Advice for teens who are new to Wicca, Witchcraft and Paganism, by an elder Wiccan who started out as a solitary teen Pagan
Welcome to the tribe…
…and may the Triple Goddess of Maiden, Mother and Crone, and the Golden Horned God of the Hunt, bless you and all your family.
You’ll find us Wiccans a pretty diverse bunch, rather anarchic and experimental in our practices, but ever growing as we relearn the old and new ways of the Craft of the Wise. If you keep true to your heart, keep your head on straight, treat others as you’d be treated and follow the dictates of your conscience, then the Old Gods will sing you their songs, no matter where you are or who you’re with.
As a young person you probably have a lot of issues in your life that you need to work out; the teen years especially can be pretty confusing. As a young Wiccan you have the added challenge of setting out on the strange, new road of Paganism and Witchcraft, passing through a countryside like nothing that you’ve ever seen before. Sometimes you may feel like you’re walking it all alone.
Every step that you take lands on the footprints of those who have gone before, and that places you in an ancient and noble company. That’s what this letter is for, to help you get your bearings and give you some guideposts to make your journey easier and more fruitful. We’ll talk about family issues, describe some basic Wiccan ideals and provide a simple Dedication ritual that you can perform yourself.
Your family and friends…
…may be experiencing some problems accepting your new-found faith. After all, it isn’t every day you tell your loved ones that you want to practice Witchcraft. But your situation isn’t unique. Most of us have felt the sense of spiritual isolation that you’re going through, so know that even when you feel like nobody understands you, you’re never really alone. It’s tough being a kid when your heart hears a different song, but remember that even if they don’t understand you, they still love and care for you. So keep the lines of communication open; someday you may all be surprised at how close you really are.
My name is Brägi, I’ve been a Wiccan since 1976, and believe me, my teen years had some pretty surprising moments of their own. I suddenly left Christianity behind me at the age of 13, in a quiet and non-hostile way; every soul has its own path to follow, and I just didn’t believe in Jesus anymore. At 18 my mother tossed me out of the house, not because of Wicca or Paganism (I was an agnostic at that time), but because her boyfriend and I didn’t get along.
A year later I happened to run across a book about Wicca, and so discovered that there really were people in the Western world who still practiced the Paganism of our ancestors. It felt so right that I immediately “came home” to the Old Gods of nature and magic, and thereafter called myself a Pagan. Another year later I finally met up with some kindred spirits with whom I could study Wicca and worship. The rest, as they say, is history.
Five years later I returned home to see my mother again. You can imagine the mutual surprise when, in the same conversation, I came out to her as a Witch and she came out to me as Gay! Well, we knew that we both loved each other very much, so we chose to accept each other as we were and had a good laugh over it. After that we got along pretty well.
If your parents are reading this,…
…they may raise an eyebrow over words like “Witchcraft”, “Golden-Horned” and “Gay”. Like everybody else, we Pagans have families of our own, and share many of the same hopes and fears that your family does. The above story, for instance, is meant to illustrate how family members should accept each another despite their differences. Among us you will find almost as wide a range of opinions concerning relationship issues as among non-Pagans, but mostly we believe that people should act toward one another responsibly and with respect.
Also, Wicca neither believes in nor worships a “devil”; the Golden Horned God of the Hunt symbolizes life and the glory of nature. His worship comes from the rituals of stone age priests, who wore horned headdresses during prayers and ceremonies to improve their tribe’s luck in the hunt (by the way, some Wiccans are vegetarians.) This misconception comes from the Middle Ages, when the early Christian fathers sought to portray Paganism in a negative way by describing our Gods as demons, in order to frighten people into joining the Church.
Do other people call us Witches? Yes, and we make no apologies for it; to us it’s an honorable word. Do we call ourselves Witches? Yes and no. Some call themselves both Wiccan and Witch, while some prefer to call themselves only Wiccan. There are also Witches who aren’t part of Wicca, and their beliefs, traditions and practices are sometimes very different from ours.
The word “Witchcraft” was originally the Middle English pronunciation of the Old English word “Wiccacraft”. “Wicca” in Old English literally means “to bend or twist”. The early Wiccans were basically old Wise Women and Wise Men, schooled in herbal medicine and folk psychology, familiar with the ways of the local Gods and spirits, and skilled in the arts of spell-casting. You might say that they bent the forces of nature to their will.
Today our Craft is subtle and intuitive, found in forest groves and cyberspace, and guided by new visions and ancient wisdom. Our women and girls live confident and magical lives, for in the Goddess they now have a God made in their image, too. Our men and boys live by the twin horns of brave spirit and gentle heart; from such are born the heroes of legend.
