The Pagan Community; do we exclude children and their parents?

HB Horne, Regional Coordinator for Somerset, asks some hard questions about our responsibilities to pagan families:

The pagan community has been thriving in ever increasing numbers since the 60’s. Many believe that the recent UK census will reveal that the number of people who identify as of pagan outnumbers those of the Sikh and Jewish faith communities. We are certainly growing at a rapid rate.

However, when we refer to “generations” in the pagan community, we are not talking about familial generations (mother to son, father to daughter, for example). We are generally talking about the decade that each new group converted to, or found paganism. The generation who found their path in the 70’s or the 80’s or the 90’s. We are not talking about the generation that were born into a pagan spirituality. Which leads me to ask…have you ever met someone who was born into a pagan spirituality?

There are older children and teenage converts to paganism and there are parents who raise their children as pagan, but very few of these children grow up to remain pagan in adulthood. Many parents in the pagan community simply choose not to raise their children with an overtly pagan practice at all.

As a pagan parent myself, I can understand this. There are so many potential obstacles and dilemmas to being a pagan parent. We live in a hyper paranoid and vigilant culture, especially where children are concerned. I am asked to sign a form every time my children get a bruise! So imagine the potential reaction to a child telling their teacher that their “daddy dresses like a ghost for rituals and has a big sword”, “mummy likes to dance naked outside with her friends”, “my uncle doesn’t believe in Jesus, he likes hairy Vikings!” What do the other children at school think when pagan children talk about the Goddess or not celebrating Christmas (although granted many pagans make merry at Yule)?

It’s a veritable minefield. Choosing a pagan spirituality as an adult is to accept that you might either choose to be discreet about your faith or to spend the rest of your life explaining and correcting people who make judgements or express prejudice towards you and your beliefs. So how ethical is it as a parent, to expect your children to potentially face those questions and that prejudice? I suspect that this is at the core of why so few pagans choose to raise their children in an overtly pagan practice. I have actually been warned not to raise my children as pagan by other pagans.

After giving birth to my first child, I started to look for a pagan parenting group. I wanted to discuss all these questions with other parents; who else would understand? How to manage questions from school, what would we share with our children by way of practice and what we would explain to our children of a theology? I lived in London at the time, but there was no group. I left an advert in the Green Pages to start up a group, but I didn’t receive a single response. I tried to set up my own group but none of the pagan parents that I knew had time. It wasn’t a priority. That’s not a judgement or criticism. Committing to your own spiritual path, in addition to having a family and holding down employment can be pretty time consuming. What compounded the problem for me is that so many pagan events, gatherings and practices are in the evening. During grown up time. The events in the daytime are often talks and conferences for adults, and if children attend them at all they tend to disrupt the adults trying to listen and engage. Which is not fair on the children who become bored, or the adults who are wanting to focus on the speaker or facilitator and who have paid money for a ticket.

There are picnics and camps, but again, not many of these have specific activities for children, least of all young children. As a pagan parent you can begin to feel ostracised and unwelcomed by the pagan community.

Paganism for teenagers is a different ball game, of course. Paganism has huge appeal for adolescents. It is political (environmental/feminist), it’s rebellious, it accepts huge variety and alternative views, alternative clothing, piercings, tattoos, crazy hair colours, it can be a bit mysterious, sexy and dark…but again, the needs of adolescents are very different from the needs of young adults. Having worked with families, children and adolescents as a mental health professional for the past 10 years, I am acutely aware of the different developmental needs and complexities of each stage of childhood and adolescence. Adolescents need their own space to experiment with who they are, including in the spiritual context. Their needs are vastly different from the adult pagan community so how do we cater for this? It has been noted by many that in actuality the pagan community is an predominantly ageing population. Whilst many young people are quite interested in paganism earlier on in their teens or early adulthood, the same number don’t stay active within the pagan community. Let’s ask ourselves why this is?

I have been to many pagan events over the years and I can say with very few exceptions that either myself, a friend or my husband have had to step out of or leave an event because it wasn’t really appropriate for children. Even when activities are put on for children, it can feel a little token, or there aren’t often enough children there to make it a true success, because pagan parents often stay away or get a baby sitter and leave the children at home. Taking a child into most events within the pagan community is not easy.

In this country, we have become more and more disparate over the last few decades. People have questioned whether a locational sense of community exists as strongly as it once did. Certainly there are now great physical distances between family members and this has become a reality of our modern lives. But the issue of community isn’t entirely about physical distance is it? Communities continue to form and develop online or around common interests and that has certainly happened within paganism. But there isn’t a thriving pagan families network online either.

