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Dispelling the Charms of Wicca
John Gibson started dabbling in the occult in college. He grew interested in tarot cards, then began exploring Wicca and other pagan religions online. After spending five years building an Internet forum for these religions and serving as chairman of the Pagan Leadership Conference, a powerful conversion experience led him to the Catholic Church.
Today, Gibson says he looks back over his past sins in anguish. But he's not alone in his former entanglement with the occult.
The lure of neo-pagan religions, especially Wicca, is drawing many, particularly teens, into its fold. Interest in Wicca, a highly individualistic, nature-based folk religion inspired by ancient beliefs, is growing among young people, especially high-school and college-age females.
Statistics from publishers show a growing interest in Wicca.
In the late 1980s, sales of Wicca tides averaged about 2,000 to 4,000 copies a year at Carol Publishing Group. But, in the last few years, sales have increased substantially, with some tides selling up to 25,000 copies, according to publisher Steven Schragis.
Large publishers are also cashing in on the witchcraft craze. In February, Little Brown & Co. released The Good Spell Book. In April, Citadel Press offered Summoning Forth Wiccan Gods and Goddesses; it's among the 75 titles on Wicca available at amazon.com.
Some publishers offer titles specifically aimed at teens. Llewellyn International, a longtime publisher of astrology books, recently published Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation.
Books aren't the only means by which Wicca is studied. Several colleges, including at least one Catholic college, offer courses on witchcraft, according to a survey compiled by the Young America's Foundation. And a major computer search engine reveals thousands of Web sites dealing with Wicca and teens.
"On any given day, you can go to a mall or bookstore and... books on witchcraft are readily available and being studied," says Carolyn May, a wife, mother and former school nurse who has been educating parents about the dangers of the occult for 25 years.
Feelings and Power
Why is Wicca so fascinating to teens?
A review of Web pages for teen Wiccans suggests that its attractiveness lies primarily in its emphasis on feelings, power and freedom.
For Myche (pronounced Mike), a 15-year-old ex-Catholic, now a Wiccan, who lives near Salem, Mass., Wicca's attraction seems to be based on emotion.
"One contributing factor that induced my change in religion," Myche writes on his Web site, "was that it seemed as though the more religious I became, the worse my life did. I eventually gave up, and became non-religious."
A trip to Salem changed his mind.
"I went to Salem the day after Halloween, and ... returned home that day a new person. ... I felt drawn to Salem, and I knew I had been connected to the things going on there, somehow," he writes. "This wasn't the first time I felt a psychic impulse. On several occasions, I find this happening to me, and I often feel 'deja vu.' This contributes to my attraction towards Wicca."
For others, Wicca's appeal lies in it's emphasis on personal freedom. It isn't caught up in "this is the way we've always done things," one 17-year-old Wiccan explained.
Some women find Wicca's focus on goddess worship very appealing.
On one Web site, someone who identifies herself only as Artemis Silveraven, writes: "There are many things I love about Wicca. The worship of a God and Goddess, not one God. As well you are able to be your own priest/priestess."
Father Paul Desmarais, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Pawtucket, R.I., who has worked with teens and the occult for the last 10 years, recognizes the attractiveness of Wicca to adolescents in search of spiritual meaning.
"Our world has become so consumer-oriented, so goal- and appearance-driven, kids feel a real sense of powerlessness in their life," he says. "I think kids do spell casting or try to learn it [spell casting] for love because they just feel this real deep hunger for something."
Although Wiccans' beliefs vary widely, when teens look for Wiccan spirituality, they'll probably discover the following common notions:
Most Wiccans worship a dual deity, the Horned God and the Lady. Many believe that all gods and goddesses are aspects of these two gods.
Wiccans usually believe that the goal of human life is to live in harmony with nature, that all of reality is divine, that the spiritual and material world are one reality, that there is no one true right or only way, that there is a plurality within the divine oneness, and that ritual practice is the witch's path to harmony. Practitioners live by one moral law called the "rede," which says, "As long as it harms no one, do what thou wilt."
