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.

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.”

A New Study of Solitary Pagans

Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans, and Others Who Practice Alone is a new study from Helen A. Berger, a sociologist of religion who has been studying contemporary Paganism for decades. Her body of work is large enough now that future scholars will be returning to it again and again for its depth.

It is published by the University of South Carolina Press, which says,

Solitary Pagans is the first book to explore the growing phenomenon of contemporary Pagans who practice alone. Although the majority of Pagans in the United States have abandoned the tradition of practicing in groups, little is known about these individuals or their way of practice. Helen A. Berger fills that gap by building on a massive survey of contemporary practitioners. By examining the data, Berger describes solitary practitioners demographically and explores their spiritual practices, level of social engagement, and political activities. Contrasting the solitary Pagans with those who practice in groups and more generally with other non-Pagan Americans, she also compares contemporary U.S. Pagans with those in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

Berger brings to light the new face of contemporary paganism by analyzing those who learn about the religion from books or the Internet and conduct rituals alone in their gardens, the woods, or their homes. Some observers believe this social isolation and political withdrawal has resulted in an increase in narcissism and a decline in morality, while others argue to the contrary that it has produced a new form of social integration and political activity. Berger posits the implications of her findings to reveal a better understanding of other metaphysical religions and those who shun traditional religious organizations.

Prof. Berger has authored or co-authored a number of books on contemporary Paganism, including A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (1999),  Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States (2003), Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self (2007), Witchcraft and Magic: Contemporary North America (2005).

In addition, she has mentored a number of younger social scientists studying contemporary Paganism (and other things) as well as having served on the steering committee for Contemporary Pagan Studies within the American Academy of Religion.

I will be looking to find this book at the AAR-SBL book show in November and will probably come home with a copy.

New Issue of The Pomegranate Published

Issue 20.2 (2018) table of contents
Articles
On the Agony of Czech Slavic Paganism and the Representation of One’s Own Funeral among Contemporary Czech Pagans
Giuseppe Maiello

An Esbat among the Quads: An Episode of Witchcraft at Oxford University in the 1920s
Graham John Wheeler

Pagan and Indigenous Communities in Interreligious Contexts: Interrogating Identity, Power, and Authenticity
Lee Gilmore

Claiming Europe: Celticity in Russian Pagan and Nativist Movement (1990s–2010s)
Dmitry Galtsin

The Hunt for Lost Identity: Native Faith Paganism in Contemporary Lithuania
Dalia Senvaityte

Book Reviews-open access
W. Michael Ashcraft, A Historical Introduction to the Study of New Religious Movements
Carole M. Cusack

Anthony Ephirim-Donkor, African Personality and Spirituality: The Role of Abosom and Human Essence
Douglas Ficek

Jefferson F. Calico, Being Viking: Heathenry in Contemporary America
Galina Krasskova

Pagan with a Capital P

In editing the current issue of The Pomegranate, one of my “favorite” issues came up again: whether or not Pagan is capitalized.

American scholars and Pagan authors tend to say yes. There has been a small campaign to convince the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook, widely used in the news media, and the Chicago Manual of Style, widely used by university presses and serious nonfiction publisher.

It’s a matter of accurate labeling and of respect. If Muslim, Hindu, etc. get capital letters, so should Pagan.

This is not an issue that will be settled in a year, or even two or three. But I have hope.

Meanwhile, “pagan” can be used in direct quotation, particularly when it has the sense of “irreligious,” as in C. S. Lewis‘s reference to the Roman poet Ovid as “that jolly old pagan.” (But he was also a cap-P Pagan, in my view.)

On the other hand, writers in the UK tend to lowercase “pagan.” Others try to split the difference, using “pagan” for the ancients and “Pagan” for practitioners of post-1900 Pagan traditions, i.e. “Neo-Pagans.”1)And that term, popular in the 1970s–80s, is more and more supplanted by “contemporary Pagan” or “modern Pagan.”

To my editorial eye, this approach is worse than no capital P at all. Imagine someone writing this: “Ancient pagans and today’s Pagans differ in their attitudes toward animal sacrifice.”

The reader might think that someone had either forgotten to capitalize one “pagan” or mistakenly capitalized the other. Confusing.

I was happy to see recently that Koenrad Elst, a Belgian scholar of Hinduism, was using the capital-P in a broad sense.2)Although he has a PhD in the study of Hindu nationalism, he is in fact is a civil servant, not an academic, which gives him certain advantages. Here, interviewed in the Hindu Post, he implies that “Pagan” is like “Hindu”—a label imposed by outsiders that nevertheless has been adopted today:3)This is a pro-BJP (ruling party) website.

The historical definition of the term “Hindu”, brought by the Muslim invaders[1], does not define a specific worldview and practice, as the definitions of Christianity and Islam do. “Hindu” is a geographically defined slice of Paganism, viz. all Pagan (=non-Christian, non-Muslim) traditions coming from Bharat (India). This means every possible belief or practice that does not conform to either Christianity or Islam. It includes the Brahmins, the upper and lower castes, the ex-Untouchables, the Tribals, the Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), the Jains, and many sects that didn’t even exist yet but satisfy the definition: Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, ISKCon. I am aware that many now refuse to be called “Hindu”, but since they satisfy the definition, they are Hindu, period. Elephants are not first asked whether they agree to being called elephants either.