An old African saying that states “it takes a whole village to raise a child” and my interpretation of this is that children are affected by the whole community around them. That we all have responsibility to be positive role models for the generations that follow us. If children do not have access to the pagan community, how will they have any sense of us at all?

An important caveat might be to note that there is also vast variations between the different pagan traditions. In particular I think of Heathenry being clan and tribe focused. To follow a heathen path is to share responsibility for your community as a whole. So I might suggest that perhaps this issue is less prevalent in certain traditions.

In the the past year or so I have begun to feel hope. I see the beginnings of change. The Pagan Federation 40th celebration last year held a free family friendly day which had wonderfully engaging activities for children. Bristol has a pagan parenting group now with some 60 or so members, articles are appearing here and there and paganism is being taught in some schools, if requested. (Thanks to the hard work of a few members of our Pagan Federation committee).

In more recent years, I have had the chance to attend and help facilitate a few pagan family groups with activities and themes especially for children. The holidays and Sabbats that are important to many pagans are celebratory in nature. It is a wonderful thing to be able to celebrate the turning of the wheel with a group, especially for children. To dance and sing, decorate and feast. There is so much fun, celebration, joy and laughter to be shared.

Like C.S. Lewis I happen to believe that all children start out pagan. Born with an inherent sense of awe and wonder in nature, born without sexual guilt or gender stereotypes, with a sense of magic and divine in all things. I appreciate that my concept might be extremely offensive to many non-pagans, so I apologise to those who might read this and baulk at the idea of an inherent pagan nature in their children. But it is a concept that I personally embrace with much enthusiasm. As a mother, the idea of encouraging my daughters to see their inherent divinity as embodied and demonstrated in the symbols of powerful Priestesses and Mighty Goddesses, to see masculine power in a necessary, collaborative relationship with femininity is something to embrace. To see a faith that instills our responsibility to this earth and doesn’t place mankind external to and above nature, which in my opinion carries the implicit permission to take as much as we want from the earth as if it was our limitless and personal supermarket.

Some of us have had spiritualities inflicted upon us, religions that we ultimately abandoned in favour of paganism. Are we choosing not to pass on our own spirituality to our own children for fear of them rejecting it, as we rejected the one passed on to us? Is it maybe that we want them to have the freedom to find their own path without fear of guilt or reprisal?

I feel strongly that a pagan spirituality is a strong and positive one and I would rather my kids experience that as part of their upbringing than nothing. For millennia human beings have acknowledged the value of myth and symbolism, they have interacted with the natural world around them with reverence and awe and it scares me to think of humanity stripped of that sensitivity. Our children will also be exposed to many other beliefs throughout their lives and I would like my beliefs and practices to be amongst them, whatever path they ultimately choose for themselves. I have no intention to force anything on my children, far from it, but I want to offer them experiences, stories and imagery that inspire awe and wonder. I believe myths are fundamental to our sociological and psychological well being, to our sense of belonging and community. We need to find a way, as a community, to share this with our children because it is within the community that the myths come alive and take on sociological meaning.

After some years pondering this issue I have decided to take action and am building an online forum called “The Pagan Child and Families Network”. It will be a space for pagan families to discuss this topic, explore these questions, share their practices and support each other in our roles as pagan parents. I also hope that this forum will help to develop a momentum for pagan parenting and to encourage community activity and inclusion.

I would love to hear from you, both positive and negative feedback are welcome, and please feel free to share this article with any pagan parents or groups that you know.

    Posted in Community, Opinion, Reflections | 33 Comments

    Pagan Pride 2012

    Lily Oak, Regional Coordinator for Northumbria, shares this video she produced for Pagan Pride 2012:

      Posted in Community, Events, Video | 3 Comments

      Your Pagan Federation Needs You!

      The Pagan Federation Needs You!The Pagan Federation has been working away to progress the rights of Pagans, for many years. Until recently we have been quite modest about our work..then we hit our 40th birthday and thought, you know what?…we do great work here and we ought to blow our own trumpet a bit more!

      We have helped to put pagan spirituality on the interfaith stage, to be recognised in the public sector, we have helped to inform the public and private sector about our pagan spirituality and dispel some of the misunderstandings they might have about us, we have developed hospital and prison ministries, we provide solvent and positive representatives for the media, an advocacy service, we host not-for-profit open events and rituals for the pagan community, we provide a national network for pagans to meet each other, we are currently developing a celebrants and rights-of-passage resource, we produce the Pagan Dawn magazine and a lot more besides.

