Thursday 1 August 2019

Q&A Pagans Against Plagiarism

Boudica Foster is a co-founder and member of Pagans Against Plagiarism. She is co-owner of The Wiccan/Pagan Times, has written articles for Llewellyn’s almanacs and has six published non-fiction books on spells and reiki topics, one published fiction novel and is working on the second book in the series. Boudica identifies as a witch and has been Pagan in some form or other since the late 1970s.  She has been an active member of the pagan online community since the early 1990s.

How did Pagans Against Plagiarism come about?
About twelve years ago, a friend of mine put me in touch with a publisher with an unusual story.  Seems they had a book that had failed the 'Plagiarism Test'. Publishers had software they could run a percentage of the book through, and the software would search the web and compare the content.  It would then report the amount of material that they found in the book that was also found on the web. Twenty-five percent plagiarized is considered unacceptable by the publisher. This book went higher.

The author had been so pissed off they had gone onto the internet and were badmouthing the publisher. The author then took the book to another publisher and published it there. The first publisher asked if I would mind reviewing the book and maybe doing some research.

One of our other friends had already taken sections of the book and found the exact websites where the material was originally published. The instances of theft were mind-boggling. There was a blog the individual owned where the instances were eventually all laid out. 
The author’s book was pulled by the second publisher. The author then self-published. I did publish a review, as I was a regular reviewer on Amazon at that time. Amazon eventually pulled the book. 

The research we did, the information we had gathered and the experience we had gave us a background and was the reason we went into what came next.
When did you realise there was a need for it?
We know many authors and artists in the Pagan community. I was reviewing Pagan books on Amazon at the time and was a top reviewer. I had many contacts with publishers and authors here in the States. Many of my friends involved in this endeavor are from the UK. They also had contacts with artists and authors.

While plagiarism was what brought us into this, it was copyright violations that became the focus of our group. We noticed Facebook groups offering free copies of books that had been published recently. This really annoyed us. Here we are, some of us authors or artists, with books by people we know being given away for free. This shortchanges authors, who lose sales because someone is giving away their books. Why pay for what you can get free?

This started us down the road of, "What is our recourse if our work is being stolen?"
We started sharing what we learned over the course of a couple of years with people who knew us and had similar issues. We finally started a Facebook group as a place where we could gather and exchange information.

Can you explain what plagiarism is?
Plagiarism, as defined by the dictionary, is the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing it off as one’s own. 
So, I wrote an article for an online ezine, and a few months later it appeared on another site, word for word, with a different author's name. What was so funny was that I put Boudica at the end of all the articles I was writing at that time. The person who had copied my article had included my name. Never proofread it, just copied and posted it on their website, with a different author byline.

This has happened not just to me, but to a few of the other members of our group. Either their art or their written work has been taken from their blogs or their websites and attributed to a different artist or author.

It is the common denominator for most of the founding members of Pagans Against Plagiarism, and it's what gave us our name. But what we eventually became known for was the more common issue that so many authors and artists have in common – copyright violations.

What is copyright?
The best definition I have found is from Tech Terms Computer Dictionary

Copyright is a legal means of protecting an author's work. It is a type of intellectual property that provides exclusive publication, distribution, and usage rights for the author.
Copyright is a legal instrument. Not just here in the United States.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, referenced as DMCA, is an international treaty between countries who have elected to uphold the copyright standards set out in that document.
Can you explain what copyright infringement is?
Authors, writers, artists and musicians - hereafter referenced as creators - are covered by copyright laws. These laws dictate when a work is copyrighted, what rights creators have over their work, what is a violation of their rights, and gives them the legal tools needed to enforce those rights. These laws are based on the country of origin, or come under the DMCA.

Copyright infringement is when someone violates the rights of a creator. Country laws give the creator legal standing within their own country, but the DMCA gives the creator legal standing internationally, and specifically on the internet.

The DMCA enacts processes where the creator can claim their property, and, with proper identification, request the removal of their property from any place where it appears illegally.
So, an author finds their book being given away without their permission. The book is copyrighted. As a matter of fact, the book is copyrighted as soon as it is in tangible form, which means even the manuscript is copyrighted. So, the author has legal standing at this point. The take-down notice that the author files with the individual, website or social media platform is called a DMCA. It is a form that the author or their agent files to have the violation of their work removed.

All social media sites have an online form that can be filled out.  They have it written into their terms of service that violations of copyright will be removed by them, without notice in most cases. In severe cases, the social media site will remove the group or individuals responsible at their discretion, without notice.

Most website hosting services also have online DMCAs and include the same kind of verbiage in their terms of service. As do Dropbox, web storage sites, online shopping sites and more. 
The only exceptions are services that are in countries that have not signed the DMCA, which include Russia, China and some small countries in-between.

The reason I have spelled this all out is because this information becomes the tool we can use to educate and to enforce the rights of creators in the Pagan community.

How widespread is the problem? 
At the start, about ten years ago, and two years after the first plagiarism issues we encountered, we started seeing PDF versions of copyrighted books appearing on the web. First they were on websites, then, as social media started to expand, the illegal copies of these books started appearing in the file areas of various groups.

We would notice one book here, one book there. Websites were the biggest offenders, as some of them were distribution sites for many illegal copies. Creators were losing money. For authors, it was illegal PDF copies of their books. For artists, it was downloadable copies of their art. They were either stealing the material from the artists' websites or making print copies and selling them. The artists were hit worse because people were actually selling their art on sites like eBay and Etsy.

Watermarking was the original way for artists to prevent the theft of their work. But, as people became savvier with Photoshop and were able to remove the watermarks, it became harder and harder for artists to make a living off their work. Who was going to purchase nice prints of their work when they could get them cheaper on eBay and Etsy, or free by right-clicking and saving? 

