Witchcraft Isn’t a Warning Sign

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Sometimes I wonder if I’m a bit too hard on the “nice-guy” Christians who write books like “Generation Hex” or “Wicca’s Charm”. Aren’t these a step forward from the books that tell outright lies? But what all of these Christian books about modern Paganism do, kind or harsh, is present interest in Witchcraft or Paganism as a behavioral “warning sign”, and an article from a Massachusetts paper shows the consequences of such beliefs.

“Sue Scheff was desperate. Her teenage daughter Ashlyn was out of control: skipping school, delving into witchcraft and running away from home. So Scheff ultimately sent Ashlyn to a residential treatment facility, but Scheff said the place did more harm than good. Her daughter was abused there, Scheff said, and Ashlyn emerged months later seriously depressed.”

The story goes on to paint a picture of a teen put under unbelievable stress. She broke her foot and was unable to compete in gymnastics (a core piece of her identity), the family was thrown out of their house, and they lost most of their possessions. Scheff admits to not being “attentive” to her daughter. Naturally, her daughter started acting out, and hanging out with the “wrong crowd”.

“Meanwhile, Ashlyn began mixing with the wrong crowd, getting involved with witchcraft, skipping school, and becoming increasingly belligerent and withdrawn from her mother. Scheff tried taking her daughter to local therapists; she talked to guidance counselors and doctors; she set up boundaries with Ashlyn, restricting her computer access; and she even sent her to her mother’s house for more than a week, but nothing seemed to help. Her daughter’s behavior only got worse. She began running away from home, and Scheff was afraid of losing her for good.”

Scheff sent her daughter to a “residential program”, where she proceeded to be emotionally abused and physically neglected for six months. An experience that made her found an organization and write a book warning parents of abusive residential programs and “boot camps” (though she still advocates for residential programs, just not the “bad” ones). No doubt Ashlyn’s interest in Witchcraft was burned right out of her by the program.

I’m not going to pass judgment on Scheff’s decision, domestic problems are often hard to judge from the outside, but it is telling that “Witchcraft” is listed as a sign of bad behavior, of defiance and bad judgment. Did her church tell her this? Did she read a Christian propaganda book warning of the “hidden dangers” of Wicca? How many teens are being sent to oppressive boot-camps because they are interested in the “wrong” religion?

As a formerly teenage Pagan (now safely into my thirties), I can tell you that my decision to get involved wasn’t some outward manifestation of me being “troubled”. Nearly twenty years later I can say that with some security, but if my parents had decided my bedroom altar was a “warning sign” I too could have been subjected to an oppressive reeducation. For someone who is truly troubled, clinging to Witchcraft or Paganism might be the only empowering thing in an unmoored life*. So I continue to criticize the Christian books on Wicca and Paganism, because getting involved in a different religion, even one that is strange and exotic-seeming isn’t always a “warning sign” of a troubled mind.

* Which isn’t to say a teen can’t be unhealthily interested in a religion or spiritual practice, but it shouldn’t be treated as an item on a long list of “warning signs” to measure how “troubled” your kid is. A teen can be “troubled” *and* genuinely and healthily interested in non-Christian forms of belief and practice.