San Francisco is “Gender & Earth-Based Spiritualities,” and  speakers will include Vicki Noble,  T. Thorn CoyleJoi WolfwomynLady Yeshe Rabbit, Diana Paxson, and acclaimed social theorist Judy Grahn. The recently revamped PNC-Bay Area has an article up on the conference, interviewing Bay Area Pagan Alliance Board President JoHanna White, joi wolfwomyn, who is representing the Holy Order of the Epicene, and Yeshe Rabbit, Presiding HPS of Come As You Are Coven.

JoHanna White, Board President of the Bay Area Pagan Alliance

JoHanna White, Board President of the Bay Area Pagan Alliance

“The issue of gender inequality in the pagan community addresses a problem, to be sure: a problem of education,understanding, privilege, and biological determinism. But the issue that really showed itself to be the disease of which the gender issue is but one symptom was that of a lack of shared set of guidelines with which we can approach challenging topics together safely, compassionately, and mindfully.” – Lady Yeshe Rabbit, CAYA Coven

This event is being cosponsored by Circle of DionysosSolar Cross Temple, Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, CAYA coven and the Earth Medicine Alliance. You can learn more about the issues that led to this conference happening, here. I look forward to more reports and reporting from PNC-Bay Area on this event, and hope to get reflections from organizers after the fact.

Merlin Stone Memorial: A memorial benefit celebration for influential author and art historian Merlin Stone, who died earlier this year, is being held today, September 24th, in Clearwater, Florida (Facebook event link). Stone was author of the seminal book “When God Was A Woman,” and a successful Kickstarter campaign was recently held  to produce a memorial documentary project in her honor. Speaking at the event will be Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary.

Poster for the Merlin Stone Memorial.

Poster for the Merlin Stone Memorial.

“Merlin Stone was an artist, art historian, author, and visionary feminist. She focused attention on Goddess reverence of the ancient past. She gathered together Goddess imagery, symbols, and lore from many peoples and shared with others through her books, radio appearances, and other endeavors. She inspired the emergence of multicultural Goddess spirituality in contemporary times. Her memorial is an wonderful opportunity to celebrate Merlin Stone, her works, her life, and her legacy”

Other speakers include Z Budapest, Ruth Barrett, Barbara Walker, Susun Weed, and Margot Adler. The memorial will also include music by Hecate’s Wheel, Emmet Bondurant, and Ruth Barrett. The memorial, which is open to women and men, will take place 11:30 am – 3 pm EDT at Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, 1470 Nursery Road in Clearwater. Free, open to the public. Donations welcome, but not required. For those who cannot attend there will be live-streaming of Merlin Stone’s memorial. For more information, head to the official Merlin Stone site.

In Other Community News:

  • At PNC-Minnesota, Nels Linde interviews Roger Williams of Magus Books & Herbs on the store’s 19th anniversary. The secret to their success? “What you need is to be persistent. You can have all the talent in the world, if you are not persistent, you are not really going to make a difference.”
  • Writing for Patheos, Gus diZerega tackles the issue of mainstreaming modern Paganism. Quote: “I suspect we will see a deep differentiation within our community. There will be the “shamans,” those who work with little institutional connection and who have developed a reasonably reliable set of skills, be they healing, divination, something else, with which to interact with the spirit world for the benefit of others. I suspect they will do more psychological work than physical healing, but the best can do both. There will hopefully in time be priests tending temples, such as exists today in Japan. That may be a good model for what will develop here. And there will be a rank and file, people focused primarily on other activities, but hoping to live in better harmony with the more-than-human by some involvement in Pagan community activities and a more mindful living of their day to day life.”
  • This Sunday Raven Radio will be holding a live panel discussion between Folkish, Universalist, Moderate, and Tribal Heathens. Quote: “We have an outstanding panel.David Carron, Randolf Millesson, Camille Klein, Cynthia Norris-Brooks and Mike Smith. As fine of panel of Heathens as one could ask for, This show can and will touch nerves, but I expect all to act with Frith and do not disrespect OUR house.” More information can be found, here.
  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus discusses what is reasonable and what’s insane when it comes to religion. Quote: “Absolutism of one religious viewpoint over another is the real problem, not the assertions themselves.”
  • Scott at The Juggler watches the debut episode of The Secret Circle so you don’t have to.
  • Lupa on social justice and the shaman as intermediary.

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

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

Drew Jacob’s Heroic Path: PNC-Minnesota reports that Drew Jacob, former head of the now-defunct Temple of the River, Patheos columnist, and author of “Walk Like A God,” will embark on an over 3000-mile walk from Minnesota to Brazil in South America, a trip that Jacob sees as a spiritual calling.

PNC-MN Editor Cara Schulz, Drew Jacob, & PNC Contributor Diana Rajchel

“I decided to live the Heroic Life after many years of telling the myths of the ancient heroes. One day I realized that although their stories are fun to read or hear, they would be more fun to live. So I’ve begun to change my entire life to be able to travel and do great things.  To live the Heroic Life means taking action, living for high ideals, charging fearlessly into new and grand plans, building a name around your art or skill, and using your life to change the way the world works.”

