The Search For A Better Pagan Book Market
Yesterday’s post about Phyllis Curott has got me thinking about the current state of the modern Pagan and occult book market. Curott claims that shelf space is shrinking due to pressure from cultural conservatives emboldened by political power and recent evangelical best-sellers. This theory isn’t shared by many Pagans who believe that the shrinking of sales and sections is due to a bad economy and a glut of bad books.
So if the problem is that we have a glut of bad books what do we do about it and what kind of books do we want to see line the shelves? The two main gripes I hear are that there are too many “Wicca 101” books and spell books. Often modern Pagans claim they want a “Wicca 202” (or “Wicca 333”) and similar “advanced courses” in practice. But are harder instruction manuals really what we want or need? Has our focus on presenting lesson plans and ritual structures of differing levels really what our evolving community should expect from it’s authors? The current trends in Pagan publishing seem to be exhausting themselves and readers both young and old seem ready for a new focus in what books we want to see.
What follows are areas I want to see Pagan publishers and authors explore. I invite you to give your own thoughts, ideas, and critiques. This should be a broad conversation held in many different forums and venues. Feel free to cross-post this (or at least the gist of this) to your own community, blog, or journal. If we truly want to see change in the books we buy we have to be proactive and decide what form that change should take and ask for that change in a clear, direct manner.
I think one of the best things the book “Triumph of the Moon” did was fill me with a hunger to know more about the evolution and history of modern Paganism. How did all the different traditions of Wicca get started? Who are the key players in the development of modern Asatru? What was the genesis of the current festival culture? What about the schisms, debates, and changes that have raged over time? I want to read about this! I want to see Pagan writers documenting our history. A fuller understanding of our roots will bring more depth to our faith than a hundred advanced ritual primers. There is some progress here. Pagan scholar Chas Clifton is finishing up a historical study of American Paganism called “Her Hidden Children”, there are rumors that Ronald Hutton may be working on a history of Druidry in England, and Isaac Bonewits has books on the history of Druidism and Witchcraft coming in 2006. But there is so much more to be explored, and a lot of fine material that is no longer in print.
Our elders are dying off. As modern Pagans we don’t fear death, we embrace it as part of the natural cycle of life. But when these elders and crones leave us they often leave their stories untold. Or told to only a select few who have no inclination or time to make a document of their history or teachings. Without these narratives our history can be fraught with ignorant revisions, and can warp our own understanding of our past. Good autobiographies need to be written about the founders of modern Paganism. Elders and crones alive today should look to their legacies and consider writing the story of their life. Modesty is a fine thing, but we are at a critical juncture where these stories can have a great impact on our future.
I think that for those who hunger for depth in modern Pagan publishing this is a crucial area. Books that go beyond “we believe in a god AND a goddess” and analyze our belief systems, cosmology, the nature of our god(s), interactions with other faith traditions, and interactions with scholarship and modern cultures. There has been some groundbreaking work on feminist thealogy (Christ, Caron, Starhawk, Raphael), Jordan Paper has a book out called “The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology”, and Michael York has an excellent book out called “Pagan Theology: Paganism As A World Religion”. This is just scratching the surface and there are so many vibrant voices in our family of faiths that could start to explore these topics.
These are just three ideas, starting points on a journey to a more robust Pagan publishing market. Despite the doom and gloom of some I see a lot of hope on the horizon. There are great leaps in the publishing of academic Pagan Studies, and more books are coming out that talk about different manifestations of our culture, our interactions, and our ethics.
So what do you want the Pagan shelf at your local bookstore to look like?