Time waits for no one, including a spiritualist philosopher who studied the afterlife extensively. Carl Weschcke told many friends he expected to live to age 120, but his fate was different.
Weschcke, who built Woodbury-based Llewellyn Worldwide into one of the nation’s top publishers of books on spirituality, died Nov. 7 of heart and pulmonary complications. He was 85.
He purchased the company, founded by Llewellyn George, for $40,000 in 1961 and grew it to sales of nearly $15 million last year. What started as books mostly about astrology expanded to more than 2,000 titles, including such bestsellers as “The Secret of Letting Go,” “Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System,” and “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.”
More than 400,000 people read of the news of Weschcke’s death on Facebook, with more than 800 making comments. One person wrote, “Back before the Internet, if it hadn’t been for Llewellyn, I’d have had almost no source for information on Wicca and Paganism.”
“Carl wanted people to attain their best self,” said Bill Krause, publisher at Llewellyn Worldwide since 2005. “Whether it was mental or physical, he was interested in people reaching their maximum potential.”
A voracious reader with a personal library of more than 25,000 books, Weschcke opened his own bookstore in Minneapolis in 1970 called Gnostica. He also started a convention for psychics called the American Festival of Astrology and Occult Sciences.
Born and raised in St. Paul to a Roman Catholic family, Weschcke was given a custom-drawn astrological chart by his grandfather on his 12th birthday. It predicted that the great lesson of his lifetime was ambition.
Weschcke went to business school at Babson College in Massachusetts. In the 1950s he was active in the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. At age 29, he became president of the St. Paul chapter, which was founded by his grandfather.
As a publisher of books about non-Christian spirituality, Weschcke’s company attracted some controversy. In 1986, Andrew Olson, a far-right gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, called Llewellyn “one of the leading purveyors of witchcraft and Satanism in this country.” Weschcke responded at the time by saying that he had never published books on Satanism.
Other objections surfaced in 2004 when Weschcke moved the company’s offices to Woodbury. A pastor at the New Life Church in Woodbury raised objections to the move because Llewellyn’s website included the words “witch” and “spell.”
Barbara Moore, an acquisitions editor in charge of tarot who worked there since 1997, said Weschcke didn’t evangelize.
The office atmosphere at Llewellyn was also relatively sedate, except at Halloween. “As a pagan holiday, it was a really, really big deal,” Moore said. “It was very competitive, with each department having a role to play. One year, the sales department played a motorcycle gang and brought in a real motorcycle.”
In his office, Weschcke kept a sculpture of an eagle, and his family loved a portrait of him wearing an amulet with the sculpture nearby. Krause said Weschcke loved eagles and the strength, nobility and courage they represent.
“We didn’t have a lot of religious aspects” at home, said Gabe Weschcke, Carl’s son. “We celebrated Christmas with presents and a tree, and dinner with family.”
Weschcke is survived by his wife, Sandra, son Gabe and three granddaughters. Services were held.