NOTE: Since the writing of the original paper that this article was taken from, the terms “Wicca” and “Witchcraft”, once generally used interchangeably, have taken on some important distinctions. However, because Ravenwolf does not use this distinction herself (at least in this book), this article remains an accurate critique of her material.
Introduction: Generation Hex
A quick perusal of the contemporary entertainment industry will reveal a renewed interest in Witchcraft, or as it is known officially, Wicca. Television shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, movies such as The Craft, Witchboard, and Blair Witch Project, plus books like Harry Potter, Charmed, and the Circle of Three series have made Wicca readily available to the general public. Whereas alleged practitioners of the Craft were once subjects of great suspicion and persecution, today it has become almost trendy to be a member of a Wiccan Coven.
Wicca’s intrigue might once have been attributed only to the normal human fascination with hidden or esoteric knowledge. Today, however, with Barnes and Noble’s and Hollywood’s seal of approval on the subject, interest from the general public has increased. The Occult section of many bookstores has now outgrown the New Age section. In some it has outgrown both the Philosophy and Religion sections. Wicca’s influence is being found in wider and wider audiences, especially as it is discovered by the young. Modern witches have not let this newfound niche go unnoticed.
In 2000, Llewellyn Publications released Teen Witch – Wicca for a New Generation, a handbook on Witchcraft that targeted teenagers interested in becoming “true” witches. The book was written by popular Wiccan writer Silver Ravenwolf, author of several Wiccan instruction books geared toward the adult such as: To Stir a Magic Cauldron, To Ride a Silver Broomstick, Witches Runes, and Silver’s Spells for Protection. She has also authored a series of teen witch novels beginning with Murder at Witches’ Bluff.
Silver Ravenwolf makes several claims in her book which are worthy of inquiry. She asserts that Wicca is perfectly compatible with Christianity (or any other “positive” religion), that no “true” witch practices black magic, and that parents should not be at all concerned with their child’s interest in the Occult. (1) She also leaves out many troubling aspects of the Craft such as ritual nudity, sex magick, drug use, etc. These elements, so prevalent in other writings on Wicca, provide much useful information to the seeker, and the purposeful omission (or distortion) of these topics requires investigation. Ravenwolf herself asserts quite clearly (and often) that what she is presenting is the truth, frequently berating those who would dare to disagree with her.
She peppers her book with statements like, “I don’t think this [practicing Wicca] constitutes abnormal behavior, but some stick-in-the-mud unenlightened people do,” or, “uneducated, unenlightened people believe that witches are bad.” (2) This bit of rhetoric makes it nearly impossible to conduct a rational discussion, for the instant that any notion of uneasiness appears, the child will automatically place the parent or friend into one the above mentioned categories and dismiss any discussion beyond that. Far from preparing the parent or child for an “enlightened” discussion, Ravenwolf has only succeeded in poisoning the well of child – parent relations.
Expecting this outcome, Ravenwolf presents an entire section of her book dedicated to dealing with “unenlightened” parents. She comments, “Some parents just won’t get over their fear and listen.” When this occurs she asserts that these parents “are not behaving in an adult manner,” as if concern on a parent’s part represents immature conduct based on irrational fear. She goes on to state, “A few parents get foolishly hysterical. These people irritate me.” (3) The only reaction acceptable to Ravenwolf on the part of a child’s parent is a one-on-one discussion affirming the possibility that Wicca might just be the best thing for the child.
Friends of the would-be-witch are targets for Ravenwolf as well. “Here’s where you separate the true friends [adults included] from those who have no clue,” she begins, then, “once you start moving to a higher level of consciousness, it is natural that those people who aren’t on your wavelength will drift away.” (4) Here Ravenwolf equates lack of interest with a lower level of consciousness, once again setting up a hierarchy of intelligence or enlightenment. One wonders how these instructions are supposed to engender the tolerance she so adamantly demands throughout her book.
