NextGen Pagan: Paganism for the Next Generation

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Challenges for Pagan Youth, In Their Own Words

The results are in! You may have seen my last post discussing a survey question I sent out to my youth network asking what their favorite part about being a young Witch or Pagan is. The results were surprising to most but I can’t say I was very surprised. However, the results of this survey question did surprise me a little.

To a network of thousands of young people on social media and email, I asked “what is the biggest challenge for you, being a young Witch or Pagan?” I received over sixty responses within 48 hours. Here is a small sampling of the responses:

For me it's age-hate from older pagans. 'you're too young to have an opinion!...you can't know more than me, I'm 30 years older than you!....quit trying to argue your beliefs you're a little kid!' I think it's horrid and ridiculous to think age = knowledge and the right to an opinion. Everyone has opinions and their own beliefs. And who knows, maybe that 21 year old witch has been studying since they were 15...that's 6 years. Whereas that 45 year old Witch could have only just been shown the path of Witchcraft. I also find a lack of resources horrid...most teen-focused books are 'spells for teenage witches who want to smite their bullies with magic' etc.

-V, age 17

Lack of resources, time, and confidence

-E, age 15

The hardest part was resources, support, keeping it a secret because of judgmental peers and fear of them.

-S, age 19

The most difficult part of being a young witch for me was dealing with the lack of teachers willing to teach. but I have overcome that by buying books.

-T, age 19

I get bullied because everyone thinks that I'm going to Hex them…

-L

I've always had a difficult time actually being able to join a group for regular circles because they are mostly adults who have been doing it for a long time and if i do join i don't feel that welcome.

-S

Unsupportive family. In my home everyone is a catholic. When I said to my aunt I'm a 'atheist' she ordered me go to the church and confess. It hurts.

-K

Lack of resources mainly. I don't have a job to pay for the things I need yet. Also the lack of knowing any other witches in the area to possibly help me and guide me. I'm also afraid that when I tell my mother she won't be too supportive of the idea. Also since I'm extremely new I still need to learn most of the basics and with only online resources (some of which are helpful) I'm not too sure of what I would be doing right or wrong plus I'm more of a hands on person and learn as I go. 

-L, age 15

Not having the space, money, or resources to practice. My family don't even know I'm Pagan.

-R, age 17

Unsupportive family,and lack of resources

-E

Dont know any other wiccans, people often dont recognise it as a religion and think it's funny and don't think my parents would like it / understand.

H, age 17

Finding the privacy and space is difficult. Avoiding judgement. And then I'm a college student balancing lots of work and projects so its also hard to just find time to chill out.

-S

The hardest part for me is finding anyone who can teach me and finding resources. Its even harder because my mom doesn't approve.

-K

Hmm, well it's mostly a lack of resources, to be honest. Though explaining my practices is very difficult.

-I

Of the over sixty responses I received, an overwhelming majority of youth cited “lack of resources” as their number one challenge. This was surprising to me. I think we often assume that young people today have unlimited resources because of the current state of technology today. But these responses helped to remind me that young people can have critical thinking skills just as developed as any adult. This could mean that although they know that they have the power of Google and Wikipedia behind them, they realize that the internet is still a minefield of misinformation and confusing contradictions when it comes to Witchcraft and other areas within our big Pagan umbrella. 

The answers regarding unsupportive family are probably not going to be a surprise to most people. Even though adults are certainly more exposed to Paganism than they ever have been before, that doesn't always mean much for a teen in rural Arkansas, or a college student in the Houston suburbs with a preacher father. Geographic location, the religious culture of the family, and the family’s interest (or disinterest) in parenting with a “hands-off” approach all need to be taken into consideration. The default answer to this in the 80’s and 90’s seemed to have been “wait until you’re 18 and move out to practice.” In an age where young people are often left to their own devices to find their own resources, this answer is simply no longer acceptable. For a young person who is bullied and abused to find an empowering path like spiritual Witchcraft, you can’t tell them to stop the thing that’s giving them confidence and spiritual solace. They are going to do it anyway, although probably with a greater lack of direction since their ability to discuss it with others is burdened. And honestly, even if they seek it out to “rebel”, I would rather them rebel with religion than drugs, alcohol, and gang violence.

I don’t think there is a catch-all solution for providing youth with more resources. Everyone has a different need, style of communication, and a learning pace that we just can’t issue a panacea for. I think the first step is acknowledging that young people are still coming to Paganism and polytheism in droves and that it’s up to us to help meet that demand in whatever ways we can. Sometimes it just means being a supportive ear when a young person needs to vent. Sometimes it means actively pointing them in the direction of what you know to be a solid. trustworthy resource. I also think it’s important that we remain honest and transparent when we don’t have an answer for someone. Showing that age doesn't automatically mean we have an answer for everything encourages a generation of critical thinkers, active learners, and daring wisdom-seekers.

If I could say one thing to the entire adult Pagan communities about our youth, it is this: They are out there and there are more than you think. They are hungry for knowledge, thirsting for wisdom, and craving connection. Recognizing their challenges and helping them find solutions is the only certain, concrete way to encourage a healthy future for Paganism as a whole.

