Dear Ellie, You're a Pagan!

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Your fingernails struck me the most: so tiny, but perfect. They looked like my fingernails—a little cleaner, maybe—only shrunk down. Your whole pinky was only as long as the first knuckle of my index finger. While I held you, sleeping, and felt the holy weight of your one-day-old body tucked into the crook of my arm, I stared at those little fingernails. They were perfect and unexpected, just like the rest of you.

Your mother tells me that I was the first person besides your parents to see you crying. You apparently had the hiccups for five minutes straight and this made you upset. (I would be cranky, too.) But you calmed down, and then you mainly slept, occasionally reaching out to grasp at something in your dreams. If you dreamed of being overrun by heffalumps or woozles, I apologize; I probably shouldn't have sung you that song. Your parents said you might have been seeing David Bowie, as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardus had been a favorite record during your mother's pregnancy. Indeed, they were singing you to sleep with "Starman" when I came in.

Your grandmother, who came into the room a little while after I did, said you were seeing angels. She said it over and over again, even correcting your mother: "No, she's not seeing any starman. She's seeing the angels." The way she emphasized it, it seemed there were some particular angels you were supposed to be seeing: seraphs designated to appear in the dreams of newborns. Perhaps she thought they were the angels who had sent your soul to your body.

I worry about the way your grandmother insisted on what you saw, little Ellie.

I performed your parents' handfasting a little under a year ago. (It's funny the changes a year can bring; a year ago, I had never written a column, never performed a handfasting, never performed a funeral. Now I've done all three. Keep that in mind, little Ellie: sometimes a bunch of changes all come at once. Sometimes you, yourself, will change all at once.) Your mother and your father and your uncles Richard and Franz and Spencer, all dressed in black, standing in the backyard under a full moon with me. I bound their hands together, and just like that, they were wed. I wrote your parents' wedding ritual, little one; there aren't many things I'm more proud of than that.

You might not believe this, but your father and I were in a "Taoist glam rock band" together once. I remember once when your dad and I were having a beer together before a show. You were only a few months along at the time. He wanted to ask my advice about how to deal with your other grandparents. He knew they would want you to be baptized, to go to church, to be a good Protestant like they are. (Someday you will probably wonder how your father came from such wholesome stock yet ended up as the loveable hippie Shiva-worshipper he is today. I have pondered similar questions about my own weirdo father, and I never came to a good answer. Sorry, kiddo. Sometimes it just happens that way.)

Your dad asked me what I thought he should do in the event that your grandparents demanded you be baptized. "I don't want them imposing their religion on my kid," he said, already protective of you. I gave him the best advice I could think of. Don't bring up religion in the first place. If you have to talk about religion, be quick, be tactful, and change subjects when you can. Don't make a big display—at least not if you still want to have a relationship with your parents afterward. The best you can expect a state of détente, where everybody knows it's just one of those things you don't bring up. I know that isn't the nicest outcome, but it's one that can work.

Here's the truth, little Ellie: I didn't really know what to tell your dad. I made my best guess, but it was still just a guess. I didn't know because I was lucky growing up, the same way you're going to be lucky. You're lucky because you have pagan parents.

At some point, you're going to ask how I could consider that lucky. I'm not saying it will always be easy. We've already talked about how it might make things hard with your grandparents, who might insist on angels and baptisms. You're still going to hear a lot from ignorant people who think people like us drink blood or sacrifice children or a thousand other ridiculous, horrible things. And there will be a lot of people who won't assume you're evil, but who will assume you're stupid, that being open to new ideas means all your ideas will be soft and worthless. You'll have to learn how to deal with these people, I'm afraid. Work hard at not being bitter, because bitterness is both easy and pointless.

9/19/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Pagan
  • Family Traditions
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  • Eric Scott
    About Eric Scott
    Eric Scott was raised in St. Louis by Coven Pleiades, a Wiccan group based in the Alexandrian tradition. His fiction and memoir explore the joys and doubts of being a second-generation Pagan in the modern world. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Ashe! Journal, Kerouac's Dog Magazine, Caper Literary Journal, and Witches & Pagans. He is also a Contributing Editor at Killing the Buddha.