Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wicca's a Religion, y'all! (Literary edition)

Over at the Llewellyn blogs, there's an interesting new article that's surely going to have quite a number of pagan bloggers weighing in during the coming week. I haven't done much in the way of Pagan news recently, so I thought this might be fun.

To understand the fuss, we must first understand a few things:


  • There's this organization called The Book Industry Study Group that comes up with something called BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communication) codes. These codes are used by publishers to codify their books. 
  • Book stores - like Barnes & Noble - have book buyers. In fact, most of them have a buyer and budget for each category. So, there's a buyer and a budget for gardening books, young adult fiction, religion, etc. 
  • While a publisher can recommend a certain code for a book, the book store can shelve the book wherever they think their customers are most likely to search for the book. So, if there's a book about kitchen witchery, it's most likely getting put in the occult/New Age/Witchcraft category instead of the cookbooks because that's where most buyers of kitchen witchery books will go a-searchin'.
All up to speed now? Good, let's talk MAJOR UPSET FOR WICCANS!
The BISG changed the BISAC code for Wicca/Witchcraft books into two separate categories. One, Witchcraft, will be in the formerly 'Occult' now 'Body/Mind/Spirit' category along with other occult/New Age/majjjikkkal books. The other, Wicca, will now be categorized in the 'Religion' category. 

CUE THE PAGAN OUTRAGE!!!!
Ok...Maybe not outrage, but annoyance and confusion.

This means that Wicca is now going to be considered a religion to book buyers. So, books about Wicca will be sitting alongside books about Christianity, Hinduism, Shinto, Taoism, Mysticism, Zoroastrianism, Demonology, Satanism and more. While books of spells, witchcraft, etc. will be categorized next to books on tarot, crystal magic, Divine Feminine, magick, and communing with angels. 

Honestly, this makes sense to me. Wicca is a religion in all senses of the word. It has a system of beliefs and practices that can be written down and seen as fairly universal by most adherents. It is considered a religion by the US military, the IRS, the Parliament of World Religions, and the Veteran's Administration. In 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs agreed to add the pentacle to a list of approved religious symbols after a legal battle lasting over 10 years in which we tried to get them to see Wicca as a religion. 

But, all of a sudden, book stores might be putting Wicca into the religion category and we're scared. Well, not necessarily scared as in 'I'm a teenage bikini clad brunette and this is Texas Chainsaw Massacre', but more along the lines of 'irrationally annoyed by the potential for something to happen that is almost guaranteed to not happen'. 

The debate that is about to occur in the pagan community is this... Actually, let me quote from the Llewellyn blogger's post:
Because if our books do have to be sold to the Religion buyer, and that person is someone of faith who is much more comfortable with buying Christian books than Wiccan books, or has no understanding of our categories the way current New Age buyers do, we will have problems getting our books into stores. If the Religion buyer has only X amount of budgeted dollars to spend across their entire category, they will choose to spend it on mainstream religions, because hey, there are simply more of them, and more potential for greater revenue. It’s a business, folks. And yes, I can see how that could be potentially disastrous for book sales. If we were pushed out of the chain stores, we’d still have independent metaphysical shops to fall back on, but not everyone has access to one and they operate on very limited budgets, meaning we simply wouldn’t be selling enough books to survive. Amazon and ebooks would become our main lifeline if chain bookstores stopped buying our books.
Honestly, I am left scratching my head a bit here. So, we know for a fact that for book stores - and by definition - the word 'religion' does not automatically mean 'Christian', right? We know for a fact that if you walk in to a major book store, you'll find books in the religion section ranging from, yes, Christianity to Buddhism to a host of other religions, both bigger and smaller than Wicca. I don't know about you, but when I read statistics on religion, Satanism and Zoroastrianism don't rank in the 'mainstream religions' category. And yet, books about them are also bought by the Religion book buyer and placed on book shelves.

We also know that Wicca has had its own aisle in the book store for quite a long time. Wicca has pretty much owned the New Age/Occult/Body, Mind, & Spirit category for a number of years. And, book stores can still choose to place books in the Witchcraft/New Age category if they believe that's where they'll sell best. And, honestly, they probably will sell best there. At this point, that's where the consumer has been trained to shop for them.

But, here's the flip side... Haven't we been fighting for religious equality, to be seen as just as valid and just as good as the big religions? When there's a problem at school with a teacher denigrating your child's beliefs, aren't we swooping in to the principal's office to explain our religion? Then, when a book store finally says, 'You know what? You're right. You are a religion. Welcome to the club.' We start second guessing whether it was a good idea to fight for that nomenclature.

The Llewellyn blogger was right. There's a huge battle in the Pagan community as to whether we want to be a religion. Many of the folks under our umbrella prefer the term 'spiritual' rather than religious. It's kind of like how many in the gay community don't care or don't want gay marriage, because we 'get to be different' from what 'mainstream society thinks a relationship should look like'. (To the latter I say, if you want to be in a 5-way relationship with consenting adults, go ahead. I'm not stopping you. I just feel bad for person number 5. Imagine being the fifth wheel. The lack of cuddling must suck.)

I think, however, that we should get what we ask for. We want to be a religion. I think it says something of supreme value for us to be shelved alongside those other religions. Books on Wicca have always been a steady, solid seller. There's no reason to think this change would do anything to hamper those numbers. Heck, they might even improve when the questioning seeker wanders into the Religion aisle hoping to find some guidance on their path.

What do YOU think? Would you support this change? Do you think it might hamper sales?

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

5 comments:

  1. I worked in Borders during my few years in retail hell, where I was in charge of the religion section.There's a huge of diversity of faith traditions on the same shelves and some may surprise you...but they are all religions.People used to whisper to me when they were looking for a book on Wicca, then take exception when I pointed them to the Occult/New Age section. Now, it seems, folks are upset because Wicca has finally migrated to the religion section where it belonged all along-(sigh)-You can't have it both ways.

    As a Wiccan who is a member of an interfaith ministerial coalition, I have to ask that since we've fought for so many years to be taken seriously and viewed as a legitimate religion, "What's the problem?" We're getting what we wanted,we're being gradually accepted and we're mainstreaming. The time has come, and this is a small token of proof.We're no longer standing out as the weirdos in the black capes and robes. The public may just realize that we wear ugly Bermuda shorts and are tourists when we vacation in the Islands just like them. They may begin to understand that when we go to the grocery store, we buy coffee and toilet paper and aren't there looking for a sale on Eye of Newt.

    Maybe the real problem with those who are upset is that we'll have to give up that shelf of 'Wiccan only' books that's a secretly smug source of pride for some... is that it? Do we think our books will somehow be tainted because they're rubbing covers with other religions now? Or that by joining the crowd, we can no longer be 'special'? If we believe any of this,then congratulations-we have become the type of elitists we've been accusing other religions of being for years.

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  2. It's kind of a non-issue for me as the brick-and-mortar stores disappear and so many are moving to eBooks.

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  4. Ever since I started on my Pagan path, I have had to look in two different places for books to explore my spirituality. I've looked for books in three different public libraries, and all three libraries had Pagan books in their Occult section and Religion sections. This isn't too much of a change for me, especially since I've started buying my books online after Borders went out of business. Don't get me wrong; it helps to legitimize our spirituality more. But who's to say what a legitimate faith is anyway?

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  5. I'm all for it! I think it's important for all the Christians who are looking in the religious sections to see books on Wicca. So many think it's a joke. I can only hope that when they ask a salesperson about it being there, that the salesperson will validate it's right to be there, rather than a shrug and a smirk.

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