Artists started disappearing from the web. Whatever art was out there, there was no way to control it anymore. Some artists spent days filing DMCAs with various websites and social media platforms to get their work removed. How can an artist create when they have to spend days at a time protecting their work? And, of course, there was always a copy that escaped notice and would get passed around again, the cycle repeating itself.

With authors, it started with illegal copies of their books in PDF format. Some industrious souls would copy entire books and issue the finished product in PDF format. Later, with the advent of e-books, we started seeing other formats, which were obviously pirated from e-readers. No matter what technology we create to safeguard our work, there are those who think it is their job to breach it, and they do.

It became obvious that this was getting worse when copies of authors' books surfaced before they were even published. Thousands of copies were either sold or given away for free before the publishers could release the book. This resulted in loss of sales for both the publisher and, more importantly, the author. Pirating of books reached an all-time high.

The results were pretty much the same as with artists. Authors removed themselves from the web and discontinued writing. If you can’t make a living doing what you love, then you have to turn to something else to provide for your family. And the Pagan community lost some very bright and well-loved artists and authors because of this.

Know two things:  

  1. There are very few artists and authors who make lots of money off their works. These people are household names. Stephen King, David Hockney. Pagan authors and artists make about $1.57 per book, on average. That will depend on how popular the author is and how many books they have circulating at any time. That means they have to sell over 15,000 books per year to make a salary of $25,000 per year.
  2. Pagan artists will sell a work here and there, but mostly make a living off selling prints of their works. Our Pagan artists have lost much. So much that you don’t see many Pagan artists unless you are at a festival. Only one artist was at a festival I went to last weekend. I remember several dozen back in the day. If they cannot feed their families on their work, they have to go elsewhere to make a living.

What does PAP do to help combat this? 

In the beginning, there wasn’t much we knew we could do. We would request the material be removed. That usually ended in a shouting match and getting us banned from many groups. No one likes to be told what to do with their group. They like it even less when you suggest they are stealing money from creators. And when you tell them, 'OK, we are going to report you to the creator or his agent,' the conversation deteriorates to name calling. 

We had to learn the laws. What are the options that creators have? Finding the DMCA process was key. We educated ourselves in that, and then passed information along to the creators. We provide links to copyright violation forms. We keep extensive files of sites that provide legal information and online resources for creators.

See, the key to the process is that only the creator, or their agent, can file a DMCA. It must be the creator or their legal agent who files. So, we found ourselves being the education point for all the creative members of the Pagan community.

We also offer education via our Facebook page and group. We offer information to Facebook admins, so that they understand what they are doing when they offer free artwork or books to their members. We offer information. We do not mob a group and demand removal.  

When the group was young, someone would stumble across a stash of illegal PDFs, request that they be removed, and get booted immediately. That angered many of the members. Some of them would join the group and try to talk to the admins. This resulted in more shouting matches, and we were accused of trying to mob groups to get them shut down.

Actually, we have nothing to do with groups being shut down. We can’t do that. We can report it to the creator or their agents, but the actual filing is done by them. What happens is directly associated with the people who own the rights.

Some social media sites have a very low threshold for copyright violations. You see that with YouTube and Facebook. They do not want to deal with it. A single violation, the item will be removed.  But if they have to hunt thru tons of violations, they would rather just shut the site. They have no desire to get involved in legal suits.

We have restricted ourselves to Facebook and a few side sites on an individual basis. A group that stores their copyright violations on Dropbox or sells the material on Etsy, we will report those to the creators and leave it up to them to follow up.  But most of what we deal with is Facebook.  

Having seen the extent of copyright violations, we are not nearly large enough to involve ourselves with it all. We have lives, we have jobs, and believe me when I say that it can be a full-time job if we decided to expand beyond Facebook. Some weeks it seems that it is a full-time job.

Have you had any successes in the past?

We have requested the removal of material that violates an author’s copyrights, and Facebook's terms of service. 

Occasionally, someone will be, 'Oh, sorry, didn’t know that,'  and the material is removed quickly. We have tried various ways. Via comments. Via private messages to group admins. 

Most times, we get booted for our effort. Sometimes it is preceded with verbal abuse, or you get a private message after you are booted, again streaming with verbal abuse. Many of us have gotten used to it. But to be honest, we would rather not deal with that.

The first thing we need is proof. That is required by the DMCA.  Besides the link to the material, we also provide visual proof of the violation. Usually a PDF copy of their file area with all the books listed. This also makes it easier to identify the books, and the publisher can pick all the titles and report them. Most books are handled by the publishers, who are the legal agents for the authors.

What happens next is between the publisher and the website. Facebook has dedicated staff handling DMCAs. There also appears to be more than just the pagan community filing DMCAs as it can take one or two weeks for them to respond to the publishers, sometimes a bit longer if additional information is requested. 

It is totally up to Facebook as to what happens. They decide how much work they are going to put into the response. Most responses are canned.

Hi, Thanks for bringing this matter to our attention. We removed or disabled access to the content you reported for violating the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. We understand this action to resolve your intellectual property issue.

Almost all responses are like that.

We have seen them remove books, remove groups and remove individuals who are consistent offenders. We feel we have had a measure of success. 

Two of the largest successes are groups that were strictly up for book exchange. One group had over 900 books, the other had over 400. 

Copyright violations are more numerous than plagiarism. We have had one or two more instances of blatant plagiarism in books.  

Someone published one of Gerina Dunwich’s books with a new cover and author byline. It was offered as an e-book for free as a promo.  

