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Non-Fluffy Pagans
Why Llewellyn Sucks 
21st-Jan-2007 10:21 am
My friend was wondering why Llewellyn Publications gets so much criticism. She said she did some research but couldn't find a solid answer. From what I've seen from such authors as Scott Cunningham, Raymond Buckland, and Silver Ravenwolf, I said that generally they are geared towards teenagers, preach "Wicca is whatever you want it to be," OK self-initiation, and splash great big pentacles on their covers (in other words, they're not subtle). 'Course, my experience is very limited, which is why I turn to the NFP-ers. What else would you add to this list? Are there some good online websites I could point my friend to?

Thank you kindly.
Comments 
21st-Jan-2007 05:10 pm (UTC)
I remember when Llewellyn were highly sought after books here in the UK. *showing my age*

I was discussing this with a friend yesterday. Llewellyn are a business, so of course they will sell that people want to buy. They are well known for easy to read psuedo-wiccan pap, but they are also reprinting some hard to get titles that I appreciate alot (even if my bank balance doesn't).

Basically, if people didn't buy them, they wouldn't print them. People want books by authors like D J Conway and Edain McCoy because those authors write about how 'speshul' pagans are, and how misunderstood Wicca is, without actually knowing much about initiatory Wicca. Usually most people start off with a Llewellyn book, then move on to something a little more in depth. Usually.
21st-Jan-2007 09:01 pm (UTC)
Just what I did. :) Thank you!
21st-Jan-2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
Llewellyn prints a lot of, well, crap. Poorly written, poorly researched (if any research actually occurred), and sometimes just plan drivel. Part of the problem (or so I've been told by several authors) is that the company locks authors into multi-book deals, so they have to produce a certain number of books in a proscribed period of time - not the best formula for producing insightful, well-written books.

Check out the pagan books community here on LJ - lots of book reviews, and a great lists of websites with book reviews: http://community.livejournal.com/paganbooks/profile

21st-Jan-2007 05:30 pm (UTC)
Why We Despise Silver Ravenwolf
Tarnished Silver: Why I Don't Recommend Silver Ravenwolf
The Problem With Silver Ravenwolf

Among the other problems with Llewellyn's pop-wicca books:

They disregard the Great Rite, often not mentioning its existence at all, so that when bookpagans find out about it, they're repulsed by one of the core practices of Traditional religious witchcraft.

They also don't discuss the group mystery practices: Drawing down the moon, invoking deities, degrees, initiations. Again, people who learn from books get the impression that these are all irrelevant to the practice of Wicca.

They encourage starting spell use before the person has a firm grounding in the religion.

The biggest issue:
They don't give a foundation that allows a lifetime of spiritual growth.
21st-Jan-2007 05:42 pm (UTC)
Why do I despise Silver Ravenwolf? Because she stole money from me. Back when she was just starting out I ordered something from her. She never gave me my merchandise and never returned my money even though several times she promised to. After six months of my complaining, banned my email and telephone number.

I don't respect her because she does not live up to what she preaches.

That was my first lesson in people like Silver. It was a lesson I never forgot.
21st-Jan-2007 05:33 pm (UTC) - Publishing & Sturgeon's Revelation
Pretty well what brewhexe said. Publishing is a business, much more so than it used to be (i.e., not that profit was never a motive, but bean counters seem to have taken over most of the publishing world as well).

If you have to choose between publishing an incredibly well-written, well-researched book on some aspect of paganism and know it will only sell 1000 copies a year because only the hard core pagans who are interested in real research will buy it, or you can sell some poorly-written book that aims at the lowest common denominator and sells 10,000 copies a year because all the wanna-bees pick it up and like it because it's an easy read and doesn't require them to do anything hard or that takes effort and strokes their frail little egos, which (as the owner of the business) do you pick? Now multiply this by a couple of dozen books a year for a decade or so and you'll see why their rep has gone down.

Yes, they still publish some better books, but most of their list is crap. However, please remember Sturgeon's Revelation:

Another version of the story has Sturgeon involved in a panel discussion of modern literature with a professor of English literature. The professor read a few selected passages of "purple prose" from popular science fiction works, and declared "90% of this Science Fiction is crap." Sturgeon replied "90% of everything is crap."