Jacob will begin the walk in the Spring after months of training, including a martial arts intensive in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He said that “I believe in a life of travel, traveling freely and finding your purpose in life.  I believe in doing amazing things.” Drew Jacob will be blogging his trip and experiences, here.

A New Abraxas Appears: Abraxas: The International Journal of Esoteric Studies has released its second volume.

“Treadwells and Fulgur are delighted to announce the second issue of the esoteric journal ABRAXAS is now available to pre-order. As with our first issue, writers and artists have kindly submitted material from across the globe: Argentina, Australia, the United States, Mexico, Finland, Poland and the United Kingdom are all represented. Substantially larger than the previous issue, Abraxas 2 offers over 210 pages of essays, poetry, interviews and art, much of it published for the first time. Uniquely produced in a large high quality format, printed on a variety of papers, richly illustrated in colour and monochrome, and offering our first free audio supplement, we hope this issue of Abraxas will provoke and inspire.”

You can find a full list of contributors, here. The new volume of Abraxas will also be available at Seattle’s Esoteric Book Conference being held on September 10th and 11th.

Starhawk Says Thank You: As I mentioned previously the planned movie adaptation of Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing” has reached its first fundraising goal. Over $75,000 dollars was pledged towards making a professional pitch video to the major film studios. Starhawk, along with producers Paradox Pollack and Philip ‘Mouse’ Wood, have made a special thank-you video to mark the end of this first phase.

Pollack also recently appeared on the Paradigms radio show to talk about the film and the campaign. Future updates on this project can be found at their Facebook page, or the official project website.

More Community Notes:

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

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 Amazon.com’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 Amazon.com 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.

Resources

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.

Top Story: Chas Clifton gives us a heads up that the preliminary schedule of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s sessions for this year’s American Academy of Religion (AAR) Annual Meeting are now up. Taking place this November in San Francisco, California, the AAR’s Annual Meeting is the world’s largest gathering of religious studies scholars. This year the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group will explore themes of “West Coast Pagan Practices and Ideas,” “Pagan Analysis and Critique of ‘Religion’,” and “Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practices,” which is being run in partnership with the Religion and Ecology Group.

The joint session with the Religion and Ecology Group, “Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practices,” will feature a panel discussion with groundbreaking feminist theologian Rosemary R. Ruether and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk. In addition, other sessions will see paper presentations from Helen Berger, Christopher W. Chase, and Christine Kraemer (a department chair at Cherry Hill Seminary) among others. All that is in addition to the thousands of other presentations on just about every facet of religious experience you can think of. I will be there this November to cover the event, and hope to bring you special reporting, interviews, and access to a gathering few outside the world of religion studies experience.

In Other News:

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

Just a few quick news notes for you to start your Monday.

Asylum For Witch-Hunt Victims: A Nigerian woman in Britain is fighting deportation on the grounds that she will be hunted and killed as a witch in her country if sent back. Cynthia Owie came to the UK in 2008 with her infant daughter, shorty after the baby sadly contracted meningitis and died, now Owie says she is receiving death threats from fellow Nigerians accusing her of witchcraft in the child’s death and is seeking asylum.

Ms Owie, 33, said: “I have been threatened that I will be killed if I go back. I have been told I am a witch and murdered our daughter.” Ms Owie also claims she was treated “like an animal” at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, in Bedford, where failed asylum seekers are held before removal. Her cause has been taken up by West Ham MP Lyn Brown as well as members of the Ascension Parish Church in Custom House, east London, which has been providing Ms Owie with accommodation and support for two years. Rev Chris Hanson, the vicar of the church, took the case to the Home Office last week and said the community was praying that she would be allowed to stay. “Cynthia’s case is one in a thousand,” he said. “She has gone about trying to stay in this country in a God-honouring way. I am hopeful that the Home Office will understand her exceptional circumstances. When the baby was discovered as being very ill, she was accused of witchcraft. People out in Nigeria believe she brought on this illness and we believe if she is returned to Nigeria she would be killed.

If Owie’s plea is granted it could set a new precedent for asylum seekers to the West. Would more individuals from places like Kenya, Nigeria, or Saudi Arabia try to seek asylum to escape jail, abuse, or death? More importantly, would a stream of asylum seekers affected by witch-hunts and panics force Western governments to become more proactive in using their diplomatic muscle to end the worst abuses? What do we do when the men and women accused of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” are no longer “over there” and are instead at our doorsteps begging to be spared?

Metaphysical Store Vandalized in Alaska: A Pagan-owned shop in Soldotna, Alaska was vandalized with a large wooden cross last week, the first time such an act has taken place in the small town.

