Thursday, November 25, 2010

John Morris

For those who have been following this blog, I wanted to let you know that John's health has deteriorated to the point where he has moved into residential care and no longer has access to a computer.
I know he'd love to get cards and notes, if you care to send them.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Talk to Pagan Kids about Death ...

I think that death, like sex and political corruption, is one of those things parents can't wait to have come up in conversation with their small children.

Um...ok, maybe not.

I officiate at funerals pretty regularly, if not frequently, and we attend those as a family, so Jack is pretty familiar with the whole 'death' concept.

But this last year and a half has been one of rather more intense focus on death. Over the course of 12 months, we said goodbye to 21 or 22 people. (After a while, I stopped counting.)

The year of deaths gave us many opportunities to think about and talk about death, with each other and with Jack.

It all started around the 18th of December 2007 and I had hoped that the curtain have been lowered on the epoch with the births of grandchildren to two close friends a few months ago.

And then on Saturday, as we returned home to water the garden on our way between Solstice adventures, we found a bunny flopping around in the back yard. It clearly had a broken leg and there was blood on its fur. While I watered the garden, Jack watched it and murmured encouragement, and then offered it lettuce from our garden and some water in a cup.

We discussed how Hazel had had a similar injury, in Watership Down, and we decided to name out little friend hazel so maybe some of that healing luck would be spread to him. But we can't afford a vet bill right now, so all we could do was wish the poor little thing luck. We did agree that if it managed to survive until next day, we would see whether the Rabbit Rescue can help with a wild bunny. (They mostly rescue tame rabbits from what I understand.)

By the time we got back at 9pm, though, there was no sign at all of our little Hazel. Jack and I decided to believe that he had made it back to his warren, and that he was now resting safely and healing, but we know and discussed that he is even more vulnerable to predators while he can't run away and that he could die from his injury.

Hazel turned out to be a herald, though. Early Sunday morning, we learned that Rod's older brother is within days of ending his fight with the cancer that has ravaged his body. And so the topic of death comes back. Far from being afraid, our little pagan boy is accepts death as a part of the cycle in a way that will be harder to do for most of us adults.

He spent much of yesterday singing dirges about his own death and his next life, and proclaiming that he's pretty sure that Uncle Carl has more time before he leaves. He told me at dinner, if Dad seems kinda quiet, it's because his brother is dying and he's sad.

Death. Yup. BIG topic of conversation lately.

So, how do you talk to a kid, a pagan kid, about death? First of all, it will come up sooner or later. No need to rush things. It might be an animal by the side of the road. It might be a book they read. It might, knock wood, be something far closer to home. But the questions start.
What does 'dead' mean?, Are you going to die? When? When will he come back? Does it hurt to die? Will I die?
Next, be careful to answer the questions the child is asking. Understand that as emotionally loaded as these questions are for us, to children, they are no different than other questions they ask to try to understand their world and depending on their age, the questions may be more mechanical and less existential than you might be expecting. Answer the question at hand, and don't overwhelm him or her with a lot of heavy emotional and intellectual stuff. When they're ready for that, they will ask.

It's important not to put your children off when they ask these hard questions. The best you can do is answer patiently, gently, and consistently, as many times as the child asks. (If their timing really sucks, explain that this is not a good time for that discussion, but be sure to get back to them within a short time with an opening to ask again.)

Once the questions start, there is no perfect answer.

The physical facts of death are pretty straightforward. Death is final. We all die eventually. Whether it hurts depends on how we die. Generally, we don't know exactly when our turn to die will come.

The harder questions, "why do we die? What happens to us after we die? Why does everyone cry when people die" The answers to those will depend a lot on what you believe about death. Whatever you say, how you feel about death, your fear or comfort, is going to be communicated to your child much more strongly than anything in your words. The best thing to do is to decide ahead of time what you think about death. If you can't deal with that (and many people can't go there) then decide what you want your child to believe.

You should probably base your answers on your spiritual path. Death is a very emotional topic, and if you try to wing it in the moment, your answers can be pretty confused and confusing and children ask again and again to see whether they understood. If your answer keeps changing, it doesn't help.

Our beliefs include reincarnation, and that has made it easier to answer Jack's questions.

What does "dead" mean? Dead means that our bodies have stopped having our soul living inside. Our bodies are like clothes for our soul, and when our soul is done with this body, it "takes it off", leaving the meat part of us behind. But the body can't keep going without a soul, just like your jeans can't run without you in them.