So don't be surprised if 90% of all pagan-related books published per year are crap. You just have to take some energy and effort to plow through the crap to find something useful.
21st-Jan-2007 09:04 pm (UTC) - Re: Publishing & Sturgeon's Revelation
-sigh- How depressing.
21st-Jan-2007 05:38 pm (UTC)
For the most part, modern Llewellyn books are poorly researched. The information contained in many is questionable at best and just plain wrong at worst. The company doesn't seem to want to be responsible for maintaining any sort of literary or scholarly quality. Well read individuals have no real difficulty differentiating between UPG and fluff however, Llewellyn is attractive to beginners and teenagers. That means a whole generation of misinformed people then beging to spread their misinformation to even more beginners. It's a vicious cycle.
21st-Jan-2007 05:40 pm (UTC)
I always find it interesting that the pagan community holds such an odd tendency to blanket an entire publishing house with criticism, rather than ignoring who published a book a focusing more on the content of the book itself.

It's almost as if we're developing some sort of an elitist concept that separates books into classes based on who published them. I find that somewhat ridiculous.

Tell your friend to make up his/her own mind about the content of the books he/she is choosing to read, and not worry about the publisher.
21st-Jan-2007 05:48 pm (UTC)
I don't think there's a person in the community that won't say there are a few books Llewellyn publishes that are decent. The blanket you speak of comes from years of reading the majority of the crap the company publishes.

On the whole, Llewellyn is more interested in making a buck than with providing quality, well researched and well written books. It is a problem with the writers as well, but if the publishing company refuses to have any type of filtering system for rubbish, yeah, I'm gonna criticize the company. I reviewed for Llewellyn for YEARS and perhaps one out of twenty or thirty books was extremely well written and worth passing along. That statistic is far too low for me to recommend Llewellyn to beginners. Sorry.
21st-Jan-2007 05:48 pm (UTC)
Llewellyn has some decent books. Those just aren't the ones that tend to be advertised. The pablum for the masses, quite simply, is what sells. We provide the market, Llewellyn delivers.
21st-Jan-2007 09:11 pm (UTC)
An inconvenient truth (no pun intended).

I also need to send you some icon love. :)
21st-Jan-2007 05:52 pm (UTC)
When I started out 10 years ago, Llewellyn was a great publisher, especially since they were the only major publisher for sources on Wicca and such. There was some crap back then, but it was geared for those who really only want it for the entertainment or humour value.

As time went on, it became clear that Llewellyn is willing to publish anything and everything, it seems. The meat books became few and far between as the fluff started to fill the shelves. I also learned that some of the books I had trusted were fluff themselves, in hindsight, with further research. Author credibility and good sources be damned, it seems any author can write any book, and if Llewellyn thinks it'll sell, it will be published.

The older books I've found from Llewellyn were pretty good. Especially those from before 1996, including ones I found on astrology in the 60s and 70s, I think it was. Nowadays? I'd have to check the shelf at the bookstore to recommend a book, and it might not be Llewellyn.

That having been said, I still like their astrological date book, and I had a poem published under a pseudonym in one of the Magickal Almanacs. :) I wouldn't say Llewellyn=crap, but I certainly would recommend people look at ALL publishers and use critical thinking to discern the meat from the fluff.
21st-Jan-2007 06:28 pm (UTC)
[reposted after fixing of grammar]

ones I found on astrology in the 60s and 70s, I think it was

You mean their Principles and Practice of Astrology series, published in the 1970s? I love it to death. Ever since I discovered it I've been scouring the secondhand bookstores for the volumes I'm missing.
21st-Jan-2007 06:46 pm (UTC)
I also remember when Llewellyn books were highly respected. Shows you how long I've been around...

Llewellyn is the main target of criticism because it has so many titles, and sadly, such poor scholarship and lack of research because it wants to corner the market for the kiddies.

Thing is, it isn't just Llewellyn, it's any book. Many people come into Paganism via Christianity. Christianity is a revealed faith, with a holy book that is sacrosanct. What we suffer from is what I call biblio-bleed over: the belief that if it is in print, in a Book, then it is literally gospel.

People who are in revealed Religions of the Book are used to being spoonfed their beliefs, and finding all the answers in a Book. It does not matter if the answers are outdated Bronze-age tribal taboos or poorly researched paens to Potato Goddesses, it's in a Book, and is therefore untouchable and not to be questioned.

