Hills of the Horizon: Put Fire On It

I have a deep-thinking oldest child, who is fascinated by a number of things, and this means that I get asked questions.  “What is a god?” she asks; “Do you know all the stories?” she asks, after I tell her a few stories about gods.

When she was younger, before she learned to read, she would page through my research sometimes, exploring the pictures in Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt and asking me questions, or other things.

Her Da has a prosperity shrine, and she would for a while help him do the ritual of the coin and the cow.When she was… maybe three and a half, I guess? She saw a taper candle sitting out, where I was setting up for a ritual to do later: “Dat you candle, mama?”  “Yes, sweetie.”  “You put fire on it.”

It was an order. She was a very commanding preschooler.

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I used to hear a lot of other pagans say that they’d never raise their children in a religion, and I wondered a lot how that worked. I wonder it a lot these days, too. I understand where the impulse comes from, for many of them – terrible and coercive experiences with childhood and religion, being compelled into belief.

But: “What is a god, Mama?”

There’s a fire there, something burning to know, looking for answers. I didn’t put the fire on her; she makes it herself, and she asks me questions.

The other day I wandered into the room when she was interrogating her Daddy about Jesus. She asks me about figures on my shrines, about pictures in my books, about what things mean. She asks me how witchery works, and wants me to explain it, to teach her (and she means Witchery the Minecraft mod, but she also means the Craft).

I didn’t put the fire on her.

I tell her “a god is a story that’s alive”, and we tell stories. I ask her about how those stories make her feel. I ask her how she would feed those stories. We talk about Captain America and the Night Watch and other stories about standing up for people and she talks to me about a bully at her school, and things she’s done there, and I encourage her to keep feeding the story where there’s someone who tries to keep things right. And we take a walk up the driveway and along the street to the neighbor’s house, where there’s a lilac bush growing, and she breathes in the scent of the flowers, and somehow that makes a story with the lilac a little bit more real, before she goes running back down the driveway into the house, as if this is all too much and she needs to think for a bit.

We talk about things, and the stories wander. We start out talking about companion planting in her garden and somehow this works around to discussion of plants that are nightshades and from there it’s to sacred uses of tobacco and from there it’s to how our ancestors took the land from the people who lived here before, and from there it’s into some of my ritual practices and those of people we know, and all of a sudden she’s asking me if she can come with me when I do offerings to the local spirits and to the goddess I acknowledge even though she’s from South America and not my goddess, who was one of my first steps into understanding that there were still polytheists in the world, and so I give her thanks for showing me the way.

And she takes these things, and she thinks about them.

I didn’t put the fire on her.

But, she burns.

I think about these things — about how to do right by her. I go looking through the wood cut from the tree that came down a few months ago, seeing which pieces are the right size because I need to put up a god-pole somewhere, and it needs to be oak, and hey, there’s all these pieces of oak around.

And one of the things I think is, “How do I explain what I’m doing to her? How can I involve her in this?” And, I bookmark the website that has pictures of god-poles from elsewhere, from the sort of places my great-grandparents came from, and I can say, “This is something that some people do,” and I imagine her watching while I figure out how to carve the face into the oak. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be detailed.

I imagine she and I might go looking for a place to set it up. And I can tell her stories–since gods are stories that are alive–and ask her what she thinks should go into the hole when we set up the post.

I didn’t put the fire on her.

But, I can feed it.


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