The issue of children in Pagan spaces has always been a difficult one for me. I have been in rituals where kids have been the priority, and I have been in rituals where minors should most certainly not have been. How we view children in our sacred spaces is a very personal one.
About ten years ago my then local Pagan community nearly fell apart over the issue of children in the circle. Many of our friends were having kids, and of course they wanted their flesh and blood at the big events that were a part of our calendar year. One of the individuals who hosted our annual Beltane bash didn’t think that kids should be at a Beltane event. Long story short, there were hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and wounds that have probably not completely healed many years later.
As a person who primarily works in a coven structure these days, it’s not an issue I have to deal with very often. Our rituals are not open to just anybody, to be in our circle you have to be a member of the coven. All members of our coven have to be at least 21 years of age. Some of that’s because we serve alcohol, but there’s more to it than just that.
Many years ago while helping to run a Pagan student group at Michigan State University there were a few people in our orbit who liked to call me a “cult leader.” To my knowledge there has never been a cult of Jason and I have never tried to start one, but the accusation stung and I have been cognizant about such rumors ever since. I would hate for a seeker to enter our circle and have their free will doubted by gossip-mongers on the outside. None of this in an indictment of 18, 19, or 20 year olds-I know many people of that age who are far more mature than I am, it’s more a reflection on the world we live in and the rumor mill that often takes on a life of it own.
Our primary coven does host two open circles a year, and those are always open to the children of coven members. Often this adds an extra layer of energy to our rituals, because the only young people there are generally ones that want to be there, and their excitement is obvious. For some of them it’s their first “coven” ritual and they enjoy the pomp and circumstance of it all.
When it comes to kids and ritual the most important thing is do they want to be there? If they do they are probably attentive and well behaved, and their individual energy probably adds greatly to whatever work is being done. But I think we’ve all been in ritual with kids who would much rather be playing on their phones or hanging out with their friends. If someone, regardless of age, doesn’t want to be in circle, they shouldn’t be in circle.
In a coven situation I’m engaging in ritual with a sense of “perfect love and perfect trust” (at least ideally). In an eclectic circle I don’t expect quite that level of commitment, but I do hope that at least everyone there is a part of the ritual because they want to be a part of it. If a kid (or a girlfriend or a boyfriend) don’t want to be a part of the proceedings the rest of us are going to be able to feel it. And such circumstances aren’t fair to them, or the people you are circling with.
With both John and Gwion writing articles about this over the last 24 hours I’ve read a lot of Facebook comments and the like on this issue. One comment I’ve seen a few times is “if we don’t have children in ritual, how will they learn about Paganism?” There are lots of answers there, but I certainly didn’t have parents who took me to ritual, I got here on my own, and so did a lot of other people. I absolutely hated (Christian) church on many a Sunday morning, why would we want to put our own kids through something similar?
But there are also times when I want to throw nearly everything I’ve written here out the window. Sometimes, when our communities come together to celebrate a big sabbat or something, we just want everybody together. That might mean 40 people around the maypole from ages 4 to 84, or a big chaotic ritual full of crying babies and disinterested adolescents, sometimes we just put up with all of those things to be a part of a family and an extended community. There are no easy answers and ultimately every group has to figure out what works best for them.