HB Horne, Regional Coordinator for Somerset, asks some hard questions about our responsibilities to pagan families:
The pagan community has been thriving in ever increasing numbers since the 60’s. Many believe that the recent UK census will reveal that the number of people who identify as of pagan outnumbers those of the Sikh and Jewish faith communities. We are certainly growing at a rapid rate.
However, when we refer to “generations” in the pagan community, we are not talking about familial generations (mother to son, father to daughter, for example). We are generally talking about the decade that each new group converted to, or found paganism. The generation who found their path in the 70’s or the 80’s or the 90’s. We are not talking about the generation that were born into a pagan spirituality. Which leads me to ask…have you ever met someone who was born into a pagan spirituality?
There are older children and teenage converts to paganism and there are parents who raise their children as pagan, but very few of these children grow up to remain pagan in adulthood. Many parents in the pagan community simply choose not to raise their children with an overtly pagan practice at all.
As a pagan parent myself, I can understand this. There are so many potential obstacles and dilemmas to being a pagan parent. We live in a hyper paranoid and vigilant culture, especially where children are concerned. I am asked to sign a form every time my children get a bruise! So imagine the potential reaction to a child telling their teacher that their “daddy dresses like a ghost for rituals and has a big sword”, “mummy likes to dance naked outside with her friends”, “my uncle doesn’t believe in Jesus, he likes hairy Vikings!” What do the other children at school think when pagan children talk about the Goddess or not celebrating Christmas (although granted many pagans make merry at Yule)?
It’s a veritable minefield. Choosing a pagan spirituality as an adult is to accept that you might either choose to be discreet about your faith or to spend the rest of your life explaining and correcting people who make judgements or express prejudice towards you and your beliefs. So how ethical is it as a parent, to expect your children to potentially face those questions and that prejudice? I suspect that this is at the core of why so few pagans choose to raise their children in an overtly pagan practice. I have actually been warned not to raise my children as pagan by other pagans.
After giving birth to my first child, I started to look for a pagan parenting group. I wanted to discuss all these questions with other parents; who else would understand? How to manage questions from school, what would we share with our children by way of practice and what we would explain to our children of a theology? I lived in London at the time, but there was no group. I left an advert in the Green Pages to start up a group, but I didn’t receive a single response. I tried to set up my own group but none of the pagan parents that I knew had time. It wasn’t a priority. That’s not a judgement or criticism. Committing to your own spiritual path, in addition to having a family and holding down employment can be pretty time consuming. What compounded the problem for me is that so many pagan events, gatherings and practices are in the evening. During grown up time. The events in the daytime are often talks and conferences for adults, and if children attend them at all they tend to disrupt the adults trying to listen and engage. Which is not fair on the children who become bored, or the adults who are wanting to focus on the speaker or facilitator and who have paid money for a ticket.
There are picnics and camps, but again, not many of these have specific activities for children, least of all young children. As a pagan parent you can begin to feel ostracised and unwelcomed by the pagan community.
Paganism for teenagers is a different ball game, of course. Paganism has huge appeal for adolescents. It is political (environmental/feminist), it’s rebellious, it accepts huge variety and alternative views, alternative clothing, piercings, tattoos, crazy hair colours, it can be a bit mysterious, sexy and dark…but again, the needs of adolescents are very different from the needs of young adults. Having worked with families, children and adolescents as a mental health professional for the past 10 years, I am acutely aware of the different developmental needs and complexities of each stage of childhood and adolescence. Adolescents need their own space to experiment with who they are, including in the spiritual context. Their needs are vastly different from the adult pagan community so how do we cater for this? It has been noted by many that in actuality the pagan community is an predominantly ageing population. Whilst many young people are quite interested in paganism earlier on in their teens or early adulthood, the same number don’t stay active within the pagan community. Let’s ask ourselves why this is?
