Interview with Carl Weschcke’s Biographer

Melanie Marquis (Voyage Denver).

I once stayed a couple of nights at Carl Weschcke’s house, when he lived out in Marine on St. Croix, and on the drive back and forth to the old Llewellyn Publications office in St. Paul I heard a lot of his stories — but I am sure there are more!

Colorado author Melanie Marquis has written several books for Llewellyn, but the one that I most want to see is Carl Llewellyn Weschcke: Pioneer & Publisher of Body, Mind & Spirit.

From the publisher’s description:

To the countless people he inspired, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke will forever be known as the Father of the New Age. This vivid and entertaining book tells Carl’s story, from a childhood influenced by his Spiritualist grandfather to his early days as a member and president of the Minnesota NAACP. Discover the fascinating account of how he transformed Llewellyn Publications from a small publisher of astrology pamphlets into the largest and most important publisher of body, mind, and spirit literature. Read about Carl’s relationships with the most influential thinkers and teachers of the counterculture, and his public Wiccan handfasting and enduring relationship with his wife, Sandra. Written by longtime friend Melanie Marquis?and including photos and contributions from authors, artists, family, friends, and collaborators?this is a book that looks back at the kindling of a movement while empowering fellow travelers on their journey forward.

When people talk about the history of Paganism, most of the emphasis is on the groups, leaders, and inspirational writers. Carl did some writing too, but I focus on his accomplishments as publisher and facilitator. He added Wiccan and then other Pagan titles to what had been an astrology-focused list. He threw parties. He published Gnostica, his “magalog” (magazine + catalog) with people like Isaac Bonewits (briefly editor) and Robert Anton Wilson writing for it. His Gnosticon festivals, along with the Church of Wicca’s Samhain Seminars (both of them hotel-based conventions) were among the first large Pagan gatherings where people actually met practitioners from other groups beyond their own.

Really, could you imagine North American Paganism without Llewellyn books, say what you will about some of them? No Buckland’s “Big Blue Book“? No Scott Cunningham? No Silver Ravenwolf? No Chas Clifton’s Witchcraft Today series?

According to Marquis, interviewed on the website Voyage Denver, Carl was “an absolutely fascinating man who took a small mail-order company of astrology pamphlets and built it into a multi-million dollar publishing house focused on New Age and occult literature. He was also a lifelong student of the occult sciences. and a dedicated activist and engaging speaker and outspoken leader during the civil rights era.”

Read the whole interview about her life and her writing here.

Propagation, not Divination

With a snowstorm predicted, I snip the seed heads of yarrow plants.

Some are tossed in a little gully that stays moist in drought, others onto the tall grass over the dogs’ graves.

The stems I leave to rot.1)A reference to how the I Ching was originally cast, through a sort of trance-inducing procedure of sorting yarrow stalks to determine the value of each line of the hexagram.

Notes   [ + ]

1. A reference to how the I Ching was originally cast, through a sort of trance-inducing procedure of sorting yarrow stalks to determine the value of each line of the hexagram.

Margot Adler’s Old Radio Station Shuts Down

Margot Adler, 1946–2014

Well-known Pagan writer Margot Adler worked for National Public Radio, but she also had a presence at  Pacifica’s WBAI in New York City, where she hosted a talk show called “Hour of the Wolf.”

The show continued after her death, but no more: WBAI has shut down. Apparently the “listener-supported” thing no longer worked for them. And their website links to articles about Margot no longer work either.

In the ’60s and ’70s, the station had been a platform for the counterculture, broadcasting everything from Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” to George Carlin’s “Filthy Words.”

More recently, it hit financial turbulence, laying off nearly two-thirds of its staff in August 2013. In November of that year, musicians including Pete Seeger staged a benefit concert for WBAI at the Cutting Room.

In March 2014, after falling $1.8 million behind on rent in the Empire State Building, the station received an emergency loan to prevent the building’s holding company from seizing its assets. It then relocated to 4 Times Square.

Pacifica said Monday it would relaunch WBAI once it’s able to create “a sustainable financial structure for the station.” Until then, it said WBAI’s signal would carry “a network source called Pacifica Across America.”

How Do You Write to a Pagan Author?

I got this email last week from a publishing firm that I had never heard of. I did my due diligence — I looked at their website and read an article about them from Publishers Weekly. Apparently their nonfiction business model is to do deep data analysis and see what is trending, then commission books about those things.

Apparently one of those trending things is Paganism. Yeah, I know, surprise surprise.

So I got this letter, and I wonder who else got it too. I’m still chuckling at the first sentence:

I hope this finds you in a joyously supernatural or naturalistic environment. My name is [redacted] and I help manage acquisitions for  [name of company], a nonfiction book publisher that is the fastest growing in the world. Given your incredible passion for all that encompasses the pagan realm, with a strong background as a Pagan writer as well, I thought you would be interested in potentially authoring a new book we seek to publish.

