Passing Paganism On

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has a very thoughtful post about pagans teaching paganism to their children.

This, however, raises a lot of questions about how many Pagans and polytheists (though more the former than the latter) are actually treating the topic of religion with their children. I’ve heard far too many Pagans, almost in the manner of bragging, say that they have not “forced” their religion on their children, while I’ve also recently heard of others who have made it a point to teach their children about “all religions” as objectively as possible so that they can choose one later in life. I even heard of a Pagan parent recently who was making their child read the entirety of the Christian Bible—something that I suspect many Christian parents have not made their children do.

I understand that many Pagans, in adopting this approach, are attempting to not recreate the situations of their own childhood, where a repressive compulsory Christianity was something that they did not enjoy and over which there still may be lingering issues with their parents and extended families. Nonetheless, it would be a good test of “truth of concept” for Paganism as a viable religion for one to raise a child in it, while also giving them a good background in other religious traditions (in a manner that is neither relativist nor condemnatory, and is as informed as possible). If one’s religion is good enough for oneself, why isn’t it good enough to teach to one’s own children? It is perfectly possible to raise a child in a given religion without “indoctrinating” them into it or in any way coercing them. Even pious adults sometimes skive when they are adults; children and teenagers, likewise, might do this as well, and there’s no reason not to let them in many cases.

There is a lot of fear of indoctrinating children into a religion they don’t want among many pagans. I can see a few problems with this thought process, though.

  1. Very few pagan religions are anywhere near as rigid or doctrinal as the forms of Christianity many pagans grew up in.
  2. Allowing your children to float freely without any religious structure or education may make them uncertain, confused, and ultimately more susceptible to indoctrination.
  3. Leaving your children out of your religious practice can create a rift or lack of understanding between you and them.
  4. It is the job of parents to raise their children in a suitable moral system. As Lupus says, if is good enough for you, why not your children?

I think that some of the reluctance to include children in paganism also stems from a conflation of religion and magic, of paganism and witchcraft. Witchcraft is a magical practice that was originally taught through initiation. The coven model was adopted for religious rites as well, and essentially excludes non-members. And kids aren’t generally accepted as members.

I’ve commented on this before:

[B]y its very nature, such a model cannot facilitate a community outside of the religious/magical leadership of the group. That is the whole point of the coven in the first place – to provide for an enclave for hidden religious/magical action separate and hidden from the community at large. … The coven model is one of initiation. When a young witch comes of age, he or she is initiated into the mystery and eventually accepted in the circle. What of before that? Well, presumably, the youngster is brought up in the larger culture, and doesn’t know what goes on in the coven (if he knows about it at all).

Doesn’t sound like a great place to bring your kids to, does it?

There are some other reasons why pagans may not raise their children in their religion. Pagan children would suffer from social barriers that would arise from a lack of familiarity with popular myths, fables, expressions, and metaphors common to the dominant Christian culture. (This is why I don’t think having pagan children read the Bible is a bad thing.)

In my own case, there is a legal component involved. My ex-wife does not want my son to be involved in “that weird stuff that [I] do.” So he has been raised nominally Christian, and although I don’t hide my paganism, I don’t discuss it with him. This is not a pleasant situation for me, but it avoids a lot of undue hardship for my family. (When he is of age, I think I’ll take him to Camp Gaea and see what he thinks. That should be nice and awkward.)

And in my earlier commentary, I also mentioned a point that Lupus seems to have glossed over: the problem of passing on paganism to children is much more of an issue in Wicca and Wicca-based or influenced traditions. Heathens and Bardic groups, which seem to focus less on the magic and more on the religion than a lot of other pagans, don’t seem to be having that problem, and actively involve their children in their religion and religious community.

I also know several solitary paganish folks who are quite active in teaching their religion (and in some cases their magic) to their children. A good friend of mine includes her small children in some ritual, to interesting effect. And should I ever remarry and have more children, I hope to be able to raise them according to Roman values and traditions, that my family may honor the gods together.

But I really do think that a lot of the reluctance to actively raise children as pagan comes from a combination of conflating magic and religion and a need to keep things hush hush. There are potential problems for pagan children and pagan parents, both social and legal, that can arise. I really do see Heathens and Druids paving the way here, and perhaps the lessons they learn and the examples they set will aide in further community-building, which will provide a space more pagans can feel safe enough to raise a pagan family in.

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