My preference, too, is to use capital-P Pagan for all non-monotheists, ancient or modern. It is a simple and orthographically uncomplicated solution. And if anyone questions it, just refer them to the umbrella term “Hindu,” now accepted by (almost all) Hindus.

Notes   [ + ]

1. And that term, popular in the 1970s–80s, is more and more supplanted by “contemporary Pagan” or “modern Pagan.”
2. Although he has a PhD in the study of Hindu nationalism, he is in fact is a civil servant, not an academic, which gives him certain advantages.
3. This is a pro-BJP (ruling party) website.

Driven to Drink by Editing

Yes, that is coffee and wine together. And a candle.

This is my world this week, as I wrap up a tardy issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studiesas soon as a certain person OK’s my copyediting job on her article and I can send it to the layout editor with the rest. Articles in this issue come from Russia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic,1)Are we supposed to say “Czechia” now?Britain, and the United States.

Then will come layout for the Bulletin for the Study of Religion and, oh yes, another Pomegranate to get us back on schedule.

Always at hand (to the left of the wine glass), the Chicago Manual of Style. Learn it, people—or at least bookmark the important shortcuts. (Actually, CMS is for editors; academic writers can get by with A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations  for considerably less money.)

On the right, Kaarina Aitamurto and Scott Simpson’s edited collection, Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe — the article that I was editing referenced it quite a bit. And of course a back issue of The Pomegranate for those “How did I do X last time?” questions.

Male evening grosbeak (Cornell University).

But there are advantages to working at home, like being pestered by dogs, particularly Wendy the foster dog, an excitable German wirehaired pointer.2)She has been living here since March, but now that her owner is out of the hospital and feeling better, he hopes to pick her up next month.

She clatters into my study: “Come quick! come quick!” then rushes through the open door onto the veranda.”Look! Birds! Birds! We must act!”

“No, Wendy,” I say, “those are evening grosbeaks. We are not hunting them.”

“Ha!” she says, and the next morning on dog walk,she dashes into the brush and comes out with a very very dead grosbeak, which she carries proudly into the house.

Retrieving birds is what she does — can’t punish her for that! And she knows it.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Are we supposed to say “Czechia” now?
2. She has been living here since March, but now that her owner is out of the hospital and feeling better, he hopes to pick her up next month.

“Solitary Pagans,” a New Academic Study

Back in the mid-1990s, Nancy Mostad, then the acquisitions editor at Llewellyn, told me that they estimated that 70 percent of purchasers of books on Paganism were solitaries.Hence the immense success — by their standards — of Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.

Meanwhile, sociologist of religion Helen Berger has been studying American Pagans for decades herself. Her earlier works are A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States and (as co-author) Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States and Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self.

Her new book, Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans, and Others Who Practice Alone is available for pre-order. It will be released at Lammas. Since I probably will not read it until next fall, here is what the publisher (U. of South Carolina Press) is saying:

Solitary Pagans is the first book to explore the growing phenomenon of contemporary Pagans who practice alone. Although the majority of Pagans in the United States have abandoned the tradition of practicing in groups, little is known about these individuals or their way of practice. Helen A. Berger fills that gap by building on a massive survey of contemporary practitioners. By examining the data, Berger describes solitary practitioners demographically and explores their spiritual practices, level of social engagement, and political activities. Contrasting the solitary Pagans with those who practice in groups and more generally with other non-Pagan Americans, she also compares contemporary U.S. Pagans with those in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

Berger brings to light the new face of contemporary paganism by analyzing those who learn about the religion from books or the Internet and conduct rituals alone in their gardens, the woods, or their homes. Some observers believe this social isolation and political withdrawal has resulted in an increase in narcissism and a decline in morality, while others argue to the contrary that it has produced a new form of social integration and political activity. Berger posits the implications of her findings to reveal a better understanding of other metaphysical religions and those who shun traditional religious organizations.

Publishing Thoughts after AAR-SBL 2018

Nothing gladdens an editor’s heart like seeing an author with his new book. Here Jefferson Calico talks about Being Viking: Heathenisn in Contemporary America with Giovanna Parmigiani, who also presented a paper in a Contemporary Pagan Studies session.

I got so busy with the “Season of the Witch(crap)” series that I wrote nothing about last month’s joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.1)The SBL is actually the parent of the AAR, but the child organization is now much bigger and broader.

The meeting this year was in Denver for the first time since 2001. Although I live in Colorado, I visit Denver only once or twice a year, and when I do, I feel like a country mouse in the urban canyons. There was a time when I sold print advertising up there once or twice a month and was pretty familiar with the central areas, but so much has changed, that my memories are palimpsests, and I have to learn its geography all over again. That restaurant that I remember as moderately priced is now more expensive, and they don’t have any tables available.

