I grew up in an area of Los Angeles called Mar Vista. To the west was Venice Beach. To the south was Culver City and the enormous MGM movie lot (oh, how I wanted to get in there!). Soon after I entered 1st grade at Mar Vista Elementary School my father died. After about a year of enormous issues, my mother found a job and for the next six years raised me and my older brother on a very small income.
Shopping was a money-saving ordeal. Groceries were bought at three or four markets which experience taught my mother had the best prices for the highest quality. There’s nothing wrong with being frugal like that, but the last thing a six-year-old boy wanted to do on a sunny weekend day was get dragged off to buy carrots, lettuce, and frozen peas!
One place I did enjoy being dragged to was Fedco. Fedco was an early chain of membership department stores. To become a member you had to be employed by certain companies and then pay a lifetime membership fee of $1. This entitled you to shop at any of the Fedco stores which sold a wide variety of products (including toys!) at a big discount. The one we usually went to was at the corner of La Cienega and Slauson in the Crenshaw area. Fedco went out of business in 1999.
The way we would go to the store, however, was convoluted. First you drive east on Venice Blvd. to National Blvd. I didn’t quite understand that as National started out north of Venice and parallel to it. How could it also cross Venice? However it jagged south, changed into Jefferson, and then I always got lost.
But it was a large rectangular sign on National Blvd. that always fascinated me. Suspended at the top of a building, it had the image of a boxed crescent moon and the words, “Read the Moon Sign Book” in large black type against a white background. “What,” I wondered, “was the Moon Sign Book?”
I was reminded of this recently when I obtained an early Llewellyn catalog that was printed long before I was even born:
The basic concept of the Moon Sign Book remains the same today, it just does a lot more and with far more panache. Inside, the thing that strikes me the most is that Llewellyn was functioning primarily as a retailer of book rather than a publisher. Yes, it does describe the complete works of founder Llewellyn George, including the Moon Sign Book, an astrological “wall-desk” calendar, and George’s massive A to Z Horoscope Maker and Delineator. [It'sÂ still available with a slightly changed name. It's been greatly expanded, updated and modernized.] First published about 100 years ago, this book has probably trained more astrologers than any other book in history.
Also listed is George’s quarterly magazine, The Astrological Bulletina. Complete with three supplements, a subscription was $2.10 per year. It has been continuously published since 1908. If you wanted training in astrology, the catalog describes the “Astrologian Outfit,” a home study course in astrology designed by George.
But most of the books were from other publishers. There were books by controversial Rosicrucian R. Swinburne Clymer and Manly Palmer Hall. Other authors included Alice Bailey of the Lucis Trust, Katherine Tingley (Theosophy), plus Dion Fortune, Macgregor Mathers, Paul Brunton, Max Heindel, Max Freedom Long, James Churchward, and C.C. Zain. Topics covered every aspect of occultism including ones not focused on today such as whether pets go to heaven. Also, perhaps surprisingly, are books on Jiu-Jitsu, how to manage a small farm, and Home Lessons in Tap Dancing by Rita Ramsey!
Every so often it’s nice to look at our pasts and see how they have led to the present and point to the future. But as one of my teachers, Dr. Michael Turk used to say, “Learn from the past, live in the present, create your future.” Remembering the past is a good thing. Learning from the past is a good thing. Living in the past is not a good thing. Instead, we should treasure each moment of the present on our paths to incredible futures.
[The last time I saw the old Llewellyn sign it was rusting in the back yard of The Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood. The store property has been sold and the store itself is scheduled to go out of business in a few months. I have no idea what will happen to the sign.]