From my days reviewing books, I have learned various authors' voices. Ms. Dunwich has a unique voice, and reading the first couple of pages, I went to my own library and pulled down a book, and sure enough it was the same book, the same graphics, the same font. All he did was change the cover and left off the title pages.  Amazon did pull the book when they were notified.

We just report what we find. The rest is up to the creators and their agents. If they report the violations, whether plagiarism or copyright violations, Facebook will take action.

What should someone do if they think their work has been plagiarised?

For plagiarism or copyright violations, they have to file a DMCA.  As I said, most sites have online DMCAs. You will need to provide the location of the violation, where the file is located, and you have to provide proof of ownership. Most times, all you need is where your book is on your publisher’s website, or where your art is presented, with a date. 

Sometimes they may ask for more proof. A screen capture of where the violation is located, with some identifying evidence of the website, and your work. That works for the publishers most often.  It is a simple process. Depending on the website or service, it may take a couple of weeks. Remember, they are dealing with hundreds of notices each day. 

If you need assistance, Pagans Against Plagiarism is here to help.

How can people get involved? Where can they find out more?

Being part of the solution is the way to go. We accept members who want to learn more, as well as those who want to help. We will always answer questions. You can join our group here.

Additional information and resources:

US Government website on copyright laws

UK Government website on copyright laws

Australian Government website on copyright laws

Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 PDF

Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998

Sunday 9 July 2017

Q&A Otherworld Books

Otherworld Books is a newly established Pagan and Occult bookshop based near the centre of Edinburgh, Scotland. The shop aims to offer all books to all paths, whatever your experience level. They even supply book prescriptions if you're not sure what to read next. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook, and they have an extensive online store. Founder, Claire Proctor, talks about the inspiration for the bookshop.

How did the idea for Otherworld Books come about?

It was about three years ago at the annual Scottish Pagan Federation Conference. Christina Oakley Harrington, who runs Treadwell's in London, was the keynote speaker, as well as hosting a workshop. There were various conversations throughout the day about what a shame it was that we only got the opportunity to do these kinds of things once a year and how poor the selections in some of the more mainstream bookshops had become. Most of the remaining occult shops couldn't really support a wide range of books and didn’t have the capacity for events, and we couldn’t think of a single 'dedicated' bookshop in Scotland at all. At the time, I was vaguely considering a change in direction but, while the idea intrigued me, I didn’t really think of it as a serious notion. However, the more time went on, the more I found myself doodling ideas, checking things out and discussing it with people until one day I came to the realisation that  it was something I absolutely wanted to do without really noticing! After that, I threw myself into it and the shop opened on 1st March 2016.

How do you choose what to stock?

It varies greatly. There’s a huge chunk of ‘recommended reading,’ those existing works that by general consensus you should make a point of getting through at some point. So, for instance, most of Hutton’s works on the academic side, Philip Carr-Gomm and Emma Restall Orr on Druidry, the Farrars, Vivianne Crowley and Doreen Valiente on Wicca, Rae Beth and Marian Green on solitary witchcraft. The same is true on the occult end of the spectrum – works by Aleister Crowley, William G. Gray, Israel Regardie, Dion Fortune and so on.

It’s trickier when it comes to newer works. I feel like if you’re investing your time in reading a book it needs to add value – it should be well researched, considered and offer ideas or practical guidance that will help you on your path.

Sadly, there’s still a lot of what I consider commercialised nonsense doing the rounds. I try to avoid things that are simply repackaging the same material with little added value. There are a great many brilliant titles coming out at the moment though, particularly the Moon Books' Pagan Portals and Shaman Pathways series, which I think are the ideal blend of being informative and useful. They are written by authors who really know their stuff. Personally, I have a major soft spot for fiction and quirky titles. The ones that really challenge your thinking about your own beliefs and practice by presenting it in a different context or framework. Anything by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman, or random offerings like Our Gods Wear Spandex and Cat Magic.

You’re based in Edinburgh, which is a city with a lot of history and folklore. Has anything spooky ever happened at the shop?

I used to joke that there was a poltergeist in the shop. During the first few months, I’d come in to find random individual books had fallen off display shelves with no apparent rhyme or reason. Then, equally as inexplicably, it just stopped. So, I began to wonder! It happened again just the other day, for the first time in ages. One of my regular customers was in and it took us right to a book she had been looking for on behalf of a friend.

Do you think your location helps business?

I think being in Edinburgh helps insofar as it’s an amazing place to be. Somewhere that draws people who are potentially interested in diverse paths. The fact that I’m reasonably central and easy to find doesn’t hurt, but just as important to me is to be a trusted resource for the community wherever they are, which is why I always wanted to have the online side available too.

We love your book prescription idea, where people tell you a bit about themselves and their interests, and you recommend a book to them. What’s the most recent book you've recommended?

Thank you. There are many people who come into the shop looking for assistance, no matter how new to the subject or experienced. There are a lot of books available, after all! I wanted a simple way to be able to offer that assistance further afield.

Sadly, I’ve had no takers for the prescription service yet, though admittedly it’s only been up a few weeks and not extensively marketed.

Where’s the furthest place you have sent a book?

So far, California. Santa Clarita, to be exact, which I’ll probably always remember because my media-junkie brain automatically thought, “Oh, where the diet’s from.”

Is there a strong Pagan community in Edinburgh? Any events you’d recommend during the year?

