Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Toward Better Pagan Books

Jason Pitzl-Waters has been contemplating the state of the pagan book market in the wake of commentary by Phyllis Curott. She attempts to blame the right-wing fundamentalist insurgency for slacking sales. Others blame the economy, Curott's own writing skills, and a tendency by many publishers to sell bad or simply grossly mislabeled books. I fall into that last category.

Let me explain the labeling accusation before moving on. As a Celtic pagan, I find that a majority of the books on the shelves claiming to be Celtic spirituality just plain aren't, at least not as I understand it. I'm told by these booksellers that Wicca, Feri, Arthurian fantasy, and offshoots of 18th-century mystical orders are Celtic paths. From where I sit, none of these demonstrate more than a passing familiarity with what we know of Celtic beliefs and traditions. On the rare occasion that someone has approached Celtic reconstructionism in a book, it's either wound up on a very small imprint or we get insulted in its pages. So for me, it's not so much a matter of whether I can buy the books as whether books about my faith even exist. I've become intimately familiar with ABEBooks and have gotten back in touch with my higher vocabulary skills as I plow through scholarly texts and write my own book in my head.

So, what do I want out of pagan publishers? Let's start at the beginning, with editorial integrity. If the author can't document it, publishers shouldn't let them claim it's something it's not. There should be no shame in admitting something is a synthesis of research and inspiration. It should be OK for the author to admit they thought up something while looking at the stars one night and found it worked. All traditions start somewhere. And age has nothing to do with acceptability in the eyes of the US government, if certification as a religious organization is a concern (as someone commented it would be to me once a while back). They're hard on anyone who starts a non-profit, especially one claiming a religious exemption. The number of frauds who've come along over time under that umbrella have burned them badly.

I agree with Pitzl-Waters' beliefs about what would be good to see coming out under pagan imprints, such as history, theology and issue-based writing. While I don't believe that all pagans should hold to identical politics, getting a pagan perspective on various issues would be a refreshing change from "become a Celtic shaman" books. More books that admit Wicca isn't the be-all and end-all of paganism would be a good idea. And alongside biographies of our bigger names, critiques of their work appearing on bookstore shelves might also be worthy endeavors. Nobody is or should be treated as untouchable. It's the sign of a mature tradition if it can look at its founders and admit their failings. It would demonstrate to newcomers that we're not all of one mind about someone.

I don't feel as if I pay enough attention to the pagan section of the bookstores to say much more than this. As previously noted, my book-buying focuses more on scholarly treatises with enough footnotes to choke a dissertation board. But I'd buy more from the "New Age" range if it touched on what I do. There's only so much I can do with Mara Freeman's texts before I retreat to Barry Raftery for a sense of realism.

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