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Don’t Judge Me! – The RavenWolf Debacle

Author: Liam Cavanagh
Posted: July 3rd. 2011
Times Viewed: 10,924

Listen up ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. We are clearing out the community broom closet.

What bones and dusty old things are we pulling out today? The RavenWolf debacle!

Do you like her? Or does the sound of her name make your blood boil? Do you immediately think of Teen Witch? Or does it make you feel ashamed, because you secretly really like the woman? Do you hide your books from your fellow Pagan lovelies? Go on, be honest.

This particular issue seems to be one of the most controversial, because there is a lot of debate and opinion out there, and it really flairs people up. Just whisper the name and the forums explode into action, and people are jumping around like women in a department store that has marked everything down 80%. It incenses so many people, and has become a trendy bandwagon in the last few years and only the cool Pagans are allowed.

I bring it up because I think it is an issue of importance and it is a fascinating exercise on how we treat our own in our community. It is also an issue that really leaves a few of us on the blind side, not really sure what to do. People are afraid to talk about it too, lest someone judge them horribly.

I am one of those people; or, at least I was.

Keeping away from this issue for so long can be explained with a myriad of reasons. Primarily I was afraid that someone was to judge me if I ever spoke about the matter. I had this funny idea that fellow Pagans would think I am one of those Pagans, and they would somehow think less of me. I know I am not alone here.

Then one day I grew up, and saw the issue for what it really was.

What I saw was something within the Pagan community that needed to be addressed. Many may consider this issue minor. However like many other issues it is this that raises questions in our already fragile community, and paints a picture I do not think we were expecting.

I suggest you get your iPad out, and start taking notes.

The Wiccan Witch of the North East

Silver RavenWolf, the Craft name for Jenine E. Trayer, is an accomplished Wiccan writer and author, lecturer and well-known elder and leader in the Pagan community (though even the latter two gets some Pagans revved up) . She has written many works on Witchcraft, Wicca and other Pagan subjects. However such an accomplished Pagan writer also attracted some criticism along the way. Her first book, originally published by Llewellyn To Ride a Silver Broomstick was a huge success, and blew open the Craft to a monumental public audience, subsequently inviting a new generation of Pagans.

Then she published Teen Witch: Witchcraft for a New Generation while Llewellyn laughed all the way to the bank, which took criticism of her work to a whole new level. Much of the criticism stemmed from many things; the fact she has made a lot of money from her works, the touchy feely ‘you-can-have-anything-you-want’ attitude, her style of writing and communicating with the reader, or her supposed disregard for her own community. I’m sure you can think of some others.

Whatever it was, it got someone’s maypole in a knot, and a few Pagans got pissed off somewhere. Those Pagans were even more incensed when the release of the Teen Witch Kit coincided with Teen Witch.

They were so pissed, they dedicated entire websites to the subject, and I kid you not. In the beginning they began seeded with a negative, hateful message and malicious rumours but slowly detracted and what are now left are remnants; kind but condescending ‘expert’ advice on why you should beware of the Trayer.

Did they have the right to be pissed off?

There was a concern amongst some Pagan Circles that it spelt a rather uncertain door opening into our religion for the new and sparkly generation of teenagers. Many felt that a young generation was being introduced to the white shiny light of the religion, the spells, the crafting with a very much serious lack of history, religious theory and a lack of depth to which understanding Paganism requires. The Pagans were concerned that the authentic infrastructure that makes our religion go round and round was being isolated, rounded up and pushed to the side, fumbling around with all the other Pagans scratching their heads.

Many were disappointed perhaps. Even angry some say. That one of our notable Wiccans and public Witches were to open up a whole new bag of beans, but leaving the important fundamentals to tend to themselves. That Trayer sold an over-simplistic view of Wicca, and Paganism.

And lied.

Gloomy perceptions aside, the kids came running and boy did they come with a bang. Teen Witch sold hundreds of thousands of copies, as did the Teen Witch Kit, which caused even more uproar. In our entire young history it is possible that Pagans have not roared so much as this. Simply put, it was breath-taking.

But it did not stop the hordes of kids running to purchase it.

What the older generation before us forget is that we too grew out of Teen Witch. I still have my copy, simply because I love my books regardless of subject. However not all of us grew out of it like you think. I grew out of mine simply because I just grew up, evolved, and my research had grown and I was doing my own rituals, my own witchcraft and my own religion. I did not need a ritual to help me pass university exams, and I certainly do not need a Friendship Spell in order to make friends.

I did not grow out of it because I suddenly listened to the fellow people around me who had become accustomed to berating Trayer and her work. I did not grow out of it because everyone else thought she was a ‘fake’. I still consult To Ride a Silver Broomstick regularly when I need help. And as a writer, I am indebted to her because she was one of the first who inspired me because she wrote candidly, and with heart.