      The Pagan Federation are a voluntary not-for-profit organisation, and therefore we are only as strong as our membership. Please join us in our work, and help make us even more extraordinary.

        Posted in Pagan Federation news | 1 Comment

        Roots of the Rede

        Originally published in Pagan Dawn, Luthaneal Adams, Deputy District Manager for London, shares his article on the origins of the Wiccan Rede:

        King Pausole and the Wiccan RedeThe Wiccan Reed is one of the most well known sayings in modern Paganism and has been adopted by a variety of modern Pagans.

        “An it harm none, do what thou will”. A message that holds a unique allure and that is perhaps quite deceptive in its simplicity. The philosophically minded can spend many hours expounding upon the meaning of the Rede and its applicability. However, one subject that is often glazed over with careless abandon is the origin of the Rede itself. Indeed, I think that some consider it’s origin to be a ‘done and dusted’ matter, but I believe that it is a subject worth revisiting.

        The actual formula of the Rede is not entirely original. Similar concepts have echoed in various writings for hundreds of years.

        Of course, for us, the source of the Wiccan Rede takes us directly to Gerald Gardner, father of Wicca, who gives us this explanation for where it comes from:

        “[Witches] are inclined to the morality of the legendary Good King Pausol, “Do what you like so long as you harm no one”.
        Gerald Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft

        King Pausole is a fictional character created by French novelist and poet, Pierre Louÿs (pseudonym of Pierre Louis). Very often it has been the case that Gardner’s explanation of equating witchcraft ethics with that of King Pausole, is dismissed in favour of an examination of Gardner’s connection to Thelema and Crowley. While it is certainly true that the Rede is similar to the ‘law of Thelema’, I think that those versed in both Wicca and Thelema will agree that this similarity is superficial and that the actual meanings behind the words are quite dissimilar. I have even seen some authors suggest that Louÿs’ The Adventures of King Pausole is too obscure a book to have been the source of the Rede and that any such connection is implausible. However, this ignores the fact that Gardner was obviously well aware of the book in order to be able to reference it in the first place.

        In fact, looking into The Adventures of King Pausole reveals a book that Gardner was most likely not only familiar with, but was actually right up his street!

        Pierre Louis (1870-1925) was the best selling French author of his day (so hardly an obscure figure writing obscure works) and the two works that got him there would have definitely been of interest to Gardner. In 1894 Louis wrote book entitled Chansons de Bilitis, a work of prose poetry exalting Sapphic love. Louis claimed that this work was translated from older Greek writings and even managed to fool the experts of the time. Two years later, in 1896, Louis wrote his best selling book Aphrodite, which portrayed the life of a hetairai (courtesan) in ancient Alexandria.

        Philip Heselton, in his book Wiccan Roots, explains that before Gardner found his way to Witchcraft, he had believed that he was the reincarnation of an ancient Cypriot weapons smith and that in 1939 Gardner had bought a plot of land in Cyprus, which he believed corresponded to this past life and where he, according to Cecil Williamson, intended to build a temple to Aphrodite.

        It is not difficult to imagine that someone like Gardner, devoted to pursuing a path to the Goddess Aphrodite, would be rather interested in a best selling book of the same name and another by the same author that is deemed to be ancient Sapphic poetry. Indeed, given Gardner’s interests at the time, I dare say that he was most likely well aware of the writings of Louis and that this, in turn, led him to The Adventures of King Pausole.

        I imagine that King Pausole would have struck a cord with Gardner. From Gardner’s own reference, we know that he must have read the book and taken enough inspiration from it that he would call it to mind in reference to the Craft some years later. But it is really no surprise that a book like this would stay in Gardner’s mind, as it in so many ways reflects his personality.

        King Pausole is the ruler of the land of Tryphemia. A quirky character with a unique outlook on life, the king ruled his land under his own simplified justice system, in which there was just one law, summarised in two articles:

        1. Thou shalt not harm thy neighbour.
        2. This being understood, do as thou woudst.

        Immediately we see the early stirrings of the Rede.

        The king was also a Pagan in his own right: “…Pausole tolerated all religions, and himself practiced several, so as to experience the consolations of the various paradises in turn. The altar which the king preferred was a small temple dedicated to Demeter and Persephone situated in one of his parks. The two goddesses having no longer any worshipers on earth listened benevolently to him who remembered them.”

        Pausole’s Pagan mentality was quite akin to Gardner’s own in many ways, especially considering the Greek influences that would have surrounded his pursuit for Aphrodite in Cyprus.

