Pagans and Family

I am mostly alive today. I’ve spent days busy dying: coughing, sleeping, shivering and feeling like warmed up dog poo. I’ve missed the anniversary of the WM3 being freed, I’ve missed a bit of drama I’m sure, and I still haven’t watched that stupid polyamory show again. I know I said I would, but when you feel like complete crap you just can’t deal with watching it too.  So go watch Terisa Greenan’s Family and trust some snark (and thoughtful analysis) are eventually coming your way.

Even though I’m still feeling a little crappy, and my feeling crappy-ness ruined four beautiful beautiful pieces of fried chicken yesterday, I want to talk about something that is on my mind. Pagans have a strange relationship to the concept of family. Not all of this has to do with our Pagan-ness. Some of it is just the era we live in, or our politics, or our sexuality, or that we came to Paganism from a bad family situation. Whatever our particular story is, most of us don’t have a typical view of family.

Maybe none of these people are related. Maybe this is two gay dads taking their kids to visit their poly triad grandparents.

Family isn’t a permanent institution to us, even if we would like it to be. We have been exposed to being rejected by our parents, ill-treatment from siblings, divorce, disappointment. We have seen our families migrate across the country, holiday gatherings dwindle, phone calls and birthday cards become a thing of the past.

It is not unusual for there to be conflict between us and our families over religious issues. Maybe we are in the closet to them, or maybe we are uncomfortably out. Maybe we get excluded from being invited to confirmations, baptisms, weddings and funerals because we are “godless heathens.” Maybe we face constant pressure to attend church, or send our kids to Hebrew school. Maybe we get pointed religious greeting cards rather than actual communication from our families.

I believe that if I ever have a child, I will have to be willing to be a single mother. Divorce happens, people die, and the world is an uncertain place. Family is not a certain thing. Other religious cultures try to make it a certain thing, railing against divorce and contraception even when it undermines their core values. Family is also not a constantly happy and loving thing. Seba wrote this yesterday and I thought it was brilliant:

Any vision of a healthy and sustained Pagan family that does not allow for the possibility of a bad day, a hormonal spell or a belligerent chair is not being pragmatic.  Any family that is not being pragmatic is pumping fairy dust up each other’s arses–and, I know we are Southern, ya’ll, but I draw the line here.  Fairy dust doesn’t do anything in an arse but look silly (rainbow toodles?) and causes spiritual constipation.

The way we relate to the concept of family is extremely important as Pagans. It’s an old chestnut that the core unit of any civilization is family. I believe this is true. But we often inwardly flinch when people talk about family in that way because it sounds as if they are talking about a rigidly-defined set of familial parameters. 1 man + 1 woman + the resulting offspring.

There are a few good definitions for family, but I like the one that defines it as a group of people united by certain convictions. Family takes conviction, and the first conviction should be that family is important. When it comes to family, if that is your primary conviction, everything else falls into a better perspective. Your daughter got her tongue pierced without your permission? Not good, but family is important and you won’t ostracize her over that. Your brother’s boyfriend beat him to a pulp? Call the cops, kick out the bastard, and take care of your brother, because family is important. Your dad only ever calls you to borrow money and has never bothered to see his grandkids? Biology isn’t everything, and the family you are taking care of is important.

It could be said that with as many Pagans who have distant or difficult relationships with their birth family, that we don’t believe family is important. I don’t think this is true. I think we believe family is important, and our families believe other things are more important: religion, sexual orientation, gender, politics. Face it, if you kick your kid out because they are homosexual, then you think heterosexuality is more important than family. All this talk of “family values” is really screwed up, because it’s done more to destroy families than strengthen them.

Family isn’t the mafia. It should be flexible. People will leave your family, sometimes unpleasantly. People will be added in, and big families are a good thing. Families don’t have to be related. All they require is commitment. And love. Even when you’re angry at each other and pissed as all hell, there has to be love.

I think we have things a bit backwards in Paganism. We talk about community, and groups, and organizations, but we don’t focus on families. Families are the building blocks of all these larger social constructs. Straight families and queer families, and multi-generational families, and families made up of singles in their 30′s. We need to create family and focus on family. There are a lot of Pagans out there who have lost family and need it. We can adopt them. We can create family without getting hitched or gestating for nine months, and we can create family in addition to those things.

Maybe we need to scale it back a bit. Instead of working on a Paganism that dresses up and chants under a full moon, how about one that gathers family together once a week to share a meal? People who are there for each other outside of a religious setting? People who would still be committed to being there for each other if one of them converted to Druidry or Islam?

About Star Foster

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

  • Anne Newkirk Niven

    Great post, Star: the *only* Pagan thing my family (my husband and I, plus our three young adult sons — all currently living at home) do together is family grace before dinner. We’ve done it (actually, there’s two graces we say, one made up by our eldest son when our youngest was an infant) faithfully for over twenty years. We make it a huge priority to have dinner together, and when we do, we ALWAYS say grace. The importance of this simple ritual to our family culture was brought home to me when I visited the house of a friend and found everyone eating in front of the tv. Frankly, it freaked me out so much I pulled the friend I was visiting aside and ate out on the porch with him. Focusing on smaller units i.e. “family” vs. “community” sounds like a great idea. Thanks for planting that seed in my head.

  • Camenae deWelles

    I see working with family as an inside-out kind of thing. I focus on my at-my-residence family, then my larger family then my community. In that order. If I can’t keep up with the the first one, how could I possibly keep up with the latter? The one in the middle, I choose for family. And that takes work, too. It’s all well worth it.

  • Aine Llewellyn

    Yes, yes, this is excellent! This has definitely been on my mind – I’m really feeling a need for a religious and spiritual family rather than just a network or community.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    For myself, the family you make is more important than the one you happened to be born into.

    That said, I’ve done my bit for the environment – I have a recycled family. My boys know I am not related to them, but I am still their dad.

  • Crafters22001

    I think a lot of Pagans think of  and relate a lot to family, they just don’t talk about family.  A lot of Americans, I noticed once, talk about themselves as if they were only children.  Our society doesn’t treat extended family like family.  If you’re willing to expel a child if he changes his religion then you don’t value family.  It’s not easy to find common ground with Fundamentalist Christians if you’re Pagan by to their credit, my relations & I manage.  It’s worth it