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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WICCA

by Paul Robertson

Her 15 year-old daughter Mandy was at school. Lori decided it would be a good time to gather up the dirty clothes from her typical teen's sloppy bedroom. While picking up the clothes, she noticed two books covered in brown paper sticking out from underneath the unmade bed. Assuming they were nothing more than school books left behind in a rush to get out the door, she picked them up. She opened the books and was stunned to see their titles. There in her hands were books on the practice of Wicca and casting spells. Fearful, anxious, and confused, she sat on the edge of the mattress. How could her 15 year-old daughter ever get mixed up with Witchcraft? Somehow, I wasn't surprised to hear Lori's story. Just six weeks earlier I had completed an extensive research paper on Wicca and its growing attraction among teens. The most astonishing part of my study was discovering how many kids with church backgrounds are dabbling in Wicca. Unfortunately, a growing number of Christian parents like Lori are living the story. Wicca is one of the earliest neo-pagan religions which has its roots among the Celtic pagan religions of Northern Europe. Sometimes called "Wicce", "The Craft", or "The Old Religion" by its practitioners, Wicca has experienced a rebirth of sorts partly due to its popularity among feminists and others seeking involvement in a religion that is earth-based. While there is no single set of beliefs or rituals constituting Wicca, there are several common threads running through the convictions and practices of the diverse group known as Wiccans. Wiccans first want people to know what they are not. They are adamant about the fact that Wicca is not synonymous with Satan worship. In fact, the concept of a supreme evil spirit or Satan is contrary to Wicca because the devil is a Judeo-Christian "construct". Consequently, Wiccans say they don't cast spells, don't ride around on brooms, don't cook poisonous stew, and don't pray for harm to come to their enemies. A subtle distinguishing mark between Wiccans and Satanists missed by many observers is the difference in their symbol, the pentagram. In the Wiccan pentagram, the five-pointed star sits upright in the circle, with one point heading straight up -- a representation of the perfect human. In the satanic pentagram, the star points down. Wiccans also reject Christianity. They do not believe in the doctrines of original sin, vicarious atonement, divine judgment, or bodily resurrection. While there is no Wiccan creed, holy book, denomination, or gathering place (temple or church), there are several core beliefs which most Wiccans hold in common. Often referred to as "The Five Points of Wiccan Belief," they include:

1. The Wiccan Rede: This central Wiccan belief is classically stated, "An' it harm none, do as you will." In other words, if an action will cause physical, emotional, or mental harm to another,

don't do it. Wiccans strive to be helpful to others by weighing their actions to see if they are actions they would desire to receive from others themselves. 2. The Law of Return: Also known as "the karmic law", the Law of Return means that what you do will affect what happens to you. Do good, and good will come to you in three'fold measure. Do bad to another, and it will come back to you three-fold. 3. The Ethic of Self-Responsibility: Simply stated, when you mess up, it's your own fault. There is no "devil made me do it" excuse in Wicca since there is no devil. 4. The Ethic of Constant Improvement: Wiccans seek to be "ever-growing". Evidence of growth is believed to be seen in acting ecologically, teaching and preaching tolerance and racial harmony, and living a life of peace. 5. The Ethic of Attunement: Wiccans strive to use ritual to become in-tune with the divinity of self, the divinity of the Gods and other powers, and the divinity of the universe. Wiccan rituals are conducted alone or in very small groups in parks, gardens, hillsides, yards, or anywhere else in the great outdoors, usually during full and new moon stages and during the eight Wiccan festivals celebrating the progression of the seasons. Magick (the "k" is included in the spelling to differentiate Wiccan magick and the rabbit in the hat type) is used in these rituals and is seen as the ability to cause change through the use of energy and will. Estimates today on the number of Wiccan Witches range from a conservative figure of 150,000 to a more liberal number of 400,000. Whatever the actual number may be, that number has grown steadily over the past 30 years. Wicca is one of the fastest growing pagan religions in America. As our culture becomes more and more interested in spirituality, Wiccan Witches of all ages will continue to constitute a growing and increasingly significant minority. Why are a growing number of teenagers attracted to Wicca? We all know that teenagers love to shock their parents. Getting involved in Wicca could certainly serve as one means to that end. But just doing it to traumatize their parents or gain the admiration of their friends didn't seem to be the usual motivation. The attraction to Wicca goes beyond such simplistic thinking. Shelley, a seventeen year-old Wiccan describes the attraction for her: "I guess I was 15 when I first got interested, 16 when I started practicing. I'm now 17. Before Wicca I was a Presbyterian. I have friends from all walks of life and it bothered me to sit in church and hear the preacher talk about people like my friends, especially those who were not Christian, and try to teach me that they were "bad" or "evil". I knew these people, who they were, and they were nothing of the sort. Then my church passed a rule that no one who was homosexual could hold an office within the church. I have friends who are homosexual and bisexual and I felt it was unfair." In an attempt to better understand Wicca and it's appeal to young people, I've listened to dozens of kids tell their stories. Running throughout these stories are several common threads -- threads

that have led me to a deeper understanding of this pagan movement's core beliefs, attraction, and growing presence in today's youth culture.