        Additionally, King Pausole shared another dominant trait with Gardner, his love of nakedness and beautiful women. Pausole possessed his own naked harem, which was made up of his many wives, who numbered one for every day of the year. In keeping with the king’s rather unique perspective, he viewed this as the perfect number, so that by spending one night a year with each of them, none would get jealous of favoritism.

        His wives spent all their time naked, which was not simply for the king’s own taste, but as part of the custom of the land, which the king himself had installed. In Tryphemia, it is common custom for young and beautiful women to be naked as often as common sense and decency would allow. However, as a twist in the outlook of the people of Tryphemia, it is considered far more decent to display the naked body for all to enjoy, than it is to cover it up in public, presenting a false sense of modesty and allowing the minds of the depraved to run wild with ideas of what may lay beneath the clothes of such young ladies.

        For someone like Gardner, a nudist who has been described by his contemporaries as being “an unashamed sensualist”, it isn’t hard to see why the ideals of Pausole and Tryphemia would be very appealing.

         he role of central character in the plot is shared between Pausole and one of his pages, named Giglio, whose exploits drive the plot forward in a combination of guile, cunning and sexual (mis)adventure. In many ways Giglio is the star of the tale, displaying a wit and roguish nature than allows him to constantly get the better of his counterpart, the king’s Grand Eunuch, Taxis. The interplay between Giglio and Taxis is quite noteworthy and very much in keeping with the way in which Gardner tended to portray himself. Giglio is a rogue and rascal, winning people over with his stories and quick thinking. Taxis on the other hand, is a staunch and stuffy Protestant who stands in utter disdain of just about everything that the king stands for. He is anti-nakedness, anti-sensualist, anti-sex and represents all the oppressive qualities that the writer sees in Christianity.

        One can well imagine how Gardner, that great “leg-puller”, may well have identified with Giglio and Pausole, as he and his witchcraft stepped into a largely Christian religious arena, where so many would cast their own disdain upon him and his practices.

        However, I think that perhaps we might see Gardner and the Craft best reflected in the words of Pausole, himself, when presented with the proposition that everyone in Tryphemia should be forced to adopt the custom of nakedness and the ethical views of the king and the majority:

        “…Tryphemia is not a topsy-turvy world; it is a better world, at least I hope so, but I have not spared my people certain bonds in order to cause them to suffer other chains. …Sir, man demands to be left alone. Each is a master of himself, of his opinion, of his behaviour and of his actions, within the limits of inoffensiveness. The citizens of Europe are tired of feeling at every moment the hand of authority on their shoulder, an authority which is made unbearable by being omnipresent. They still tolerate the fact that the law speaks to them in the name of public interest, but when it begins to interfere with the individual in spite of or against his wishes, when it direct his private life, his marriage, divorce, last wishes, reading, performances, games and costume, the individual has the right to ask the law why it has poked its nose into his affairs without being invited.

        …Never will I place my subjects in a position of being able to level such a reproach against me. I give them advice, it is my duty. Some do not follow it, it is their right. And so long as one of them does not put out his hand to steal a purse, or to give a rap on the nose, I do not have to interfere in the life of a free citizen.”

        Ultimately, is this not the spirit of the Reed? Advice that may be taken, but with the understanding that each person is the master of their own life and their own destiny, and that so long as we seek to treat each other with kindness and respect, we may live free.

          Posted in Articles, History | 4 Comments

          A modern Hedgewitch in action

          The Chanting HedgeWitch shares this charm:

          Other than water, green tea is the most popularly consumed beverage in the world (apparently). It contains the amino acid L-Theanine which promotes relaxation without drowsiness (relaxed yet alert).

          In scientific studies, L-Theanine has been shown to stimulate the production of alpha brain-waves  – and alpha brain-waves are abundant when one is calm and lucid, and when one is in a deep meditative state.

          The following charm spontaneously came to me, whilst one of my clients was describing difficulties with a friend, and at the same-time, enquiring as to whether green tea actually had some health benefits – or if it was “just another fad”:

          Green tea charm for clarity (Anger Release)

          (as you pour boiling water over the tea bag, say:)

          Sharp is my eire
          – it blurs my sight
          Strong, my desire
          – for hallowed night
          Green, may you fire
          – the seeds of plight
          So that Clean, I acquire
          – a Deity’s light!

          (drink the tea chanting:)

          I see
          May you see
          We are seen

          (Translation of “Namaste” = “I honour the place within you, where the entire Universe resides. I honour the place within you of light, truth and peace. I honour the place within you, where when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me; there is only One of Us.”)

