I’d like to encourage the Pagan and Wiccan communities to start using the Creative Commons licenses on a regular basis. Two recent events inspired this. I was in touch with a Pagan on another blog, and she was kind enough to share with me some materials she developed for a workshop she has taught. Her work was well written, and as it was related to a topic I’m working on, I thought of how I might use it. She’d already considered the matter, and was kind enough to include a Creative Commons license on the materials she provided. Because of that license, I knew exactly what she wanted me to be able to do and not able to do. The specific directions included in the license made me think more deeply about how I could incorporate or be inspired by her work and how I could be sure that she got the credit she deserved. That’s going to make my work better and more original, and it’s going to make sure that I don’t – accidentally or not – deprive her of the benefits of her work.
The second event was a cautionary tale of what can happen when such precautions aren’t in place. I was discussing invocations with my High Priestess in the Order of the White Moon, Ka Wahine Ahi. Wahine told me about an invocation she’d written to Pele, which she had shared with some other Wiccans. Later, another student of hers who knew of Wahine’s devotion to Pele sent Wahine an invocation saying that she might be interested in it. It was the invocation Wahine had written, which was being circulated without attribution. Wahine was glad, of course, that others found the invocation good enough and useful enough to pass along, but was frustrated at not even having her name attached.
The Pagan community seems to be getting a little bit better about this; it’s relatively easy to find the “Isis, Astarte…” chant properly attributed to Deena Metzger, even online, for example. Greater publication probably helps, too. When more people get their resources out of printed books, it’s harder to “forget” over time that that chant or invocation wasn’t yours originally. It’s harder, too, to steal a copy of someone else’s Book of Shadows and claim it’s your grandmother’s, especially since print publication makes those materials available to more people. But we still patch together our own Books of Shadows, and use things that we heard once in a ritual, and circulate pieces of poetry in email, letting attribution drift off.
I’m encouraging this practice in part because I’m an author, and as such, I want to get credit for my work. Heck, someday I even hope to make a little money from my work – maybe even enough to buy some other Pagans’ books so I can keep creating more! But most of all, I think being careful to attribute works correctly makes good sense in a metaphysical fashion as well. As a Wiccan and someone who believes in magic, if I use something that is the fruit of someone else’s creativity, that creates a link – however tenuous, however momentary – between me and the creator. When I acknowledge the creator, and I am grateful for her and her work, that sends a little bit of what Bonewits liked to call “mana” to her. We find ourselves requesting and sending energy for all sorts of reasons – everything from a prayer for peace to Reiki for a friend’s sore knee. This is the same thing, even if you only take a moment to consciously acknowledge the creator. I can testify that the creative process is energy-intensive, and can be very draining. Acknowledging that work when you use the result keeps that energy flowing and is a way of giving back to the creator, hopefully so that even more creative work can take place. Just as it would be bad magic – as well as illegal – to “pirate” works that are sold for money, it is bad magic and probably a violation of the Rede to use works without acknowledgment. Especially if the author was kind enough to share the work with the community without cost – like T. Thorn Coyle’s beautiful recent work Rubaiyat for the Winter Solstice – we have an obligation for the benefit she shares with us.
I’m not trying to discourage the kind of sharing and circulation of resources that has helped the Pagan community grow. I would like to suggest that more people who share their works freely use Creative Commons, so that others know up front how it can be used. (Creative Commons provides a lot more than a copyright notice, and since it’s explicitly a license, it makes it more obvious that some acknowledgment should be made. See CC for more info.) As you’re adding material to your Book of Shadows, make a note where it came from. When you’re teaching students, or sharing resources, pass that info along. If you hear something that you like in a ritual, make an effort to ask the ritual leader where he got it, or do some digging on your own.
Attribution and keeping the energy flowing is good “karma” for you, it benefits creators in multiple ways, and it helps ensure that the Pagan community continues to benefit from the wonderful resources of its creative members.