From conjure to coloring Books: 45 years of the Witches’ Almanac

Terence P Ward —  June 15, 2016 — 2 Comments

NEWPORT, R.I. — When Elizabeth Pepper first started publishing the Witches’ Almanac in 1971, information on Wicca and Paganism was not easy to find. Most of it came in the form of newsletters and word of mouth, or through copies of the magazine Green Egg, where were read over and over again. Pagans had not yet begun to network in any meaningful way.

The Witches’ Almanac was one of the earliest publications to cater to practitioners of these emerging religions, modeled to some extent upon the Farmer’s Almanac in that it provided useful information in an annual format. With the exception of a ten year personal hiatus from 1981-1990, Pepper published The Witches’ Almanac consistently year after year.

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Pepper’s work and legacy continued on past her death in 2006 by her successor Andrew Theitic, who reminisced about the long-lived publication, which now, 45 years later, has evolved into a recognizable brand.

Pepper was already a well-regarded practitioner of the Craft when Theitic first met her in 1974. She clearly embraced the belief that women were the equal of men — an idea that was not widespread by any means. She demonstrated this by becoming the first female art director of Gourmet magazine, serving in that position for most of the 1950s. While her experience in publishing made it possible for the Witches’ Almanac to be created, it was her knowledge of the occult that made the almanac  something to be sought after.

Theitic began contributing soon after the two met, and Pepper eventually asked him to become its managing editor, while she continued to manage the art responsibilities. “When Elizabeth became ill in 2006, and was no longer able to work,” he recalled, “she asked me if I would take over the publication” and of the various titles then within her purview. “Of course I agreed to this. Elizabeth was a close friend for 30 years, and it was important for me to continue her legacy.”

When she died later that year, she bequeathed her publishing business to him, entrusting the legacy into his hands. And, since that point, Theitic has strived to live up to that responsibility. “I have continued with her wishes,” he said, “bringing magic, Witchcraft and wonder to our readership.”

The almanac has seen two overhauls in appearance to keep it up to date, and there have been complementary additions to the business. “I have expanded our line of titles to include books by Charles Leland, David Conway, and soon in the upcoming year, Paul Huson. We now also produce book bags, gemstone jewelry and an assortment of other fun items,” he said. “It is my intention to expand the almanac’s list of authors to include other notable writers. Hopefully we will see this happen over the next few years. In addition, we have some other publishing surprises in store.”

Of those surprises, Theitic was mostly coy, but he did acknowledge that one had to do with hoodoo; the other is “involving a Witches’ Almanac Journal.”

"Flight of the Transformed Witches' [courtesy image]

“Flight of the Transformed Witches’ [courtesy image]

With the tremendous growth and diversification in Pagan and associated religions, the almanac’s content and readership have kept pace. Topics include magic in forms from high to kitchen. It includes histories and discussions of various religious practices. There was even one devoted to the logo used by the Obama campaign, which garnered a thank-you note on White House letterhead.

“We receive letters from Witches, physicists, cunning folk, astrologers, Pagans, IT managers, artists, magicians, folklorists, college professors and many others from all walks of life,” Theitic said. He added that Pepper once remarked to him, “Dear, there will never be a shortage of interesting material. Just look at all of the different people who read the almanac. There will certainly be something of interest for everyone.”

Another example of how the Witches’ Almanac brand has been kept relevant is the release of the coloring book. The annual almanac reaches about 20,000 readers, and with this newest offering, “we are reaching the very youngest of our readership, and as I understand it, these little folks are now interested in the almanac too!”

The coloring book, as previously reported, is derived in part from illustrations that have been included over the years in the almanac proper. This includes images like “Flight of the Transformed Witches,” the standard back cover of the publication. The book is broken into thematic chapters, including sections of tarot, creatures, Egyptian themes, and medieval woodcuts.

In the woodcut category, images range from simple to very complex, allowing the artist to choose his or her level of involvedness. Many of the images can be very educational for children. This is especially true of the tarot, planets and constellations categories. Any age group will find the coloring book to be fun and relaxing. However, I feel that if coloring was a joint effort between parent and child, the education component also gets a chance to shine at its best.

The coloring book notwithstanding, “We are now reaching the grandchildren of the readers who were with us from the almanac’s inception.”

Even with his stated push for more “notable” writers, Theitic is willing to consider others less well-known, so long as they’ve been published. “We have a full complement of regular writers,” he said, but “we do welcome new writers, with new ideas.”

Cover 2016

Cover 2016

In 2004, the trusted publication entered the online world. As with any printed product, it’s a struggled to decide what to put online, and what to reserve for the page.

“For years, my marketing adviser has been suggesting that we charge for content, and make the site a go-to location for a lot of Almanac/Witchcraft/Magic-related information; almost forming a community. The staff and I have struggled with this, and as is evident, have chosen not to go in this direction at this time.”

What can be found on the site, beyond the publications themselves, is “a book review page, extras from almanac articles (usually an overflow from exceptionally long articles that are too lengthy to run in the printed almanac), Sites of Awe photos, and other information.

“I can’t say that the website has helped with sales. However, in a time when book sales everywhere have been decreasing, I believe the website has been helping to keep us around that 20,000 copies we print each year. In order to reach sales figures like this, it requires us to partner with our distributor, Red Wheel Weiser. The folks there have been invaluable to the growth of the Witches’ Almanac and related publications.”

That partnership, in which Red Wheel Weiser handles distribution, in some ways dates back to 1974. Theitic and Samuel Weiser both owned bookstores at that time and developed a friendship. Many years later, when Red Wheel Weiser absorbed the almanac’s distributing company Hampton Roads, their friendship made it easier for Theitic to trust the new company to continue distribution.

That relationship has supported other projects as well. The Weiser-founded bookstore, now called Weiser Antiquarian Books, sold the leather-bound limited edition of Charles Leland’s The Witchcraft of Dame Darrel of York when Theitic’s company published it. The Witches’ Almanac also hosted the following 2010 interview with Donald Weiser, who was the bookstore’s publishing program.

The Witches’ Almanac and associated projects make up a for-profit enterprise, which is not entirely common in Pagan circles. As such, Theitic finds himself a creator of Pagan jobs. In addition to himself, six part-timers and a full-time art director are employed handling tasks ranging from the more mundane, such as sales and fulfillment to a position just a bit more Pagan in character: the staff astrologer.

“Although our staff is paid, and not volunteer, each of them goes out of their way to fly the extra mile,” Theitic said. “We are a family before we are a business.”

From a rare source of knowledge to a well-regarded Pagan brand, the Witches’ Almanac has thrived in its first 45 years. One can only look forward to what surprises are to be revealed in the coming years and decades.

Terence P Ward

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Terence P Ward is a moneyworker, journalist, Hellenic polytheist and convinced Friend who lives in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his wife, five cats, and multiple household shrines.