            Posted in Ritual | Comments Off on A modern Hedgewitch in action

            Where did all the Teenage Witches come from?

            Jack Dark argues that they’re largely a creation of the media and marketing in the 90s, but the pagan community has a strong responsibility towards them now:

            Teenage Witches in the media, The Craft

            Teenage Witches in the media, 1996’s “The Craft”.

            I was a Teenage Witch!

            Well, sort of…

            I’d read a fair bit and was doing my own small spells and rituals. This was a few years before the Internet made information about witchcraft and paganism easily available. The Farrars’ A Witches’ Bible seemed to be the choice for young people of my era wanting to learn about real Witchcraft. It was a wonderfully gothic looking tome which could sometimes be found sitting in bookshops drawing attention to itself, with that title promising that it was some kind of encyclopaedic doorway to forbidden magical knowledge.

            Back then, serious books on magic or witchcraft were exceedingly hard to come by unless you knew exactly where to look. A Witches’ Bible seemed like a naughty artefact that the larger chain bookshops would sell more as a novelty item with an arcane curiosity value, than out of a commitment to cater for people wanting to learn about the subject.

            Now, with experience I know that it’s a fairly decent book about Wicca-flavoured witchcraft, but the magic word ‘Bible’ in the title, together with the idea that it was some kind of heretical Witches’ Bible in opposition to the regular Bible, and the white on black drawings on the front of broomsticks and ritual tools, were what made it seem so appealing back then.

            I saw it on the shelves many times, but never had either enough nerve or cash to buy it, so my first book on witchcraft, actually written by a witch, was Doreen Valiente’s Witchcraft for Tomorrow much later.

            Nowadays, there’s a whole industry selling books on witchcraft aimed at teenagers and the ‘Teen Witch’ is a demographic that the pagan community, once closed to anyone who wasn’t able to pass for grown-up, is having to deal with.

            Let’s not beat about the bush here – a lot of the books and material aimed at these kids is exploitative rubbish intended to rid them of their money without actually imparting any useful information, whilst feeding the egos of the authors by setting them up as wise gurus. They’re sold to people wanting to use spells as a ready-made quick-fix solution and contain little in the way of spirituality.

            There have always been kids who are into the dark and spooky, and let’s face it, Halloween is much more fun than Christmas, and then there are those who come to paganism through environmentalism, but there’s another aspect to it now, which needs to be understood – the ways that media representations inspire people.

            So – back to I was a Teenage Witch.

            There wasn’t actually a film called that made in the 1950s, but there might well have been. There were, however, a lot of horror films aimed at teenagers with titles like I was a Teenage Werewolf or I was a Teenage Frankenstein.

            Teenagers, and all the physical changes that come with puberty were seen as scary in an America that was just starting to openly talk about such things, so they added these into the mix of cinematic monstrosities to reflect back at the audience some of the fears of society, as well as fears of the supernatural kind. These films don’t seem very scary at all now, but teenage rebellion was a very real issue in a 50s America that was struggling with its identity as a nation after the Second World War and into the Cold War. If teenagers rebelled, who would join the army to protect against the Reds under the bed? They might even easily become those very Reds if they came under the influence of reefers or subversive literature and politics! Or worse… the atomic age meant that the fear that mutant monsters might be around the corner was one that also took hold.

            They way that these fears were safely contained was to show their defeat on the cinema screen, and also to provide wholesome equivalents. Alongside the ‘I was a teenage…’ monster movies, one of these first appeared in Archie comic and was the squeaky clean and friendly Sabrina the Teenage Witch. That’s where the phrase ‘Teenage Witch’ came from as far as I can tell. The TV series came later but it was comics that were sold in supermarkets and newsagents stands that were trying to appeal to a younger audience than the horror films of the 50s that first used the term.

            Over the pond, there are two very significant British contributions to the idea and fictional evolution of the Teen Witch, which were grounded in a very different cultural context. Jill Murphy’s wonderful The Worst Witch was published in 1975, and for perhaps the first time showed in both prose and pictures young girls studying and practising magic and spells, wearing pointy hats, riding broomsticks and other doing other witchy things. The Worst Witch books were Enid Blyton stories by way of The Addams Family albeit with slightly less barely repressed lesbianism and transvestisism, but even though the solutions to difficult situations that characters found themselves in were usually magical, they still required bravery and creative thinking and intelligence, so were largely portrayal of young witches as role models. However, Mildred Hubble, the main character and ‘worst witch’ wasn’t a power fantasy, or a naff ‘chosen one’ – she was someone who you could relate to whilst being a bit of a feminist icon, of sorts.