That said, if you are a meeting planner, Denver’s convention center is easy to navigate, is withing about four blocks of thousands of hotel rooms, and also within a short walk from many restaurants, so that 10,000 hungry intellectuals discharged into the city center can find places to eat lunch.

And you can take an Amtrak train (or a commuter train from the airport) into the city center and then ride a free shuttle bus into the hotel district. M. and I drove, however, handing our mud-splattered Jeep over to the hotel parking valet for the duration.

But enough boosterism. I was there with a light heart: I am no longer co-chair of the AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit, and I had no obligations to anyone about anything, not to mention no obligation to attend the 7:15 a.m. chairs’ breakfast (yawn) or the tense negotiations of the steering committees’ reception, where, drink in hand and shouting in someone’s ear, you attempt to arrange joint sessions for the following year.

Thank you, term limits!

Instead, I went to sessions and talked to authors, coming away with a possible two books for the Equinox series in Contemporary and Historical Paganism and a contribution to an editing collection that is in progress. I will not name these, because I do not wish to jinx them.  The series, I should say, has published more than one book as it has moved from publisher to publisher, but after a merger and a de-merger, we had to re-set the meter to zero. Long story.

I also came away with plans for a guest-edited issue of The Pomegranate  on
Traditionalism and Paganism. I had always though of Traditionalism as concerned mainly with esoteric approaches to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but there is also Pagan or Pagan-friendly version, largely traceable back to the French philosopher Alain de Benoist.

And then we get into some very tricky territory. Here there be dragons.

Soon I will post all the “calls for papers” for three special issues of The Pomegranate, each with a well-qualified editor, and if you are working in any one those areas, I hope that you will get in touch.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The SBL is actually the parent of the AAR, but the child organization is now much bigger and broader.

“The Importance of Rituals to the Hunt”

One of my camera traps captured this bull elk in late August 2016, four years after that hillside burned. Now look at the thick grass!

I have written a little about the intersection of hunting and ritual, but today I would ask you to read Jeremy Climer’s blog post “The Importance of Rituals to the Hunt.”

Before we go any further, we should define both “tradition” and “ritual” because people often use them interchangeably.  Although traditions can be religious in nature, ritual is more specific to spiritual matters.  So, for the sake of clarity in this article, we will use “ritual” to describe spiritual matters and “tradition” to describe non-spiritual matters.

Most rituals, even for Christian hunters like myself, originate from our pagan ancestors.  Some of these rituals are pre-hunt and some of them are post-kill.  As humans, we have always asked for blessings before the hunt and given thanks for our success after it.  This is not so different than the pre-planting rituals and the post-harvest rituals in our agrarian history.  We need food to survive, so we ask for assistance and when we’re full, we express our gratitude in hopes that our appreciation will be looked upon kindly when it comes time to ask for assistance again.

And then he quotes me saying something fairly blunt about ritual and taking life.

Climer lives in northern Colorado, but he was kind enough to rendezvous in Florence, a southern Colorado town that I visit weekly. (Try the Pour House coffeehouse if you are there.)

My first writing on Craft hunting ritual was published in 1992, in the chapter “Witches and the Earth” in Witchcraft Today, Book One: The Modern Craft Movement, that being a four-book series that I edited for Llewellyn in the 1990s. It included a description of pre-hunt ritual performed by my hunting partner and myself.

The essay Climer cites, “The Hunter’s Eucharist,” is something that I am still proud of. It made some money too, winning an outdoor writers’ essay contest sponsored by Winchester, as well as being printed three times. Its first publication was in Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions, while a shorter version, differently titled, appeared in Colorado Central, a regional magazine, and then was reprinted in David Petersen’s excellent anthology, A Hunter’s Heart.1)David Petersen was also a founder of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a rapidly growing and effective conservation group.

Climer’s “three popular rituals” are a pretty good argument for “Pagan survivals” on their own, even given that one is Cherokee, at least in his heritage.

Notes   [ + ]

1. David Petersen was also a founder of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a rapidly growing and effective conservation group.

Does No One Read the Description?

I was in my first month as managing editor of the (long-gone) Colorado Outdoor Journal when an article came in about fishing in Utah. Hello? “Colorado” is in the title.

When I was freelancing for commercial magazines, I was told always to read at least a couple of issues before submitting an article query, advice that I passed along to my students. The same would hold with academic journals — you would think — since they are often so narrowly defined.

On May 16th, an article came in through The Pomegranate’s online submission process (which requires filling in various fields in the Online Journal System) titled “The Holy Qur’an: The Origin of Human Discourse in Ethics.”

Less than a week later, one of the co-authors, who appeared to be teaching in the Islamic Education Department at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, is writing to me wanting know my editorial decision on the piece.

So (a) she/they is unclear what “peer-reviewed journal” means and (b) she/they missed all the language on the main page about “Pagan,” “polytheist,” “reconstructionist,” etc.

Maybe “Pomegranate” just sounded Middle Eastern?

I sent a PDF of the last issue with my response, just to make the point that their piece outside our remit. Very far.