Truth is a common theme throughout Ravenwolf’s work. “I’ll separate the truth from the fibs,” she writes in her introduction to the book. (5) Her idea of truth, however, is presented in a confusing and self-defeating manner. For instance, in her introduction Ravenwolf describes those who do not share her view of the Craft in this way:
“I think the thing that irritates me most about human beings is that they are willing to believe anything evil, morbid, or gross without question. . . . They demand ‘truth’ ‘Show me,’ these unenlightened people say.” (6)
Is Ravenwolf implying that any critical opinion of Witchcraft represents an unenlightened viewpoint? Is the search for truth with regard to Wicca only for those who are ignorant or uneducated? Ravenwolf argues continually for what she terms “true” Witchcraft, as opposed to the “false” variety that she seems to think everyone else has in mind. So which is it? How can one attempt to understand the truth if an investigative mindset is indicative of unenlightenment?
Further muddying the water, Ravenwolf goes on to present those who would seek the “truth” with half truths, distortions, and outright fabrications, none of which are documented in any way. (7) It is these problems that will be addressed in this writing.
Summary of Critical Problems
While not sufficient to prove the truthfulness of a world view, a necessary requirement is coherence. This is to say that the tenets of a system of thought must at least agree with each other. Ravenwolf’sversion of the Wiccan religion as presented in Teen Witch is fraught with inconsistences both within and without her system. As will be shown, in at least three major subject areas Ravenwolf either omits or misrepresents critical information regarding the Craft in what appears to be an attempt to make it more palatable for parents and more attractive to children. This is particularly disturbing in light of her statements to the contrary. If the truth is such an important element in Ravenwolf’s writings, she certainly does not show it in her exposition of opposing views, nor in her portrayal of modern Wicca.
Alleged Compatibility with Christianity
Throughout Teen Witch, Silver Ravenwolf asserts the compatibility of Wicca with other religions. In most instances Christianity is the religion of choice for comparison. She states that, “No religion is wrong in the way in the way they [sic] see God,” and, “Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and hundreds of other positive religions . . . we are all one.” (8) She goes on to state that, “they [young people] can mix the religion of Witchcraft with other religious practices,” and that, “No matter what your religion, you can write a ritual and do that ritual.” (9)
In her attempt to link Wicca and Christianity, Ravenwolf employs the use of several “Christianized” terms throughout the book. She equates “church” with Wiccan rituals and rites, “confirmation / communion” with Wiccan initiation, “daily devotions” with praying to the earth Spirit, “God” with a universal force of positive energy, and even includes a spell that mimics a traditional Sunday School song:
“Goddess loves me this I know / For the Spirit tells me so / Little ones to Her belong / Addicts are weak, but I am strong.” (10)
Further, Ravenwolf asserts not only that Wicca is compatible with other religions, but that it affirms them as well. She writes that, “no religion is better than another,” and “any positive religion (Christianity, Judaism, Islam . . .) can give you necessary support.” (11) She even affirms that it is evil to debase another’s faith stating that, “one of the most painful acts of cruelty that a human is capable of [is] dishonoring another’s religious faith.” (12) While these statements might seem very peaceful and accepting in nature, there is more to the story. As will be shown, Ravenwolf wastes no time in “dishonoring another’s religious faith.”
In the introduction to her book, Ravenwolf relates a discussion she had (and now affirms) in which it was stated that “[the Christian] church isn’t the whole truth,” and “there’s no such place as hell,” as well as, “Christian men of the day killed two million people, mostly women and children.” She goes on to deny resurrection, forgiveness, God’s masculinity, and the existence of the devil. In the midst of this denial of several fundamental doctrines of Christianity (which she claims to know “very well”) (13) she makes the claim that, “early Christians believed in reincarnation,” and that, “early Jews had a female deity,” she even implies that Christian men taught that “women had no souls.” (14) It is a wonder that Ravenwolf can then declare that, “Witches are sick and tired of people in other religions passing judgement and spreading lies about our belief system.” (15)
These unsubstantiated and misleading assertions aside, Ravenwolf attempts to reconcile her vitriolic treatment of Christianity by upholding the Wiccan Principle of relativity which states:
“Our [witches] only animosity toward Christianity, or toward any other religion or philosophy of life, is to the extent that these institutions have claimed to be “the one true right and only way.”
