We might be moving…

religious booksI read something from a publisher’s website yesterday afternoon that I found very interesting. Most Pagans are familiar with Llewellyn Publishing. It’s the largest provider of Pagan/Wiccan/New Age books out there. It may also be the longest-running publisher for books of this particular niche, but I don’t really know. In any case, a blog posted by one of its Acquisitions Editors, Elysia, talks about some interesting changes coming to a bookstore near you.

I used to work for B. Dalton Booksellers back in the mid-1990s, which was owned by Barnes & Noble until B. Dalton went out of business just a few years ago.  So I’m vaguely familiar with how the book ordering process goes and how stores receive their stock.

Here’s the deal: Publishers use something called a BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) code to keep track of how different genres do in sales and provide an organized means of ordering and distributing different titles and topics. This is similar to the Dewey Decimal system in use by libraries. Similar, but not identical, because it doesn’t track an individual book title. It tracks where a particular book would be shelved according to its content.

Until very recently, books on Wicca have been categorized  in the “New Age/Occult” section but recently have shifted to being categorized in “Religion”. Basically what this means is that the bookstores may now begin shelving books on Wiccan religious beliefs and practices in the same section as books on Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on. It is still up to an individual store where they will choose to shelve the books, as the BISAC code is not something seen or used by anyone outside of the publishing or corporate book-selling industries, but it is interesting to know about. It will depend on individual companies and how they feel they will best serve the needs of their customers, whether or not the BISAC suggestions are put into use, but they are now in place in the religion section.

I have mixed feelings about this, personally. On one hand, I am happy to see Wicca moving from a section that still shelves copies of The Necronomicon (which should only be in the fiction section, near the books by H.P. Lovecraft!) alongside titles by Doreen Valiente, and books by Sylvia Browne next to books by… well, anyone other than Sylvia Browne as I personally think her books should be relegated to the recycling bin… But on the other hand, I am uncomfortable with the split continuing to grow wider between “Wicca” and “Witchcraft”. Because, it isn’t books on Witchcraft that will be moving out of New Age into Religion, only Wicca and perhaps some other Neo-Pagan religious topics.

One issue I have with this is from a bookstore buyer’s point of view. Books are budgeted and ordered according to how much funding is allotted to a particular section. Wicca is still small potatoes compared to a multitude of other faiths. A bookstore chain only has “X” amount of dollars to spend on categories for books, as handed down by their corporate office based on numbers and popularity. Yay for the business side of bookselling. Let’s say just for ease of calculating and giving an example, a bookstore is allotted $500 dollars for purchasing books in the “Religious” category, and $500 for purchasing books in the “New Age” category. Well, based on sales and popularity, bookstores will cut a huge chunk of that allotment and give it to books for Christianity, perhaps something like $350. That only leaves $150 for books on other less popular religions like Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Wicca/Neo-Paganism. After meeting the needs for their business and customers by providing books on various religions, let’s say only 1/5th of that $150 remaining goes towards books on Wicca. That means you’ll see maybe four titles, two copies each in the religion section for Wicca/Neo-Pagan religions.

Now, the same allotment is given for books in “New Age” but this gets to be divided up among Astrology, Witchcraft, Angels, Tarot and Divination, and anything else you tend to see in this section, but not Wicca because Wicca is not part of this budget any longer. Is this really an improvement?

A second issue I have with this, and I go into more detail (a lot more detail) about my thoughts on the whole “Is Wicca the same thing as Witchcraft?” thing in another section of this blog. But suffice it to say, I personally don’t separate Wicca and Witchcraft and I don’t believe they should be separated in the mind of the general public. Wicca IS Witchcraft. The hang-up over semantics seems to hinge on thinking that Wicca only describes the religion, or a particular religion, while Witchcraft is only a practice.

Well, think of it like this: If you aren’t doing your religion, aren’t practicing it, then are you really able to consider yourself part of that religion? I think not. You cannot call yourself Wiccan and not DO the Witch’s Craft. If you aren’t doing it, then you aren’t being it.

Now, I don’t think that Wicca or Witchcraft and MAGIC are the same thing, but Witchcraft is more than just Magic. If you only practice Magic, then you are a Magician, not necessarily a Witch. Wicca is a ‘magical’ religion. A huge part of the entire belief system IS the understanding and acceptance and PRACTICE of magic, maybe not the practice of spells or organized ritual magic, but the understanding that the Witch (Wiccan) is in charge of his or her own life, thoughts, and has the means to seek to change his or her circumstances, WHICH. IS. WHAT. MAGIC. IS. 

Secondly, but no less important in keeping them from being separated is this: Wicca is the legally recognized and protected form of Witchcraft being practiced as a religion. I have a huge problem with people who say, “Wicca isn’t the same thing as Witchcraft.” because that sort of statement is what will be picked up on by those seeing to disavow, prosecute, and persecute people for practicing Witchcraft and seeking to claim it as a religious belief.  I have personally faced religious discrimination from different jobs because I refused to tuck my pentacle necklace in, or not wear it while other employees were permitted to display crosses, crucifixes, or the Star of David. I was evicted from an apartment on trumped-up charges of ‘improper use of the residence’, which the rental office never sufficiently explained, because a maintenance man came in and saw a large pentagram in holiday lights on my living room wall. This was after Wicca was legally recognized as a religion, but before this push for separating the two terms really began to happen. Because I used the word “Wicca” to define and describe my religious beliefs, my supervisor had to relent and could not take action against me as an employee for wearing my necklace. Also, while I was still evicted, because I didn’t have the money to go through the litigation or hire a lawyer, the complex did not place an eviction on my rental history, nor did they try to claim I owed the remainder of my lease. It was recorded as simply breaking a lease with no financial repercussions, which still was crappy because it put me into a position of being homeless for a few months, but better than it could have been in the long run had it been listed as an eviction.

So yes, it may be a good thing that Wicca is now being seen by the rest of the world as a valid religion. But it’s not a good thing if people continue to push for separating it from Witchcraft.

Of course, all of this may end up being a moot point, as it’s up to bookstores to determine where they will shelve titles. In the near future, you may have to step past a person perusing shelves in search of a bible or such and pull down a copy of Drawing Down the Moon or a title by Scott Cunningham or Raymond Buckland. Oh, the interesting conversations that may start…

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