Peg Aloi and Hannah E. Johnston


Introduction - Introduction
Studying Witchcraft

The presence of this volume is testament to the growing acceptance and viability of the academic study of contemporary paganism and Witchcraft. It also marks an important trend in this field: the increasing number of books and articles devoted to the study of modern Witchcraft which are written or in our case, edited, by those from 'within the field'. To write about Witchcraft from an academic standpoint when one is also a practitioner of Witchcraft raises issues that have plagued ethnographers and religious scholars for decades. On one level, the scholar can become her own ethnographer, having access to communities and texts that a layperson might find difficult to procure. But how can the cool-headed objectivity so important in a scholarly observer be maintained? How can practitioners agree upon a consistent use of terminology, or a universal definition/description of beliefs and practices amid the pagan community's diversity, eclecticism and lack of a standardized lexicon? We do not offer answers to these questions, but we think it is important to acknowledge that this fledgling field (Paganism Studies) is a dynamic and even controversial one, to say the least.

The academic study of witchcraft (we use a capital W to refer to modern Witchcraft, and a lower-case w for the witchcraft of antiquity, a decision which we explain in more detail shortly) prior to the middle of the twentieth century was relegated to historians and, occasionally, archaeologists, anthropologists and psychologists. Witches were figures from antiquity: superstitious practitioners of folk magic or devil worship, or misunderstood healers or eccentrics who were accused by malicious neighbors during times of social unrest and economic iniquity. The term 'pagan' referred to pre-Christian Europeans, a word that literally meant 'country-dweller'; 'heathens' were uneducated peasants living on the heath. 'Magic' was a concept common among primitive cultures but discredited in a logical, post- Enlightenment world. Every few years, it seemed, a new theory was introduced which could explain the European or North American witch hysteria. Field studies seeking to unlock the secrets of magic, ritual and healing were conducted around the world. Careful, circumscribed study of witchcraft and its impact upon law, culture and religion has been a fertile and respectable field of study for a very long time, yielding thousands of books. But in the twentieth century, several authors set the stage for what was to become a new movement that sought to reinvent and reclaim the imagery and language of witchcraft, its mystery, magic and ritual.

In 1921, anthropologist Margaret Murray expanded her work in Egyptology to include a study of agrarian cults of devotees who worshipped a Great Goddess, a female figure of fertility and growth; she posited a tradition of worship and practice that flourished for centuries, long after the European witch craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had ended. Her book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe was widely criticized by academics, although today many historians, folklorists and anthropologists consider it a groundbreaking work for its era.1 Murray followed up in 1931 with The God of the Witches,2 a study of the Horned God, consort to the Great Goddess, symbolic of the masculine, generative force in nature. In 1922, James G. Frazer's The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion3 was published, an ambitious, lengthy exploration of the history of nature-based religion and ritualized human sacrifice. In 1948 poet Robert Graves published The White Goddess,4 an inspired diatribe on the nature of poetic inspiration and its origins in the worship of a goddess muse. Thus, these authors, operating in the fields of folklore and mythology, paved the way for an amateur who would prove even more influential: Gerald Gardner.

It seems important to consider these books and the prevailing mode of thought when Gerald Gardner first made his foray into witchcraft sometime in the 1940s. An English civil servant who traveled widely and collected antique weapons, Gardner wrote a number of ritual texts which he cobbled together from an eclectic array of sources, and claimed to have discovered the remnants of the survival of the witch cults of antiquity. His enthusiastic 'revival' of this culture which he claimed had 'gone underground' (to use the term applied to vibrant social movements which apparently disappear from society's notice) was embraced by his friends and acquaintances. He was easily able to draw in new adherents to form a network of covens from London to Scotland in the 1950s, beginning in Hertfordshire. After the repeal of the Witchcraft and Fraudulent Mediums Act in 1951, Gardner felt it was safe to publish a book on the beliefs and practices of his followers: Witchcraft Today created a sensation and spawned a movement which grew in popularity in England and quickly spread to the United States and around the world.5 Following on the heels of Gardner's popularization of Witchcraft as a living tradition, a plethora of books published in the 1960s and early 1970s established modern Witchcraft as a lively movement, albeit an oft-misunderstood one. Popular films such as Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973), which portrayed modern Witchcraft as a vehicle for Satan worship, catalyzed an anti-occult movement in the United States and gave Witches a bad name. At the time, the United States' population of Witches were mostly proponents of the back-to-the-earth movement, gentle hippies who linked their desire for a cleaner environment and a vegetarian diet with the life-affirming message of nature worship. That these flower children and anti-war protestors were also engaged in experimentation with sex and drugs did not help to ease the minds of those who saw this explosive era as a decadent, Dionysian free-for-all that wrought chaos and immorality in its wake. These modern Witches (who also called themselves neopagans, pagans, druids, magicians, and many other names) were also intellectuals who were passionately interested in the occult, history, folklore and literature, as well as artists interested in music, theater, dance and the limitless possibilities of the imagination. They mostly believed in magic. Further, the idea of a goddess as a sacred image of abundance and power appealed to those engaged with the burgeoning feminist movement.

