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Son of Fame

There was quite a response to my recent post on the subject of Fame. It must be a subject that others beside myself have wrestled with. Certainly, a number of comments that were left on the original post made me look again at the whole subject of fame.

I think the trouble within the Pagan community is not so much that we have no one among us who can distinguish between fame and wisdom, as it is that we have not yet, as a religious movement, come up with any cultural norms that show us, as a group, how to figure that out. Because of that, I think many Pagans do have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with fame and popularity—and judging by the sheer number of comments on this post, it looks like I’m not alone in thinking that. As Chris said, “It is far easier to count the number of books published, to calculate the weight of a name you've heard many times in our relatively small lives than it is to recognize wisdom.”

But there is more to our (Pagan) cultural fascination with fame than just collecting autographs. Nettle’s words, for instance spoke to me. She wrote, “I want the famous pagans to like me. It's my grown-up version of wanting the teacher to notice how awesomely smart I am. But, really, it's the BNP's who have written or done something I like and admire that I want to pat me on the head and give me an A+.” On the one hand, I know exactly what Nettle means—I, too, get a giddy, little-girl kick out of being noticed and liked by famous Pagans (writers especially). But on the other hand, I think it’s significant that both of us value that kind of connection from the BNP’s we admire.—the ones we already sense have some depth, in other words.

Partly, I think this reflects the truth I heard Copper Asetemhat Stewart speaking, when he wrote, "neither books nor workshops have been particularly useful to me, but friendships have." For, no matter how much I may get out of a book or a workshop, it has been when I have built a relationship with someone whose wisdom and insights I trust that I have grown the most. On one level, yeah, there's that "inner squee" Nettle describes. Maybe that's there for all of us.

But it's not simply the "foam on the capuccino" (to borrow Chas Clifton's phrase) that is so attractive. I think we probably all hunger for real guidance and feedback from those we think are on the right track. And, you know, I'll be very happy to take a hug from Marshall Massey, if and when we one day meet face to face. Emotional and personal affirmations are important. But I think the affirmation I'll treasure most, in his case, will be that of a friendship with someone who cares about me enough to tell me the truth, and knows enough about Quakers to have truths I may need to be told.

Three hundred and fifty years have given Quakers a head start on traditions of what they call eldering--the nurturing of gifts and talents amid a spiritual community--and it's something more than affirmation, though that can play a role in it. There's also push-back, challenge, and a willingness to see reciprocity and mutuality develop over time. A quality of friendship that centers on doing something important, or understanding something important, fully and well. Together.

I want something like that in the Pagan world. I think my predilection for fame is not so much that I want or need to be taken seriously by every Pagan (or Quaker) that I meet; but I do want to be well known enough that I'll find a readiness to engage with me and with my ideas on the part of the "weighty Pagans" ( for want of a better term) I will meet.

I want my worth to be visible when it counts, when it can lead to connection. I don't actually want to stand on a pedestal, admired by all. But I do want to stand tall enough to make level eye contact with those I admire.

I want friendship. I want peers. And when Thorn writes that I am "already a BNP, at least amongst BNPs," she's hinting around the edges of what I think I'm most deeply looking for: to be visible as a potential peer and friend to those I think are perhaps farther along the path than I am, at least in some ways. To the degree that I am known to BNP's I care about, I'm rightly gratified. And hopefully, I have demonstrated that I am ready for a friendship that has a kind of reciprocity that a student/teacher relationship--let alone a fan-girl/celebrity relationship-- could never offer.

Reciprocity, challenge, friendship, growth. Not what I thought I was writing about when I first formed my ideas in my post.

Thanks again to everyone who commented. As I've written before, one of the things I value most about blogging is the quality of dialog it offers. I feel that I've learned something in this discussion, and that my ideas have grown and changed because of the comments left here (and on other, related posts since I made the original post).

I'm grateful for that. I think that that quality of connection and deepening is perhaps the real lure, underneath my less-mature cravings for celebrity.

Thank you.

Comments

Ali said…
Cat, I wasn't originally going to chime in to this conversation, since one thing I have noticed among Pagan writers/bloggers is how much we love to talk and speculate about how much we love to talk and speculate (about how much we... etc.) about ourselves. When deo and Mandy announced they'd "outgrown" Paganism, for instance, we all hopped right on board the trolly to spontaneous blog carnival--to talk about whether or not our community was healthy and tolerant, to a much lesser extent than the actual substantive philosophical concerns deo had raised.

Another reason I didn't want to throw my two cents into the ring, was because now that I'm dating Jeff, I find myself wrestling rather often with the fact that his blog is wildly more popular than mine. (This probably wouldn't even register as something to be concerned about, if our writing styles and subjects weren't quite so similar, and his blog a mere twelve months older than mine.) I'm not so much jealous... as perplexed. For me, the issue has been--as you point out in this post--a desire for peers, connection, and a sense of being recognized for the hard work and devotion I have committed to this path, rather than merely a desire to be admired by the biggest number of people.

Almost two years ago now, I wrote a post about "metaphors for love," inspired by Rachel Carson's book on intertidal life along the shorelines of the world. In it, I wrote about the palolo worms, that once a year swarm in masses to the surface of the sea and literally burst open their tiny bodies in a frenzy of fertilization... And yet, there has to be some sort of receptivity there, other worms also bursting open with potential, or else spilling your guts is merely an act of suicide, not connection, not creative union.

