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Teenage Witches

Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self

Helen A. Berger
Douglas Ezzy
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj9jq
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  • Book Info
    Teenage Witches
    Book Description:

    A popular new image of Witches has arisen in recent years, due largely to movies like The Craft, Practical Magic, and Simply Irresistible and television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Charmed. Here, young sexy Witches use magic and Witchcraft to gain control over their lives and fight evil. Then there is the depiction in the Harry Potter books: Witchcraft is a gift that unenlightened Muggles (everyday people) lack. In both types of portrayals, being a Witch is akin to being a superhero. At the other end of the spectrum, wary adults assume that Witches engage in evil practices that are misguided at best and dangerous at worst.

    Yet, as Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy show in this in-depth look into the lives of teenage Witches, the reality of their practices, beliefs, values, and motivations is very different from the sensational depictions we see in popular culture. Drawing on extensive research across three countries--the United States, England, and Australia--and interviews with young people from diverse backgrounds, what they find are highly spiritual and self-reflective young men and women attempting to make sense of a postmodern world via a religion that celebrates the earth and emphasizes self-development.

    The authors trace the development of Neo-Paganism (an umbrella term used to distinguish earth-based religions from the pagan religions of ancient cultures) from its start in England during the 1940s, through its growing popularity in the decades that followed, up through its contemporary presence on the Internet. Though dispersed and disorganized, Neo-Pagan communities, virtual and real, are shown to be an important part of religious identity particularly for those seeking affirmation during the difficult years between childhood and adulthood.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4136-5
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xiii-2)

    Who are teenage Witches, and what are they really doing? Drawing on ninety interviews with young people who call themselves Witches, have been practicing Witchcraft for at least one year, and began practicing when they were teenagers, this book answers these questions. Teenage Witches are not that different from most of their generation, except that they are seekers attempting to find a spiritual path. They come from both religious and nonreligious homes, although in the United States most come from families that are at least somewhat religious. They tend to see themselves as different and to enjoy that status. Many...

  6. Vignette Beverly—A Minister’s Daughter (United States)
    (pp. 3-9)

    I would say that I was always one [a Witch]. I just discovered what I was…. When I was seven, I realized that I didn’t believe in God the way my parents did and I started to formulate my own ideas about God and religion and all that. And when I was twelve, I think by that point I had pretty much solidified things the way that I currently believe. And when I was thirteen, I officially declared myself a Witch and was initiated…. I was initiated by a small group of friends who I had met through a women’s...

  7. Vignette Charles—From Big Brother to Witchcraft (England)
    (pp. 10-16)

    I was really intoBig Brother[a reality show] when it was first on—the television program—and I was talking to this person on the Internet that was really into it and she mentioned in passing that she was Wiccan and I thought, “What the hell is Wiccan?” So I asked and then she gave a rough explanation and then a couple of days later I was watchingBuffy…. So they [the characters inBuffy] sat down and said, “Yeah, I’m Wiccan.” I’m like, “Well, what is this word I keep hearing about?” So I go [to]www.google.com, Wicca,...

  8. Vignette Ruth—Coming out of Depression (Australia)
    (pp. 17-22)

    Witchcraft changed nearly everything. It just has made me who I am. It’s helped me to see the positives in life—focus on the positive rather than the negatives; … [I am] more confident in myself as to who I am and my beliefs.Ruth is nineteen years old and studying for an advanced diploma of naturopathy at a vocational college. She lives at home and supports herself working as a waitress on weekends and at night. She lives in a small country town in southeast Australia about one hour’s drive from the nearest city. Her father is a builder...

  9. CHAPTER ONE The World of Teenage Witchcraft
    (pp. 23-48)

    Teenage Witches in the contemporary United States, England, and Australia are first and foremost teenagers. They are concerned about schoolwork, family, and physical and mental health issues for themselves and those they care about. They think about love, their future, and the daily issues of friendships, relationships with their parents, and adequate pocket money. These are not trivial concerns; they are the basis of young people’s current lives and will also impact their futures. On the whole, in our interviews with ninety young people—thirty in each country—we find individuals struggling to make sense of and live responsibly in...

  10. Vignette Morgan—One Path to Witchcraft
    (pp. 49-55)

    Morgan is nineteen and lives in Texas when she is not attending a prestigious university program on the East Coast of the United States. She prefers to use the term “Pagan” instead of “Witch” when referring publicly to her spiritual path.I use the term “Witch” in friendly conversations with people who I already know. Because I think a lot of the people have a negative connotation with the word and if I am using it on the street then I can’t go into the history and my goals, reforming negative opinion towards positive opinion, you know, when I am...

  11. CHAPTER TWO Coming Home to Witchcraft
    (pp. 56-85)

    Morgan, in the foregoing vignette, presents one road to Witchcraft. Others first learn about Witchcraft from a myriad of sources, including television shows, news broadcasts, fantasy books, and computer games. Although Morgan does not speak for all teens, her story shares features common to most of the narratives. Her route to Witchcraft involves a sense of alienation from the religion in which she was raised; her initial information came from books and the Internet, and only subsequently from people; and her first spell was for healing. Unusual although certainly not unique for her generation, she is training in the Cabot...

