• Teaching Magic to Teenagers

    This is an article I wrote back on the old PF forum and Thalassa has very kindly found it again for me.

    Teaching Magic to Teenagers
    by Tylluan Penry (originally posted on March 20, 2009, 05:31:00 PM)

    Let’s get something straight from the beginning. I’m not a magus, high priestess or Great Lady of the Greenwood. I don’t dress in black, wear pentacle earrings or exclaim ‘Oh goddess!’ when I drop a brick on my foot. In fact, I’d probably get lost in a crowd of three, and that’s just the way I like it. If you passed me in the street you wouldn’t give me a second look. You certainly wouldn’t think I was a witch or that I had taught magic for several decades.

    My students of magic have come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and backgrounds. But until recently, I’ve always been very reluctant to teach teenagers. It’s not that I feel they’re too immature to understand magical concepts. Not at all. I think if a teenager can cope with school, juggle exams, a part time job and learning to drive they can cope just as well with elementary magic as someone ten years older.

    No, my problem is not their understanding nor their maturity. What worries me is their power.

    You see, whether we like it or not, children and teenagers are already doing magic under our noses. Older students can take years to get to grips with visualisation, but five year olds have been generating thought forms ever since they could first create an imaginary friend or play games of make believe.

    So teaching magic to the average adolescent is a bit like trying to tame a wild horse: exhilarating yes, but also exhausting and occasionally dangerous. Many teenagers are brimming over with so much power that if they start dabbling in magic without proper guidance they could well blow a psychic fuse – theirs or someone else’s!

    So for years I refused to teach teens. Even when they asked me nicely. But over the years I realised that I was being unfair. Okay, they were powerful, they were challenging, but without proper guidance they were extremely vulnerable. And proper tuition, geared to their specific needs is not all that easy to come by.

    Now it’s a sad fact of life that there are plenty of people who will exploit you. Garages will exploit you when your car needs vital repairs, politicians will exploit you when they think they’ve got your vote in their pocket. And there are ‘Teachers of Magick’ who will exploit a young person’s desire to learn, knowing they are limited in their choice of teachers.

    Despite the grand titles they award themselves, many of these teachers are often not all that experienced and some have a very unbalanced view of magic. Many see spells as the answer to all life’s problems so the moment they spot something that could be remotely described as a crisis they whip out their Book of Shadows and start looking for an incantation to deal with it. Some even see magical attacks and manufacture ‘witch wars’ where none really exist.

    On the other hand, there are those who try and occupy the moral high ground and say that you should never use magic. Some of these are so timid they cast around for other solutions ad nauseum in the hope that something – anything – will suggest itself and they won’t have to do anything magical about it.

    Both extremes rather miss the point. If you want to do magic, you have to practice it and you have to learn about it thoroughly, not just play around with wands and athames and pretty crystals. You wouldn’t dream of dabbling with electricity, would you? At least, I hope not!

    It’s the same with magic; you have to know what you’re doing. But unless you have a family member willing to train you, you are thrown back on your own resources. Often this means your only option is looking for ‘Teen Wicca’ books in your local library. And that’s always supposing these books are in stock - the head librarian in my local library refuses to display books on paganism (or, weirdly, car maintenance) in case the ‘wrong people’ read them.

    Even if you do manage to find some basic books on ‘teen magic’ you have to realise their limitations. Most will teach a variety of spells but not the real ‘how and why’ that underpins all good magical practice and almost all of them have a strong bias towards Wicca which is not the be all and end all of magic. There are other, equally valid paths.

    So while you’re looking for that perfect book or ideal teacher, I’m going to show you a few things that will stand you in good stead. After all you’ve probably read about circle casting, rituals, candles and athames, this is going to seem pretty boring and mundane. You won’t need any special tools or robes. But it works. And if you master it now, while you’re young and powerful, you will be a force to be reckoned with later on.

    In my experience (and yes, there are other, equally valid methods out there) the essence of all magical practice lies in the breathing. Unless you take some time to properly understand this, and learn exercises to control your breath, the rest is just dressing up and poetry. If you learn to work through your breathing, you will find that you can do magic anywhere, at any time.

    Several times, every minute of our lives, we draw air from the world around us into our lungs and then expel it back into the air. During that time the ‘air’ changes its chemical composition, and the air we breathe out is no longer fit to breathe in again. (That’s why you would suffocate in an airtight compartment.) A constant supply of fresh air is essential to us. Many people, from pregnant mothers to singers on the stage use deep breathing to help them steady themselves, but there’s much more to it than that - for all magic takes place on the ‘out’ breath.

    So next time you go for a walk practice controlling your breath. Breathe in for four paces; then breathe out for eight. Then in for five paces and out for ten. When you can breathe in for ten and out for twenty you are doing well. Then try breathing in for four; hold it for four; breathe out for eight and hold that for four. The beauty of these exercises is that you can do them anywhere, even in a room full of people. You should practice them regularly so that they become second nature to you.

    Your breathing can be adjusted for the type of spell, but basically more complex spells require a longer out-breath. You formulate your intention as you breathe in, hold it close to you, and then propel the spell outwards as you breathe out. Don’t forget to hold your breath for a further count to make sure that the spell stays where you sent it and doesn’t try to come back to you! The ancient saying, ‘curses are like old hens, they always come home to roost’ was almost certainly the result of bitter experience.

    Simple spells can usually be done with an in-breath of five and an out-breath of ten. You will find (as you practice) that certain types of spell may require more or less force on the ‘out’ breath.

    Before rushing off to try and turn your annoying little brother into a frog, however, remember that although you have power, at the moment it’s an untrained force. Teenagers and magic are a bit like teenagers and powerful cars – a dangerous combination. Psychically you may be powerful, but mentally you could be just as untidy as your bedrooms. Trying to perform magic while your head is full of mental and emotional clutter is like going fishing with high explosives rather than a rod and line!

    What sort of magic can people do? Almost anything, it depends what interests you. I had an aunt who did weather spells. (I don’t know why, it wasn’t as though any of the family went to sea and needed a fair wind to bring them home.) One of my grandmothers could charm warts. Another family member can change traffic lights and I’ve seen people put out street lamps by simply walking under them and ‘thinking them out.’ Most of my own family (I come from a line of witches) could hex until the cows came home.

    Some people can influence plant growth. This is a good place for beginners to make a start. Try a controlled experiment for yourself with a packet of seeds and two pots. Give each exactly the same treatment, sunlight, water etc., but breathe on the one pot and encourage it to grow, while leaving the other well alone. Be prepared to experiment – some seeds respond better than others, and be prepared to make several experiments.

    All this sounds very tame I know. But if you start off small you learn to control your power, and good control makes for good, consistently accurate magic. If you are too ambitious at the start you can end up with magic controlling you - and that can lead the unwary into some very dark places indeed.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Teaching Magic to Teenagers started by Tylluan Penry View original post
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