Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in December we will be asking people questions about Paganism and Pagan religions and culture. Want to weigh in? Find the next question at the bottom of this post!
Our communities are made up of a majority of converts from other traditions. Is this a problem? A blessing? Should there be more emphasis on passing on our traditions to the children in our lives?
Cara Schulz responds:
I think, in some ways, the growth and especially the stability of Paganism has been hurt by emotional baggage that we converts can’t seem to leave behind. Many of us have had negative experiences in our former religions that sparked our search for the divine in another venue. This has led us to make a vice out of a virtue – not proselytizing. The idea of not attempting to obnoxiously recruit more followers for your Gods, as if this were some kind of numbers contest, is laudable. It’s when we take this concept too far and refuse to raise or even expose our children in a meaningful way to our faith that it becomes a vice. Why shouldn’t we pass on what we have learned to our children? This is not about ‘forcing’ religion on our children, as perhaps our parents tried to force us, and then compounding the error by reacting horribly when the child leaves or questions the family religion. It’s about sharing the joys and wonder of our Gods with those we love. This semi-institutionalized view of equating raising our children as Pagans with heavy-handed proselytizing has stunted our growth and damaged our stability as a religion.
When I say growth and stability I’m not speaking solely about numbers, although the constant churn of a religion made up almost exclusively of converts isn’t sustainable – just ask the Shakers. I’m also looking at depth and maturity. Many of us lament the lack of new philosophical writings about Paganism. We wonder, “Where are the modern Pagan philosophers?” Others ask, “Why do we not have temples and community centers and other permanent sacred spaces?” Or perhaps you have asked, “How can we care for our Elders as they age or band together to fight for our rights?” Until we have generations of Pagans raised in the faith, for whom pouring a libation or living by our ethics is a completely natural part of their lives, new philosophy to feed our souls, sacred spaces where we can nurture our shared bonds, and groups that care for those that need help – and the depth and richness that they bring to a religious community – will be few and far between.
Candice McBride responds:
If my family had been more strict, I would probably not be Pagan. After all, of my mother’s three children, I was the only one baptized Christian, and of her three children, I’m the only Pagan. Make of that what you will.
I suppose for some Christianity is the right religion. For others it’s Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism, etc. My point is that everyone should be free to make up their own minds. I went to Church as a child, Sunday school, the regular indoctrination. But I decided at the ripe old age of eleven, having immersed myself in folklore and mythology for many years (I was practically born a library haunt), that the ancient gods were at least as believable than the Christian version. So I decided I would be a Pagan, and for several years I kept that truth hidden for the simple fact that I thought I was the only one. It was a few more years before I discovered there were other Pagans out there aside from the Wiccans.
It’s perfectly natural for people in search of something in which to believe to experiment with various faiths and synthesize their own understanding of reality from what they learn. To make of conversion a big *thing* is to put too much emphasis on those born into the religion, making converts almost into a second class of believers. That’s not fair to anyone and assumes that those born into a religion believe more truly than converts. That’s not true either. If someone is told that their religion is the only true and right way to worship, they will either become dogmatic or hightail it out as soon as they’re old enough to get away with thinking for themselves. Better to unconditionally share as much of your beliefs with the next generation as possible without excluding other ideology. At the very least, being open to other faiths will make your children more tolerant.
What do I think? Well, I had a really awesome conversation at PSG with someone who spoke of how much baggage he carried from his former religion and the struggles he went through to receive insight, but he said that when he saw Pagan children he was hopeful. They don’t have the conversion process to deal with and they don’t have to fight for their Pagan perspective on life. I’ve thought a lot about what he said over the past few months. I know the conversion process was long and difficult for me, and maybe it made me a better person. It’s not likely I will ever have children, but if I do, I most certainly plan to raise any children I may have as Pagan. I won’t insist that they embrace and maintain the faith once they are in their teens, but I do intend to give them a religious tradition, a basic grounding in Pagan values and something worth passing on to their children if they wish.
We tend to pick and choose what we reclaim from ancient and not-so-ancient traditions. Do you tend to try to make the ancient ways fit into your modern lifestyle, or do you feel the modern sensibility needs to be retooled to accept ancient traditions?
If you’d like to weigh just e-mail me your short response (250-500 words) before Dec 8th. It’s sfoster at patheos.com.