The question must be asked: how is this any different from what Ravenwolf herself does throughout her book? Is she not making a truth claim about Wicca that must, by definition, exclude opposing views? In fact, for her to assert that it is true that all religions are true, she would have to embrace many contradictory positions – none of which she is willing to do. In her affirmation of karma and reincarnation, she denies resurrection, salvation, and judgement. (16) In advocating a polytheistic belief system that includes both male and female deities, she must deny monotheism. (17) When asserting a monistic view of reality, she denies the creator / creation distinction. (18) She seems to acknowledges this fact in one area, yet by implication denies it in all others. (19) She claims on the one hand that all religions are true, yet recognizes and reports a list of those things that are not true about them (most notably Christianity). Despite Ravenwolf’s wishes, there is simply no way to reconcile opposite truth claims. In order for her claims to be true, Christianity (along with most of the other world religions she cites) would have to be false.
One unusual feature of Ravenwolf’s presentation is that the one religion she categorically denies having anything to do with (Satanism) is the one that matches most closely to her view. She states that, “Witchcraft is not, nor was it ever, a vehicle for Satanic worship,” and that witches do not “use satanic symbols.” (20) Ravenwolf goes through great pains to point out that witches are not Satanists. While she may be asserting only that witches do not worship the “Christian devil” it is interesting to note the similarities between “true” Wicca and “true” Satanism. Both believe in a universal force that can be controlled through ritual, both have a monistic view of nature, both affirm the validity of magick, both deny the existence of hell and a personal devil, both affirm evolution, both deny the possibility of resurrection, judgment, or salvation. (21) Christianity, on the other hand, holds the opposite view on all of these.
Examples of similarities between Wicca and Satanism could be multiplied, but what is most important is to note that if, as Ravenwolf declares, Christianity is compatible with Wicca then Satanism is even more so. Further, to deny Satanism’s truth would also violate her own standard of relativism with regard to religious truth. She might state that Satanism is not a “positive religion,” but could offer only subjective standards by which to measure it.
Questionable Compatibility with Wicca
While it may seem odd to compare Wicca with Wicca, it will be instructive to distinguish between Ravenwolf’s alleged “true” Witchcraft with what she by implication believes is not “true” Witchcraft. There are two major problems with her presentation of her version of the Craft. The first is her omissions and distortions of standard Wiccan practice. The second issue has to do with her authority to even claim to know “true” Wicca. As will be shown, both of these problems are present in, and seriously compromise, Ravenwolf’s presentation.
Omissions and Distortions
Ravenwolf seeks to distance herself and her practice from the what many “unenlightened” people think about Witchcraft by carefully listing what “real” witches do and do not do. Of particular interest are the following topics and her statements regarding them:
“Real witches do not . . . take illegal drugs . . . work black magic . . . get into sexual perversions. . . summon demons. . . charge money to work magick. . . cast love spells . . .” (22)
If it is accurate to write that “real” witches do not engage in these activities, many a parent would reconsider their initial reaction to their child telling them that they were a witch.
Although Ravenwolf refers to herself as “one of the most well known Wiccan authors of my time,” she is not the sole authority on this subject. (23) She lists several other respected Wiccan authors in her own book for recommended reading. (24) A comparison between Ravenwolf’s statements and those of these other well known witches is enlightening.
Drugs: Noted wiccan writers Janet and Stewart Farrar list “the eight ways of making magic, and these are . . . Drugs, Wine, etc. Any potion which aids to release the Spirit.” (25) While denying their own use of drugs, they go on to describe a ritual involving the use of marijuana. A similar ritual is described (with no admonitions to the contrary) in Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon. (26) The Farrar’s also discuss the ethics of drug use, and while again denying their own use they devote several paragraphs to the detailing of the controversial benefits surrounding them.
Black Magic: Magick is magick, and only the magician’s goal determines what is white or black. The problem here, of course, is that no one doubts their own motives – and with no ethical standard to apply to magick other than one’s own will, it becomes impossible to judge. (27) Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and author of several books on the black arts, summarizes the distinction well when he claims that witches of any sort “cloak their Black Art with sanctimonious white light! These people are playing the devil’s game, but refusing to use the devil’s name.” (28) While some witches may object to LaVey as an authority, their lack of authoritative structure and commitment to individualism would make their claim insubstantial.
