I heard about the passing of Carl Weschcke yesterday while sitting at the Detroit airport. It didn’t hit me in the way that some other recent passings have, instead it made me contemplative. Weschcke was one of the most important Pagan Pioneers of the last 100 years, yet rarely is he acknowledged as such. Perhaps it’s because “his books” weren’t written by him, but they all bear his mark, that Llewellyn crescent moon we’ve all come to know so well.
I didn’t really “know” Weschcke. Sure we met at a PantheaCon once, but he was Carl Weschcke the owner and publisher of Llewellyn, and well, I was (and still am) just a harmless drudge. It was a big moment for me, most certainly less so for him.
That’s not to say he wasn’t gracious with his time. He was friendly as we sat in the back of some hospitality suite and watched the chaos unfold. I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years in that I’ve gotten to meet a whole lot of “famous Pagans” that I find way out of my league. Talking to Carl for a few moments felt like talking to John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin; the quiet genius behind the scenes who was secretly pulling all the strings.
Several years ago I put together a list here on RtH spotlighting the “25 Most Important People in the Pagan Revival,” Weschcke was on that list, and if I had numbered the entire thing he would have probably been in the Top Ten. He’s an extraordinarily important person in the history of Modern Paganism, and 99% of the people who read this blog have been influenced by him in some way. He was (and in many ways, remains) a towering figure in the Occult World whose influence will be felt for decades, it not centuries, to come.
I’m sure most of you who clicked on this link are well aware of Weschcke’s biographical details. Born in 1930 he bought the then very small Llewellyn Publications in 1960. Over the decades he turned Llewellyn into the premier publisher of occult, esoteric, and Pagan texts. The bookshelves of many Pagans are dominated by Llewellyn titles, and even people who often badmouth the company still own many books published by them.
I think what Carl did, and he doesn’t get enough credit for this (but probably got enough blame for it during his lifetime), was bring the occult to the masses. If you wanted to learn about Witchcraft, well, now you could. Some of the first “ritual books” were published by Llewellyn. You may not like Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows (published in 1971 by Llewellyn of course) but it was hugely influential. Weschcke and Llewellyn didn’t just bring Wicca and Witchcraft to the table, they brought other religious and magickal systems into the modern era as well. The Kabbalah, The Golden Dawn, Druidry, Asatru . . . . if there was a magickal or Pagan community around Llewellyn had a book for it.
In college I had a friend who was extremely interested in the Kabbalah. Out on a road trip we visited one of St. Louis’s biggest occult/metaphysical stores. When my buddy asked the clerk where he should start with his studies he was told to read The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, most likely the MacGregor Mathers translation. I suggested to my friend that he might want to start with something simpler, and pointed out a small title from Llewellyn. He bought both, but the one he talked to me about two weeks later was the one published by Llewellyn. That was the entryway, and I’m my friend got around to reading Abramelin the Mage later in his studies, but he probably wasn’t ready for that so soon.
The occult publishing world was a ghetto before Weschcke, and he changed the game forever. You may not like much of Llewellyn’s output in the 1990’s, but their books were always well edited and beautifully put together. It wasn’t just the art on the cover either, peer inside some of those books, few companies lay out a book better than Llewellyn.
Weschcke was also a good man. Here’s a bit of his bio from Controverscial:
During the late 1950’s and early 60’s Weschcke became actively involved with the civil rights and liberties movements. He held office in the St. Paul’s branch of NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) and the ACLU, (Minnesota’s Civil Liberties Union) where he played a major role in bringing about fair-housing legislation in St. Paul.
Carl, thanks for everything. I wouldn’t be here today without the beautiful thing you built. You may be gone from this world, but your legacy will be sticking around for a long time to come.