Wicca, a neo-pagan form of witchcraft, isn't Satanism. Followers don't offer animal sacrifices or believe in the devil. For the most part, Wiccans don't actively recruit teens, and most practice it on their own.
"They [Wiccans] aren't out to get kids in a vengeful way," says Carolyn May. "They honestly believe they are offering something good."
But at least one online posting reveals a disturbing message. A writer who identifies herself as Britt says: "I was talking to my friend Dave... and he is quite a devout Christian. ... I just found out ... that he used to be Wiccan. He said that he got so deeply into it, that he was nearly demonically possessed."
Although Wicca and Satanism aren't the same, most teens don't know the difference, and this confusion can lead them into other occult practices.
"Dabbling leads to more dabbling," says Father Desmarais. "One of the things parents don't realize is that the spirit world is real, and any kind of dabbling in the spirit world opens you up to it. Kids run the risk of actually having manifestations of evil spirits, being harassed or bothered by evil spirits. Sometimes you say that to parents, and they look at you like you're crazy. But then they hear the stories about what's going on, and they go, 'Oh, wow.'"
John Gibson adds that the more deeply involved someone gets in the occult, the more enticing it appears to that person.
"The inherent danger of 'magickal' [sic] addiction is :hat the more power you raise, the more intoxicated you get," he says. "You start gathering more and more power for yourself, and it takes over your life."
Indeed, The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others — even if this were for the sake of restoring their health — are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion" (No. 2117).
Gibson, along with May and others who work with teens, know firsthand the dangers of dabbling in occult practices.
"The biggest danger I see is the loss of our eternal soul," May says.
She cites Deuteronomy 18:10-12, which says: "Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortune-teller, soothsayer, charmer, diviner or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord."
"This [Old Testament passage] was definitely pre-Christianity, and God was already saying, 'Don't do this,'" explains May. "Not because he wants to be in control, but out of basic wisdom. [He was saying,] 'If you want to be happy and have a good life, these are the guidelines that will help you.' "
Not only is practicing Wicca a violation of the first commandment — "You shall have no gods before me" — but dabbling in the occult can also lead to physical as well as spiritual harm, May says. If teens get involved in Satanism, she points out, there are physical dangers for them and beyond that confusion, doubt, depression and suicide attempts.
Most teens don't reach such levels because it's tedious and time-consuming to learn the necessary rituals, says Father Desmarais. Nonetheless, Catholic parents should still be concerned.
At Special Risk
May and others who work with youth believe Catholic teens, especially those whose faith is weak or superficial, are at special risk for developing an attraction to neo-pagan religions.
"Catholic teens are especially vulnerable to this because we teach them a lot of theory about their faith but fail to give them a living encounter of Christ," she says. "They don't experience Christ in their lives. They just know about him." Gibson agrees.
"I heard more than my share of 'Oh, I'm an ex-Catholic now into Wicca,'" he notes.
"Most Catholic kids are very innocent and interested in the spiritual life," points out May "So when the occult or any form of the occult including the rituals of paganism are offered to them it's interesting to them. They want to grow spiritually, so they're willing to take this path, and they don't know enough to recognize the truth vs. untruth."
How can parents know whether their teens are developing an interest in Wicca? And if they are, what can parents do?
"Sometimes the trappings can look really Catholic," Gibson says.
Parents may discover that their teens are buying candles, incense and spiritual books. Other signs are the practice of herbalism and the possession of tarot cards, swords, a black tablecloth inlaid with a pentagram (star inside a circle) and jewelry that signifies a tolerance of both good and evil.
New and Full Moons
A major sign teens are interested in Wicca, says Gibson, are the books on their shelves.
"Anything by Scott Cunningham, such as Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner," he says. "Once that book appears on the shelf, yes, they're actively searching out."
A plethora of books on mythology, especially Celtic mythology, can also be a sign, he adds.
Parents should also be concerned if their teens disappear around the new moon and full moons, or on the eight major Wiccan holidays or the weekends closest to them. The Wiccan holidays are Yule, Dec. 21; Imbolc, Feb. 2; Ostra, March 21; Beltane, May 1; Litha, June 21; Lammas, Aug. 1: Mabbon, Sept. 22; and Samhain, Oct. 31.