What Pagans and folks with a few decades under their belt really need to do is to help newcomers switch from being passive book-readers to active sojourners. Most Pagan practices emphasize actual hands-on experience, not book learning. While I had to copy certain things from the BOS in my original coven, I also swore an oath that my BOS will be destroyed upon my death. This is to prevent the jelling of experience into dogma. Each generation must learn their truths on their own, in the proper context, and in words they can understand and later teach.

Don't get me wrong- books are useful, but they should quickly be laid aside for the real journey. Your burden is much lighter if you carry what you know inside your head, not in heavy boxes of dead trees.
21st-Jan-2007 09:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you. This makes a lot of sense, even beyond my original question. :)
21st-Jan-2007 07:05 pm (UTC)
What seems like standard caveat: Yes, I remember when they did good stuff too. And to this day, occasionally, something good slips through.

And, from a publishing perspective, one of the best things Llewellyn ever did was partner with Lo Scarabeo to bring in their art decks from Europe.

That said, for a very interesting dip into the pool of Llewellyn critics, observe:
http://www.cyberwitch.com/wychwood/Library/whenIsACeltNotACelt.htm

And notice that all three books held up for scorn all have a crescent moon on the spine.
21st-Jan-2007 08:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that link - I enjoyed reading it, and will keep it for future reference.
21st-Jan-2007 07:10 pm (UTC)
When Paganism came out of the closet and became a commodity profit became more important than quality. That goes for a lot of things besides Llewellyn.
Perhaps being not quite so easily accessible was a virtue.
Curiosity and casual interest were not enough and Barnes and Noble did not feature "witch kits" beside the cash register.
21st-Jan-2007 08:09 pm (UTC)
Hot dog... a topic on the fluffiness of books and authors. Let's go around on this again...

Putting everyone, including Uncle Bucky, in the category "generally they are geared towards teenagers" does both the authors and the non-teenager readers a disservice. IMO, two out of the three authors you mentioned don't at all deserve this labeling. The readers of these authors' books don't deserve to be inferred as teen-agers.

Uncle Bucky's 'big blue book' has been a mainstay of much pagan ritual work. When did it go fluffy? I can't believe that Raymond sat down all those years ago and said, "those teen-agers sure will enjoy my books!" If age is a measure of respectably for a book, Raymond has some going way back. Does he have fluff too? Sure.

Scott Cunningham wrote the following books. Are some of these fluffy? Sure? Are many of them valuable additions to the modern pagan without a heriditary BOS? Sure!
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (Llewellyn's Sourcebook Series)
Complete Book Of Incense, Oils & Brews (Llewellyn's Practical Magick)
Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner (Llewellyn's Practical Magick Series)
Earth, Air, Fire & Water: More Techniques of Natural Magic (Llewellyn's Practical Magick Series)
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem & Metal Magic Magical Household: Spells & Rituals for the Home (Llewellyn's Practical Magick Series
Earth Power: Techniques of Natural magic (Llewellyn's Practical Magick)
Magical Aromatherapy: The Power of Scent (Llewellyn's New Age Series)
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen
Spell Crafts: Creating Magical Objects
Truth About Witchcraft Today (Llewellyn's New Age)
Magical Herbalism: The Secret Craft of the Wise Divination For Beginners: Reading the Past, Present & Future (For Beginners
Dreaming The Divine: Techniques for Sacred Sleep
Hawaiian Religion & Magic
Wicca Living Wicca, The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Sacred Sleep: Dreams & the Divine
Pocket Guide to Fortune Telling (The Crossing Press Pocket Series)
Truth About Herb Magic (Truth about)
Magic of Food: Legends, Lore & Spellwork (Llewellyn's Practical Magick Series)

Silver Ravenwolf... well, she's a different animal entirely!

$.02 (clink)
21st-Jan-2007 09:24 pm (UTC)
Sorry, by "geared towards teenagers" I meant it was a marketing thing, based on a book's title combined with its cover art. I don't know what Big Blue looked like when it first came out, but now it's got a great big pentacle on the cover. Combined with the word "witchcraft" in the title, a great thing for rebellious teenagers to grab on to. Worked for me. :) So yeah, I didn't mean that Buckland intended to write for teens, but now it seems that's what Llewellyn's intending. Maybe that clears up what I meant.

