110 Years of Spiritual Development
Part 3 of a 3-part Series
Going by the Gut. Massive Growth. Unlimited Potential.
Historic Overview of Growth of
Occultism and Spirituality
In my previous posts in this series I have associated historical events with the advancement of spirituality in the West and the growth of Llewellyn. I contend that to really understand what was going on requires this three-fold approach. Therefore, to fully comprehend the development of Llewellyn and its impact on worldwide (and especially U.S.) spiritual growth between 1961 and the present begins with understanding the changes over time in the numbers of people interested in spirituality and the occult.
To illustrate this I’ve created the chart below. To the best of my knowledge there have been no surveys resulting in specific numbers of spiritually oriented people over time. However, based on the number of books and articles appearing in magazines and newspapers, I believe the relative concepts revealed in the chart are generally valid.
An important aspect to notice is that there are two classes of people interested in occultism. The first is what I refer to as “occult faddists.” These are people who are interested in the latest fads. They flit from one fad to another. They follow whatever their popular idols are into at the moment. And when interest wanes, they are quick to leave one fad for another. Amongst some Wiccans these occult faddists are called “fluffy bunny” Wiccans.
The number of faddists is consistently much larger than the group I’m calling “hard core occultists.” Their numbers change much faster and the line representing the hard core occultists has changes that are far less radical than those of the faddists.
Some people look down on the faddists. I do not. When fads die out, some of the faddists shift to becoming part of the dedicated, hard core of spirituality and occultism. The faddists include valuable, hard core occultists in training.
Note in the chart some basic trends. An increase in numbers based growing popularity of Spiritualism and New Thought, as well as the loss of life with WWI and the flu pandemic at the beginning of the 20th century. This number falls with the debunkers appearing in the 1920s and 1930s, and falls even more with WWII and the need to rebuild families and the social structure. Massive growth begins again with the Baby Boomers in the 1960s, but falls with the “me” generation of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A sudden rise occurred with a few fascinating books such as Shirley Maclaine’s Out on a Limb in 1983. Although in 2006 the book and movie The Secret was popular, with the growth of the internet and the almost instant mocking and negativity that appeared, it did not achieve the popularity of previous fads, and since then little has really made it to fad level.
There are two things that are apparent from the chart:
First, as stated above, there are far more faddists than hard core occultists. For any business focused on spirituality to survive, there is a need to appeal to both groups. Although Llewellyn has published more books that would appeal to hard core occultists than any other publisher, they have also published more good books directed toward the faddists than any other publisher. Unfortunately, some people ignore the more in-depth books and criticize (falsely, in my opinion) Llewellyn for providing books to a market that has some members who will eventually become hard core occultists. In many cases, if it were not for those popular books a publisher such as Llewellyn could not afford to publish books for hard core occultists.
Second, overall, the number of occultists and people interested in spiritual topics continues to grow.
Llewellyn is Purchased
Everything Changes…and Stays on the Same Evolutionary Path
There are only a few reasons why a business owner sells the business. They don’t know how to run it and are losing money or not making much. Ill health or retirement. Being swallowed by a bigger company. That’s about it. By 1961, the founder of Llewellyn, Llewellyn George, had died and a printer was desperately trying to keep the company running. When you don’t have a lot of money, trying to run more than one business, even if they are related, can be difficulty or even impossible.
So the printer who owned the rights to the name Llewellyn Publications and the right to publish works owned by Llewellyn decided to sell. In Minnesota, even though he had been told that publishing books on astrology and occultism would be a losing proposition, Carl Weschcke decided to go with his “gut” feelings. He purchased Llewellyn and all of its holdings (except the sign from the old building as shown in my previous post in this series) and brought it back to his home in Minnesota.
Sometimes, things just happen at the right time and the right place. Perhaps it was Carl’s use of astrology to figure out the timing, but the bottom line is that the occult world was about to explode, and Llewellyn Publications was going to be the spiritual center of that growth.
Especially at that early stage, Llewellyn and Carl Weschcke were the same. He literally did everything from editing and acquisitions to sales and marketing. I have the greatest admiration for Carl and years ago called him the “Father of the New Age.” This isn’t because Carl was at the front of every new movement and writer, but because without his work with Llewellyn Publication, there wouldn’t have been a market for all of those others (or it wouldn’t have been as big as it became).