Sexual Perversions: No (other) Witchcraft book is complete without examples of ritual nudity (known as performing “skyclad”). (29) Wiccan authority Raymond Buckland lists ritual nudity and bondage as parts of an initiation into a coven. (30) Buckland also lists nudity as an important part of many other rituals. (31) Ravenwolf’s almost total neglect of this topic (or sexuality in general) is revealing. She claims that witches do not indulge in sexual perversions – yet does not list what those might include. In fact, in her quotation of the Principles of Wiccan Belief she deliberately leaves out the reference to the use of sex in magick. (32) Considering her target audience (and their parents) there is little wonder why.
Beyond mere nudity, many of the witches’ ritual tools are recognized as being phallic in nature (i.e. the wand, the sword, or its counterpart the chalice). The very idea that witches ride on broomsticks comes from the phallic nature of the stick and the fertility rites involving its actual use as such. (33) No more need be said on this topic.
Should this neglect be considered a concern for parents? A few examples from the writings of authors Ravenwolf herself recommends should be sufficient to show that it is. How many parents would be comfortable finding their daughter reading a book by Starhawk, a popular Wiccan writer, who writes in Dreaming the Dark:
“We take our clothes off . . . we are five naked women . . . becoming one . . . cracks [in the rock] suggest vaginas and their stony, clitoral protrusions . . . Her pendulous breasts, looked at from the opposite side, becoming upright penises . . .” (34)
Starhawk equates nudity / sexuality with power: “power-from-within is the power of the low, the dark . . . the power arises from . . . our passionate desire for each other’s living flesh.” (35) She values sexuality in any form: “Sexual integrity means honestly recognizing our own impulses and desires and honoring them . . . we must also value diversity in sexual expression and orientation.” (36) Sexuality between married couples, friends, or in any of its “infinite other guises” (which specifically include same-sex unions) is to be welcomed. Lesbianism is presented as a means of throwing off male oppression. (37) She categorically states that, “We must reject . . . the confining of sex to marriage.” This makes rituals much easier to enjoy as, “All acts of love and pleasure are my [the Goddess’] rituals.
Sexual Magick is at the heart of much occultic practice and is listed in lesson eleven of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. There he writes, “Sex Magick is the art of using the orgasm – indeed the whole sexual experience – for magickal purposes.” (38) These acts can be seen even in “non-sexual” rituals such as those listed in the Farrar’s A Witches Bible Compleat where kissing and touching various parts of other coven member’s naked bodies is part and parcel of the ritual. (39)
Many more examples of this sort can be easily found in most writings regarding Witchcraft. One must question, therefore, how such an important aspect of Ravenwolf’s religion could have been so totally ignored. Ravenwolf only claims that witches do not engage in sexual perversion, yet it seems that with this one sentence she “covers” a multitude of sins. If homosexuality, (40) fornication, and sexual deviation’s “infinite other guises” are not considered perversions – one wonders what would qualify?
Summoning of Demons: While few books on Witchcraft will admit to this possibility, the witches’ world view certainly does not exclude it. Ravenwolf herself asserts that young witches should, “Never work with any material that you don’t fully understand.” Why? Because, she answers, “You can’t conjure what you don’t call. No demons will appear.” (41) This seems to be a tacit admission that Witchcraft has this potential. While Ravenwolf may deny the possibility of demon conjuring while using her spells, other Wiccans should not be so sure about theirs. The Farrars, in their “Opening Ritual,” use an incantation whose meaning they admit they do not understand. Worse, it is a ritual that was written by Aliester Crowley – the self-proclaimed “Beast” of the book of Revelation. (42)
Charging Money: While almost inconsequential in comparison with those topics listed above, this is yet another aspect of the Craft that Ravenwolf misrepresents. The Wiccan organization Covenant of the Goddess for example, lists as number three in its code of ethics that: “Any witch may charge reasonable fees to the public.” (43) Is Ravenwolf speaking on this (or any other) topic for the community of Wicca or only for herself? Ironically, in acting as an official spokesperson for “true” witches she has violated the COG’s sixth ethical rule! Perhaps she should become more familiar with “false” Wicca before writing on it.
