I’ve seen this scenario play out on internet forums a few times now. A Pagan parent comes online and asks for advice, because their child is being proselytized by a schoolmate or authority figure. It’s stressful, and the advice ranges from good to asinine. Now, in previous writings, I’ve identified my generation as the “second” Pagan generation, the first being the forerunners 1960’s to 1980’s who expanded Paganism in its various forms from an ultra-fringe movement into legitimacy. The second generation consists of those of us who found Paganism in the late 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s. At the moment, we’re literally raising the third generation, the first large(ish) generation in some time to be raised as Pagans, not converted in later life. And we’re running into some problems.
One of the big problems is our own attitude towards religious activities. Many of us come from faiths that emphasized dogma, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy over personal expression or thought. So much so that these are now dirty words to many Pagans, who embrace the “find your own path” model of religious discovery and exploration. The reason being, in my opinion, that that model reflects the personal journey of many modern Pagans as they moved through various stages to settle (or not) on something that works for them, and a more “mature” attitude towards religious expression. This is great when you’re an adult, but it’s not so great when you’re a child.
Many parents today take a “My child will find their way when they’re older” narrative to heart. But while apparently morally and ethically “right and correct”, this ignores how enculturation works. Enculturation is an anthropological and sociological term, used to describe how children acquire the cultural knowledge they need to live in the society that surrounds them. The first levels of it come from family, but in the west, media (TV, movies, games etc.), and our formal education system play a large role as well. Many Pagan parents have their children participate in rituals, but leave the learning and, for lack of a better term, indoctrination, to the wayside until their child is “ready”, and by that I mean, “able to consciously choose to follow a religious tradition”. This seems great, enlightened, and forward thinking. To me at least, it’s fluff and nonsense that leaves our children vulnerable in the social world that we set our children loose in.
By not welcoming our children fully into our beliefs, we leave them easy prey for the religious forces of society at large. The morals many of us hold around religion that we have are great if you’re an adult, and (hopefully) in a situation where you’re dealing with other mature adults. Kids aren’t in the same environment. When an authority figure tells them they’re going to hell because they aren’t Christian, or when members of their own peer group wonder why they aren’t going to church (a big social and cultural event as far as enculturation goes), and they don’t have a firm grounding in their parent’s faith, the forces that make cultures work kick in. Next thing you know, you’re online, asking what to do.
So what can we do? Well, for one, we need to eliminate the idea that children should be raised areligiously or as semi-members our traditions, an all too common thing in many groups. I understand that some faiths operate on the mystery model, requiring levels of initiation. I understand that other groups have always had an “adult” focus, because they were formed around adults and children weren’t really a thing during the founding creation process. But if we want to have vibrant, growing communities, we need to recognize that our children are something we need to invest in.Another thing we can do is recognize the importance of both participation in regular rituals, and the creation of children’s rituals. We can take a cue from Sunday School. Sunday School is much more than just religiously oriented arts and crafts. It plays an important role in conveying key facets of Christian mythology and building a worldview based around the faith. It’s also a social event, bringing children together to explore their faith as a group. In sociological and anthropological terms, it’s massively important as part of the development of the child as part of their community. It also gives them the tools they need to defend themselves when approached by other denominations. There’s nothing wrong with this, and doing the same for our children would be a massive help for them in terms of navigating their social world.
Now, I mentioned initiation based faith paths earlier. One of the things we have lost in our modern world are rites of passage, initiations, and pretty much everything except a handful of milestones like graduating high school, getting a drivers licence, and other mundanities. If your Pagan or Heathen path supports these, make some for children and youths. It’s tempting to put it off, but by creating these, we can only improve the situation. Also, this will prepare them well for their lives as youths and adults within the faith, meaning that there will be less need to “start from scratch” or re-explain/instruct when they move into the faith fully.
Now, I won’t lie, none of this is easy. There’s a lot of rethinking and personal introspection involved, and there’s always the spectre of Pagan inactivity as people wait for someone else to take the lead. In the meantime though, our kids are growing up without the underpinnings that others have, and can be more easily swayed and influenced by their peers. I’d like that post I saw online that spurred this to be the last time I see that sort of thing. I know it won’t be though. But if we take the steps needed to bring our children and youths more fully into our faiths, there’s no downside. I’d like to end on this note though. When our children do come of age, and do decide on what’s best for them religiously, the best thing we can do is support them, no matter what they choose. With that said, let’s make sure that it’s a fair fight when they encounter other faiths.