Last modified on
Tagged in: teens youth
David Salisbury is a queer, vegan, Witch and author experiencing life in our nations capital. David is Wiccan clergy within the Firefly Tradition and is High Priest of Coven of the Spiral Moon, a Firefly coven based in DC. The focal point of his spiritual practice is one of service, activism and respect. To fulfill this vocation, he is a full time employee with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization. He is the author of The Deep Heart of Witchcraft (Moon Books, 2013) and Teen Spirit Wicca (Soul Rocks, 2014).

Comments

  • Wayne Stewart
    Wayne Stewart Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    So, here is my suggestion. Why don't we tell them?

    Here's the thing. There are good resources out on the net. What if we, the adult pagan community, certified some pages as valid or good for learning? I mean, that would provide these young people with some guidance on what is real and what is not, right?

    Locally, I belonged to and ran a local chapter of CUUPS. We had kids coming all the time and had numerous kids that were part of the group. We did circles for each Sabbat and some of the Esbats. The circles were different traditions since we were represented by different traditions, in order to teach some of the differences. We also had a library for folks to use to learn. The internet is a place where we can all have a go at explaining our spiritual path. Certification allows the community to endorse opinions that follow basic teachings of the different paths while not dismissing other opinions.

    My two cents.

  • David Salisbury
    David Salisbury Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    That's a very interesting idea, Wayne. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    I see a difficulty: Who would do the certifying? "The adult Pagan community" is so diverse it might take more time to decide upon criteria for certification than it would to actually implement it (the old "herding cats" problem).

    CUUPS itself isn't universal - no pun intended - many UU churches don't have chapters, and many Pagans are not UU's. I didn't get the impression you were suggesting this be a UU project; however, I think there's a difficulty in getting everyone together. What criteria would you suggest?

  • Alder Lyncurium
    Alder Lyncurium Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    I agree. I think that there are organisations (like CoG, PF and PFI, etc..) that are always there to refer people to specific resources, both based on the preferences of the enquirer and the reliability of them.
    Also forums, and online groups.
    Giving them an “Absolute, Definitive and Valid - Certified” informations ruins, from my very own personal opinion, the very principle behind it!

  • Alder Lyncurium
    Alder Lyncurium Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    Actually, I will go beyond that. I believe that we should stop *giving them* resources and, instead, helping and encouraging them to create their own - with our full support.
    Stop giving them the same endless 101 material all over again, stop telling them how things are, and start asking them what's their personal view on X, Y or Z topic.
    That way the would not depend on us, but just be supported by us. And whatever its created (even if it's small an temporary) will be absolutely suited for them :)

  • Mary Featherwolf
    Mary Featherwolf Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    While yes this needs to happen, as someone who had no one to teach me and going on about 5 years of practice now, I can say its probably better to just teach basics. Nothing to do with spirituality, but simply, what is used for what. When I first started out, I studied for a whole year on my own, learning about stones, herbs, learning to sense and use energy, basic general rituals, and just the gist of what Paganism is. After that year of studying and reading, that is when I looked towards the magicks and spirituality, questioning, sensing, and figuring things out for my own specific path.

    It is almost impossible to forge a path with no foundation, for it's that foundation that gives confidence and strength behind the search. If you don't understand the basics you can't form your personal advanced methods. Too many who went off of nothing have ended up messing with things they shouldn't and being traumatized, or hurt because of it.

    So there still needs to be some form of teaching, but not teaching to a specific practice.

  • Margo Wolfe
    Margo Wolfe Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    Thanks for those insights, David. I also like Wayne's suggestion that we validate some sources to make it easier for those who are searching to find what is a good resource.

    I did a much smaller survey years ago with teen Pagans and the response was about the same. Even within the Pagan population, I find teens who don't know where to start and feel left out as their parents go off to perform ritual or workshops that were geared only for the adult in mind. We can point them in the right direction in terms of resources and tell that the journey is all theirs, but the truth is they are looking for more guidance than that. That's why I started a Teen CUUPs group and work with the teens at Pagan festivals in the summer.

    They also need more support from their non-Pagan educators and for that to happen, those educators need to be informed. I see many possibilities here as more non-Pagans are starting to understand the diversity of their student population.

  • Alder Lyncurium
    Alder Lyncurium Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    Been there, no more than 12 years ago, when I was 13 and starting. Yearning for a “teacher” a “guide”. And I still think that it is part of the process. A frustrating one, but a necessary process. And nowadays, being fully actively involved in the Pagan community I understand the need of having a stable and settled “mundane” life.
    It is at that age when our life as adults is going to start. It is a moment to be on our own, to test, to fail, to make mistakes, and make them all over again. To gain confidence and trust in ourselves, to set our own opinion, ideals, ethics... And all that can only happen if we are on our own, if we research, if we search again, and find. And start all over again.
    I would say this is not new. We were all expecting to find someone with 15 who would show us the Right Way - now I am glad I didn't, and I had the chance to figure it out by myself.
    Nowadays there is an immense amount of information! Much more than when I started. People need to have a very discerning mind, and that's still part of the process.
    Some of us are trying our bests to make it a bit easier: translating material, offering platforms (both online and also events and get-togethers) so they don't have to struggle as much as we had. But still, it's part of the process.
    And when it comes specifically to Wicca, this is doubly true.

