This was originally published on June 16, 2015
For many reasons, a lot of Pagan parents feel leery about sharing their spiritual path with their children. Many of us have come from strict and oppressive religious backgrounds and didn’t want our kids to have to go through that. All of the Pagan families with whom I spoke want their children to be able to think for themselves and choose the path that bests suits them, not what the parents impose on them. Some of us follow traditions that are oath bound, like British Traditional Wicca, and therefore cannot share our practice with others who are not initiated. Children are too young to be initiated, so they often have to wait until they are adults to join their parents. Quite a few of us are trying to keep our faith private as we might live in areas where we need to hide our path. Kids don’t always understand privacy, and the last thing a parent in that situation needs is for their kid to say something “Witchy” and out them. Some have mixed faith marriages, like Christianity and Wicca so entwining them seems impossible. Many of us have family that flat out don’t understand us and our path, or maybe we’re afraid to lose child custody rights because there’s so much misinformation about Wicca and Paganism in general.
So, what do we teach our children, and is that even a good idea?
Here’s the thing – there’s no such thing as NOT teaching our children. Kids are sponges that soak up knowledge from everywhere. We teach them with our actions and our words. So the question isn’t really SHOULD we teach our children but, WHAT shall we teach our children.
In the beginning, I was leery of sharing my path with my children. I wanted them to be open minded, so I tried to remain vague about my beliefs. I’d often say things like “well, some people think this, and others that.” One day my son, having been plagued with nightmares for several nights in a row, happen to watch a cute little Christian cartoon show called “Veggie Tales” over at a friend’s house. The show was entitled “Where’s God When I’m Scared.” He was so happy to know that God was watching over him; the nightmares began to fade away.
At first, I was a little upset as I hadn’t been asked by my friend if he could watch something religious but, when I sat down to watch the show with him, I understood. He wanted structure and to feel safe. He (and my daughter) needed to be rooted in a spiritual path so they wouldn’t feel so afraid and alone. I also realized for them to understand religions, they needed to understand one first to be able to compare.
Every family is different; this is what our family needed. Maybe you don’t want to go that far yet. Maybe you want to share your values without sharing your practice. What do you do? There are many Pagan-type things you can share with your kid without being specifically Pagan – the turning of the seasons, love and respect for Earth, herbal remedies, faeries, dragons, unicorns. The easiest and most discreet way would be to give the kids bread crumbs to follow. Focus on Nature and Earth. There are so many ways to do that, especially nowadays as our society is waking up and realizing their need to commune with Nature, and how important our Earth is. Hello, reduce, reuse, recycle!
There are many cultures to explore who show us the divine in Nature and how to respect her, like the Native Americans. It’s so easy to go to your library or go onto the internet to find stories from the various tribes about honoring the Earth. For example, Ellen Jackson did a series of books for the equinoxes and solstices that show how various cultures around the world celebrate these. In her book Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth she writes. “the Plain Cree honored the first berries of the season. The berries were placed in a bowl and Manito, the Great Spirit, was thanked for his gift. Then the bowl was raised to the sky, and the sun was called upon to ripen the berries. The thunder was asked to send rain. Finally, the bowl was lowered, and Earth was asked to send forth fruit for her children.”
Or this story from Jackson’s book The Summer Solstice, in ancient Egypt “The summer solstice was the most important day of the year in ancient Egypt. Not only was the sun at its peak, but the waters of the Nile river would begin to rise at this time, too. The Egyptians held a special festival at the summer solstice to honor the goddess Isis. They believed that Isis was mourning for her dead husband, Osiris and that the tears from her eyes made the Nile swell and overflow.”
You could go on nature hikes with your kids and look for various herbs and talk about their uses. For example, find chickweed and talk about how you can make a poultice out of it to heal skinned knees and other owies. Or how you can use dandelions to ease a tummy ache or strengthen immune systems. They are chock full of nutrients and even protein. You could pick dandelions flowers and add the petals to pancake batter – lovely, yummy, and good for you.
Maybe you might want to step things up a notch. Kids love routines so doing something simple like a dinner prayer. This is what we say “I honor the food I eat tonight. May their spirits live within us, nourishing our bodies and our souls. Thank you for your sacrifice.” Or a bedtime prayer “Cast a circle ‘round my bed, Where I lay my weary head. Keep me safe all through the night, And wake me in the morning light” Skyhawk. My High Priestess, Valerie Voigt, told me how she and her kids had a bedtime ritual of saying Blessed Be’s: “Blessed be Grandma and Grandpa..” We do our “blessed be’s” after our night-time prayer where we send blessings to our loved ones and friends (Blessed Be Grandma). If my kids were to tell others that we do “blessed be’s,” it sounds close enough to what other religions do so, chances are no one will freak out.
One mom, Rayne Storm, told me in an interview that she likes to use a “correction method” “We watch movies and shows and I point out the inaccuracies in the show compared to what is believed. This is especially prevalent when my boys and I watch the marvel avengers cartoons… it is a ritual to watch them all together, every Sunday morning … this has become such a habit that my oldest son (12 years old) gets a kick out of it. He knows that when they are airing shows that involve Thor, Loki, and Odin … I will be there to point out the false information warping newer generations. Like Loki was actually raised by Surt the Black, not Odin. And Thor, of course, is a red-head.”
Maybe you want to share more with your children but, are afraid that they might not be able to keep your faith secret. I love this list sent in by Jessica Hartwell, another mom who was kind enough to answer my questionnaire wrote:
“I thought about teaching her to not talk about it, but secrets get told, and telling a secret can create some guilt or shame. So instead I have focused on a few things that she can talk about:
1. We are good Witches. Bad witches are mostly just in stories and fairy tales.
2. Being a Witch means you try to be a good person, you have a special relationship with nature, and love is the most important thing we are here to learn and do.