Why do we die? Sometimes bodies get very old and worn out or very sick, and it becomes impossible for them to keep going. Other times, we have finished what we came here to learn in this life, and our souls arrange for an accident. But it's not our personality's decision, and it's no one's fault. Our soul decided a long time before we were born what it wanted to learn from this life, and once it's done, it wants to move on to the next life and the next lesson. (This doesn't account for murder but we hope that one doesn't need to come up in our lives.)

Does is hurt to die? No, death doesn't hurt, although the accident or illness that comes before death often hurts a lot. Pain is part of having a meat body. Dying feels wonderful, because our soul gets to go through the light tunnel to the Summerland, which is a place full of love and light where sadness doesn't happen and nothing hurts anymore.

Are you going to die? Often this is a bid for reassurance. We answer it by saying that yes, we are going to die someday, but we hope it's a LONG time from now, after Jack has grown up and has a partner and children to love him. We also assure him that, should we die sooner than we hope, we have arranged for Auntie Celeste and Auntie Dame to be his "spare mammas". They will take care of him, and teach him, and love him. We also assure him that we will be watching and loving him from the Summerland until he's grown. Then, perhaps we can come back as *his* children, and then it will be his turn to teach us.

When will Uncle Al come back? Well...he won't. Not in Uncle Al's body, anyway. That body got all used up, even though he seemed to be fine. We don't know when his soul will come back, or where. Or even if he wants to come back. Some souls decide that they have learned what they wanted to know about living in a meat body, and they decide to stay in the Summerland.

Why do people cry at funerals? Well, we know that the soul we loved is going to the Summerland, where they will be very happy. But we are still going to miss them a lot. So we are crying for our sadness at losing the hugs and smiles and jokes of someone we love.

What is heaven? Heaven is the Christian version of the Summerland. It is where Christians go to be with their God forever. It's beautiful and no one is ever sad there and no one ever hurts there. Just like the Summerland. The big difference is that Christians who go there to be with their God, aren't going to come back to live again in a new body.

Where will I go? That is your soul's decision. As a pagan child, I think you will probably go to the Summerland, but if you decide to be Christian and spent the rest of forever with the Christian God, you could decide to go to Heaven.

Your answers will be different, because they will be based on your own beliefs, but I hope this has helped you to figure out how to approach the questions.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sharing your pagan faith with your children

Lately I have been receiving notes from acquaintances and friends asking me about how to share their various pagan faiths with their children. (Obviously I am being mouthy again, else how would they know I have such strong opinions?!?!?)

Anyway, most of us have all grown up "outside the faith" and discovered it as adults.

That can make it tough to figure out how to share paganism with our children. Part of the problem, of course, is that we mostly learned about paganism through books (our intellects) when we first discovered it, and it can be hard to pass that along to small children.

Often we *do* have a strong emotional reaction, especially once we start practicing with a group, but it's not usually a "verbal" emotional reaction...that is, there are still no words that we can use to share the emotional truth, because the only words we have for it won't tell our wee ones much.

Adding to the challenge is that unlike, monotheistic religions, there is no one "catechism" for most pagan religions, so what is important will vary a lot from one group of pagan parents to another, and that means that each family has to decide from scratch what it is we want to teach in the first place. ;)

In many ways the best religious education grows organically from what we do rather than what we teach. While you're working on the "what", try to think back to how your parents taught you about their religion, and then use methods similar to the ones you liked. In the end, those are what will speak to you best and your child might well like them, too.

Now, on to the "what".

One thing we all share is a reverence for nature. Nature Study is a Victorian educational philosophy that a lot of pagan families have adopted and it can help us to help our child developer his or her own reverence. It starts with the noticing of leaf buds, bugs, flowers, etc, and goes on to more involved kinds of noticing and then more involved study of botany and zoology.

We can start with "nature study" just about as soon as the child is old enough to go for walks and then step it up as they're ready for more depth. At 18 months, we'll point out trees and flowers and grass, and ants, and ducks, and dogs. At three, we'll start noticing that there is clover in with the grass, and that ducks like to hang out together and geese like to hang out together, but they don't usually hang out in a big group of mixed water fowl (unless someone is feeding them).