Although the occult revival of the 1960s and 1970s can be said to have begun in England, it was in the United States, a country ravaged by civil rights protests and anti-war sentiment, where the pagan movement fully catalyzed. By 1979, four years after the fall of Saigon and one year before the first election of Ronald Reagan, the time was ripe for another trio of authors to steady the shifting paradigm.
In a short period of time spanning 1979 to 1983, three different but very important books were published which galvanized the Witchcraft movement for a new generation. In a culture that was becoming increasingly secular, so-called
'New Age' thinking, drawn from Eastern traditions such as Buddhism, Shintoism and Taoism, was becoming popular and practices such as crystal healing, tarot and yoga abounded, along with books on esoteric subjects. As the feminist and gay rights movements asserted themselves, so too did an approach to contemporary spirituality that broke down patriarchal norms. Witches sought a more earthbound, sensual connection to their spirituality, however, and three maverick female authors delivered. Journalist Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess- worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today6 was a serious, scrupulous study of the growing movement that sought to document its growth and diversity; a book full of fascinating data and analysis of a community that most Witches never knew existed in such numbers. Adler was a practicing Witch who somehow managed to maintain a completely objective stance. Feminist Witch Starhawk (Miriam Simos) wrote The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess,7 a passionate how-to of Witchcraft that combined political savvy and beautiful prose to create a handbook for the neopagan inclined towards a goddess worshipping path. Starhawk's work as a staunchly feminist environmental activist was the basis of her magical practice and helped instill a sense of responsibility and stewardship among those who followed the nature-based paths of Witchcraft or neopaganism. Novelist Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote The Mists of Avalon,8 a bold and impressive re-imagining of the Arthurian legends from the point of view of the women in the story. Bradley conceived of a world of priestesses who devoted their lives to learning the mysteries of nature and the goddess, who dwelt in the holy land of Glastonbury, a land of wizards and druids and magic and multiple gods, while around them the world shifted to a monotheistic Christianity. Cleverly integrating the language and imagery of Bradley's own feminist Witchcraft practice, the book became a best- seller that many Witches looked to for a magical model, a cudgel to take up in a world that was still resisting nature's call.

A generation of Witches was drawn to this path, mostly adults who had been raised with other traditions. Many Catholics found their way to Witchcraft, perhaps drawn to a form of ritual that contained the church's drama, but not its dogma. An explosion of books appeared throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, including many that claimed to reveal the secrets of covens and their magical practices, something that would have seemed outrageous in the 1970s. 'Old timers' who had found Witchcraft a generation earlier began to grumble that Witchcraft had lost its edge, had become mainstream, was no longer 'special.' By the middle of the 1990s the time seemed once again ripe for an injection of new life into this movement, for a fresh perspective, for what we may as well call 'new blood.' Witchcraft as a spiritual path was becoming increasingly visible, its social and political contexts evolving; it was perhaps only a matter of time before it was discovered by a younger generation.

Talking and writing about Witchcraft

In this volume, we have endeavored to establish a standard vocabulary and form for terms commonly used in discussing what Ronald Hutton has defined as 'modern pagan witchcraft' in his pioneering work The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft.9 Terms like pagan, neopagan, paganism, Witch, Witchcraft, Wicca, Wiccan, Druidism etc., appear within scholarly articles in reference to practitioners, belief systems/practices and communities: sometimes capitalized, sometimes not, depending upon context. Some practitioners of Witchcraft/Wicca refer to themselves as Witch with a capital W; some prefer the lower-case appellation. It is not entirely clear why these preferences exist but there does seem to be a preference for the capital W among those who refer to Wicca or Witchcraft as a religion; hence, a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or Witch refer to themselves with proper nouns. In the interest of consistency and deferral to the most common forms we have noted among academic and non-academic practitioners, we use Witch when referring to contemporary practitioners and Witchcraft for the contemporary form of practice; and the lower case terms when referring to the witches or witchcraft of antiquity. Some practitioners refer to Witchcraft as a religion, but paganism is not exclusively contextualized in this way. It is often described as an 'umbrella term' encompassing a range of earth-centered spiritual or religious expressions, and of course it refers to the paganism of the pre-Christian world. We therefore primarily use pagan, neopagan, paganism and neopaganism in this sense. The authors in this collection engage with these terms differently, and for reference to contemporary paganism, unlike its historical antecedent, the term 'neopagan' is often applied. We believe this may continue to be a source of debate and that norms of language and terminology will continue to evolve.

