If you want to know what sort of Wiccan someone is, ask them what they think about Silver RavenWolf.
Few authors are as polarizing. Many will roll their eyes and spout vitriol that includes phrases like “fluffy bunny” and “white lighter” (one of my first degrees gleefully refers to her as “$ilver CashRegister”—and yes, you can hear the dollar sign vocalized). Others adore her. Though her publications are less frequent, Mama Silver’s following remains substantial. I once saw someone at a festival with a full tattooed back piece of the cover of To Ride a Silver Broomstick in bright colors (only those of you who remember the original cover art can understand the full impact of what I’m describing).
My own relationship with Silver RavenWolf is complex, and I’m describing it here for a couple of reasons. One, I’m new here at Patheos and I feel like this is a fun way to introduce you to my personal flavor of witchcraft (Hi! Welcome to my blog!). Two, I want to offer myself up as data to all of the Pagans, witches, and Wiccans who, for the last two plus decades, have worried that Silver RavenWolf and those she influences are somehow turning the Craft into a commodity, or otherwise failing to inspire the level of seriousness that “legitimate” religion requires.
Mine was the first generation of young people to discover Wicca and witchcraft through the lens of Silver RavenWolf’s Teen Witch. It came out in 1998 and I saved up my money and bought a copy from the Walden Books at the mall. God, my girlfriends and I loved that book. Fiercely. I copied whole sections of it into my teenaged Book of Shadows (a wide-ruled composition book covered in duct tape) and carried it in my backpack at school. I performed the “Come to Me Love Spell” and did the suggested daily devotions. I made “holy water” using the moon and gave myself a magical name that, while ridiculous in retrospect, totally made me feel badass at the time (and led me to become “Thorn”). I scoured the Internet for fan fiction about the characters on the cover and just about lost it when she started publishing novels about them (and am still not over the fact that Witches’ Chillers: Witches’ Voodoo Moon never became a reality). Teen Witch made us feel powerful in a way that is too often denied to young people, especially young girls.
And gradually I grew up. I moved on from RavenWolf, devouring Buckland, Grimassi, Adler, Starhawk, and Cunningham. I read Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon in my freshman year of college and it totally changed my perspective. I turned to Ebay for my first copy of Witchcraft Today, which was still out of print back then. I also read Sybil Leek’s Diary of a Witch, because that was the book that Silver RavenWolf said changed her own life back when she was thirteen.
I read and I tried things and I met other Pagans and I read a lot more. I took full advantage of the Internet (back then it was AOL chat rooms, GeoCities web pages, and the forums at www.witchway.net, which would ultimately ban me for use of profanity…whoops). I visited witchy shops and went to public rituals. Eventually, I decided to pursue the Gardnerian tradition, which I believed would give me a handle on what Wicca really was and where I could fit into its history, which by this point had me enthralled.
Now, almost twenty years after Teen Witch, I’m a working Gardnerian high priestess operating both an inner and outer court in a major Southern city. My witchcraft looks very little like what I was up to in my Teen Witch days. I also went on to graduate school for religious studies, specializing in contemporary witchcraft and Paganism (and now work as a lecturer). I’m a regular at the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting (see you nerds in Atlanta), as well as an assortment of popular Pagan events. I’ve managed to make both my personal and professional lives revolve around witchcraft, and through relatively conventional means (i.e. lots and lots of college).
I write all of this to say, essentially, that I think I turned out okay. And if I turned out okay, there’ve got to be hundreds of other former teen witches who turned out okay.
We are what everyone was so worried about.
Are there better books out there? Sure. But there are (way) worse books, too. And there still aren’t many books specifically written for and immediately accessible to teenagers interested in witchcraft (which is, I’m pretty sure, why #wicca on Tumblr is so terrifying). Teen Witch continues to sell steadily, which would seem to indicate a need that isn’t being met elsewhere. And while Silver RavenWolf remains a point of controversy in some Wiccan spaces (and, I think, rightfully so), I’m not convinced that she warrants the sort of angry criticism that she still receives. Or, if she does, I think most other Wiccan and Pagan authors are just as guilty (bad history, shallow theology, and cheesiness remain as prominent as ever, as any cursory examination of the typical metaphysical book store selection reveals).
My Come to Me Love Spell didn’t work, by the way.