Sometimes, it's very easy to feel as though you are just one person alone, blogging into the void. Just one small voice in--let's be honest--a community that can sometimes sound like a blathering throng. As a No Name Pagan, you have no benefit of the doubt to rely on the way BNPs do; nobody will linger on your blog simply because they've heard you mentioned and want to see what the fuss is about. You just have to put your best out there, consistently--and it has to be authentic (or at least, the cynical part of me mutters, it has to look that way). Personally, I almost like the challenge of being a nobody-anybody-ever-heard-of... but there are times when it can feel isolating and inexplicable.

So I have hugely ambivalent feelings on the whole topic of "fame," and its relationship to wisdom. (Perhaps... it is not wise, after all, to be subtle and unobtrusive in such a noisy, desperate world...) To be honest, half the time I feel far too bitter to give an impartial response. ;)
Ali, to echo some of the feedback I received on the original post, you are famous with me. I don't agree, by the way, that your blog's and Jeff's are truly similar in your style. Yes, you are both Druids--and the sort of Druid who convinces me that, were I seeking to become Pagan as a newcomer today, I would become a Druid rather than seeking coven training as I did back in the way back. But I see each of you as unique--and among my favorite Pagan voices.

I have myself noticed that there is a dearth of Pagan writing that focuses on the subjective, the personal, and the internal... which is where religious experience actually occurs. Not all that long ago, Pagan writing seemed to be confined to 101 how-to books, with each new author trying to write the next Spiral Dance: a best-selling beginner book to some basic flavor of Wicca. How I longed to see books that went beyond explaining the Wheel of the Year or listing yet another magickal associations chart!

Then, in the 1990's, Pagan scholarship began to mature. Since then, we've seen wonderful books on the history both of pre-Christian paganisms and on the modern Pagan movement. And it has been wonderful... but a historical and scholarly perspective can miss the heart of the spiritual life, at the same time it feeds the brain.

Only a handful of Pagan writers have even attempted to write about what the experience of a mature Pagan spirituality is like; about what it means to try to follow this path, and let it change you. Phyllis Currot's Book of Shadows, in its best chapters... Emma Restall Orr's Spirits of the Sacred Grove. Nothing else in print comes to mind, frankly. So much is how-to books and those "books you've gotta write before the books you want to write."

But there is a tiny, tiny handful of Pagan bloggers who break out of that mold. You're on that list, and so am I. D. Miley of Silver Maple, Erik of Executive Pagan, and two Quaker Pagan bloggers, Hystery and Wallhydra... and that's very nearly all of us writing in this genre on a regular basis.

Much as I love blogs like Jason Pitzl-Waters' or Gus di Zerega's, they are doing something else.

There are good Pagan writers out there. But there's a huge shortage of Pagan writers who explore their spiritual development in a searching, reflective way. Which, frankly, is almost all I want to read of Pagan writing any more. (What do I care about another technique for casting a circle? I must know dozens!)

But we are the leading edge of the wave. We're writing--or at least I am--what I want to be reading, only nobody else has written it yet, so I have to... and we haven't got a big audience, both because the exponential growth of Paganism ensures that the market is always going to be for stuff oriented to the newcomer... and because there may always be a minority within any religious movement that are interested in going beyond mastering the superficial knowledge of a path, and finding out just how far into the Mysteries that path can take them.

I think that's one reason it doesn't feel narcissistic to me to be writing about this stuff. I think I see a need in a community I love--love deeply and desperately, and in part because it has people like you and Jeff in it--to encourage depth. I want to fight the tides that would turn us into yet another notional religion, all head and no belly chakra, all wind and no fire.

I want to create an awareness of a hunger that I don't think I'm alone in feeling. I sense that same hunger when I read your words, often. And I think our hunger can call into being what we need next: not just you and me, but our tribe, the Pagan community as a whole.

At least, that's the best I can do at putting it into words tonight.

But it's worth repeating: your writing is some of the best, most important writing out there. I depend on your honesty and your skill with words, and I admire your integrity and your center. I am excited to be able to claim to share a spiritual path with you.

And if neither you nor I have fame, I believe we do, both of us, have that something else that may actually matter more. A kind of weight.

You keep me company in my walk. You're my friend, my peer, and my companion, and just vitally important, I think, not just to me. Bitter, lyrical, rejoicing... I love all your voices, because they are all True.

(So there!)
Interesting posts and responses. I found myself thinking about the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) variations at play here. The desire for fame is, of course, different from becoming famous (and that in itself has many different meanings).

The desire could be anything from a wish for riches and notoriety (celebrity), selling sufficient books to put food on the table (something to which I aspire but which I am realistic enough to know will not happen through my writing), to a need for validation (that one's ideas mean something to other people, that one's experience and understanding of the world is shared by others).

I often write as a means of putting some order into my own thoughts. Much of that never sees the light of day. At least not directly. The books I've had published (and I cringe at writing that as it sounds so self-serving) were written because I couldn't find that book out there. Personal statements. That people buy them, discuss them, and occasionally write to me about them is always a source of amazement (and, yes, pleasure).

