Few writers in the neopagan community are as controversial as Silver Ravenwolf. She remains a popular writer, particularly, I suspect, among teens. But she also brings out a great amount of frustration and anger in many other pagans who find her works shallow, dishonest, bigoted, and outright wrong.
Can’t we simply agree to disagree? Yes, to a degree. However, that doesn’t stop us from having an opinion and voicing it, just as our objections in no way stop her from publishing books and making public appearances. With Ravenwolf, it’s not merely a difference of opinion or personal belief. It’s about facts, which can be disproved, and moral issues, which can quickly color a community when a vocal member puts them forth.
All quotes, unless otherwise noted, come from Silver Ravenwolf, To Ride a Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft (Llewellyn Publications, 1993), which remains one of her most popular books.
Depictions of Christianity and Other Religions
There’s very little reason to mention Christianity in a book about Wicca, unless you’re using it as comparison; the fact is readers are much more familiar with Christianity than Wicca, so such mentions can be helpful. However, there is no reason whatsoever to use a book about one religion to slam another one. It’s outright unprofessional, not to mention immature.
Her bigotry is particularly ironic since the “Craft Code of Honor” she used to display on her website included “Respect the religion of others.” So she’s both a bigot and a hypocrite.
If you intend to grovel before a God form, please stop here and throw this book away…The common act of sniveling at their feet is unacceptable. If you truly want that type of relationship with “higher-ups”, there are plenty of well-cultured religions that will gladly open their arms to you. (page 43)
While she doesn’t actually name Christianity as the offender here, I don’t think I’m out of line inferring that’s what she meant, although it’s possible she’s slamming multiple religions. And her use of the phrase “common act” indicates she thinks this sort of behavior is widespread. In short, most religions are unhealthy, but what Ravenwolf offers is a far better alternative.
I believe one of the biggest problems Witches face today is the influx of Christianity and its “turn the other cheek” melodrama. More and more individuals are leaving the Christian Kingdom in favor of ours, but they bring with them brains that have been hammered for years with another philosophy. (Page 270)
I’m not quite sure she understands the phrase “turn the other cheek,” which means not retaliating against those who act poorly toward you. Is she wishing Wiccans/witches (she uses the terms interchangeably) would be more spiteful? Regardless, she specifically paints Christianity a a major danger, and that danger is the possibility of Wiccans/witches (she uses the terms interchangeably) actually understanding things outside of Wicca.
By the way, rejection of all ideas outside of your own teachings is a marking of a cult.
And “the Christian Kingdom”? Where the heck is that? She makes it sounds like people are defecting. Of course most Wiccans were former Christians since Christianity is the majority religion. That’s simple statistics.
There are two kinds of [divinatory] readings, those for magickal people and those for “once-borns” (a term Bried Foxsong, publisher of Sacred Hart, uses). Once-borns belong to other religions that do not believe in reincarnation or magick. (Page 152)
A once-born will get “hooked” before a magickal person, because they are totally unfamiliar with the intricacies of magick and divination. (Page 158)
Just in case you non-Christians thought you would be spared Ravenwolf’s diatribe, don’t fear, she hasn’t forgotten you. Apparently everyone who disagrees with her on certain subjects are so incredibly simple they must be given special tarot readings (or other divining method) because they just can’t handle a full-blown one. The arrogance is absolutely astounding.
Let’s not leave Satanists out of this either:
Satanic Witch: One cannot be a satanic Witch because Witches do not believe in satan. (Page 13)
Disregarding her painful lack of rudimentary capitalization skills, this sentence is typical “whitelighting”: painting the neopagan world in a cheerful, shallow and unsullied light without any acknowledgement of complexity. When the hell were we awarded copyright on the word “witch”? Some Satanists also identify as witches. Simple fact.
Also, as a note: many Satanists don’t believe in Satan either, and none of them believe in the Christian version of Satan.
More Persecuted than Thou
There is a particularly offensive story on pages 49-50 describing how Christians came with their one male God and forced the European medieval pagans through war to worship Him.
While in Persia, they came across a nasty God that was used in that country. And, wonder of wonders, he resembled the old God of the people in Europe. He was dark, half animal, with horns and a tail.
Bingo! They thought and rubbed their hands excitedly together. Now we know how to eradicate the old religion and bring in the new.
When they got back to Europe, they told the people that the old God was really Satan because he had horns and a tail. (Page 49)
I particularly like how the Christians “rubbed their hands excitedly together” like the bad guy in old movies just after he ties the heroine to the train tracks. Sorry, there is no one “old God” of the pagans. This is classic Murrayism, disproved 20 years before the publication of this book.
I have no idea which Persian god she might be referencing, and I suspect neither does she. Nor do I understand why these evil Christians need Persian mythology to turn the god of the supposed Old Religion of Europe into a monster. Can’t you simply make him into a monster?
