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Why Do I Have to Wait?

I get some variation of this question in my inbox at least once a week, if not more often:

I’m thirteen. Will you be my teacher? And by the way, don’t tell my parents I emailed you.

I’m sixteen, but I can’t find a teacher in my area who will teach me unless I’m eighteen or older. Isn’t that discrimination?

I know a lot of teachers won’t take a student under eighteen, but I’m seventeen and very mature. Can you help me?

I know it must seem like Pagan teachers who won’t take minor students are discriminating against teens, and I know that is incredibly frustrating when you are excited about learning and want to start now. But the truth is, any teacher who takes on a minor student risks breaking the law.

For better or for worse, people under the age of eighteen (nineteen in Alabama and Nebraska, twenty-one in Mississippi and Washington, DC) are legally under the control of their parents. That means that their parents are entitled to make decisions about pretty much every aspect of their lives, including their religious education. It is against the law for an adult to interfere with parents’ rights to determine the religious education (if any) of their children.

Some Pagan teachers will take a minor student with the permission of the student’s parents. In many cases this works fine, but if a student’s parents suddenly change their minds or decide that what their child is learning is not what they thought it would be, that can spell legal trouble for the teacher. Some teachers attempt to prevent this by requiring the parent(s) to attend classes with the child or having regular parent-teacher check-ins, but even with these precautions, there is no guarantee parents won’t become upset by something their child is learning and cause problems for the teacher.

There are other reasons why some teachers won’t take on minors. Wine is an important part of some Pagan practices, and some Pagan traditions use sexual symbolism in their rites. (Some cut out the middle man and use actual sex.) It is utterly inappropriate and illegal to expose a minor to any of these things.

So what’s a teen who wants to study Paganism supposed to do? If your parents are at all receptive, try asking them if they would allow you to study, either with a teacher or by yourself. They might freak out at first, but they might come around with time. If they are opposed to you working with a teacher, ask if you can read Pagan books and websites with their supervision. Involve them in your study so they understand what you’re learning and can make choices about what to allow. If you are honest and responsible and earn their trust, they might allow you to learn more than if you try to hide things from them.

If your parents are not receptive, do not lie to them. It is absolutely not okay to lie. As long as you are under their roof, you have to live by their rules. Everybody who writes me about this topic wants a different answer than this, but the truth is as long as you’re a minor, your parents are in control, and there’s no way around it. It won’t last forever, even if it seems like it will.

If your parents are opposed to you learning Paganism now, there are many other things you can study while you are waiting. (And no, Mom and Dad, they’re not “gateway drugs” to Paganism, although they could inform Pagan practice if your child decides to become Pagan someday.) Some of these topics are:

  • Tai chi or yoga (to learn more about focus, meditation, and energy work—plus it’s just good for you!)
  • World mythology and comparative mythology
  • World religions
  • History of religion and Pagan cultures
  • Your ancestry (many Pagans like to follow a tradition that honors the gods of their ancestors)
  • Your parents’ religion (makes it easier to have a healthy conversation with them, and you might find you actually like their faith)
  • Herbs and stones
  • Animals
  • Ecology

If you have to wait until you’re of age, hang in there. Waiting sucks, but Paganism isn’t going away, and it will be there if and when you’re ready for it.

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Thea Sabin is a writer/editor whose professional work currently focuses on web content management, curriculum development, and instructional design. She has taught a variety of subjects—including editing, high school English and theater, gardening, crafts, Wicca, and astrology—off and on for more than two decades. A practicing Wiccan since her teens, she first started teaching Wicca—very, very badly and long before she was ready—in college. She wrote her book Teaching Wicca and Paganism in the hope that it would help other teachers get a better start than she did. Her first book, Wicca for Beginners, was designed to help seekers new to Wicca build a foundation for Wiccan practice. Find Thea on Facebook or at www.theasabin.com.

Comments

  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter Tuesday, 12 February 2013

    This is a great article, thank you for addressing one of those topics we all experience, yet don't really talk about much. I agree with everything you've offered here, especially when it comes to the elements of sexuality and will file this link away for the rainy day when I might receive such a request. BB

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