  12. Vignette Karen—Magic, Ritual, and Self-Transformation
    (pp. 86-93)

    Karen, a nineteen-year-old Australian Witch, is studying biology in her first year of university and lives in the suburbs of a large city. She became interested in Witchcraft when she was fourteen after she found the occult section in the school library.And I thought, “Wow, that looks really interesting,” and I read one book, and I read another book and another book, and I ended up reading the whole section and … I was just so fascinated and I kept going back for more and more.The books were mostly historical, including a number about the Salem Witch trials....

  13. CHAPTER THREE The Magical Self
    (pp. 94-121)

    Witchcraft is both a religion of nature (Crowley 1998) and a religion of self-transformation (Greenwood 1998, 2000a). These two aspects are clearly reflected in the ritual practices of young Witches. Rituals enable young Witches to transform their self-understanding, improve their selfesteem, and deal with the emotional challenges presented by teenage relationships. Spells for love, money, and health focus on the transformation of individual circumstances, but young Witches also engage in a number of ritual practices that take them beyond individualistic concerns to focus on environmental issues, experience divinity, and offer support and assistance to others in need.

    Many of the...

  14. Vignette Victoria—Creating Pagan Community
    (pp. 122-129)

    Victoria is nineteen years old, studying criminology and philosophy in her first year at a British university. Although her parents are British, she was born in New York but moved back to Britain when she was five. She maintains dual nationality. She tells a fascinating story of the role of community in her path to and practice of Witchcraft. Mediated community, particularly in the form of books, is central to her becoming a Witch, but it is the movies that are important to her searching for and creating community. Even though she initially identifies as a Pagan, it is clear...

  15. CHAPTER FOUR Within the Circle: Community and Family
    (pp. 130-159)

    Beverly, Morgan, and others we have met throughout this book maintain that they are solitary practitioners, although they may gather with others for rituals, belong to a coven, or join a student organization. Individualism, a hallmark of contemporary Western society, is an element of their self-concept and helps define their spirituality. Nonetheless, all are members of a spiritual community, a family circle, a group of friends, and a network of work and school associates. The spiritual community within Witchcraft is different from that organized by churches, mosques, or synagogues, or by leaders of more centralized new religious movements. The community...

  16. Vignette Nika—The Goddess as Role Model, Healer, and Mother Earth
    (pp. 160-168)

    Nika asserts that in calling herself a Witch she isreclaiming … [the] word, reclaiming it from its negative connotations … in the sense of supernatural powers used for murdering people, orgies in the woods with devils, green-faced hag, lower class, that type of thing…. I think I like the way it is described in [books on Wicca as] “Wic: to bend or to shape.” Another way of describing it that I have heard is “Wic: off a willow,” and willow is used a lot in Witchcraft because it is pliable—the wood itself—and it is used for making...

  17. CHAPTER FIVE The Goddess Is Alive: Feminism and Environmentalism
    (pp. 169-198)

    Among the generation of Witches that joined the movement before 1990, many saw their spirituality as conforming to and enriching their political views. Speaking of this earlier generation in “The Resurgence of Romanticism: Contemporary Neopaganism, Feminist Spirituality and the Divinity of Nature,” Tanya Luhrmann (1993) reports they first and foremost joined a religious, not a political, movement and were drawn primarily by their desire for ecstatic spiritual experiences without the strictures of more traditional religions. Nonetheless, the image of the Goddess spoke to both their ecological and feminist concerns.

    Within Witchcraft, the Goddess in her three aspects—maid, mother, crone—...

  18. Vignette Annie—The Moral World of Teenage Witches
    (pp. 199-204)

    The first book I read wasHow to Turn Your Boyfriend into a Toad. I had a boyfriend I wanted to turn into a toad so bad, at fourteen. It didn’t work—I was really upset.Annie tells this story of her first exploration into Witchcraft with a glint in her eye and a small smile on her face. She delights in the memory and enjoys thinking about both her naïveté and her attempted wickedness at age fourteen.

    Annie is a lithe young woman with sandy light-brown hair. She has the look of a pixie, with somewhat short legs, a...

  19. CHAPTER SIX If It Harm None, Do As Thou Will
    (pp. 205-228)

    Annie’s description of her moral universe in the foregoing vignette involves many of the themes repeated in our interviews. Almost all the young people we spoke to say that they are drawn to the openness and acceptance of diversity—of belief, of race, of sexual orientation—that they find in Witchcraft. Many describe becoming better people as they become more aware of the effects of their actions on others and themselves. Self-acceptance and self-love are part of this moral universe. Instead of seeing self-acceptance as selfishness, it is part of their larger notion of acceptance and understanding of the world,...

  20. CHAPTER SEVEN Teenage Witchcraft: Why, What, and Where To?
    (pp. 229-242)

    Why are young people turning to Witchcraft? The answer is not simple. A complex set of factors makes Witchcraft particularly attractive to teenagers in Western societies.

    First, the growth of Witchcraft is a product of a cultural orientation that makes Witchcraft accessible (see Chapter 2). Thecultural orientationto Witchcraft refers to the positive, even if trivializing, images of Witchcraft in the mass media, including movies such asThe Craftand television shows such asBuffy the Vampire SlayerandCharmed. Positive information about Witchcraft is also widely available on the shelves of mainstream bookstores, in the magazines on mainstream...

  21. APPENDIX A: Interview Questions
    (pp. 243-244)
  22. APPENDIX B: Information on Interviewees
    (pp. 245-248)
  23. NOTES
    (pp. 249-252)
  24. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 253-264)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 265-278)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)