Thinking About – The Young Adult Pagan

Buffy-the-Vampire-SlayerOver the past couple of months I have heard two podcasts that were specifically exploring Paganism for the young adult. The first was my own DruidCast podcast with OBOD member Jonathan Wooley, the other was a panel discussion recorded at the recent Pantheacon and presented on T. Thorn Coyle’s podcast Elemental Castings. Each discussion was about how to reach out to the young adult and let them know more about Paganism without resorting to proselytising. As I listened it struck me that this was a far cry from the discussions in the 90s about young Pagans which seemed to centre on the seeming invasion of the teen witch.

It’s true that the average age of those attending Pagan conferences changed after Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed were popular on TV. It’s also true that some of the older members of the Pagan community at the time were sometimes seen to rant on Pagan email lists (remember those?) saying that Paganism had become a fad, a fashion. Personally I loved the influx of that new energy. I couldn’t join in with the negative rhetoric as I was quite certain that, if those TV shows had been around when I was a teenager, I would have been one of those newcomers. Time has shown that there were many of those teen witches who had found their spiritual home and, although the numbers did drop after a while, many stayed. The last episode of Buffy was shown 12 year ago. So many of those teen witches are now in their early 30s and are no longer new to their paths – many becoming teachers and group leaders in their own right.

Things have changed since the days of Buffy. The internet has been an intrinsic part of the lives of young adults. It’s how they socialise, play games, find out information, watch movies and videos, read and consume masses of information. It’s not fashionable TV shows that have influence anymore. Instead it is YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. I remember when I first created this blog and my YouTube channel back in 2007, and the DruidCast podcast in June of the same year the internet (what they were calling WEB2.0) had just started to take off. Now it’s everywhere.

What was it about Buffy and Charmed that spoke to the teenager and made them want to explore Paganism? The themes, although supernatural in origin were also very human and the magic had power. When I was in my teens and early 20s it was also magic that called to me. The spirituality came later. Of course back in those days (omgs I’m sounding old…) there were very few books around. A few by Gardner, Valiente and Starhawk, but it was the titles by Aleister Crowley that attracted me in those days. Like many young people I felt helpless, like I had no power of my own. Magic and the occult helped to give me the focus I needed. Of course it was also a rebellion against ‘normal’ society, and maybe seeing those powerful Witches on Buffy and Charmed inspired the same feelings in those young people as Crowley inspired within me. As time passed the magic became less important and I, along with many of those 90s teen witches, discovered the religious and spiritual basis on which that magic relies.

But if the eyes of the young adult has turned away from the TV and towards the computer screen, if many rarely step into a woodland, or a natural space where most of us find our connection with Spirit, how will they find out about Paganism, and do they even need to?

Luckily many Pagan groups and leaders have seen the value of the internet, and have created websites with valuable information. There are countless Pagan groups on Facebook. If the young adult feels the attraction of the Old Ways it is actually now much easier to find than ever before. However I do think our attitude towards the young Pagan adult needs to change. Some still see them as newbies – that age somehow dictates value. But the wonderful Isaac Bonewits once said something like, “There are those who have a lot of experience and wisdom and are very young, and there are those who have been doing exactly the same thing for a very long time”. When young people visit our groups they need to know that they have a voice, that they are given space. And that means those of us who have been facilitating groups for many years need to release our grip and authority. Instead of being autocratic teachers we need to hold on gently and sometimes let go and become listeners as well as teachers and group leaders.

If a group holds open rituals, moots, conferences, camps, and wants to be open to young people, their website needs to reflect that. For as sure as Spring will arrive, the young person’s first port of call, when it comes to learning more about our groups, will be our websites. Next will be the group’s Facebook group. If much of its content is arguing and flaming disagreement, then that might well be the door that closes, and these young seekers will walk away.

It’s true that many are drawn to explore a spiritual path later in life. It’s also true that there are many young people who want to explore more deeply and are ready right now. It’s important that those of us who have been around for a long time make young people feel welcome and valued. To ask questions as well as answer them. To me that is a sign of a spiritual path’s strength – that it doesn’t feel threatened by the power of youth.

Ironically it’s also one of the clear indications of a maturing community.

7 Comments

  1. Anonymous March 5, 2015 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    I agree with this completely, speaking as one of those who was drawn from portrayals on television. I never really got much choice about religion when I was a child, it was basically ‘you are going to Catholic school’ where I was told ‘you believe this and that’ and so on. Finding out there was another choice was something that I only found out about thanks to television shows, and I’m glad I did. And, as much as I still use social media, I think there will still be people drawn to the Old Ways by seeing those sort of TV shows, especially young women who can see powerful female witches having much more freedom than I ever had. Thank you for this post Damh 🙂

  2. Woodland Bard March 5, 2015 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    Ha, ha, this shows up my own generation gap attitude 🙂 First, the idea of Buffy being the inspiration to become ‘Pagan’ … but today, there are a lot of young people who would regard Buffy fans as ‘Old Farts’ … our years seem to move quickly.