I would say that there’s an extremely strong Pagan presence in Edinburgh, and Scotland more generally. Perhaps not the strongest community, in the sense of lots of regular groups and events. I don’t think that’s anything negative, just a combination of the demands of modern life and that many who are drawn to paganism actually prefer a solitary path. We have great links as part of the local Interfaith community, though. We have representation as part of the Edinburgh Uni Chaplaincy and, as previously mentioned, the annual Scottish PF conference is held here. The Beltane Fire Society produce their spectacular parades at Beltane and Samhain and, with so much during the August festivals, there’s usually something pagan-themed available. There’s a monthly informal moot group, and I’ve been running monthly workshops since the start of the year. I'm always open to hosting more!

Can you offer up three recommendations on Scottish Paganism, occultism or folklore for people who would like an introduction?

I would say that the best books on the subject allow you to work with your landscape, wherever that may be. While there’s nothing particularly Scottish that I would recommend on that score, as general introductions go, you can’t go too far wrong with: 

Who is the most memorable customer to ever walk in off the street?

I’ve actually had the privilege of meeting the only person ever to achieve enlightenment! Apparently, Buddha didn’t actually manage it, or, at least, he’s never seen him on any of the spiritual planes.

He had seen Brian Copenhaver’s Magic: Antiquity to Enlightenment in the window and, while he had apparently misunderstood the meaning of the title, he wanted to afford me the opportunity of arranging workshops for him, so that he could share the truth with the good people of Edinburgh. In fact, he’s the person who invented adult colouring books but, because everything he thinks of is automatically shared to the universal consciousness, it was stolen and commercialised before he could do anything with it. Despite an extensive letter writing campaign, he has yet to receive any royalties.

I explained that it might be counter-intuitive to hold events proclaiming One Truth in a shop dedicated to the pursuit of lots of different paths and pursuits, but he seemed to lose interest around then – it could have been because he had finished his can of cider.

In all seriousness though, while the above is all true, I’ve had some genuinely amazing conversations with truly wonderful people in the relatively short time I’ve been here. From the sublime to the ridiculous - the best are usually a combination of both - and I love that anyone of any path can come in, share their ideas, find new ones and hopefully leave richer for the experience.

Monday 26 June 2017

Guest Post: David Halpin

David Halpin is a writer originally from Dublin, now living in Carlow. He presents the YouTube series The Occult Book Review and regularly writes articled on esoteric history, Gnosticism and mythology for publications including Ancient Origins, The Wild Hunt and Occultum. He has also appeared as a guest speaker at the Irish Festival of Magic and Spirituality, Féile Draíochta. His children’s book, The Girl Who Spoke to the Wind, has been optioned for film by Irish director Maurice Joyce. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter             

 The Witch is Dead, Long Live the Witch
David Halpin

She was the gatekeeper at the edge of the world. The Final human hymn before all fell to wind and shadow and the strange creaking of stars. She was a pagan chorus. An older song. - The Good People by Hannah Kent.

During a recent conversation it was suggested to me by a prominent pagan spokesperson that in light of human carelessness and recent American environmental decisions, that perhaps it would be best for the planet if human beings destroyed themselves and allowed the earth to evolve without us.
While one part of me understood what this person meant: the overwhelming fatalistic dismay at what our world is becoming, another part was disturbed at what I was hearing. I felt compelled to ask whether or not everyone had a collective responsibility to the next generation, even if they didn’t have children themselves. As a parent, I want to believe that human beings have an instinctual compassion that extends not just to their own families but to all human beings.
The response from this person was that even if the world was destroyed, everything is connected and so ultimately all would be well and destruction would not be such a bad thing.

For days after I tried to reconcile this person’s outlook to what I understood paganism to mean. I know that the current rise of eco-scepticism and the influence of the fossil fuel industries can be disheartening, for example. I also know, however, that there is a tremendous effort by pagans and non-pagans alike to bring attention to the pollution of planet. Surely this should motivate and engage us, another part of me argued, not dishearten and create a spiralling sense of complacency.
A bigger question for me was the ethical and moral responsibility that comes with being a pagan and witch in the first place. Don’t we believe that all life is part of something bigger than ourselves and that we are not only connected to that which we know and love but also those we do not know but still have a responsibility to help?
As the father of two daughters, experiencing an attitude that can lethargically accept the extinction of millions of children as being inevitable and not worth fighting for seems just as psychotic as the actions and policy decisions that have created our catastrophic environmental predicament in the first place.
In fact, as a pagan, rightly or wrongly, I expect my community to feel more empathy and connection with life outside of our immediate circle and personal environment. Surprisingly, as I sought out opposing viewpoints and a more hopeful and inclusive response from pagan influencers and speakers, I instead began to notice a very insular outlook. I began to see a trend which was the opposite of everything I believed paganism to represent.

In an attempt to dispel my growing fears, I began to examine the most immediate window into the current state of witchcraft and paganism, namely the various social media platforms I was connected to. I felt that I would be able to gauge, through observation, the contemporary and evolving attitudes and interpretations of paganism. I believed I could find others, like myself, who did not want to walk away from the future, but to protect it.
What I found instead were pages and pages of ‘selfies’, blogs focusing on ‘Witch’ apparel and a surprising lack of differentiation between being a pagan as opposed to being seen to be a pagan. I also discovered a trench mentality which seemed to redefine paganism to the extent that it was normal to have little to no connection with the environment or communities outside of one particular tribe or culture. There seemed to be no awareness that by creating a ‘new’ witchcraft imbedded in monoculture and superficial symbolism there was a cutting off from the roots and actual practice of witchcraft and paganism in the first place.
I was reminded of what Peter Grey wrote about rebellion as a marketing device in his ground-breaking work, Lucifer: Princeps

It is part of a deliberate strategy to create consumers, subverting the drives of social and sexual dissatisfaction by channelling them into brand loyalty and consumption, rather than questioning the values of the corporate state. It avoids the crisis of initiation to keep the population dependent and uncertain in an extended ‘kidulthood’, whilst simultaneously breaking social cohesion in favour of the individual as production/ consumption unit rather than as sovereign.

