By: K. Peak
"How do you handle it?" the inquiring girl (young woman?) could not have been more than fifteen. Her bright eyes shone behind rings of raccoon-like mascara. Hair, obviously dyed black, hung limply about a sallow face. Jewelry that could put Mr. T (dating myself here) to shame dripped from her ears, neck and fingers. Pentacles, Ankhs, peace symbols, even a cross winked in the light of the book store. Black clothing draped a slender body. She looked like a carnival fortune teller, not a high school girl, and Halloween was not really near.
"Handle what?" I fingered my single, modest pentacle and gazed at my casual jeans and T-shirt.
"The harassment," she looked down at the books I was thumbing through: Scott Cunningham, Ray Buckland, Pauline Campanelli.
"I rarely get harassed. Why do you ask? Have you had problems?"
"An old man started yelling at me in the parking lot. He got in my face and yelled a lot. He said I was going to hell." I smiled, I could easily see why he singled her out. I decided to be blunt.
"You draw too much attention to yourself. Laurie Cabot you are not. Are you a Witch?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"There is no 'I guess,' either you embrace the religion or it is a game to you."
"Well, some friends and I saw 'The Craft' and it looked neat to be a witch. We got a book and started casting spells." Bells and whistles sound loudly right about now.
"Then this is a game to you and I am offended. You are making sport of my religion."
The conversation went on. We sat and talked for close to an hour on the floor of Barnes and Noble. This girl was confused. Her parents thought Witches were evil, child killing, devil worshippers and she was giving them reason to believe so. She thought she could influence her world, get better grades, dates and such by casting spells. Woe to the person who crossed her. She and her friends were more interested in dressing the part rather than realizing what they were doing. She drew negative attention and did not know how to handle it. Like most kids, she got belligerent and combative. She felt one needed to dress "Goth" to be a Witch. I suggested a few easy to understand books, gave her safe places that held classes for younger people and insisted she educate herself before casting any more spells. I explained the three-fold law and "Harm None." She was totally unaware of these and looked uneasy. Sadly, this was not the first time I had encountered a young, questioning soul. Thank you Hollywood.
Handling children's questions is nothing new to my even though I am a new parent. Before turning to Wicca, I was the youngest member of the Education Committee for the Congregational church my parents attend. I was in my early teens and overseeing Infant/Toddler Care. At fifteen, I began to assistant teach. By sixteen, I was given the hardest to handle class - the first year of Junior High. On average, the committee could keep a teacher no more than two weeks in this class (prior to, this specific band of prepubescents had always caused trouble). The kids were labeled "bad" and "uninterested." I jumped at the chance. By the time the year was complete, I was asked to follow the kids to the next Junior High level. I was studying multiple world religions at this time and leaning towards my path as a Witch. I agreed but fought hard for a new curriculum that was not so dogmatically based and dry. I wanted one that challenged their minds, made them question what they were and encouraged free thought. For years these kids had been told "This is just the way it is," or even intimidated with "God will punish you." (The old Pastor I loved was retired at this time and a younger one had taken his place.) Even I got frustrated when I was given round-a-bout answers that never really fulfilled my curiosity or when I felt pushed about.
I won my curriculum and spent the next year bringing in speakers to the class, organizing projects and encouraging the now wonderful young adults to explore themselves and their world. Religion was not boring or scary. You could be a good Christian and still have fun. Plus, there are a myriad of other faiths in the world that deserve our respect. By the end of the year, the class was far more tolerant of others and welcomed the different.
On Children's Sunday, the end of the year, all the classes give a performance of what they learned, a music segment or a skit. My class re-enacted Bill Cosby's rendition of Noah's Ark. The pastor was shocked. Some of the older members paled as the congregation erupted into laughter. But we were having fun! Over ten years later, those people who are still members remember my class of former "brats" but have forgotten the others. Best of all, the children had learned! They had created the skit, costumes and actions on their own and LEARNED! Now it was time to be honest with myself. I left teaching and followed my own path. Later, word got back to me that the children that were mine for two years were no longer uncontrollable monsters. Rather, they drove new teachers crazy wanting to know "Why... How... Is this right... Who am I?"
