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Friday, 4 August, 2000, 04:56 GMT 05:56 UK
Buffy draws children to witchcraft
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Witches' favourite: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Popular TV programmes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch encourage an interest in witchcraft among children, it is claimed.

The Pagan Federation, which represents druids and witches, says it has been "swamped" with calls following teenage programmes featuring good witches.

Speaking to BBC News Online the Pagan Federation's Steve Paine, the high priest of a coven, said the hit US drama Buffy and the highly successful Harry Potter books were popular amongst practising witches.

Harry Potter
Harry Potter: Harmless fun?
"They are taken as fantasy entertainment. But they do encourage people to think about different forms of spirituality", he said.

The Pagan Federation, which deals with about 100 enquiries a month from youngsters who want to become witches, does not allow anyone under the age of 18 to become a member.

Most of the enquiries are from 14 to 18 year-olds, and are dealt with "reactively" by a specially-appointed youth officer, an Essex based schoolteacher.

The officer seeks parental consent before issuing basic information leaflets and does not proselytise, according to the Federation.

"He explains things like the principle ethic of witchcraft - that you should not cause harm to anyone - and that it's not just an easy way to get a new boyfriend", says Pagan Federation media officer Andy Norfolk.

'Dangerous dabbling'

But the trend is described as "worrying" by John Buckeridge, editor of monthly Christian magazine Youthwork.

Mr Buckeridge said: "The growing number of books and TV shows like Harry Potter and Sabrina the Teenage Witch encourage an interest in magic as harmless fun.

"However for some young people it could fuel a fascination that leads to dangerous dabbling with occult powers. So what starts out as spooks and spells can lead to psychological and spiritual damage."

But pagans say teenagers have always been fascinated with paganism and the Christian Church has failed to satisfy the demand for spirituality in young people.

In Norfolk's view paganism involves "direct communication with the divine" and is not to be confused with cults or devil worship.

Arguing that their beliefs should be recognised as a religion, pagans have worked closely with organisations such as the LSE's Inform, set up to provide families with information on cults.

See also:

29 Mar 00 | Education
School bans Harry Potter
17 Oct 99 | Education
Harry Potter fights back
28 May 99 | Entertainment
Buffy slays the competition
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