An Open Letter to Young Seekers
If you are under 18, you will probably already have noticed that young folks generally elicit different reactions from adults in the Pagan community than what you'd like. You may have had a great deal of difficulty finding someone to answer your questions honestly, or finding a respected teacher who is willing or able to teach you what you really want to know.
Following is part of the general information we make available for young seekers. If you have any questions, we will do our best to answer what we can, but please understand if sometimes the answer is "you really need to ask your parents."
We hope you can understand that without knowing your parents, and hearing directly from them that they support your interest, an ethical teacher or mentor cannot work with you. Most groups and private teachers don't accept seekers under 16 or 18. (Some require you to be 21 -- or even older!)
There are many reasons for age restrictions. One that often applies is that until you are over 18 or are emancipated (a term which means that legally you are fully responsible for yourself) your parents or guardians have the legal right to guide your religious instruction and to decide what is best for you. Anyone who interferes with a parent's rights in this area can get into a lot of legal trouble, and in most states can even get arrested.
But there's also another big reason why many teachers and mentors won't accept young students, even with their parent's permission -- a lot of Craft training is very demanding and can be very difficult, even for older folks. A lot of folks who begin formal study drop out rather quickly. And the younger people are when they start, the more likely they are to drop out.
Remember that adolescence is the time of a person's life when questioning everything from politics to fashion, from science to religion, from philosophies to health practices is quite healthy and normal. That is what much of growing up is all about -- finding out what you really believe deep down inside. You already know what your parents think. You have figured out what society expects. So the real work is figuring out what you really need, want, expect, and think.
And while you're in this state of flux, figuring out just who you are, you are instinctively working through exactly what you believe about how the world works as well. The personal beliefs about deity that you develop are part of the very core that shapes who you will become. Almost everyone instinctively knows this. (That's why religion and philosophy are argued about so much.) But it can be very hard to fully explore and develop your spiritual self while you're working on getting accustomed to all the changes in your physical body, and all the social, educational and many other changes that are a part of adolescence.
Maybe you've got it all figured out. That's not impossible (no matter who tells you it is). However, for the most part, you are in what most adults would consider an experimental time. Even if you are convinced Craft is for you, most adults will still be wary of your choice. They'll be worried that you are looking into Pagan paths because you want to shock your parents. Or hex that nasty so-and-so who's causing you so much trouble. Or get that hottie in second period to fall head over heels in love with you. And it's really not good to get into Craft for those reasons.
First of all, you would be undermining the religion. TradCraft is a spiritual path that is followed by thousands of people who frequently have to struggle to be accepted in a society that often does not value what we hold dear. Not many will look kindly on someone causing trouble and drawing a kind of attention most of us work hard to avoid. (And if you do one day truly want to walk a Traditional path, you will have difficulty being taken seriously, or finding a reputable teacher or group to work with if you have a track record of using what you learn in selfish ways.)
Second, you would be undermining yourself. Hexing, charming, shocking... all of that has a price. Maybe just a little damage in the long run, but maybe more than you can deal with. Shocking people is a great head trip. It's an easy way to get energy. However, it's also addicting. Once you start, you can fall into the "just a little further" routine and wind up with some difficult consequences to deal with, people hating you, a jail sentence, or worse. Hexing and charming is manipulative. And what if it turns out you don't really like the person you charmed after all? What if you hex someone and they get so depressed they suicide? Then their life is on your head. You will have to deal with the consequences of your actions for the rest of your life.
A lot of young people (and some older folks) get into Craft for these kinds of reasons, because it's 'cool', because they like other folks being just a little scared of them, or because they are looking for a way to feel different or special. And a lot of groups and teachers have had to clean up trouble caused by folks who had these sorts of less-than-honorable reasons for wanting to learn about Pagan paths or Witchcraft.
So it's pretty easy to see why most adults don't want to get involved with a young seeker. They're worried that they could get into a whole lot of legal trouble, or have to fix problems they didn't cause, for what may well be a teenage joy ride.
That said, if you are really serious about your interest in Craft, there are some things you can do to help prepare you for formal Craft training:
Prepare for a career that suits your values and your talents. The research, organizational skills, and concentration that you develop doing this will prepare you for your studies and work in the Craft.
Read. Read. Read more. Study mythology, religions, societies, artwork, music, anthropology, psychology, mathematics, science, and anything that relates to early cultures. Pick your favorite God or Goddess and learn as much as you can about them, what they rule over, the culture they come from and the history of the people and societies who honor them. Most respected Craft traditions value scholarship, and will require a lot of old-fashioned bookwork and study. If you already have good study skills, know how to do good research, and have a broad foundation of knowledge, you will be several steps ahead of the game.
Practice your artistic capabilities with enthusiasm and dedicate your work to your God/ess or to Spirit. Do you love to write? Paint? Sing? Write music? Draw? Sculpt? Everybody creates. Dedicate your expressions to your spiritual path. Rejoice in your creations. It will bring you closer to Deity in unexpected ways.
This is a religion that honors and respects nature, so learn as much about nature as you can. Study astronomy. Take up gardening. Go camping. Read about herbalism. The more you learn about Mother Earth, the better prepared you'll be for your formal training.