I have been to many pagan events over the years and I can say with very few exceptions that either myself, a friend or my husband have had to step out of or leave an event because it wasn’t really appropriate for children. Even when activities are put on for children, it can feel a little token, or there aren’t often enough children there to make it a true success, because pagan parents often stay away or get a baby sitter and leave the children at home. Taking a child into most events within the pagan community is not easy.
In this country, we have become more and more disparate over the last few decades. People have questioned whether a locational sense of community exists as strongly as it once did. Certainly there are now great physical distances between family members and this has become a reality of our modern lives. But the issue of community isn’t entirely about physical distance is it? Communities continue to form and develop online or around common interests and that has certainly happened within paganism. But there isn’t a thriving pagan families network online either.
An old African saying that states “it takes a whole village to raise a child” and my interpretation of this is that children are affected by the whole community around them. That we all have responsibility to be positive role models for the generations that follow us. If children do not have access to the pagan community, how will they have any sense of us at all?
An important caveat might be to note that there is also vast variations between the different pagan traditions. In particular I think of Heathenry being clan and tribe focused. To follow a heathen path is to share responsibility for your community as a whole. So I might suggest that perhaps this issue is less prevalent in certain traditions.
In the the past year or so I have begun to feel hope. I see the beginnings of change. The Pagan Federation 40th celebration last year held a free family friendly day which had wonderfully engaging activities for children. Bristol has a pagan parenting group now with some 60 or so members, articles are appearing here and there and paganism is being taught in some schools, if requested. (Thanks to the hard work of a few members of our Pagan Federation committee).
In more recent years, I have had the chance to attend and help facilitate a few pagan family groups with activities and themes especially for children. The holidays and Sabbats that are important to many pagans are celebratory in nature. It is a wonderful thing to be able to celebrate the turning of the wheel with a group, especially for children. To dance and sing, decorate and feast. There is so much fun, celebration, joy and laughter to be shared.
Like C.S. Lewis I happen to believe that all children start out pagan. Born with an inherent sense of awe and wonder in nature, born without sexual guilt or gender stereotypes, with a sense of magic and divine in all things. I appreciate that my concept might be extremely offensive to many non-pagans, so I apologise to those who might read this and baulk at the idea of an inherent pagan nature in their children. But it is a concept that I personally embrace with much enthusiasm. As a mother, the idea of encouraging my daughters to see their inherent divinity as embodied and demonstrated in the symbols of powerful Priestesses and Mighty Goddesses, to see masculine power in a necessary, collaborative relationship with femininity is something to embrace. To see a faith that instills our responsibility to this earth and doesn’t place mankind external to and above nature, which in my opinion carries the implicit permission to take as much as we want from the earth as if it was our limitless and personal supermarket.
Some of us have had spiritualities inflicted upon us, religions that we ultimately abandoned in favour of paganism. Are we choosing not to pass on our own spirituality to our own children for fear of them rejecting it, as we rejected the one passed on to us? Is it maybe that we want them to have the freedom to find their own path without fear of guilt or reprisal?
I feel strongly that a pagan spirituality is a strong and positive one and I would rather my kids experience that as part of their upbringing than nothing. For millennia human beings have acknowledged the value of myth and symbolism, they have interacted with the natural world around them with reverence and awe and it scares me to think of humanity stripped of that sensitivity. Our children will also be exposed to many other beliefs throughout their lives and I would like my beliefs and practices to be amongst them, whatever path they ultimately choose for themselves. I have no intention to force anything on my children, far from it, but I want to offer them experiences, stories and imagery that inspire awe and wonder. I believe myths are fundamental to our sociological and psychological well being, to our sense of belonging and community. We need to find a way, as a community, to share this with our children because it is within the community that the myths come alive and take on sociological meaning.
After some years pondering this issue I have decided to take action and am building an online forum called “The Pagan Child and Families Network”. It will be a space for pagan families to discuss this topic, explore these questions, share their practices and support each other in our roles as pagan parents. I also hope that this forum will help to develop a momentum for pagan parenting and to encourage community activity and inclusion.
I would love to hear from you, both positive and negative feedback are welcome, and please feel free to share this article with any pagan parents or groups that you know.