As your child approaches six or seven, you can take nature study to an even greater depth. You can learn more about how formal nature study is done, complete with leaf rubbings and observation journals, on several web sites and Victorian books available free on the web. These are not pagan sources, but you can adapt what you learn:
In your noticing, you can point out various herbs you find growing and mention the plant's medical and magickal purposes. Demonstrate how to harvest them properly for tisanes, infusions, and ritual use.

Beyond nature study, you can introduce the Wheel of the Year at about the age of five. By five, most children have enough memory of previous years to begin to understand the cycle of the seasons and so the wheel of the year. We can discuss casually what Sabbat we are celebrating and what it means in your own particular faith and compare it to the last Sabbat and to the next. Maybe talk about how you celebrated last year and the meaning of what you'll do this year.

Another thing that you can do is create a children's 'Book of Shadows' to cover the religious and spiritual topics that you have discussed with your child so that you can review everything together regularly. Make sure that it has lots of visuals -- drawing, photos, etc.

Chants and simple songs are your teaching friends! If your trad has a collection of poems and chants that you use, they make really superb teaching tools. Five year olds memorize better than anyone else, but children of all ages respond to music and sing alongs! There are chants to cover most important topics, so that can cover a LOT of what you need to do. If your group doesn't use much music, you can get music from Libana (We use A Circle is Cast) and Reclaiming (we like Chants). We don't have it yet, but we also hear great things about Circle Round.

If your group doesn't have trad poems, you can find some cute, kid-friendly poems online at the Bigwood Family site. I particularly like the Kids Charge of the God and the Kids Charge of the Goddess. ;) Read the poems together often, write them in your book of shadows, or use them in ritual with your kids.

Another project is to learn about the altar, if your trad uses one. Examine the stuff on your altar and discuss what each item means. (You might want to leave it at one item per week, and then spend time talking about that thing and finding things that could represent the same idea) and then help your child build his or her own on a small table in his room or on a chunk of wood under a tree, or whatever. It's best to let your child use whatever speaks to him -- leaves, toys, stones, etc-- on his altar. Ours is, after all, and "experiential" religion.

One thing to remember, is that it takes a long time for children to internalize lessons they have been exposed to. Present the material, and then leave it alone until they have questions. If we let the process be, they will explore the idea in a thousand-and-one ways on their own, and then blurt it back at us when we figure they have forgotten it.

You might like to read books about the old gods from the ancient classics. You can find a lot of them online, free.

Above all, celebrate with your child. If you can, attend public gatherings or bring them to celebrate with your group whenever it's appropriate. If you work alone, include the children in your circle.

I expect there's a lot more to say, but I'm writ dry for now.

Good night.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Love and Death Across a Chasm: Ten Years On

by Misti Anslin Delaney

We are approaching the tenth anniversary of my father's death. it seems like a good time to revisit an article I wrote back then about coping with loss -- and with love across a cultural chasm.

The death of a loved one is always devastating, no matter how prepared we think we are. It's made even more difficult when death comes suddenly to wreck havoc with a love was carefully built and nurtured across the chasm of cultural differences.

That was the case between my father and me. Dad was very conservative; a devout Roman Catholic with a very old world view of women and our place in the world. I was quite liberal back then and, of course, I am a witch. I have a very different view than my father's of the place of women in the world. This caused untold trouble and tension between us throughout my childhood and young womanhood.

As we both grew older and more tolerant, we realized that each of us wanted a better, closer relationship: I with the only father I'll ever have, and he with his only daughter. So, slowly and carefully, we built a suspension bridge of tolerance and love, shared views on those few areas on which we could agree and our shared devotion to family, across the chasm between our worlds. Periodically we would crawl tentatively out onto that bridge to meet in the middle, clinging precariously to what security we could find there.

We had both come to trust that bridge in the decade since our first tentative attempts to build it, and so it was that, during my Dad's last weeks, we met there almost daily in long telephone conversations about everything and, mostly, nothing. It was there that he said "goodbye" before he died. It was subtle, and I'm not sure he knew he was leaving ... but things were different somehow. My father, who had visited me only twice in the 22 years since I left home, when he happened to be in the neighborhood, and who had not attended either of my weddings, suddenly started to make plans to come to my home to put air conditioners in my windows. (Not something I had planned to do.)

When, within a week of making those plans, he became too ill to travel, he sent me the first and only "surprise gift for no special reason" that he ever sent to me. It was small -- a bag of mesquite chips for our barbecues, because I had mentioned that they're a bit expensive up here -- but it was a gift specifically for me from my Dad.

