Gateways to Paganism: Silver RavenWolf

(Pagans don’t proselytize, and the majority of us don’t have Pagan parents; as a result, people come to Modern Paganism through various means. For many of us, books, movies, and music provided the impetus to walk the Pagan Path. Gateways to Paganism is one guy’s attempt to document some of the things that have led various people to Paganism, and why those things had that effect.)

When the definitive history of Modern Paganism is written one of the book’s biggest chapters will be dedicated to the 1990′s. It was far from the most important decade in Paganism, but it was wildly influential, and continues to be so. It was the era of the warehouse-bookseller, with stores like Barnes and Noble and Borders containing thousands and thousands of titles and often a fully stocked “Magical Arts” section. Movies like The Craft sort of portrayed Witchcraft in an accurate light, and artists such as Tori Amos and Loreena McKennitt explored Pagan-like themes on hit albums. The personal computer was making life easier, first as a tool to create a plethora of great Pagan magazines (like the Green Egg, but I also miss Green Man, Connections, and Enchante), and then as a networking/social tool, linking many of us together in new ways.

Right in the middle of all these trends was Silver RavenWolf, who came out with the perfect book at the perfect time, and became perhaps the most important and influential Pagan author of the 1990′s. Her output in the 90′s (and into the early part of the aughts) was nearly prodigious, as she averaged a little over a book of year for much of that time, with many of those books averaging over 300 pages. In about six years Ravenwolf became not only a best-selling Pagan author, but she also became a star in New Age circles by writing books such as Angels: Companions in Magick, Hexcraft, and American Folk Magick. Those were all in addition to her Witchcraft books (To Ride A Silver Broomstick, To Stir A Magick Cauldron, To Light a Sacred Flame, and Teen Witch) which began publication in 1993. It was an amazing hot-streak for an author, and one that will probably never be equaled in Pagan circles.

(To put some of that in perspective, Margot Adler has two Pagan-like books to her credit, and those were published nearly twenty years apart. Starhawk has published six solo non-fiction books in a little over thirty years, RavenWolf published seven in six years. Obviously quantity does not always equal quality (no one is ever going to confuse Drawing Down the Moon with Broomstick), but it remains an impressive feat.)

I was twenty-one years old when I first encountered Silver RavenWolf, and while our time together was fleeting, for a short period Broomstick was one of my favorite books. While people love to point the finger at RavenWolf (and many of those criticisms are well deserved*) her most vocal detractors sometimes lose sight of the fact that she was a terrific writer. To Ride a Silver Broomstick remains an extremely potent and magickal package, regardless of how you feel about the content. RavenWolf made Witchcraft feel alive, vital, and even more importantly she made it feel personable. There’s a lot of information in things like Buckland’s Big Blue Book of Witchcraft, but the Witchcraft he was writing about always felt remote when I was younger. Reading early RavenWolf was kind of like whispering in the dark with an old friend, and it was delightful. Those conversations aren’t always substantive, but they are fun, and can lead to greater things.

RavenWolf’s Wicca was sexy and hip back in the early to mid 1990′s, and the perfect kind of thing to pick up if you happened to see The Craft. It was Witchcraft with pretty women on the cover and all about spells and personal empowerment. It was about the ideal being obtainable, with a little spellwork and some advice from Mama RavenWolf. Silver’s Neo-Wicca (as described by some detractors) wasn’t for the Old Guard or the experienced, it was specifically for seekers and newbies. As I said at the beginning, Broomstick (and its sequels) was the right book at the right time, and completely played into the Neo-Witch Archetype being played up on shows like Charmed. It was (and remains) a doorway kind of book for folks influenced by TV and movies about the supernatural, and its success changed Pagan publishing forever.

In just a few short years Silver RavenWolf essentially became a brand. Silver’s Spells For Abundance, Silver’s Spells for Love, Silver’s Spells For Protection, there was nothing like it before, and there’s been nothing like it since. The name Silver RavenWolf became synonymous with a certain variety of Witchcraft; one that was often younger, less experienced, and very much into spell work above all else. RavenWolf’s work created entirely new markets for Pagan books and (to a lesser extent) products.

Throughout the 90′s my peer group tended to revolve around Michigan State University, and most of us who practiced Witchcraft owned a copy of Broomstick. By the late 90′s those of us who owned Broomstick were generally in one of two camps. There was my camp which had kind of grown out of Silver’s perspective (Angels? I’ll pass), and those that continued to hang on her every publication. Sometimes, you just outgrow an author, and by the late 90′s I had moved on to the Farrars and Hutton. My friends and I weren’t alone in our mixed feelings about RavenWolf, within the Pagan Community as a whole she became a rather divisive figure.

