On Tract

I have a confession to make. I LOVE collecting religious tracts. It’s almost a fetish. Perhaps it’s the fact that most tracts are pocket-sized and cute, like a little make-up compact. Or maybe it has to do with my fascination with propaganda and the creative ways people find to proclaim their views. I also like how, especially in the South, you just never know where you’re going to find a tract. Sometimes you come across a stack of them, but usually it’s just one lone tract left just for you. Bathroom stalls and post offices are popular areas, but sometimes you find one among the cereal at the grocery store. Just a little treasure left for the taking. Most of the tracts that I’ve collected over the years are Christian tracts usually full of hell fire and brimstone, but I’ve also collected some Unitarian, Baha’i, and Hindu tracts.

If you have never come across a tract, a tract is a piece of religious or political propaganda, often using strong fervent language that is presented in a petite and pithy package. The object of a tract is to entice folks to pick it up so that the religious message can be distributed to the masses. Tracts are made cheaply and often en masse, so they are usually only printed in black and white.  If color is used, it is done so with great strategic forethought.

There are many different types of tracts, each one filling a particular propaganda niche and often times reader demographic. The types of tracts can be divided into two different categories: how the tract is made and the purpose of the tract. Obviously, one tract will fall into both of these categories. Some tracts are very low-tech creations, made by an organization with a shoestring budget. Other tracts are professionally written, printed, and are often ordered from a religious propaganda company. Most of the tracts that are distributed are small folded brochures, but sometimes the tracts are small, stapled booklets.

While the overall purpose of a tract is to help the reader on their own spiritual path (which may or may not match up with the path of the tract) and to pique their interest in your religion, there are many variations on these themes. Most tracts cover several different purposes in their limited space. A tract can be persuasive, often employing graphics (a la Chick tracts), scripture quotations, and testimonials. A tract can be informational. Informational tracts often include tables about what a religion is and isn’t, general information about a religion, prayers, and addresses for more information.

Even though many of the world’s religions choose to use tracts, Pagans seem to shy away from this cheap and efficient method of distributing information. For many Pagans this is due to the fact that many Pagan paths do not espouse evangelism; the evangelistic nature of many tracts seems to have left a bad taste in the mouths of some Pagans. Despite this, tracts should not be dismissed as a wonderful way to disseminate information to the Pagan community, particularly people new to the path. As previously mentioned, tracts can be produced cheaply. Their small size is also appealing to folks who are not out of the broom closet, for whom discretion is of great value. These facts make tracts a desirable way of disseminating some very needed information into the world, for the benefit of both Pagans and non-Pagans.

If you decide to create a tract, please keep the following tips in mind:

  • If the tract is for a general audience, only use images and language that is rated G.
  • Make sure to proofread and edit your tracts. If your tract is full of errors, nobody will take it seriously.
  • Remember that space is limited in a tract, so be precise and pithy in your language.
  • Provide credits when you are able if you use images or writings that are not yours.
  • Create a catchy title for your tract. You want to entice people to take your tract with them, not just throw it away.
  • Consider using color.  The strategic use of color is a good way to catch a potential reader’s attention.
  • Make sure to provide an address of some sort for readers to go to for more information.
  • Decide if you will be leaving your tracts subversively (like in the restroom) or if you will be leaving them openly. If leaving them openly, make sure to ask permission of the venue’s owner.

For more information on designing and formatting tracts, check out: http://www.tracts.com/Yourowntract.html; http://freedomguide.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-to-make-freedom-tract.html.

Have fun writing and designing your tracts.  Once you start, you’ll find that creating these cute pieces of literature can be quite addictive.