The word 'Wicca' for example is sometimes spelled with a lower-case W, but we have chosen to capitalize this term because its origin suggests it is a proper name. Gerald Gardner referred to his practice as 'Wica' (his Book of Shadows is full of misspellings and inconsistencies), presumably derived from the Indo-European term 'wicca' which refers to a female practitioner of witchcraft. The well-intentioned if inexact appropriation of a term from 'antiquity' is in keeping with Gardner's desire to present Witchcraft as an ancient tradition that he was reviving; thus he succeeded in creating, almost from whole cloth, a system of worship and spiritual expression that eventually engendered a passionate social movement. Although some refer to it as Witchcraft, the specific model of practice used by the majority of modern Witches is this 'tradition' known (thanks to Gardner's wilful re-contextualizing and misspelling of the term) as Wicca. Also, despite a vast array of permutations (such as Celtic Wicca, Faery Wicca, Druidic Wicca, Fam-Trad Witchcraft, Heathern Witchcraft, etc.), it is generally agreed that, with little variation, most modern practitioners practice a form of Gardnerian Wicca, whether they refer to themselves as Witch or, increasingly, Wiccan. Diane Purkiss in The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth Century Representations10 documents the phenomenon of some Witches and Wiccans claiming to belong to a tradition that is hundreds or even millions of years old, and to be part of an unbroken lineage that dates back to the so-called 'Burning Times' (the European witch craze). This need for authenticity and a sense of historical context is also discussed by Ronald Hutton in Triumph of the Moon....11 Modern pagans owe a debt of gratitude to these historians and others who have offered cogent arguments and explicit proof that this is not the case, and that, despite its relative youth, this new spiritual movement has much which is worthy of admiration and closer study.

Finally, another matter which readers of this volume should bear in mind is that adult and teenage practitioners of any of the group of practices described herein, and those who research and write about them, do not necessarily agree as to the nature of their practices. For some, Witchcraft is a set of beliefs; for some a lifestyle; for others, a religion. We have attempted to treat these varying approaches with respect, and indeed, because some of this volume's authors are practitioners as well as scholars, we as editors found that our underlying assumptions regarding Witchcraft's definition have had to be flexible enough to accommodate and consider the assumptions of others.

Making sense of teenage Witches

There have always been teenagers, curious adolescents who have been drawn to the occult and the esoteric. Yet, as this collection describes, the rise of the 1990s teen Witch emerges in a cultural milieu that celebrates and encourages this engagement. Thus, in discussing and defining the young women practitioners of Witchcraft or Wicca as teen Witches it is important to understand how this collection uses the term 'teenager'. Definitions of the term vary within academic disciplines, as it is a term loaded with cultural expectations and connotations. Within Western academia and cultural discourse, the terms 'adolescent' and 'teen' have become synonymous, used to describe a social and physiological stage of transition, and a time associated with 'a period of storm and stress.'12 Unlike the term 'youth', which is unwieldy in its specificity of either age or cultural position, used to describe child, adolescent, young adult and twenty-something alike, 'teen' invokes a series of cultural positions in relation to age, power and status. Throughout this collection, the use of the terms teenager/teen has two connected meanings. It is meant to describe both the specific age of participants, respondents or the social group and the relationship this age group has to cultural discourses of power: consumers, interpellated audience and amorphous subculture.

Within various intellectual and scientific discourses, the term adolescent is used in order to refer to social and physiological changes that each human being undergoes at the point of puberty and, 'is generally understood as a prolonged transition period between childhood and adulthood that prepares the young person for occupation, marriage, and mature social roles.'13 Although physiology is significant in the descriptions of teen practitioners, mainly because it is the basis upon which these young people are denied access to the adult pagan, Wicca and Witchcraft communities, a purely corporeal understanding of this term is limiting, and possibly distinct from the way in which the various authors use terms like teenager, teen Witch and teen practitioners in this collection.

