Witches take pagan message to youth

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The Independent Online

The Pagan Federation has appointed an Essex comprehensive school media studies teacher as its first youth manager - to educate teenagers about witchcraft.

Ralph Morse, a 44-year-old "witch" from Colchester and member of the local Silver Wheel coven, is producing an information pack about paganism and witchcraft for distribution to inquiring youngsters.

His appointment has caused anger among Christian groups who describe Mr Morse's role as "dangerous". The local MP will raise the matter this week with education bosses.

Mr Morse freely admits to participating in naked initiation ceremonies and to casting spells. He believes that all humans possess untapped psychic powers, which can be unleashed through worship. He says all spells cast by Pagan Federation members are used only for good. He will use his position as youth manager to counter the "misleading" information about pagans and to steer youngsters away from unscrupulous internet sites which may, he says, be luring them into satanic cults and devil worship.

Pagans, who predate Christians by several thousand years, worship a multitude of deities, based mainly on the seasons and harvests. Paganism is enjoying a modern-day revival some 500 years after the witchfinder general first began killing suspected witches. There are an estimated 100,000 pagans currently practising in the UK.

Kate West, a 42-year-old witch and vice president of the Pagan Federation, has just received an advance from publishers HarperCollins to write The Young Witches Handbook. Television programmes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, with viewing figures often topping two million, have fuelled its increasing popularity.

Mr Morse, whose wife Carole is a high priestess, was appointed following a surge in inquiries to the Pagan Federation which represents the interests of its 7,000 members.

He will not distribute information to children under 16 without parental permission first. "This is not about indoctrination," said Mr Morse, who teaches at the 1,300-pupil Shenfield High School in Essex. "We are being reactive to the needs of society and its young people.

"Over the last couple of years the number of inquiries from young people has increased dramatically. As a teacher I am already concerned with the protection of minors. There are thousands of internet sites out there but there is unfortunately a lot of misinformation and bogus people."

He denies he will preach, convert or recruit youngsters and has discussed his new role with his school bosses. But local MP Eric Pickles has promised to raise the matter this week with Shenfield High's head teacher.

"If he is a youth manager but his job isn't about attracting youths [to paganism], then what on earth is he doing?" said Mr Pickles, a Conservative frontbench spokesman on social security. "He is obviously a person children are in regular contact with and therefore I am going to take the sensible precaution of raising this with the head teacher to see if we can lay some guide rules down."

Father Leslie Knight, the local Roman Catholic parish priest, will hold a meeting with parishioners next week. "We should be promoting Christianity and not things which go into witchcraft and magic," he said.

Doug Harris, spokesman for the Reach Out Trust, a Christian group which helps people involved with the occult, said: "Paganism opens you up to a supernatural power that cannot be controlled. It's dangerous to encourage young people."

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