3. Witches can use their powers when they grow up. We do not control others with our powers or use them to cheat. We use our powers to be kind, to heal, to help.
4. Some people may not understand what we are and think we are bad. We don’t have to care what they think. They will think what they want but we know we are good and loving, and that is what matters.
5. Being a Witch is our own private business, and we don’t have to talk about it to anyone if we feel uncomfortable. We can stop talking about it by saying ‘let’s talk about something else,’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about that anymore.’ Talking about being a witch is something we do with people who respect our beliefs.
6. Everyone can believe what they want, and there are many different gods, religions, and beliefs.”
If you live in an area where you feel uncomfortable being open about your religion, there are ways you can hide in plain sight. For example, the Unitarian Universalists are quite welcome to Pagans. They have a subgroup called CUUPS – Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans – which is wonderful. They also have a fantastic curriculum if you’re looking for that. I purchased it and used some of it in our kids’ circle.
Perhaps you want to share more but, are still concerned about the possibility of imposing your beliefs on your children. Ashleen O’Gaea in her book Raising Witches: Teaching the Wiccan Faith to Children wrote “Being and experiential religion, Wicca is holistic, embracing our feelings as well as our reason. This means that it’s appropriate to teach Wicca with respect for feelings and with expectations of reason. Actually, it’s impossible to teach Wicca by force! It can’t be ‘rammed down’ anyone’s throat because…there are no threats to make, no promises to promise. ” This book is one of my favorites on Pagan Parenting because she thoroughly delves into Wiccan parenting. She gives a lot of great advice and even has sections that go more into what is appropriate to teach at what age.
You could start slowly with meal and bedtime prayers, as I already mentioned. Or maybe an ancestor altar where you can pay your respects and gratitude, giving the kids a feeling family and continuance. This also helps them feel connected and to see more the “big picture” when it comes to life. Maybe you instead wish to start with an altar for the spirits who protect hearth and home. Deborah Bender, in a comment on The Wild Hunt’s blog about this project called Including Children in Pagan Practice wrote, “I think that putting up a shrine to tutelary spirits of the dwelling and doing simple daily ritual there (acknowledgement, gratitude and maybe a small offering) would be a simple custom that children could participate in from toddler age on. Romans venerated Lares and Penates, many Asian cultures have spirit shrines in or just outside the dwelling, and the European folk practices of putting out bread and milk for the fairies may descend from similar pre-Christian practices.”
You could move on to speaking about the 4 Elementals of nature (Air, Fire, Water, and Earth). Many pagan say there are 5 Elementals including Spirit. What are the directions and colors with whom they are associated? Talk about their properties in simple terms, uses what words you like – Air is about your mind and thinking, poetry, writing. Fire is about action and courage. Water is about emotions. Earth is about being, well, grounded in your life. It’s about being healthy.
You could sing songs and learn about faeries. There are so many types: leprechauns, brownies, pixies, elves – to name just a few.
You could talk about the Goddess and the God, or whatever pantheon or other deities you follow (if you follow any that is) and share how they fit into your own life.
Let’s say you want to start celebrating the sabbats, or holidays if you prefer. One of my favorite books about the sabbats is Seasons of Magic: A Girl’s Journey by Laurel Ann Reinhardt. It’s a beautiful story about a girl who doesn’t understand her family’s path so guided by an elder. What goes on in the girl’s life is mirrored by the seasons of the Earth. It’s not about any particular Pagan tradition, it’s more general and Earth-centric.
Maybe you want to go all out and start your own kids’ circle. Kyrja Withers, the author of the Pagan children book series called Rupert’s Tales, also has a YouTube Channel called Friends of Rupert that’s chock full of ideas for rituals for kids, plus loads of other fun stuff.
I found the book Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions by Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill, to be particularly useful when creating rituals for kids. It’s still one of my “go to” sources for ideas on kid rituals. The song “Circle Round” by Anne Hill is what we in South Bay Pagan Kids use for creating our sacred space.
Speaking of Anne Hill, there’s a cute song on her companion album to the book (also entitled Circle Round) called “The Witch Song” where the Witches are all female. I wanted to use her song in a ritual but for us, Witches are also male. So I contacted her and asked if I could change the words a little to reflect Witches being female as well as males. She had no problem with that and was delighted that I asked. Remember, you can look outside your traditions for ideas.
When I helped start our kids’ circle, one of the smartest things I did was to purchase A Wheel of Wonder: Storytelling Curriculum of the Wheel of the Year Designed for Pagan Kids written by Jessica Zebrine Gray. It’s a year’s curriculum from CUUPS – Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. We still use the hand motions to depict each elemental that we learned from Ms. Gray.
“Chant each one while making the hand motions:
EARTH, EARTH, EARTH, EARTH, EARTH, EARTH, EARTH, EARTH
Hold left-hand palm cupped, near the heart. Strike gently (but firmly) with your right fist
like a rock. Repeat each time you say the word “Earth”
FIRE, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE
Wave hands in a spiral from your lap to the sky like flames.
WATER, WATER, WATER, WATER, WATER, WATER, WATER, WATER
Gently roll waves of water with your hands.
AIR, AIR, AIR, AIR, AIR, AIR, AIR, AIR
Cup hands around your mouth and extend outward with the reverberations of your voice.”
I hope you found this paper useful and that it will inspire you to share your spiritual path with your children in your own, unique way.