One of the big problems here is that, as was mentioned in various replies, the pagan community is scattered and relies on the written word. Whilst blogs partly fill the gap (substantially so in the case of blogs such as your own and Ali's), there is always a hunger for a book (pagans I remember reading somewhere are voracious book buyers and borrowers). Unfortunately, the publishing world is driven by commerce. Books are rarely chosen for publication on merit alone. Most publishers require a profit (although many publishers have yet to drag themselves into the 21st century where book production is so much cheaper). The point I am making (in my usual roundabout and highly parenthetical way) is that good, deep stuff is being written; it's just not getting to see the light of day.

We have had a long run of 'how-to' books that are pretty much all the same with a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon, especially people who don’t actually know what they are writing about. I gave up reading pagan books many years ago because there was nothing new being added to the commonwealth. Blogging has helped bring us the voices with new things to say, but we need more. Blogging is ephemeral. The posts and discussions that appear have vast potential for taking this further and for allowing the voices of those who have something to say to be heard by a wider audience. Books allow an idea space to breathe and wander; they allow a reader time to reflect at greater leisure.

If this brings recognition to an author there can be no doubting that this is gratifying. To know that people read your words (whether on a blog or in a book) and find something in them is to become part of a wide conversation. Even knowing there are people who disagree with what you say is fine (as long as they constructive about it). It all helps to increase our understanding. And for me it is that conversation that is important. Indeed, most of the writers that I know (and have known) enjoy the recognition they have only in as much as it allows them wider access to the great conversation – and having wider access puts them in a privileged position of having greater amounts of material on which to cogitate, giving their replies a deeper basis .

I have not the slightest doubt that you could write exactly the sort of book you mention at the beginning of the previous post, because the evidence is there. Equally, I have not the slightest doubt it would make you better known than you are and that you would handle that with aplomb. And the same is true of Ali, who I am convinced will be recognised in future years as a major literary talent (for her fiction as well as her non-fiction). As long as anyone remembers that it is the idea that is famous and not the person who managed to express it most clearly (unlike this rambling response) or first (unlike this rambling response), then fame can be seen for what it is.
Graeme--good points. The more I think about these matters, the more I think about the need to establish a non-profit, religiously oriented publishing arm for Paganism. I think of models like the Quakers' Pendle Hill, with their books and pamphlets, many available for free download, that keep quality Quaker books and ideas in circulation for ideas.

It would require that many of us Pagan writers who entertain thoughts of making money in a significant way (as the next Silver Ravenwolf or whomever) let go of those thoughts, and it would require the commitment of some significant care and discernment on the part of editors to keep such a project from becoming simply another vanity press.

But it's an idea that has been on my mind more and more over the past few years. Why don't Pagans have something out there to keep our best ideas and practices in print?
Hystery said…
Cat, your post on fame has been working in me, making me realize that for me, so much of my own desire for public acknowledgment emerges from loneliness. My desire to write comes from the sadness of having the thoughts and words grow heavy in my mind with no one to hear them. There are so few Quakers and so few Pagans. Often, those of us who choose these paths are just a little bit "off" in our view of the world. We are misfits, geeks, nerds, dorks, brains. Perhaps some of this desire for fame comes from wanting, finally, to be one of the cool kids, to finally not be the weird kid that can't seem to make their world fit into the other kids' world. But I think it runs even deeper than that. There is such a thing as cerebral lovemaking- deep, contemplative, and mystical conversation. This is how we know God in others and how the Divine in us is magnified. But first we must be heard.
Nettle said…
One of the things that's missing, as you say, is the "ordinary human paganism" narrative. I recall reading about the whole deo and Mandy thing that Ali references and being struck by how immature their initial reasons for following this path were - they wanted special access to the door of hidden secrets, and were disappointed to find just a bunch of human beings on the other side of that door. That seemed like a very young attitude to me, so it's no wonder they saw themselves as "outgrowing" it. I don't think it's an unusual route for people to take when following this path - I meet these kinds of young people all the time, or see them online. They want to be transformed and look for someone to do that for them, which is where the worst of the BNP thing comes into play. Every lonely talented kid wants a Mr. Miyagi to take an interest.

I think the antidote to this is just as you say, "writing that focuses on the subjective, the personal, and the internal." Honest accounts of what it's like to live this every day, to follow the wheel of the year, to have a personal practice - not "how to's" but "what then's." The really egregiously bad of the "pagan 101" books always leave me thinking that there's no way this author really practices that. Improbable daily practices, circle or ritual scripts that are either logistically impossible or stupidly awkward, bizarre costuming choices, really bad herbalism - I can tell what won't work from years of having tried all sorts of different things, and lots of the stuff in the worst 101 books just doesn't work on a practical level. But someone without all that, presumably the audience for a 101 book, would think that's really how it is. If there was some expectation that the author would tell on a personal level about how it works in the real world, so much of that silliness would drop out (not all of it - there's a market, after all - but it would be easier for a newbie to sift through.) Don't just write about how to cast a circle (argh) - write about that time you did it this way with those four good friends and the cat knocked over the incense and Jane flubbed her line and yet it all worked out and the magic happened anyway. Or, even, that it didn't, because sometimes it doesn't. I was so excited when Phyliss Curott wrote "Book of Shadows" because I hoped to see more like that, but it just hasn't really happened. I was hoping to eventually get sick of the (honestly told) "witch memoir" as a genre. Maybe someday...
Sandy said…
Cat,
The following really spoke to me:

