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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Teenagers and the Occult

Our question this week is a thought-provoking one. Perhaps some of you have some experience you could share.

Flighty Fashionista is a 14 year old who was confirmed last year.  During Confirmation Prep, she showed an unhealthy interest in the occult -- I had her read the Gospel of Luke and her favourite scripture was the Temptation of Jesus, not because of what Jesus did, but the way the Devil behaved, she was filled with all kind of questions about how and why.  Last night she came to me asking me about Ouiji boards, were there ghosts in the church, did I know any spells, and so on.

She is the daughter of a long standing family in the church and I'm pretty sure her grandparents and parents would be appalled.  How should I proceed?

Muthah+ rings in:

Dear Sister,

I used to teach this age group before I was ordained and I loved them even if they drove me up the wall.  Your fashionista may be doing something to get your goat or her parent's goat.  Or she may be fooling around with other kids who have some weird ideas.  But whatever you do, do not dismiss her.

Offer to take her out for a soda or a lunch on a Saturday.  Let her pick the place where she is comfortable with you other than your office.  Get her to ask her questions and take them seriously.  Ask her how she understands how charms and spells work and then ask her how God works.  Be prepared to share with her the difference between mystery and magic.  I would imagine that she is having a hard time understanding the difference between hope and fantasy.  It is a very common issue with teens her age.  Then share with her some of your own story--she needs to know how God really works in people's lives. 

She is really a post-modern child.  She has a foot in fantasy and magic as pre-modern people do, and the experience of modernist science, but is overwhelmed with the technological instantaneousness of the post-modern age.  No wonder our kids are sometimes confused.  The more that you can be REAL with her, she will get out of her magical world and meet you straight on.  Enjoy the relationship!

Thank you, Muthah+, for sharing your wisdom!

What about the rest of you? Have you had experience with teenagers interested in magic, Satan, and/or the occult? How did you handle it? Please share your thoughts, advice, and experiences in the comments section.

As always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, please send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com. Our queue is quite short right now, so we should be able to get to your question soon!


  1. I'd just like to remind people that magic, Satan, and the occult are very different things. Neopagans/Wiccans are often good and holy people--what they call spells and magic are very similar to what Christians call prayer and sacraments--not Satanists, nor do they even believe in the Christian devil. And they often appeal to young people, especially women, because of the strong feminist emphasis in some groups. There is a great deal of ignorance and prejudice about them among the general populace, especially Christians, so I encourage people to educate themselves on this issue to be able to best serve those who come to them for pastoral help--teens and otherwise.

  2. Hi Laura
    your comment was really helpful. I would really like to get my head around this a bit more, can you advise some good sources? I have to admit to not knowing the difference between magic/satanic/occult and where the libes should be drawn.
    red :)

  3. What Rev. Dr. Laura said.

    (If I can chime in..."Drawing Down the Moon" by Margot Adler is a good introduction to neopaganism; as is Starhawk's "The Spiral Dance," which is kind of a bedrock text of feminist Wicca.)

    Speaking as someone who was drawn to neopaganism back in my 30's, I'd echo the thought that it can be a very attractive belief system in terms of its emphasis on the Divine Feminine; its relative lack of judgmentalism; its earth-friendliness; its disavowal of problematic Christian concepts like Satan and hell, combined with a live-and-let-live attitude toward other faiths; its perceived connection to the far past and the idea that one is drawing from ancient wisdom grounded in nature and the circle of the seasons.

    It can be hard to compete with that, particularly if your young friend's perception of Christianity is largely drawn from its messy (and in this country, right-wing) public face.

    On the other hand...some of the appeal of paganism/witchcraft is in the idea of control -- the idea that one can influence people and things by intention and ritual. Someone in school being mean to you? Cast a "binding" spell on them. Need money? Cast a spell for that. Unsure of what to do about a situation? Use a divination method like rune-casting or tarot reading to find an answer. (Veteran pagan folk downplay this aspect of pagan practice and tend to look askance at "newbies" who are all about learning magick.)

    I'd be interested in learning more about the "why" of this girl's fascination before addressing it. I know for me my interest was sparked by my corresponding anger at Christianity in general for its sexism, homophobia and right-wing political agenda, but also at my congregation at the time (which ironically was none of those things) because I didn't feel valued or cared for there.

  4. Thanks for all of this. I think LutheranChik has hit the nail on the head. Fashionista really is very flighty, not a thinker at all, so I suspect the idea of control is what is at the root of this. If this is the case, what would you suggest?

  5. I would like to hear more from you, ladyfather, on unbinding the undead... ;-)
    That's a joke, folks...

  6. I remember playing with Ouiji boards when I was middle school age...and I think it was fairly innocent. It's interesting b/c I was having this discussion with my parish secretary just yesterday and she really disagrees with me. She won't even read Harry Potter b/c she thinks "dabbling" in any way is dangerous. This discussion came up by the way via a discussion of whether it's okay to celebrate Hallowe'en.

    All your comments are interesting..

  7. If she is interested in Satan as a character it might be worth having her read the Screwtape letters or go see a performance of it if reading isn't something she enjoys. I think the Screwtape letters do a good job of showing how evil can be banal and often rather petty rather than exotic or sexy.

  8. I sang in a Gaelic choir a few years back. The group was composed equally of Christian and NeoPagan folks, and because we sang together we achieved a rather startling level of harmony in both our singing and our "extracurricular" discussions. I got to know a NeoPagan couple quite well and we had some wonderful interfaith discussions. I developed a real respect for their beliefs and the integrity with which they lived out their faith. They often laughed ruefully about young (and not-so-young) "seekers" who were drawn to the trappings rather than the tenants of their earth-centered faith. Honestly, what ISN'T fun about velvet cloaks and magic wands and all those pretty crystals? I suspect there are a lot of young folks who gravitate toward earth-centered belief systems for spiritual, political, or environmental reasons, but some just get involved because they're religious magpies, attracted to whatever group has the most Bright Shiny Objects.

  9. I think Lutheranchick has a real point about acceptance. I think rather than theological questions, the fasionista is really asking "Am I acceptable to you?--the Church?"

    With a 14 yr old, I would think tht the issues is less about God and more about 'will you still love me if I ask these questions?'

    If someone older asked the same questions, I would attempt to work some theology into the conversation. But I think the age is the key issue re. flighty fashionista.


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