I appreciate the change. I am now a richer woman. :)
21st-Jan-2007 08:20 pm (UTC)
I have purchased books by Llewellyn, both in the distant past and in more recent years. The ones I got in the past were almost universally bad and wrong; the ones in more recent years were better (i.e. Rachel Pollack's books The Kabbalah Tree and Forest of Souls).

The most recent Llewellyn book I purchased was their 2006 Wicca Almanac. The reason I purchased this book from their annuals series was because I had a piece in it, and they never sent me a copy of the book (which I thought they were going to). They paid me $250 for something that took about four hours to write. While I stand by the quality of what I wrote, I'll happily admit it was not the best piece of writing I've ever done. They did not keep me properly informed on the proper address to which the hard copy should be sent (they had the e-mailed copy from the start), and I ended up having to send it THREE TIMES via international next-day post, which was expensive (about $40 each time). Then, when I finally saw it in print, they had edited so many things in it that, while not unrecognizable, it changed the content of several pieces of the discussion into something I would never say or never argue. All in all, a very frustrating experience.

However, because of their sales and their popularity, they are in a position to offer a lot of money to people for their work, which is certainly appealing (especially to those of us who are having difficulties making ends meet and are productive writers). Weiser/Red Wheel gave someone I know a $500 advance on a book that took her two years to write/research, whereas Llewellyn gave her more than that for her contributions to one of their annuals. It's that sort of "dark side" mentality--the path to money is quick and easy, but in what ways does one truly have to "sell out" to get there?

They are known for editing things and not discussing them with the contributors, and making things more in-line with their mainstreamized version of Wicca and its mythologies. This is to say nothing for their lapses in (or rather, absence of) fact-checking in terms of research and cited things in many cases. Thus far, nothing that they've published, that I'm aware of, which has anything Celtic in it has been useful or respectably (or even perfunctorily) researched, and a good deal of it contains such egregious errors that re-teaching people after exposure to those materials is often difficult if not almost impossible.
21st-Jan-2007 08:22 pm (UTC)
I despise Llewellyn as a publishing house because they deliberately market crap books to people who don't know any better. They will publish one to three new books each year that are actually well-written, thoughtful books that make one think. The rest are a waste of trees. And they actively prevent their editors from delivering books that they think their readers might find too challenging.

A case in point. Back in the '90's, Chas Clifton was editing a series of annual anthologies called "The Witchcraft Today Series" for Llewellyn. The books he was turning out were filled with thoughtful essays addressing a common theme; essays from some of the leading names in the modern pagan movement. The theme of the fourth anthology was "Living Between Two Worlds," and when Chas submitted the manuscript, Llewellyn informed hiom that they would not be including five of the submitted chapters in the published book, because "the subject matter is either too controversial, or in our opinion would not be of interest to our readers."

You can read several of the excised essays, on Chas' website.

The series was terminated with that fourth, eviscerated volume.

Llewellyn books are mostly all about not challenging their readers. I don't tell people that everything the company produces is bad; just most of it.
21st-Jan-2007 09:27 pm (UTC)
Well, that is just sad. Damn. :(
21st-Jan-2007 09:19 pm (UTC) - House of Ll
Several years ago, back in the late 70s or early 80s, Carl Weschke (pres/publisher of Llewellyn) made a statement thatpretty well marked the death of serious publications from Llewellyn. It ran along the lines of "I will publish (xx - I've forgotten the specific number, somewhere around 70 or so) books per year. If I get xx good books, those will be the ones. If I don't then whatever makes up the xx is what I'll do."

I know several former (and a few current) Llewellyn authors. I don't know *any* that are really satisfied with the treatment they get from there. Some put up with it becuase of contractual obligations, others because they are just getting their start.

As whole, I do not recommend Llewellyn because of their business practices and author treatment; when they manage to publish something I really consider worthwhile, I recommend *that* title, and note the author may have others worth reading as well.
22nd-Jan-2007 03:20 am (UTC) - Re: House of Ll
I second that. I know several Llewellyn published authors (with very good books!) who have not had good experiences.
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