Including children in Pagan practice

Terence P Ward —  June 2, 2015 — 7 Comments

OAKLAND, California — For a variety of reasons, children of Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists are not always included in the practices of their parents. Some feel that children should be given the freedom to choose a path, rather than have one imposed upon them. Others may be trying to keep their faith private, or avoid conflicts with non-custodial parents. Many Pagan religions are rife with oathbound rites that cannot be shared with the uninitiated, including members’ children. Whatever the reason, the values and traditions of these practices are often not passed down to the next generation until they are adults themselves.

Taffy Dugan

Taffy Dugan

Pagan children are of great interest to Taffy Dugan, owner of the webstore Magickal Kids that offers child-focused Pagan supplies. Dugan is herself a Wiccan and a mother. She will be running a kids’ ritual at Gerald Gardner’s Birthday Bash, an event sponsored by the New Wiccan Church and held June 13. She’s also going to be giving a talk entitled “Pagan Parenting: Ways to Share Your Spiritual Path with Your Children,” which is based on a paper that she is currently writing on how parents in a wide variety of Pagan traditions pass on their values and beliefs.

The Wild Hunt caught up with Dugan between her own parenting tasks and preparing for the birthday bash.

The Wild Hunt: For your paper, have you set goals for the number of parents you’d like to reach, or the types of traditions you’d like to include?

Taffy Dugan: The project was originally intended as a presentation for Gerald Gardner’s Birthday Bash, so the focus for the presentation part is on Gardnerian and other forms of Wicca.

For the paper, I would like a much wider scope, as this is a topic in which so many are interested. And there’s so much we can learn from each other, no matter the tradition. Yes, there are things [that] are specific to one’s tradition, of course. There are also generalities that can be shared, like the fact that one family might be doing simple everyday things like saying a dinner prayer, because they feel that it’s the structure of everyday things that children like. That family might be British Traditional Wicca, but they may also inspire an Asatru family to do their own family prayer their own way.

I really like the Asatru/Norse 9 Noble Virtues for kids: courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industry, self-reliance, and perseverance. I find them an inspirational teaching tool, and I suspect others would, too. I would love to hear from Heathen families on how they share these virtues with their children.

Tressa Belle, an ADF Druid blogger, gave the 9 Noble Virtues an excellent Celtic tilt in her piece Triads for Celtic Values. For example: “Truth: three candles that illumine every darkness, Truth, nature, and knowledge.” Now that’s using cross tradition inspiration!

Many families are also mixed traditions and mixed religions, like Wicca and Christianity. Ideas on how to share different spiritual paths, or how to entwine them, would be helpful for many different types of Pagan families. Some traditions actively have programs for kids so they could share their tips for keeping children’s attention. For example, the Unitarian Universalists and CUUPS have a nice curriculum.

Originally, I was hoping for maybe a few families to share their stories, but this project has pleasantly taken a life of its own. I wasn’t expecting quite the level of interest I’m getting from people, or nearly the amount of wonderful feedback. Now I’m hoping to hear from as many families and diverse backgrounds and traditions as possible. It would be awesome to get the whole spectrum of Paganism –- to really deserve the title Pagan Parenting, and not just from a couple traditions. I feel that the Goddess has called to me to serve her and our community in this way.

TWH: Do you use a questionnaire, an interview, or other ways to learn about what families and groups do to include children? How much time would a parent have to invest to make meaningful contribution to this work?

TD: This is what I posted on Facebook, and what has been shared and passed in many groups by friends:

I’m writing a paper on Pagan Parenting and will be giving a talk at Gardner’s Birthday Bash in Oakland, Ca. It will be called Pagan Parenting: Ways to Share Your Spiritual Path with Your Children. I can speak on my experiences with my kids and running kid rituals, but in order to help these families it would be wonderful to get input from you parents who have been doing such an excellent job of sharing your path with your kids. Some of the people who will be listening live in places where they need to be discreet about their practice. I live in an area where I can be open with my traditions, so I wouldn’t have enough experience in being discreet to give them advice.

What advice would you give to these parents? What have you done that’s worked well? What hasn’t worked? Did you start out wanting to share, or were you afraid to impose your path onto your kids? It would also be nice to hear from parents who have questions about raising Pagan kids. What are your questions? Do you have reservations, and what are they? What advice have you received?

Some parents have spent a few minutes sending me a few lines, and others have written a lot. I’m grateful for everything they choose to share.

TWH: Will you make the final product available to others somehow?

TD: Right now I need to concentrate on just presenting the workshop itself, which is in 2 weeks, so I’m still compiling information and composing my notes. But I’m certainly open to the idea of publication in some form or another, after the paper is finished. I’m really happy to be able to serve the Goddess in this way, and I’ll keep following where She leads me. I’m really excited about doing this presentation, and gratified by all the enthusiasm and responses I’m getting from people.

TWH: What can you say about your kid-style rituals, that could give our readers a sense of them?

TD: Here’s a link to one of my basic scripts. There’s lots of singing and movement. I’ve been doing eclectic Wicca rituals, so we ground, connect, and empower. We create a sacred space by singing and dancing around a circle, and call on the four elements for protection in a simple and fun way. During cookies & milk (kid version of cakes and ale) is the best time for good bardic style storytelling, and maybe some drumming.

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A Pagan mother celebrating Beltane with her three young children [Photo: H. Greene]

TWH: Have you ever been asked to help structure a kids’ ritual that was decidedly not Wiccan, like a Heathen blot?

TD: Not yet, but that sounds like a lot of fun. I’d be open to helping any tradition with creating a kids’ ritual.

TWH: Are there basic truths about children that you are mindful of when creating a ritual for them?

