The Dreaded Crescent

No, this isn’t a post about how I loathe certain phases of the moon (except tangentially), it’s about that other crescent moon, the one we all love (or, more often I suspect, love to hate).

I’m talking, of course, about Llewellyn Publications.

Like many baby Pagans, books published by Llewellyn were one of my first points of contact with Paganism in general and solitary and coven-based eclectic Wicca in particular. I started with Teen Witch and Thorson’s Way of Wicca and kept reading from there.

Llewellyn gets some praise and a whole lot of criticism. Besides the obvious churning out the same generic Wicca-flavoured Paganism 101 stuff WITH DRAGONS! or WITH STEAMPUNK! etc. I’ve heard complaints about how they expect their authors to follow rigid content and formatting guidelines, which, again, from what I’ve heard, doesn’t really allow for straying too far off the 101 path, which means that some authors probably had some amazing ideas that got squashed along the way.

So, yes, there are some very good reasons why a whole lot of people don’t recommend that newbies start out with books that they’ve published. Besides the issues I’ve already mentioned, the books generally aren’t known for being particularly well researched, either (understatement), and I think that’s putting it mildly.

And yet, I have not one, but several books with the crescent moon on the spine, some of those books have been very useful to me spiritually, and not all of them are from my fluff bunny days. In fact, I just ordered one yesterday.

I think this is where you really have to do a little digging and use your thinking caps, because there is good stuff to be found that has been put out by Llewellyn even if it is that one in a million book.

Also, the Tarot of Vampyres is published by Llewellyn.
The Tarot of Vampyres is the shit, okay? I adore my Tarot of Vampyres, and it has an AMAZING companion book.

Like it or not, Llewellyn books are accessible. They don’t cost nearly as much as your average academic book, and, as has been mentioned here and wherever this topic pops up, not everyone knows what to do with academic sources. To put this in perspective, for my BA in religious studies, my textbooks cost somewhere in the range of $300 – $500 per term, which is cheap compared to some other fields. In contrast, the average Llewellyn book is what? $15 – $25 CAD? (Keep in mind that this was at least half a decade ago, so adjust for inflation) and we’re only just beginning to write accessible, informative books for newbies. I speak from experience here, as I’m sure some of you do as well, academic books are fucking expensive and a fucking pain in the ass to read.

Given the choice between the $20 Llewellyn book and the $60 academic one, which one do you think someone on a student budget is going to choose?

Anyways, I suspect that’s pretty obvious to everyone and you’ve probably heard these same points before. My point is that, yes, Llewellyn publishes a lot of crap, and yes, if you are of a reconstructionist bent, you would be well advised to stay away from anything they publish. I do think, however, that those of us who are a little more flexible when it comes to such things would be missing out on a whole lot of good stuff if we wrote off the publisher completely, which is why we need to teach people how to think critically and evaluate sources and such, hopefully without having to earn a bunch of degrees.

Here’s a tip: bibliographies and recommended reading lists are your friends, you can tell a lot about a book by looking at it’s sources. Also check to see if a bunch of those sources are Internet-based. Michelle Skye’s books, for instance, use a ton of Internet sources (she’s a good writer, not so great with research). One of the first things I do is that I also look at the author’s credentials. This might seem like common sense, but I think you would be surprised how often people don’t look at these things.

Oh, and this might be a personal quirk, but I also like to look at the index. If I pick up a book on, let’s say, sacred sexuality or neo-tantra and there’s no mention of LGBT’s anywhere in the index, either the person in charge of making it was very neglectful, or it’s probably not a book I want to read.

I suppose my ultimate point is that I feel kind of conflicted when it comes to Llewellyn. On the one hand, they do publish a lot of crap, like, seriously a lot of crap, and I definitely don’t support forcing your authors to cut content to make it appeal to a mass audience (unfortunately, this seems to be more of a mainstream publishing in general thing). However, I think there definitely is some good stuff mixed in with all the crap, it’s finding the good stuff that’s difficult, and, not to toot my own horn, but I’m looking to include a chapter on critical thinking and research in my “Paganism for the Godphoneless” book, because it cannot be stressed enough.

Oh, and you know what? Most of the Llewellyn books on my shelf aren’t half as bad as All Acts of Love and Pleasure Are Her Rituals, because that book is bad even for erotica.

tl;dr version: Llewellyn is generally bad unless you can find the one book among all the 101 rehashes that isn’t. There is a need for more accessible academic texts and more well-researched popular books. Thinking caps should be worn at all times. The Tarot of Vampyres is the shit.

7 thoughts on “The Dreaded Crescent

  1. Internet sources really, really bug me – the only time they haven’t is when there has been a plethora of books in the bibliography, and even then, most of the sites mentioned weren’t mentioned as scholarly or academic. In the Devotio Antinoo, the internet links also didn’t bother me (one, a lot of the info is online, and two, there were a lot of links to pictures that could be found online which i thought was actually a positive). But in Skye’s books, I just frowned every time she had those little url addresses. It made me immediately suspicious of her info.

    I’ve taken to skimming the table of contents of books too, to see if there is the clear 101 layout in the book. It’s saved me a few medicore-to-crap book purchases.

    • I think it all depends on the source of the information. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University) is a really good resource for primary source material on the Middle Ages. (They also have other sourcebooks.)

      The thing to keep in mind, though, is that it is a Catholic university, and I’m not sure hoe much that figures into selecting the material for the sourcebooks. Still, it is a great resource.

  2. Searching for Kemetic books gives me a headache, because SO MANY books that are labeled “Egyptian Paganism” turn out to be closer to Tameran Wicca than recon based.

  3. It is also worth noting that Llewellyn’s current acquisitions editor is trying to work at improving and broadening their stuff, within certain constraints.

  4. I have a “meh” attitude towards recommending Llewellyn books for anyone other than absolute beginners, with all the caveats you mention above. In the past they’ve published embarrassing stuff like D.J. Conway’s “Witta,” in which there is a ritual to the “ancient Irish potato goddess” (potatoes being a New World food not found in Europe until the 1500s, at the earliest). I do hope that their editors are serious about improving their books, though, as they are the most recognizable to a Pagan audience. Inner Traditions puts out some interesting stuff but also a lot of Erich von Daniken/Ancient Aliens-type material, and Weiser/Red Wheel seems to be more of a general New Age publisher.

    • I read about Witta, in fact, I think a CR wrote a long critique of it that was very entertaining. I’ve heard her dragon books are okay if you like Wicca 101 WITH DRAGONS, but there are definitely much better books out there.

      I’ve had much better luck with Weiser/Red Wheel though, but I think that unless you’re a small press with a particular focus, you’re probably going to get more New Agey titles than not.

      I just counted, out of the approximately 46 books on my “Pagan-y Things” shelf, 17 of them are Llewellyn books of varying quality (and some of them I bought years ago during my fluff bunny stage).

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