            There was also, in early 80s, a magazine called Misty aimed at teenage girls, which was mostly supernatural mystery stories but also featured articles about tarot cards, fortune telling, astrology, and mythology. The ‘hostess’ of this magazine was a very goddess-like ‘Lady of the Mists’ called ‘Misty’. The editor of Misty was very pagan-friendly and also responsible for Slaine in 2000AD, and I’m sure he didn’t have any kind of agenda to convert his readership into witches, but he was putting these kinds of things into a magazine that had a large teenage female readership and could be bought in almost any newsagent. In Misty, this editor made sure that things like witches, pagan gods and mythology were mostly presented in a positive and fairly accurate way.

            Now, we come to the time when I was reading about magic and witchcraft, and meeting other pagans for the first time – the early 90s. There’s a groundswell of interest and more books being published with ‘Wicca’ or ‘Witch’ in the title, and the Internet leading to easy communication between groups and organisations. Paganism was growing and spreading.

            Now, you knew I was going to mention this sometime, so there it is – The Craft. Hollywood finally figured out that there was a teenage girl demographic they could aim a horror film at. And in the vague tradition in Hollywood of hiring consultants to advise when producing films, the producers of The Craft hired a representative of a pagan organisation – The Covenant Of The Goddess – as an advisor. This advisor was put in the strange position of being both asked for contributions which would make the Witchcraft seem authentic, but also being told that it was a fantasy film which wasn’t going to take the material too seriously.

            So, what we got was some fairly accurate Wiccan terminology with the casting of circles and calling of quarters shown and a representation of a dedication ritual with what were once supposed to be secret passwords revealed onscreen. This was in addition to the special effects-led fantasy elements such as flying and shapeshifting. So, there were a few authentic bits, but it’s still largely a fantasy film.

            However – what you do have, and this is the important bit, is a group of outsiders, gaining confidence and empowerment through practising witchcraft. Up until the fantasy elements kick in, this is clearly being shown. The girls in The Craft are a group of friends becoming more attractive, having better social lives, and being better able to deal with the pressures of school, through getting together to practice magic. Well, until it all goes wrong because they argue over boys, but anyway…

            The Craft led to Charmed, which also borrowed terms from ‘proper’ witchcraft, and used the word ‘Wicca’ and also the ‘Rule of Three’, which is based on the Wiccan law of threefold return. We’ve also got the original teen witch, Sabrina on television, and although that’s further away still from the real thing, these are all young role models who call themselves witches.

            And then you’ve got Harry Potter and Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and… and… and…

            Now, I’m not saying that all the young witches that are around nowadays were inspired by these fictional creations. It’s more of a two-way thing, with the growth of paganism and the media portrayal of witches influencing each other. And, of course, a desire for spirituality that’s not being supplied by the more established religions, and rising environmental awareness, also linked in with the interest in paganism amongst the young and the increased availability of information about it. But the relationship between fiction and the growth of interest in paganism, witches, witchcraft and Wicca is clear.

            In the midst of all this, what a few people did latch onto as a very marketable concept was the term ‘Teen Witch’.

            And this is where it all goes wrong.

            The various books with ‘Teen Witch’ in the title or subtitle, so far almost without exception (and yes, for the sake of research, I’ve read most of them) seem to be aimed at people who want to emulate their on-screen role models. The writers insert themselves into their books as fountains of knowledge and wise advice and promise that the spells that the books are padded out with can solve all of their readers’ problems.

            There’s a lack of honesty about where the practices that these writers are handing down come from. They say ‘real witches do this…’ or ‘real witches never do this…’ and with almost every instance I’ve been able to think of exceptions.

            There’s little context or background given, and the advice about the things that matter to teenagers, like school, relationships, sex, drugs, booze, friends, bullying, parents etc is little better than that in the problems pages of any teen magazine, and often worse – because they frequently convince teenagers to try magic as a substitute for practical solutions which may be more appropriate.

            The writers either seem to be overbearing motherly types who feel they know what’s best, because they have teenage children of their own, or are deadly serious born-again pagans who fear a return to The Burning Times and seem to expect to be constantly persecuted for their beliefs and offer advice about that to about this, rather than about anything more useful and relevant to day to day life.

            These books seem to be trying to shape their readers before they get on to other material or think too much for themselves, and don’t really seem to be an accurate representation of what does go on, on the pagan scene or what witches really do. The only reason I can think of for this is to bolster the egos and wallets of the authors. They promise empowerment, but don’t deliver real knowledge or information about the whole realm of paganism, witchcraft or magic. The same goes for certain witchcraft organisations that market their events and services at teenagers that I could name.

