Journal Article Critique 2
Jarvis, C. (2008), Becoming a Woman Through Wicca: Witches and Wiccans in Contemporary Teen Fiction. Children’s Literature in Education, 39: pp. 43–52. doi:10.1007/s10583-007-9058-0
Religion, spirituality and ethics have all held a large role in both human self-perception and interpersonal relations throughout much of human history, especially for classes such as gender and sexual orientation. One religion, Wicca, has been notably differentiated from this history by its long-standing embrace of the “witch” as a foundational, individualized participant in the religion, its organizational default to individual or small-group observance, its lack of any central work of scripture, and its semi-amorphic adaptation to backgrounds and ideals as diverse as the witches who observe it. The history of the “craft” during the social upheavals and reforms of the 20th century, particularly those which affected women, provides a rich background for its purposing in genre fiction as a plot device. Jarvis’ analysis of Cate Tiernan’s Wicca series, among similar works, is largely an analysis of the series’ impact upon “the intersection between fantasy and the socially and historically grounded portrayal of spiritual/religious experience and practice” for an audience – young adults – who are most impacted by interests, life events and figures who play a role in shaping their future personal identities and worldviews as adults (45).
Rationale and theoretical scope
Jarvis intends to use this study to analyze the social value of a genre of teen fiction which presents “witchcraft as a religious choice for human beings”, namely teenagers (43). From the series, Jarvis derives insights into how the series portrays the impact of religion upon or within “the family, learning and self-discipline, and sex and sexuality” (46), which works with the analysis’ theoretical scope of this intersection between gender, identity and religion. She provides a historical background of the Wiccan religion, including its origin in the United Kingdom, its importation to countries like the United States, and its emancipatory relationship with the women’s liberation movement, with female witches creating observances which explicitly shunned the gender stratification which they had seen in Abrahamic religions.
From this point, Jarvis explores the impact of the Wiccan religion upon the characters in the series in the areas of “the family, learning and self-discipline, and sex and sexuality” with summarization of key events in many of the series’ books. The main character, Morgan, develops throughout the series from her role as a daughter of a devout Roman Catholic family to being introduced by a friend to a Wiccan observance to later strains with her family, with her abilities as a practitioner of the craft, and finally with divisive passions among elements of her own Wiccan community, all the while coming into her own as a young woman, an exceptionally-powerful and adept “blood witch” and an autonomous individual who bucks the determinations of others. This evolution, and the periodic comparison of key events in the evolution with cited commentary on the ethics and practice of the Wiccan religion, drive home Jarvis’ theory of the series as a work which redeems, in a utilitarian sense, religion (like Wicca) as a personal and empowering force in human experience, a force which is both ethical and embracing of individuation.
Jarvis further explores how fantasy and romance, major tropes in popular teen fiction, provide the proper “couch” for the presence of religion and personal maturation in the series, as the tropes of fantasy and romance in the novel are heavily “entwined with the theme of religious awakening” (49). Jarvis concludes that Wicca and similar works (such as the character Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Annie from the Circle of Three series), “without imposing the rigid morality and intolerance about other religions, women and sexuality that characterise many religions,” offer readers the fiction-based embrace of a more “liberal”, individuative, feminine-inclusive spirituality and resulting ethical and personal experiences which place the onus of fulfilling the Wiccan Rede – ‘Do what you will an it harm none’ – upon the characters as individuals (51).
The arguments made in the analysis are valid in that the numerous examples of key behaviors and statements by the characters are backed with citations of both the book and past writings on the Wiccan religion from both self-identified Wiccans and non-Wiccans. The arguments in the study are also consistent with each other in how they follow the character’s development and connote key stages as being reflective of both Wiccan practice and teenage female life, building to the conclusion of an interconnectivity between the two. The heuristic value of the study is that it provides opportunities for readers and writers to reappraise the intersection between fantastic cognitive constructs, both in religion and in more secular fiction, and real-world ethical observance, and also provides an interpretation of this intersection as one which can liberalize and individuate, rather than cloister and impress, prevalent societal identities and behaviors. The parsimony of the article is that the article’s main communicative theory can be broken down as four axioms: “Religion and spirituality are ethical frameworks for social and cognitive growth”, “Fantasy fiction presents observance of religion, magic and spirituality as integrable with teenage female life,” “Religion can emphasize ‘right behavior’ over ‘right belief,’” and that “Gender diversity and self-empowerment can be affirmed by religious belief and societal behavior.”
In conclusion, the analysis by Jarvis makes a solid attempt to engage the broader importance and popularity of religion and fantasy to teen girls. It reviews the history of Wicca and relationship with women’s history, compares the development of the main character of Wicca through life stages which mark her growth in all aspects to the ethical practices most identified in scholarly literature with Wicca, and the utility of fantasy and romance fiction as vehicles for ethical and spiritual tropes. It also pushes strongly for Wicca as both a feminine-inclusive, individuating religion and, as a result, a suitable plot device for engaging the minds of young adult women with advocacy of self-awareness and right behavior. The analysis of Wicca by Jarvis does a suitable job of appraising the series for its social and interpersonal relevance.