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Wicca Casts Spell
on Teen-Age Girls


By Catherine Edwards

In their universal quest for self-actualization, a devilish number of teen-age girls have become enchanted by the female-friendly but retrograde culture of witchcraft.

Before 16-year-old Jess lights candles on the small altar in the corner of her bedroom each night, she says her prayers. "Hail Fair Moon, ruler of the night, guard me and mine until the light. Hail Fair Sun, ruler of the day, make the morn light my way." On her altar are four porcelain chalices representing the elements of air, water, fire and earth. Each contains rose petals, semiprecious stones, melted candle wax and dried leaves. They rest on the corners of a five-pointed star. And Jess has a frog she says symbolizes "spirit" and "life" that sits on point five of the pentagram. Here she performs rituals and casts spells.
. . . . Jess is one of a growing number of American teen-age girls who practice Wicca, or witchcraft. In the last five years Hollywood has produced films including Practical Magic and The Craft celebrating such cults and featuring hip actresses Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock and Party of Five's Neve Campbell as witches. Prime-time TV has cashed in with its own witchy programming. Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed all feature young females with magical powers. The character of Felicity, on the program of the same name broadcast on the Warner Bros. Network, has a Wiccan roommate. And teen witches have cast nasty spells on the popular series X-Files.
. . . . Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation, a recent book by Silver Ravenwolf, has sold more copies for occult publisher Llewellyn than any other in its 95-year history, according to publicist Jamie Schumacher. And it's not just media hype, either. Danny Aguirre runs a Christian hot line at the Berkeley, Calif.-based Spiritual Counterfeits Project. He says, "In the last six months, I have received more inquiries about Wicca than any other religion in the 10 years I have worked here." The demographics of the callers? "All teen-age girls," says Aguirre.
. . . . As teens begin to ask questions about life and religion, they are turning in surprising numbers to Wicca or witchcraft for the answers. Drawn by Wicca's focus on a feminine deity, nature worship and self-empowerment, many young women have rejected traditional faiths as male-dominated, environmentally unfriendly and morally limiting. Critics of Wicca, however, fear that if teen Wiccans ignore the dangers of the occult in their quest for meaning and satisfaction, they may be putting themselves in harm's way.
. . . . Modern Wiccans trace their movement to Gerald Gardener in the middle of the 20th century. They credit him for reviving ancient witchcraft and pagan traditions with two books that appeared in the 1950s, Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft. The word "wicca" was drawn from the Anglo-Saxon. "It means to bend nature to your service," explains Derek Collins, who teaches a course in the history of witchcraft at the University of Michigan.
. . . . Although Wiccans differ about ritual practices, casting spells and semantics, some basics exist. In her book Principles of Wicca, psychologist and Wiccan priestess Vivianne Crowley says that Wicca is a pagan mystery religion as well as a nature religion. Wiccans worship a mother goddess and her consort, the horned god. "She is the immanent sacred life force," explains Phyllis Curott, attorney and author of The Book of Shadows: A Modern Woman's Journey Into the Wisdom of Witchcraft and the Magic of the Goddess. Curott details the various forms of this goddess as Mother Nature, omnipresent in the elements, taking on more specific forms such as the Greek goddesses Artemis, Gaia or the Roman goddess Diana. Some Wiccans even claim to worship Mary, mother of Jesus, as their goddess.
. . . . The horned god apparently manifests in nature as the Greek god Pan or Egyptian god Osiris, among many others. Wiccans espouse pantheism and claim to see the divine in everyone. Most celebrate eight holidays, or "sabbats," centered around the solar cycles, solstices and equinoxes, and "esbats," centered on the lunar cycles. On Halloween, they honor the spirits of their ancestors. The rest of the time -- usually daily -- they cast spells, customized recitations aimed at magically manipulating people or events to fulfill the desires of the Wiccan. Some of these witches meet in groups called covens, or circles, while others practice alone.
. . . . Demographics of Wiccans in the United States are difficult to find. There is much to-do about secrecy, and groups do not release membership rolls. Curott estimates there are 3 million to 5 million Wiccans. Helen Berger, associate professor of sociology at the University of Westchester in Pennsylvania, has surveyed more than 2,000 Wiccans for her research. Estimates cited by Berger and Christian-apologist Craig Hawkins in his book Witchcraft: Exploring the World of Wicca put the U.S. witch population at the 150,000 to 200,000 mark.
. . . . Fritz Jung and Wren Walker, practicing Wiccans who live in Clearwater, Fla., maintain that their Website witchvox.com is the busiest religious site in the world. In a Web survey conducted on that site in September, 60 percent of respondents were under 30 and 62 percent were female. Berger found in her survey that 90 percent of Wiccan respondents were white and well-educated.
