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Title: To Light A Sacred Flame: Practical Witchcraft for the Millenium
Author: Silver Ravenwolf
Format: Trade Paperback, xxx pages
Publication date: January 1999
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The controversy began with the "Babe on a Broomstick" cover of To Ride a Silver Broomstick. The stink died down with the more average-looking woman on To Stir a Magick Cauldron -- a book geared more towards the experienced practitioner. I thought -- okay, her cover art is improving -- maybe now we'll be taken seriously. Now comes the latest in the To trilogy. To Light a Sacred Flame has a nekkid broad on the cover. So much for the image thing. But as anyone with publishing industry experience realizes, the author is often just as powerless as the rest of us when it comes to cover art.
Open the cover. Inside, the first words beyond the title and credits are "I am a Lineaged Witch." Hey! What happened to "you don't need anybody to tell you you're a witch?" She repeats that phrase several times throughout the book. And just in case you didn't already know, she and the Black Forest Clan have a multitude of non-hiving covens stretching out over eight states, are head of a House something-or-other, and keep the temple roster. All the things I'm not. I head no household except me and my cat, and the husband when the mood strikes. I don't consider myself an Elder of anything, and my temple roster is on my mail box for all to see.
Among the pagan rendition of the "begats" portion of Genesis, she's also managed to develop a jumping speaking career. Silver's world tour, I suspect, seems to have gone to her head, or maybe the Llewellyn marketing engine has gotten under her skin, because in Sacred Flame, she's no longer the friendly mom-type who practices magick. She's now a full-time witch. She's now a 4-star general who comes into the barracks once in awhile and inspects us grunts, but retires to the private room with the un-itchy sheets and blankets, and rides in the humm-vee instead of an APC with no shocks. She waves in parades while the rest of us are still crawling through mud with M-16s held above our heads.
But the really grating part about it all is -- she's still got some good stuff in this third installment. It relies heavily on hypnotherapy techniques, but the spells and meditations are well-thought out. And her tradition of making you work for it is still there, despite the lurking feeling that the next line will read "and only I hold all the secrets to the universe, but you will learn, grasshopper, when I deem you ready..."
She does go deeper into ritual, almost into the realms of TMI -- too much information. She separates it into formal, complex, informal, basic, and spontaneous. Classification seems to be directly related to how many people get speaking parts. I remember a Silver Broomstick ritual that was pretty detailed involving the witch and her Goddess and that was it, sister. Now we have Priestesses, Priests, Maidens, Drummers, Temple Summoners, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Maybe things are different in Pennsylvania, but here in Ohio, if you put that many witches into a room, you're more likely to have WWF Full-Moon Madness than anything else (and WWF stands for Worldwide Wrestling Federation, not Worldwide Witches Freeforall!). The core audience of this trilogy of books was the solitary eclectic witch alone, looking for an alternative to the Gardnerian information that was out there at the time. I doubt her core audience has changed much.
But give her points for consistency. By reading her books, you can tell exactly what's going on in her life. Silver Broomstick was written just as she was beginning formal study, after about ten years of solitary practice. Magick Cauldron came out when she was Eldered into a Gardnerian group, and carries the High Magick-y flavor of astrological correspondences and planetary hours. Sacred Flame carries -- well, drums. Lots of them. You can tell she's been hitting the pagan festivals more frequently, because everything now includes a drum. Hey, I'm not knocking it -- I've been in the SCA longer than I've been in witchcraft, and from the first, I knew that drumming does strange things to people (anyone who's been to Pennsic War knows this -- and adding home brewed alcohol to the mix just makes things wilder!), but I run out of fingers when I try to count the people I'd piss off by drumming.
There's also some things in Sacred Flame that are guaranteed to make you cringe. She brings angels into play, albeit with a disclaimer that says angels are good to work with if people are not comfortable with elementals and such of that nature. A nod to the new age, if you will. I also detect a not-so-subconscious plug for her other books, even the ones that aren't in the trilogy. I could understand the references to Silver Broomstick and Magick Cauldron -- who wants to reinvent the wheel every time? But Angels and HexCraft and Teen Witch? And one petite point -- stay tuned for the Silver's Spells series, starting with Silver's Spells for Prosperity.
Marketing strikes again.
A note to the easily inflamed -- skip the Laws, Ordains, and Rules chapter until you're sufficiently apathetic. It got me riled up, because we go from Silver Broomstick, whose rules are: the Wiccan Rede, the Rule of Three, and Don't Do Magick on Strong Sinus Medication (very good practical rule), to 11 Spiritual Laws, 17 Practical Laws, and uncounted (and unnamed) Mundane Laws. For anyone who converted to wicca because we had eight fewer laws than the Christians, it now seems like we've overshot them by a dozen or so.
Despite the marketing mojo sprinkled through it, and despite the long scroll of credits she now can attach to her name (fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation will hearken to Lwaxana Troi, Daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Riix, and Keeper of the Five Rings...), there's still enough good stuff in Sacred Flame for the discriminating witch to pull quite a bit of use from the book. She grounds heavily in hypnotherapy techniques, which are just as good as any to use in meditation, and if you read for value and not content, you'll detect the hard practical questions beneath the candy shell. She spends a lot of time on self-empowerment, and the exercises wouldn't be out of place at a light counseling session. For what it's worth, there are too many people in the world, witches or otherwise, who could stand a good chapter on self-empowerment.
She has a chapter on realizations, which is my favorite chapter out of the whole book. She has ten realizations for you to meditate on, and while she's detailing this, shades of the old Silver -- the mom who found witchcraft worked for her and wanted to share it with everybody -- return to the fore. This is the "I'll prompt you, but you think for yourself" chapter.
The appendices are the only part I'm going to develop a 'tude about. "For your book of shadows" appendix A is the standard planets, candles, colors, herbs correspondence tables you can find in any wicca 101 book. Appendix B is pure rotgut. It reads like Hoodoo Louie's Shop o' Hexes Halloween bargain list. Skull candles, people candles, candles shaped like angels, karma candles -- come on! "You burn zis green skull candle and it make you t'ink like reech man, eh?"
Bottom line -- if you are one of those people who can pull useful information from a book and cheerfully chuck the rest, there is some good stuff in here for personal improvement. If you are able to read a book, use it as a springboard, or a prompt to help you in further developing your own spirituality, you will get some usefulness out of this book. Buy it from Amazon while you're ordering Aunt Greta's mysteries, or from a used book store and save some money. If you like your lines clearly drawn between practical magick and personal magick (aka hypnotherapy, self-transformation, etc.), this book will probably be a wallbanger, especially when you get to the appendices, or your marketing plug tolerance has been reached.
Personally, I got a lot of mileage out of the trigger concepts she touches on--they are places to start for me; things to think about and explore on my own.
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