The day after I received them, I received word that he had died.

I think the hardest part of my father's death was venturing out onto that precarious bridge alone, to cross back over into his world one last time for his funeral. I found myself very much alone in my father's world—welcome, but a stranger with strange views. I was surrounded by family and friends remarkable in their devotion to one another and to their God.

Although my mother and brothers know about my beliefs, everyone else I met there assumed that I shared my family's devotion to my father's faith. Since I didn't think religious arguments were going to help anyone through that difficult time, I elected to keep my own counsel for the nine days I was there.

Psychologists say that when a parent dies, we have a tendency to question everything about our lives. When our lives are a secret to the people we've grown up with, I think it redoubles the effect. My first challenge was figuring out what one does when one is a very visible participant in a religious ceremony where everyone assumes we share the faith, but we don't.

It seemed to me that even if my 25 years away hadn't removed any possibility of pretending I was a Catholic, to pretend now would serve only to make a farce of my family's faith. But to act like a complete alien to my mother's faith would be disrespectful and would hurt her deeply. So, I compromised. I sat, stood, and kneeled as the ceremony required and kept my head respectfully bent, but I was silent during the prayers.

I thought I was doing OK -- until the priest, who had no doubt counseled my parents about how to cope with their only daughter's falling away from the faith, make several cutting remarks about "faithless, hopeless pagans". The first time, I couldn't believe what I'd heard. The second he looked right at me as he made his remark.

How very little that man knows about paganism.

Through the time I was with them, my immediate family was very, very welcoming and loving. Believe it or not, that caused my second dilemma. I had tried for many years to believe as they do and all my life I had felt like an outsider in my own birth family. I know the pain my "falling away" caused both my parents.

After a few days of the loving and welcoming, and the constant salvation talk, I found myself wondering, if I tried again now, whether I might be able to "believe" this time. Not for myself, but for my mother and father. My return to their church would have made my father so happy, and it would still bring my mother and brothers great joy.

Cut off, as I was at this vulnerable time, from anyone who really understood what I believe and who shares my faith in the cycle of life and my joy in the beauty of our magickal world, it began to seem "silly" and unreal.

Prevented from sharing my real understanding of what had happened between my father and myself in those last weeks and my certainty that he would be back, perhaps in the baby who was to be born to my brother and his wife just 5 weeks after Dad's death, I began to question everything. It was very painful. I knew I didn't (and probably couldn't) believe as they do. I knew that religion isn't something you choose, like a party dress, to please someone else. But I also couldn't feel my own faith. I felt that all faith had been cut away from me, and that my soul was raw and bleeding.

Fortunately, I am a voracious reader on almost any topic, and I knew the effects of mourning could have on one's soul, so I was able to observe these feelings with a little objectivity. I resisted the urge to act on anything until I was home, in my own world.

When I left for home, my mother sent with me a huge basket of flowers that had been sent for my father's funeral. As I carried that glorious basket through airports, people would stop me to comment on them and ask about them. It gave me a chance to explain to complete strangers that my father was dead. Everyone I met that way was extremely kind and the flight attendants were attentive and caring on every flight. That was very comforting. This time, as I crossed that bridge my father and I had built together for the last time, I didn't feel so alone.

When I was finally home, I was still haunted by my feeling of having had all faith cut away from me. For weeks I wasn't able to perform ritual, either for my father, or for myself, because I felt him always nearby, and I worried that he would be hurt and perhaps insulted to have his beliefs disregarded by my doing ritual for him.

It made no logical sense. Since he'd passed through the curtain, he now knows better than any of us alive, what Truth is. His soul is unlikely to be as encumbered by prejudice as those of us who must understand with our frail, limited human brains. But the feeling persisted; the effect, no doubt, of my own childish guilt at wanting to do something that Daddy wouldn't approve of.

I reached out to all the wisest pagans I know, to ask for thoughts and affirmation. Many shared with me thoughts that brought me great comfort, and one especially wise soul shared with me a ritual that could respect both my father's beliefs and my own.

Gradually, as the moon waxed, I too, grew stronger. As the full moon approached, I gathered the supplies I needed for what I had to do. On the day after the full moon, I set up a memorial to my father on my altar. A photograph of the man he was; a white pillar candle that burned as long as anyone is in the house and awake; a beautiful little glass box containing a few of the mesquite chips that were his last gift to me; and the basket of now dried flowers from his funeral.