One thing I have learned is to gauge a child before answering questions. A young child or one with poor comprehension cannot handle a complicated answer. An older child or one with good comprehension can handle deeper insights. I was lucky enough to spend some time, a few Samhains past, in Salem, MA at the Witches' Education Bureau tent just talking with people and trying to dispel myths. My favorite people to deal with were the children. Innocent curiosity and honest questions were they. Here are some of my frequently asked ones and the answers I gave:
Can you fly on brooms?
No, that is just a story started up by someone who saw people riding brooms like hobby horses over fields. It was a ceremony to ask the gods for good crops. There are many explanations for why people think we fly on brooms, but this is the one I was taught.
Do you cast spells to hurt people? Why do you cast spells?
Spells are similar to your prayers. We are asking the God or Goddess for guidance and help just like when you pray. Or we may ask them to watch over someone special to us. Do you ask God to hurt people when you pray? Are you supposed to? Neither are we. We believe if you do something good for someone, something good will be done for you. If you do something bad, something bad will happen to you.
Do you worship Satan?
No, we do not believe in Satan. Satan was developed when Christianity developed. Since we are not Christians, we do not believe in Satan.
Can you cast a love spell? There is a boy in my class and I want him to like me.
If I cast a spell on that boy to like you, I could be hurting him. It is wrong to influence some one's free will. I could cast a spell with you to help you find love in general, but to cast a spell directly on someone for another person is not right. What if he is not meant to fall in love with you? Or what if he turns out to be an abusive person? Would you really want that?
Do you believe in Jesus?
Yes. Jesus is a historical figure and a great teacher. He did live and teach wonderful lessons. However, we do not worship him as the Christians do.
Do all Witches have black cats?
No. I happen to have one black cat. I also have two dogs, a gray Persian cat, a calico cat and a white and orange cat. I know many Witches who do not even own cats.
You don't look like a Witch.
What should we look like? I look like anyone else. Sometimes I dress in robes or different clothes. But I work (worked) for an important Environmental Engineering firm, show dogs, do volunteer work, go to country fairs and love to wear jeans and T-shirts. I am an average American inside and out. It is what one believes that makes him a Witch, not looks.
Can you change your hair like in the movies?
Yes I can! In the movies they really use makeup and hair dye. It takes about twenty minutes and a bottle of Clairol, but I can change my hair just like in the movies. Just remember, no one sees what happens behind the scenes so you won't see the dye being applied and the make-up artists at work. You only see what the directors want you to see.
All the answers are short and simple. Granted, the answers go far deeper and are open to much scrutiny and interpretation by adults. Kids don't care about that. They have short attention spans and tend to see the world in black and white. The intricate shades of gray come with maturity. When I deal with adults, I can go into deeper reasoning. It is just a matter of what can the individual handle. Children need short, simple, reasonable answers. To delve into a deep theological discussion with a seven year old is absurd. It is the same with rituals. An adult gathering can last hours. Children's should be kept to no more than half and hour depending on the age and maturity again. Honestly, how many of us get weary after a couple hours of dancing, listening to chanting and the priest or priestess droning on. Don't say it out loud, but I'll wager many of us get a little tired physically and possibly mentally. Think of what it would be like for a child. Bored or tired children act out.
The girl in the book store could have been me ten years earlier had I not met people and been guided towards better resources than Hollywood myth and hype. Now, close to thirteen years since I first truly began to learn Wicca, I still question, but I know how to handle myself. I cautioned her about drawing so much negative attention and encouraged her to be herself. I urged her to dress the way she did before seeing "The Craft" and express herself in deeds and beliefs. I advised she ask her parents to meet adult, responsible Witches and review the books I suggested before condemning the religion. Wearing signs of your religion is fine, but unless you frequent airports, it may be best to lay low until you are firm enough and strong enough to handle harassment. Unless they see a pentacle or other Wiccan symbol and can recognize it, most people would not know a Witch until they were turned to frogs! (Sorry, could not resist).
Children are wondrous creatures. Full of curiosity, they question everything. Do not discourage but encourage. Guide them well, with love, with fun and they will not disappoint you!