Love Spells: Do “real” witches use love spells? Anton LaVey, in his book The Satanic Witch not only shows how a woman can get any man she wants, but how to use her sexual appeal as power over them. (44) Besides the fact that there are Wiccan books written on the topic, Ravenwolf herself lists several love spells in the very book under question. She even has her own book on the subject. (45) While many of her own spells are general in nature, she specifically cautions against the use of them to target a specific person. There would be no point in warning against this practice were it not being done (and a potential problem).
The Problem of Authority
At the heart of the discrepancies between Ravenwolf’s version of Wicca and others’ is that officially there is no set authority. With no authority to use as a mediating factor, no judgments between “true” Wicca and “false” Wicca may legitimately be made. Ravenwolf herself asserts this fact when she quotes from The Principles of Belief:
“As American Witches, we do not feel threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We concern ourselves with our present and our future.” (46)
While some principles like these now defunct Principles of Belief and the “Ordains” (a set of laws within a Wiccan community) do exist, they are only guidelines. Adler writes that, “dogma is the worst thing you can have in the Craft.” (47) She then spends an entire chapter showing how loose the convictions of witches can be and still be termed “Wiccan.” (48) With this in mind it becomes clear that to attempt to define a “true” witch, despite Ravenwolf’s efforts, is virtually impossible – and possibly misleading.
Further, if truth is relative, as the Wiccan code states, then “truth” ceases to mean anything. Falsehood cannot exist when contradictory claims are both said to be true, and it becomes impossible to judge another’s view as being wrong (something all witches do). (49) In the end, the case for the Wiccan view of reality becomes self-refuting.
While some views on Witchcraft might more accurately be said to reflect a hyper-sensitivity to its various facets on the part of the author, there are many problematic areas left that need to be addressed. (50)
Despite Ravenwolf’s claim to the contrary, enlightened and educated people have investigated Wicca with a mind open to truth and have found the tradition wanting. (51) Ravenwolf’s attempt to put a pretty face on this tradition is marred by inconsistent thought regarding other religions’ viability and compatibility with Wicca. She has omitted very important material from her discussion of Witchcraft that makes an accurate evaluation of Wicca from a layperson’s point of view difficult if not impossible. In this regard it must be pointed out that she has left out specifically those things that would upset a normal parent, all the while chiding them for their uneducated opinion. Some things that she has not omitted, she has distorted to the point of disagreement with other Wiccans of equal or greater stature.
These problems are especially relevant for Ravenwolf’s book as it was written specifically for children interested in the Craft, and for their parents to read in order for them to form an “educated” opinion. Ravenwolf goes to great lengths to relate to teenagers in order to form a bond of trust, yet fails to deal honestly with her subject material – a failure that would not be discernible until after the child has adopted the views of the majority of Wiccans. Once the teenager (and her parents) have accepted Ravenwolf’s version of “Teen Wicca,” there is every chance that the practitioner will expand into the darker realities of the Wiccan tradition noted above. In fact, it is almost inevitable as those authors quoted in this paper are recommended for further study in the back of her book.
It must also be noted that Silver Ravenwolf has not limited herself to this book alone for enticing teens. She has marketed a “Teen Witch Kit” that includes several items used in magick rituals such as a pentacle charm necklace, sea salt, a crystal, etc. She has also started a Teen Witch series of novels that give even more ritualistic formulas for practice, and further the trend toward an acceptable and popular form of Witchcraft.
Intelligent teenagers and parents should look deeper into this subject than Ravenwolf would like. Despite her claims to the contrary, it is not only the “uneducated” who disapprove of Witchcraft, but those whose views turn out to be accurate after all. In fact, those wishing to become educated by Ravenwolf’s book will find themselves misinformed by the time they arrive at the end of it. The parent or child who feels they have an accurate grasp on the reality of witchcraft after having read this book would find themselves unprepared for, and surprised by, the material covered in the majority of Wiccan writings. This deliberate censorship of true Wiccan teachings on the part of Ravenwolf should make not only the unsuspecting parent upset – but honest practitioners of the Craft as well.