This extended ‘kidulthood’, as Grey writes, is more devastating in consequence than might first seem. By attaching such importance to youth-image and clinging to one stage only in the cycle of life we are destabilising the very wheel itself. Renewal comes only from the passing of the old. Refusing to acknowledge the wisdom and further initiations which come with later life also abdicates the responsibility to the future and from this an attitude of apathy and selfishness is born.      

Today, there is often a knee-jerk reaction to a non-indigenous pagan of one particular culture pointing out commonalities with another, which is a shame, considering the common roots of archetypes once we go back far enough in history and time. The fear of being seen to ‘commit appropriation’ might account for some of this, of course.
But there is another effect when we are bound by psychological and cultural borders and when we are pressured to keep only to our own gods and goddess forms, and this is the growing racism within contemporary paganism and witchcraft. It is ironic that those most willing to (with usually good intentions) call out appropriation might also be contributing to the resulting insular and xenophobic conditioning that can often follow.
Paganism has passed through many crossroads. Moving further into the 21st century we are perhaps approaching another which might have the greatest consequences of all. Never in human history has it been so easy to destroy ourselves and yet never in history have there been so many available avenues of escapism in order to avoid facing up to this. 

The path we end up taking will be directly influenced by how many pagans and witches begin to take responsibility for an integrated future. The sooner we understand that this involves more than our own life-spans and more than our own specific cultures the better chance of survival we will give the next generation.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Q&A Trevor Greenfield

Trevor Greenfield is Editorial Manager for John Hunt Publishing, and founder of Moon Books, a subsidiary press of JHP focused on Pagan nonfiction. Trevor holds an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Sussex, and an MA in English Literature from the University of Southampton. He is also the author of An Introduction to Radical Theology and teaches Religious Studies for the Open University.

Hi Trevor. Thanks for taking the time to speak to us about Moon Books, we see your titles regularly on Twitter and Facebook. It's nice to get the chance to learn more about the publishing house and your role there.

How did you get involved with Moon Books?

I published a book with John Hunt Publishing, the company that owns Moon Books, and I had just taken early retirement from an IT multi-national company, so I started doing some copy editing for them. I was asked to take over the management of copy editing and then I was asked to manage editorial and production. We’re a small publisher, it’s not as grand as it sounds! Back then we only had two imprints, O-Books and Zero Books. However, the number and variety of titles we were publishing forced us to consider breaking up into a number of specialist imprints. I asked if I could start a Pagan/Shaman imprint, which I called Moon Books. We opened for business in 2012 and since then we have published over 150 books.

What do you most enjoy reading?

I mainly read nonfiction history books, especially ancient history. I don’t read much fiction but I do like the novels of Robert Goddard. What’s life without an unexpected plot twist?

You work on the publishing side for Moon Books's imprint. Can you talk us through the process of how a book goes from submission to shelf?

An author sends in an online proposal and attaches the manuscript or part of it. If we like the look of it, we ask the author to send in a more detailed submission, which includes the usual things: book description, market plan, competing books, possible endorsers, etc. The submission and the manuscript are then looked at by three readers who comment on whether it’s  suitable for us and say yes or no to offering a contract. These reports are sent to our publishing director, who makes a final decision. The process takes a little over a week.

Can you tell us a bit about your own work?

I wrote a book about radical theology and I’ve contributed to a few anthologies, but as publisher of Moon Books I see my role as more creating an environment where writers of all levels can contribute. So, as well as publishing established and new authors, and there’s huge pleasure in seeing a new author develop into a best-selling one, Moon Books also has a writers group and we publish anthologies of their work. Our most successful anthologies to date have been Paganism 101, which had contributions from 101 Pagan writers and practitioners, and Naming the Goddess which had contributions from over 80 Goddess writers and followers, and which was well received throughout the Goddess community.

You teach religious studies for the Open University and you have studied this field at post-graduate level. Can we ask a bit about your own beliefs? What drew you to study this subject, and has it influenced your work at Moon Books?

I’ve always liked religion. I liked the stories I was taught in Sunday school about Noah and Job and Moses. All the old sword-and-sandal movies from the 1960s, Greek mythology. I always thought the past was more interesting than the present, and the past as I imagined it was pretty much battles and kings and interfering gods. How exciting is that! At eighteen I studied Religion at A Level and then went on to university to study Religion. I encountered other religions there such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

I can’t really tell you about my own beliefs as they’re a perpetual work in progress. I became a Christian at university, but there’s only a certain amount of times you can say the Nicene Creed in church on a Sunday before you start to question it. Anyway, I came to the conclusion that it was something you could only really believe if you had a first-century worldview and I ended up drifting away. 

By chance, I heard Philip Carr-Gomm was talking about Druidry at my college, so I went along. Up until listening to Philip, I had assumed Druids were people who liked dressing up and keeping old customs alive, and who probably had friends who were Morris dancers. Well, I got that wrong! I discovered that Druidry is a non-dogmatic, subjective and deeply creative spiritual worldview. What else should religion be? So, for the last few years I have identified myself as Pagan. But, well, you know, what’s life if not a journey? Recently my daughter wanted to find out about Christianity and so I went along with her to an Alpha course. I wouldn’t say it felt like home, but I didn’t feel out of place, so I’m thinking about writing a book on Christo-Paganism, perhaps that’s the next step, exploring the creative fusion between both traditions.

Is there any aspect of Paganism that is strongly underrepresented on the market? Any books you would like to see written?