A Little-Know Story of Llewellyn Publications
Only a few years after Carl Weschcke purchased Llewellyn, a young man and recent UCLA college graduate submitted a manuscript for consideration. The topic was shamanism, something that was perfect for Llewellyn’s core topics. Carl realized that another publisher could do a much better job of promoting this important work. Llewellyn passed on the book, allowing the writer to submit it to another publisher. That writer: Carlos Castañeda. The book: The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
Although it is really impossible to separate Carl Weschcke from Llewellyn Publications, there are other articles about Carl and the important role he’s played in everything from Minnesota politics to the birth and growth of the New Age. I’ll leave that to others to tell. For this blog post, I want to focus on what Llewellyn Publications has done. Although it could not have been done without the force of Will possessed by Mr. Weschcke, we can also look at what Llewellyn has done for spirituality and occultism and frankly, be astounded!
In the 1960s, Llewellyn continued to publish updated versions of some of George’s books and calendar.
In 1962, Llewellyn published Grant Lewi’s Heaven Knows What. Out of print for over a quarter century, this book, a modern simplification of astrology that was far above the simple sun sign astrology found in newspapers, Lewi’s book not only sold well but interested tens of thousands of people in exploring astrology, resulting in the opening of the modern interest in the subject. As a result, Lewi has been called “the father of modern astrology in America.”
Israel Regardie had published major books in the 1930s, selling the rights to the publisher, Aries Press. Llewellyn purchased the copyrights and published the second editions of some of his books which had been ignored for three decades. The Golden Dawn was published in a boxed, two-volume version rather than the original four volumes. Over the years, this became one volume with added notes and an invaluable index. Llewellyn also re-published Regardie’s The Middle Pillar, and A Garden of Pomegranates, both classic magickal and kabalistic works. Although Llewellyn had purchased the copyrights and literally owned the books, they contacted Regardie and paid him royalties on the books. Llewellyn had also purchased from Aries Press Regardie’s fourth classic book, The Tree of Life. Regardie informed Llewellyn that he had promised another publisher permission to publish that book and Llewellyn continues to allow them to do so. It was only in the year 2,000, long after Regardie’s death, that Llewellyn published an edition of that book.
Original Llewellyn two-volume Golden Dawn set.
Books one and two of Regardie’s original are combined in volume one.
Books three and four comprise volume two.
Not shown: Original slipcase
Current Expanded Edition of The Golden Dawn
Not Shown: a Different Cover to the Hardbound Edition. Simple Blue with Gold Stamping
The communication with Regardie and the nascent “Caliphate” O.T.O. resulted in popular publishing of Aleister Crowley’s works, including Regardie’s collection of the magickal texts from Crowley’s enormous journal entitled Gems from the Equinox. Several of Crowley’s works were published by Llewellyn at this time, often with notes and comments by Regardie. Llewellyn also published Regardie’s important psychological profile of Crowley, Eye in the Triangle.
Perhaps the most famous publication of a Crowley item from this period was 1969’s first color publication of Crowley’s Thoth Tarot. Although the printing in Hong Kong was somewhat washed out, the deck, 40 years later, is still highly desired, in part because of its amazingly high quality box, a Tarot deck box with quality that few decks have ever had.
Closed Box, 1969 Thoth Tarot. Note the Publisher.
The box opened. Inside the outer box was another full box, covered with gold-colored paper.
The deck would go into the gold box, and the gold box would slide into the outer box.
Here you see the open sides of the heavy, cardboard boxes with a deck inside the gold box.
On the right is the outer box, showing its back.
But Llewellyn didn’t stop with republishing some of the 20th century’s most important magickal books, often making those works available to more people for the first time ever. Llewellyn worked to provide information from modern writers and contemporary magickal thinkers. One way to do this was in a journal of brilliant articles. This journal, called New Dimensions, was edited by Gareth Knight who went on to write the two-volume A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism.
Although it seems odd to think of it today, it was only in the late 1960s and 1970s that Wicca began to become popular in the U.S. Most of the books available in the U.S. were either republication of old books or total nonsense such as 1971’s The Do-It-Yourself Witchcraft Guide by Luba Sevarg (AKA Evelyn Silverman Graves) or 1975’s hysterical, The Naked Witch by Gay-Darlene Bidart. Llewellyn, for its part, published the first public version of Gardner’s full information in Lady Sheba’s The Book of Shadows and The Grimoire of Lady Sheba. Combined with works by authors such Raymond Buckland, no publisher, then or now, introduced more people to real Paganism than Llewellyn.
