Pagan paths for children?

“Pagan parents’ emphasis on freedom of religious choice for their children means that some parents are reluctant to consider their children ‘Pagan’ until (and unless) the children themselves decide to follow Pagan paths.” – S. Zohreh Kermani, Pagan Family Values: Childhood And The Religious Imagination In Contemporary American Paganism

In August Patheos hosted a site-wide conversation about Passing On the Faith to children. Since Pagans often struggle over whether, when, and how to best pass on the faith to their children (not to mention whether “faith” is a relevant term!), this is a great topic for us.

Michelle leading Water n Wax Scrying with Pagan kids, Pagan Alliance Witches’ Ball, SF Bay Area 2012

I asked Wiccan and Unitarian Universalist Director of Religious Education Michelle Mueller to weigh in and she shared thoughts on what Pagan parents can learn from UUs. Niki Whiting shared her own family’s approach to raising kids in a Pagan household.

A bunch of other Patheos Pagan bloggers also wrote their perspectives on sharing Paganism with children. Plus, over at the Divine Feminine blog on the Spirituality channel there have been several Passing On the Faith Posts that I’ve appreciated.

Then someone raised a related question on the Pagan Families Facebook page that led to a big discussion with lots of perspectives. Here are a few diverse  morsels from that conversation:

  • ” I’m going to raise her like my parents did with me. I had no religion shoved down my throat. So I am having my daughter choose her own path.”
  • “I have also made a point of making sure she knows that there are lots of beliefs and that no one has a right to judge anyone else about them!”
  • “I see nothing wrong with wanting to share the joy of the seasons, sabbats, deities, spirits, and rituals with them.”
  • “I think its almost naive to think you can be of a religion, and a parent, and not teach them some aspects of your religion.”

What’s your perspective? What’s the right way to share Paganism with our children?

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About Sarah Whedon

Sarah Whedon is founding editor of Pagan Families, the author of Birth on the Labyrinth Path: Sacred Embodiment in the Childbearing Year, and former Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary. Sarah’s teaching, research, and advocacy work center around topics of spirituality, feminism, and reproduction. She makes her home in the Boston area with her partner and their children.

  • Mary Murphy

    For me, this was less about teaching my child a certain pagan path and more about age-appropriate spiritual practices and responses to milestones of psychological and spiritual growth. Oh, and stories. Because the folk tales, the myths, the fictional and factual stories about how people and the universe work
    was/is always the foundation. So when your kid hits that 3-4 year old
    stage when she realizes that the world is a dangerous and chaotic
    place, you do the ritual blessing and installation of the ward stones
    on the 4 corners of her bed, and you have the ritual slaying of the
    piñata devised to resemble the evil dragon that threatens. When she
    is struggling with processing negative feelings, you institute the
    ritual of the magic circle – a round of black cloth you sit on
    together, light a candle, bundle all your negative feelings into a
    ball, thrust them through the circle deep into the earth, and then
    pull them up calmed and cleansed and offer spontaneous prayers of
    thanks to the goddess for her assistance in that endeavor. It’s in
    how to respond to those things kids say: you accept with equanimity
    the announcement that your child has had many past lives some of
    which were feline or the news that her invisible dog playmate is able
    to grow to enormous size and go up on the roof to protect your home
    accompanied by other beings that sound suspiciously like cherubim
    (and which you are pretty sure she has no previous knowledge of). You
    accommodate life-long bonds to particular creatures (wolves and
    dragons in our case). You celebrate the heck out of Halloween. When
    you have a yen to spend the evening enjoying the full moon, you make
    round white sugar cookies and go out on the patio with your kid and
    your dog and have a spontaneous milk and cookies moon ritual. When
    your kid has her first blood, you pull together a ritual at church
    and invite the minister, her sunday school peers, and women who have
    had an interest in her growth (yes UUs). You do not diss the teen
    witch phase nor the goth phase which follows. You are open about the
    varying beliefs of your friends – pagan and not – and your utmost
    respect for them, including the ones that you do not share. And you offer th ekid that same respect from the earliest age. You invent a 16th birthday coming of age ritual that celebrates your kid’s particular blossoming. You introduce your kid
    to Tarot and pendulums and listen and learn when they introduce you
    to practices they pick up and books and music that they love. And
    when they are a young adult and start exploring their own path and go
    places that you yourself have yet to dare to tread, you listen and
    love and recommend strategies when your advice is wanted and just be

    • Sarah Whedon

      This is so rich and beautiful and inspiring. And so very Pagan to be more interested in what we do than in worrying over what we or our kids call it.

