Green Witchcraft: The Llewellyn Complaint

     This essay has had one of the longer, more painful gestations of any I have yet written for Morgan’s Rites. It’s a subject I feel so strongly about, and one on which my opinions have been forming slowly, over many years, with many bits and pieces of input helping me to come to my conclusions. Understandably, this does not make it the easiest subject to write about, nor is it easy to distill my thoughts and opinions into a few simple, easy to understand paragraphs. In fact, I fully expect to be revising this article bit by bit for the foreseeable future. So, if you actually do decide to tango with this puppy, you’re in for a ride, and don’t say I didn’t warn you. Scared yet? If not, continue below.  


     There is a general consensus among certain areas of the Pagan community that the Llewellyn publishing house is the Goddess’s gift to mankind. Whenever someone expresses a sentiment to that affect, I instantly loose respect for that person. I can’t help it. To me, Llewellyn represents in a nice, easy to carry package, everything that is wrong with what most people consider the Wiccan movement.  


     My disillusionment with Llewellyn began after my yearlong love affair with the publisher. I’ll admit it. I was a Llewellyn witch. I refused to read occult books by any other publisher. Then, one day, while reading D.J. Conway’s “Celtic Magic,” no, wait! it was Scott Cunningham’s “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner,” no wait! it was Edain McCoy’s “Lady of the Night,” no wait! it was Silver Ravenwolf’s…

     That was the problem. No matter how much money I plunked down, no matter how many titles I read by however many authors, I was going to get the exact same book every time. Therein lies my first, basic gripe with Llewellyn. Their books, like certain titles produced by certain bodice-ripper publishers, are written on a template. That means that every book (with some rare exceptions) is written for the same audience - the beginner. It means that in each book you will find roughly the same information (i.e. the Wiccan Rede, the Law of Three, the four directions/watchtowers/lords/etc., creating and closing the circle) presented in roughly the same order. It means that authors can churn out book after book with only minimum effort.  


     It also means that once one (if one) has chosen to follow the Llewellyn-Wicca path (and it is a distinct path not comparable to that followed by non-Llewellyn Wiccan and New Age groups) one is left with little room for spiritual growth after one has mastered the basics. Now, I don’t believe that you can reach your full spiritual potential if still holding the hand of your first Wiccan manual. However, I also don’t believe that anyone benefits (and face it, Llewellyn books do hold their readers by the hand) from being held by the hand and then suddenly dropped. If you’re making a P&B sandwich, once you’re shown how to spread the PB, you can generally figure out how to spread the jelly. Spirituality isn’t like that, in my opinion. There isn’t a point at which you can’t benefit by bouncing ideas off of, or at least comparing notes with, another human being. By limiting the level(s) of spirituality discussed in its books to those useful to beginners, Llewellyn is in essence keeping its readership in a perpetual infancy stage of spirituality.  


     My second gripe with Llewellyn (and this is a MAJOR one, folks) is its tolerance, or perhaps even encouragement, of writers who out-and-out lie in the name of Wicca. Think back to all the books you’ve read that were published under Llewellyn. How many of those authors claimed to be members of herited traditions? Quite a few, and the number is growing (in part because the authors who make those claims sell more books). Now, I have my doubts as to whether anyone who claims to be of a herited tradition really is, but that issue is discussed here. Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings on this subject, I doubt that anyone can persuasively deny that, 1) there are far too many people claiming to be hereditary witches, 2) that the numbers of those claming to be so are greatly out of proportion to the Wiccan population as a whole, and that 3) those who claim to be herited somehow always seem to end up writing for Llewellyn. Now, I also doubt that any hereditary Pagans would take the secrets that have been jealously protected by their ancestors for centuries and sell them to Llewellyn without any misgivings or pangs of conscience. Certainly, not every hereditary witch would choose to do so, but from looking at the numbers of those writing for Llewellyn, one is led to believe otherwise.  


     Also in this category is the tendency of Llewellyn authors to “clean up” Pagan material from antiquity while passing it off as an unadulterated method of ancient worship. (I’m most familiar with these lapses as they pertain to Celtic and Egyptian spiritualities, but as I have no way of judging the knowledge of my readers, I’ll speak in generalities here.) For starters, every Llewellyn manual one reads has some mention of the “raising of the cone of power”, the “summoning of the four directions/watchtowers/aerts.” or the like. Not only are these rituals basically the same from book to book, but what’s worse is that the authors would have you believe that these rituals are authentic, that they were practiced by ancient Pagans! Now, one doesn’t have to be a Religious Studies major to realize that Egyptian religious rituals differed from Celtic/Druidic rituals, which differed from Nordic/Scandinavian rituals, which differed from Native American rituals, and so on. Just as there is no single overarching method of worship in world religions today, there was no single method of worship in ancient times, despite what Llewellyn would have you believe. In fact, the ritual structures mentioned above are not only fairly recent inventions, but their entire history can be traced back to the inception of modern Gardnerian Wicca. Llewellyn either denies this, hopes that its readership doesn’t know, or hopes it doesn’t care, or a combination of all three. For an organization that professes to bear the truth about Wicca, this is unconscionable! Examples of some of these untruths can be found here.  


