Motherhood: One Pagan’s Perspective

Mother’s Day is tomorrow in the US. I’m an aunt, not a mother, although I have reached the age where the biological clock is ticking and I have to decide what that means to me.

Having nieces and nephews gives you a sort of strange perspective on motherhood. You are close enough to see the challenges of being a mother and far enough away to analyze and think of how you would do things differently. While my nieces and nephews are the smartest, funniest and cutest children (and young adults) on the planet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes think “If they were my kids….

Recently one of the precocious youngsters in my family felt it was appropriate to tell me, in detail, how I am going to burn forever in Hell. Because they care about me. I was apalled, not because they believe I’m doomed to burn in some vengeful, jealous God’s Hell, but because they had the audacity to speak that way to an elder in their family.

A 12-year-old thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to correct her aunt on religious matters. I’m appalled. At that age I would have been spanked and grounded for having said such a thing to one of my aunts or uncles. The child assured me that my sister and brother-in-law would see nothing wrong in what they did when I tried to explain how rude their behavior was, and I believe them.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. The whole incident has me questioning again the role of motherhood and what it means to me as a Pagan. With my nieces and nephews being raised as either secular or a tunnel-vision version of Christian, do I owe my ancestors a different type of child? A child raised with the manners and virtues handed down through the generations of my family who sought freedom and prosperity here in this land? A child who honors the land, the ancestors and the Gods? A child who respects and loves the culture her family comes from?

Children are a crap-shoot in many ways. Out of my siblings I am the one who remains in love with the land and culture we were raised in and our ancestors come from, yet I am also the one who left the faith of our fathers.  A mother must trust that if they raise a child a certain way that it will guide them all their lives, and yet out of the alchemy of puberty who knows what will arise?

I find myself thinking of what right to motherhood I have. While I think any mother should be prepared to be a single mother, even if only due to unforseen future tragedy, yet I can’t feel for me that it’s right for me to embark as a single mother. As a Pagan, is it more important to pass along the lore of my DNA to the next generation, or should I adopt, knowing as one lovely Asatru lady said so beautifully, “we are all the children of Ask and Embla”?

What role models should I seek out? I am no Hera, no Cerridwen, no Isis and no Demeter. I am finding Kharis and Selu a stronger presence in my life lately, with their strong, thoughtful and earthy ideas of motherhood flowing in strangely strong UPG to me. All the lovely Pagan women in my life have each crafted their own path, whether they raise children or choose to remain childless. I watch them and learn from them and wonder at how to create my own path.

Choosing motherhood and approaching it mindfully is a strange gift of being a Pagan woman. There is no mandate for me to “be fruitful” and many paths to choose from, and yet it is not a choice devoid of religious implications. I remember vividly that after losing my virginity my religious world was shaken up. I had left the realm of Artemis and embarked on a new journey with new companions. If I embark on motherhood, what changes will that create in my life, both religious and mundane?

The only thing I am certain of, is that my contemplation of motherhood leaves me with a profound sense of respect for women who choose that path. Raising a child is a daunting thing, and raising a child with Pagan values, if not Pagan religion, an even more momentous accomplishment. As a childless woman I salute you, admire you and hope to learn from you. Blessed be the mothers!

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=881620496 Melonie Newsome Narvestad

    I am a mother of four. As for the issues you mentioned in the childs religion I am married to a Catholic. We agreed that a child cannot make an informed choice without being exposed equally to both religions. I have ! child who is an Atheist(blech). a child who is Pagan, a Christian and one who really can’t make a decision as to that yet (he has special needs and thinks more on the level of a 4yr old). But I am glad I had children, glad I made that choice and get to pass down my beliefs along with my DNA to another generation. Blessed Be and may you walk in Light and Love always!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=881620496 Melonie Newsome Narvestad

    I am a mother of four. As for the issues you mentioned in the childs religion I am married to a Catholic. We agreed that a child cannot make an informed choice without being exposed equally to both religions. I have ! child who is an Atheist(blech). a child who is Pagan, a Christian and one who really can’t make a decision as to that yet (he has special needs and thinks more on the level of a 4yr old). But I am glad I had children, glad I made that choice and get to pass down my beliefs along with my DNA to another generation. Blessed Be and may you walk in Light and Love always!

  • Anonymous

    “…do I owe my ancestors a different type of child?”

    In short, no. No one “owes” anyone else a child. Period.

