MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – I turned my phone to silent and found a seat in a workshop at Paganicon, a Pagan convention held in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the Spring Equinox. I was particularly interested in this presentation and had it marked as one I couldn’t miss. It wasn’t the topic that caught my eye as I looked through the programming guide, it was the presenter – 9-year-old AuroraWolf.
While some Pagan festivals and conventions have children’s programming, I haven’t heard of any that had programming presented by a child as young as AuroraWolf. Coming on the heels of conversations in the Pagan blogosphere about the need to make room for younger leaders to emerge, I thought I’d take a look at what our future could possibly look like.
The presentation was titled Calming Your Inner Dragon and was open to children and adults who wished to learn calming techniques when they are angry. There were 5 adults and 3 children sitting in a circle in smaller convention room usually set aside for meditation.
AuroraWolf introduced himself by name and said his preferred pronouns are he and him. He then explained what the workshop was about and what we’d be doing. He described his anger as a feeling he got in his chest, “I kinda felt fire with wings and I heard a heartbeat. Not mine, but a small tiny heartbeat, kinda like a baby dragon.”
Looking at the other children and the adults I could see everyone nodding their head. They appeared to immediately understand what AuroraWolf was talking about and the vivid imagery eliminated the need for lengthy explanations. AuroraWolf then asked others how their dragon feels and what happens when it gets growly.
One young boy said that when his dragon gets out of control he wants to break things. An adult said he feels very small and very quiet and cold.
A stark difference in this workshop as opposed to workshops lead by adults was the lack of unintentional shaming. In adult conversations about anger, the focus is on control and the inference is that losing control of your anger is a failing on your part. AuroraWolf never inferred that feelings such as anger were bad or that you were a bad person for experiencing them. He led a very open and matter of fact examination of anger, the effect it can have on you and others, and then shared ideas for how to calm your dragon. His language was direct and non-judgmental. Your dragon isn’t bad, here’s how you can care for it.
How were his presentation skills? His next workshop should be on How to Present a Workshop.
After each round of discussion, AuroraWolf asked, “Has everyone spoken who wants to speak?” and then he looked around at each person. He didn’t rush to the next point and was fully in the present moment with each person. When one young attendee tried to contribute to the discussion but became a bit upset, AuroraWolf jumped in with, “It’s OK for you to have a pass.” He looked truly anxious for her to know it was ok for her not to speak and that no one would think any less of her. But AuroraWolf also didn’t dwell on the exchange and draw even more attention to her, either.
The suggestions that AuroraWolf offered for calming your dragon could be implemented by children or adults. He said that when he’s at school and he needs to calm his dragon, he pictures it curled up in his chest and he scratches it behind the ears. The dragon then falls asleep. As AuroraWolf was describing the method, the other kids immediately closed their eyes and moved their hands as if they were scratching a dragon curled in their arms. I’ve taken many guided meditation classes, but this 1 minute gem could have saved me much time and effort over the years. It not only treated anger as a partner to work with instead of an enemy to oppose, it was ridiculously easy and I’ve put it to use since the class.
Other ideas were focused on distracting the dragon. AuoraWolf said that candles can be used to distract dragons because they like to chase the scent rising up from the candle. He also went through basic candle safety. Pixie, a 9-year-old attendee said that she distracts her dragon by thinking about something that happened a week ago or by smelling cookies.
The workshop lasted just over 20 minutes. This was another nice change from adult presenters, and I’m one of them, who feel if they have a 50 minute time slot they will, by all the Gods, fill those 50 minutes.
The decision to allow a 9-year-old to present at a conference isn’t one every convention would consider, but Becky Munson, Programming Director for Twin Cities Pagan Pride, the organization that produces Paganicon, said they didn’t treat this submission any different from any other. She said their process is to try to take at least one thing from each person who submits a proposal and that’s what they did in AuroraWolf’s case, as well.
They did, however, spend some time discussing how to support AuroraWolf so he would be successful, “There’s special considerations when you have a child presenting because they aren’t equipped in the same way as adult to deal with all of the nuances that come with standing in front of a group and teaching and handling that. They don’t have the life experience so part of it is making the consideration for how we do it, not if we do it. And then give them the support because they’re the leaders that we need in 5 or 10 years to do programming for 50 or 60 people as Paganicon gets bigger.”
AuroraWolf’s mother said the idea to create the workshop was solely AuroraWolf’s. He wrote his own proposal and sent it in. AuroraWolf said the idea didn’t come to him all of a sudden, “It was just hovering around in my head. Apparently I could feel the dragon banging around because apparently he was chasing the idea.”
Munson said that she wasn’t surprised to see a workshop proposal from AuroraWolf because he was very involved with the conference last year as a volunteer.
Pixie thought it was “really cool” that AuroraWolf’s workshop was accepted. She was excited, saying “I really like dragons and sometimes I’m extremely hyper so I thought I’d be good for me.”
Her mother, Lapis, was also pleased to see a workshop led by a young child. “We bring Pixie with us to ritual all the time and try to answer her questions but I think she could learn so much more and understand so much more from her peers. Having a 9-year-old do a workshop and explain those different meditation techniques, I think it will help a lot for her to be able to internalize it and understand it on her level versus what we try to teach her.”
AuroraWolf said he was excited to do the presentation, but also nervous, “I’ve never done a presentation before so maybe this could be my first time and all of a sudden I clenched up because I’ve never done a presentation before. I might blow it.”
The presentation went smoothly and any nervousness that AuroraWolf may have been feeling wasn’t apparent. He was calm, attentive to his audience, and as interested in what they had to say as he was in presenting his material. If this is an example of what our future leaders look like, we’re in good hands. I’ve also come to the conclusion that most presentations should be done by children.
AuroraWolf’s mother was understandably proud of her son. “I was proud of him from the beginning. When I asked his dad if he was doing a proposal and he said he was going to volunteer instead, for completeness I asked [AuroraWolf] if he was going to do a proposal to my surprise he said yes. I thought Ok. That’s good, but he has to do it on his own. But I am tremendously proud of him. I knew he could do it, I knew he was brave and strong enough. He wasn’t always sure he was brave and strong enough but I have all the confidence in the world in my little boy.”
So how does AuroraWolf feel after teaching his first workshop? “I feel as happy as a puppy who could never die.”