Thursday, December 15, 2005

Raising Pagans

Raising Pagans
Samantha Morin

Religion was never a big focus of my childhood. I was raised by a Jew and a Christian, but both of them had left the more formal aspects of their childhood religions by the time I was born. Growing up, my father found his connection with God in the garden and the natural world, although he never called himself a Pagan by any means. My mother discovered that her connection to her Native American heritage grew stronger as she got older and she identified more and more with a Pagan worldview as I was growing up. Panganism isn’t a religion in and of itself. It’s an umbrella term for all religions that are not Abrahamic—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. If pressed, both my parents would say that they raised me non-religiously or, perhaps my mother would say that I was raised Christian. I think that, given my upbringing, it’s no surprise that I have chosen to follow a Pagan path.

It took me a while to find my path and I experienced a lot of confusion in my early 20s because I’d had no real instruction of a religious sort when I was a child. When I discovered that I was pregnant with my first child, I decided that I didn’t want to have my children go through that same confusion if I could help it. I decided that I would be more active in the practice of the religion that I believed and raise my children in it. My husband and I are not of the same religion but we decided to raise the kids in mine because it is more structured. Little did we know that this was going to cause so many people to question our parenting and even our integrity.

My dad tells me I'm not doing my kids any favors by raising them "weird." My husband's parents are less vocal but no less concerned. I've even had some people who follow a similar path as myself raise questions as to the wisdom of what I'm doing. What am I doing? I'm a Wiccan, a Witch, and I'm raising my children as Wiccans. Wicca is a modern religion that is based on what we know of the religion practiced by the ancient Celts. It’s an earth-based, polytheistic religion that follows the agricultural and seasonal cycles of the year. Reverence and respect for the natural world are emphasized, as are the concepts of karma, reincarnation and balance.

At its simplest, the main objection most people give me is that it's not a standard or ordinary religion and my children are going to have to spend their entire lives being different from their peers. My family especially voices this concern. I keep telling them that the likelihood that they'll be the only Wiccans in their class is much lower where we live, in Southern California, than in Northern Vermont where I grew up. Because we live in a more diverse area, I expect that my children will be exposed to many different cultures and religions so the fact that they belong to just one more won't be the social problem that my dad fears it will be. I also tend to discount the idea that being "weird" is a bad thing. In a provincial and insular community it's dangerous to be very different from everyone else, but I don't live in a community like that nor would I wish to.

My husband's parents are more concerned on a 'religious' level. Being Christians they believe that I am actually doing my children harm by raising them as Wiccans. The only way I can possibly convince them otherwise would require me to change their belief system. I don't believe I'm going to be able to do that. I don't really have a good answer for people who tell me that I'm consigning myself and my children to eternal damnation. The fact of the matter is that I don't believe that's true, but they just as fervently do. If I intend to have respect for other people and their beliefs and teach my children to do the same, the best I can do in such situations is calmly state that we don't believe in hell and thank them for their concern. I do believe that the concern is real. Religious differences are not going to be solved by arguing with the faithful however.

I'm most bothered by people who are following other Pagan paths or even other Wiccans who tell me I'm doing my children a disservice. There are people who take the fact that Wicca is a non-proselytizing religion to the extreme of not teaching it to their children. They believe that any form of religious instruction is indoctrination. While I can see where they're coming from I vehemently disagree. If I don't teach my children about what I believe then what are they going to learn?

They'll pick up on what their culture and the world surrounding them portray. Because we don't live in a culture where the primary influences are Wiccan, they would be learning and witnessing a religion that I don't believe in. How can this be better than teaching them my own beliefs? Children are like little sponges and they absorb everything. As long as I approach other religious beliefs with respect and explain to my children that different people believe different things, I don't see how I'm going to harm them by teaching them my own religion.

A lot of people wonder just what exactly it is that I do and how I teach the kids my beliefs. Since Wicca isn’t an organized religion and most covens are adult only I’ve had to come up with a lot of strategies on my own. And by far the most important thing that we do is talk. Every question I get asked about how the world works (and since the kids are two and four I get a lot of these types of questions) gets answered from within a Wiccan worldview. So when the boys see a dead bug on the ground and ask why it’s not moving they get the answer that the bug is dead, which means that it’s body isn’t working anymore, but that it’s spirit has gone to be with the Goddess for a while before it will be reborn into a new body as someone or something else. This caused my five year old, after much thought, to declare that in a previous life he and his brother and I had all been bugs. For now, it works. In depth discussions about the nature of reincarnation will wait until they’re a little older.

Storytelling is a big part of any religious education and it’s no different for us. The main difference is that because we are eclectic Wiccans (and thus don’t stick with only one culture’s pantheon of deities) we share stories from all over the world. I’m slowly introducing the children to the concept that there are many different names and aspects for Gods and Goddesses who do similar things. We also have holidays, there are eight solar holidays (having to do with the position of the sun) during the year. Plus every new and full moon are recognized and can be celebrated. The children have been taught the cycles of the moon and have even come up with their own names for the waxing crescent (girl moon), full moon (mama moon) and waning crescent/new moon (grandma moon). We talk about the holidays as they come around and do simple activities for each one. We dye eggs for the spring equinox (a time of fertility) and we bake bread for Lughnasadh (the first of three harvest festivals). We greet the sun at dawn and exchange presents on the winter solstice to celebrate the rebirth of the sun from the long time of darkness. A lot of our celebrations are very familiar looking to our friends and family, if they are a bit off of the “normal” calandar (for instance on some years the spring equinox and Easter are within the same week while other years they’re nearly a month apart).

We are lucky to live in a part of the world where the alternative and pagan community is fairly large. I've never had any negative experiences relating to the fact that I wear a pentacle or have a "Blessed Be" bumper sticker on my car. I'd like to think that even if we lived in a more closed-minded community, I would continue to act in the way that I do. First and foremost, I wish to teach my children to respect other people and their beliefs. If people are not hurting us because of their beliefs, then it's really none of our business. When people wish me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Easter, I respond with a "Happy Holidays." When people tell me, "God bless you," I respond with, "Thank you." Tolerance and respect are cornerstones of my practice of Wicca. That is what I'm teaching my children and that crosses both cultural and religious lines.

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