“I want friendship. I want peers. And when Thorn writes that I am "already a BNP, at least amongst BNPs," she's hinting around the edges of what I think I'm most deeply looking for: to be visible as a potential peer and friend to those I think are perhaps farther along the path than I am, at least in some ways. To the degree that I am known to BNP's I care about, I'm rightly gratified. And hopefully, I have demonstrated that I am ready for a friendship that has a kind of reciprocity that a student/teacher relationship--let alone a fan-girl/celebrity relationship-- could never offer.”

I have been trying to articulate this for a while now and have not managed as eloquently and honestly as you did here.

I’m not a kid (at 40, I haven’t been for a while now!). I’m not new to paganism. My practice is strong and consistent. I teach, I learn, I practice. But… sometimes it feels like I do it all in a vacuum. I go to workshops, but not many festivals – my early experiences with them weren’t great and now, as an mother/wife/employee/priestess/teacher/blogger there are only so many hours in the day, and so many days I can take off work.

So my question has become, how do we connect to make these friendships? I read the blogs of many people I’d like to invite out to lunch just to talk to and hear from, but I usually don’t comment or engage them. I’m not sure how to proceed. It feels awkward jumping in with no introduction.

Thanks for voicing this need. I think it’s one many of us share. I have often asked “where are my peers? I’d really like to talk to them!”

Sandy
Elysia said…
OK, this comment is going to be a little biased, since I work at Llewellyn. But please try to see where I’m coming from anyway!

Lots of people here have commented that they have given up on books, as they are all 101s, how to cast circles, etc. Please don’t give up! The future of Pagan books really depends on the consumer. I could list several books that I personally took a chance on contracting because they are great, great books, beyond 101 (and I will list some of them at the end of my post). And how do they do? Usually, dismally. First, because they are not BNPs on the stature of SRW, the chains do not take significant quantities to begin with; second, the audience that they are writing for –advanced Pagans like yourselves – are no longer buying books because they feel they’ve already read it all. So they don’t know that yes, we are printing the lyrical, the internal, the personal! It is seeing the light of day! I really hate using other people’s forums as an advertising venue, but at the same time this discussion has led to this in a very concrete way. I really want this advanced audience to connect with these post-101 books, or else other “similar” books will be looked at with suspicion by our sales department, if they are published at all. I know Pagans are voracious readers, I just wish everyone would take a chance on a few new books every year so that we can keep it going! (What enables us to print unprofitable books right now, you may ask? SRW and other 101 books that keep us afloat, so I remain grateful for those, too.) Don’t worry, eventually I will get my own blog and hopefully I can keep everyone more updated about what is “worth reading” for advanced/non-beginner Pagans.

As for a non-profit publishing arm, it’s an interesting idea. However, keep in mind that "non-profit" does not mean that the company can operate at a loss. You still need some income to keep the lights on unless the entire operation is volunteer-run (and even then, the printer needs to be paid). In a religious non-profit, where would this money come from? Donations from our scattered “congregations”? Raising the cover price to the $60-$70 mark as academic publishers do? And more to the point, why would we need this when there are plenty of for-profit Christian book publishers who still manage to produce high quality books for their readers of all levels and persuasions? Again, it all comes down to supporting the type of book you want to see.

So, here is my short list of titles (with authors) that I would recommend to people as “beyond 101.” Not all of them are super deep though some certainly are; some are sweet and poetic, others are mundane and useful. Read product descriptions and customer reviews and make your own decision. I am not including links because that would be too commercial, even considering the circumstances. : )

Sacred Paths for Modern Men – Dagonet Dewr. Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces – Stefani Barner. Goddess Alive! and Goddess Afoot! – Michelle Skye. Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries – Ruth Barrett. Ritual Craft – Amber K. One Witch’s Way – Bronwynn Forrest Torgerson. Magic, Power, Language, Symbol – Patrick Dunn. Walking the Twilight Path – Michelle Belanger. ChristoPaganism – Joyce and River Higginbotham. Shadow Magick Compendium – Raven Digitalis. Spirited – Gede Parma. Make Merry in Step and Song – Bronwen Forbes. The Goddess is in the Details – Deborah Blake. The Circle Within – Dianne Sylvan (I would especially recommend her writing and her blog to you, Cat). Sacred Land – Clea Danaan. The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction – various authors.

Next year I have even more goodies coming, including a lot of intensely personal workings, a new edition of Modern Magick, an autobiography of Oberon Zell Ravenheart, and much more. Thank you all for your unending patience with regards to this post. : ) If you want to take this up privately, I’m at elysiag – at – llewellyn – dot – com.
Anonymous said…
Cat,

I have been burning the candle at both ends recently, but tonight it was for sheer pleasure - reading your entire first post, and then the second. Some struck me earlier that Rebecca said: is it possible that pagan issues with fame are, to some extent, the shadow side of our issues with secrecy? It seems to me that there is some important kernel of truth in that, which I cannot put my finger on, but strikes home.