She also presumes that Satan has always been depicted with hooves, horns and tail, and that’s simply not the case. Satan is never described in the Bible, and images of him throughout history vary immensely.
She finishes the section by saying: “I wrote this story to sound rather trite on purpose…It is a good story, though, for children, and an interesting one to tell around the fireplace.” (Page 50) Good story for children? What sort of values are you preaching here?
Ravenwolf is a very public sufferer of the More Persecuted than Thou Syndrome and is dedicated to infecting every reader she can. Discussing her storybook version of the Charge of the Goddess, she says “it depicts the Goddess and God in the manner in which we believe in them, not in the negative light in which our general society has often put them.” (Page xiii)
And what light, exactly, is that, Ms. Ravenwolf? I honestly have no idea. When someone wishes to put us down, their comments usually revolve around Wicca and Wiccans, not the God and Goddess, and it’s highly inventive to describe even this behavior as coming from “our general society.” While there will always be outspoken Fundamentalists, society in general really doesn’t give a rat’s ass about us, so long as we’re not being obnoxious, and that’s the case of any group of people, not just Wiccans.
When you poke the bear with a rhetorical stick, the bear strikes back.
And, of course, no More Persecuted than Thou Syndrome would be complete without mention of the Burning Times:
Burning Times: You will hear this often. It is in reference to a historical time from about 1000 CE through the 17th century when it is said that over nine million people were tortured and burned by church and public officials on the assumption that they were the Christian version of Witches…Historians indicated that the majority of people tortured and murdered were women and children. (Page 19)
While she doesn’t flat out say it was “we” who were persecuted, why would she include this in her book if it had nothing to do with us? And try 40,000 to 100,000, not over nine million. As far as the women bit goes, that is historical fact (although the reasons were more complicated than that they were women), I suspect she’s exaggerating the place of children, and what the hell does this have to do with the topic at hand, unless the topic really is insulting Christianity and depicting Wiccans as persecuted stoics?
Dealing with Outsiders
In response to “What do Witches do?” or “Tell me all about Witches,” be very careful if you are not familiar with the questioner. Instead, get them to talk about themselves by using the conversation techniques you have learned. They may never get an answer to their question on the first meeting, but they will walk away thinking you are a great person anyway because you listened to them.
How do you steer them away from the topic of Witchcraft if you find yourself in a time or place that is not suitable for such a discussion? This is an easy one; just ask them exactly what they wish to know. Most often their questions are vague and you can give them an equally vague answer and ask them something about themselves. (Page 278-279)
First comes the presumption that non-Pagans are stupid enough to fall for this, followed by a pat on the back for deliberately misleading people.
And why exactly are you being asked these questions in the first place? If you are not familiar enough with the questioner to be talking about such things, why did you let this person know you were a Witch to begin with?
And speaking of telling the world about your witchiness…
I began by telling my father [that I was a witch], then my children and my two best friends; I went on to others that had known me for several years, and progressed to those who did not know me well at all. I told my new employer before I even accepted the job. (Page 277)
There is zero reason to tell a prospective employer what your religion is – by law he can’t even ask. There’s only two reasons you would behave like this – you’re looking for attention, or you’re looking for trouble, knowing that eventually you’ll come across someone who will make an issue of it, at which point you scream persecution at the top of your lungs.
As someone who works with magick, sooner or later you’re going to be found out, anyway. Let’s face it. You will probably carry yourself differently (confidence does that to a person). You may become more articulate, more sensitive, more ethical; happier, richer, healthier. You will succeed in your dreams where others spend their lives wishing instead. Eventually, people will wonder what you are doing right! People may also fear you. Not because you have threatened them, but because you obviously are not enjoying the same tragedies they are. (Page 278)
What sort of cult propaganda is this? News flash: non-magical people succeed at their dreams too. And anyone who thinks that Wicca or any other religion or organization will protect them from the tragedies of the world needs a serious and immediate wake-up call. Wicca doesn’t make you anything. You are what you make of yourself, and you can do that equally well as a Wiccan, Christian, atheist, or anything else.
I personally don’t recommend telling your friends or distant family members with the first year of your study of the Craft that you have taken on a new reality. (Page 32)
There goes the cult talk again. New reality? What reality were you living in before? And don’t you just love the paranoia? They won’t understand you, so you must hide from them until your powers have grown strong enough to start avoiding tragedies and other perks that will prove your new reality to others.
Directed specifically at teens (which is ethically problematic itself) is the following advice about explaining Wicca to parents:
Then we’ve got the double sneak-attack – working only with angels. Angels, angels everywhere and Mom or Dad won’t even care. Sure, because everyone likes angels. (Silver Ravenwolf, Teen Witch, (Llewellyn Publications) page 232.)