            In many ways what they are offering is a trade off – ‘If you do this, all your problems will be solved BUT many people will want to persecute you for solving them in this way and for using words like ‘Witch’ to describe yourself’.

            There’s a hint of truth in this, perhaps, but it seems like alongside the spell-casting problem-solving they’re also offering a form of rebellion which is as sanitised and harmless as the music that tries to pass for punk these days, which people may find appealing because of the promise that others will find it offensive.

            So, from the situation maybe ten or fifteen years ago where younger people seeking information, guidance and teaching were told to come back when they were a bit older, or if they were lucky were pointed at the very, very few reputable pagan youth organisations that existed, we’ve now got a very distinct figure of the ‘Teen Witch’ in the media and society, who we can’t and definitely now shouldn’t just tell to come back when they’re older, because if we do there’s plenty of other people who’ll view them greedily as a marketing demographic or worse.

            Today’s teen witches are in danger of being given very bad advice and exploited and ripped off by profit-driven organisations which are all too often unaccountable commercial businesses masquerading as spiritual movements.

            This risk has always been there, but now with the whole teen witch concept established as a ‘thing’ there are far more kids that we’ve got to take some responsibility for offering good advice to.

            Maybe this isn’t something we wanted or asked for, but it’s something we’ve got to think about and the serious pagan organisations which actually do hold ethics above profits shouldn’t just turn the younger seekers away, but should find some way of giving them what they need, which is good advice and the way towards knowledge, instead of just selling them a pre-packaged persecution complex and false promises of spells to solve all their problems.

            What do you think?

              Posted in Opinion | 19 Comments

              Autumnal reflection

              Chattering Magpie, Deputy District Manager for East Midlands, shares this personal reflection:

              It has been approximately a quarter of a century since I began to walk this path I now call, Traditional Paganism. In the beginning my path was less Traditional but has always been and remains, Pagan.

              Like many whose journey began in the nineteen eighties, my influences were primarily Gardnerian. What today we may call “Wicca” although at that time, that was a word few heard or used.

              Within the past decade my practice has changed, as have my beliefs somewhat modified. I have become perhaps more earthy, polytheistic, increasingly inspired by folklore, less “wiccanesque” and increasingly, what some may describe as “Traditional.”

              My studies began with correspondence and the type of year long postal course that many today dismiss without thought. However, I was lucky. My exchange was with a couple in Yorkshire, whose sound advice and level headed approach has served me well. Although I am less “Wiccan” in my approach now, their teachings remain an important foundation of my praxis. I am indebted to them and they remain my spiritual parents.

              Over the past decade I have developed further than in the previous decade and a half. This has been facilitated by my improved opportunities to socialise with other Pagan folk, the formation of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, with the attendant development of coven working and brainstorming sessions with persons whose friendship, I sadly no longer enjoy.

              In recent weeks emails and visits from persons new to Paganism, has caused me to reflect upon my own first steps upon this Crooked Path. They come to me so insecure, so full of questions but with a fear of making themselves appear foolish or ignorant. Twenty five years ago, that was me and I sought the very same answers.

              This has all given me “pause for thought” as I have found their questions difficult to answer. Not because they are complex but because they are simple enquiries. The questions are often difficult as they relate to matters that do not apply to my own specific path. They are difficult because there is so much that I no longer do. Nor are their questions foolish or stupid, they are rational and sensible; even though they may think that they are indeed, asking “stupid questions.”

              Is the fault mine? Is it really so difficult to communicate with someone who has not read the same one thousand books? That being a conservative estimate is not boasting but has relevance. Reading has been a significant influence upon my development.

              It is therefore, proving increasingly difficult to communicate ideas and concepts relating to my own beliefs and practice, in an intellectual sphere, simply because so much of my own praxis is instinctive. I feel totally under-qualified to teach but that is preferable to being a self-proclaimed expert on everything under the sun.

                Posted in Reflections | 4 Comments

                Jan Hardy, profile

                Jan Hardy is the District Manager for Wessex:

                I’ve been asked to give a you a brief account about me.

                I have been a member of the PF for about 20 years (or more!), I was an originally Regional Co-ordinator for ten counties–we were very small then–I used to write to everyone by hand because we had no emails or text then. I did that for ten enjoyable years and found other people to take on those many roles and became District Manager of the PF Wessex and as they say the rest is history.

                I follow a very traditional Wiccan path with my husband–we have successfully run a coven for the past 35 years. We find it a way of life, not a religion; we try to be honest and kind to all we meet and also to be informative if we can. (I have to include Rob
                in most of what I am saying as I could not do any of this without him.)