Perhaps it is because one of the first draws into pagan mystery comes from the secrecy - the dark of the night luminous threshold that allows entry into the unknowable, indescribable presence of the sacred. And in paganism, at least, just as in many other religions, one needs a guide - a teacher who can open the veil not so much through their own power, but because they inspire to reach out further than we thought we were capable of.

And once you've been beyond into that magical world, once you have cemented a path of your own, you then seek to validate it through the experience of others. And not just validate, but question and pour over in detail, with individuals whose map of the beyond is perhaps equal or better than your own, so that you can feel there is a real geography, not just something that is inside your own imagination. That requires the kind of fellowship and deep dialogue that is rare.

I have been reading lately of Socratic dialogue and how terribly important it is for ideas to go beyond the capacity of one individual. Like science, new ideas need to stand on the shoulders of others in order to overcome the individual languages and assumptions about what the world "is". We all carry our own blinders. And it is only when we discover them, through a dialogue with a friend that is willing to talk to us again, and again, that we can see those blinders.

And so just as the secret and mystery protect us enough so that we can dare to go into ourselves and allow ourselves to feel or contact the divine; so an emergence into the world of fame, where our ideas are weighed by those who have explored a similar landscape to ours can further greater geography, finer understanding, deeper nuance.

Isn't that what you aspire to do? I applaud you for it. I often find you accomplish just that on the pages of your blog, even though I lurk and don't come here often enough. Thank you for reminding me and the rest of the Weavers about it. It brought me great pleasure, joy and opened a few windows as well into a world of bloggers/thinkers I rarely visit. And I did feel, for an hour or so, that I was having tea with you, deep in conversation. That that is the magic of good writing.

Lu
As a small publisher (well, I'm 5' 8") I know about the non-profit thing. My authors get their royalty and I sell books. These don't move in vast numbers, but that was never the point.

It is a matter of scale and intent. Most conventional publishers are businesses (that is, their bottom line is profit rather breaking even and they have to put out books that bring in the money). They are also, for the most part, work to a 19th century model. In some respects this is good. High quality editorial standards, maintained by editors who know the subject and know the business, are vital if quality is to be mainteined. But in other respects the 19th model is bad - not least when it comes to expensive, large print runs, warehousing and distribution costs, overheads, and so on.

A quality book can be set up and made available for sale for less than $200. Even though the unit cost for such a product (produced through print-on-demand) is higher than mass printing, the overheads are minimal and they are for more environmentally friendly.

Add a website and someone prepared to do the administrative work on a regular, part-time basis, the rest *can* be left to committed volunteers who can assess manuscripts and make editorial suggestions/decisions.

The sort of books you produce like this are never likely to make it into the big chain bookstores, because many of them refuse to deal with small presses, although if you find a good distributor and the demand is there, the problem is not insurmountable. It is more a case of whether that is a route you wish to take. Indie bookstores and word of mouth are all it takes with my books in the UK and I am working on making them available in the US and Canada. If you start in the US where you have a much larger market, word will get round.

In the end it depends on whether you can gather a group of people prepared to put in the time to get such a venture off the ground and then keep it going once launched.
Hystery said…
Oh, I don't like the feeling I get when I write this but still it must be said by someone so I might as well be the one to say it. Paganism does not require instruction or teachers or special knowledge of hidden mysteries. At least not all of it. My Paganism requires entirely different things and yet, without question, I am still a Pagan. It always really bothered me when someone asks "Are you a Christian?" and what they meant was "Are you a Catholic (or a Baptist or a Nazarene, etc.) They ignore the vastness of Christianity with all its intellectual and historical diversity. For them their own denomination is the standard for all other Christians. I wish Pagans weren't guilty of this but they are. Wicca is merely a portion of Paganism. It is not Paganism itself. One of the reasons there is a lack of depth in the Pagan publishing world is that those of us who fall outside the definition are all but completely ignored and our perspective invalidated. Much as the public is being fooled into believing that "Christian" means evangelical, the public is also being lulled into believing that Paganism is similarly monolithic.
Anonymous said…
Cat writes:
"There are good Pagan writers out there. But there's a huge shortage of Pagan writers who explore their spiritual development in a searching, reflective way. Which, frankly, is almost all I want to read of Pagan writing any more. (What do I care about another technique for casting a circle? I must know dozens!)"

This is interesting to me. I have had a growing interest in blogging, and I've had occasional bursts of inclination to write about my own spiritual experiences, as a Quaker Witch Priestess of Persephone with strong Buddhist leanings, as a (former) partner of a transperson. The sticking point has usually been, "but no one would be interested in reading about that." A variation of "no one will like me", I realize!

OK, and another sticking point: I did write a novel, retelling the story of Persephone (yes, in the first person!), and found pleasure in that, and in sharing it with friends who were all enthusiastic. But the sheer weight of time and work involved in trying to get a publisher interested -- or even an agent -- led me to let it rest in my hard drive. This kind of writing -- ANY kind of writing, if it's good quality -- is hard work, and time-consuming, particularly if it isn't one's first job.

