Buffy and Sabrina work their magic on children

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A rapidly growing interest in witchcraft among children has been fuelled by popular TV programmes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the Pagan Federation said today.

A rapidly growing interest in witchcraft among children has been fuelled by popular TV programmes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the Pagan Federation said today.

The organisation claims it has occasionally been "swamped" with calls and normally deals with an average of 100 inquiries a month from youngsters who want to become witches.

Media officer Andy Norfolk said the federation's first youth officer was appointed in September after it received calls following recent articles about paganism in teenage magazines.

He said the youth officer explained the principal ethic of witchcraft - that you should not cause harm to anyone - and that it was not just an easy way to get a new boyfriend.

He insisted that the federation was a responsible organisation which did not allow anyone under the age of 18 to become a member.

Explaining the growing interest in recent years, Mr Norfolk claimed the Christian Church had failed to provide the right degree of spirituality for young people, while paganism involved direct communication with the divine.

Kate West, a 42-year-old witch and vice-president of the federation, who was recently commissioned by publisher HarperCollins to write an introductory handbook on witchcraft, believes teenage interest in paganism has always been substantial.

She said when she was a teenager there had been very few books on witchcraft available, but now the internet made information much more accessible.

But the growing trend was described as "worrying" by John Buckeridge, editor of monthly Christian magazine Youthwork. He said it encouraged an interest in magic as harmless fun - which could ultimately result in dangerous dabbling with occult powers and psychological or spiritual damage.

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