  • Dscarron

    I can speak as far as the Asatru community in the East Coast. Specifically, with regards to the East Coast Thing (that we just had a few weeks ago). Every year, for over a decade, all kids attended the even for free and we have had extensive daily programing for them, including plays, rituals and games.

  • TheSeaHag

    I have a hard time with the idea some of my fellow Pagans have that we as Pagans should not teach our children any one path but just allow them to find their own. (Perhaps they feel that way because “we” did it that way? But that discounts all the people who were raised in Pagan traditions from birth.) That, to me, is not good parenting. Rather, I believe that all parents should help their children along the path that they have walked and are walking, pointing out the markers for other trails along the way, until such time as their children are ready to start making journeys of their own. Also, for my own path, love of the Gods is to be shared with one’s family, so it would feel completely wrong not to share it with my child. And finally, I firmly believe that it’s our duty as parents to protect our children against negative traditions masquerading as spirituality, those that are focused on guilt and shame and sin. I grew up with that and I would never want that for my child.

    My husband and I are expecting our first (and likely only) child this year. My estimated due date is Samhain, which makes us happy but which is upsetting to my conservative Christian mother, who has already started asking me why it’s not okay for her to buy our daughter a book of Bible stories and teach her about Christianity. I explained that it’s the right and responsibility of parents to offer religious teaching to their children if, when, and how they choose, and that we will raise our daughter in our religion and teach her about other beliefs when we feel she’s ready, and in age-appropriate ways. Fortunately for me, my mother is so happy to finally have a grandchild that she accepted that, at least for now. Unfortunately, I don’t expect that to be the last time we discuss it.

    • thalassa

      I have to agree with this first paragraph immensely–its something I’ve written about and rehashed more than just a time or two on my own blog, but..all of parenting is about teaching your child the ideas, beliefs, and activities that you think are essential to his or her health (physical, mental, and spiritual) and well-being (past, present, and future). And this includes religious ideas–we owe our children literacy in religious ideas (and science, and art, etc) as much as we do literacy of the written word.

    • Raven True

      My kids have bibles from the grandparents, they find them antiquated. Actually, they have one “Listen to her Voice” I got them from a jewitch in Marin. They love that. My son went to church with the neighbors, he found it oppressive, and asked “what’s this fearing God stuff” Years of sabbats, esbats, and homemade ritual and food under their belt, they are more than capable of handling the grandparents, the neighbors, etc. Now if only I was. :P

  • WitchWay

    Raising boys in a very red-necked Christian town in the Sacramento Valley, I was learning that I was not Christian. I didn’t know where to turn except to books. The nearest bookstore was 45 miles away. But I persevered and I read and learned and acknowledged that I might be a witch. I always tried to show my children that there were many things that a person might believe in, but to start with a belief in themselves. We took field trips to Sikh temples as well as Chinese (historical sites in that region) and a Buddhist church, then let them attend church with friends which never lasted long. When they were of an age, I let them read the books on paganism that I had collected over the years. About that time, we moved to the southern CA area and a whole new world opened for me. I found that there were people just like me and they all met up and discussed and shared. I apprenticed to a wonderful teacher – 4 years. Then I chose to learn and study with another teacher, and learned about Asatru. I am still learning and studying all these years later. One of my children is a somewhat pagan. I have no clue where the other one stands. I will always be a Norse Witch.

  • Raven True

    I was always worried coming from a fundamentalist background that my kids would be persecuted. We raised them in CUUPS and the UU principle of everyone following their own path has always worked for me. At home we follow many traditions. They know their ancestors were Christian, Jewish, and Atheist. They know our family is Pagan and they have a right to decide. We attend esbats at UU, keep sabbats at home, and work politically for UU. We don’t use pesticides and petroleum to the best of our ability and they know why. They are much more hardcore about it, than us. Now we’ve sent one off to college, and she’s actually out and proud, not like timid mama or pragmatic dad. You have to trust God/dess or Universe, or whatever you call It. And, trust your kids. They have much to teach us. Upcycling, twerking, texting, Queer rights, look what their peeps have accomplished already. Blessed Be.