    You say: “The default answer to this in the 80’s and 90’s seemed to have been ‘wait until you’re 18 and move out to practice.’ In an age where young people are often left to their own devices to find their own resources, this answer is simply no longer acceptable.”

    Well, it will still have to be acceptable, it is a matter of ethic code. Initiating minors into covens could bring some awful trouble (not just legally, but also for the well being of the person and for the coven members themselves).
    I personally think that the advise you quote is really underrated.
    However, I totally agree with the fact that age doesn't guarantee a certain amount of right answers, and there are a lot of directions and counseling that can be provided. But we also have to be careful not to interfere too much in what I personally consider a very delicate and special moment of one's life, where we are still striving to become our own selves.

  • Lady Selene
    Lady Selene Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    I don't understand why people don't like to hear another opinion, especially someone younger. We ALL have Something to TEACH, we ALL have Something to LEARN. I have always found opinions to be helpful, I love to see how others think and feel.
    We NEED to begin listening and teaching, we have to pass the Grimoire to the next generation so "WE" are not forgotten. We can also reach out to those that have no family to go to. Try to Remember how difficult it was when WE were young and alone.

  • Mary Featherwolf
    Mary Featherwolf Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    I would like to help some of these young witches, do you think you could give them these links and my Email address? I am willing to answer any and all questions they have to the best of my abilities. And anyone else here looking is also welcomed :) Blessings,
    Featherwolf

    https://www.facebook.com/paganinformationdesk

    https://www.facebook.com/mmcmetaphysical

    https://www.facebook.com/UPCPage

    MMCMetaphysical@Gmail.com

  • Steven Metlak
    Steven Metlak Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    The tradition that I belong too was founded to be an inclusive, educational church. When we conducted the main ritual at the local Pagan Pride Day Event for 2013, our church was immediately contacted by multiple families and also several teens. We found out that the void of support for younger pagans runs rampant in our community. This is for all of the reasons cited above. We are teaching several families who have come to us for the sole reason that we welcome younger members into our structure, however we also require that underage members have the support of their guardians. We will help them with any conversations that they need to have with their parents and welcome all of the affected people to come and, at the very least, watch us practice to show that we are not trying to steal their children. Even those who may appear young need to have some sort of guidance to make their way through this life according to their beliefs.

  • Ruth Pace
    Ruth Pace Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    my thoughts and advice:

    age-hate - the only times I've ever put anyone younger than me down, was BECAUSE someone who was 21 years old tried to tell me that I was not a witch, altho I was practicing it for 40 years.

    resources -
    everyone has tight budgets these days. but there's a TON of info on the internet. I get a lot of my supplies at the dollar stores. You don't need fancy expensive things. I have found cheap metal and glass floral containers at thrift stores to use as a cauldron, offering bowl. - small cute little bowls at thrift stores/dollar stores for altar bowls.

    keeping it a secret - nothing new there. I'm 61 years old, and had to keep my pagan ways a secret too. In time - when you're confident - you can let it out.

    lack of teachers - do you have the COMMITMENT? I was willing to teach someone - sent her tons of info via email. went out of my way to prepare two basic lessons, gathered up a small box of supplies, and ready to go to her house to teach a basic protection spell - she kept canceling. then I see her on fb asking questions that were answered in what I sent her in the email.

    lack of space - do you have space enough for a plastic storage bin? fill it with your supplies - top it off with a large wooden cutting board, cover it with an attractive pillowcase or dish towel (from dollar store) and use as a nightstand - when you need it for an altar, bring out your stuff and there you go.

    Other people thinking its funny, don't recognise it as a religion or are scared you're putting a hex on them - just look them in the eye and say "you watch too much television." - pooh-pooh them - and go on your merry old way.

    Your mom doesn't approve - THAT'S the hardest one my dears - cos if you're living in her house, or both parents - and they pay the bills - you're just going to have to suck it up. Yes, yes, they SHOULD be more understanding non-judgmental - but they are fallible humans too. Until you have your own apartment and then can do whatever you want - you are stuck. sorry. - I was there too. (I started studying when I was 16).
    If you're committed and it is your true calling, you will know it, and you will find a way. Don't let the bullies get you down. If anyone has anything to say about a pentacle you are wearing (and you are an american), just say "hey, it's a star - and there are 50 of them on the flag!"

  • Lily Taylor
    Lily Taylor Wednesday, 12 March 2014

    I think one explanation for at least some of the people saying that lack of resources is something they are having a problem with might be that what they mean by 'lack of resources' is not that they are unable to find information, but that they lack the financial resources to buy all the Very Necessary Witch Tools that some young beginner pagans feel that they need (something to declare - I am 20 years old and have been on this path for five years now. Whilst I felt that my main problem was, and to a certain degree still is, unsupportive family members, I knew a few other beginner pagans when I was at school and that was certainly what they claimed as their main problems). I was quite lucky in that one of the first books I read emphasised that tools were useful rather than being necessary, and I think that's something that the pagan community could maybe try to emphasise to younger beginners.

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