First, Wicca has provided teens with a spiritual experience. For many young people the church has been a wonderful place to explore and develop their personal faith in Christ. Others, however, feel disconnected from or even unwanted by the church. One need only look at the number of young people leaving the church, or never even showing up in the first place, to understand the significance of the problem. I was surprised to see how many of the Wiccans I have communicated with have had some type of church experience. (On the other hand, I recently met a youth pastor who told me she has four Wiccans attending her youth group!) The absence of vitality or opportunity for participation in many churches and youth groups leaves some teens feeling empty. Shelley's struggle came when the church failed to provide her with guidance to work through such issues as the proper Biblical perspective on what it means to be male and female, the truth about homosexuality according to the Bible, and what Jesus really meant when He said that we should be friends with sinners. She is not alone in her feelings. I see too many teens that have become alienated from the church on these same issues. Many never darken the door of a church again. They will, however, go somewhere or to something to find answers to their spiritual interests and questions. After all, God did make them spiritual creatures. Many adolescents, having been turned off by the contemporary church, are finding that ethereal answer through Wicca. There is something mysterious and simple about the old religions that some teens find attractive. As Jessica, a 15 year old Wiccan from Michigan says, "Wicca has given me things I have never had. Happiness and love. It is one of the best things that have ever happened to me. It makes me feel great". It is a place to go to fill the longing of their hearts for something to help them make sense of life. It helps to answer the deeper questions of adolescence -- Why am I here? What is my purpose for being? Wicca, some feel, provides those answers. Second, Wicca is an experiential personal religion. One of the failures of the church today has been to provide a framework of faith that is alive, active, and vibrant. The Christian establishment of today is seen by Wiccans as something that is cold, rational, and intellectual. They see the church as lacking any opportunity for experiential participation. Members of the church simply watch as the minister and worship leaders perform ritual. Wicca offers the attractive dimension of this mystical, experiential component manifested through personal hands-on involvement in meditation, ceremony, rituals, performing of magic, and the casting of spells. These rituals are uniquely personal in that each practitioner puts his/her own spin on the practice. It is an interactive and dynamic relationship with their belief system. Jessica, says, "It was basically the movie The Craft' and superstitions about it that attracted me to it. I have cast spells and called spirits." It is the sense of being in control of one's "energies" and of communing with the world around them.

Third, Wicca is a private religion that does not require community. Wiccans often enjoy the opportunity to practice a religion without being part of a community or "coven". Jessica refers to herself as a "Solitary Witch". Most of the Wiccans I talked to do not even belong to a coven but may have a couple of friends who are practicing with them. This provides teens with a sense of being in control of the faith without feeling pressured to live up to someone else's expectations. Enjoying their beliefs becomes a "private" matter.

Since Wicca can be practiced alone, it can be hidden from parents and other authority figures. A number of my Wiccan friends tell me that neither of their parents know about their religion. For others, it wasn't uncommon that the "understanding" parent knew and was keeping the "secret" from their better half. Wiccans learn from each other, the Internet, and books and then often put into the practice the things they have learned in the privacy of their own space or perhaps with one or two other friends. There is a private intimacy from which Wiccan teens seem to derive joy. Fourth, Wiccan ethics and beliefs fit well into today's postmodern times. Wiccans believe in deciding for themselves what is right, wrong, true, and not true. When I asked Shelley if she celebrated Christmas, she gave me a typically postmodern answer. "Well, I celebrate Christmas in a way. I mean, I may be a witch, but I haven't totally disregarded my belief in Jesus or God. I just simply don't agree with a lot of things in the Bible. I am an eclectic witch. I follow points and beliefs of all religions. Christmas is a habit for me. I have celebrated all my life I haven't given myself totally to the Goddess yet." Wiccans are free to choose what they want to believe about everything. It is a spiritual smorgasbord. Another Wiccan says, "I believe that the Christian Heaven and the Wiccan Summerland are in reality the same place, it's all just how you see it. I think that all religions are the same thing." With personal religious syncretism a mark of the postmodern age, the time is ripe for Wicca. Fifth, Wicca is sensitive to nature and concerned with ecology. As a nature based religion, Wicca appeals to those who feel a strong need to "get back to the Earth" and places a major importance on protecting the environment. Given the growing awareness of what we are doing to our planet and the emphasis on environmental concerns in our schools, it is not surprising that some young people will make their way into neopagan religions such as Wicca. "The main thing that attracted me," says one practitioner, "was the strong respect for nature and animals, and I (have) always been that way." Renee is a 15 year-old Wiccan teen from Illinois. When asked what attracted her to Wicca she answered, "One thing that interested me was the fact that herbs are the thing that heals you along with the way some herbs ward off evil spirits, for example, vampires hate garlic and therefore, they stay away." She enjoys being one with nature and understanding the things of the natural world.