    I respect anyone’s decision to bear (or not) a child. But framing the question in this way contributes to the kind of attitude that sees women’s bodies as things that others people can have a right to use. No one, not my ancestors, not my spouse, not a fetus, has a claim on my body unless and until I choose to grant them one. If you personally decide that passing on your tradition and possibly DNA is important to you, more power to you, and the blessings of all the Powers be upon you! But please don’t pose this question in such a way that it implies a duty generalizeable to all women.

    This framing reminds me of Ross Douthat’s whining about how sad it is that there aren’t more kids up for adoption, because those selfish, selfish women are having abortions! Of course they should go through nine months of serious physical and personal struggle and expose themselves to the not inconsiderable risks of giving birth, plus the psychological coping necessary to give the child up for adoption, so that other people can have babies to adopt!

    Sorry, Star. I love some of the other points you make, and you do address some of these issues in the rest of your post, but that particular framing really comes across to me as problematic.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      My ancestors survived to pass on their DNA with the hopes their line would continue. The question is very old and very Pagan. The only person I could “owe a child” to is my ancestors, and that’s a matter to be resolved privately between myself and them.

      Is my body something others have a right to use? I’m expected to use my body at every Circle cleanup, I’m expected to use my body at every ritual, I’m expected to exert my body and mind at work, and I’m expected to use my body to both show affection to, and protect those I love.

      I don’t have an issue with use, only with abuse, and my ancestors aren’t being invasive or harmful to my well-being. So yes, if I am physically, mentally, emotionally and financially able to have a child, it seems fitting my ancestors might use me to carry on my ancestral lines as they see fit. It’s the reciprocity of relationship.

      • Anonymous

        Putting it in terms of something “owed” implies that women who decide they
        are not physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially able to care for
        children have an unpaid debt to their ancestors. The other language you use,
        such as reciprocity and relationship, honoring tradition and ancestors, and
        hopes or expectations contingent on a woman’s situation, is fine. But the
        language of debt establishes childbearing as the norm and “others” women who
        are childless.

        The language of “owing” something implies that the debt was established
        before your choices were made; in that statement you didn’t qualify it with
        respect to the circumstances as you did later. An unpaid debt is something
        that has to be explained or forgiven. I do not believe that I owe my
        ancestors an explanation or need to plead my case and receive their
        forgiveness for being childless.

        • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

          You’re assuming everyone owes the same things to their ancestors, or that I’m saying we all have the same outstanding debt. That’s preposterous. We all owe our ancestors something, but what that is has to be worked out privately and individually.

          I have a sister who is carrying on the religion of our father. A cousin who’s carrying on the rich tradition of clergy in our family.

          Another cousin carrying the musical legacy of our family forward.

          While it’s interesting to delve a bit deeper into this tangent, this sort of conversation is something that frustrates me about Paganism. Instead of being asked to expand on what I meant I was assumed to have meant the most exclusive and harmful interpretation and chided for not placing disclaimers in the post. We need to get past expecting the worst from each other, and assuming we each speak for all Pagans everywhere.

          • Anonymous

            I apologize for imputing beliefs or assumptions to you, Star. What I should
            have said was not that you have those worldviews but that the language you
            used bothers me because it supports the assumptions of those who do have
            those worldviews. I should have asked for the clarification that you have
            now given that the idea of “debt” is meant to apply only to you. Since some
            of your post was clearly personal and some in the larger context of your
            beliefs and potential generalizations, I wished that idea had been more
            clearly marked as purely personal.

            Thank you for clarifying and for correcting me.

          • http://www.facebook.com/juniperj Juniper Jeni

            “We need to get past expecting the worst from each other, and assuming we each speak for all Pagans everywhere.”

            Quote of the week my dear! Bravo.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1542692508 Peter Dybing

          Having read this over three times I do not see the implication you refer to. Your posts seem to reflect your world view superimposed over this post. I agree with Star and think all need to view each others expressions from the position of open mindedness.

  • Literata

    “…do I owe my ancestors a different type of child?”

    In short, no. No one “owes” anyone else a child. Period.

    I respect anyone’s decision to bear (or not) a child. But framing the question in this way contributes to the kind of attitude that sees women’s bodies as things that others people can have a right to use. No one, not my ancestors, not my spouse, not a fetus, has a claim on my body unless and until I choose to grant them one. If you personally decide that passing on your tradition and possibly DNA is important to you, more power to you, and the blessings of all the Powers be upon you! But please don’t pose this question in such a way that it implies a duty generalizeable to all women.

