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Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
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Embracing my Inner Goddess through Belly Dance
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Reverse Book Snobbery
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Article ID: 11980
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Lupa [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: November 18th. 2007
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A common sentiment I often see in conjunction with the "Real pagans don't practice magic" is your choice of the following comments:
"I don't need books".
"I've never read a book on paganism".
"Books are for beginners".
The general idea regardless of specific wording is that books, like magic, are a crutch, and are therefore useless except to the rank beginner.
This seems to be the inverse of the book snob, the person who is an armchair magician and specializes in telling people what books are better than others--without actually ever having practiced magic or used any of the religious material. (Book snobs come in flavors other than "pagan", too, but I want to keep my focus here.)
The reverse book snob thinks those who have books aren't doing it right, or who are less accomplished and mature than those who are book-less. Not surprisingly, the majority of book snobs seem to be newer to paganism.
In a similar manner to the way some newbies will eschew magic in an attempt to seem more advanced, book snobs in this demographic will often claim that they have managed to discover the secrets of magic and spirituality without ever cracking a book. (This sometimes leads to some rather....ah.... interesting claims of how their magic works and what it does.)
Another inspiration for reverse book snobbery is the plethora of 101-level titles that are on the shelves. There is some weight to this argument, at least more than the "You can't get anything out of books" argument.
If you walk into your local chain bookstore, chances are that their New Age/etc. section is going to be stuffed full of 101-level books. There's a reason for this. Chain bookstores cater to the lowest (though this shouldn't be interpreted as stupidest) common denominator. They need their books to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible in order to stay in business. This means that they're going to carry titles that will sell the most copies.
In pagan book terms, this means that the most basic books, the ones that even a curious non-pagan can understand, will have the best sales.
Unfortunately, the chain stores are the source of the most sales for a lot of publishers, pagan ones included. This means that they determine a lot of what will sell. I know that a lot of people call for intermediate to advanced books. I have, too. The problem with getting them out there is that there often isn't enough demand from the chain stores. And while some independent pagan and occult shops do have decent book selections, others are content to offer the usual 101 suspects and leave it at that.
This means that finding the more advanced texts can be tougher. Even when publishers offer them, the shops may not want to carry them. The Internet gives people a better chance at finding these books; the biggest booksellers online tend to have some of everything, partly because they don't have to worry about maintaining a brick and mortar presence.
Additionally, they can offer books they don't actually have in physical stock, and show information for books that they can then special order once an online order is placed. Still, figuring out what's out there beyond 101 and how to get it can take some work.
Reverse book snobs, as a general rule, don't like work (if it were otherwise, they might take some of the advice I'm about to dispense below, albeit with a potential grain of salt which is a good thing to have anyway).
So what's the best way to prove the reverse book snobs wrong?
Well, they say that success is the best revenge. While I'm not out to get revenge on anyone, I can say that the bulk of my education in paganism and magic in the past decade and change, other than my own personal experience, has been through books. The key is in knowing how to use books. They're not for spoon-feeding. All a book is is a method of conveying information.
For instance, I am a published author. I can't go around to every pagan and explain to him or her, over and over again, what I want to share. However, if I write a book and do it well, I can effectively share the information with anyone who reads the book. As with any information, though, I can't control what the person does with the material. It's up to the individual reader to determine the significance of the material and how it works in with his/her own experience and practice.
As for the assertion that advanced material can only be taught by other people, well what the heck do you think authors are? Strange fungi? (Don't answer that.) Just because something isn't taught in person doesn't mean it has no value. Granted, the method is different, and some people do seem to learn better through talking with other people. That doesn't mean that books have no value to anyone.
And for some people, they're the only available method of learning.
You can learn intermediate to advanced material through books, contrary to popular thought. However, the format is generally different. Basic books often skim over a series of topics, giving a basic overview of each.
Advanced texts generally go into greater depth on a specific topic, building on the basic material that's already out there. There's no spoon-feeding in advanced books; in my opinion, the best ones are those that present ideas to the individual and examples of how these ideas helped the author, then encourage the reader to use the ideas in her/his own way.
Additionally, there's the usual (almost clichéd) advice to look outside of the New Age section. I do believe there are plenty of good sources out there that aren't specifically written for pagans. Mythology, history, biology and psychology are just a few of the topics that pagans draw on. However, I don't believe this means that advanced texts written for a pagan audience are inferior, especially if they're well researched using some of the above sources.
As for how to find those advanced pagan texts? They're out there, but they're probably not on the shelves of the local chain bookstore.
Go to your local brick and mortar pagan shop (supporting small businesses is a good thing anyway as far as I'm concerned). Failing that, check online (again supporting small businesses if you can).
If you need some suggestions, here are a few links to reviewers and other resources:
http://www.facingnorth.net (a large collection of reviews maintained by author Lisa McSherry)
http://www.twpt.com (has a good bunch of reviews by both in-house and guest reviewers)
http://www.davensjournal.com (an extensive list of reviews by the webmaster Daven on a variety of books)
http://lupabitch.wordpress.com (my own book review blog)
http://community.livejournal.com/paganbooks/ (for those on Livejournal, a community for the discussion, review and promotion of pagan-related books)
That being said, I think it's a good idea to compare notes with other pagans, whether online or in person. Other people may have perspectives you haven't thought of, and not checking your experiences against those of other can lead to eventual delusion and detachment from reality.
However, I would definitely argue against the idea that there are no good advanced books out there, and I maintain from my own personal experience that an independent, self-driven solitary pagan can educate him or herself quite effectively using books. Granted, it's important to make sure you actually get out and do stuff, to include trying out ideas regardless of source, but reading balanced with practice and conversation can make for a healthy learning experience.
If you're more comfortable learning from other people, that's fine. Just don't consider yourself to automatically be superior to those of us who prefer to forge our own paths through reading and practice.
And if you're having trouble finding that book that you think should be out there, and it just isn't happening, maybe it's time to write that book*.
That's how I got started with my career as an author, and I think it's a good solution to the dilemma of "There aren't any good books out there!"
* If you're interested in writing a book, may I suggest the Pagan and Occult Author Resource Page at http://www.thegreenwolf.com/poarp.html ?
Copyright: Copyright Lupa, 2007. Please post a hyperlink to this page rather than copying and pasting the text. Thanks :)
Location: Portland, Oregon
Author's Profile: To learn more about Lupa - Click HERE
Bio: Lupa is a pagan, artist, and experimental magician living in Portland with her husband and fellow author, Taylor Ellwood. She is the author of "Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic", "A Field Guide to Otherkin", and is a contributor to the "Magick on the Edge" anthology. She is also cowriting "Kink Magic: Sex Magic Beyond Vanilla" (Nov. 2007) with Taylor. She may be found at http://www.thegreenwolf.com
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