A few points on pagan writing style

There’s a standard formula for what constitutes a “good” Wiccan book that I’ve seen in various Internet postings and at least one pagan gathering in the past decade. It is as follows:
1. Must have a long bibliography. The more pages of the bibliography, the higher the estimation.
2. Must be historically accurate in whatever form of historical accuracy is presently trendy.
3. The denser the prose, the better.

There are exceptions, but they pass quickly. I’ve barely heard Phyllis Currott’s Book of Shadows: A Modern Woman’s Journey into the Wisdom of Witchcraft and the Magic of the Goddess mentioned in the past three years and there was a time where I heard someone praise it daily. But for the most part, this “heavy academic” book-type is perceived by certain old-school pagans as preferable, especially as they grouse about the poor quality of the Wicca 101s that seemingly gush forth from what few publishers still print occult books.

I suspect, when publishers insist that the 101s sell better, they are telling the truth but are too polite to say the entire truth.

These dense semi-academic Wiccan books that some clamor so loudly for? They’re damn near unreadable.

Writing quality matters. A good writer can be understood. A bad writer does a lot of things, one of which is refusing to “dumb down” the writing for the sake of some academic self-perception/illusion. One of the dirtiest secrets of the Ivory Tower is that academic writing is some of the worst in the world.

I bring this up because I just read a doctoral thesis with lots of historical accuracy and a huge bibliography. I know I’m supposed to say it’s excellent. But truthfully? I found it unreadable.

I think relatively few people think I’m stupid. Most people know that I finished my bachelor’s degree (and had to fight for it) and that I do have three years of graduate-level education as well. I do know a little bit about academics and academic writing.

So I’m going to risk accusations of heresy and say the following:

  • Write to be understood. It matters much more than writing to show off smart ideas.
  • A long bibliography is not nearly as meaningful as a short one that is actively sourced in interesting ways. I’m even going to say this: I’m totally fine reading a book without a bibliography if it’s interesting and original.
  • If we write about present-day practices instead of spending so much effort dwelling on the past we might not always get caught with our pants down when it’s time to move forward and adapt.
  • Now I’m hoping that the next think on my review pile is something I can read.