From World-Wide Religious News Donald Weiser’s bookstore ... in the late 60s, there was no other place. Weiser’s New York store sold occult books. Traditions, Magick, Astrology and astral projection, Tarot, the Secrets of Egypt, Gnosticism, Spirit Channeling, the gurus of the East. The sign out front said “esoterica” and “orientalia.” Donald Weiser died in April this year, aged 89. His death was little noted (an item in Publishers Weekly and an intimate memorial with friends and family). The truth is, though, that Weiser and his book business changed the religious landscape in America. Religious studies professor Catherine Albanese argues the occult — sometimes called “metaphysical religion,” sometimes “New Thought” or “New Age” — is a critical but ignored part of the country’s history of spiritual seeking. “Metaphysical religion,” Albanese writes, “is at least as important as evangelicalism in fathoming the shape and scope of American religious history.” Donald Weiser was raised in his father Samuel’s New York City bookstore. The Weisers were antiquarians. The occult was a specialty. When Donald took over the business in the 1950s, he decided to focus on occult books exclusively. He bought up the private libraries of collectors, especially in and around New York, and sold to other collectors. He did a good business in rare books. He soon noticed, though, that there was another, untapped market for occult literature. Weiser’s store was attracting Wall Street brokers interested in practical applications of magic, psychologists who used palmistry, and ad executives dabbling in astral projection. There were serious devotees of voodoo and witchcraft who wanted books. There were soldiers returning from Korea and Japan who came into the store asking about English-language literature on Buddhism and Hinduism and, soon, hippie kids who wanted to know about astrology and Kabbalah. His first publication was a ’50s edition of Crowley’s “Equinox of the Gods.” It was just the beginning. Weiser was soon publishing about 15 titles a year. They were cheap but high-quality re-prints of out-of-copyright titles. Weiser became the supply source for an occultist far beyond New York City. He soon was distributing his new titles to small, independent bookstores on the other side of the country. The biggest market for occult books were in San Diego and San Francisco. It was enough that the booksellers associations came up with a category for these books, officially designating them “New Age.” People “discovered themselves in print to be part of the New Age movement,” Albanese writes in her history of American occultism. When they did, “their ranks, seemingly overnight, swelled.” The mainstream publishing houses noticed the swelling ranks of New Age books and, more importantly, New Age book-buyers. It was a whole new market. The publishers moved quickly to get something to sell in this category. Several presses started New Age imprints. Warner started Warner-Destiny. The big publishers each looked for specialists who knew something about the occult, to help them publish books that would sell. The mainstream publishers had more access to more bookstores, with a distribution network that stretched out from New York to all the urban centers in America. That broader network meant a lot more sales than an independent publisher like Weiser had ever seen. “Pyramid Power,” by Max Toth and Greg Neilsen, promising to reveal the “secret energy of the ancients,” sold 100,000 copies the first year. “Pyramid Power” went on to sell more than one million copies. Another hit was a book about astrology in the Bible, “To Rule Both Day and Night,” written by Joel Dobin, a Reformed rabbi educated at Princeton. The mainstream success was enough to launch an independent publisher, Inner Traditions. In the next decade, there was a notable increase of people who identified with occult beliefs. In their polling, Gallup found the number of people who believed there were mediums who could communicate with departed spirits increased 10 points in the 1990s. Belief in witches went up by 12 points. Half of Americans said they believed in extra-sensory perception and almost a third said they believed in clairvoyance. As one put it, “now everybody’s mother-in-law is into tarot.” There are multiple explanations for this cultural shift, a change in the zeitgeist. The turn of a new decade brought out new anxieties, new desires, and new spiritual longings. For the founder of Inner Traditions, a longtime member of the Ordo Templi Orientis, an occult group that follows Aleister Crowley, the belief is that a “spiritual hierarchy” is “looking to advance humanity.” Maybe there was a new interest in the occult. Or maybe people have, all along, felt like they had these half-articulated questions about the ultimate nature of reality and just never had access to the occult answers. Today, the occult books that were once nearly impossible to find are readily available throughout America. Books on magick, Wicca, Gnosticism, Egyptology, Thelema, might technically be “esoterica,” but really they are available wherever books are sold. Weiser was kind of an eccentric figure, a little known, independent publisher. But he and the young people who trained with him made these once-strange options available to every spiritual seeker. +++ In the UK we have Watkins Books. Established over 100 years ago, Watkin's is one of the world's oldest and leading independent bookshops specialising in new and antiquarian titles in the Mind, Body, Spirit field. I haunted this shop when I discovered the Perennial Philosophy, the only place where I could find the complete works of René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon and others.