Basically, Wicca is…
…a religion, with its own deities, beliefs and practices. It’s descended from the first prayers of the first people ever to worship, the Stone Age hunter-gatherers. That’s why we call our deities The Old Gods, and our religion The Old Religion. They lived according to the rhythms of nature and celebrated the life-force that lives in all things.
Modern Wicca is built upon the scattered remains of earth-centered religious practices that somehow survived, often in secret, the medieval European Witchcraft persecutions that we call The Burning Times. As a popular religious movement it dates from the early 1950’s, when Parliament repealed Britain’s last anti-Witchcraft laws. Although it originated in the British Isles, Wicca now has a more international flavor.
Both men and women in Wicca worship a Goddess, who is our Great Mother and Mistress of Magic. Most of us also worship a male God, described earlier, who is her partner and consort. Together the Lord and Lady, as we often call them, keep the universe – and ourselves – in eternal balance; moon and sun, winter and summer, female and male, birth and death. Some worship the Goddess only; they’re usually called Dianic Witches.
Wicca is among the largest of the Neo-Pagan religions, a grassroots spiritual movement dedicated to reviving the earth-centered faiths from olden times, which we call Paganism, and giving them meaning for people today. Not all such groups call themselves Neo-Pagan or use the term Paganism, and of course not all Neo-Pagans are Wiccans. If you’re not sure who you’re talking to, it’s OK to just
go ahead and ask.
Some basic Wiccan ideals…
…may help you define who we are and if this is a path that you’d like to explore. Feel free to share this with your parents or friends if you think it’ll help with any misunderstandings.
The Wiccan Rede ~ If You Harm None, Do What You Will
The Rede (which means “creed” or “advice”), is our basic statement of ethics and can be found, with slight grammatical variations, throughout Wicca. Part of a longer traditional poem, it’s our Golden Rule.
If You Harm None is why, both in our Craft and our daily lives, we seek to bring healing to the sick, wisdom to the seeker and life to Mother Earth. Wicca frowns upon what some call “black magic”, for its only purpose is to mess up other people’s lives. We don’t generally work even healing magic without the subject’s permission. We also don’t cast “love spells” that manipulate other people’s emotions.
In fact, we receive our magic from the rhythms and balances of nature, which is inherently neither good nor evil. The qualities of our gifts are determined by how well we use them. Wicca takes no official positions – having no official leaders – but some Wiccans are active in such issues as health care, human rights and the environment.
Do What You Will is a call for each soul to discover her or his True Will, to understand who s/he really is, to do what s/he thinks is best to lead a happy, healthy, interesting and fulfilling life. As a result we often have a more tolerant attitude than other faiths when it comes to the rights of the individual, and no individual Wiccan need ever ask permission to worship as s/he sees fit.
But with rights always comes personal responsibilities. The Rede isn’t a license to do anything for any reason, regardless of the consequences. Instead it’s an exciting journey of personal discovery, which we travel all of our days. You might say it’s the difference between “what I will” and “what I want”.
Perfect Love and Perfect Trust:
We believe in this phrase as the ideal kind of relationship. Of course, nobody expects you to love or trust other people completely or perfectly, and you needn’t be disappointed when others likewise don’t always measure up. The human heart is complex, and over the years you’ll experience many different kinds and degrees of love, and they’ll often be mixed up with other emotions.
It’s a normal part of living. That’s why we Wiccans believe in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust as an ideal. It’s a goal that we strive for yet never completely attain, a star shining like a lighthouse beacon, forever just beyond reach, yet guiding our way along the rocky shores of experience.
The phrase itself used to be a secret password for “Circles” (so named because we traditionally stand or sit in a circle.) You can still use it ritually by asking each person in turn “and how do you enter this Circle?” They then answer “in perfect love and perfect trust”, and enter. During the Circle itself we try to set aside our differences to better experience the joy of shared worship, and to keep our magic pure.
The Three-Fold Law:
Wiccans generally believe that whatever a person does comes back to them three times. If you do good, then three times that goodness will eventually return to you. If you do harm, then you’ll ultimately suffer three times the suffering that you caused.
Don’t take this concept too literally, for the subtle paths are marked by subtle signs. Obviously there are folks in the world who get away with too much, while others who live good lives seem to get the bad breaks. The Gods don’t promise that if you give a dollar to a hungry child that you’ll find three bucks under your pillow later. Unfortunately, the real world just isn’t that fair.