I’d be interesting in publishing books that are contemporary political and social critiques. I personally think you can view the prophetic and wisdom religious traditions as temporary expressions, interruptions, if you like, in the hundred thousand year old tradition of Earth Religion. It would be interesting to understand what appears to be people's developing cynicism towards all things corporate and global as a modern expression of Earth Religion - the past and the future as Pagan. Similarly, I think contemporary activism, eco-activism, animal activism, etc. can be seen as expressions that bespeak a re-visioning of nature.
Can you tell us about some of the best books you've worked on? What would you recommend reading?
Interesting question. What would I recommend? Well, I’d recommend you read a Moon Book! But going on beyond that, I think Paganism lacks a narrative, a story, a sacred literature. Some people I speak to think that's a good thing because literature equates to doctrine, narrative results in dogma. I disagree. I think the sharing of foundational mythologies, codes of conduct, expressions of belief alongside new expressions and rituals would be a great thing for Paganism to achieve. So, I’m not going to suggest we get together and read something. I’m going to suggest that we get together and write something. Share our myths and our aspirations. Create a sacred text for the Pagan peoples.

Saturday 14 January 2017

Q&A Emma Restall Orr

Emma Restall Orr is one of the best-known names in British Druidry. Joint chief of the The British Druid Order for nine years and founder of The Druid Network, Emma has published more than a dozen books on Druidry and Paganism. She now focuses much of her time on Honouring the Ancient Dead, a project promoting the respectful treatment of ancestral remains. Find out more about her on her website.

Hi Emma. Many people know you from your work with the British Druid Order, the Druid Network, and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. In your biography, you say that you no longer term yourself a Druid. Would you mind talking a little about that?

Thank you for starting with such a sharp question: straight to the heart of it. To state publicly that I no longer consider myself a Druid took serious thought, and I have received responses from some whom it upset and unsettled. The majority of responses were, however, from people eager to understand. The truth is that it was not about a change in my beliefs. My spiritual, my religious and my philosophical perspective is no different from what it was. Indeed, I would say that my beliefs are deeper than ever, my practice more profound.

However, for me, the word Druidry does not describe a specific belief system. My beliefs are animistic, pantheistic, deep green, polytheistic, and I have met Druids who are Christian, who are wholly polytheistic, who are anthropocentric. Druidry, I think, describes instead a path of service. The work of the Druid is to be a teacher, a priest, a leader, a guide. You cannot decide one day to be a Druid. It not only takes years of serious study, but also the acknowledgement and acceptance of your peers and your community before a person should consider taking the word to describe oneself. Of course, we can study Druidry, and practice within the traditions of Druidry, without ever taking the word Druid, but I was known as a Druid. I worked as a priest and teacher for some twenty years. When I stepped away from those roles, I laid down the word as well.

The reason I stepped away has another answer. The deeper mysteries were pulling apart the structure of my being. The universe was breathing its dark emptiness into my soul, calling me to explore places that are formless, wordless, timeless. My ability to hold space, gently and with wakeful responsibility, was eroding. Furthermore, as a person who was widely known as a writer and teacher, the sense of my self was becoming unbearably uncomfortable. People wanted me to be who I had been, who they needed me to be, who they expected me to be, rather than what I was becoming. In the end I had no choice but to let go, to run with the wind on soft paws, into a silence where there was no I.

Now that you no longer term yourself a Druid, how do you feel towards your earlier works, such as Living Druidry and Druid Priestess?

Now and then, someone will ask me about some particular point that I wrote in one of my earlier books, and I will dig out a copy to reread it. “On page 127 you said… What did you mean by…”.  More often than not, I am surprised at how much I am still wholly in tune with what I wrote, albeit 10 or 15 years ago. Of course, you must give me the possibility of having matured in my thinking, and at times the perspective does seem to hum with a youthful energy and naiveté that I may no longer have; at times embarrassingly so. I don’t know how much of that is obvious to the reader!  Certainly, the anecdotes that are scattered throughout those two books are from a life I no longer live, but that isn’t to say that I don’t have warm feelings about those days. The stories make me smile, reminding me of people and places I knew, many of which I loved deeply.

A direct answer to your question would be: yes, I am still the person who wrote those early books – just a little wrinklier, quieter, more peaceful; a little further down the same old track.

The London 2012 Paralympics included a reading from a gorsedd ritual written by yourself and Philip Shallcrass. Did you know about that at the time, and how do you feel about it now?

Yes, we knew.  I was contacted some months before by one of the team creating the closing ceremony, and asked if they might use the gorsedd ritual. We spoke about options and I went to Philip to see what he thought. It was important to me that the magical spirit of the ritual was allowed to feed into the ceremony they created, so that – performed as a piece of community art, not a religious ritual – it retained that magic. However, in the end, Philip and I signed the forms to allow them to use it without knowing what the end product would be. We had to have faith that our words would hold their power, and in many ways I think they did.

It was an honour to be involved in the event. The Paralympics are such an expression of human strength; individuals rising through and above such tangling challenges. Furthermore, Philip and I had worked so very closely for so long with the British Druid Order, it felt like a wonderful gift to that magical relationship, and I am grateful for that. I believe he is too.

Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Where do you write, do you enjoy writing, and how organised are you?

I love writing. Words fill me with delight and wonder, in the same way that others are delighted by little children or butterflies. As an animist, I perceive words as creatures: spirits, patterns within nature, coherences within the whole that have evolved over time, that arrive in moments then slip away, leaving the world quite changed. As powerful creatures with the power to affect relationships, they need to be respected. I write in part to play with words, as we might blow bubbles on a summer’s day, or splash paint upon a canvas, but far more importantly I write to explore the bridges of communication. Not all of my words are set down, or offered as communication to other human beings. If not, they are still part of the experience of communication, as I converse with the gods, my ancestors, the spirits of the landscape around me.

