Archiving Our History Before We Lose It

Part of my journey to the midwest included a really fascinating chat with a friend over the decades of archives he is combing through from his parent’s coven. The sheer number of documents he is dealing with is astounding. The proper cataloging and archiving of all this material will take a significant amount of time. As he showed me old newsletters and notes from the early 80′s, I couldn’t help but think about all the other boxes, file cabinets, trunks and drawers filled with important bits of our history around the country.

We need a proper archive of our history. A library dedicated to preserving old documents, and making our history available to not only academics, but to give ordinary Pagans a sense of their roots. It will take dedicated space and trained archivists and librarians. It will take people concerned with not only preserving the delicate paper from mold and decay, but also people capable of maintaining a digital archive that can be accessed by Pagans and academics from around the world. Not just for one tradition or branch, but for all of us: Witches, Pagans, Druids, Heathens, Occultists, etc…

We have no time to lose in this. Our elders are passing. Documents are being lost, either because we deem them unimportant or because relatives are not aware of their value. Our past is literally slipping through our fingers. And if we don’t know our past, we are doomed to repeat those mistakes. Archiving our past is a vital component of understanding ourselves and moving forward into the future.

Right now there is one simple way to help archive the past. Donate to the New Alexandrian Library Project on a regular basis. If you can spend $8 for Netflix each month, you can send them $10 each month towards building a proper Pagan library dedicated to preserving our history. It is not just building the library that needs funding, but they will need funds to keep the lights on and other day to day expenses. Consider it your offering to our Pagan ancestors, a small act of monthly sacrifice to acknowledge the past, and build on the future.

Once it is built, please consider donating any archives you may have to NAL’s care, or willing your papers to them in the event of your death. Don’t let them mildew in an attic or risk ending up in the trash. This project is a vital investment in our future, ensuring our work and faith are not lost to history, and a guarantee that generations to come shall not forget us.

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About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Diana Rajchel

    The history is important, SO important. At the same time, some of those elders and those just a step down in age are part of the reason we don’t have much recorded history in Paganism. There are people who are very active in the community who only want to have an oral tradition, and who believe any kind of infrastructure within Paganism works against the true Pagan movement.  There are also those that are so heavily invested in secrecy, and in being fringe – on the outer edges of culture – that any kind of accounting or accountability outside a specific tradition outright horrifies them. Those conversations have made me feel especially awkward, like I’m dealing with the Pagan-historic version of a racist Grandma. Many of these people came to Paganism when it was new, and counter-cultural rather than sub-cultural, and were full of critical thought and insight that built the movement. But eventually they rested on their assumptions and now stick to them; it’s part of the reason there are a few with a really condescending attitude towards the young people with newer ideas and different experiences in Paganism.

    Both philosophies, the secret and the oral history tellers, appear to want it both ways, though – they are also the first ones to complain about the lack of financial support or emergency care within the Pagan community, seemingly not connecting that to the necessity of infrastructure and RECORDED history. Oral tradition did not work out well in Islam – the Q’ran is supposed to be an oral history only and there’s no way that hasn’t been corrupted – and most of us that study history pretty much recognize  this as a formula for “lost civilization.” Yet somehow these objectors just can’t put it together that in this situation, you just can’t have it both ways.

    • Star Foster

      I am giving you a standing ovation in my pajamas.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

       Secrecy is largely implied by certain terms, such as ‘mystery tradition’ or ‘occult’.

      In the early formation of modern Paganism, the occult traditions of the 18th and 19th century were obvious influences.

      I have to wonder, do we still need those secret systems? I have nothing to hide about my faith.

      • Adrian

        In order to bring the ways of Light and Love and Life to the peoples of the Earth, our secrets are slowly becoming secrets no more, and it is good that this is so — for the age of shadow and secrecy is passing. Yet the sharing of our ways needs always to be guided by wisdom and by love. Let our rites and our mysteries be kept sacred. Let no one defile our worship or our heritage. For the defilement of our ways is an honor loss to
        self, and for the Craft. Lady Galadriel

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

           I’m not huge on the ‘white lighty’ stuff, and have more than a passing acquaintance with Shadow myself.

          I just don’t see Shadow and secrecy as synonymous.

    • Christine Hoff Kraemer

      Generally I agree with you that recorded history is very important. But I’m much more interested in interviewing elders than trying to archive their personal papers, some of which contain material they took oaths to keep secret. That material is their private business, and no one has to lay their diaries and journals open to the public in the name of “history” unless they want to.

      I think it is misleading to think of elders’ reticence as a commitment to “secrecy.” The fact is, oathbound information is private, intimate, and extremely idiosyncratic — deeply personal. Very little of what remains secret is relevant to anyone but the individuals involved. It isn’t anyone’s responsibility or obligation to publicly archive accounts of their most intimate experiences — especially when there are so many living elders you can still *ask* about how the movement evolved. That kind of primary source is much, much more useful and much more potentially relevant to the movement as a whole.

  • HRM

    While I agree that preserving our history is vital, I must take exception to the false logic of “If you can spend $8 for Netflix each month, you can send them $10 each month towards building a proper Pagan library” – If I have in my budget $8/month for Netflix, it is more likely that sum represents the total entertainment budget for my family, and there is quite likely not an additional $10/month to manifest itself for an additional donation to a cause, no matter how worthy it may be. Even were I to end the $8 “donation” for Netflix, that would still not be making available the additional $2 you claim is there to be given to NAL.
    As someone on a fixed income with no discretionary income for the niceties of life such as donating in support of NAL, I find it insulting (and frankly, bullying) for someone to intimate otherwise.
    For those who are in a better financial state than persons such as myself and my family, THOSE persons who are able and willing to financially support the NAL, wonderful, great, go for it. 
    But don’t try and shame others who for whatever reasons simply do. not. have. $10.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

       So drop Netflix and give $5 a month, and save yourself $3.

      It is a simple matter of priorities. What is more important to you, easy access to entertainment or paying for something that has great potential social value but something you may well never use?

      I don’t see any guilt choosing one way or the other (personally, I don’t have £5 a month I am prepared to spare for this project at this moment in time), so long as you make the decision honestly.

  • VorJack

    We need a proper archive of our history.

    You know how to push my buttons, don’t you?
    As a trained archivist, let me make it clear that on principle I’m opposed to the proliferation of small repositories.  They force researchers to run hither and yon, and they compete for the small pool of grants and donations.  But in this case, I think you need the outreach center and the centrality of your own place as much as you need the storage space.

    So, yeah, I don’t have much – like I said, I’m an archivist – but I’ll chip in.