Yet They do grant us mortals one magnificent reward (or punishment) for our actions. The person who always treats others selfishly or like a bully never truly learns the joys of love, and winds up a bitter and lonely soul. But the person who lives by love and trust receives back every ounce of that love and trust, and more. Even if someone whom you help out never meets you or knows your name, you still get that warm feeling inside that’s worth your weight in gold.
Why three times? Personally, I like to think that it’s once for helping another, once for your spiritual growth and once for the glory of the Gods. Basically, though, it’s just one of those Ancient Mysteries nobody has ever quite figured out; perhaps one day you can tell me the secret of three.
If you think you’re ready,…
…then you can “dedicate” yourself to Wicca in a simple, private Wiccan Circle. By tradition, you can then call yourself a Dedicant. You won’t be an Initiate yet; that comes after you’ve reached a certain level of knowledge and maturity. Don’t worry about when; it’ll happen when it’s time.
Gather about you symbols for Air, Fire, Water and Earth, to represent the balance of nature. Since the elements are already all around us, you can use whatever is handy, such as incense or a feather for air, a candle or an electric light for fire, a water dish or a picture of the ocean for water, salt or some backyard soil for earth. (If safety is an issue, you don’t need to use real fire to represent fire.)
Traditionally we place Air in the east, Fire in the south, Water in the west and Earth in the north. You can, however, put them where you want to, so long as it feels balanced. You can also add statues, pictures, flowers, poems or just about anything else that has spiritual meaning for you.
Then either walk or swing your arm around in a deosil (clockwise) circle three times and say or think “thrice I cast this circle ’round, sacred is this holy ground.” This is how you close a circle, creating a magical working area, which we call A World Between Worlds. It puts you in a separate place from your surroundings, yet also recognizes that all “places” on Mother Earth are sacred.
Then ask the Gods to listen to your dedication (don’t worry, they’ll hear you.) Read out a statement in your own words that you wish to study Wicca, why you wish to do so, and that you promise to follow the Rede. When you’re finished, thank the Gods for their presence. Then open the circle by going three times widdershins (counterclockwise). This returns both you and your working area back to the “mundane” world.
Now you’re a formal student of Wicca, learning in your own way, at your own pace. Some people study Wicca by reading and practicing alone, some by working with teachers, some by having experienced friends and some by combinations of the above. Do what’s best for you.
If you have an interest in other religions, you can still attend Christian or other services, explore different faiths or even join other churches and still be a Wiccan. You can also stop studying Wicca anytime you wish. You’re always the master of your own soul.
Some teachers have been known to charge a fee for formal classes in Wicca, and I won’t pre-judge them, but some of us old-timers believe that the wisdom of the Gods should be shared freely, and that the honor of passing the flame to another seeker is the greatest reward that any Wiccan can receive.
If you’re having trouble finding other Wiccans,…
…be patient. Because we’re often very private about our faith, there are more of us around than it would seem. Some Wiccans practice openly; some practice in small, private circles; some practice alone and are called “Solitaries”. We have a saying; if you’re meant to become a Wiccan, you’ll eventually find Wiccans to teach you.
Some communities still persecute us through ignorance of who we really are, so some Wiccans may be reluctant to take on underage teens as students. But if you really want to find others who feel as you do, you’ll likely run into them among your own generation, for your numbers are growing like blackberry vines on a summer day. Be discreet, but keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll probably find companions your own age.
One very important thing – Wiccans don’t proselytize (i.e. try to convert someone to a religion or belief.) Pestering somebody to join Wicca, or any religion, is a violation of the Rede, as well as a pretty shabby way of interacting with people. We are who we are.
In fact, we call the experience of discovering and adopting Wicca coming home. Wicca just feels right to us, not because anybody tried to convert us, but because Wicca is where we feel most at home
spiritually. Years ago, when I first discovered that there still existed followers of moonlight and magic who kept to the old ways, I realized immediately that this was where my heart belonged. But if my heart had belonged elsewhere, no honorable Wiccan would have tried to tell me otherwise.
I hope that this has been of some help. Like all Wiccans, I must claim this letter only as my personal opinion. You’ll find others, and eventually mark your own trail as a free and independent Witch. If you should choose to follow another spiritual or religious path, go with my blessings. If you choose to follow the Craft of the Wise, then…
...and at circle’s end
we grasp hands and cry
Merry Meet, Merry Part>
and Merry Meet Again!
Copyright © 2014 by David Arv Bragi. All rights reserved.
Looking for other Wiccans or Pagans? Try The Witches’ Voice. They list individuals and groups by location. Maybe you can find a kindred spirit where you live!
You can also read a related essay on this blog, Death and the Modern Pagan.