    One thing I love about Facebook, YouTube etc. is that we can be linked to terrific information and perspective that can shape intentions very nicely.

    The ‘Pagan’ umbrella is very wide though, isn’t it?

    There are those that love to follow theatrics and re-enact Buffy and similar type stuff, and perhaps dress up like the Cure and Marilyn Manson used to. Then there are those devoted to their alters, rituals and wee bit of ceremony, drama and enactments which I enjoy from time to time. Then there are the bushcrafts types, which is how I tend to live and work due to the intimacy this has with trees, plants seasons and weather.

    I meet young people deeply into all three, but really its false of me to speak of these as categories, but I still do that as imagery, especially three images. Perhaps what we call Pagan is not a category at all but about those who are not following a controlled religion but instead are devoted to ‘living’ with a wonder and appreciation for what this earth has and the mysteries that makes everything dance together here.

    Young people are loving exploring this, without being told what religion to join 🙂

  3. Sam March 6, 2015 at 1:26 am - Reply

    i was fortunate to be introduced to paganism in my earliest years. By the time I was 13 I was ready to take my own independent steps into researching more about something thing I had always just ‘felt’. When I heard the term ‘paganism’ and the books I read linked up for me the various things I’d heard about tarot, astrology, ley lines, herbalism etc, things clicked into place.

    I had already gained quite a bit of magical/ ritual experience and learned about various strands of pagan history by the time Buffy came out when I was 17/18. I guess I was already a blossoming ‘old comer’ lol and so while I enjoyed buffy I also resented it a little, and so too the new young ‘teen witches’ it attracted. As a teen myself at that time I felt compared to them and my experience and knowledge dismissed or diminished because of it.

    I lost count of the times I was called a ‘fluffy’ (remember that term?), and must admit it made me a lot quieter about my spirituality, reserving in depth discussion of any spiritual matter for only the closest and most trusted of friends. I am only now, over these past couple of years beginning to come back out of my shell and participate in pagan groups and share my own knowledge via workshops at camps. I must admit I am far more comfortable behind a drum, sharing my knowledge of spirituality through collective experience rather than through words. The stigma persists to this day.

    Good article, thanks for posting xxx

  4. Bronzewing March 6, 2015 at 4:29 am - Reply

    I was so lucky to move into a share house with some Wiccans in it when I was 22 or so. I didn’t quite gel with Wicca, but they had books, oh those wonderful mind-opening books, and they weren’t Christian, and that set me on the path. I didn’t know I was a Pagan until then. I never knew such a being existed, though I already was one in all the ways that counted. Boy could I have done with the internet in those lost years before I moved there! I hope we can make a place for young ones. How cool would it be to come to this path when young and not have to be lost first?

  5. Amanda March 10, 2015 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    I think that the Internet can be a really useful place for opening up a space for all to have a voice, regardless of age. When I was 19 I joined a spiritual forum… Despite introducing myself at the beginning, I still had several moments when others would suddenly discover that I was so young and they would proclaim how they had believed I was much older. By stripping away that immediate response to someone’s age you are able to hear their voice much clearer… And that experience gave me the confidence to talk about some very deep and meaningful things in a way that *I* would have found difficult face to face. Not all online spaces are so open and safe, but when you find a community like that it can be a true blessing.

  6. Jennifer May 6, 2015 at 11:10 pm - Reply

    While I am not one of those people who came to the Craft through Buffy, Charmed, etc., those shows do mean quite a lot to me. These were the first shows that I had ever seen in which women could have power of their own, without being defined in terms of men. By which I mean, Samantha Stephens was a witch on Bewitched, but being Darren Stephens’ wife was her primary role and she had to fit the Craft in around that.

    Without the Internet, I would still be lost. In the late 1990s, in the Bible Belt of the U.S., there was no pagan literature. It wasn’t in our libraries or our bookstores. I remember the first pagan book I ever saw was in a high school math class; it belonged to a military kid who had just come from Germany. He had to make a brown paper cover for it, to keep from being bullied over it. Now, I take my 15-year-old son to the same high school and there are teenagers proudly displaying their Covenant of the Goddess bumper stickers. It makes my heart smile. 🙂 Even now, I don’t know any local pagans. I live over the river (and through the woods) from Auburn University, where a professor was fired over being a witch openly, just last year.

    I guess my point in this rambly reply is that, without the Internet and witch-friendly media, I would be far lonelier than I am these days. I have found people online that are willing to share their path and with whom I can talk about the Craft and I can order whatever I need and have it shipped to my door. Plus, there’s DruidCast and iTunes and Pandora and OBOD and Circle Sanctuary, all of which create community that doesn’t exist in my world otherwise.

  7. Liz May 16, 2015 at 2:55 am - Reply

    This is an excellent article! I am a young adult and am exploring my own spirituality and the Internet has helped immensely. I grew up spending most of my time outside, and still love to take long walks in the woods. Few of my peers enjoy Nature the way I do. From the Internet, I have found others like me. It’s great to know I am not alone!

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