Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: HedgeWitch by Silver RavenWolf

I've spent quite a while debating whether I should bother writing this review or not, and after seeing three different people asking about the quality of this book in the last week, I figure now's probably the time.

In the interest of honesty, Silver RavenWolf is an author that I would absolutely not recommend in most circumstances. I know she's a popular author to bash, but I actually own and have read several of her books, and there have always been issues with them. That said, I really did try to go into this book with an open mind - and after reading it, I have no problem saying this is the worst book of hers I have read to date.

Let me address the core issue first - this is not, in any way, hedgecraft. At all.

Now, many hedgewitches will recognize this as a common issue. Quite a few of the more generally popular authors who've written on the subject have really missed the mark, such as Rae Beth's earlier works which paint hedgecraft as a sort of watered down solitary Wicca, which hedgecraft is not. That said, sometimes these books might not be good resources on hedgecraft, but occasionally they work for those interested in green witchcraft or kitchen witchcraft. I do not feel that HedgeWitch is one of those books.

If you've ever heard of "The Secret" that is essentially what HedgeWitch is about. HedgeWitch teaches that you can pretty much get anything you want, so long as you're positive about it. In RavenWolf's own, often repeated, words, "it always works!" If you're not getting what you want, then gosh, you're just not being positive enough! The universe will literally give you anything you want as long as you think happy.

This is, in my opinion, a rather naive view of magic and the universe. A view that can actually be rather harmful when taken further. Aside from the fact that, frankly, it's a bit delusional, it also causes issues when looking at other people's circumstances. As an example of what I mean, the author of "The Secret" apparently once said that natural disasters can only strike people who are "on the same frequency as the event." In other words, people who've been affected by natural disasters brought it on themselves. This is just as disgusting as the fundie Christians who say that such disasters are meant to punish sinners.

RavenWolf herself doesn't make such a harsh claim (although she does blame some more minor events on negative thinking), but that does seem to the logical end of this particular way of thinking. I would write much more on the issues I have with taking positive thinking to such an extreme of "it always works!" but, frankly, a lot of people have already done this, and there are plenty of other issues in this book to get to.

Now, at the beginning of this book RavenWolf says that "the universe" doesn't understand "big words, flowery prose, or disclaimers." Using words like don't, won't, etc, in "spells" is a big no-no. Personally, I disagree with this idea quite a bit, because I do not think this is how magic 'works,' so to speak, and this idea is not present in many traditional forms of magic. Different people have different views, of course, but my real issue with this is I don't know if this is something that RavenWolf has, essentially, just made up, or if this is something with a bit more foundation to it. This issue of presenting everything as solid, indisputable, universal fact, even when it's just her own view, is a common one. There's nothing wrong with an author wanting to share their personal beliefs and experiences, it's part of what can make a book great, but just stating everything as total fact is not the way to go about it.

Perhaps a better example of this is her statement that "HedgeWitch prayer beads use twenty-eight beads on a string, with twenty-eight corresponding to one moon cycle." Where the heck is this coming from? I've never heard of it before, never seen it in any other source on the subject (good or bad). I mean, at this point in the book (about halfway through), it's clear RavenWolf doesn't actually have any idea what a hedgewitch is (or, perhaps, she just doesn't care). There is no universal structure for prayer beads within hedgecraft. This is in no way the absolute fact that she presents it as.

Another issue with this is while she presents these "facts" quite readily, she rarely addresses the actual "why" behind any of it. She'll say do this, use this, say that, and often doesn't explain the reasons behind any of it.

A fair portion of the book is dedicated to thirteen rituals, to be done over thirteen days, which end in... a dedication ritual. Yes, apparently thirteen days is all that's required before you should dedicate yourself. (To be fair, she also says they can be done over thirteen weeks, which is still rather questionable.) Fourteen days until you have all the power you desire, until you can have anything you want. This book reads like a snake oil scam - it'll cure anything!

After the dedication ritual, the rest of the book covers some craft ideas, a touch of herbalism, gardening, and some of the same old 101 stuff you can find anywhere. There are other books I would recommend for any of these subjects, as they go into more detail, and have a more solid base in them to work from. That said, it's not like the recipes and ideas in this section are necessarily bad, although I do find them to be a bit bland personally, but... there's that same issue again and again, the word hedgewitch keeps being used, but there is no hedgecraft in this book. None. Tossing the word hedgewitch everywhere, and casting a hedgewitch circle, writing in a hedgewitch book, and making a hedgewitch herb mix... none of it has any meaning. Hedgecraft is a personal and flexible tradition, but that doesn't mean you can just make up anything you want and declare it to be hedgecraft, without ever addressing any of the core elements that set hedgecraft apart from other practices. It's frustrating to see my tradition so misrepresented, and it's a waste of time, money, and effort for anyone who would actually like to learn about hedgecraft.

If you want to learn about hedgecraft, this is not the book for you. If you want to learn about green or kitchen witchcraft, there are much better sources. Unless you're really looking for "The Secret" with a bit of crafts and a little bit of shallow witchcraft, this is not the book you're looking for.

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