If there is a 500 lb gorilla of the Pagan/metaphysical publishing world it has to be Llewellyn Worldwide. Formed in 1901 as a publisher of books and annuals of astrology, the company now boasts yearly gross sales of over 16 million, and has recently moved to an 80,000 square foot complex in Woodbury, Minnesota. A quick look at the selections of most book-sellers (mainstream or occult) will show shelves dominated by the Llewellyn moon logo on the spines.
Despite this success (or perhaps because of it) there has been an increasingly loud groundswell of criticism towards the company. One common complaint is that the company constantly re-hashes basic introductory (or “101″) material and rarely provides “advanced” literature for the more experienced practitioners. Now Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, president and owner of Llewellyn Worldwide, has come forward to say he agrees with those dissatisfied by the company’s output.
“Where are the Advanced Books? We hear this question as a complaint. People say there are mostly 101 books available and too few 202 and 303 books. And as a publisher I agree with the question and the complaint. I want to see more advanced books. I want to read and study more advanced books. I want to sell more advanced books. I want our community to have more advanced books.”
He then asks people to e-mail him directly and suggest what sorts of “advanced” books they would like to read. For some critics of the publisher, this may seem too good to be true. The owner asking for direct input on advanced titles? Is there a catch? The answer is, yes, there is a catch.
“…please, don’t confuse things. ‘Advanced’ books are not to be confused with history books, or memoirs … ‘Advanced’ books, in my personal opinion, are ‘specialty’ books dealing with what I call ‘Esoteric Technology,’ and others have called ‘technology of the sacred,’ ‘techniques of ecstasy,’ ‘ascension,’ etc. All deal with ‘becoming more than you are’ through an acceleration of a natural evolutionary process.”
So the recently published biography of celebrated Craft author and teacher Stewart Farrar, or the recent memoir by Alexandrian ‘Witch Queen’ Maxine Sanders, while most likely illuminating to any advanced student, wouldn’t count as “advanced”. Likewise, scholarly books on Wiccan or Druidic history by authors like Ronald Hutton or Chas Clifton, shouldn’t be confused with the “advanced” label either. Finally, groundbreaking books exploring Pagan theology don’t meet the very specific requirements of “advanced” proposed here.
What Weschcke wants are books exploring “Esoteric Technology”, or to put it another way, books on magic and magical techniques*. Not that there is anything wrong with Llewellyn wanting to publish more advanced works in this area (far be it from me to dissuade them from publishing advanced material in any subject), but that limiting “advanced” material to these “technologies” can create a distorted picture of what modern Paganism is. While magic can be important, it should never be forgotten that for many these “technologies” are bound to a religious faith. “Advanced” books on meditation, ritual magic, trance, and chants, should be joined by advanced books on theology, history, and philosophy.
For me, and I suspect for others, modern Paganism is primarily a religious movement. It is about reverence, fellowship, respect, joy, and connection. Magic (and related “technologies”) can, and have, been a part of that for me to differing degrees over the years. That said, the longer I journey this path, the more I value works that deepen and challenge my spiritual understanding. This isn’t to say I can’t learn more in the area of “sacred technologies”, or that many Pagans wouldn’t welcome such works, only that “advanced” isn’t something that should be isolated to the “how”, and should also explore the “why” and the “where” (not to mention the “what” and the “who”).
* If Weschcke is serious about exploring all “eight paths to the center”, then I look forward to books on the use of mind-altering substances and entheogens in the coming years.