Catechism For A Witch’s Child
by J.L. Stanley
When they ask to see your gods
your book of prayers
show them lines
drawn delicately with veins
on the underside of a bird’s wing
tell them you believe
in giant sycamores mottled
and stark against a winter sky
and in nights so frozen
stars crack open spilling streams
of molten ice to earth
and tell them how you drank
the holy wine of honeysuckle
on a warm spring day
and of the softness
of your mother
who never taught you
death was life’s reward
but who believed in the earth
and the sun
and a million, million light years
This post is long overdue, but being a parent– life often gets in the way of things like blogging. This post was spurred by a few things, namely seeing some other pagans/witches discussing whether or not prepubescent children should be involved in magic and ritual, or even exposed to it at all; and also just based on my own experiences with our toddling son.
In regards to the former, it actually stunned me quite a bit to see people discouraging others from involving children, or even exposing them, to their religious/spiritual/magical practices. But I think that this stance is based in the fact that many of us who consider ourselves pagan and/or witches were raised Christian. Many of us (I could comfortably say most of us) were raised from infancy in the faith of our parents, who in most cases vehemently pressed such beliefs upon us and forbade us (directly or indirectly) from studying and/or practicing other religions. And for many of us, the shift from Christianity (or similar monotheistic, patriarchal, majority-religion) to paganism and/or witchcraft was a rough one. Some of us were lucky and had parents who supported us in our journey (I was not one of those lucky ones, quite the opposite). But the majority of us have been imprinted with this natural tendency to shy away from the idea of ‘teaching’ (read: forcing) a religious or spiritual practice on our children. And I understand this, but I don’t agree with it.
There is a difference between raising a child surrounded by your faith(s)/practices and involving them in it and encouraging their spiritual growth– wherever that may lead them, and telling your children that they must follow these set beliefs, are required to participate in these certain practices, and are discouraged from/forbidden from learning about, studying, or practicing any other beliefs. And this doesn’t just apply to Paganism vs. Christianity. It can also apply to various Paths within Paganism… yes I am talking to those of you who may practice a “white-light, harm none” path whose children may grow up to practice Luciferian Witchcraft, or Voodoo (and vice versa). We should treat our children the way we wish our parents had treated us: raise them in a healthy, open-minded household, and encourage them to learn about other spiritual and religious practices and support them if they decide to follow some such path.
We are raising our son to have a healthy respect and deep reverence for the earth and its inhabitants, to be aware of and connected to the cycles of the world around us and our part in the web of life, to know that magic and spirits are real and encourage his own psychic abilities, etc. We involve him in ritual and magical practice whenever we can– and he is only going on three. He loves to help, and even if he doesn’t quite understand why we’re doing something, or what something means, he can understand some things to an extent, and is being exposed from an early age. When he talks to something that is ‘invisible’ to mama or daddy, or points at things flying about while daddy is meditating with the Owl spirit, we pay attention and listen and encourage him. We don’t tell him nothing is there, or he is making it up. When the dark scares him, we ask why. We don’t say there’s nothing there, just because we can’t see it. When I smudge new items, or give offerings to the Spirits, he helps me. There are so many ways to involve small children in ritual and daily practice. Especially if you yourself can blend the mundane and the sacred, your children are already programmed to be this way. The possibilities are endless. Children can help with their own altar, can learn meditation at a very young age, they can help with smudging (being careful of embers of course) and offerings, they can be taught old folk tales and rhymes (this is common in Waldorf-style education) for everything from greeting the sun to baking bread to talking about the moon or Autumn. You can teach them about the seasons and where their food comes from– and to give thanks for it– from a very small age. Pray over your food with your children, in your own way. Mealtime prayers aren’t just for Christians, and praying over food and water blesses it for your consumption and can be a chance to give thanks. Take your children outside every chance you get, let them touch trees and put their toes in the ocean. If they suddenly want to say hi to a tree in a parkinglot, encourage them. They can sense that spirit, and want to connect with it.
Learn from your children, follow their lead.
This Patheos blogpost has some good information on ‘planning’ (or rather, the lack thereof) of ritual with small children, of following their lead, and ritualizing everyday activities. As children get older, of course they can be actively involved even more. And I feel like this should be normal, and their curiosity and skills cultivated. Children are always learning, and learn by example. Try and surround yourself with other pagan families, and celebrate together! Take your kids on forest-walks together, teach them about mushrooms and trees and meditation. Do pagan-y crafts and child-friendly rituals. Older children can be given roles in ritual. And as they get older, they will grow more curious, and you can teach them about other religions past and present, different, spiritual practices, etc. Take your children to events and gatherings! We just took our son with us to the Central NC Pagan Pride and he did wonderfully, and there were other small children there as well. (However if we go next year to vend and teach, he might stay home with grandma.) There are tons of resources out there and stories/blogs about pagan families and involving children in practice, and don’t be afraid to share yours!
We’d love to hear about how you involve your children in your magical practice, leave a comment below or send us an e-mail. We’re also looking for contributions to the Pagan Parenting column of our newsletter [provide us your e-mail to be added to the mailing list!], and have an on-going blog post compiling pagan homeschooling and pagan parenting resources, here.