Other changes in behavior that could indicate an interest in Wicca include attending classes on healing, perhaps at a local bookstore. Carolyn May says parents should look into such classes, especially if they aren't based on Catholic teachings.
"It's about going through life with our eyes open," she explains. "You don't just go to a counselor without first finding out what that counselor believes. [Likewise] you don't go to a class without finding out what they are teaching, not out of fear but out of wisdom."
Teens into Wicca may also begin talking about their changing interests, using phrases such as "casting the circle" or "raising the cone of power." They may also start referring to "the Craft," or pepper their conversations with the phrase "Lord and Lady help us."
To counter an interest in Wicca, experts stress the importance of family prayer and providing a living foundation in Catholicism as ways to help teens strengthen their faith and avoid seeking out alternatives. All emphasize, however, that simply sending adolescents to religious-education classes isn't enough for them to develop a solid faith.
"Catechesis is not going to keep them away from these things," Carolyn May says. "They need to know the importance of confirmation in their lives and how the Holy Spirit can be with them and help them every day in their lives. We have to help kids and people understand that the Eucharist is the true presence right in our midst. We need to understand, love and appreciate the presence of Jesus Christ."
Father Desmarais encourages parents to share their experiences of faith with their children.
"Talk about how and why you feel God is important to you personally," he says.
Experts also recommend prayer groups such as Emmaus, Life Teen and Encounter with Christ because they aim to help teens develop a relationship with Christ and experience their faith.
Attending a Latin Mass or holding seasonal Catholic rituals as a family may also acquaint teens with colorful Catholic traditions and make them less likely to seek out poetic neo-pagan rituals.
"I'm a huge retreat person," says Father Jim Flavin of Saint Colman of Cloyne Church in Brockton, Mass., who has been working with the teens and the occult for about eight years. "Retreat experience is important because kids are into relationships; and if we can get them to have a relationship with Jesus, then that's exciting."
For John Gibson, it was many of the Wiccans' false historical claims about their religion that ultimately served to turn him off to Neo-paganism. For that reason, he recommends that parents emphasize the truth of biblical events when teaching the faith.
"The best thing parents can do is teach the faith in an historical context where they [kids] have the assurance that what they have been told is true," he says. "We cannot trust our religious education classes to do it for us anymore. We've got to roll up our sleeves ourselves and do it."
If teens do show interest in Wicca, Father Desmarais advises parents to first do a lot of listening.
Adolescents may use the impersonal "we" when speaking about their new beliefs, he notes. For instance, they may say, "As witches, we worship this or we do this because ..." The use of this impersonal "we," however, indicates that they haven't yet incorporated the new creeds into their belief system.
"Try to get at what this is doing for them," Father Desmarais advises. "Don't debate the pros and cons of it yet but [ask] ... what precisely are they searching for?"
He cautions parents to be patient and not to become too heavy-handed at this stage lest they inadvertently encourage teen rebellion. And he says parents must take spiritual authority for what they allow in their homes.
Finally, May recommends obtaining psychological help if a child involved in the occult becomes depressed or suicidal.
"Have a line of people ready for them to talk to when they hit bottom," she says.
These helpers could include a priest, a good Christian counselor, or teen mentors or adults involved with the Gospel message who can talk with them in a nonjudgmental way. And confession is an absolute must.
Gibson is now thoroughly disenchanted with Wicca and other forms of Neo-paganism, but his experience with the occult has left him crystal clear about the deceptions cast before today's teens.
"We're fighting for our kids now," he says. "In our society, we don't place that much value on religious beliefs. They can be changed at the drop of a hat. We've become so tolerant of other beliefs that we've gotten to the point of being tolerant of people throwing themselves into the bowels of hell, and we say: That's OK. It's your life. It's your own decision."'
There's no magic to dispelling the dark charms Wicca. Teens and parents can start by putting down Wicca's Book of Shadows and picking up the Bible. The Book of Proverbs promises that the Word, not Wicca, "is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."
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This item 1289 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org