So if one wanted to dip a toe into blogging, how might one get started? Beyond the obvious of getting an account and just plunging in! Or is it that simple (thought not easy) and obvious?

Marilyn
Wendi Wilkerson said…
At the risk of seeming unfriendly, I would like to posit what I see as one of the major problems with pagan publishing: Scholarship. We certainly need pagans who present both their ideas, the applications of those ideas, the process of acquiring those ideas, and most of all the constant self-reflexive evaluation of their ideas. But we also need writers who incorporate strong scholarly research from non-pagan sources into these books. If you've ever looked through the index of a book published by Llewellyn, Shambala, and numerous vanity presses, you will see that each of these books reference each other and then supplement this recycled research with their own insights. But with rare exception- most notably Ronald Hutton and Margot Adler- none of these authors have ever investigated academic, secular sources as are available in anthropology, folklore, sociology, and history. I believe that if pagan authors would incorporate more original research from these sources into their new work, the work produced would be possessed of tremendous ideological and spiritual weight. These weighty tomes would do much to mitigate the problems of pagan fame, because the quality of scholarship would help determine whose insights could and should be taken seriously.
orawnzva said…
As others have mentioned, there are a lot of dimensions to "fame" in the pagan community, more still now that so much conversation happens online. Sandy's words about connection really resonate with me. We want to connect with people who inspire us, and so often the people who inspire us are authors or bloggers who inspire many. Where is the line between wanting to be seen to exist in that space and wanting to be "famous"?

I suppose, as a blog reader, the best way to make a connection is just to start commenting more regularly...

By the way, I just finished writing a science fiction musical with Quaker and pagan themes, and I'd be really interested in your comments on it.
T. Thorn Coyle said…
I think a lot of us are trying to be thoughtful on a regular basis in our writing. I think a lot of it just gets missed.

Things are changing and deepening. Many of us just gave up on reading other stuff because of the shallow phase. There is more critical thinking going on now than there has been in a long while. More is needed, that is for certain.

Fame is just a tool. Acceptance/recognition or not is really in the stories our egos tell.

For example: I recently wrote about shaking the Dalai Lama's hand as he came to the soup kitchen I work at. It is a story that, were I someone like Starhawk, would likely have been splashed all over the net. Instead, the folks who read me regularly enjoyed it and that is it. I could feel slighted, but why? The story was recognized by the cadre of my readers. Just because it was not recognized outside of that, or by Big Name Pagan Bloggers, for example, doesn't mean it wasn't a story worth telling.

My musings are mostly prayers and reflections. That is all. Some folks like them, some folks don't. That is why variety exists in the world - and part of why I am a non-dualist polytheist. The connective flow is in the multiplicity.
dmiley said…
This is now the third time I’ve tried to write a response to this post and my words continue to be less than adequate.

I think it’s fair to say that you have produced less and less on pagan themes over the past year. I mean about your own personal paganism. The Friends seem to be able to share each other’s Light in a way that speaks to you and a way that does not seem to exist for you in pagan communities. Heck, you’re even reading the Bible in order to be able to share that experience with Christian Quakers. This is from memory, but I think you said something about how Friends spiritually play with the Bible and tease out the Light in their own unique, but shareable way.

There are really two forms of light – emitive and reflective. Famous pagans are just big emitters. Others can see themselves and others in that pool of light they emit. Thorn is nearly incandescent in person and it is absolutely no wonder at all to me that the Dalai Lama sought her out. Fame isn’t really good or bad, in and of itself, but it does matter how it’s used.

I see that you want a spiritual space where everyone is both an emitter and reflector. And that probably exists in some pagan communities in secret. Our individual paths may grow strongly, but our groups are separated for the protection of the members. While it was not safe to be a Quaker in George Fox’s day, it is safe to be a Quaker in the US now.
Time and the Bay Area may make this better, but it is not quite time yet. So perhaps living in that public pool of Famous Light for a little bit is going to be the only shared experience that many will have.

So, we are imperfect and many of us can trace our paths to two middle aged nudists in post-WWII England. And we are hidden except for those incandescent moments. My own heart is with the pagan community, flawed as we are, perhaps because there is this sense of spiritual possibility and perhaps because of the true risk (as you yourself have written) that comes with that possibility. What I haven’t heard in a long time Cat is what you love about the pagan community.
Many, many thought provoking comments! I'll probably fail to address them all as well as they deserve, but I do want to at least try.

Hystery, I like what you say about an essential loneliness driving a lot of us, of "the sadness of having the thoughts and words grow heavy in my mind with no one to hear them," definitely spoke to me. There is a loneliness, or a loneliness countered, at the heart of so much of our spiritual lives, isn't there? We hunger for communion: with one another, with the trees, rocks, mountains, and valleys, with Spirit everywhere. And part of that communion is the giving forth whatever we have within us to give, not just taking in whatever is there for us to receive. For whatever reason, human beings seem to be built this way: we need a dialog. (I need it from the trees and stones, not just from people; but I certainly need it from people, too, and from people who have felt what I have felt and seen what I have seen.)

Maybe it's something about being a social animal. Maybe it's deep calling on height. I don't know. But it's powerful, and I like you naming it. I need dialog, because I'm lonely when I don't have it. And I need dialog about all those crazy, heavy thoughts that some folks, at least, seem to have no use for at all.

