No decent book is written in isolation. Sure, we have the image of the author, sat in their ivory tower away from the concerns of the world, creating something pure, untainted and inspired… More often than not, what that gets you is something pretentious and out of touch, or some self-indulgent piece with masturbatory undertones.
Paganism is a living tradition and an evolving community. To try and stand alone from that and write about it is insanity. Most Pagan authors, though, are wise to this, and you’ll see the flow of ideas across books, blogs and real world communities. To be a capable Pagan author is to be in your community by some means or another. Listening. Sharing. Exchanging ideas. We don’t always agree – nor do we need to. Nature is full of diversity, and Pagans do not need rigid consensus in order to function. Whether you agree with other people or not, it is important to know what the arguments are, what is out there already, what is old hat and where the work needs to be done. One of the things I love about Patheos is the way it encourages communication between thinkers: not just Pagans, but across the spiritual traditions. We have much to learn from each other.
Writing as part of a community helps keep you honest. It’s easy for the lone author to think that their one take sums up what everyone does, or that their experience is universal. If you spend time with actual Pagans, you rapidly learn that asserting ‘Pagans do this thing’ is hazardous, unless you’re talking about how much we debate and disagree. Perhaps the only thing you can safely say all Pagans do is develop opinions and not take kindly to being told they should believe otherwise!
One of the other great advantages of writing from within a community is that you do not set yourself apart as some kind of all-knowing guru. If you’re always reading other people’s work, always taking onboard other views and ideas, then you remain a student. In terms of personal life and growth, being the eternal student is a far better way to go than thinking you know enough to stop. Every time we sit down to study someone else’s wisdom and insight, we undermine ego and self importance, we remind ourselves there is so much we do not know, and that keeps us alert, alive and wide eyed.
I’ve had the pleasure recently of being involved in a community writing protect. Paganism 101 is a Moon Books community effort. It is an introduction to Paganism, written by 101 Pagans. There’s wonderful diversity and individuality in the writing, and because it speaks in so many voices, it is like no other introductory book I’ve ever seen. I know there are other multi-author Moon Books titles on the way, and I’m excited by the way in which this breaks down the authority of the lone author and distributes ideas and responsibility across a wider section of the community.
While I’m passionate about authoring, I worry about the relationship between authoring and authority. I worry about the ways in which we sometimes abdicate our power to those who write compelling books, using their words rather than finding our own, and feeling obliged to do things as described by the Big Name Pagan rather than using that as inspiration to jump in and find our own, personal way of doing things. Community books are a way of challenging that whole approach, and I hope there will be more such projects in the future.