As Pagans, we are often told that our religion is somehow "illegitimate" or "not a real religion". To combat this we write articles to newspapers, or magazines, particularly around the time of Halloween, to try and get people to understand the difference between stereotypes and real people. Where are these stereotypes coming from? In some places it is obvious – the Bible that says witches should be killed and the portrayal of humpbacked old women with warts on their noses. But perhaps they're also coming from places that we would not normally think of, places that aren't as obvious in their discrimination.
I'm in the broomcloset out of necessity. My parents don't believe that Wicca is a real religion and since I'm still trying to convince them otherwise, I'm not going to announce my religious affiliation to the world. But I'm someone who likes to fight for a cause and I still want to be connected to the community and help out. So while brainstorming ways to help from my limited state, I found one area that I've always been uncomfortable with: searching for Wiccan books among all the New Age paraphernalia. Sure, you can find interesting and helpful books in that section, but why aren't Wiccan books in the Religion section with other religions? The answer is brutally simple: because Wicca isn't considered a "real" religion. Although Wicca is recognized in the US as a religion, bookstores have yet to realize that and move the "unreal" religion books to the "real" religion section.
And then I started thinking: what is the effect of this placement on the mindset of my parents? They already believe that Wicca is not a religion, and seeing Wiccan books in the New Age section only enhances that. They don't even have to think about it as an alternate Path. Instead of thinking: "Oh, Seawitch's into a different religion. Maybe we should see what it's like." They can think: "Seawitch's into some weird New Age stuff. It's probably bad, and since it's not in the religion section, she must be wrong – it's not a real religion. It's just some brain-washing cult." They're not even motivated to look at the truth behind their assumptions. As long as there are supposedly unbiased sources that agree with them, they don't have to research their ideas. Granted, this is probably an over-simplification of my parents' thoughts, but the basis stays the same. Bookstores are supposedly unbiased. Their categorizations of books are therefore unbiased. So if a book is in a certain section, it deserves to be there.
Picture a neutral individual looking through a bookstore. She comes to the Religion section and is browsing through the shelves. What does she see? Books on Christianity. Books on Judaism. Books on Islam. What about books on alternative religions? Well, possibly she comes across some, but the majority of the books are on the world's monotheistic religions. Now let's say that our neutral friend had never heard of Wicca or any other Pagan religion. As she continues to browse through the book sections she comes across the New Age section. There she finds books on Wicca and other Pagan religions. "Oh," she thinks "they're in the New Age section because they're not real religions. They're just strange ideas someone decided to write about." And from then on – or at least until someone enlightens her, if she's not too stubborn – this individual thinks that Pagan religions are not real religions. It might be subconscious but it's still there, and will definitely affect how she thinks. If alternative religions come up in discussion at some time, she might tell people that they're not real religions. And if she's talking to other individuals like her, who don't know much about it, then quite possibly they'll believe her and the number of people who believe that Pagan religions are not "real" religions will grow.
That's why I'm writing to the bookstores to ask for Wiccan books to be put into the Religion section. Even though we may not think of bookstores as a prime target for discrimination, they work on our subconscious. Little things do matter, and sometimes little things can turn into something big. So I'm calling on all of you who read this to help me in this project. Write a letter to the bookstore you frequent the most, and tell them your opinion. You don't have to write about Wicca, which is what I'm doing. Write about your own Tradition, or Path of Paganism. If the bookstores receive enough letters they might actually change the book placement, and not just ignore them as something coming from picky individuals.
As an example, here is a letter I'm sending to all the bookstores I regularly visit:
To whom it may concern,
I am a frequent customer at your stores and love the selection of books. However, one thing that has caught my attention is how you categorize certain books. I am concerned that the placement of books on Wicca fosters wrong impressions and would be grateful for a change.
As a customer at your stores, I know how large your selections of books are. Your prices are often the lowest and your employees are very helpful. I love shopping at your stores and would not want to take my business elsewhere.
My concern is the placement of books that teach and explain the Wiccan religion. Currently, these books are put in the New Age section, and not the Religion section, although Wicca is a legal religion. I feel that this sends a message to people who shop in your store that Wicca is not a religion, as it is not in the Religion section. Therefore I am writing to request that Wiccan books be moved to the Religion section.
Wicca is nature religion that celebrates the turning of the seasons. Our holidays include the solstices, equinoxes and the points in between. Though a religion with no central leadership, there is one main principle that Wiccans adhere to. It states "harm none", saying that you may not hurt any living being – yourself or others. Many, but not all, Wiccans view deity as one Creator that has two main aspects, a Goddess and God.
A legitimate religion in the United States and other countries, Wicca has a place in the US Army chaplain handbook. In Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains, there is a section on Wicca, part of which reads, "With respect to attitude toward military service, Wiccans range from career military personnel to conscientious objectors. Wiccans do not proselytize and generally resent those who do. They believe that no one Path to the Sacred is right for all people, and see their own religious pattern as only one among many that are equally worthy. Wiccans respect all religions that foster honor and compassion in their adherents, and expect the same respect. Members are encouraged to learn about all faiths, and are permitted to attend the services of other religions, should they desire to do so."
To further validate Wicca as a religion, there have been many court cases where Wicca has been ruled a religion. Two of these are: "Judge J. Butzner of the Fourth Circuit Federal Appeals Court confirmed the Dettmer v Landon decision (799F 2nd 929) in 1986. He said: "We agree with the District Court that the doctrine taught by the Church of Wicca is a religion."" and "In United States v. Phillips, (42 M.J. 346) in 1995) the concurring opinion by Judge Wiss stated: "First, Wicca is a socially recognized religion. It is acknowledged as such by the Army. See Dept. of the Army (DA) Pamphlet 165-13-1, Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains (April 1980), revising A Pamphlet 165-13, "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains" (April 1978). Further, it is acknowledged as such in courts of law.""
My solution to this problem is to move Wiccan books from the New Age section to the religion section. Since Wicca is a legitimate religion, this would be the correct placement for them. I hope that as I continue shopping at your stores I will see Wiccan books moved into the proper section.
A/N: If you do write a letter, please sign your legal name, not your fictionpress name. It'll sound more convincing that way.