. . . . "There is a great spiritual hunger among kids out there," says Bob Waliszewski, manager of the youth-culture department at the conservative group Focus on the Family. "I understand the initial draw of Wicca for girls. For a young teen-age girl with no spiritual roots, if Wicca promises them power I could see how they would be tempted." After all, despite a history of cauldrons and Satan worship, modern witches claim that Wicca is a positive and life-affirming religion. The Wiccan Rede, an ethic that often is cited, directs: "Do what you will but harm none." Wiccans also claim to believe in the Law of Three-Fold, which states that whatever you do comes back to you three times as strong.
. . . . Adherents usually follow their own path, says Ravenwolf, which allows for great subjectivity. As Crowley notes, "In the circle there are no absolutes -- no rights and wrongs."
. . . . Critics aware of the long history of witchcraft regard such claims as na´ve. "Encouraging people to think they are divine is very dangerous -- it takes the limits off and doesn't leave any moral restraints," says Phillip Davis, author of the Goddess Unmasked and professor of religion at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada. Tal Brooke, director of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, who once was involved in Eastern mysticism, warns that witchcraft is "narcissistic, amoral and pleasure-seeking -- the perfect postmodern religion for the nineties."
. . . . Since Wiccans deny a single standard of truth and laws of right and wrong, how do they know the difference between what is harmful and not harmful? Alex Sanders, a flamboyant publicist and self-named "King of the Witches" who died in 1988, wrote that "a thing is good for me until I feel it's not right for me." The witch Stewart Farrar elaborates: "The witches' own conscience must be the final arbiter." Art Lindsley of the C.S. Lewis Institute, a Washington-based think tank focusing on different religions, notes that for Wiccans "there is no objective evil that someone ought not do. There is no ought in Wicca -- it is all based on subjective feeling."
. . . . Making your own rules and doing what feels good naturally appeals to inexperienced teens. Says one 11th-grader, "Wicca allows me to create my own religion and that suits me; it's malleable."
. . . . And all the help she needs to engage in this witchcraft is right at her fingertips on the Internet. The Covenant of the Goddess, one of the largest witchcraft associations in the country, offers five pages on its Website with links to other sites for a "new generation of witches" complete with recommended reading lists for youth and children and ways to join the organization. More homespun sites simply link magic and occult sites. witchvox.com's Jung has counted 3,000 current pagan sites.
. . . . The Church of All Worlds worships the goddess and encourages sexual promiscuity on its Website. Titled a "Bouquet of Lovers," an essay there on "polyamourous love" details how to have multiple sexual partners with agreement between marriage partners that other sexual relationships will exist and are important to maintain. Participants are cautioned to sign onto the "condom commitment" and have sex only with members of their "condom cadre." Kids can start learning these ways of pagan life by subscribing to the Church of All Worlds magazine for youth, How About Magic.
. . . . One Internet letter addressed to teen Wiccans proudly acknowledges the anarchic and experimental nature of Wicca. In her book Teen Witch, Ravenwolf includes a letter to concerned parents acknowledging dangers involved in Wicca but expressing hope that her book will help kids avoid them. Waliszewski thinks this is lunacy. "Why send your kids into something you know is dangerous?" he asks. "In her mind, Wicca is like fire: It can heat a house or burn it down. Ravenwolf claims she will teach kids how to use it for good and hope they avoid using it to burn things down."
. . . . But Curott, a radical feminist, sees the growth of witchcraft among young girls as inevitable. "Feminism became incorporated into the culture 20 years ago," she declares. "The next step was to look at the bastion of misogyny --religion. Mothers and daughters looked to religious institutions and found there was nothing there for them."
. . . . And, in the present circumstances, even some Christian conservatives agree. "Sadly, much of the church has obscured the teachings of the Bible that every human being, male and female, is created equal before the eyes of God," says Marty Keyes, codirector of L'Abri Fellowship in Boston, a theological study center founded by Christian leaders Francis and Edith Schaeffer. "Our material culture is so banal that kids are looking for something more, something spiritual, and for many young girls that's Wicca."
. . . . But Keyes believes that Wicca is ill-equipped as a religion to fight injustice such as prejudice toward women, and that the Christian church must step up to the plate. "Only with a transcendent creator who has spoken that rape and sexism are wrong -- not just my relative view that these things go against my taste but that there is a transcendent, moral, absolute truth -- can we have solid ground to fight injustice toward women or any other group," she says.
. . . . Many teen-age girls with whom Insight spoke about these problems agree that they are looking to fill a spiritual void in their lives. Jess is one. She looks wistfully at the gray autumn sky and says she found Wicca on the Internet. "I need to believe in something," she says. "Everyone needs something to latch on to."
. . . . Alexis is young, stylish and thoughtful. A new driver, she sits at a Starbucks coffee shop with her car keys in one hand and a frappuccino in the other. She says she was intrigued by the feminine goddess of Wicca and declares that other religions have nothing in them for women. She practices witchcraft alone, preferring not to divulge the privacy of her rituals to anyone. Her mother does not enter her room, Alexis says, honoring her daughter's request to keep all negative energy outside of her space.