To make up what amounts to a candy-coated version of Witchcraft that expunges embarrassing sections of official statements, and completely ignores aspects of the Craft that would certainly upset (or even enrage) most parents, appears to be nothing more than a deceitful attempt to gain respectability and popularity for a tradition that just might very well deserve its dubious reputation. Ravenwolf’s dishonest attempt to do so only amplifies the point.
- 1. Ravenwolf, Teen Witch, pg. 3, 13, xiii respectively.
- 2. Ibid., xv, 3, 233 respectively.
- 3. Ibid., 231-233
- 4. Ibid., 233-234
- 5. Ibid., xvi.
- 6. Ibid., 11.
- 7. The closest thing she delivers for documentation is, “I heard it on the Learning Channel.” See Ravenwolf, Teen Witch, pg. 232.
- 8. Ravenwolf, Teen Witch, 10, 13 respectively.
- 9. Ibid., 23,43 respectively.
- 10.Ibid., 5, 37,17, 213
- 11. Ibid., 101, 3, ,
- 12. Ibid., 51.
- 13. Ibid., 17.
- 14. Ibid., xix, 232,233 respectively.
- 15. Ibid., 7.
- 16. Ibid., 18-19.
- 17. Ibid., 10.
- 18. Ibid., 4,18-19, 21, 27.
- 19. Ibid., 8. Ravenwolf shows that she understands the principle of non-contradiction when she makes the statement that witches are”seeking to exclude those whose ways are contradictory to ours.”
- 20. Ibid., xiv ,15 respectively.
- 21. LaVey, Anton. The Satanic Bible. New York, NY: Avon Books, 1969. (40-49) (109-118) (33) (25-29) (41,94) respectively.
- 22. Ravenwolf, Teen Witch, 13-16.
- 23. Ibid., xxvi.
- 24. Ibid., 37.
- 25. Farrar, Janet and Stewart. A Witches Bible Compleat. New York, NY: Magickal Childe Publishing, Inc., 1984 52-53.
- 26. Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston MA: Beacon Press, 1986, 177.
- 27. Even the so-called “Rule of Three” provides only reciprocal rewards or punishment – the fact that is exists at all is proof that witches have done and can do “black” magick. See Ravenwolf, Teen Witch, 13.
- 28. LaVey, The Satanic Bible, 234.
- 29. Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, 112, 177, 309-310, 336-337.
- 30.Buckland, Raymond. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. St. Paul MN: Llewellyn Publications,1990. 46-49.
- 31. Ibid., 194-195,
- 32. Ravenwolf, Teen Witch, 6. Cf. Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, 102.
- 33. Ibid., 97, 264.
- 34. Simos, Miriam (a.k.a. Starhawk). Dreaming the Dark. Boston MA: Beacon Press, 1988. 135-136.
- 35. Ibid., 4.
- 36. Ibid., 41.
- 37. Ibid., 141.
- 38. Buckland, Raymond. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, 167.
- 39. Farrar, Janet and Stewart. A Witches Bible Compleat.41, 49, 55, 156-174, 193-199.
- 40. See especially Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, 341-348.
- 41. Ravenwolf, Teen Witch, 91.
- 42. Farrar, Janet and Stewart, A Witches bible Compleat, 43-45.
- 43. Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon, 105.
- 44. LaVey, Anton. The Satanic Witch. Venice, CA: Feral House, 1989. Prologue and throughout.
- 45. Ravenwolf, Teen Witch,137-139. Ravenwolf lists her forthcoming book Silver’s Spells for Love in the front of her book.
- 46. Ibid., 8.
- 47. Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon, 88.
- 48. Ibid., 94-108.
- 49. For instance, the use of Anton LaVey’s version of female satanic witchcraft may not be objected to on the basis of any kind of authority. He fills the basic requirements for a Wiccan world view – so how can he be said to be false?
- 50. For a good example of a sensationalistic view of Wicca and its influence see Benoit, David. Fourteen Things Witches Hope Parents Never Find Out. Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd.:1994.
- 51. See for instance: Hawkins, Craig. Witchcraft – Exploring the World of Wicca. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 1996.