Since the contemporary church has been largely silent on issues of ecology and Biblical stewardship of the environment, Wicca offers environmentally conscious teens something the church does not. Sixth, Wicca includes a strong element of feminist spirituality. Many women and young girls feel left out of mainstream religions because of their emphasis on masculine divinities. For them, the Wiccan concept of the Goddess as Mother of all Living fills an empty space in their life. Shelley says, "the equality expressed in Wicca attracted me. Male and female represented equally. In Christianity, the male is dominant, and as a female, I disagree." Today's pop music culture is permeated with female artists who very much portray "girl power". They are also very much promoting the feminist agenda for young female adolescents. Wicca is a place where many teen girls find solace from a male dominated world. This feminist aspect is very attractive to young girls who have had abusive relationships with their fathers or were raised by fathers who were never around to provide strong emotional support, involvement, and love. Finally, Wicca stresses tolerance. One Wiccan teen put it this way, "Wiccans do not claim to be the ONLY way, I like that a lot." Another says, "We don't campaign against other religious traditions and we don't try to convert, control, or conform others. We don't claim to be the one and only way." And still another, "What I like about Wicca is that it doesn't say you have to be in our religion or you will go somewhere if you don't." She is attracted to the tolerant, easy going nature for her religion. Tolerance is viewed as a key positive personal attribute in today's youth culture. Kids are taught to be tolerant of everyone's religious beliefs, sexual attitudes, and everything in between. Wiccans are happy with whatever works for you even if it is not their particular religion. They believe we all have the right to believe whatever we want and each should be left to his/her own. If you are a parent and suspicious that your child could be getting involved with Wicca, what should you look for? Keep your eyes open for the following signs:

basic object and tools used in Wiccan worship and rituals: candles, incense, chalice, broom, wand, cauldron, magic knife, white-handled knife, crystal sphere, pentacle, bell, robes, and censer. a change in general overall mood. Are they becoming increasingly angry, sullen, or depressed? Are they spending an increased and unusual amount of time outdoors? Remember, Wiccans like to commune with and worship nature outside. a change in clothing style. Some Wiccans prefer wearing black clothes. the use of Wiccan greetings such as "Merry Meet", "Merry Part", "Bless", and "Blessed Be." You might even find these words written on notebooks or binders. books, pamphlets, or mail about Wiccan practices.

accessing Wiccan sites on the Internet.

What steps can a parent take if they discover their child's involvement in Wiccan witchcraft? First, take the matter to the Lord. We need His wisdom and peace as we work through the issue. Wiccans are not conscious Satan worshipers. In fact, most of them do not even believe in a personal devil. However, there is no doubt that their faith is grounded in things that the Bible clearly speaks against. Second, seek first to understand, then to be understood. Typically, there is something that a young person finds attractive about Wicca. Give them time to explain their journey into Wicca. Seek to understand what is going on in their life and the issues that have led them to explore Wicca. After listening, share your concerns from a biblical perspective. It may just prove to be a pivotal point in your relationship as you seek to come alongside of your child. Remember, they will respond better to your love than they will to your wrath. Third, seek the counsel and support of your youth pastor or pastor. They can often be a guide to you and your teen as you work through the issue together. In addition, they can refer you to a competent Christian counselor who is trained to address these tender and specific issues. And fourth, learn as much as you can about Wicca. A good basic book written from a Christian perspective is "Witchcraft: Exploring the World of Wicca" by Craig S. Hawking (Baker Books). Check out websites to learn more about Wicca from the Wiccan perspective, for example, The Witch's Voice (www.witchvox.com). Lori continues to struggle as she works to help her daughter Mandy. Mandy still hangs out with the girl who introduced her to Wiccan Witchcraft. Mandy's biggest complaint is that her mother is "too closed minded." In the midst of it all, this mom tries to find the strength and courage through Christ to love and understand her daughter. Remember her as you pray for your own kids.