                We also run a very successful moot in Gloucestershire (now at the Three Horseshoes’, Frampton on the Severn).

                We have 3 children whom “my goodness me” have produced ten grandchildren. We live on a narrow boat on the Gloucester Sharpness Canal, with a very relaxed way of life.

                I also play music at our local folk night–it usually turns into a very raucous sing song.

                I am a healer with the NFSH now renamed The Healing Trust.

                I try to find the joy in life and pass it on to my fellow friends, who are numerous.

                Bright Blessings,


                  Posted in Profiles | 1 Comment

                  What is magic?

                  Lily Oak, Regional Coordinator for Northumbria, shares this reflection:

                  If you are reading this expecting long mysterious explanations of cryptic ceremonies used to conjure magic, I am afraid I am about to disappoint you.

                  What is magic? Everything.

                  Where is magic? Everywhere.

                  You just have to learn to see it, feel it and recognise it. For me at least, magic isn’t something we create it is something we use. A type of energy given of by every natural thing. Think more Lyra’s dust, than Mr Potters Wand.

                  Just as all natural things differ in species, mineral type, personality, etc., so does the magic they radiate. From the purification properties of copal, to the deep passions inspired by garnet. Sometimes these magic energies combine in a way that jumps out at us, makes itself so tangible that even the most stoic of sceptics would struggle to deny it. The moment the dipping sun hits the right spot on the horizon causing the sky to flood crimson. Sunlight catching dew drops on unfurling ferns in spring. Frost encased spiders webs on crisp autumn morns.

                  It is how magic is utilised that gives us the diverse make-up of witchcraft and spell casting we have today. Every path and every individual practitioner has a different way of connecting to these energies that is as unique as each of us are as people.

                  The different magical energies can also be related to in different ways by different individuals, a lot of people find that despite every book on spell casting they have ever read saying a particular crystal carries one type of magic, they pick up another from it. Of course there will be large similarities between some, otherwise group work and covens would not work as well as they do.

                  And then there are others that prefer keeping their workings private and something they only share with themselves. Due to witchcraft being a lot more publicly discussed than it once was practitioners are now able to talk about the way they see magic, discuss their path, it’s history and it’s believes. This enables us to not only look at what magic is to ourselves, but also what it is to others. It allows us to change out perspective of what magic is and learn and grow because of it.

                  Magic is something that effects all of us whether we choose to work with it or not, at some point in your life, no matter what your views on witchcraft or spell casting, you’ll be affected by it.

                    Posted in Reflections | 2 Comments

                    The praise, a pagan parable

                    Luthaneal Adams, Deputy District Manager for London, shares his parable:

                    When I was young, I was a farmer.  I learnt how to tend the crops and to bring in the harvest.  Each night, we farmers would sit down to eat the corn of our harvest and give praise to the Work Master for keeping the farm running.

                    As I grew, there was need of a new Work Master and I was appointed.  As the Work Master I learnt how to do business, how to use money and would travel to market to sell the fruits of the harvest to the people and then donate the rest to the soldiers at the barracks.  Each night, I would sit down to eat the corn of the harvest and give praise to the soldiers for keeping us all safe.

                    When war broke out there was need of more soldiers and so I enlisted.  As a soldier I learnt how to fight and be brave.  Each night I would sit down with my fellow soldiers and eat the corn of the harvest and give praise to the Generals for guiding our battles to victory.
                    Through prestige I became a General.  I learnt the art of strategy and how to fight my enemies from afar.  Each night, I would sit down with the other Generals and we would eat the corn of the harvest and give praise to the distant diplomats, for they did with words what we did with weapons, so that we may not be needed.

                    Through dedication and honour I was promoted to a diplomat and I learnt to negotiate and consider the good of the people.  Each night I would sit down and eat of the corn of the harvest and sing the praises of the Emperor, for he alone could guide our entire land.
                    When I was old, the Emperor died and my diligence and wisdom earned me his position.  As Emperor I learnt how to direct a country, lead the armies and tax the citizens.  But on my first night, I sat down to eat and found I did not know who to give thanks to, for there was no position higher than mine.

                    The palace priest led me to the highest tower, from where the whole land can be seen and he took me to a locked door.  He told me this was where the Emperor gave praise, and handed me the key.

                    I entered into a small circular room where I could see an altar at one end.  Sitting in the centre of the altar was a pot, from which there grew a single stalk of corn.  And I gave praise!

                      Posted in Stories | 3 Comments