Each time I lit the candle, I told my father that I love him, and will miss him, but that it's now time to move on. I send him the energy of the burning candle to find his way into his next world, whether it be the heaven he so looked forward to, or a new life on the wheel.

On the next full moon, I did a ritual alone, commending my father's soul to his God, and asking my gods for support in learning to live without my father in the middle of that bridge we've built from the tears and yearnings of two very different souls who wanted to love and understand.

In the intervening ten years, I have learned to live with my Dad, and I have found that the bridge is still there and it continues to grow stronger. When I need Dad's advice, I can still journey out there, and he's there, waiting.

Thanks, Dad. I love you.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Let's Celebrate the Snakes

St. Patrick's Day is coming.

St. Patrick's Day, a day that honours the Catholic St. Patrick for "chasing the snakes out of
Ireland", is celebrated by Irishmen and "once a year Irishmen" mostly in the United States.

What many people don't realize is that there never were any snakes in Ireland -- the 'snakes' represent Pagans.

In view of this, many people, covens and solitaries alike, are creating and participating in a new tradition. On St. Patrick's Day, we wear something a snake, the symbol of wisdom and free will, whether on a t-shirt, necklace, ring, a beautiful henna tattoo, or in some other form.

This is our way of telling the world that the "snakes" are still here and that we are here to stay.

I am reaching out to my pagan friends, inviting you to join me in this new tradition and to pass the word on to other pagans you think might be interested.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Review: The Triumph of the Moon

by John M Morris, PhD
Ronald Hutton The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchdraft. Oxford University Press, 1999. 486 pp.

The history of modern Pagan religion is filled with fantasy, often masquerading as fact, so much so that we are inclined to ignore all that has been claimed as our history. I think of one picture of a well-known witch cuddling a tiny statue of a fat little goddess, dating thousands of years back into the past, but without any real assurance that the figure is anything more than a pregnant woman, without any religious significance.

We are all familiar with the claim that seven thousand European women we burned alive during the Burning Times, but skeptical historians have shown that this figure has been grossly inflated, and that the great majority of the victims were not witches at all, but Christian women who went to church every Sunday and knew nothing about witchcraft. Ghastly as these scattered executions may have been, they did not compare with the slaughter of the Jews during the Nazi holocaust, or with more recent mass executions in our own time.

In Ronald Hutton's history of the past two centuries of Pagan witchcraft in England, we have a scholarly study of the growth and eventual triumph of the craft and the pagan traditions during the past two centuries.

The changes, particularly during the last half-century, have been greater than most of us have realized. Although we have been familiar with Gerald Gardner and the other English leaders -- there is only one brief chapter on American and Canadian witches -- it is revealing to find how far we have traveled from these pioneers. More interesting has been the degree of bald-faced fraud that has been offered as Wiccan history.
  • For example, "Old Dorothy," Dorothy Clutterbuck, is shown to be a respectable society woman who had nothing to do with Witchcraft. The stories that Gardner told about her probably came from another woman entirely.
  • Similarly, the well-known Gospel of the Witches that Leland claimed to have found in Italy seems to have been a fantasy on his part.
  • Again, one of my favorite texts, West Country Wicca, appears to have been another fantasy.
Altogether, like every major religious tradition, Wiccan history seems to have been simply a fabrication of its followers. If it is a modern fantasy, it nevertheless is one that thousands of us have followed, excited and enlightened by a vision of a beautiful and magical world.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Rational Pagans Forum

I just wanted to let you all know that I have just heard from Jesse at the Rational Forums message board. Rational Pagans is brand new message board for all beliefs to find a common place to talk, but it's run and managed mostly by pagans.

I stopped in and I did indeed find that these folks seem to be rational and intelligent -- just EP's style!

I found the Thoth's Newsstand forum particularly interesting. It's a compilation of recent interesting news articles with discussion. Of course, they note the vandalizing of a pentacle in a holiday display, but they also note that lack of sleep can lead to type II diabetes and that the loss of deep sea species is leading to the danger of the ocean's ecological collapse. You can bet I'll be reading there to make sure I don't miss anything.

There are, of course, all the more usual discussions about ritual spirituality, etc -- but it's 8am and I have to get to work. If I stopped to investigate it all, I'd be getting to work after lunch! So go check it out yourself!