This whole legal confusion suggests that there is no real agreed coming of age of when a child becomes an adult. We flounder a bit in indecision as to whether a person in their teens is a child or an adult. The law doesn't know how to treat them, fond though it is of sticking age restrictions on everything....
And the child/adult thing has implications in the craft as well. Many covens employ an over eighteens only rule (though I believe a lot make exceptions for coven family members). The big question is, should we encourage and support young witches in following the craft?
To examine the case for "No....."
Young people have less life experience and are therefore possibly less well placed to discern genuine witchcraft from fakery or even potential abusers. There have been cases in the news where abusers have posed as magical practitioners in order to attract children. There is the potential for danger if young people are lured into cults with an ulterior motive.
Witchcraft is perceived as glamorous and is often portrayed as such in the media (think The Craft or that rather terrible tv series Charmed). Young people are sometimes more attracted to the glitter than the gold and this can lead to disappointment. Young witches can also have a tendancy to see magic as the first solution for all problems and this can result in them becoming a less balanced individual with a limited world view.
But I think there is a much stronger case for "Yes...."
I don't think we can make the assumption that common sense kicks in at eighteen. There are plenty of middle aged idiots running around and plenty of teenagers with a sensible head on their shoulders. It just doesn't seem logical to link common sense to age. And if we are throwing out that assumption then we have to acknowledge that there are plenty of young people savvy enough to be able to discern genuine witchcraft from the jiggery pokery stuff.
And witchcraft, practised properly, isn't something young people need to be protected from. Granted there are the shamming abusers who warp the path for their own twisted desires. But people like that exist in every walk of life. It isn't witches we need to protect children from, its abusers.
As you get older, your passions start to dwindle a bit. And I mean all your passions. You don't feel love as intensely, you don't anger as quickly, you don't flucuate as wildly between elation and despair. Your mind settles down and stabilises itself. So what better time to start working in a craft dependent on the intensity of your will than when you are still young enough to have the power of all that emotion behind your will? Young witches potentially have more power behind them than any of us older more staid types. And channelling some of that raw teenage emotion into spellwork might siphon off some of all that turmoil (that I remember so well from my own younger days) and that has got to be a positive for any young witch.
Then there is education. Young people today (and I don't care what the Daily Mail tells you about exams getting easier) have a tough and rigorous academic upbringing. So we are saying teenagers are bright enough to study Trigonometry, Geoffrey Chaucer and learn any number of foreign languages but we don't think they can get their heads round witchcraft? Well frankly I credit our young people with more intelligence than that.
Children grow up quicker these days. They learn about the responsibilities in life a lot younger than we ever did. My exams were a bit of a lark, young people today are very aware that their future may depend on their grades. They have a maturity that we didn't need to have. So if we are going to expect them to shoulder adult responsibilities, maybe we need to credit them with something back, a belief that they might just know what is best for them.
My own personal view is that if a young person genuinely wants to study the craft their age should not be a barrier for doing so. Obviously you should never force your own beliefs onto a child (or anyone else for that matter) but if a young person expresses a genuine interest in witchcraft then we should do them the courtesy of taking them seriously. Today's young people are the witches of the future. And to be honest, looking at some of the young witches I've met through my own site and others, the future's looking pretty good to me.
image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1205234 (Eastop)