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!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Building a Pagan Kid's Library

Building a pagan children library has certainly gotten easier than it was 27 years ago when I started. I have to say, though, that I am still not finding the rich resources that I would have expected, given the number of extremely creative pagan parents I know.

Then again, I haven't done a whole lot to add to the resources, so I can hardly complain. (One book that I can't publish because it contains only "borrowed" art from the web, and five or six other books on the boards, but not yet completed are no real addition, eh?)

Still, I have found some truly wonderful stuff, so I figured that I'd share what I know about, in hopes that other would do the same and we can all support the writers and artists who are supporting us and boost our kids libraries.

Pagan Books for Kids

For the real littles, I have found only The ABC Book of Shadows by Katie Lydon Olivares -- an alphabet board book full of pagan vocabulary and sweet art. (A is for Altar, B is for Beltaine, etc.) It's a nice start, but the book seems to be out of print and can be hard to find. (It took Amazon 6 months to find a copy for me.)

For the bigger kids who are ready for stories with chapters, W. Lyon Martin has written and found a publisher for two books aimed at early school-aged children: An Ordinary Girl; a Magickal Child and Aidan’s First Full Moon Circle. Ordinary Girl follows the adventures of a little girl called "Rabbit" as she explores her families paganism, starting with an explanation of what paganism means and continuing with Rabbit's own paganing ceremony. She briefly explores God and Goddess, Magic, Circles, the Wheel of the Year, discrimination and how to cope with it, moon cycles, and family magick like house blessings and banishing bad dreams. It's a sweet book and Jack and I enjoy reading it from time to time.

We only got Aidan this Yule and we haven't had a chance to slow down and read it yet, but the reviews say "Aidan and his parents have been solitary witches for as long as he can remember. At the rising of the Harvest Moon, his family is invited to a local coven’s Full Moon Esbat celebration. Aidan is jittery about joining a Circle full of strangers. While he is enjoying himself around the bonfire, the High Priestess and his mother cook up a plan to get him involved in the Harvest Moon ritual. Aidan learns he is an important member of the Pagan community." Sounds good to me. Of course, Jack has celebrated in community all his life, but the idea that not everyone does is a good thing to share. If Aiden lives up to Lyon Martin's previous book, it will be a treat for us to enjoy when life slows down in the new year.

Anika Stafford has given us Aisha's Moonlit Walk , in which little Aisha celebrates each of the eight Sabbats with her family a friends. It's similar in outline to Magickal Child, but different enough that Jack and I enjoy reading them and comparing how different families celebrate and comparing that to how we celebrate.

Finally, we come to A Witches Primer, Grade One by Lorin Manderly. It's not a story book but a young children's pagan curriculum for use by parents or children's circles. There are a little over 150 pages with no pictures at all, so it probably won't hold the attention of the very young. (Jack loves to read, but it doesn't really keep his attention yet at four and a half.) I do find it useful to read myself for ideas about how to explain some complex concepts for really little kids, though. Even when I don't entirely agree with her, Manderly helps me to find ways of explaining my beliefs that Jack can follow. I look forward to hearing that Grade Two is available, as well.

That pretty much sums up what I have found that is specifically pagan. Of course, there are plenty of less specific books that we enjoy.

Non-Pagan Books for Pagan Kids

I have no idea whether Ellen Jackson is "one of us"; probably not, but I find that hers is a name to look for.

So far we have Earth Mother, a lovely story about the balance of all the earth's creatures that seems like it might be based on a traditional African story. Man thanks the Goddess for giving him yummy frogs to eat, and complains about the pesky mosquitoes. Mother listens calmly and patiently, and then moves on to frog, who thanks her for the yummy mosquitoes to eat, but complains about the pesky and dangerous man. Mother listens calmly and patiently, and then moves on to mosquito, who thanks her for the yummy man on whom she feeds, but complains abput that pesky and dangerous frog who dines on her. Mother listens calmly and patiently, and then moves on, and nothing changes. The world is perfect just as it. The art is lovely, and the message is a very good one for teaching littles about the interlocking of all earth's creatures before we dtart trying to explain the ethics of magick.

Summer Solstice, Celebrating the Harvest/ The Autumn Equinox, Winter Solstice, and Celebrating the Greening of the Earth/ The Spring Equinox are mainly scientific and anthropological but it's good to have books that acknowledge our holidays and talks about the history of people celebrating them through time, anyway. ;)

In a similar vein to Jackson's seasoal books, Wendy Pfeffer's The Shortest Day explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history. It is a more or less astronomical and anthropoplogical review, but again, having books about one of "our" holidays is helpful and this one incorporates a few exercises you can do with your older children.

Eileen Spinelli gives us I Know It's Autumn. In it, the narrator, a child of six or seven, tells all about the signs in her (rather rural) life that Autumn has come, from the change in the light, to pumpkin muffins on the breakfast table, to the harvest at the market and the appearance of winter coats again. It's a simple picture book that younger children will enjoy and older children can read for themselves. Again, I like the fact that it focuses on the changing of the seasons, and although the scene isn;t described in much detail, the family does go to what looks like it may be a Sabbat circle or a powwow at one point. It's kept vague enough that a child who is accustomed to those ideas will respond to the familiarity, but a child who isn't won' t miss much.

Chris Van Allsburg's The Stranger is just plain cool -- and my kids and I have long thought that surely the stranger is a weather sprite or a Pan-like god in charge of wild-life and weather.

Brother Eagle and Sister Sky A message from Chief Seattle isn't neo-pagan, and there is a great deal of controversy about how much resemblance it bears to anything Chief Seattle may have said, but Jack loves it and it certainly send a message of the importance of honouring the earth. That's good enough for us for the time being. I don't encourage Jack to think of it as representative of Native American spirituality, except, perhaps in spirit -- just as it's not neo-pagan spirituality, except maybe in spirit.

In a more classical vein, I highly recommend Mordicai Gerstein's Tales of Pan, a book of silly stories about the classical world's favorite mischief maker.

So, that's what I found one one quick perusal of the book shelves. What books have helped you to educate your baby witchling? Please do share, in comments or in e-mail!