Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
In the past few years, a popular new image of witches has arisen, and it's a complete reversal from the wicked witch stereotype that we're all familiar with. There's the young sexy witch who uses witchcraft to gain control over her life and fight evil. For examples, see movies like The Craft, Practical Magic, and Simply Irresistible and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Charmed. Then there's the depiction in the Harry Potter books: witchcraft is a gift unenlightened Muggles (everyday people) lack. In both types of portrayals, being a witch is akin to being a superhero.
Of course, this new depiction of witches is based no more on fact than that of the old hag tossing eye of newt into a cauldron. Plenty of kids will be attracted to Wicca (which is the best-known form of witchcraft in this country) in the hope that they can cast spells and change their lives. And for many, witchcraft will just be a passing fad. But for those who stick with Wicca, they will find the reality to be something else altogether.
A Religion, Not a Cult
"I'm very proud of what I am," says 21-year-old Angelique T. She identifies herself as a witch and practices Wicca, a naturalistic pagan religion that dates back to the time of the Druids in ancient Europe. "If I have a problem at work, which I do right now, my favorite thing to do is to burn a white candle and ask the goddess for whatever it is that I need."
Angelique's mother, an author who goes by the pen name Silver RavenWolf, has written Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation (Llewellyn Publications). RavenWolf's publishers say the book is one of their fastest sellers, testament to Wicca's growing appeal to teenagers.
"Most of the letters I get are from kids who want to be more spiritual," RavenWolf offers. "In a world where (teens) are perceived to have little control, I would think Wicca would be self-empowering. You don't have to rely on others to tell you what God said. You can speak to God in your own way."
Alison Amoroso, psychologist and editor in chief of Teen Voices magazine, has also noticed Wicca's special appeal to teen girls.
"It values them as women -- it's very women-centered," Amoroso observes. "Adolescence is a time when you are seeing yourself in the context of the world, looking for places of belonging. Wicca, like all religions, provides identity and value formation."
What Is Wicca?
Here are some key facts about Wicca:
Because of the old stereotypes around witchcraft and because Wiccan beliefs and practices have been badly distorted, teens who openly identify as witches sometimes face discrimination. Several years ago, in a case that made national headlines, school officials in Lincoln Park, Michigan banned a 17-year-old honor student, Crystal Seifferly, from wearing her pentacle. The American Civil Liberties Union helped the teen win the legal case that ensued, convincing a court that her First Amendment rights had been violated.
Sometimes, however, teens experience threats or even physical intimidation.
"One time (in high school) my mother had to get involved because a boy was slamming my wrists and my kneecaps into my locker," recalls Angelique T. "We also had a pottery wheel in art, and you would need to put your name on a calendar to sign up to use it. And this boy would write 'Satan' underneath my name."
While wearing all black should hardly be cause for parental concern, any signs that a teen is using Wicca to self-isolate should set off an alarm, warns Teen Voices editor Alison Amoroso.
"If you have a kid locked up in her bedroom practicing Wicca all the time, you've got a problem," says Amoroso. "But that kind of withdrawal isn't indicative of a problem with Wicca, it's a symptom of a deeper problem. The kid may be using Wicca as a coping mechanism."
Rather than ban or dismiss Wicca, Amoroso urges parents to be curious.
"Why not spend time with your daughter and say, 'Teach me about it. What is it about Wicca that grabs your attention?' There may be connections you can make to your own religion."