I'd like to take you back to an earlier time. It was the end of the "PI" era—pre-Internet. Oh, the Internet was there, but it was in its early stages. Within a few years it would come to dominate communications, but at this time, the mid- to late-1980s, few people were using it.
As Margot Adler pointed out in Drawing Down the Moon, Pagans had a high level of computer literacy and a surprisingly high percentage of Pagans and other magickal folk were directly involved with computers in their work. Many, including myself, would frequently access BBSes—Bulletin Board Systems—to directly and (relatively) quickly communicate with other Pagans. The BBSes were the precursors to the popular forums, tribes, and groups now found on the Internet.
But although communicating through a BBS was faster than through over land "snail" mail, it often used modems that were only 300–1,200 baud, making them achingly slow when compared with today's modern dial-up modems and laughable when compared to often ubiquitous broadband modems. That, combined with high costs, frequent disconnects, and other problems kept communications among Pagans primarily to the post. But that didn't stop us. Communication between Pagans soared!
There were literally dozens, perhaps hundreds of newsletters, journals, and magazines for Pagans, ranging in production quality from poorly typed mimeographed pages (remember that smell?) and stapled photocopies to high-quality, professionally printed and bound magazines. Only a few of the magazines ever made it onto newsstands, and none of the small newsletters ever got there. So what developed was an early form of what today might be called a "link exchange." In the back of newsletters were announcements of other newsletters and magazines. People such as myself often had subscriptions to dozens of newsletters and magazines.
I also wrote for several of these, from a Pagan-oriented newsletter for drummers, to a Druid newsletter, and in magazines such as New Moon Rising, The Shadow's Edge, and Mezlim. One thing was missing, however. While information in the back of magazines and newsletters helped, almost daily I discovered there was a journal of some sort I didn't know. Trying to keep up with all of them—including the new ones that appeared and the others that stopped publication—was difficult at best. What was needed was an organization that would link all of these publications and writers. As Plato pointed out, necessity is the mother of invention, and that much-needed organization finally developed: the Wiccan/Pagan Press Alliance.
The WPPA was founded in 1984 by a woman who realized this need—Silver RavenWolf. As she later wrote in To Stir a Magick Cauldron, "[She] saw a need for networking between the various newsletter publishers, a way to communicate with each other, share information, and learn about the magickal community in general." As part of this organization, the WPPA published a newsletter, The Midnight Drive, to help support this goal. I saw the great value of such work, and joined in the late 1980s.
The Midnight Drive always had a somewhat "chaotic" feeling to me. That's not meant as an insult by any means. Rather, it was as if there was so much to say and communicate that it just had to come out. It was filled with the energy and excitement that was part of the Pagan publishing of newsletters at the time. I looked forward to every issue because there was so much information and because it was always presented with such passion and élan. Topics included publishing tips, how to work with mainstream media, articles on Paganism, current events, what various publications were doing, how to make a publication look good, and much more. As I recall, I wrote an article for it once or twice and Silver thought enough of what I had written to include it in the newsletter. There was always so much to be shared and the person behind it all, Silver RavenWolf, had the energy and passion to keep it all going.
I was very impressed with what she was doing. Silver and I wrote to each other several times. It was clear to me that she knew more than most people about Paganism, writing, publishing, and marketing. It was inevitable that I would ask her the following question: "So when are you going to write a book?" She was too busy and had never written anything in such a long format, she replied, but I have to admit that I recognized a writer and knew that just as my question and encouragement was inevitable, there would be an inevitable result.
Although my ego is large enough to think I helped—at least in a small way—to encourage her to write her first book, my logic tells me that there were many others, and most important was her personal drive to share her ideas. In any event, the result was To Ride a Silver Broomstick, published in 1993. I was very proud of her and even if my influence was smaller than miniscule, I felt justified in what I had encouraged.
With my Modern Magick, I had written something with the right words at just the right time in exactly the right way that helped to make it popular. It was not planned with that financial incentive, but rather, it was a fortuitous convergence of events. Silver was able to do something similar with her writings, eventually leading her to becoming one of the most popular Pagan writers on the planet. The popularity of To Ride a Silver Broomstick exploded. It has sold over 300,000 copies and continues to be consulted by many thousands of new and experienced Pagans every year.
Over the next few years Silver's other books enhanced her popularity. But then another unique convergence of her writing style and a need in the community developed. The result was another explosively popular book, Teen Witch. Many tens of thousands of younger people finally had a real book that spoke to them rather than at them. It was simple, straightforward and direct, and became another sensation. Although it was published five years later than To Ride a Silver Broomstick, it has already sold over 200,000 copies.
Even though Silver and I had communicated for years, we had never met. That changed a few years after the publication of To Ride a Silver Broomstick during a huge festival, Starwood, being held in upstate New York. I knew Silver was going to attend, but I didn't know what she looked like or where she would be among the 1,500+ people at the festival. A few days into the event found me standing on a small stage, giving a workshop. Looking out at the people who were there, I saw one woman standing and wearing a cowboy hat. I immediately knew it was her. At the end of the workshop we made our way to each other and hugged with great friendship. Over the years that followed, we ran into each other at several events, sharing experiences, laughing together, and having a great time. I have been very happy with her incredible successes.
So what will her next sensation be? It may just be her book, HedgeWitch.
In the past, Witchcraft was focused around the structure of the coven. Over the past few decades, however, spurred by books such as Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner and Silver's Teen Witch, and Solitary Witch, that has changed. Now, more and more people are working on their own. The term "HedgeWitch" refers to a person who practices on their own, may not follow a particular spiritual tradition, and often uses lots of natural magic, herb lore, and other practices.
There has been an important challenge with this change. When left on their own, even highly motivated people study only what they want to study. As a result, some Solitaries and HedgeWitches are incredibly knowledgeable in some areas, but lacking in a general and wider knowledge of Pagan and magickal traditions and techniques.
I've been lucky in that I have been able to see an advanced copy of HedgeWitch, and I can honestly say that it's ideal for new HedgeWitches and people who are looking for more direct and simple magickal techniques. Most importantly, it also gives potential HedgeWitches a series of lessons to follow so they can be fully trained in their practices. Once again, Silver has produced a book that fills a need for the community.
Many people ask me why I'm so supportive of other authors, especially ones who might be perceived as competing with what I've written. The answer is that they don't compete at all! I don't know anybody who is interested in occultism, Paganism, and magick and who only buys one book. People who are interested in my writing are also interested in the writings of other authors. The only real "turn off" would be a bad book, and that's not something Silver creates. I applaud Silver for her contributions and look forward to many more of them in the years to come.