When I am writing a book, I tend to write for an hour or two a day, often on a laptop, on the sofa, on my bed, or outside; seldom at a desk. I have prepared the structure of the book carefully in advance, and sketched the structure of each chapter in a dozen lines or so – then I write. I may sit for twenty minutes, finding a word or sentence, but I don’t edit much. Once a book is finished, I might rewrite the first few thousand words, bringing it in line with the character of the completed text, but otherwise I don’t edit. I’ll give it to a few key readers, and take note of their suggestions. Usually there are sentences that sound archaic which I bring into modern English.

I wholly detest the marketing process. When I worked as a Druid I did book tours and lectures, TV and radio. Now I tend to hand a book over to the publisher and let them do what they wish. The occasional talk or interview is all I concede to. Once a book is done, my soul moves on fairly quickly, immersing myself in the next project.

In your article This Much I Know for The Guardian, you mentioned that Asterix first sparked your interest in Druidry as a child. Do you still look back on Asterix with fondness? Do you think the things that fascinate us as children often shape what we pursue as adults?

I still love the Asterix books.  My brother was given them as a child and we’d sit and read them together for hours on end, not just in English – I’m quite sure we had versions in French, Spanish, Latin. As a child, I was fascinated by the Getafix/Panoramix character. As for how much childhood heroes shape us, I would guess that would depend on the individual and their hero. For myself, I was not strong physically as a child and I loved to read about this funny old man who kept the whole Roman Empire at bay with nothing more than, what seemed to me to be, soup.  I can make a pretty good soup…

In the write-up for your book Kissing the Hag, it says that it brings us face to face with the raw elements of womankind, and ‘all that makes [women] unacceptable and badly behaved.’ Do you consider yourself badly behaved, and has writing this book changed your own relationship with the Hag?

Badly behaved? - not any more. I was an angry soul through my teens and into my twenties, dealing with physical pain, but the study of nature that is at the heart of Druidic practice includes human nature, our own nature. I find it almost impossible to behave badly now, when I have the slightest inkling that it may be so. I tend to freeze until I can reconfigure my perspective. As human beings, the emotional and instinctive drives can be so powerful, it is a task to learn what these are, how they rise within us and propel us into action, and how not to allow ourselves to be flooded, behaving badly as a result. Emotion should be a guide, another source of information, not a decision-maker. I think most bad behaviour is based on emotionally-fuelled reaction.

Unacceptable is another matter, though. In terms of social conventions, there are still a good many elements of my life that are unacceptable. In many ways the book, Kissing the Hag, is about understanding the distinctions between social rules, human woman nature, honourable interaction and disrespectful actions. The lines can be fine at times.

Of all the ancient places you have visited, do you have a favourite?

The places that inspire me most are those where human impact is minimal or absent. Being in the Amazon rainforest, with untouched forest for many hundreds of miles in every direction, was a formative experience. Of human-made ancient places, as I pause to consider an answer, dozens of images and memories slip into my conscious mind, of many places across Britain: chanting in trance through the night at West Kennett Long Barrow, at Stonehenge, at Rollright, at standing stones in Dartmoor, glorious moments, and so many of them. Then there are places rich with history where I have spent time around the world, ancient Shinto shrines in Japan, Mayan temples in Guatemala. I have no favourite, just a fat pocketful of memories.

What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you during a ritual? (That you are willing to share).

Your parenthesis helps me answer, because most ritual is private and to share stories would be to break confidences. Having said that, the elements of ritual that I have most enjoyed for the unexpected have mainly been moments of divine presence. I’m sure most of your readers will have experience of ritual where gods are invoked, and nothing happens. In most open ritual the prayers are of appreciation not invitation, and there are many whose prayers of invitation are never answered.

I recall being at Stonehenge at a Christian Pagan Druid ceremony.  I had brought with me two friends, a Druid who worked with the dark gods of the Welsh tradition, and an evangelical Christian. It was delicious to feel their invocations, both empowered by utter devotion and sincerity. To stand in that old temple with Yahweh and Ceridwen was rather cool. Not so cool was the conference, the organisers of which I will not disclose, where a roomful of people were asked to invoke their own particular deities to bless some aspect of the event. Most people called out their liturgy, then sat down in ignorance, but some invoked their gods effectively as if it were an almighty contest of strength.  The room was suddenly seething with gods of every era and pantheon, most of whom had no desire for peace. I left, along with a fair few others.

The strangest, however, was perhaps a public rite held in the middle of a large English city. I had been asked to create an opening rite for an event that was to showcase different kinds of Paganism.  Not knowing many in the crowd, I was guided by locals, and found four different groups, each of whom would honour a cardinal direction. I don’t recall the details, but I seem to remember that there were fairly traditional Wiccans to honour the west, sturdy great Asatru to honour the north, a shamanic band in feathers and fur to honour the south, and in the east a group who followed Star Trek. I shrugged and agreed, keen not to offend the locals. There were a few hundred at the rite, and there was an awkward moment when the police, who were roaming the perimeter, were somewhat unsettled by the well-armed Heathens assuring their gods of their commitment to feasting and fornicating. What unsettled me, though, were the Trekkies. They made their prayers in Klingon, and they had more of a magical vibrational response that any of the others. I might emphasise that I had requested no one invoke anything, but simply honour with appreciation. I don’t know what these silver-painted folk said, but they called upon something, and that something arrived.

There are so many stories, and many are far more strange than amusing. There was drumming up power at a concrete Stonehenge replica on the Columbia River gorge in Washington, there was an event with Brian Blessed and a helicopter, there was Blackpool - but the Klingon always makes me smile.