The contemporary assumed notion of the teenager is summarized by Liz Frost as, 'style-conscious, street sussed, confident, socially bonded with other like minded teenagers, oppositional to adult "authority" in minor or major ways, with clearly demarcated tastes and interests.'14 Although not all of the teenage activity described throughout this collection can be understood as oppositional to adult community, these essays display a particular collection of tastes, interests and practices that signify the teen Witch's difference from adult practitioners of Wicca and Witchcraft. These may in part be differences of inspiration, motivation and commitment, as discussed in the essays by Melissa Harrington, Doug Ezzy and Helen Berger and Hannah Johnston. These differences are also a consequence of the cultural matrix within which these teens have come to find contemporary Witchcraft, as described by Julian Vayne, Peg Aloi and James Lewis.

The teens described here are socially bonded to other teens who share this lifestyle practice and identity; they set themselves apart from both adult Witchcraft and Wiccan communities and display a distinct set of behaviors and practices which distinguish and in part separate them as a social group from their peers. This is articulated succinctly in this collection's two teen authors. Morboriel and Heather both describe their 'conversion' narratives during their early teens and detail their experience of social, familial and religious separation and difference.

In terms of the age range defined by the word teen, this is a fluid, mobile description and is individually defined within each scholar's research. A dominant understanding of the term teen would include thirteen to eighteen year old participants. However, as more and more pre-teens, known within consumer culture as 'tweens', identify as teen Witches, these voices have frequently been included. Teen magazine articles, teen Witch literature and recent television documentaries on the 'teen Witch craze' include individuals under thirteen. Alissa Quart discusses the expansion of the teenage consumer market in her populist title Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers. She discusses how the term teenager now includes the bracket known as 'tweens'. Quart argues that, 'in the early 1960s, the term tween didn't exist', going on to suggest that:

By eleven, tweens no longer consider themselves children, according to one survey, and they use such words as 'sexy' and 'trendy' to describe themselves [...] Why? Because nowadays, the common so-called wisdom of youth brands is that that tweens 'aspire' to look like older teenagers.15

Quart discusses the growing American teen market, and suggests that the term teenage, accounting for those in the bracket thirteen to nineteen, is no longer useful when considering this growing consumer category. This is significant in the assorted descriptions of teenagers here, who are positioned as both practitioners of a religious spiritual path but also as consumers of various items which relate to their practice and understanding of Witchcraft, whether they be books, media texts or ingredients for magic.

In the essays presented here, respondents under thirteen consider themselves to be teenagers and practitioners of Witchcraft, through consumption and identification with a particular subculture, and that the term teenager is broad enough to include their experiences and age. Those participants over nineteen are similarly included in various articles and studies as, for example, many of these do not wish to enter into the adult Witchcraft communities. Further, many of the articles here have conducted research with participants who are no longer teens but adults, reflecting on their teen experience. This is exemplified in Matthew Hannam's reflective piece on the emergence of Minor Arcana, the UK's first networking organization for teenage pagans, and also in the essay by Julian Vayne who compares his entrance into Witchcraft as a teenager in the 1980s with a contemporary young women who reflects on her 'coming in' during the 1990s. As such, the term teen/teenager acts as a nexus point for discussion rather than an empirical measurement by which we can assess a social group and the development of a movement.

Therefore, in using the term 'teen Witch' the collection does not establish a homogenous community of teenagers, practicing a definitive form of beliefs or subscribing to coherent, static lifestyle practices. Instead, this term is used to describe the age and self-identification process of the participants, as well as the way in which adults have defined this group as a consumer market. A variety of terms are utilized to describe the groups or communities of teen Witches across the UK, North America and Australia: teen Witch community, teen Witch subculture, teen Witch craze, phenomena, movement etc. These terms are used to invoke a moment of cultural cohesion where media visibility of fictional teenage Witches, increased social awareness of neopaganism, Wicca and Witchcraft, the rise of the Internet and new concepts of post-feminist 'girl power' all made possible the capacity for this form of spiritual engagement.