I am still trying to sort that out. If I were in a “supernatural environment,” would I be reading email? Wouldn’t I be feasting with the Fairie Queen or something? As for “naturalistic,” that usually a term in art criticism: “closely resembling the object imitated.”1)“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Maybe she meant that I was sitting with my Power Book under the pine trees— a nice image, but not how I work.

Let’s leave aside my “incredible passion” (sweetie, you don’t know me that well) and the inconsistent capitalization of Pagan/pagan. Also, “fastest growing” should be hyphenated. Anyhow, I bet she sent out a batch of these, don’t you?

Thank you, [name redacted], for brightening my week. But I have too much on my plate to write another “Paganism 101” book.

Notes   [ + ]

1. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Bargains in Witch Kitsch All This Month!

As of Tuesday, it’s Witch Kitsch Month. So if this is the time when you stock up on plastic skulls and manufactured stuffed ravens, hit your local thrift store — it’s a whole lot cheaper than Spirit World or some party store.

Prices are low, low, low — horrifically low.

At Goodwill, I found a simply adorable giant rubber rat (not pictured), which probably will become a geocache in some deserted building. Today I lingered over this coffee cup and a skull-themed nightlight — and this Halloween owl—but opted instead for a little battery-powered three-color strobe light ($1.49), made to be put inside your jack-o-lantern. I see it inside a hanging mask, animal skull, or something else instead.1)Its package  was unopened. Some wholesaler probably dumped them because the package said “Requires 2 AA batteries,” whereas the battery holder is sized for AAA batteries. Made in China.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Its package  was unopened. Some wholesaler probably dumped them because the package said “Requires 2 AA batteries,” whereas the battery holder is sized for AAA batteries. Made in China.

The Robot God and the Underworld Gate

Robot God

“With Open Arms We Welcomes That Which Would Destroy Us.” Camino de la Placita, Taos, September 2019

Earlier this month, M. and I were in Taos, New Mexico, for what I think was the fifth annual PASEO outdoor art festival. The interesting thing about PASEO is that it happens mostly at night, in a town with a late-medieval street plan that was built for ox carts and is still kind of sparing with streetlights. You spend your time walking in semi-darkness from one pop-up installation to another.

Some installations sound better on the page than they are experienced in person, but here are a couple that worked for me.

At least one year, equinoctial rainstorms lashed the night, but this year the festival was moved earlier in the month, and the weather was good for an Underworld-flavored Pagan-ish art experience.

Above and below:

With Open Arms We Welcomed That Which Would Destroy Us by Christian Ristow of Taos is a sculpture of a seated robot deity. From a distance, it is beautiful and seductive, yet on closer inspection it reveals its true nature. It is not evil; it’s a robot. It has its own directives. And like any god, we created it and gave it its power.

Walking up Civic Plaza (which is actually more of a street and not the plaza), we passed under this flaming arch.

Numinous Eye Arch, with the Robot God in the distance.

Its creator, Oakland, Calif., artist Ryon Gesink, writes,

The Numinous Eye Arch sculpture is a large steel archway with a looming giant spotlight eye at its apex. It gazes impassively in mysterious stoic surveillance, with a dozen [propane-fueled] torches along its length creating a dome of golden firelight. Some 18 years ago I began to feel a strong urge to create a sort of gateway or portal for people to pass through, beyond which one enters an unfamiliar hallucinatory world and goes on to encounter dangers and challenges emerging from one’s own subconscious. Could be a Gate to Hell or a Gate to Heaven, depending…

Past that and around the corner, more leaping flames, but those were the outdoor fires heating the patio at the Martyrs Steakhouse,1)There is a reason for that name. It is too long to go into here. which we passed, only to re-enter PASEO-space when we encountered a troupe of girl dancers, bedecked in rave-ish electroluminescent hoops and bands.

Taos Un/Connected by Amber Vasquez and Taos Youth Ballet in Taosis a roaming dance performance piece exploring the unique and ever-changing qualities of human relationships. From comfortable friendship or the awkwardness of new love to the isolating “connectedness” that social media can create. Dancers will both speak and dance as they travel in a train of movement.

OK, we’re in artspeak-territory here, but you just let it be and drift with the crowd through the semi-lit alleys and plaza, following the dancers until they finish under the glare of the monumental statue of Padre Martinez2)Northern New Mexico’s one-man Renaissance, and he had only the period from 1821-1846 in which to make his mark. in the main plaza.