Are you still involved in organising festivals? Have you noticed any difference in the types of people attending over the years, or has the community stayed fairly steady?

No, I no longer organise festivals, nor do I attend many. My journey has taken me from those huge people-full gatherings to quieter paths of service. However, from what I have attended, and news I hear from others, it seems a key difference is that there were many more youngsters in years gone by.  It seems that those who were young have grown and remained faithful, but there is no longer such an inflow of new youth coming into the traditions as there was. Where are they? Playing make-believe on the internet, perhaps. I think the truth is that most come into spiritual and religious traditions for the community, not the mystery. The mystery requires hard work, commitment, devotion, and that means the ordinary things of life are set aside. Few are willing or able to make the necessary sacrifices. The majority who came to gatherings, festivals, public rituals and gorseddau, came to be with other like-minded souls, to share all the fun of the fair within a magical Pagan context – they didn’t come for the intense ecstasy of mind-blowing communion with the gods. Young folk now get their community online, and those that want it can find the magical element in games written with those realities. Who knows, perhaps the would-be priests amongst them are finding their divine encounters in digital ways that I am not versed in.

No doubt, when this younger generation are in their fifties and sixties, they will be wondering what on earth their children are doing...

In the Philosophy section of your website, you talk about ‘wakeful respect without prejudice or assumption.’ Are you particularly engaged with politics in Britain at the moment? Do you have any thoughts on the current climate which seems to favour disrespect and prejudice towards others? Is this a storm we will weather, or a sign of something deeper and harder to remedy?

Politics is a fascinating aspect of human nature, of human culture.  Politics entered into my awareness in the mid 1970s, having been brought up in fascist Spain, coming to England as punk exploded, developing a strong socialist belief, which in turn has gently fragmented into a co-operative anarchism. What troubles me most is bullying. It seems to me that there is a tide rising once again.  The US has just voted in a capitalist thug as president, Russia is led by another capitalist bully. Such thugs run pharmaceutical, energy, media, financial and other vast corporations. Broad human society is captivated by its various screens. People witness such bullying in factual and fictional stories, day by day in a thousand contexts: in the news, on social media, in movies and TV shows. It becomes increasingly more normal to bully.  It becomes easier to bully.  It becomes common. It becomes OK.  And it becomes OK for the victim to respond by becoming the bully themselves.

The question is, how should one face a bully?  How can we honourably respond to someone who expresses their own fears and a consequent need for power by stirring up fear, anger and hatred in others? How can we communicate with someone unwilling to listen or reason? It is often easier to give in, just adapt, bruised and disempowered but still alive.  The reasoned path of peaceful resistance can be far harder.

We know that Asterix was a big influence as a child, but what have been the three most important books, or authors, in your adult life?

It is not possible to choose three. I can give you a scattered list of books that come to mind. Books that I have most loved and valued through my life:

Ethics by Spinoza
Ethics by Peter Singer
Walden by Thoreau
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius 
Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu
Confessions by St Augustine
Anarchism by Peter Kropotkin 

Not to mention Kant, Schopenhauer, Seneca, Chomsky, Bergson, David Abram, Whitehead, Mary Midgely, the poetry of Yeats, Emily Bronte and Wordsworth.

If you had a magic pen capable of forming your lost thoughts into a story, what would you like to write about that you haven’t already?


Could you tell us a bit about Honouring the Ancient Dead?

HAD is an organisation that asserts a very clear and simple perspective: that there should be no difference in the way we treat someone who has died whom we have personally known and loved, and someone who died many years ago. Whether a Saxon skull exhumed in a road development, a medieval king searched and found, a body preserved in peat, a box of bones found in a collector’s attic, an ancient thigh bone or urn of ashes, a soldier from 20th century Ypres or 14th century Crecy, whether the individual’s name is known or not, each and every ancestor is no less a person than our own mother, spouse or child. We should treat each with no less respect than we would treat the body and bones of our immediate family, of those we ourselves dearly love. For HAD, that means allowing each person to be laid to rest in peace, and remain at peace.

There are hundreds of thousands of ‘human remains’ in museums and other organisations, boxes of bones with no associated information, bones on display as if they were simply sherds of pottery, skeletons manipulated into poses for gory exhibitions, bones held in store for scientific research for which no funding is ever likely to be found. Of course, there are some who simply don’t care, whose metaphysical standpoint is such that they would be happy for this to happen to someone they love most profoundly. HAD’s remit is not to judge or attack others people's beliefs, but to work for those whose values and interests in the dead accord with its own. From that position, it calls for consultation about ancestors when decisions need to be made. It gives guidance where asked to those whose path brings them into contact with ancestors. It creates best practice guidelines for reburial, for display, for the housing of ancestral bones, and it has what we believe is the most comprehensive current list of ancestors in museums across Britain. Like many charities, its aims far exceed its funding and capacity, but it tries!

What are you working on at the moment?

My day to day work is the creation of a nature reserve and natural burial ground. Like many whose work is with nature, it’s a full-time job, seven days a week, all year through. As a writer, I have spent a year documenting the natural history of the nature reserve; a gentle book of daily observations that will be published online with photographs in time. My hope is that it will be a book that inspires others to notice the moments of beauty, and do more to care for this precious planet.

My next writing adventure, however, is one I’ve been thinking about for some time. A book that follows on from my Pagan ethics, Living With Honour, and my animist metaphysics, The Wakeful World. It explores the politics of human society and religion, how decisions are made and societies formed. Essentially, it is a book about god and anarchy from an animist perspective. However, at the moment, the call of silence is often far stronger, so it may take some time.