BE EXTRAORDINARILY CAREFUL ABOUT THE COMPANY YOU KEEP. Some people are predators on the unwary and innocent seeker (*especially* young seekers who are having trouble finding the resources they want!). As an individual struggling to find your own path, you might find a person or a group that is subversive, thrilling, and powerful. But keep in mind that brainwashing, beatings, rapes, murder, drug smuggling, and other crimes have been charged against many alternative groups, and in several cases have been proven to be quite true. At the very least you could be accused of things you didn't do simply because you hang around a known trouble-maker... or you could become addicted to any number of (legal or illegal) drugs, or wind up with a nasty case of herpes (or worse). Predatory people aren't in the business of having your best interests in mind and they aren't known for being entirely careful, no matter what they say or do.
So how do you tell the simply colorful individuals from the predatory? This is a list of questions to ask yourself to help you better determine if potential friends, religious groups, or whatever are for you or not. Rate them 0 to 10, then add them all up for a total score. The higher the total score the more predatory they are. If there's a cause for you to rate a question with a (*) with a 1 or more, stay away from that person or group at all costs.
Waiting is pretty hard for all of us. But it really is worth it. Here are a few book recommendations that you can work through while you are waiting...
When, Why... If by Robin Wood; One of the best introductions to ethics in print. In an easy, informal style Robin covers both the basis for Craft ethics, and also how they apply to everyday life and how they shape your worldview. It's hard to find sometimes, but Robin Wood has a web site (www.robinwood.com) that it can be ordered from if you can't find it locally.
A Witch Alone: Thirteen Moons to Master Natural Magic by Marian Green; This is one of the best books for a new solitary - of any age - in print. It is one of the few that doesn't immediately dunk you into a ritual practice that's out of context for you, instead leading you through the basic considerations of a relationship with the natural world and simple exercises that will build a foundation for a solid practice. This is one of the books most universally recommended by both Traditional and non-Traditional teachers.
Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest by Christina Baldwin is another good resource that can help to develop some extremely useful skills as well as explore the inside of your own mind.
There are also seasonal ideas for things you can do to mark the seasons and get closer to the rhythms and cycles around you. Pauline Campanelli's Wheel of the Year is a book that is often recommended, and there are lots of other sources of good lore such as the Foxfire series and any local folklore or 'local color' books that might be available for your region. (Or make friends with a few older folks who have spent their lives in the region and listen carefully to their stories of childhood and goings-on from a generation or two ago. You'll probably learn much about your area that has never made print!)
A lot of good concepts are explored in fiction. Although often many things - especially the magical bits - are often written much more sensationally than what happens in real life to make the story more exciting, many general ideas that are explored are quite accurate. Some fiction books we recommend are:
Bell, Book and Murder by Rosemary Edghill; The Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin; The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper; the Riddle-master series by Patricia A. McKillip; Greenmantle by Charles deLint; The Heralds of Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey; as well as Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith (a sub-series of the Discworld books, many of which are also quite good) by Terry Pratchett.
We generally recommend that any serious student avoid books by some of the popular witchcraft authors such as Raven Grimassi, Gerina Dunwich, Sirona Knight, Kisma Stepanich, Silver Ravenwolf, Edain McCoy, AJ Drew, DJ Conway, Ann Moura and Patricia Telesco. Many of these have an easy-to-read style and some have even won awards, but much of their history is based on incomplete research or inaccurate references, and a lot of what is in their books has little in common with the majority of what is taught in most forms of Traditional Witchcraft (including Wicca). If you have read - or own - some of these books, it's nothing to worry about. But you probably should compare them against more recommended sources, as well as against what you learn from researching cultures, history and mythology. (Think of it like a game and use them to improve your research skills - can you find the historical errors and the inconsistencies in these author's works?)
The best places to look for good books to give you a foundation for future Craft studies is not the New Age or Witchcraft sections of the bookstore or library. It's in the History and Mythology sections, in Archeology, in Psychology and in Personal Development. Look for books that give you solid information, that help you learn how to tell verifiable facts from opinion or personal experience, and that help you learn how to use your mind and think logically. These are skills that will help you in all areas of your life - and they will put you way ahead of the game when you're ready to start your formal training in the Craft.
It's been our experience that younger folks who are mature enough to have a true heart-led interest in Craft are mature enough for the same "starter" material that is recommended for adult seekers. There are several lists of recommended books on this website as well as in the archives of email lists such as Amber and Jet or on Traditional-focused sites such as Gleewood or TradWicca. Books recommended by these sorts of well-respected sources can be useful either as another starting place, or a way to find out what reading / patience / or other skills need developing before moving further along.
In short, be careful. Go slowly. Watch people and really think about what you see and hear. Double and triple-check everything you read, as well as the source that wrote it. Expect to work hard, to hit walls, to trip up, and to make mistakes. And to expect to grow, and to change in ways you never would think possible. Prepare for a long, wonderful journey. Because once you put your feet on a heart-felt path to any of the Old Gods, you never know just where they'll take you... but you can be certain that the trip will be eventful - and marvelous.
Brightest Blessings on your journey!
(Version 2.3) By Sana Karine Wilson, based on material by Saira of Crystal Moon Coven; copyright by Home Circle. This piece may be freely copied so as long as it is used in its entirety, it is distributed without charge, and this paragraph is included in its entirety. The most current version of this document is available online at www.homecircle.org/SRyoungletter.html.