A Witches’ Notebook: Lessons in Witchcraft
Note: This review was written in 2005 for a publication, but was not published. I’m in the process of pulling out some old reviews on my hard drive.
I have to hand it to Silver Ravenwolf: she’s by far one of the best-selling pagan authors ever, all because she’s found her niche. Thousands of beginning neopagans have been introduced to witchcraft and related topics through her works.
Unfortunately, I had high expectations for A Witches’ Notebook. Hailed by her publicist as “a glimpse of her decades-old journey into Witchcraft,” this newest book held promise for me when I first got it. Finally—a chance to get deeper into the practices and mysteries that she’s only skimmed the surface of in previous works! A glimpse at the material known previously only to her and her students! A candid look at the author before she became famous!
What I’d hoped for was something a little grittier and disorganized than her usual works, something that involved the more advanced studies she’s had to have done if she’s birthed as many covens as she has. What I got was yet another highly-polished series of brief glances at a bunch of topics.
The book in and of itself isn’t awful. Her writing style, as always, is very easy to read and she explains concepts in a manner just about any reader can comprehend. She covers a lot of the basics, and makes sure to emphasize the importance not only of spells and potions but also of purification of self, the idea that magic is a tool for development and the consideration that most neopagans today have to deal with the stresses of the mundane world as a matter of course.
This makes for a series of exercises and essays that are very down-to-earth and practical, but far from stodgy. For instance, in considering the effects of your money magick, she writes “Yeah, the bills got paid, but what the heck did you have to suffer with for six months after that?” (p. 107) She’s obviously been there, done that, got the t-shirt. And a good portion of the exercises she provides, particularly in the first half of the book, are geared towards grounding, centering and advancing the practitioner rather than just tossing magic at love and money.
One thing that can be said for this author is that she does offer a tantalizing taste of magical practices. Ravenwolf introduces the reader to a number of concepts ranging from astrology and herbalism to hoodoo and Powwow magic. Variety is definitely a spice she likes to use.
The down side is that most of the topics aren’t covered in any depth whatsoever. Instead of drawing deeper into her hinted-at notebooks, once again she simply flings out a few spells and bare explanations of concepts associated with each topic she covers. They tend to be rather haphazardly organized as well, with little background to offer a transition from, say, Powwow to Reiki. And most of these topics deserve a lot more material presented on them before they should be worked with. A half a dozen pages does not a healer make.
In addition she’s horrible about citing sources. She does include a bibliography, but there are absolutely no in-text citations to support her information. While this is supposedly a collection of tidbits from her personal archives, we shouldn’t be expected to accept everything she says just because she’s an elder.
And she definitely needs a better copy editor. From page fifteen: “[I]t seemed like I could have counted the threads in the cotton sheet I was laying on…all of a sudden I could smell the sheep it was derived from…” Enough said.
In short, while it’s a nicely-written book in a lot of ways, it’s just another rehash of 101 concepts. The most advanced section of the book is nothing more than yet another dictionary of herbs, over sixty pages’ worth. Do we really need to devote more ink and paper to that? For that matter, do we really need yet another skim-the-surface 101 book? There’s little to set this book apart from Ravenwolf’s other books, let alone the dozens—if not hundreds—of beginner’s books already on the market.
If you’re just starting out, you may want to give A Witches’ Notebook a look while you’re browsing to see if it speaks to you. After all, Ravenwolf didn’t become as popular as she did by writing books that collect dust on the sellers’ shelves. Otherwise, don’t waste your money. There’s nothing here that can’t be found elsewhere whether at a basic or advanced level.
One and a half pawprints out of five.