If I might venture into UPG territory, moments at PASEO, out on the dark streets, do indeed have an Underworld feel to them. Ryon Gesink must have plugged into that energy. I have visited that place in dreams a time or so, checking on recently deceased family members. The crowds shuffle along, and it is so hard to see, except when there is an occasional brightly lit scene, and those are very rare.3)Or you get flat fluorescent lighting on the way in, which is almost as bad.

I will probably go back. Taos, after all, is where I officially became a Pagan, and it left its mark.

Notes   [ + ]

1. There is a reason for that name. It is too long to go into here.
2. Northern New Mexico’s one-man Renaissance, and he had only the period from 1821-1846 in which to make his mark.
3. Or you get flat fluorescent lighting on the way in, which is almost as bad.

Catholic Church Struggles with De Facto Polytheism

This is an old story, but it erupts in new forms. Polytheistic-style devotion keeps irrupting in the Roman Catholic Church, much to the concern of the hierarchs.

From The Catholic Herald (UK): “The Church’s life-and-death struggle with Santa Muerte: The Church in the Americas is sounding the alarm over a macabre new devotion.”

To the great consternation of the Church, over the past 17 years veneration of a Mexican folk saint that personifies death has become the fastest-growing new religious movement in the West. At this point there are no systematic surveys of the precise number of Santa Muerte devotees, but based on 10 years of research in Mexico and the US, we estimate there are some 10 to 12 million followers, with a large majority in Mexico and a significant presence in the United States and Central America. However, the skeletal folk saint, whose name translates into English as both Saint Death and Holy Death, now has followers across the globe, including in the UK, where there are sufficient devotees to support a Facebook group specifically for British followers . . . .

To understand the devotion to death, we must also examine the historical record. Across the Americas, and in particular in Mexico, death deities were prevalent during the pre-Hispanic era prior to colonisation. Many indigenous peoples, such as the Maya and the Aztecs, turned to death gods and goddesses for healing ailments, and also to guarantee safe passage into the underworld.

Yes, devotion to Santa Muerte is huge, and I have heard of some American Anglo Pagans who also participate in her cult, particularly in the Southwest.

El Niño Fidencio (Kid Fidencio), a folk saint of northern Mexico who is frequently channeled by healers.

There are more “folk saints.” One of my graduate-school professors, of partially Mexican ancestry, was fascinated by the cult of El Niño Fidencio, one of several folk saints who emerged from the chaotic years of revolution and civil war in early 20th-century Mexico.

Another of that period is Jesus Malverde, considered the patron saint of drug traffickers. It’s not to hard to find statues of him. He is one of a whole choir of “narco saints” (the linked article includes N. S. de Guadalupe; she is versatile).

The Ghosties Are Here Early

A ghostie joins La Catrina at the Hanging Tree Cafe.

I came down to Pueblo today and stopped for breakfast at the Hanging Tree Café, where it is already Halloween. And here I was getting geared up for the Chile & Frijoles Festival this weekend, which is my personal autumn equinox ritual. Time is out of joint! But at the Hanging Tree, La Catrina is always in the window. (I was complaining about this last year too, only this year I did Instagram it. It is what it is.)

Alexa, I Want to Talk to Julius Caesar

Via Mary Harrsch’s Roman Times online magazine: She is creating Alexa “skills” on ancient Roman topics.

I received word from Amazon that the newest version of my FREE educational Alexa skill, “Caesar’s Ancient World” has been certified. This latest version of the skill includes 280 images of ancient art from almost 100 institutions worldwide for those of you with Alexa-enabled devices with displays like the Echo Show, Echo Spot and FireTV. Of course the voice-only version remains available for those with regular Echos or Echo Dots.

I have redesigned the interface so you can now just ask Caesar what you would like to talk about and he will reply with narrative including sound effects. You can say things like “I want to know more about chariot racing” or “Tell me more about your greatest victory” or “I’m interested in gladiators”. If you can’t think of anything just say “I don’t know” or “I can’t think of anything” and he’ll suggest a topic!

Topics include priesthood, horseback riding, and the Roman institution of slavery. There is another one called “Ancient Wisdom.”

Roman Times is in the sidebar under “Classics,” but you need to be at this blog’s home page to see the sidebar!

A Wreath for Hardscrabble Creek

Earlier this month I wrote about tossing offerings into the Cache la Pourdre River in northern Colorado, and it hit me that I had not done anything about a certain creek in the southern part of the state — a creek that has been hit hard with three summers of flash-flooding (thanks to a forest fire at its headwaters) yet which still sustains my well, among other things.

In September, the flow is just a trickle, typical for the season. So I made a little wreath. M. used to make wreaths professionally, woven from grapevines from our backyard at the Cañon City house and filled out with dried flowers. Mine was simple by contrast: a willow branch and some Liatris (blazing star) blossoms.  Yet my thanks and best wishes were sincere.