Pointy hats and eye of newt are so three centuries ago, but witchery hasn't gone out of style. The chick in the Steelers sweatshirt ahead of you in line at Giant Eagle might be a pagan -- or maybe the kid bagging your bananas at the end has tried his hand at Wiccan spell-casting.
Spellbooks, too, have gotten an update. There's no need to peruse a huge, leather-bound tome of vellum to find a baroque incantation for smiting the enemy. Contemporary witches -- and slightly sheepish book reviewers -- can turn to Francesca De Grandis' latest work, a slim, bubblegum-pink volume called Be a Teen Goddess! (Citadel Press).
De Grandis describes herself as a Celtic shaman and is the founder of the Third Road school of Goddess Spirituality. She lives in Western Pennsylvania and has written three other "Goddess" books. This is her first offering specifically for teens.
"Teens need all the help they can get," she says, in a telephone interview. "It's a difficult time and Wicca has a lot of answers."
Answers come in the form of "Spell to Become a Bitch," "Wow, I'm Fabulous! A Charm for Love and Self-Esteem" and the "Ra Ra Ra Chant," along with various other spells and rituals, and a few twinkly stars on every page.
The spells tend toward the symbolic -- soap and water to clean away internal blocks, for instance -- and the ingredients are mostly stuff that's already in the kitchen cabinets. Substitutions are always recommended -- if you don't have a red satin bag, an envelope will work fine.
Their aims, too, are more earthly than freaky. While you will find spells to ward off gossip, shore up confidence and generally cheer up, there's nothing truly supernatural in the book -- no levitating, disappearing or balancing Pittsburgh's budget.
The book begins with a basic description of what Wicca is and is not. The terms Wicca and paganism are used mostly interchangeably, and refer to a joyous, natural style of communing with the divine Goddess and God. It's not satanic, and doesn't really contradict any other form of religion.
"I know Christian witches," De Grandis says. "Traditionally pagans have used what will work, so if another religion has something good, pagans will use it." She adds that the exchange goes both ways -- pagan traditions have worked their way into Christian and secular holidays.
"Halloween for witches is actually Samhain," De Grandis says. "It's a holy day for us, at which time we celebrate the harvest and we honor our beloved dead."
The spells and rituals in Be a Teen Goddess! do make mention of the "old gods," but the emphasis is less on history and sacred pagan holidays than on very specific magical responses to situations in a teen-ager's life.
"It's a cookbook of spells," De Grandis says. "You can be a complete novice and use it, and a lot of adult longtime practitioners are using the book."
The title itself sounds feminine, but the spells are gender-inclusive and the author often mentions particular modifications to make the terms masculine. The "Ritual to Celebrate First Menses" can work for dude-witches who want to celebrate finally being able to shave, for instance.
There is some silly, breathless stuff here: "How to Find Magical Tools in the Mall"; the chant "Car or book or DVD, he lives inside it all for me" for attracting material wealth; and enough exclamation points and use of the phrase "Whoo hoo!" to make even the least cynical AOL-addicted 14-year-old girl roll her eyes. But there are also healthy doses of reality.
Often, the author recommends discussing problems with parents or other trusted adults before turning to magical solutions. There's a "Letter to Parents" meant to ease the fears of adults wary of all things cultish. A "Guide to Axes" gives phone and Internet contacts for teen issues beyond the scope of any book, magical or otherwise -- drug or alcohol problems or physical or sexual abuse, for example.
Good-naturedly kooky, the tone -- De Grandis calls it "girlfriend chat" -- can occasionally be so precious that it overwhelms the message of the book, which, all chanting and ritual aside, is basically one of being intuitive, decent to one another and delighting in the good of the world. And that's not scary stuff at all.