When Dominik Zakrzewski started practicing witchcraft in the fifth grade, he had rebellion on his mind. Wicca was the most "left-wing" religion he could find. He also wanted to control others, and he thought witchcraft would show him how. But nothing worked the way he planned.

"I cast some pretty stupid spells to manipulate people," he said. "And it all came back on me. It crashed, and all my friends went away. It was like karma."

Dominik now says he learned a hard lesson in what witches call the threefold rule: "Everything you send out comes back to you threefold." His experience sent him fleeing back to the Catholicism of his family, but not for long. He's now 17 and has counted himself a devout neo-Pagan for three years.

"People see witchcraft and spells as a way to have power, but that's totally false. The whole goal of Wicca and spells is to gain control of yourself," he said.

When neo-Pagans celebrate the festival that they call Samhain (sow-een)--what the rest of the world calls Halloween--more teens than ever will be among them. Some will be the children of adult pagans. These are youngsters who have grown up in the faith and are now becoming teenagers in large numbers, according to sociologist Dr. Mary Jo Neitz, who has studied two groups of Wiccans for 13 years and has noticed about a 20% increase in teens over the past five years.

People see witchcraft and spells as a way to have power, but that's totally false. The whole goal of Wicca and spells is to gain control of yourself.

Other teens are being brought to neo-Paganism by the influence of the internet where Pagan sites abound. One of them, The Witches' Voice, has its own teen page and includes almost 300 other sites devoted to teens. It also lists teen covens and groups all over the country. At least one Californian group meets in a high school, and web pages sponsored by teen Pagans are plentiful. One site, New Moon Grove, hosts a club for young Wiccans that lists 1,002 members.

One is hosted by an 18-year-old Midwestern college student named Cabell "Copper" Gathman, whose site includes her photo and indicates she has been a solitary eclectic Pagan for four years. "I always believed in magick.that is to say, I believed when I was small, and I never was able to let go of wanting to believe," she wrote in a page titled "How I Got This Way."

"Neo-Paganism tends to attract people who feel disenfranchised from mainstream religion, and as a liberal female bisexual, I definitely did," wrote Copper, in response to an e-mail query.The Rev. Wren Walker, who co-directs Witches' Voice, says thousands of teens consider themselves Pagans.

"Teens are looking for a belief system that empowers them," she said. "I'm sure there are some that decide they're going to dress in black and put black liner on and go all ooky-gooky to their classmates...but for the most part we find that teens are very sincere. They're interested in finding something that they can do to assume responsibility in society."

Neitz says kids who really want to rebel are more likely to gravitate toward Satanism, which she said is not an organized religion, as Wicca is.

"Wicca taps into real desires for spiritual meaning," said Neitz, who teaches at the University of Missouri in Columbia. "They seek out other people. They want to be part of a community of people...."

Wicca assures teens that their good deeds will improve their own lives and the lives of others, said Walker. The good magic of spells also empowers them. They can do spells for better grades, spells for conquering shyness, spells for getting love. Love spells are understandably popular with teens, but Wicca rules restrict how they can be applied, a lesson Dominik has learned.

When he and a 17-year-old friend who goes by the craft name of Nesisis did a love spell in Central Park last year, they didn't try to make any specific person love them. "You can ask the universe for the right person as long as you don't focus on a specific person," Dominik explains.

Because Nesisis' mother is Wiccan, she was reared in the faith. Teens who adopt the faith on their own are generally more mature than their peers, she said. "They're old souls," said Nesisis, whose craft name incorporates the name of her favorite goddess, Isis.

Pagan teens often talk about being attracted to the so-called earth religions because of their emphasis on goddesses and their connection to nature. Teens like the lack of structure and the absence of numerous rules.

"I wasn't converted. I found it for myself, and that's what I like about it," said Dominik.

Many became interested in the faith early. Dominik was a fifth grader. Elizabeth, an 18-year-old witch from Ukiah, Calif., was 12. "I don't know if there was a time when I didn't know about it, at least intuitively," she said. "I'm a solitary type person. I spend a lot of time in nature. It was like it was already there."

Victoria, a seventh grader from Shorewood, Wisc., is 12 and adopted Wicca as her faith last March. A friend told her about it, and then she read a book called "Teen Witch."

"When I researched Wicca, I found out that it was all the beliefs that I already have--reincarnation, that the gods and goddesses are in everything around us," said Victoria.

"Teen Witch," written by a mother of four who calls herself Silver Ravenwolf, has sold 131,000 copies, according to its publisher Llewellyn Publications.

Many teens don't tell their parents about their Pagan beliefs, according to Walker and other adult Pagans. Those who do sometimes face disapproval. They tell of grandparents who fear they're going to hell and parents who suspect they're being lured into cults.

"My dad is convinced that I'm a devil worshipper," Angie Ledingham wrote in a teen page essay published by Witches' Voice.

Her school friends also shunned her and called her names when she told them about her new beliefs. She was rescued from friendlessness by the movie "The Craft." After the film came out, classmates began asking questions. "Some of them started to practice with me. Most of us had broken homes. I think perhaps we were reaching out for the Goddess because we had no mothers," she wrote.

Where teens live also seems to have an impact on how their new religion is received. "I live in New York City, which is one of the weirdest places in the world," said Dominik, who attends Catholic high school. "All my teachers are open with me, and I'm very open about my religion."

Victoria says she gets grudging acceptance.

"My dad doesn't like to talk about it, and he doesn't like my altar," she said. "He goes along with it because he's, like, OK with my decisions."

Even so, Victoria's dad is open to one benefit her new faith might provide, she said.

"I'm working on a love spell for him," she said. "He suggested it because he's having a bit of a love-crisis thing. So he found that, in my teen witch book, I have love spells, and he wanted to try it out."
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