More than a decade ago Ms. Marquis began a correspondence with Carl Weschcke that continued until his death in 2015. Although they never met in person, that relationship made her a natural choice to write the biography of one of the most influential metaphysical/Pagan/New Age/occultist personalities of modern times. Subtitled The Magickal Life of the Man Behind Llewellyn Publications, Marquis does an excellent job of detailing not only the man but the rebirth of modern paganism and the creating of the vastly successful publishing company that bears his name.
This is an extensively researched work containing nearly 400 footnotes, dozens of personal photos, and a detailed bibliography. Based not only on Marquis correspondence but also numerous reflections and segments of writings by Weschcke himself as well as remembrances or reflections by Raymond Buckland, Selina Fox, Anodea Judith, Silver RavenWolf, Michael Night Sky, and other Pagans. Starting with his family background (including a Spiritualist grandfather), the reader is drawn through Weschcke's college life, his work for the civil rights movement, his own magickal work as a Wiccan high priest and astrologer, his family life, and more.
Born into a Roman Catholic family, Weschcke'spaternal grandfather, who at the time was vice-president of the American Theosophical Society, exposed him to metaphysics and the occult; his 12th birthday present was his own astrological chart. His parents were vegetarian naturalists who practiced mind reading techniques and were happy to discuss occult subjects with him. Such were the influences that shaped Weschcke’s early life and future path.
He purchased Llewellyn Publishing Co. in 1961 from founder Llewellyn George, the Welsh astrologer. George had started the company in 1901 as a mail order business with a limited focus specializing in selling astrology books and calendars. Weschcke quickly expanded the company to include the occult, and within a decade was publishing around 40 titles a year, including audio and videotapes. Weschcke also launched a series of occult-focused magazines including: New Dimension, Gnostica, Astrology Now, New Times and New World.
In 1970 Weschcke opened the Gnostica Bookstore which soon became a popular gathering place for locals interested in the occult. A year later Weschcke hosted the first of several festivals, the "First American Aquarian Festival of Astrology and the Occult Sciences" which attracted several of the best-known occult practitioners from all around the world. Witchcraft rituals were conducted and Weschcke led meditations for peace and the healing of the earth; later festivals we renamed as 'Gnosticon'.
The following year in 1972 Weschcke himself was initiated into the American Celtic Tradition of Witchcraft by Lady Sheba, the tradition’s founder, he later became the High Priest and then Elder, a designation he held until his death. The same year he met Sandra Heggum, a High Priestess in the same tradition who he married in a heavily publicized handfasting ceremony conducted under a full moon.
In the mid-70s Weschcke began to minimize his public work and concentrated on growing the business. By the late 21st century Llewellyn Publications had grown to publishing about 100 titles each year. Weschcke himself began to write (often with co-author Joe Slate) and had 10 books published before his death in late 2015.
As you can see from this very brief summation, Weschcke was enormously influential despite only being 'public' for less than a decade, and that was forty years ago. While this biography easily could have been a "puff piece" Marquis does an excellent job of discussing Weschcke's failures and shortcomings as readily as his successes.
Another for your library of history about the early days of modern paganism.
~review by Lisa Mc Sherry
Llewellyn Publications, 2018