You're right: we geeks of the religious world--not just Quakers or Pagans, but those who insist that religious live be experienced rather than by rote--can get very lonely indeed. We are thinly spread, I sometimes thing--even amid religious communities that ostensibly center on religious experience and communion. Getting notional, reverting to religion by rote, is very comfortable for many people. Or so it looks from where I stand.

One of the things that can drive that retreat to empty forms, or even to pretending to forms that a writer has never personally tried (I think you're right about that, Nettle!) is the corrupting desire to be famous, a celebrity. I know some of us Pagans are writing books for the sake of a kind of career development, motivated by a desire for money or for adulation. Not that that's always toxic, and I'm not saying Pagan writers or publishers should not be paid for our work. But when the secular demands of career development or the marketplace come first, there's always the danger that the writing being produced will not be what Spirit is prompting, but instead considerations that have very little to do with spiritual encounters.

It's also true that it's easy to take potshots at Pagan publishing. Partly, that's a result of some really horrible stuff that has been produced, yes, including from publishers like Llewellyn! But in fairness, I know that Llewellyn has a good reputation among Pagan writers for the work they do to support their authors with book placement and publicity--something not all publishers are willing to invest in. Yes, that's a marketplace value... but again, it's not that money is always toxic, just that it gets to be so when it's not balanced by spiritual promptings, at least once we're talking about the heart of the lived religious experience.

It's also not reasonable to expect any one publisher to be all things to all people. Elysia, few of the titles you list, or the authors I know from the list you gave, have any real appeal to me. I'm not so interested in flavors of Paganism--Paganism within the military, Paganism mixed with Christianity, Paganism in song, etc--as I am in the experiences of Pagans who have struggled with how their path has interacted with daily life for them. What has worked, what has been difficult, where the rubber meets the road? You see, I've got a working Pagan spiritual life, so I'm not looking for more techniques; I'm looking for companions along the way.

This is not to disrespect the titles or authors you list. They are no doubt good and worthy,and likely not 101 books. The titles I've picked up over the past few years that did go beyond the 101 level were, as I suspect many of these titles are, good, even important books: Paxon's Trance Portation, Grey Cat's Deepening Witchcraft, Brendan Cathbad Myers' The Other Side of Virtue, and more.

But they are not satisfying that need I'm finding unmet in myself, and, I think, in my community.

Few of us are yet aware of that need, I think. Fewer are writing to meet it. But it's not necessarily the fault of publishers like Llewellyn that the books and the market aren't there yet. I think it is coming to birth in the near future--but it may not be a Llewellyn project when it does, just as Harper Collins does not publish the same kinds of materials that Routledge or Pendle Hill do. There's nothing wrong with specializing in that part of the market that can crate a healthy profit margin... or in that part which cannot, or not as reliably.

I disagree, incidentally, at least to a degree, with Wendi Wilkerson regarding the state of Pagan scholarship. However, since the Nature Religions Scholars list became part of the mainstream academic AAR, I think that the burgeoning field of Pagan scholarship may be hidden from most Pagans' eyes in the somewhat specialized world of academic publishing and scholarship generally. We no longer have a clear and visible bridge between thoughtful, well-read laymen Pagans and Pagan academics--not since The Pomegranate became a peer-edited academic journal (with a price tag to match!). Again, I think that's on the verge of being born, and I look to writers like Brendan Myers, Gus DiZerega, and Chas Clifton to lead the way. I'm hopeful.

I'm hopeful generally, in fact.

But out of time to address comments I very much want to speak to, by Marilyn, Thorn, and David.

More later... thanks to everyone who has posted--and to those of you who have made it this far reading comments, too!

The state of
T. Thorn Coyle said…
Cat, I like what you write about lonliness. I think that lonliness is what drives a lot of blogging (particularly what I call the "hypyer confessional blogosphere"). We tend to be isolated in our lives contemporarily, and even the ways we seek to connect can end up enstanciating that isolation. We write on the web instead of having tea with each other...

And my first, unpublished book, was about observing the 40 days of Lent as a Witch in order to make peace with my upbringing. It was filled with theology and emotional experience. Editors loved the manuscript but every publisher still passed - not thinking there was a market for it. And one Pagan agent said "I can't place memoirs by non-famous people." despite the fact that say, Kathleen Norris was not famous before she wrote her spiritual 'memoirs' Dakota or Cloister Walk.

The books you want to read may eventually be able to get published but right now it is hard to convince publishers of that.

(As for ideas about non-profit
publishing, most authors - Pagan or otherwise - make a pittance and do not make a living off writing.)
Elysia said…
I don't have time for a long or very thoughtful comment right now, I'm afraid... just that I really liked the "sitting down for a cup of tea" comment from Thorn. What we are talking about here would make such a great in-person conversation, but (for me anyway) it's so hard really converse in the cyber world. It's not spontaneous enough, you don't get any interplay of emotions, we are distanced by time and location...

But I was just thinking this would make for a great interactive panel discussion at PantheaCon. : ) Who's in?
More asides to Lu, Orawnzva, Marilyn, Sandy, Thorn, and David:

Lu, as always... you say the kindest things. Thank you for being my friend.

