Pagan group lifts bar to teens under 18 who want to join
Arizona Daily Star, Aug. 25, 2002
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A network of local pagans is for the first time opening its ranks to people under 18, hoping to reach what members say is a growing group of teen witches in Tucson.
“It can give them a chance to hear from real witches and real life. Books aren’t enough,” said Ashleen O’Gaea, a Tucson Wiccan high priestess and co-founder of the 14-year-old Tucson Area Pagan- Wiccan Network, or TAWN.
Most Wiccans – the most popular form of paganism – refer to themselves as witches. They don’t fly on broomsticks, wear pointy hats or have green skin with warts. They do cast spells, use candles, wands and on occasion make use of caldrons, which represent their goddess’ womb.
The network says it will now allow teens 16 and older to join their group, but only as long as they have the permission of a parent or guardian. Current members hope younger people who are practicing on their own can benefit from the education available through the network.
“We’ve got a large teen population that is just starting to discover alternative spirituality. We want them to get a good foundation so they don’t get involved in the satanic movements and the dark stuff that’s out there,” said Don Davis, a local Druid and member of the network.
The network has 90 members and O’Gaea estimates the local pagan population at 240 to 900 people, the majority of them Wiccan. It’s hard to know exactly how many Wiccans live in Tucson because many people, particularly teen-agers, practice their faith on an individual basis, she said.
“There are a lot who are probably still in the broom closet,” said 19-year-old Cerridwen Johnson, a Tucson native and one of a rare group of people who were raised Wiccan. Cerridwen (pronounced Care-id-wen), who graduated from Amphitheater High School in 2001, was named for a Celtic goddess of wisdom and inspiration.
Many Wiccan teens interviewed for this story did not want their names published because of family discomfort with their faith, though Wiccans say any fears about them are typically based on misconceptions.
“We’re not a bunch of psycho people who bay at the moon,” said Johnson, whose father, Rick Johnson, has written an informational handbook about the faith for the Tucson Police Department and the local U.S. military.
“Wicca evolves all the time,” Johnson said. “The beliefs are a skeleton, you have to add your own muscle and tissue.”
About 600,000 people in the United States call themselves Wiccan, according to Fritz Jung, co-founder of the popular Witches’ Voice Web site, www.witchvox.com, which gets nearly 250,000 hits a day. The Web site allows witches to register and lists 93 Arizona teens, 19 of them in Tucson. Jung’s statistics show 26 percent of Wiccans are teen-agers.
Most teen Wiccans, like 16-year-old Sean Hunter, were not raised pagan. Hunter, a junior at Vail High School, grew up in a Catholic household and became interested in witchcraft when he was in seventh grade and read “The Wiccan Mysteries” by Raven Grimassi. His interest grew when he watched “The Craft,” a 1996 film about four girls at a Catholic school who practice a form of witchcraft with some similarities to Wicca.
Hunter and his friend, 16-year-old Eve-Marie Brzescyn-ski, recently formed their own coven – a congregation of Wiccans – for teens. The Silver Moon Coven gathers for the eight major Wiccan holidays as well as for full moons, which they call esbats.
“So many kids say they are Wicca and they are not,” said Hunter, who has his own Web site for the coven, www.salemway.com.
Wiccans are not Satanists and would never engage in animal sacrifice, its members say. “Wicca is a very nonviolent religion,” Johnson said.
The misunderstanding, believers say, stems from the fact that many Wiccans, including Hunter and Johnson, wear a pentacle or pentagram – a five-pointed star, point up, surrounded by a circle.
The symbol commonly associated with Satanism is a pentacle, point- down, surrounded by two circles, the innermost touching the points of the pentacle. Inside the pentacle is the image of a goat.
“For Wiccans the spiritual is more important than the physical,” Johnson said. “Satanists believe the physical is more important than the spiritual. ”
Johnson, a member of TAWN, voted against allowing 16- and 17- year-olds to join the network even though she is still a teen-ager herself. She’s seen too many teens who call themselves Wiccan but don’t really understand what it means. Many are just trying to shock their parents, she said.
“When you are 16, one week you are Goth, another week preppie, you don’t really know,” she said. “I think probably bad experiences in the past have colored me. But I’m willing to see what happens.”
Practitioners of Wicca do use magic – some call it magick – to attain mystical states of awareness. Forms of magic include spells and meditation. One of the more popular Wiccan books for teens, “Teen Witch” by Silver RavenWolf, lists among its spells the “come to me love” incantation and the “call me” spell. Other Wiccans invoke spells for things like healing and money.
But what keeps the spells from improper use is the Wiccan belief of threefold karma – whatever energies sent out into the world, positive or negative, will eventually return to us even stronger, believers say.
“Magic is proper manipulation and use of energy,” Johnson said.
Practitioners also practice divination, the foretelling of the future. Forms of divination include reading tarot cards. Johnson reads her own tarot cards about once a week, a practice she’s been working at since the age of 6.
Johnson, a sophomore at Cottey College in Missouri, says Tucson is a great place to grow up Wiccan. Other cities have to give out secret directions to meetings and shy away from any publicity, while in Tucson the community remains visible with few problems.
“There are people out there who make a big deal out of this being a Christian country, that you have to be God-fearing Christians,” Johnson said. “I really do think the pendulum is swinging, though. The world is becoming more educated about who we are.”
Pagan – A broad term that typically applies to a person who worships nature, usually someone who practices a form of worship that descends from the various religions that preceded Christianity.
Wicca – Took its present name and form in 1950 and has grown and diversified over the years. It is also often called “the Old Religion,” “Witchcraft,” or “the Craft.” Its members are both male and female and they worship a goddess and a god, who each have many aspects and names. One of the cornerstones of the faith is celebrating nature’s cycles with song, dance, feasting and ritual.
Pentagram/Pentacle – A five-pointed star, point up, surrounded by a circle. The star’s points represent earth, air, fire, water and the spirit of the human encompassed in never-ending love, represented by the circle.
Divination – The act of foretelling the future. It’s done on an individual basis in various ways.