    This framing reminds me of Ross Douthat’s whining about how sad it is that there aren’t more kids up for adoption, because those selfish, selfish women are having abortions! Of course they should go through nine months of serious physical and personal struggle and expose themselves to the not inconsiderable risks of giving birth, plus the psychological coping necessary to give the child up for adoption, so that other people can have babies to adopt!

    Sorry, Star. I love some of the other points you make, and you do address some of these issues in the rest of your post, but that particular framing really comes across to me as problematic.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      My ancestors survived to pass on their DNA with the hopes their line would continue. The question is very old and very Pagan. The only person I could “owe a child” to is my ancestors, and that’s a matter to be resolved privately between myself and them.

      Is my body something others have a right to use? I’m expected to use my body at every Circle cleanup, I’m expected to use my body at every ritual, I’m expected to exert my body and mind at work, and I’m expected to use my body to both show affection to, and protect those I love.

      I don’t have an issue with use, only with abuse, and my ancestors aren’t being invasive or harmful to my well-being. So yes, if I am physically, mentally, emotionally and financially able to have a child, it seems fitting my ancestors might use me to carry on my ancestral lines as they see fit. It’s the reciprocity of relationship.

      • Literata

        Putting it in terms of something “owed” implies that women who decide they
        are not physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially able to care for
        children have an unpaid debt to their ancestors. The other language you use,
        such as reciprocity and relationship, honoring tradition and ancestors, and
        hopes or expectations contingent on a woman’s situation, is fine. But the
        language of debt establishes childbearing as the norm and “others” women who
        are childless.

        The language of “owing” something implies that the debt was established
        before your choices were made; in that statement you didn’t qualify it with
        respect to the circumstances as you did later. An unpaid debt is something
        that has to be explained or forgiven. I do not believe that I owe my
        ancestors an explanation or need to plead my case and receive their
        forgiveness for being childless.

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

          You’re assuming everyone owes the same things to their ancestors, or that I’m saying we all have the same outstanding debt. That’s preposterous. We all owe our ancestors something, but what that is has to be worked out privately and individually.

          I have a sister who is carrying on the religion of our father. A cousin who’s carrying on the rich tradition of clergy in our family.

          Another cousin carrying the musical legacy of our family forward.

          While it’s interesting to delve a bit deeper into this tangent, this sort of conversation is something that frustrates me about Paganism. Instead of being asked to expand on what I meant I was assumed to have meant the most exclusive and harmful interpretation and chided for not placing disclaimers in the post. We need to get past expecting the worst from each other, and assuming we each speak for all Pagans everywhere.

          • Literata

            I apologize for imputing beliefs or assumptions to you, Star. What I should
            have said was not that you have those worldviews but that the language you
            used bothers me because it supports the assumptions of those who do have
            those worldviews. I should have asked for the clarification that you have
            now given that the idea of “debt” is meant to apply only to you. Since some
            of your post was clearly personal and some in the larger context of your
            beliefs and potential generalizations, I wished that idea had been more
            clearly marked as purely personal.

            Thank you for clarifying and for correcting me.

          • http://www.facebook.com/juniperj Juniper Jeni

            “We need to get past expecting the worst from each other, and assuming we each speak for all Pagans everywhere.”

            Quote of the week my dear! Bravo.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1542692508 Peter Dybing

          Having read this over three times I do not see the implication you refer to. Your posts seem to reflect your world view superimposed over this post. I agree with Star and think all need to view each others expressions from the position of open mindedness.

  • Sunweaver

    Have a child, don’t have a child, it doesn’t matter. The choice is between you, your partner (should you have one), and the deity or deities of your choice. I’ve always wanted to be a mother, but I know people in my local community who have chosen not to reproduce.

    If you do choose to become a mother, it is certainly a much different thing than being an aunt– even a very actively involved aunt. I speak from experience here. It will change your practice almost completely in ways that I can’t even describe to you because the way in which motherhood changed my practice will not be the way in which it potentially would change yours.

    I commend you for approaching the subject mindful that all paths walked in love are sacred. We who are mothers sometimes get crap from the childless (“You’re throwing your career away” “Think of the environment” “Well, *I* think it’s narcissistic to have children”) and ye who are childless sometimes get crap from mothers (“When are you having kids?” “Don’t you love babies?” “You’re not complete until you have children.”).

    I’ve heard the arguments both ways and, frankly, it’s your uterus. You get to make the final decision as to whether it becomes occupied or no.

    Anyway, choose the path that is right for you to walk. Motherhood is like the Peace Corps: The hardest job you’ll ever love. But it’s not for everyone.

    The mother in me bows to the creative force in you, no matter how you choose for that to manifest.


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