Also described in the essays in this book are the ways in which contemporary teen Witches have appropriated various tropes of Witchcraft to describe their unique and collective experiences. These teens have frequently shifted in their articulations of familial rebellion to a valorization of female power and a negation of masculine (arguably paternal) authority. Throughout this collection teenage Witches are frequently described as female. This is not to the exclusion of young men who identified as teen Witches. As Matthew Hannam writes for example, there were many young men in the UK who were drawn to Witchcraft. Yet, as established throughout these essays, the media images, the 'target' audience and young women are understood to be constitutive of teenage Witchcraft. Teenage Witchcraft is frequently considered synonymous with affirmative and empowering representations and behaviors of teenage 'girldom', as Denise Cush's, Hannah E. Johnston's and Peg Aloi's essays illustrate. But such possibilities of resistive and empowered femininity are underpinned by a range of complex and problematic issues regarding the range of knowledge and powers offered to this audience and modes of delivery, which locate teenage Witchcraft no longer in the corners of hidden esoterica but in the glossy images of popular media. Teenage Witchcraft can be understood as a particular articulation of 1990s girl power. With the emergence of 'laddette culture' and 'girl power' particular to Western English speaking countries, discourses of female empowerment focused upon young women's and teenage girls' engagement with popular culture and reformulations of feminist discourses regarding social behavior and consumerism.

Like all moments of cultural 'resistance', the essays in this collection define a moment that peaks and troughs. At the time of writing, the teen Witch phenomenon has waned. In part this is due to the fact that many of those individuals who were teen Witches in the mid- to late 1990s are now adults. It is also a consequence of the broader neopagan and Wiccan/Witchcraft's community's willingness to engage with the questions raised by under-eighteens and to find forums for inclusion. Stephanie Martin's essay addresses this issue by focusing on the work of prolific neopagan author Silver RavenWolf, detailing her changing status within the adult Wiccan community as a consequence of writing for the teen market. The hegemonic process of inclusion can also be attributed to the changing media influence: Buffy the Vampire Slayer has finished, The Craft (1996) premiered a decade ago, and the volume of new fictional and 'can do' literature aimed at teenage Witches has plateaued. What the long-term effects of teen Witch engagement will be on the broader spiritual and religious community can only be suggested at this point. What this collection can state with some certainty is that those who were identified as teen Witches described their involvement in wholly positive terms; that this allowed them to redefine their spiritual understanding of the world, enabled them to overcome personal obstacles and discrimination and gave them a new set of meanings through which to make sense of the world. For many young women of the 1990s, teenage Witchcraft offered a social and spiritual identification that 'enchanted' their corporeality and their concerns; feminism, environmentalism and New Age discourses bought together without the 'undesirable' connotations of each individually.

This collection focuses on teenage Witchcraft across the United Kingdom, North America and Australia. This is not to suggest that teenage Witchcraft has not impacted on other geographies and demographics. As organizations and forums for teenage Witchcraft like Minor Arcana and The Witches' Voice suggest, teenage Witchcraft extends into mainland Europe, South America, Japan and beyond. However, at the point of writing, there is no body of research detailing the specificities of teen Witches in these areas and communities. This points to areas for future research, in order to understand the full impact of the 'teen Witch craze' and the extent to which it bends to fit the demographic of a particular cultural and societal composition.

The teen Witch voices found throughout this collection are engaged in a complex configuration of media engagement, material consumption, and a spiritual, sometimes religious self-construction that draws upon a myriad of historical and gendered discourses of identity constitution. At a historical point where teens are a growing proportion of the consumer market, and where anxieties abound regarding young people's social responsibility, educational access and performance and moral codes, the teen 'Witch craze' has emerged as a community of young women and men attempting to bring new sets of meanings, practices and beliefs which encourage forms of personal control and power.

  1. Margaret Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology (London: Oxford University Press, 1921).
  2. Margaret Murray, The God of the Witches (London: Oxford University Press, 1931 reprinted 1970).
  3. James Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1922).
  4. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (New York: Noonday, 1948).
  5. Gerald B. Gardner, Witchcraft Today (London: Rider, 1954).
  6. Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979).
  7. Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1979).
  8. Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon (New York: Knopf, 1983).
  9. Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  10. Diane Purkiss, The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth Century Representations (London: Routledge, 1996).
  11. Ronald Hutton, 1999.
  12. G. Adams, Adolescent Development: The Essential Readings (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), p.13.
  13. R.E. Muuss, Theories of Adolescence (New York: McGraw-Hill, Sixth Edition, 1996), p. 366.
  14. Liz Frost, Young Women and the Body (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001), p. 86.
  15. Alissa Quart, Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers (London: Arrow, 2003), pp. 94–97.