Highlighting the role of teenage magazines such as Mizz who have regularly promoted spells, tarot cards and crystals in their 'Spooky' section, Andy Norfolk, Media Officer at the Pagan Federation told Youthwork that recent articles about paganism in magazines led to a flood of calls from young readers. Explaining the growing interest Norfolk claimed, 'the Christian Church has not provided the right degree of spirituality for young people. Paganism is about direct communication with the divine, rather than through priests. We also recognise the place of women which the three main religions do not do, and both paganism and witchcraft are nature based spiritualities and tie in with the current interest in the environment.
With Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Witch Academy among the growing number of popular fictional youth TV programmes attracting girls to wicca (witchcraft), publishers are also entering the arena lining up several non-fictional wicca related books for the end of the year Thorson's publishers, an imprint of Harper Collins, who commissioned British witch Kate West to write The Young Witches Handbook, defended their decision as 'a response to the huge amount of interest in witches by teenagers'.
Spokesperson Louise McNamara told Youthwork, 'It's a responsible book about what it means to be a witch. It looks at the responsibilities involved, the use of magic, moon worship and the reality of being a witch. Though including spells to help get a partner and pass exams, McNamara approaches it from a 'if you believe it works, then why not?' stand point, rejecting the idea that it may lead young people into dangerous waters. She emphasises that The Young Witches
Handbook as 'about female empowerment' and says witches offer 'strong female role-models' for girls. The book also includes a template of a letter which girls can write to their parents explaining their conversion to wicca. Nik Herodutu, a Christian Doctor who was drawn into spiritualism at the age of 14, insists that such books are destructive. 'I was sucked in after seeing something supernatural and started a quest to fill my spiritual hunger but could never find it' he says.
'This fascination is indicative of a generation without God. Their Christian roots have been removed and so there is a reversion to paganism. People are empty and want something different and exciting. My interest in the supernatural morally destroyed me and led me into spiritual bondage. In the end only the Son of God can set you free'.
Another book, Spells for Teenage Witches, published by Kyle Cathie and out next month is described by author Marina Baker as 'a self-help book for young people'. Young people have always been into all things mystical but they are not getting the spiritual guidance they need from teachers, families or Churches.
They are also an internet generation, are questioning more and have access to more information. Past attitudes that witchcraft was either silly or dangerous is not how kids see it now. Explaining the books purpose, Baker says 'it will help them with spells to keep their bedrooms tidy, to be invisible in class, a spell if you feel unloved at home or are bereaved. The spells do work but it's down to the young person whether they will.
Most Christians equate 'witchcraft' with devil worship and Satanism. However the current focus is most commonly in a form of modern witchcraft, more properly called Neo-Paganism which mixes Western and Asian magic with New Age beliefs and can include some Masonic rituals, Goddess/Mother Earth worship, nudity emphasis on pre-Christian cultures and Celtic, Scandinavian and Greek ethnicity. Followers of Dianic Witchcraft, a form of wicca which emphasises the role of witchcraft as a religion of female liberation, is another major influence. Most Neo-Pagans dislike Satanism and are keen to distance themselves from the taint of worshipping evil forces.
While publisher's, authors and the Pagan Federation spin witchcraft to make it more acceptable to undecided observers, much is left unsaid. In the area of self regulation Norfolk claims that wicca 'is a highly ethical and moral path'. While almost all Christians would oppose wicca it for its occult links and pagan-pantheistic world view believers are less united on what is an appropriate response to Harry Potter, Pokemon or the score of other books, TV programmes and computer games which use witches or other occult references.
Some claim these are all unhelpful, wrong and dangerous - others point out that Christian writers like C.S. Lewis used witches in his famous children's stories to positive effect illustrating the power of good over evil.