Many people become interested in Paganism or Wicca in their teenage years. Whether it’s because they’re unsatisfied with their current religion, have always felt drawn to pre-Christian beliefs but only now have access to the information, think magick and Percy Jackson are “cool”, or want to rebel against their parents (not all of these are good reasons), there are many teenagers following a Pagan path. Maybe you’re one of them.
I certainly was: I have been a follower of the Gods since I was twelve years old. And in this post, I will address some of the main issues and concerns that teenage Pagans may have.
Bear in mind that what I write here reflects my own experience and may not be accurate for other people.
My journey through Hellenic polytheism
Picture a history classroom full of eleven to thirteen-year-olds, one Friday afternoon in December. As an end-of-term treat, the teacher decides to show the movie Troy (2004) to her students. Now picture an eleven-year-old with big round eyes that search for her best friend, before she asks:
“Troy? What’s that? Can you eat it?”
“No,” the other girl replies in a know-it-all voice. “It’s a movie.”
The eleven-year-old shrugs and prepares a witty comeback, but before she can open her mouth, the TV is switched on and those big round eyes flit towards the screen where two armies are facing each other. By the time Akhilleus appears, the girl has forgotten that only minutes ago, she was making fun of the movie. Sucking her lower lip, carefully pushing her hair behind her ears, she is captivated by the world of 1200 B.C.
You’ve guessed it: that was me. And that was my first contact with Ancient Greek civilisation.
Contrary to what you might expect, I didn’t go home and immediately pick up a book about Ancient Greece. In fact, I completely forgot about Troy for several months. It was only shortly before my twelfth birthday that my sister and I rented the movie, since our first choice, The Man in the Iron Mask, was on loan. Watching the Trojan War unfold again on my screen reminded me how fascinating I’d thought it was. Around the same time, my history class began the topic of Ancient Greek religion, and I felt inexplicably drawn to the Gods, especially Artemis.
Following this, I began to have strange dreams in which I was a little girl living in Mycenaean Greece, and the Gods came to me and claimed me as theirs. The dreams had a comforting feeling about them, almost like coming home, and before long I began to read about Ancient Greece. I bought my first Iliad and devoured it in a few days, eagerly following the story of Akhilleus and Patroklos, whom I had loved ever since I first encountered them in Troy.
To me, belief in the Gods was natural. I don’t remember when I first began to honour them, but by the start of the next school year, I was already making offerings and praying for their assistance. I recall offering olives to Zeus in the hope that I would have my beloved history teacher again, and making libations of olive oil. I didn’t consider myself religious; like the Ancient Greeks, my beliefs were part of my life, interwoven with every other aspect of it.
I took a side-track through Wicca from 16 to 18 years old, but never stopped honouring the Greek Gods. The most important change during this period was that I opened up to people about my faith, and began to consider myself as religious. I wore a pentagram every day for over two years. Luckily for me, living in a relatively tolerant country, I was never bullied for my beliefs; on the other hand, the fact that I didn’t walk around shouting I BELIEVE IN ZEUS surely helped, too. If someone asked me about my religion, I would be honest, but if I wasn’t asked, I wouldn’t tell. Simple as that.
Ritual could sometimes be tricky, and I didn’t have any fancy accessories like khernips, incense or ceremonial clothing. But to me, intention has always been more important than display, and while pretty clothes and nice smells please the Gods and make you seem more serious, if the prayer itself is hollow, there is no point. My rituals were candid but honest and heart-felt, and that’s what mattered most.
My years as a teenage Pagan were simple, and my practise changed as I grew up, but other than that, I was not very different from other Wiccans or Hellenic polytheists. As I grew up, my faith shaped me as a person – and growing up shaped my faith, too. I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t explore a religion as a teenager, instead of waiting until you’re older. I’m certainly very blessed to have shared this journey with the Gods since I was twelve years old.
My tips for teenage Pagans
5. Don’t show off your beliefs. Some teenagers only become Pagans to rebel against their family or community. You don’t want to be one of those people. To avoid getting mistaken for one of them, don’t be overly vocal about your religion. This is not the same as going into hiding! You can be open about your beliefs, wear a symbol, bind or veil your hair, openly celebrate your festivals, dance naked in the forest for all I care – what matters is that you don’t use them to make a statement, or to get a reaction. Your main focus should be on your Gods, not on what other people think of you.
4. Be honest rather than lavish. Once again, what’s in your heart and soul carries more weight than what’s on your body. Sure, ritual supplies, tools and symbols (such as pentagram necklaces) help you to focus and remind you of the relationship you’re trying to build with the Gods. But if your parents won’t let you buy them, or your accommodation doesn’t allow them, don’t panic. Do you think the very first followers of your religion had all the elegant supplies people use nowadays? No? Then you probably don’t either.
3. Take your time to get to know the Gods. When you first get the call, you’re likely to be very excited about this whole Pagan thing and will want to jump straight in. Don’t. Maybe Hekate has been visiting you in your dreams and telling you to worship her. That’s all good, but don’t you want to know more about her first? Look her up online, read her myths, get to know what the Ancients thought of her. Then, get to know her more directly, through meditation for example. Discover what she “feels” like – fierce, peaceful, domineering, motherly? Then ask yourself: is this really a Goddess you want to worship? People aren’t going to take you seriously if you dive right into a certain Pagan path, then change to a different one after a few months, then change again, and so on. Get to know your path, and take your time. You’ve got a whole life ahead of you!
2. Research, research, research. I can’t stress this enough. There is only one way to kill the stereotype of the “fluffy” teenage Pagan who knows nothing about their faith, and that is to research everything you can. And by that, I don’t mean read Homer, or Scott Cunningham depending on what type of Paganism you’re interested in, then check out. This is what I mean: go to your local library and borrow all the books on your faith. Research its history, and how the modern practise differs from the ancient one. Look up “Hellenic polytheism”, “Wicca”, “Asatru” or whatever on Google and click on every link. Read Pagan blogs and websites. If you meditate, meditate on the principles of your new faith and see how they align with your own. Debate your beliefs with people who don’t hold the same ones. Never stop looking for something new to learn. Then you will know – and others will too – that you really are serious.
1. Last of all, stay true to yourself and to your beliefs. The teenage years are difficult, because of their focus on fitting in and being part of the “cool crowd”. Don’t compromise your beliefs because of this. And remember that it can go both ways: don’t become Pagan because your friends are, but on the other hand, don’t trick yourself into believing you’re Christian, Muslim, atheist or anything else because that’s what you’re expected to be. If you think there is only one God, don’t pretend you believe in the Olympians just because Odysseus was kinda cool. But if you really do hold Hellenic beliefs, know that nothing can keep you away from what’s true to you – it’s only a matter of time.
And you know what? It’s okay to be a Hellenic polytheist. It’s also okay to be a teenage Pagan. I was both… and it never did me any harm.
(Once again, this is me writing late for Pagan Blog Project. This week T is for Teenagers and Twelve-year-old Pagans.)