In the 1970s, Llewellyn started a school (The Gnostica School), and held some of the first Pagan festivals in the U.S. The newsletter for the school and new shop became a small newspaper and finally a magazine, perhaps the best occult-oriented magazine ever published in the U.S., Gnostica.
Llewellyn continued republishing valuable but relatively ignored books such as many of Dion Fortune’s works and Regardie’s edit of Crowley’s Magick Without Tears.
New titles were also published including Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia, a thorough updating and expansion of Crowley’s 777. Never abandoning its roots, Llewellyn published more modern books on astrology as well as one of the first modern astrological magazines, Astrology Now.
Other topics included graphology, palmistry, and the book Sexual Occultism by Dr. Jonn Mumford.
This was an amazing and important book for two major reasons. First, to the best of my knowledge it was the first modern popular explanation of ancient Traditional Tantric concepts of spirituality as well as the more popular sexual aspects of Tantra. Second, it was (and remains) one of the only books that compares and contrasts Tantric magickal concepts with those of Western magick. The book was eventually expanded and retitled Ecstasy Through Tantra, and I was honored to be allowed to write a chapter for the new edition of this book.
Contraction and Expansion
In the 1980s, things changed. The “Me Generation” wasn’t as interested in occultism as were the Baby Boomers. Llewellyn had expanded faster than was financially justifiable. The store was long closed. Others were holding Pagan festivals so Llewellyn no longer needed to do so. Llewellyn downsized. The magazines folded and were replaced by Llewellyn’s New Times, a combination catalog and magazine…with the emphasis on catalog. Still, there was enough valuable information in it that issues of New Times are now valued collectors’ items.
The popularity of occultism eventually began to grow again, and Llewellyn was ready to grow with it. A young author on Witchcraft, Scott Cunningham, become popular and prolific. He helped create the concept that people need not be part of a coven to practice Wicca, opening the religion and practices to millions of people and paving the way for authors such as Silver RavenWolf and Christopher Penczak. Denning & Phillips opened the Ogdoadic tradition of magick with their revelation of the magick of the Aurum Solis and the popular “Practical Guide” series of books they wrote on individual topics such as creative visualization, astral projection, and the first modern book on psychic self-defense.
Two other events happened in the late 1980s that I think were very important. In 1988 Llewellyn published the first edition of my Modern Magick. This has become the most popular step-by-step course of magick ever published. The other thing that happened is that FATE magazine was purchased by Llewellyn. After learning my craft by spending three years as the Editor-in-Chief of Llewellyn’s New Times, I became the new editor of FATE.
In the following years Llewellyn specialized in developing and continuing to develop authors who have become Occult, Pagan, and New Age superstars. Some of these authors include Ted Andrews, D. J. Conway, Amber K, Michael Newton, Raven Grimassi, Anodea Judith, Richard Webster, Ellen Duggan, Guy Finley, and Michelle Belanger. Llewellyn began developing its own line of Tarot decks and teamed with Italy’s Lo Scarabeo to become one of the world’s largest distributors of unique Tarot decks. FATE was eventually sold to Galde Press.
Llewellyn Publications moved from Portland Oregon to Los Angeles to Minnesota. In Minnesota it began as part of a large house in Minneapolis (a haunted house, of course!), moved to take over a floor of a large building in St. Paul, then moved to take over a remodeled soft drink plant. In 2005 Llewellyn built a new campus in Woodbury, Minnesota. It continues there, publishing some of the most important spirituality-oriented books. Note that I just wrote “important,” not “famous.” Some of Llewellyn’s authors are world famous. Some have the potential for fame. Some are not famous but have influenced writers who have achieved greater fame. The books by those authors may have reached more people, but are not more important than those published by Llewellyn.
Some people may disagree with that. Without the more famous authors, people wouldn’t know those ideas. I must respectfully disagree. As I wrote in the first of this series,
Ideas alway precede actions. Those ideas may come from our unconscious minds or from something we have seen or read. Thus, although Llewellyn is “just a publishing company,” Llewellyn has helped change the world. No, Llewellyn didn’t publish any books that started a physical revolution. Rather, from a limited beginning focused on astrology, the books published by Llewellyn have helped fire the spiritual hopes, dreams, and aspirations of millions of people, eventually coalescing into what is currently called the New Age.
I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to any of the important people I may have accidentally omitted in these three posts. I’m sure I missed several very important authors and books, and I meant no slight or insult to you or your works. I’d also like to apologize for any mistakes in dates and history that may have occurred in these posts. Any fault is solely mine.