Silver Ravenwolf, American Folk Magic (Llewellyan, 1998)

With straightforward and light-hearted anecdotes of her encounters with living pow wow practitioners, and her own experiences working within this magical practice, Silver Ravenwolf illuminates a very odd crossroads of spiritualism, something of a protestant magical system. Pow Wow, and by extention powwowing, in this case refers to a form of folk magic and faith healing practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch, who weren't Dutch, but German, their PA moniker a bastardization of the pronunciation of "Deutschland."

The first four chapters of American Folk Magic are given over to an overview of the history of Pow Wow and where it could have originated, and help set the stage for the lessons that follow. The rest of the book is gives step by step instructions on how to practice pow wow folk magic, including a chapter on the creation of the hex signs one can still occasionally find on the outside of a barn or homestead in the Pennsylvania countryside.

As Ravenwolf discusses each element of pow wow, from the healing chants and herbal remedies to divination, warding, and banishing, she manages to keep the text lively and interesting, if somewhat difficult to accept. Pow wow appears to be such a mish-mash of old world witchcraft, Christian faith healing, and Native American animism that it is hard to keep track of where one belief system begins and another ends.

To her credit, Ravenwolf does indicate in the introduction that she designed this book to be useful to anyone, no matter their religious beliefs. Still, it is somewhat disconcerting to find prayers to the god and goddess side by side with instructions on how to use psalms from the Bible magickally. While I have no doubt that people will find this at least interesting, I wonder how many will actually find themselves using this in their daily lives.

Ultimately, American Folk Magic is more about how alike Pow Wow is to traditional witchcraft, rather than an exploration of what makes Pow Wow unique. There is only one chapter on the creation of traditional Dutch Hex signs, and the only illustrations are black and white drawings. I was left wishing more attention had been spent on this artistic medium along with corresponding photographs, rather than the rote replication of herbal information seemingly reproduced in every book ever published on witchcraft over the last twenty years.

Silver Ravenwolf has always been a very accessible writer, and this book is no exception. As a very basic introduction, this work certainly succeeds. Yet it could be more than a glossy overview in large print, and I for one am sad to say that it isn't.

[Wes Unruh]