Column: At the Intersection of Millennials, Media and Paganism

Mary Shoup —  April 19, 2015 — 15 Comments

Witches and millennials are two of the media’s favorite scapegoats.

When you read an article or blog post written by anyone, there is always an agenda. Everyone has an agenda. I have an agenda. I am both a millennial and a Pagan. As such I probably skimmed over the more favorable pieces to find those with inflammatory headlines and those that were sure to prove my point today. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to go past the first page of Google news results to do so.

[public domain]

[public domain]

My undergraduate thesis was about how the media skews the public perception of Wicca through subtle means. The Wild Hunt reported on last fall’s coverage of witches in Time magazine. That is simply one example of many that witches are othered, shoved into a box and kept separate. This is symptomatic of how the media generally covers many marginalized groups.

Millennials face a similar bias in general life and in the media. Often cast as “lazy” or “self-absorbed” by older generations. Educator Dr. Margo Wolfe wrote, “There is a fear that teens and young people are generally up to no good and that they are all disconnected, just waiting for the next narcissistic opportunity to wreak havoc on unsuspecting adults.”  The media does nothing to challenge this perspective and often continues this narrative either through subtle framing or through blatant clickbait.

Coverage of millennials is often nothing short of horrific. In February, Bloomberg published an article titled “ Most Millennials Can’t Do a Single Nice Thing for Someone Else.” The headline is what’s become known as “clickbait”  or something that is designed to make you click through even if it’s out of anger or annoyance. Then, after clicking through, you quickly discover that the headline and the data presented don’t match up.

In this article, it becomes readily apparent that the study is measuring volunteerism and not acts of kindness. “Volunteers are defined as persons who did unpaid work (except for expenses) through or for an organization,” explains the article. That’s not a high standard, but certainly a very different standard than set forth by the headline.

As noted, there is a severe dip in volunteerism for the 20-24 age range. That’s the age that a lot of people are in college and often times also working to support themselves. Between classes, a part time job, and homework, I didn’t have time to volunteer. Most of my working time was for an unpaid internship. But that short article doesn’t stop to question that. It simply makes a radical statement and then presents some iffy data to back that up. It goes on to call 16-19 year olds “sulky adolescents” and proclaims later that young people are “too selfish – or preoccupied – to volunteer.”

But what about the intersection of Witches and millennials in the media? How is that treated?

In January, pop culture icon 23-year-old Azealia Banks tweeted that she’s a witch, which prompted The Guardian to offer its two cents in a piece entitled “Season of the witch: why young women are flocking to the ancient craft.”

After quoting the tweet, the news outlet opines, “Still, even by Banks’s standards, the witch thing was weird. It came out in the middle of a run about black Americans and their relationship to Christianity … Banks then suddenly took a hard left into what seemed like either a joke, or an unexpected embrace of Harry Potter fan fiction.”

Standard terms for practitioners are placed into quotation marks – “‘magical'” and “‘witch'” for example – almost as if the author doesn’t want to give the words more power by saying them without the safety net of quotations. According to The Guardian writer, a Tumblr blog isn’t run by three witches, it is only “purported” to be run by witches.

As mentioned in the earlier Bloomberg article, the Guardian doesn’t back up the headline. Why are young women “flocking” to the ancient craft? The article spends quite a bit of time discussing why women, in general, might be drawn to witchcraft, but the article’s thesis about young women is never specifically brought up. There’s not even a shred of evidence to back up the claim that millennials are “flocking” to the Craft.

The clickbait headline draws you in and then gives you no evidence to support the facts. Additionally, the article does not give voice to young people or even to Azealia Banks. It only rehashes her 140 character messages and mocks the idea of someone being a witch by calling it “an embrace of Harry Potter fan fiction.”

The Debrief instead asks the question “Are More 20 Something Women Turning To Witchcraft? We Asked An Expert” in response to The Guardian‘s article and tries to answer it. The piece starts off by framing the conversion to Wicca as a “phase.’ This is something often told to young people in a variety of forms: “You’ll change your mind when you get older.” “It’s just a phase, you’ll grow out of it.”  The 26-year old writer, herself, went through a Wicca phase.

While writer Stevie Martin is herself young, she doesn’t interview any other young women, who are both in their 20s and still practicing Witchcraft. Hers is the only young voice in the piece. Fortunately Martin does speak with Treadwell’s Christina Oakley Harrington, who provides a solid response to the writer’s questions. However, Martin’s headline offers a query into a specific intersection of two groups, and no one currently at that intersection is talked to in the piece.

[Photo Credit: James Denham / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: James Denham / Wikimedia]

Now let’s look at a different take on that intersection? Paganism, along with with Polytheism, Heathenry and other minority religious groups, have created their own online media networks. You can find hard-hitting news stories, advice blogs, educational blogs and more.

However there is a veritable desert when looking for things written for millennials by millennials, or even just for millennials. There are pieces about “coming out of the broom closet to parents” or information about college clubs. A few millennial bloggers do exist, such as Conor O’Bryan Warren at Under the Owl’s Wing or Aine Llewellyn at of the Other People. If there are more, they are not openly coming out and saying that they’re are millennial.

To be fair, talking with a minor about these things can be problematic if their parents take issue. However the internet, overall, seems to be lacking in articles about issues that are unique to or primarily affect millennial Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens, whether they are minors or over 18.

Representation is important. It’s critical to be able to see people our own age achieving things that were once relegated to older generations not only as a form of motivation – look at what my generation can do now – but also being able to connect on a different level when the author has had a similar background as the people they’re writing about. Millennials need more positive representation in all media, more opportunities to share their voices, and the will to step forward when given that chance.

Mary Shoup

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Mary Shoup currently lives in Washington State, where she volunteers for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. She graduated from Western Washington University’s Huxley College with a degree in Environmental Studies/Journalism and currently works full-time as an editor.