Many of those negative feelings can be summed up in two words: Teen Witch. The idea behind Teen Witch was understandable; teenagers are interested in Witchcraft so let’s create a book for that demographic. Like all of Silver’s Llewellyn books, Teen Witch looks great; the layout, the fonts, the little stars everywhere . . . . Llewellyn’s ability to create a beautiful book is often overlooked. Sadly that’s where the kudos mostly end. Teen Witch is mainly a collection of often silly-sounding (and sometimes ethically questionable) spells. Elf Locker Spell, Beach Baby Sun Spell, Crabby Teacher Spell, it’s no wonder why most people over the age of 16 snicker at Teen Witch. There’s something to be said for personal empowerment, but spells to replace your school bus driver because they might be grumpy? Who cares if they have a family to feed or that you might be the cause of their ire, my bus driver is sullen damnit and I want a new one!

RavenWolf’s Teen Witch Kit was seen by many in the Pagan Community as a new low (it contains a Yes/No Coin!), and I remember being rather horrified when I first came across it, but time has mellowed my opinion a bit. Someone was going to market a Teen Witch kit in the year 2000, I guess it was probably better that a Pagan Publisher and author made a little bank off of it than someone outside the tribe. The folks in Minneapolis have to eat, as does the RavenWolf clan, and I can think of far worse things to get ramped up about. In fairness to RavenWolf, I remember hearing that this was coming out whether she played a long with it or not, so it kind of becomes a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Twenty years after the publication of Broomstick, Ravenwolf continues to be a best selling Pagan author, but it sometimes feels as if she’s floating in a different orbit than the rest of Pagandom. I no longer run into her at Pagan Festivals, and devout Silver fandom is a bit rarer these days. When discussing “essential Pagan books” she’s often left off the list, despite selling hundreds of thousands of books. Sometimes even the tiniest mention of her results in outright hostility, and and I often get the feeling that Anton LaVey would be more popular at parties (if he weren’t dead of course).

Despite my problems with books like Teen Witch, I took a lot from Silver’s early work. Say what you want about the occasional ethical lapses, her spells are generally well constructed and easy to do. I still do a lot of RavenWolf-influenced candle magick, and her encouragement to write personal rituals and not just read them out of a book was a bit of advice I fully took to heart during my formative Pagan years. Yes, there’s a lot of bad history in her early books, but there’s also a good bit of inspiration to be found there too. Do most of us outgrow Silver? Absolutely, but most of us outgrow our 101 books regardless of author. Has Ravenwolf written some crap? Certainly, but she’s also served as a valuable gateway to Paganism, and her imagination and take on Modern Witchcraft still speaks to thousands of people. That’s an accomplishment only a very select few can claim.

*This article is not an exploration of those criticisms, but if you are curious about them they are easy enough to find. I just trust in your ability to use Google!

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Jeanne Anne Decosta

    not so sure whats so special about the 90s in terms of Paganism .. id say the 50s were more important since thats when Gardner got Wicca going .. & the 70s were when the Hippie Witches were wild & free .. all that happened in the 90s was the commercialization of the Craft .. with all the books & trinkets being sold .. its when Paganism went from worshiping the Goddess to worshiping Mammon

    • kenofken

      The 90s, for better and worse (I’d say better), are why we’re here today as a visible and viable movement. 99% of us would simply have no access or entry to pagan religion if today were 1953 or 1973 or even 1983. There was some very good work and groups around, but unless you were very lucky or very dogged, and lived in certain parts of the country, you would never find them. Books and magazines were few and far between, and almost everything was oriented toward Wicca.

      • Jeanne Anne Decosta

        for worse i’d say .. cuz it was in the 90s that commercialization took over Paganism .. just like Henry Buchy says above

        i dont know what you mean about “access .. to pagan religion” kenofken .. the Goddess calls to the heart .. it isnt about some book or magazine .. & it isnt about being lucky or dogged .. i wasnt alive in the 1970s but my parents were & they were Witches in upstate NY .. Lady Isadora ~1uv the pioneers of modern Goddess music~ was a farm girl from Iowa who was born a Witch .. the Witches & other pagans of the day didnt need some book or magazine to know who they are

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I wouldn’t call the Hippies such a great influence.

      • Jeanne Anne Decosta

        Silver Ravenwolf is “crass” & Hippies arent such a great influence .. why are you so crabby Leo ??

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Just my temperament, I guess. (Being prone to depression probably doesn’t help, but I try to rein that in.)

          I just tell it how I see it, and I am not a pacifist.

