Lets start with my own age. I'm 35. I hold down a full time job, I run a home, I'm married and I (almost) always pay my credit card on time. To all intents and purposes I am in the eyes of the world a responsible adult. And yet, in my head I'm still somewhere around fourteen years old... Certainly I've changed thoughts and opinions over the years and like anyone else in their thirties I've seen a bit of life. But my ability to discern what works for me hasn't changed since I was a teenager. Put simply, the fundamental blueprint of who I am was established in my teens and has stayed pretty much the same since. I think we put a lot of emphasis on the "maturity" of our adult selves but I bet most people, if they are honest with themselves, would admit that they haven't really changed inside all that much since their salad days.
With the above in mind, I find it difficult to understand why some Witches are so determined to exclude teenagers from studying and practising the craft. I get a lot of email from Witches, teenagers and adults alike and I have to say that the correspondence from younger witches is every bit as informed and aware as their older counterparts. Based on my own experience of Witches across a wide range of ages I can see no difference between the way the age groups approach the craft that would induce me to exclude a range of practitioners based on their age alone. I strongly suspect a lot of this exclusion is based on the desire to keep the craft secretive and esoteric and I'm afraid I dislike such practise intensely. I don't validate myself as a Witch by clinging onto what I have learned and keeping it secret with the intention of feeling superior to others and I would seriously question the motives of those who do.
Each age group brings something different to the craft. The crones bring wisdom and hindsight, people of my own age somewhere in the middle have a mixture of experience and energy and young people have passion and fire. Each of these makes a contribution to the craft, either as an entity in its own right or as the solitary path of the individual. And lets not forget that the experience of the middle aged and the wisdom of the crone is based on what has gone before. We could argue that starting the study of Witchcraft at the age the individual feels right to them contributes to the eventual fulfilling of their potential to be the witch they will one day become.
I often work with a Witch who is a good ten years younger than myself and find her gifts compliment my own very well. I think a lot of this is actually due to the difference in our ages. At 35 I have the confidence to create and direct spell work and I have enough experience behind me to know what works and what doesn't. My apprentice however has a much greater level of energy and intensity that brings a real focus to the work that we do. Fifteen years ago I'd have been considered intense but intensity does dwindle as you approach middle age and I find it hard now to bring that level of absolute intensity into my work. It suits me very well to work with somebody who is still capable of generating that level of emotion.
My apprentice is what you might call a natural Witch and again I think such gifts are entirely independent of age. You don't start feeling like a Witch on your eighteenth birthday, Witches who have that inherent ability within them will show signs from a very young age. I think it unfair to let such a person languish in ignorance and be discouraged from developing those gifts until they reach an arbitary age imposed by society. Not only is it unfair it is also potentially dangerous as an untrained Witch is likely to be a liability. The abilities of a Witch are not dependant on age, I've known Witches in their teens be capable of generating far more powerful magic than their adult counterparts. It seems churlish not to offer them the support and guidance at the age they need it.
I'd also argue that if we deliberately exclude the young from our knowledge and experience of the craft we are doing them no favours because young people are notorious for doing what they want anyway. Without a credible channel of support they will seek out the dodgier sites on the internet and become fodder for the self styled ego feeding gurus who will teach our children Goddess knows what and lead them down a path designed to fuel the ego of the teacher, not to develop the path of the individual. It is with this thought in mind that I would always personally strive to offer all the support I can to young people. If they are going to get advice from anywhere, best they get it from those of us who genuinely have their best interests in mind.
Witchcraft is as we all know a secular craft but it is becoming increasingly more entwined with religion in the modern sense of the word. Speaking more in relation to Wicca than to Trad Craft, when we exclude young people we are denying them a chance to practise their spirituality in a way that feels right for them. Religion can be a valuable source of strength for the individual and, particularly in the difficult teenage years, having a religious structure in your life can be a real support.I would hate to think we denied our young people the opportunity for this support at what can be a very difficult time of life.
I'm not suggesting all the covens drop their age limits and we start treating all children like adults. That would be inappropriate, children are not adults and pushing adult knowledge and responsibilities onto their shoulders would be too big an ask. But what I am saying is that there are ways to introduce a child or a teenager to the craft gently. I see nothing wrong with answering their questions, helping them to understand how to direct their energies into basic spell work or pointing them toward books on the subject that will help them understand the workings of the craft they wish to pursue. By demystifying the craft and allowing young people to explore, we help them to seek out appropriate channels of information and enable them to explore their own skills and abilities in a safe environment. I believe very strongly that in doing this we are contributing to their future as mature capable adult Witches who in turn can use their abilities to help and support others.
Image http://www.deviantart.com/art/Young-Witch-214008939 (Elite Art Owner)