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.