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There are no “Baby Witches”

This is not an entry about cursing the moon or the Fae or the people allegedly doing so on Tik Tok. I have no original thoughts on that, and from what I can tell the number of witches trying to tell you what to think about the practice vastly outnumber the people actually doing it.

This is about referring to those new to the Craft of the Wise as “Baby Witches.”

As with many terms that refer to people who are new to a practice or position, it’s not exactly complimentary, but its barb is blunted just enough to keep it from being fully derogatory either.

When you call someone a “baby” anything, it sounds vaguely like the title of a children’s cartoon. (Remember the “Baby Muppets?”) While you can argue that babies are loved, the fact is, you are quite literally infantilizing the person. That’s not cute.

Applying the term to a witch carries a few extra issues beyond mere infantilization. First off, there’s a distinct disempowering connotation. I mean, you simply can’t take a “Baby Witch” seriously, can you? It’s like those memes you see of kittens in chain mail — the juxtaposition of something as powerful as a witch against something as helpless as a baby is meant to imply that the end result simply can’t be taken seriously. How much damage can a “Baby Witch” really do, anyway?

And that’s the problem with inexperience. It’s not the same thing as ineffectiveness. One does not need to be particularly knowledgeable to misuse magic in ways that hurt the witch and anyone in their path. Magic is not a safe substance, in part because the power inherent in a working can stem from being incredibly knowledgeable, but it is equally fueled by native ability to raise energy. The fact that you aren’t particularly experienced at doing magic does not mean you can’t do powerful work. Dismissing those new to the Craft as “Baby Witches” is too facile. It creates a blind spot that shuts down real engagement.

And that’s a shame because we need to make real connections with the next generation of witches. The Internet has changed a lot about the Craft. It is both frighteningly easy and very difficult to be new to the Craft in this day and age. On the one hand, diving in to the Craft is as easy as a few Google searches to get books, look up spells, etc. Need to find a local open sabbat to celebrate the turning of the Wheel? The local witch shop probably has one on the schedule on its website. On the other hand, entering into the larger community of pagans and witches via the Internet can feel a little more daunting, because you’re going into it without a guide. And because you’re coming without references, some of the more established folks can be more than a little suspicious.

Intergenerational misapprehension and distrust is nothing new. Old people have been bitching about young people and vice versa long before old people ever had lawns or yelled at kids to get off of them, and certainly long before anyone thought to say “Okay, Boomer.” Every new generation deems itself superior to the generations before it because it is the best and brightest, newest and most advanced. That claim to fame is true — for a time. And each new generation crows its superiority, not realizing that they are merely the latest link in a chain of generations, each of which was on the vanguard of civilization when it came of age. Until, of course, time moved on and it wasn’t. The dynamic always was and probably will always be.

In this moment, however, the gap between the generations has some unique sources of friction that both old and young witches should be concerned about and working to alleviate for the good of the Craft.

Much of the apparatus of modern witchcraft was built during a time when you had to know someone, and go through a vetting process, before being invited to join the party. However, we are in a time where the emerging adults who are looking to enter the Craft have been raised with an unprecedented hunger for exactly the opposite of that.

Millennials and Gen Z are the first generations to come of age in a completely digital milieu. For as long as they have been able to run a keyboard, Millenials have had access to the Internet, and with it the promise that the entirety of knowledge is, and should be, at their fingertips. Gen Z has had that access in a device that they can carry in their pockets everywhere they go. The Internet age has not only led to more information, but enabled targeting of marketing and information, and Millenials and Gen Z have also never known a time when they weren’t served only that content that was thought to be appealing to them. There is consequently little patience with these audiences for things that are not perceived as being relevant to them — either by, about or for them in some way.

And for these reasons (and some others) Millennials and Gen Z have little tolerance for elitism or hierarchy. They place a high value on transparency, want access to everything, and have little patience for gatekeeping behaviors and decision making processes that do not embrace consensus.

These younger generations run headlong into the pagan community, attracted by the lack of dogma, the lack of controlling ideology or texts, thinking that this will be fertile ground for their optimism, their collaborative spirit, and their desire to reinvent everything. When they get there, they find that our older communities are sometimes not as welcoming as they ought to be, and some of the best knowledge isn’t accessible without an invitation. Their desire to know important things quickly is chided as presumptuous, dismissed as vacuous or them being “trendy” and treating the Craft as if it is avocado toast. It leaves younger witches confused and put off. They just want to learn, and they don’t see why they need to jump through a bunch of hoops or suck up to someone to get that opportunity.

Witches have always been outsiders and iconoclasts that are considered threatening to the order of things. Those who have lived the history of the Craft in the modern era are well aware of the historic need for secrecy and the power inherent in it. That value placed on secrecy has made many old school witches wary of new people, often withholding trust and knowledge until a credible relationship has been built. The Craft for older witches is, at bottom, a relational experience.

And that’s precisely the problem — if what you know about the Craft comes only from books and websites, the Craft does not feel relational, it feels transactional. And if your means of admission into the Craft was based on having a relationship that gave you entry, you find it hard to trust someone who is coming at the Craft from a transactional stance. And so we miss each other, and miss opportunities to learn and grow and see the Craft passed down to a new generation of witches.

As someone who is part of an oath-bound tradition that uses a hierarchical structure and does not lay all its secrets bare for anyone to see, I see the value in the relational approach and the power of secrecy. But I also see their limitations. Not all relationships are healthy, and there are many who would use the power inherent in their relationships to obtain control over and harm others. Secrecy is also a tool, one that can be used to obtain power legitimately, but can also take that power at another’s expense.

Those who are new to the Craft have a lot of questions, and if they haven’t had much interaction with experienced practitioners, they sometimes do not know what they do not know. They may not recognize that what they need to grow their practice isn’t another recipe-style ‘here’s how you do this spell” article, or another pre-packaged kit from an online witch shop. They need to learn what magic is and how it works. Dismissing them simply because they don’t know how to ask is a loss, both for the “baby” witch who has been dismissed, but also for the older witch as well. Teaching the Craft to others is an excellent way to grow your own skills.

Because the problem with experience is that it is not an entitlement. The fact that you have learned a lot of magic and done a lot of magic over the course of your life does not give you the right to decide for anyone else the role magic should play in their lives. It‘s probably not your job to teach every less-experienced witch that comes across your path. And not every less experienced witch is ready to have you or anybody else as a teacher. But it’s also not your job to play gatekeeper to the Craft as a whole. No one needs anyone’s permission to do magic. What less experienced witches do need is help, just like you did when you were less experienced.

If you’ve ever been to a Passover Seder, you’ve heard the story of the four sons told in the Haggadah. The purpose of the story is to address how one ought to teach the young about the story of the Passover, the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. Each son is different in his attitude, and so the father responds differently to each. The wise son asks probing questions, and because he is thoughtful is given full answers. The rebellious son is snarky and stand-offish, and is met with firm boundaries. The simple son is given simple instruction, commensurate with his understanding. The fourth son is difficult because he does not know how to ask. He does not know what he does not know. But even he is given instruction — proactively. He is not dismissed, or infantilized, or talked down to. None of the sons are. Each is met where they are in their understanding.

Those who come to the Craft and are just starting out on their path should not be dismissed or sent away, or talked down to, or given cute infantilizing names. Each seeker needs a response that meets them where they are. There are no “Baby” Witches. Only progeny of the Craft who want to learn what we know, even if they don’t know how to ask.

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