     Finally, I have a big gripe with Llewellyn’s whitewashing of ancient deities. Now, I find it wonderful that Wicca stresses adherence to the Wicca Rede (“An it harm none, do what thou wilt”). However, this was not always the case. Many ancient deities were not nice or cuddly, and they did not love everyone. In fact, many of them were bloodthirsty, awe- and terror-inspiring beings. However, Llewellyn’s official policy is that because modern Wiccans no longer find it ethical to curse someone, or use black magick at all, then it is perfectly correct to address deities formerly associated with those areas as if they were benevolent aspects of the Triple Goddess or the Great God. Ancient worshippers called upon deities like the Morrighan or Hecate to aid hexes and to bring misfortune upon their enemies. They recognized these deities as powerful beings not to be invoked lightly. However, Llewellyn would have modern worshippers address these Goddesses as benevolent friends, as though they were simply another aspect of kind, motherly deities like Brighid or Hestia. If you don’t feel that negative magic has any place in modern Wicca, fine, guide people away from those aspects of ancient worship. However, to pretend that frightening, malevolent deities were kind-hearted and motherly strikes me as, if not downright dangerous, tremendously disrespectful to those deities at the very least.  


     If that’s the case, then why does Llewellyn continue to market books that tell blatant lies about the methods of ancient worship, the aspects of ancient deities, and even their own author’s history with the Craft? Certainly, if Llewellyn charges itself with the duty of showing the truth about Wicca to the populace at large, why are so many untruths involved in the process?  


     The truth is that Llewellyn Publishers worships the dollar bill in place of the Triple Goddess and Great God. The Wiccan/New Age market is a multimillion-dollar industry, and Llewellyn discovered, as legions of Christian televangelists did before it, that once the money starts rolling in, the truth becomes easy to invent, bend, or simply overlook. Now, let me state that I have no problem with updating elements of ancient worship to fit modern day experiences. After all, the ancient priesthoods didn’t have television, air travel, globalization or the Internet on the mind when developing their methods of worship. And it’s perfectly fine to update religion; in fact it’s often beneficial. (If you don’t believe me on this count, just look at the sad state of modern Catholicism, which refuses to update its practices on birth control, homosexuality, divorce, and a whole slew of other issues that weren’t, well, issues during its formative years.) So yes, feel free to make adjustments for modern day worship, just don’t try to tell people that that’s the way it’s always been done. But, if you make changes, be responsible enough to acknowledge that fact, and don’t try to pass them off as “the way it’s always been done.” Spirituality and lies are mutually exclusive.  


     Allow me to pontificate for a moment. On the company website, Llewellyn refers to itself saying, “Self-help and spiritual growth is what Llewellyn is all about.” That’s a wonderful sentiment to express, but again, if you’re mission is to provide spiritual enlightenment, aren’t providing spiritual enlightenment and telling lies mutually exclusive? If someone is looking to you to be a teacher, don’t you have a duty not to mislead that person? Llewellyn fails on all of these fronts. What’s worse, this isn’t because someone has made a few mistakes, it is instead a consequence of Llewellyn not caring whether the truth is told, as long as the cash comes in. Llewellyn takes and audience with genuine interest in alternate forms of religion and plays them for suckers. That is why I cannot stomach Llewellyn.  


     This doesn’t mean that I’m condemning those who read Llewellyn books, or got their start reading Llewellyn books, or who found something valid in a Llewellyn book. Far be it for me to determine what resonates spiritually with another human being. However, I do have problems with someone who doesn’t check the veracity of the statements he’s being handed on a platter, who blindly accepts what he’s told in a Llewellyn book, without checking more scholarly sources. If someone accepts as truth something they’ve read in, say, Witta: The Irish Pagan Tradition, then they are no better than the armies of fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Moslems and anyone else who believes something because it sounds nice. What everyone has to realize is that Llewellyn as it exists today is interested in making money off of people who are too gullible to know they aren’t being told the truth, or who are too lazy not to care. Llewellyn is prepared to cut corners, bend facts, ignore facts, and invent facts in order to make money. If spirituality is the search for the Divine truth, then Llewellyn Publishers, as a purveyor of spirituality, has a duty to tell the truth, one that it frequently and facilely ignores. That is why I have a deep lack of regard for the company, and why I’m willing to speak out on it.

Let me know what you think! Email me!