Raising Children As a Pagan Parent
Because my beliefs are not the norm for my culture, I often wonder if I am raising my children well. I wandered into the path of Witchcraft when my oldest child was 2 years old. There was never the awkward moment of having to tell them that mommy was a witch and what that means. They grew up with the chants of the Pagan group Libana as their lullabies: “The Earth, the Air, the Fire, the Water, return, return, return, return. . .” In my arms, they watched me cast spells before they could speak or walk. Crystals, herbs, candles constantly burning, my creations of essential oils, Books of Shadows and ceremonial robes, swords, wands, staves, and chalices were their mundane world.
My children will never be like ordinary children at any point in their lives, and, I suppose, in many ways this is good. They will never wonder about being good enough to get into heaven. They will never fear “God’s Wrath.” They will not tally up the “sins” they’ve committed and worry about being saved. They will never feel that sex is evil and have extreme guilt for “doing it.” There is so much they won’t beat themselves up about, but there are also ways in which they may lose out.
Have you ever noticed that if someone meets a devout Christian, who is raising his children to be devout Christians, he is applauded for rearing his children with a belief system and a faith in this “faithless society”? But if you say that you are Wiccan, Pagan, Druid or another non-mainstream religion (after you’ve explained to them what you’re talking about) , they ask if you are giving them exposure to Christianity and giving them the option to be Christian.
At first my reaction is, “Why would we have to do that? Do you expose your children to other religions and give them the option to follow other beliefs? Have you taken your son to a Buddhist temple or a Wiccan circle to give him that experience?”
But in a way they are right – not about the religious part, but about the exposure. Imagine your child going to college and having to examine William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” or Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and not knowing anything about Christian doctrine. It would be the same as studying Chinese poetry without knowing anything about Taoism or Confucianism.
But how much exposure to Christianity do our children need? How much leeway do we give them for their own beliefs?
I was raised in a fairly non-religious house, which, in this culture, means that we did not go to church, but we were still Christian. In fact, years ago when I told my parents I was Pagan, for the first time in their lives, they wanted to “save me.” “I already saved myself, thank you.” My mother was so disturbed that any “New-Age” music, including Enya, instantly gave her a migraine simply because she associated it with Paganism. It took them years to understand my beliefs and still more before they accepted them. I am sure that during those years they asked themselves, “Where did we go wrong?”
As Pagan parents, should we feel obligated to raise our children to believe only what we believe? Or should we expose them to our culture’s mainstream beliefs so they are not so shocked when they enter school or meet other children? In these days when Child Protective Services can take your children from you before they prove you are endangering them, are we afraid to let our children be open about what we practice? Can you imagine the commotion your child would create if he goes to school with the symbol of the Horned-one on his t-shirt?
In truth, I do not have simple answers to these questions. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Some of us can be more open without fear; other cannot. I can tell you what I’ve done and what I’ve learned, and I hope that my lessons may guide you in your and your children’s journey.
I’ve learned never to cling to any dogma so tight that if it shatters, chunks of me go with it. I constantly write down my ideas, not so that they are written in stone, but so that I won’t forget them and I can see how they and I have changed and grown. What I believed fifteen years ago is vastly different from what I believe today. What I believed last year is different from what I believe today. I constantly experiment, ask questions, read new topics and theories in order to learn more and test my ideas and beliefs. I never say, “So I’ve reach enlightenment now and this is the truth.”
So then what do I teach my children as “the truth” if “my truth” constantly changes? What do I teach them if my only stable ideal is that of learning and a willingness to change my beliefs if new evidence arises and new epiphanies are had?
Well, that is a good place to start. Teach them to read everything that interests them. Teach them that although you do not know what the truth of life, the universe and everything actually is, that you search for it, that you have theories, and that you are open to new ideas, and they should be too. Tell them your theories on everything from creation to the Gods. When you struggle with the validity of your beliefs, let them know what these struggles are. After you’ve reached new conclusions tell them about it. Have you ever thought of asking your children, “What is God?” Maybe their answers will surprise you.
Next, teach them some of the fundamentals of our beliefs that are less likely to change.
Revere the Earth for She is our Mother as well as our Home. The more we do to protect Her, the better our future will be. The more we neglect or harm her, the worse our future will be. Some may call Her Gaia or Mother Earth, but She is a constant in nearly all Pagan belief systems. With this reverence, speak to them the mantra of recycle, reduce, reuse, so that we may harm Her less than past generations did.
Teach them to understand the Wheel of the Year as a beautiful, never ending dance that celebrates nature in all its phases. It does not matter whether we call it Beltane or someone else calls it May Day; it is the principles behind the holidays that are important: a celebration of life, a celebration of change, and a celebration of the natural world.
Show them how the Moon, La Luna, in Her many guises represents our own lives and the stages through which we go. We all share the experience of going through waxing, mature, waning and dark phases in our lives, and She is our nightly reminder of this fact. Her monthly journey mirrors our own.
Encourage them to do Magick on their own. The skills we initially strive to learn when we start out on the Path (meditation and visualization) , children have not yet forgotten – they just call it daydreaming and imagination. Children are naturally more creative and Magickal than adults. They may surprise you by their ability. Teach them to cast spells in a very natural way. There is no need for ritual even as an adult, so teach them simple chants and spells.
I have had wonderful success with all children over four years old, whom I have taught to do simple meditations and spells. Teaching them to utilize these skills before they lose them will mean that they won’t struggle with re-learning them as many of us did.
Let your children figure out whom the Gods are for themselves, for if the adults were not sure, why would we expect them to know. Even in our own Pagan culture we call Divinity by many different names and we see a myriad of Its faces. Imparting a simple openness to the idea that everyone sees the Divine in a different way will negate the fear of exploration of your children’s own spirituality.
I spent most of my childhood communing with nature. I was the youngest of six children, and my closest sibling was five years older than I was. I grew up in the country with no one my age living nearby. I spent many a day buried in a pit of dry oak leaves melding with the natural world. My playmates were chickens and dogs. Even at a young age, I had a unique concept of God. I am very glad my parents did not try to supplant that with their own vision (even if it was through laziness) . It allowed me to grow at a natural pace.
Give to them that love of all things natural. Show them the magic of sitting under a tree, watching the clouds, and growing things in the ground. Even if some of us are not outdoorsy types, who among us does not feel uplifted by the first crisp fall morning or the first sweet drops of snow in winter, the smell of the ocean breeze or the brilliant colors of the first spring flowers.
Tell them to respect other people. For everyone, no matter his or her age or intelligence or belief system has something to teach you. Everyone has a unique perspective – this is the gift of diversity.
Demonstrate the courage, that although we may not advertise our beliefs, it is okay to be different and it is fine to believe things that not many others believe. To find the courage to hold our own in the face negative reactions and the desire to fit in is difficult, but we can be that example to educate our children to find it within themselves.
As far as what they should or should not tell others, use your judgment. Your situation may be different than mine. I homeschool my children, so I do not have to worry about what they say in school, because for us school is the playroom. But even so, there are people with whom we are comfortable telling all and there are people with whom we are not. It would be a wonderful world if all diversity was accepted, but it is not so. I feel that as long as I give them love and teach them acceptance of their ideas, they will be fine.