“An Alaska store owner says a wooden cross wrapped to the store sign in Soldotna was an unwelcome act of vandalism that goes against her pagan and spiritual beliefs. The Peninsula Clarion reported 45-year-old Rondell Gonzalez arrived Thursday at her store, the Pye’ Wackets on the Kenai Spur Highway, and found a makeshift cross about 7 feet tall attached to her business sign with plastic food wrap. Gonzalez says she believes in spiritualism rather than organized religion. She also said her father fought and died in Vietnam for religious and personal freedoms.”

The Peninsula Clarion interviewed Gonzalez, who called the action “pathetic”, and expressed surprise that the cross wasn’t on fire. You can find out more about Pye’Wackets at their Witchvox listing. The question now is if this was an isolated prank, pulled by bored teenagers, or if it signals something more sinister.

Sarah Palin’s Christianity: Speaking of Alaska and witch-hunts, religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman points to an emerging debate between former governor Sarah Palin and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend about the nature of religion within the realm of politics. It seems that Palin, in her new book “America By Heart”, criticizes John F. Kennedy for his famous speech about his Catholicism. This has lead Townsend, a niece of JFK, to pen an editorial in the Washington Post criticizing Palin’s views.

“Palin writes that when she was growing up, she was taught that Kennedy’s speech had “succeeded in the best possible way: It reconciled public service and religion without compromising either.” Now, however, she says she has revisited the speech and changed her mind. She finds it “defensive . . . in tone and content” and is upset that Kennedy, rather than presenting a reconciliation of his private faith and his public role, had instead offered an “unequivocal divorce of the two.” Palin’s argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.”

While I doubt Palin would blatantly call for a religion test to high office, her allies in C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation, who regularly engage in spiritual warfare against Pagans, and helped nurture her career, certainly would. The fact that two of the Republican front-runner for 2012 presidential elections, Palin and Mike Huckabee, have ties to Christian groups and figures (like David Barton, for instance) who would deny Pagans their basic constitutional protections is chilling. The more we insist on an unofficial religious tests in campaigns, the closer we get to real ones.

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

Just a few quick news notes for you this Saturday.

Subcultural Red Light Districts: The aptly-named city of Banning, California is looking to adopt changes to its zoning codes, targeting certain kinds of businesses.

“Under the proposed development standards, tattoo and body-piercing parlors, hookah and smoking lounges and businesses that specialize in fortunetelling or occult arts would be kept away from schools and parks, residential neighborhoods and businesses that sell alcohol and adult merchandise. Their hours of operation would be limited. Someone who wants to open this type of business in Banning would have to obtain a conditional use permit from the city. Such permits cost $4,779 and have to be approved by the Planning Commission.”

They are, in essence, working to make sure no-one opens a tattoo parlor, occult shop, or smoking parlor in any place where people might congregate. They can’t even open near an “adult” book shop! This is how you ban certain kinds of businesses without actually banning them, make the barriers so high few can surmount them. It remains to be seen if singling out such businesses like this is legal, or will hold up to litigation. The city council is scheduled to take up the matter on Jan. 25, 2011.

Teaching Vodou: The Lexington Herald-Leader interviews history professor Jeremy Popkin about his class “Haiti in the Modern World”, which includes a section on the religion of Vodou. According to Popkin, the class was a way for the campus to discuss and explore Haiti after it came to international attention during the January earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince. The paper also interviews Vodou scholar Leslie Brice about the oft-misunderstood faith.

There is a movement to create a centralized way to share information about voodoo. There is now a federation of voodoo practitioners in Haiti. But efforts to alter what for hundreds of years has been a religion passed down as an oral tradition have encountered resistance, said independent voodoo scholar Leslie Brice, who spoke at UK earlier this fall. Some of the resistance is because people fear the religion will be mocked by those who don’t really understand it, Brice said. Voodoo is often portrayed in popular culture, especially movies, as a singularly dark force, said Brice, who is studying to be a voodoo priestess. But, she said, it really is a religion centered on healing. When slaves were first brought to Haiti they came with “nothing except for what was in their minds and hearts,” she said. The religious traditions they brought with them were crucial to their survival, she said.

In a culture that often depicts Vodou as a detriment to Haiti’s future, and often only reports on it when something horrific happens, classes like these are vitally needed to educate people as to Vodou’s true nature and legacy. Classes like these, along with an emerging “Vodou voice”, may be essential to preserving this faith at a time when Haiti is in serious crisis.

Saving the Wicker Man Library: The Whithorn Library, the front of which was featured in 1973 cult classic film The Wicker Man, is in danger of being closed down due to government austerity measures. Jan Cole, and other campaigners, are trying to rally support to stop the historic library from being shut down.

The "Wicker Man" Library

“The library is part of the famous Wickerman Trail which popular with tourist fans as well as, surprisingly, stag parties who have been known to turn up in fancy dress. Occasionally fans will be seen to re-enact the film, or take a rubbing of the plaque outside.”

A sit-in protest was held last week, and there already seems to be some response from local government. Hopefully this site will be spared, not only because it was in a cult film that many of us love, but because libraries are wonderful things that should be honored and protected! You can keep track of the campaign at their official Facebook group.

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