Now days, my path is dominantly faith orientated, and is a lot less complicated.

What is glaringly obvious is that Trayer set a precedent, and the Pagans did not know how to deal with it.

In essence, these Pagans had their concerns, and they were completely understandable and we must acknowledge the importance of those concerns.

However, the importance of Trayer’s decision to publish the book and subsequent resource material for the young generation should also not be underestimated, nor ignored. Her contribution to the Craft and Paganism in general, should just as well reflect that of other notable Pagan leaders, such as the Farrars’, Starhawk, and Gerald Gardner. You may cry foul at the notion, but it must be understood and stressed that each individual brings their own to the community – what they do is irrelevant.

The Arguments

Let us summarise the arguments simply, and only simply because there are enough websites out there that are only too eager to inform you of the specifics themselves. Trayer’s books contain some historical inaccuracies. They also contain some misguided ethics. They question her ancestry, leadership, tactics, and her intentions. Their favourite is that they like to tell you she encourages teenagers to lie to their parents. Goddess forbid, right?

If we flick through some forums, you see the rumours from nasty individuals that claim she is put there purely to sell her books and make money, while at the same time presenting the Craft – or her craft – as a commercialised package with all the trimmings without a single interest in her audience. There are worse ones too, but it is best to deviate from gossip. Less is more, in this case.

Then you get into the fluff. Yes, that word fluff. Trayer is also considered fluff. Her books supposedly contain just that, fluff. She is the Queen of the Fluff Bunnies. I heard she even has a factory that manufacturers them, these fluffy bunnies.

The term Fluff Bunny however, and its phenomena is just as relevant and constructive as a Witch trying to physically fly a broomstick. I covered this topic a few years ago on Witchvox, and if you are familiar with it, you will know how I feel about the term and its elitist associations.

Simply put, the term is irresponsible and far too self-defeating to serve Paganism in general. Further, it is counterintuitive to what we should be trying to portray as Pagan Role Models and Pagans in general.

And it is not just Trayer. It is Scott Cunningham. Or anyone else associated with New Age Publisher Llewellyn for that matter. There is an entertaining take on the Charge of the Goddess that pops up around the forums every now and then. You should check it out sometime.

Those things – or issues – that are associated with said term should be talked about in a constructive manner and dealt with in a mature, helpful and effective manner, voicing our concerns rather than self-importance, our guidance rather than our thoughtlessness.

Is it taught within our community that giving something a name gives it power, is it not?

Regardless, the only valid argument worth mentioning here is the misguided ethics because it requires an explanation most people don’t realise. The others require no mention, save for maybe the history; Trayer’s books are written by a mother of four children, not an academic scholar.

Trayer obviously has a flair for marketing, all things aside. Partner that with her experience as a mother of teenagers, it is only logical to recognise that her ability to market and be a mother hit a compromise, and produce a rather morally demanding code of ethics. While inaccurate in their true form, they were able to communicate with teenagers she had in mind and most importantly their concerned parents.

Would Teen Witch really have sold if Trayer wrote that Witches did use blood, and real Witches can also be Satanists too? And would concerned parents really have let their child read her material then? I bet Trayer thought it was in the best interests of the young minds that she goes the safe path, knowing they would evolve and learn the complicated ethics we still debate today.

Therefore it would not be unreasonable to say she was like any other mother wanting to support her family and fill a need that was very much needed in the community; both of which are very sensible.

Finally remarking on Trayer encouraging kids to lie to their parents because it needs to be said... remember that many of you had to practice in secrecy and keep information from those you love because you were afraid that people wouldn’t understand. Many of you still do. I did not tell my parents until I was comfortable with my religion and felt comfortable enough to continue to practice it with or without their consent. It has been scientifically proven that lying is a necessary process we must all learn throughout life in order to gauge our own personal morality and understanding. In fact, lying is healthy. And we were going to lie, with or without Trayer’s encouragement anyway. I have, you have. Therefore it is a teenager’s prerogative that matters in this instance, not double standards.

The Facts

As many of you have become comfortable – yes, you – with your little jokes and your ‘don’t ruin your life with her books dear God no!’ mentality, it is about high time you are reminded of a few simple facts.

Trayer has worked hard, and fought even harder to bridge our Pagan community into the mundane world. Criticism of her work should not outweigh this simple fact. You do not have to like her and you certainly do not have to buy her books, but the worst thing you can do is continue to paint her in a light that undermines the core values we practice and claim as a Pagan community; because we undermine ourselves.

Like Starhawk, Buckland, Gardner, Cunningham, The Farrars’, and Margot Alder, Trayer has contributed immensely to what we see as our community today.

It should also be pointed out that preaching what we think is the right path or tradition (gee, this sounds familiar, right?) , we start to become something that is not too different from those lovely people who knock on our doors regularly. This will be particularly important as our religion matures and transitions into the future. We are not those people.