TD: An involved kid is a happy kid. Make sure to have jobs and responsibilities for them. For example, one child holds the water bowl while another dips a sprig of rosemary into the water sprinkling and asperging the circle, so the one job becomes two. I make certain to have a list of as many jobs as I can think of just in case more children arrive than expected.

Music and movement is essential, as is keeping things simple. With kids, you need to go with the flow and be prepared for a ritual to spontaneously change. Children’s magic is strong and shouldn’t be stifled, just as they shouldn’t be stifled. It’s good to have a script, but you need to be prepared to add or take away parts to keep the kids engaged. Maybe have an extra song or story ready to go just in case.

Letting the kids play and eat before ritual makes for a smoother and more fun ritual. And hour is good, but two is too long. Then they’re either too wound up or too tired. We like to do an hour of play before and another after.

TWH: You noted that, “Many parents would like to raise a child to be knowledgeable enough to make their own decisions on what spiritual path they want to take.” Would you agree that a common strategy is not to expose their children to any path, or equally to a wide variety of different religions? How effective do you think those techniques instill a sense of respect for the sacred in children? What advice do you offer to parents who are concerned about striking that balance?

TD: It’s fairly common that the families want the children to be able to think for themselves. Many choose a hands-off approach. My favorite advice came from an email from blogger Gayle Tracey-Mull, [who said,] “Overall my children were taught respect for all people and all religions. They were taught that they could be anything they chose as long as when they grew up they could explain to me what they believed, why they believed it, and as long as it harmed no one.”

Every family is different and every situation is different. At first I tried to not involve my kids in my spiritual path. I didn’t want to impose my beliefs on them, and wanted them to be open-minded. I found that the hands-off approach didn’t work for us. My kids needed structure and security. They were latching on to whatever they could find through society without having the benefit of experience to guide them. They weren’t, as you put it, instilling “a sense of respect for the sacred.” I also realized that in order to compare religions/faiths/philosophies they needed to have some background with which to compare. Now, I share my path with my children. I’m careful to say that this is what I believe and what my deity tells me; that deity (we say the Goddess and the God) may speak to them differently. After all, we are different people.

My husband and I come from Catholic backgrounds, so I honor our heritage by sharing a little of those beliefs and never disparaging. And while my husband is not Pagan, he supports us.

A lot of what we do is pretty simple right now as my kids are 5 and 8. You need to speak to their level and not overwhelm them with too much. Kids thrive on routine, so we bless our food and thank it for its sacrifice at meals, we doing our nightly prayer to the Goddess and God, and do our Blessed Bes where we bless the people we love. They love the sabbats we do with our kids’ circle, and we’ve just started to do our family esbats again. We tried doing esbats previously, but they weren’t into them as they are now. It’s important to listen to your kids so you know when they are ready for things.

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For those who have questions about developing ritual practices for the next generation, Dugan can be reached through her store’s Facebook page. She advised that she may not reply instantly because her two kids don’t always give her long periods of time to concentrate on anything other than being a loving mom.

Terence P Ward

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Terence P Ward is a moneyworker, journalist, Hellenic polytheist and convinced Friend who lives in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his wife, five cats, and multiple household shrines.
  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I thank Taffy Dugan for mentioning Unitarian Universalism. UUs have exactly the same conundrum with kids: How to expose them to values and nurture their experience of the sacred, without imposing one’s own creed on them. The parallels are rather precise: Like most Pagans, most UUs started out in some other place, and definitely do not want to inflict on the kids what they themselves had to break away from.All good fortune to Taffy on her Path.

    • Taffy Dugan

      I know many Pagans who are happy to be aligned with UU. BTW, I purchased the CUUPS curriculum written by Jessica Zebrine Gray and it’s been very helpful.

  • Taffy Dugan

    Thank you so much for sharing the project!

  • Deborah Bender

    I think that putting up a shrine to tutelary spirits of the dwelling and doing simple daily ritual there (acknowledgement, gratitude and maybe a small offering) would be a simple custom that children could participate in from toddler age on. Romans venerated Lares and Penates, many Asian cultures have spirit shrines in or just outside the dwelling, and the European folk practices of putting out bread and milk for the fairies may descend from similar pre-Christian practices.

  • It’s really too bad that my son is 21 now. He has been exposed to Wiccan ritual, and has fun with young adult Pagans at PCon, where he is much more relaxed, because he’s with “his own kind”. He’s tagged along to rituals with us, but is there for the social aspect more than the ritual side.

    One year’s NROOGD public Samhain ritual really did him in, as the spirits coming in from the Western Gate overwhelmed him with the confusion and pain. He sees ghosts quite a lot of the time, but mostly doesn’t talk about it. In the Santa Cruz mountains, there are lots of spirits to the point where he often can’t sleep for their “noise”–but his allergies don’t bother him there.

    Actually, he is minding, helping, and playing with very young kids at the Los Gatos UU Fellowship, which he’s always enjoyed–since he was 3 or 4! Thus far, he’s not teaching, but can answer questions when asked.

    • Taffy Dugan

      “the spirits coming in from the Western Gate overwhelmed him with the confusion and pain. He sees ghosts quite a lot of the time, but mostly doesn’t talk about it. ” That must be so difficult for him – and for you as his mother! My heart goes out to you. Has he spoken with others who are sensitive to ghosts? Maybe they have some advice for him? On one hand it’s such a blessing that her’s so sensitive by, on the other I can’t imagine the pain and confusion.

      • Given that his grandmother, living with us, has seen a lot of ghosts, and even lived in a house with one and some echoes, it’s not surprising that he sees them. Thus far, he hasn’t been willing to talk even to coven members, for fear of being misunderstood. I want to help, but he’s one stubborn soul, and all I can do is wait until he asks me for help there.

        At this point, he seems to just accept it, but I think Samhain is off his schedule for quite a while.