  • ibejedi

    Well written, and I agree 100%. Growing up in Iowa, then off to college in Illinois, my exposure and access to Pagan/New Age literature was sketchy at best. People would quote the “classics” (the Farrar’s, Buckland, etc.) but getting your hands on one of those books? Nearly impossible in 1994ish (for me anyway).

    But Silver’s books were more mainstream, and you could find them in almost any bookstore by the end of the decade. I got my intro via “Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner”, so I never really got into “Silver Broomstick”, but “To Stir a Magickal Cauldron” was extremely influential, as I explored what Paganism meant to me and where my spiritual path was leading.

    I still have my copy (ok, the Library’s copy I never returned…) and still read through iton occasion, as one might read old love letters to an ex, or chit chat at a high school reunion with a grade school chum. I do really believe her message of writing your own ritual, creating your own tradition and doing what seems “right” to you was an extremely important one, and one that ran counter to the idea of only being a “Witch” if you had the correct, (not so) ancient tomes to chant from, and arcane equipment not accessible to the average young seeker.

    It is a shame she’s been met with such disdain; and while some of that may have been due to her dubious choices of subject material/publication choices in later years, she still deserves some measure of respect for helping bring paganism to the masses. Just don’t bother trying to figure out who the “Great Gubba” is.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I count myself exceedingly fortunate to have never owned one of her books and will confess to being judgemental enough to query whenever I see one on the bookshelf of anyone I know.

    • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

      On the flip side, as a witch who “came of age” in the 90′s, if you didn’t have Silver RavenWolf on your shelf, then you weren’t serious about your studies. Like Jason indicated, my thoughts on that matter have changed, but there’s no denying the for a generation of us, Cunningham and RavenWolf shaped how we saw what we were doing.

      • JasonMankey

        I keep lots of things on my extensive bookshelves. How do I know I’m going to disagree with it if I don’t read it? I also just like knowing how a lot of different Pagans think, so I read a lot of different books.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Being born in 1980, the 90′s were my teen decade. I must admit, I didn’t start looking at contemporary Paganism until the tail end of the decade, but I spent a fair amount of reading hours in the first half of the decade poring over books on folklore (particularly British folklore, since that is my location).

        I guess it was my particular angle that made me feel that RavenWolf was somewhat crass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/5pointed Heather Naomi

    Agreed. Silver really did put the magick into practicing the Craft that other authors weren’t able to convey nearly as well, if at all. I really appreciated that when I was a newbie, and I had some really great experiences with the meditations in To Ride a Silver Broomstick. I read tons and tons of books at that time, including Adler and Hutton (Hutton has the ability to insert humor where you least expect it, love that), Starhawk and the Farrars, etc., etc. I’ve moved on from there, definitely, but it was really great to start there. I wouldn’t consider myself a “fan” of hers, but her books have a place and they serve it well. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/henry.buchy Henry Buchy

    “Pagans don’t proselytize..”
    right, they just market.

    • JasonMankey

      Knowing how few Pagans actually make a living from being a Pagan I have to assume they do a pretty poor job of marketing.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Maybe they need to do some evangelising? How cool would it be to hear street preachers shouting about Ƿōden or Cernunnos?

      • http://www.facebook.com/henry.buchy Henry Buchy

        it doesn’t have to do with making a living. When a marketing approach is used in regards to religion it is proselytism. As far as making a living, I am sure Llewellyn made a nice profit.

        It’s a market model, create a product, create a market for the product.

        isn’t that what you explain in part above? SRW essentially became a ‘brand’ and created new ‘markets” for pagan books?

        Religion is business. That’s one of the legacies of the decade you speak of.

        A good example is this site patheos.com. They’ve since taken down the page which described contributers and patheos ‘experts’ benefits of growing their market share and developing their brand, i.e. religious views.

        True, few pagans may actually be making a living from being pagan. A lot more are contributing to others making one at their expense. It’s the same model as huffington post was.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dsalisbury David Salisbury

    Teen Witch was extremely influential for me, since it was published in the year I started practicing and was directed right at my age range. I’m confused by the degree of hostility by some who bash it. I mean, at 12 years old, I wasn’t going to be interested in reading a deep ethical tome on Pagan philosophy anyway. Teen Witch was a symbol to me, that the Pagan movement was interested and willing to have my participation as a youngster.

    Pagans at large need to trust young people more. They should trust that when young witches are ready to move deeper after reading books like ‘Teen Witch’, then they will. Or they’ll fall out of interest. But either way, it certainly didn’t harm me or my other friends who read and worked from it. In fact, many of those friends are deeply intelligent Pagans doing a lot of cool work on their own.

    Thanks for writing about this, Jason!