We are the role models that will serve the next generation of Pagans, and the daily influx of newcomers. We set the example of how we would like to be treated. We also set the example of how we should approach, engage and foster others and ourselves in our workings, our path and our religion. Raising the respect, recognition, tolerance and acceptance of our people in the mundane world is what is important, and we cannot do that by scowling loudly at our own people over a few books.

We want people in the mundane world to take us seriously, and see us as a viable alternative to traditional religions, a place that celebrates diversity, and respect for others. Setting up a webpage in order to preach does neither of those things.

We really are a tolerant and supportive bunch of people; we are not a pack of intolerant fools who will only talk to you if you know who Starhawk is. And for the record, Starhawk is also criticised in some circles, which may find some with surprise but it just goes to show how one-sided people can be.

And like they never let us forget that Trayer lies, I will not allow you to pass this off as something irrelevant to our community. This is serious business. This piece may seem like a pretext for some sort of RavenWolf lobby, but I assure it is not the case. Rather I want to try and provide a perspective that too often lacks in our community.

Going Forward

Because it is this very lack of perspective that contributes to creating the divide in our community, creating cliques and often traditional forms of social hierarchy that is counterintuitive to our non-hierarchy system already in place, and supposedly intelligent, wise and open-arms community.

Some may say that our community may well be in a high school type phase of transition, because we are still a relatively young religion.

However it is far too self-defeating and it is important we realise what we are doing now, so we can veer away from it in the future. We have choices people.

It is self-defeating because firstly it alienates those newcomers – young and old – who come to learn our ways but because they feel that our elitist ways are two things: it is far too intimidating and completely unexpected in the first place. It disparages our community, and community is an important tool to those settling in. They need those support networks, and need support in general from all of us. If we continue as we are, they will see the lack of appreciation, and respect for those Elders, those ones who have gone before us, and those who have done amazing things for our community. Then, they will just continue as we have always been, which is not very wise – and let’s be honest, that is not rocket science.

On the whole it illustrates the lack of unity within our community, which is particularly concerning. Our community is what makes us, and we certainly cannot survive without unity. There are diverse opinions, of course and we should teach them that. We should implore the need to be objective, but also implore learning the ways of many so people can find their own rhythm and strength. If that happens to be in form of a particular circle casting Trayer teaches in one of her books for example, then so be it.

We really should take this sort of lesson and start learning from it instead of stepping back into what may be seen as cool. It should not be about what is trendy, what every other Pagan is doing but rather about doing something constructive and good for our community, and promoting a general positive direction; teaching others that each brings their own to the community, and that which they bring is just as important and powerful.

As well as that we should also use this as an opportunity as a fresh start, and putting faith and sustenance back into our foundations. By all means this will not be a quick fix, but we need to start somewhere. We need to utilise the current foundations as a way of stepping up to create more depth and strength in our community, and leave the empty pillars at the wayside.

We also need to stop ourselves from becoming so one-sided because we were too critical, and be kinder to others and ourselves.

A diverse community such as ours can be a unified community. This starts with a basic lesson. Respect our elders, our founders, our contributors, our activists, our leaders and our people. That means you, that person over there, that one there, oh, and me. We are all a part of this and it is important that we all know that, now and in the future. Respect, for everyone’s chosen paths, religions, beliefs and journeys, regardless of how they got there or who they read is vital.

So step back a bit. Don’t become trapped inside those narrow forums of debate and don’t get caught up with the bandwagons because it is trendy. Take some time out, and think about what is important, for the community, and our future. Think about your actions, your words of advice, and forget self-importance, and harsh criticism, and remember the importance of kind words, and faith that all our young ones, and newcomers will evolve in their own path, at their own speed.

Finally, to those out there who huddle in their circles reading, nervously darting their eyes back and forth; those who hide their Llewellyn books or those who learn quickly a really weird way of circle casting from a book that you are uncomfortable with, that is not Trayer’s because it just so happens you have a Pagan friend coming around tonight who will judge you; those who are ashamed of stating, ‘Well, my first few years of being Pagan were based on RavenWolf’s guidance…’, or even better. ‘I love Silver RavenWolf!’ … just stop.

Seriously, stop. Kids, stick up for your RavenWolf habit. And start talking back when someone laughs at you, and tell them to grow up. Because if you aren’t proud of where you come from, how you got there, or what you are doing – then you are not doing any favours for our community.

Stay true to your roots, stay authentic, and let the truth prevail.

Truth, like milk, arrives in the dark
But even so, wise dogs don't bark.
Only mongrels make it hard
For the milkman to come up the yard.

~ Christopher Morley, Dogs Don't Bark at the Milkman

Copyright: Liam Cavanagh


Liam Cavanagh

Location: Wellington, New Zealand


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