Is Witchcraft Merely a Passing Fancy among Emerging Adults?
August 21, 2010 6 Comments
As a university professor, I have a deep interest in the lives of “emerging adults” and trends occurring among them. Today, one such trend is commitment to Witchcraft.
A popular website, TeenWitch.com, claims that
Witchcraft is the fastest growing belief system in the U.S. and the second largest religion in the U.S. Witchcraft (including Wicca) passed Buddhism in 2005, passed Hinduism in 2007, passed Islam in 2008, and passed Judaism in March of 2009.
More young women than men are attracted to Witchcraft. Often, their initial introduction to the Witchcraft movement is through popular media: TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and feature films like the Harry Potter series. Initial curiosity is often fed by internet searches that put young adults in possession of more information and in contact with established members of the Witchcraft community.
Many emerging adults simply accept the neopagan interests of their peers without seeking inclusion. Others, who investigate a little more fully, lose interest quickly. But a marked number take to Witchcraft quite seriously.
The movement deserves greater attention and more sensitive understanding. It’s tied to a worldview that looks particularly attractive to a group of today’s emerging adults who seek to make sense of their experiences—disappointments, spiritual needs, loneliness, quest for meaning, social dissonance, etc.—on a deep level.
Witchcraft’s associated worldview is supported in various ways by a general culture of relativism and experience-based conviction (over rational inquiry and the assessment of evidence). I believe the Witchcraft movement has real staying power, that it will endure as the stabilizing center for many young people now being initiated into its sensibilities. In other words, it’s more than a passing fancy or form of teenage rebellion or angst.
A good place to begin understanding the movement is with a book by sociologists Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy: Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self. Berger and Ezzy conducted intensive interviews with self-identified witches in the U.S., Great Britain, and Australia. Their book describes their findings. It includes transcripts of several interviews.
Compared with other literature I’ve read, this book by Berger and Ezzy is most helpful as an introduction to the movement among young people. Their conclusions are tied to specific empirical data. They describe the pathways by which young witches often become committed to Witchcraft. They recount the experiences and practices of young witches, and explain the notions behind them. They relate the Witchcraft movement to broader cultural sensibilities, especially (and most helpfully) in connection with the effects of postmodernism.
(Another book to make this connection is Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion, by neopagan Michael York.)
Berger and Ezzy take care to describe the elements of an individual’s experience that dispose him or her to the blandishments of Witchcraft. They explore the ways family and friends have responded or reacted to the revelation that a son or daughter, friend or neighbor, has become a witch. And they describe how these responses have affected young people who consider themselves witches.
Berger and Ezzy are reluctant to criticize the movement, and they are remiss, I believe, in their conclusion that young adults are not injured by commitment to Witchcraft. They believe that for some young people, Witchcraft is a viable way of making sense of their world and living with greater purpose and satisfaction. They do not critically examine the worldview components of Witchcraft, in the interest of assessing their truth value. They seem themselves to be heavily influenced by relativizing tendencies in Western culture.
But their research and clear exposition have great value, whatever your view of these shortcomings. The authors are, after all, examining the movement as interested sociologists. Value judgments, whether positive or negative, are deliberately kept to a minimum. My impression is that this book could be read by emerging adults who are either fascinated with or already committed to Witchcraft, without causing them to feel misunderstood or prematurely judged.
More important, the book is an excellent entry point for parents, teachers, church leaders, and any others who are confused by the Witchcraft movement and concerned about the involvement of young people they know.