Llewellyn and Advanced Pagan Books

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 18, 2008 — 3 Comments

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.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • brock-tn

    Llewellyn is obviously trying to respond to a clearly expressed demand for something more than the same old same old, while making it reasonably clear that they don’t want to publish anything that might challenge their customers’ preconceptions. Gods forfend that a Llewellyn book might suggest, for example, that there’s something more to being Wiccan than just deciding to call oneself that.Given the lovely hatchet job that Llewellyn did on Chas Clifton’s fourth “Modern Craft Movement” anthology back in 1994, where they cut five chapters, (more than a third of the manuscript,) on the grounds that the excised material was either “too controversial” or “not really of interest to our readers,” I’ve no confidence at all that the books published under this new initiative will be anything more than a different take on the same material we’ve been seeing for years.One problem here is that the advanced techniques that Carl Weschcke says he wants to publish books about require the practitioner to have already undergone a process of growth and development that is neither simple nor easy. And Carl has already made it pretty clear that he isn’t interested in publishing books about the hard parts. So he’s going to be publishing things that aren’t really going to be useful to the people who are interested in buying them.Not a good plan, in my humble opinion.

  • Luis Abbadie

    May I be skeptical about this? Thing is, the immense majority of Llewellyn readers are self-taught; that means people who think a 101 book on Wicca, for example, contains basically everything there is to Wicca. And considering they expect to fulfill most readers’ expectations, just what will they publish? On the other hand, it’s scary enough that their numerous books on Enochian magic are all actually 101 books…I had the misfortune to buy Llewellyn’s McCoy book Advanced Witchcraft years ago, and that book merely tells what the author thinks an advanced practitioner MIGHT learn and do, but is completely useless, misinformed and an outright scam in itself. McCoy’s earlier “basic” books were far more useful and basically coherent than this one. If those are the advanced technologies they will flood the markets with, I’ll pass.

  • Yvonne

    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.Exactly, and I think magic can actually contribute to disappearing up one’s own bottom and thinking oneself to be superior, instead of having more compassion for fellow beings. If you want to get closer to nature, go do some conservation volunteering.