Our next generation is mad about Wicca, and magick and Paganism in general. With the huge surge in interest from shows like "Buffy" and "Sabrina" and movies like "The Craft", and "The Blair Witch Project", teen interest in Wicca has reached an all time high. Books that are written for them are on the shelves, and are being snapped up and avidly read.
Being Pagan (or pretending to be) is all the rage, and when these young people have read all the books, watched all the TV shows and picked their friends brains, their next natural move is to seek out a Wiccan community to join. Or, failing that, try to function as a Wiccan in their mainstream community.
If we were completely accepted in the community as the mainstream Christian religions are, this essay would end here. The teen would be warmly welcomed into the church, enrolled in the study programs, have a horde of like-minded friends to run with, wear clothes and jewelry affiliated with their faith, read and share books, music, and art that was religious in nature, and openly profess their religion to one and all. There would be few, if any issues with parents; who would be proud that their child was associating with such a wholesome group.
But we arent Christians. And even though mainstream acceptance of our Way is gaining ground yearly, we are still on the fringe, and still suspect. And our methods of practice vary greatly from one group to the other. Worse, we have no centralized accreditation for our clergy, so a teen querent has no way of finding out how experienced a group leader is until they learn from bitter experience. Or else, they bravely strike out on their own, with no outside support or counsel- and crash on take-off.
Take the recent case of Miss Brandi Blackbear, the latest casualty of mainstream misunderstanding about both our religion, and young peoples interest in it. Brandi, who says she is not Wiccan, is a 15-year old Oklahoma high school student who was accused- by two adults- of being a witch, and casting spells/hexes that resulted in a teachers illness. (Which later proved to be appendicitis.) And to add insult to injury, she was suspended earlier in the year over the content of her private writings found in her book bag, and was forbidden to wear or draw any symbols related to Wicca. According to the ACLU, Brandi had no discipline problems and had a perfect attendance record.
The ACLU is suing the school on her behalf, but Miss Blackbears school life has been ruined, and she has become an outcast among her fellow students. Anyone can tell you that being ridiculed and humiliated on a daily basis as a teen is sheer hell on earth. What kind of introduction to our Way is this? Did she expect that her curiosity and study of Wicca would lead to such horrid consequences? And what about her desire to continue studying our Way? Do you think shell want to, after this?
Brandi is the latest victim of the schizoid treatment of young people in our community. They are minors, and still seen as children- up until the age of 18 in most communities. And although older teens are actively seeking independent lives, their classification as children makes them a major liability when dealing with adults. But should they put a toe over the constantly shifting line that delineates children from adults, the frightened adults come down on them hard. Brandi, by checking out a school library book with a chapter about Wicca, and being seen reading it, stepped over this arbitrary line, and the frightened adults screamed "Witch!" and burned her. Had she had the support and counsel of a working group of fellow Wiccans, perhaps they would have been able to caution her about adult paranoia; and gently suggest that she leave her private musings at home, tuck her jewelry inside her shirts, not draw mendhi pentacles on her hands, and not even joke about hexing anyone.
The sad fact is that she, and 99% of all other teen seekers and students of our Way have no adult Wiccan support. They may be a sincere seeker, and the group being sought out may be mature and led by a properly trained elder, but because the teen is still technically a child, s/he becomes a legal hot potato. And most covens, lacking the legal resources or will, will turn the teen away. No one wants to even think about what horrors await the unwitting group that takes in a child whose parents protest. So, the poor teen is pretty much left out in the cold to fend for herself, and perhaps learn bad habits from other disenfranchised peers. Or make the kind of error Brandi did in openly professing her interest in Wicca, only to get burnt.
What can we do to change this? There are hundreds of sincerely seeking teens on coven thresholds all around the country, who desperately need the fellowship, community and guidance that mainstreamers take for granted. But because of the legal and social liability, theyre left out in the cold until they are 18. Something must be done to integrate them into the community. Most covens lack the legal resources necessary to research ways to integrate a teen into their group without incurring liability. So, outside the circle they stay.
But there are other ways to reach out to teens. The Internet is probably the number one source of information and community for young aspiring Pagans. We may not be able to allow them to work with us in person, but we can present our collective wisdom and counsel to them in our numerous websites. Webcrafters should strive for the highest quality and depth in their internet offerings, and create sites that will welcome young novices, and ground them in our moral structure. Moral and ethical structure is probably the most important guidance we can give teens, to prevent them from making the error that Brandi was accused of: "hexing" another. Email exchanges are also helpful, but remember that the liability is the same as if you spoke to them in person.
We should also police ourselves, keeping an eye out for those who would disguise themselves as one of us for the purpose of luring vulnerable teens into dangerous situations. A recent incident of a fellow posing as a high priest and giving initiations to underage teens should be seen as a warning to us that not all that is supposedly Pagan is sweetness and light. We should keep our police, schools, and courts updated and informed on our ways, so that innocent interest isnt misconstrued as criminal.
Today, we are in a difficult and unfortunate situation. There are few teen pagans who are fortunate enough to have a group to work with. Until we are more widely accepted into the community, this problem will remain. And our eager, enthusiastic Next Generation will have to wait in the wings until they are of age to fully participate in the richness of life that is Wicca.
Now, it is time for me to do my part, as a WebCrafter, and offer some Sage (with a hint of garlic) advice to the young people who I know will be reading this essay:
You might be on the fringe and perhaps feel somewhat outcast among your current peers, but know this- we know how you feel, because weve been there, and perhaps are still there in some respects. But we all care about you very much. I send my brightest blessings for strength, courage, and common sense to you, at the beginning of a wonderful journey.
A Little Bio
Sunfell (Lorie A. Johnson) has been a practicing Pagan for 28 years, and has studied with many different Teachers and Traditions. Among these are the Rosicrucian Order, The Silver Triskel Coven (Wiccan Initiators), the British Spiritualist Church, and the Ocali Nations Wolf Clan. She now considers herself an Eclectic TechPagan. A USAF brat and veteran, shes lived in Japan and Europe. She finally settled in Little Rock, where she keeps the Arkansas State Legislatures computers in line. She has three computers, two Very Large Cats, and can shoot most anyone with a soda-straw wrapper- if they hold still.
ã 11/2000 by Sunfell