. . . . Both Jess and Alexis insist that they feel empowered by Wicca and cast spells to evoke change in their lives and for others. Do the spells work? "Sure," giggles Jess. "Too well, sometimes!" She then details a spell she cast to keep a boy away from a friend.
. . . . Both girls admit to feeling frightened at times while practicing witchcraft, and Jess confesses that she even stopped for a while. Wiccans acknowledge evil but seem reluctant to identify its source. All Wiccans interviewed by Insight deny the existence of Satan. "They don't realize they are dancing with the devil," warns Brooke of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project.
. . . . Johanna Michaelson, author of The Beautiful Side of Evil and Like Lambs to the Slaughter: Your Child and the Occult, worked with a psychic doctor in Mexico as a young woman and attended his surgeries performed with a rusty knife and no anaesthetic. "This sort of thing is fascinating to young people who are looking for meaning in life," she tells Insight. "But these young women are tapping into a genuine spiritual reality that can become very dangerous."
. . . . According to Goddess Unmasked author Davis, "The problem is that this younger generation has grown up with magic and the occult. Their cartoons feature ghosts and monsters, they have the Internet Websites and prime-time TV is Buffy and Sabrina. All this stuff makes Wicca seem natural to them."
. . . . Not surprisingly, the teen magazines have jumped on the Wiccan bandwagon as well. A recent issue of Young and Modern magazine features two pages on witchcraft with the banner headline, "Witchy Ways!" Interviews with the female stars of the popular TV witch programs then tell what kind of spells the actresses would like to cast if they were real-life witches. Jane magazine featured Curott as one of their "Gutsiest women of the year." Maxim Magazine for Men features on its cover a scantily clad 23-year-old Melissa Joan Hart with the headline, "Sabrina: Your favorite Witch Without a Stitch."
. . . . Curott says the TV shows draw girls in; once they get past the Hollywood stereotypes, they find liberation. "Teen-agers are our future," she says. "The next millennium belongs to them and in the hands of these teen-age girls we might actually solve the world's problems."
. . . . Meanwhile, guided by such Wiccan mentors, teens continue to search for answers. "Life is terrifying, death is terrifying," says Jess. "You have to look for something in between."
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Witchcraft Through the Ages. . . .  
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. . . . Modern Wiccans disavow any links to historical witchcraft. But the fanatical secrecy of many covens and practitioners of the black arts has aroused suspicion about what happens behind closed doors.
. . . . Some Wiccans, meanwhile, claim solidarity with the persecuted witches of the past. "From 1500 to 1700 A.D., or the so-called burning times, Wiccans estimate that 9 million people were killed" as witches, says Derek Collins, who teaches a course at the University of Michigan on the history of witchcraft. Collins explains that women were accused of sacrificing children to use their fat in creating ointments and potions to gain power.
. . . . Some openly admitted to this. In 1662 in Scotland, the trial report of a woman named Issobell Gowdie reveals that she admitted to carnal copulation with the devil and to having the ability to turn herself into animals. This was typical of the hysteria.
. . . . During the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692-93, the housemaid of Salem resident Samuel Parris admitted to teaching his daughters divination. She acknowledged having seen the devil and paying homage to him. Nineteen people were executed in Salem for denying allegedly proved involvement in witchcraft.
. . . . Witchcraft practices such as poisonings, the black mass and abortion are not frequently mentioned among Wiccans today. "Often only given token acknowledgment by modern witches ... is Margaret Murray," says Phillip Davis in his book, The Goddess Unmasked. In her turn-of-the-century book, The Witchcult in Modern Europe, Murray writes that witchcraft is a fertility-focused nature religion that necessitates the sacrifice of animals and children on occasion. Gerald Gardner, whom many Wiccans credit with popularizing modern Wicca, had lived in Britain in the early 20th century before coming to the United States and received Murray's personal blessing, according to Davis. He also was friends with Aleister Crowley, the Satanist and black-arts practitioner who commonly is associated with modern sex magic, in which intercourse is seen as a way to tap into the creative energy of all couples.
. . . . In Magick in Theory and Practice, Crowley cites one of his favorite sayings from French writer Rabelais: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," which Wiccans have adapted and called the Wiccan Rede, coding it as "Do what you will and [you] harm none."
. . . . In his book The Law Is for All, from occult publisher Llewellyn, Crowley argues that children should be required to watch sexual activity. "He sometimes expressed a great deal of tolerance towards rape," says Davis. In the New Age journal Gnosis, Antoinette LaFarge and Robert Allen acknowledge "if you are interested in magic as a spiritual discipline, you must deal with Crowley." And assuredly some Wiccans do.

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