Orawnzva, I am quite impressed by the scale of what you have accomplished in your Quaker Pagan science fiction musical. It's a very ambitious project for the Web--and a good reminder to those, like me, who most easily express themselves in words that blogs are not the be-all and end-all. Some forms of art don't fit into words alone. That doesn't mean that the Web can't be a good tool for building and creating an audience, though--vlogs and You Tube channels are a good sign of that.

I'll admit, though, that your musical did not speak to me. Unfortunately, because I do admire your intention.

I'm a words girl, I guess. Reading and writing are in some ways more natural to me that talking, so traditional blogging is a tremendous gift to me. (And to my friends and neighbors, who might otherwise never get a word in edgewise!)

Marilyn writes, "if one wanted to dip a toe into blogging, how might one get started? Beyond the obvious of getting an account and just plunging in! Or is it that simple (thought not easy) and obvious?" And Sandy notes that, "I read the blogs of many people I’d like to invite out to lunch just to talk to and hear from, but I usually don’t comment or engage them. I’m not sure how to proceed. It feels awkward jumping in with no introduction."

On the one hand, I'm with Elysia: I'd love to talk with you all at "a great interactive panel discussion at PantheaCon," or (even better) over a glass of mead or cup of cocoa and the embers of a late-night bonfire. Alas, my time and budget for travel is quite limited, so I have to settle for virtual cocoa and bonfires most of the time in my connections with people who don't live near me.

One good thing is that blogging friendships, formed by exchanging comments on one another's writing, have had a tendency to become deeper and long-lasting for me. I have had the good luck to meet face to face some of my favorite online Quaker and Pagan friends, and a lot of the awkwardness of trying to strike up a conversation with a stranger vanishes, because we have already spoken about things we care about so much.

It can feel a bit awkward to simply leap into an ongoing discussion on a blog, but I encourage people to do it. There's this idea I've heard called gastblogschaft among Pagans. (Perhaps "hospitality" is a close analog among Quakers, especially among Christians.) Those of us who subscribe to this concept take seriously the idea of welcoming visiting voices to our online "homes"; we want to get to know you.

As for starting a blog, on the one hand, yes, it is just as simple as starting to blog. On the other... perhaps that is a blog post worth writing in and of itself. I'm going to give it some thought, and perhaps post some suggestions in the near future at Metapagan.

Incidentally, even if you are not someone who feels comfortable blogging or commenting on others' blogs, Metapagan would be very glad to get your input on blog posts you find elsewhere that make you think, and that you enjoy. (Details on how to post to Metapagan are listed at the site.)

Thorn: I want your memoir! And if the world of traditional publishing does not see a value in it or a market for it, perhaps it is the kind of work that needs us to develop an alternative press, whether through self-publication, as Graeme speaks of, or through Pagan POD alliances like Asphodel.

I think we may be able to do something better than that--the absence of all quality controls in self-publishing and even a service like Asphodel does not recommend those books very highly to readers. It may be possible to do more. I hope it is, because I think there may be a lot of work that I personally want to read that will not be available to me unless we figure out how to do this.

Again, I reflect on the way that a Quaker classic, like the pamphlet Four Doors to Meeting For Worship stays in print for decades. Some Quaker books go out of print only to reappear as free downloadable pdf files. Now, while that's not a recipe for profit, it can be a model for certain kinds of publishing, that will never have a wide audience, but may have a lasting appeal.

I see no reason Pagans cannot create a non-profit editorial board to manage such projects, in the same way we created institutions like the Pomegranate Journal and Cherry Hill Seminary.

We may do so one day.

Meanwhile, there are the blogs.

David--as is often the case, your words are challenging me to think deeper. You are right: the lion's share of my blogging about personal spiritual experience is either set in the past or is about my Quaker life. I think there are developmental reasons why this is so. (I'm an old Pagan, but a young Quaker, and so I have more open questions I'm sorting through in my Quaker life than in my Pagan mindset.) But it is worth asking. What is it I love about Paganism?

This may also be worth a post of its own. I'm going to sit with it, and see if it is.

Many thanks (again) to anyone who has read this far. Thank you for driving back the loneliness of writers and seekers both, by sharing ideas in a back and forth with me and each other.

Blessed be.
Erik said…
I've been thinking some more about this whole fame thing, and I think I've discerned something about myself (so thank you for that!).

In my comment on the first fame post, I talked about needing validation, the reassurance that I'm not entirely talking through my hat that comes from engaging in conversation with weighty folks such as yourself. But there's another part to it that I didn't really twig to fully until last night, as I was re-reading both threads and sharing them with my wife.

I want to be, not necessarily famous, but recognized for Making A Difference. (Similar, perhaps, to the aspiration that Ali mentioned at the top of the thread?)

You touched on this in the first post, the whole "your book changed my life" thing - you'd think I would have recognized this impulse sooner, inasmuch as I basically stated that intention in my very first post ever... but better late than never, I guess. I don't think that my blogging is entirely motivated by this desire (it's a lot cheaper than therapy, so that's a factor as well) - but I now see traces of it in much of what I have done in the online pagan world in the last decade.

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