    • http://pregnant-niamh.livejournal.com Niamh Dhabolt

      Well said. Teen Witch was also very influential for me. It was my very first book on Wicca and was just right for me at that phase in my life (I was 14). As I got older and my library expanded to include more substantive and in-depth books, my excitement over Silver’s work quickly faded and all the problems with it became glaringly obvious.

      However, there was some kind of… “loyalty” (best word I could come up with to describe it) for her, and I found that I couldn’t dismiss her completely. Sure, I’d tell people to avoid her work (well, actually, I’d tell them to read anything they can get their hands on, but I’d suggest better authors and books, and would down-talk Silver’s work), but because I credit her as my introduction and because I loved her work as a girl, there’s still a sense of gratitude that I experience toward her.

      I agree that we need to trust young people more. Just because one’s introduction is fluff, doesn’t mean they will always gravitate toward fluff. Kids eventually grow up (well… usually). That said, I still have about 5 Silver books on my shelf (all bought when I was a teen), and I have very mixed feelings about whether to introduce my own three children to Silver Ravenwolf. It’s the faulty history and certain ethical issues with some of her writing that makes me hesitate. Her writing style would probably strike an interest, but the quality of her work would be the problem. :-P Thankfully, there are other books out now that are geared toward young kids and teens… and hopefully they learned from Silver’s mistakes and come up with a more substantive introduction for teens.

  • Aine

    I disagree that it was a feat. Most of her books after the first few were…the same as the first few books she published just with different buzzwords. Her writing wasn’t really deep or explorative, and while her spells were fun, her books were mostly…spells and charts, redone a few times for the new topic she was writing on. And while you mentioned quantity=/=quality, I…can’t agree that it was a feat.

    She definitely did influence modern Pagandom though. I remember when it felt like the internet was full of ‘Ravenwolf is the worst’ discussions and fights and such. And then…she wasn’t really publishing (or at least not as much) and it felt like…she wasn’t as important. Personally, I find her writing rather patronizing, but I do think people throw the baby out with the bath water (what’s wrong with having fun with your spells? I’ve run into so many people that despise Ravenwolf because she mentioned using glitter, and I can’t fathom why that is a problem). Other people find her writing enjoyable. It wasn’t for me though.

    I think it’s good the focus-and-hostility on her has mostly fallen away, to be honest. It’s helped a more balanced approach to her and her works come about, I think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anne-Craig/695061098 Anne Craig

    I was a late starter into the Craft at 48, and I did my first ritual holding a pewter Celtic knot letter opener in one hand and To Ride A Silver Broomstick in the other. I still have her books and they are still good references for ritual and spellwork. I do agree that it was geared to younger Witchlings, but her attitude and focus was casual and not quite as stuffy as some of the other mainstream books. Her best book was Solitary Witch, where she did get some insight from Ronald Hutton for the historical perspective and really tackled witchcraft after the run-in with the Wicca 101 books that characterized the 90s. Great books to use in my library :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/VileBe4uty Lesley Lane

    As bad as Teen Witch may be, it was still extremely helpful in dealing with parents, teachers, and friends when it came to paganism. A lot of people thought I was nuts or worshipped the devil. Silver had great advice and outlines for dealing with these sorts of things that weren’t in other books, especially for teenagers. I have since given up Teen Witch and some of her other books, like To Ride a Silver Broomstick, but still have her copy of Hedgewitch. I think its a lovely book and a great refresher when I am feeling stagnant. The majority of the book is working though day or weekly “devotions” to reaffirm one’s spirituality. While many critizes her, we have to realize that Wicca and paganism is just like Christianity in that everyone has their own take on it and therefore there is no “true” form. She is a wonderful starting point for any new pagan and offers wonderful adivce for anyone just starting out. I am glad that you mentioned this in your article. I feel like the pagan community spends all their time hating on her that they forget what good she has done.

  • Allec Guire

    I have actually heard very positive reviews of Ravenwolf’s spells and her spell constructs.

    However, anything beyond that, I can’t help but see her as a negative influence. While she may have introduced a lot of people to paganism, witchcraft, and Wicca, she certainly did so using wrong history and prejudiced attitudes.

    I strongly advocate people avoid her books, if possible.

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  • DL Sanders

    “for the Old Guard” …. should read “Old Gard”…. as in Gardnerians ;o)

  • Lish

    When I was 13, I read “Teen Witch” because I thought it was funny (I was still a Christian at the time). I own a copy of “To Stir a Magick Cauldron” that was given to me as a gift, but I don’t really read it. I am not a huge fan of RavenWolf, remembering the things that were written in Teen Witch. I do commend her for the opening of the book that explains to the parents that find the book in their kids’ rooms that the Pagan faiths, Wicca in particular, are not the same as Satanism and Black Magick, like many non-Pagan parents would probably assume.


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