I don’t know what they call this approach in Ravenwolf’s world, but where I come from, this is called lying. Angels have nothing to do with Wicca. Oh, and another clue: if “sneak-attack” is an apt description for a plan to deal with parents, the ethics of such a plan should be seriously questioned.
And finally there is the issue of the simple lack of credible information in her writing, particularly in her choice of words.
Another name for a solitary Witch is a “Natural Witch”. (page 14)
Where she got this idea is beyond me. The concept of “Natural Witches” describes one predisposed toward Witchcraft from birth. Most neopagans don’t even believe in such things. A solitary witch is simply one that practices (wait for it)…in solitary, as opposed to practicing within a coven.
The Wiccan Witch:…I personally like the word “Witch” very much. To me it means mystery, healing…The word “Wiccan” does not give me those feelings. It projects a different set of associations-weaving, church, New Earth, wicker furniture (don’t ask me why) and the movie The Wicker Man (which although I despised, I fully understand). It also means “front”, a way to bring the public into accepting our belief system for what it actually is, not what their preconceived ideas of a word dictates to them. (Page 14-15)
Wicca doesn’t mean “front”, and I can’t imagine why she would say that. She may think of it as a front, but that’s an opinion, not a meaning. People who get published should have a basic grasp on the English vocabulary. Why she associates the word Wicca with church is likewise beyond my comprehension. And equating words that sound similar (Wicca and wicker) is something small children do.
I imagine she likes the word “Witch” exactly because of those “preconceived ideas” i.e. historical definitions of the word people have about it. That way she can self-righteously protest that she’s being persecuted by the once-borns.
Wicca — It is thought that this term was originally coined by Selena Fox of the Circle Sanctuary in an effort to describe the modern religion of WitchCraft (as begun by Gerald Gardner in England in the 1950′s). There is NO difference between Wicca and WitchCraft. Anyone who tells you there is a difference is experimenting in the theory of Occum’s Razor. (http://www.silverravenwolf.com/Magickal%20Glossary.htm (no longer online)
Has she never read Gardner’s The Meaning of Witchcraft? Or his “Old Laws”? Gardner himself introduced us to the term “Wica”. The second C was added later (admittedly, I don’t know by whom), presumably to reflect the Anglo-Saxon word wicca which is the root for the modern word “witch”. And, incidentally, the name is Occam, not Occum.
…did you know that Mary Magdalene was not a temple prostitute? That the word “Magdelene” is a title of leadership, not the woman’s last name? And that Mary Magdelene of Bible fame ran a temple to the Goddess, designed to educate the rich girls of Jerusalem? True, true…and true. AND, the reason the men hated her was because she believe in the Goddess, and they wanted to get rid of the Goddess. (Silver Ravenwolf, Teen Witch, (Llewellyn Publications) page 233.)
No, no, and no. Let’s break down the problems hers:
- There has never in history been a worshiped entity known simply as the Goddess
- Further down the page she refers readers to Barbara Walker’s Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets for information. Yet Walker herself describes her repeatedly as Mary the Whore and cites “Magdelene” to mean merely “she of the temple-tower”. (Walker, Barbara G. The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, (HarperCollins Publishers, 1983), page 614.)
- Magdalene means woman of Magdala. (source)
- Mary Magdalene was a Jew. As such, she wouldn’t be associated with a pagan temple.
- Lots of people know Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. The confusion comes from two Biblical stories running into each other: one about Mary and one about the prostitute Jesus saves from stoning.
Worse, this passage is a part of the section on telling your parents that you’re Wiccan. Clearly, the statement has nothing to do with Wicca or why one should be dedicated to it. Instead, it’s another of Ravenwolf’s pot-shots at Christianity.
Ravenwolf’s bizarre world-view is not, however, confined to the religious realms:
For too many years women have been told that they must regard their cycle with an unkind eye, calling it a curse when actually it is a boon. Society has so dictated this to them that many feel weak, tired and disoriented because they are supposed to. (Page 19)
Actually, we tend to feel weak, tired, and disoriented because of pain and blood loss. I’m pretty sure that even if I had been raised by wolves my cycle would still be a pain in the ass.
Before performing all spells one should consult their divinatory vehicle not only to examine the outcome of your work, but to glean any extra information you should be aware of…For example, you wouldn’t want to cast a spell for money and have your spouse or parents drop dead. (Page 178)
For those who believe in divination, it reveals possibilities, not concrete outcomes. Anyone who structures their life choices on divinations is a fool. Second, people do not drop over dead because you didn’t correctly chant over a green candle (which is her standard money making spell).
In other news, we can’t cast fireballs either.
And a final quote of just true bizarreness:
It is my personal opinion that most people are attracted to the Craft not by its religious content, but by its scientific and technological allure. (Page 27)
If you are attracted to a religion for reasons other than its religious content, you are a poser. It’s like saying you’re a Christian because you like communion wine.