When my children were in public elementary school, they were surrounded by an assumption of Christianity, and plenty of bigotry when they announced in their social studies classes, quite innocently, and without any fear of reprisal, that their family “religion” was a mix of atheist and pagan. That went over like a fart in church.
Where we live here in eastern North Carolina, biblical references are tossed around in common conversation with a tacit implication that everyone already knows what is meant. If you aren’t raised in that kind of church, you won’t know why half the jokes are funny. I was just as guilty of this.
Me: That guy is like a snake in an apple tree!
8 year old son: What does that mean?
Me: You know…from the Garden of Eden…
Son: <blank stare, shrugs>
Me: From the Bible….
Son: How would I know what’s in the Bible?
Good point. Up until then, I’d purposefully exposed them to every other culture’s stories, but neglected mentioning the horrors of the bible that terrified me when I was growing up. How hypocritical of me! I joke that I was raised under a “christian rock” where there was a systematic shielding of the kids from everything BUT the Bible. I had no clue about so many important cultures until I got out from under their control. If we are to correct that problem as pagan parents, we must be brave enough to raise our children without blinders, allowing them to become knowledgeable about all the cultures of the world, and trust them to draw their own conclusions.
It occurred to me that they knew more about Greek, Roman, Norse and Egyptian mythology than they did the mythology of the dominant culture in which they are living. I was immersed in these teachings for 18 years and it is second nature to me. But how will they ever know all these references like the garden of Eden, the ark, or parting the red sea, if I don’t teach them? How will they understand the political rhetoric or steer clear of the insane religious extremism if they don’t have first hand knowledge of the actual stories, along with the appropriate historical and cultural context?
My children are growing up in two households, one witching/pagan and one scientist/atheist, yet are not pressed to be either. However, I don’t want them to be like their Christian classmates who regularly harass them with inaccuracies and less-than-scriptural propaganda. It is appalling what comes out of a Christian bully’s mouth–especially the school-yard varieties. Ignorance is an option that I simply do not choose. And why would I discriminate? Paganism and witchcraft are both formed by synchretism, and my witchcraft has it’s share of Jewish mysticism, anyway, so its only fair.
That year, I embarked on my version of elementary school comparative religion through story-telling. With each of the 12 days of Yule, which I chose to celebrate 6 days before and after Winter Solstice, I gave them a little gift each night…a plushie Bastet and Anubis…a new pair of holiday pajamas…but most were children’s illustrated storybooks on the mythologies of about 5 different cultures. Each night, we’d cozy up to our brightly lit Solstice Tree, drink hot cocoa, and I’d read them a story–especially the ones that mentioned winter solstice traditions, or a return of the light, or a birth of a God/ess. Not because I want them to *practice* any one particular religion…but because I want them to be intelligent, well-educated, culturally literate and sensitive people.
A Witch-Mama’s Gift: “The Lion Illustrated Bible for Children,”
Retold by Lois Rock and Illustrated by Christina Balit.On Christmas Eve, I gave to my children a copy of “The Lion Illustrated Bible for Children.” We read about the birth of a baby named Jesus to his parents, Mary and Joseph, who were traveling back to their homeland in Israel, and sought refuge in a barn in Bethlehem. How Angels came to deliver messages about his divine, sacred mission of love and peace for the whole world, his message of sovereignty, and the wise astrologers who journeyed from the east to offer precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Witches also believe in our innate Divinity, and teach a message of personal sovereignty. We watch the stars, pay heed to Astrology and the wisdom of the East; we listen to Angels and prize our Frankincense and Myrrh for their spiritual connection to both the solar god and the lunar goddess–which we burned, just for good measure. I may have mentioned that “gold” is the metal that corresponds to both the Sun and the God.
This nativity story isn’t so different from the Wiccan mythos of the Goddess re-birthing the God at Winter Solstice, as the new light of hope into the darkest night–our baby god brings a message of sacrifice and eternal life. There are always cloven-footed, horned animals and their shepherds hanging around ye old stable, too. As a Witch-Mama, this was all perfectly acceptable to me, and my kids never questioned the richness of this story among so many fascinating cultural stories. Are you enjoying the irony? I certainly am.
While I have yet to completely read this version of the children’s bible for myself, I can recommend it as beautifully written into short “bed-time stories,” accurate to scripture enough, while being sensitive to what a young child can comprehend. Gratefully, they do gloss over some of the horrors of the old testament enough to be young child-appropriate. Before the holiday was over, my 4th grader–who is an avid reader anyway–finished reading at least half the stories on her own and really enjoyed them, or so she says. I am a proud Mama Heron.
The best part is that the illustrations are gorgeous! Any book illustrated by Christina Balit is a treasure. She has a gorgeous catalogue of work on the mythologies of the world–many of which pagans of all traditions would appreciate. Even though my kids are growing into young adults with different reading tastes, I intend to by Grandma Heron with a complete set of these in hardback, ready and waiting for those holidays when the babies come home to my rookery to sit by my tree and hear a story.
Blessed Yuletides, and Merry Christmas! May all the bright lights of love, “peace on earth and good will to all” ignite within your hearts this holiday season.