Endemic Issues Within Pagan and Polytheist Publications
This piece is going to be a little bit more free-form than my usual, more technical, pieces.
I recently received a copy of Marcus Cassius Julianus’ book The Roman Imperial Cult: Emperor Anastasius I – A Practical Manual For the Worship of the Divine Emperor. It is a short read, only 67 pages, and the price point on it was not too offensive, less than ten dollars on Amazon. It is a sturdy book, and its size doesn’t seem to give it any predisposition towards splitting at the binding.
The book itself is, quite simply, a how-to guide to approaching the worship of the Divine Emperor Anastasius I, the last Roman Emperor to be deified by decree. While my Roman inclinations are far earlier, chronologically speaking, I purchased it with the understanding that I could probably take some of this practice and apply it to my own interests. It is short, to the point, and frankly very boring.
I regret purchasing it, immensely.
This book fails in one major respect, which should never be allowed to occur: There is not one single citation, not one single reference work, not one single credit featured anywhere in this treatise. At all.
References and citations are ridiculously important. Why?
- It gives credit to others for their efforts and, more importantly, their ideas.
- It gives new individuals the ability to follow the chain of information. This includes finding the source material used by the author.
- Most importantly it dispels any concern of plagiarism and the taking of other ideas as his own.
This last point is perhaps most important. There is nothing to distinguish the words of Cassius from the words of another author. For all I know, these words have been printed elsewhere and Cassius has plagiarized them and is making money from them. He does, after all, copyright the contents of the book to himself. Further, Cassius provides a history of Anastasius I in the beginning of his work – a severely truncated and concise history, but a history nonetheless. A history which necessarily assumes access to other material that is not independent, unpublished research.
It is not even that there is a difficulty in distinguishing “historic” modes of practice that could have been preserved in some text with Cassius’ modernist interpretations of the practice of Emperor-veneration. While a lot of Roman practice is provided in original source material, much more needs to be inferred through practice and, potentially, innovated. Frankly, I approached this book expecting it to be the case where there is a fair bit of innovation.
It is that there’s nothing where Cassius points to the whole of the work being entirely made up, or if there’s anything that has any basis in fact and innovation. His production of this piece without any references does not enable anyone to follow his words back to a source where they can make their own inferences and decisions. It would be like writing that Romans performed certain rites, rituals, and approached ways of practice or natural festivals without differentiating between what Ovid or Cato historically attested, what the author has innovated, and simply expecting the reader to assume that it was as you told it.
But the lack of citations, the lack of reference material absolutely grates on me as someone who has gone through rigorous academic studies. It denotes sloppy scholarship at best and the potential for the author to engage in willful theft at worst. To add further insult to the injury that providing no reference list causes, Cassius does include a list of websites for further reading.
Websites that he has a hand in organizing, supporting, or is otherwise personally involved with. Assuming his words are not the sole writings of these organizations, he has specifically ripped off other authors.
This problem is endemic within Pagan publications. It is true that many Pagan books are written from a personalized perspective – one which would not generally require any form of reference material, and akin to a blog or other relaxed form of writing. These include personal accounts, treatises on practice that the author developed, and the like, which are very common in much of the introductory level books that can be perused through the Pagan section of a chain bookstore. This practice has become a sort of baseline for many authors, and some very good authors fall into the trap where they do not provide sources of reference or inspiration, leaving them open to the possibility of plagiarism and idea theft.
Is it a problem with a self-contained Wiccan lineage producing their own Book of Shadows? No, not so much, because much of it is self innovation. This is, of course, under the caveat that they had not previously “officially” published their work prior. Self-plagiarism is a thing, after all.
For books like The Roman Imperial Cult, it is a very big problem, for all the reasons listed above. Books that make claims to any sort of historicity, any form of supposed research, require this buffer. Though I do not read as widely as I should otherwise, it appears that more Pagan authors are approaching their works as professional and academic endeavors, especially those from a historic perspective. It is my earnest hope that this trend progresses, both for the safety of the authors and for the betterment of the scholarship available to new readers, enabling them to pursue source material easily.
Published books do not have the luxury of appearing unprofessional. They’re representative of the efforts of the authors and a representation of an individual’s engagement in his or her religious material. They do not simply sit on one’s own bookcases, but the bookcases of other purchasers, both real and virtual. Further, they will out last us. They will remain when we are gone, and we will have no more opportunity to defend our decisions to not include reference material and our assurances that we did not, indeed, steal these words.
Thanks for reading.