Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Raising "Pagan" Children
Probably the most common question I get asked is something like "How long have you been practicing?" or "How did you find this path?" And when I tell them I was raised pagan, the response is always the same, they exclaim "Oh, how lucky you are! That must have been wonderful!" Well, it wasn't. At least not all the time, because there are flaws in every parent and in every religion.
I must say this first. When I am asked how long I have been Pagan I say 17 years. Even though I was raised Pagan, I was not equipped to make the decision until I was 13. At 13 I felt I had a good connection to what it meant to be Pagan and a good understanding of the deities.
I was expected to teach the tradition in my family, just as in any "family business" I guess. Being raised pagan actually set me up to be cut off from the world. To be distant from those I would be teaching in the future. I had nothing in common with the beliefs and traditions others were raised with. There was no bible in my home, no church on Sunday, no prayer before meals, and no father-god that terrified me and shackled me with immense guilt. The biggest difference was, I had no concept of sin. I was a good kid. I didn't lie, cheat, or steal, and if I did screw up (which I began to in high school) my mother left it up to karma to straighten out the situation out-no punishment for me really. So living without the idea of sin, I was also able to live without a lot of the guilt others feel on a daily basis. I have seen guilt over nothing break people down so badly, because they were taught to feel guilt by organized religion from a young age. Now, I'm not a sociopath- I FEEL guilt when I do something wrong, I feel remorse when I hurt someone. But do I LIVE with it? No. I was raised with much freedom, perhaps a bit too much, but at least I was free.
So when I began to teach I found the majority of my students were former Catholics and Mormons-the two most guilt riddled sects I have ever seen. They would confide in me about simply feeling guilt for intuitively being drawn to this path. And all I could think was "Why?!" How can one feel guilt for their intuition, their gut instincts, for following their heart?! It made no sense and I was therefore completely devoid of being able to help. Or so it felt.
This didn't just interfere with students-it interfered in everyday life because only a tiny portion of us are raised pagan or, at least, are not raised Christian in this country. Think back to that Jewish kid or Muslim kid or maybe the black kid you went to school with. Kids feared them, maybe even you did. Well imagine that plus the fact that no one had ever even heard of a Pagan. If you were raised Christian I am sure you were never questioned about your religion. Imagine trying to explain why you weren't at school on May 1st, or the other 7 sabbats, when you are a child. It's not so easy and...it's not fun. Your religion, at that point, becomes some sort of embarrassment. Something that segregates you and makes you weird. There are times, when I was not proud to be Pagan.
I transferred to a Christian high school in 8th grade. Yeah. Can you fucking believe that? I was being bullied at my former school. Pushed down stairs, spat on. So my family (my mother, grandma and grandpa) figured private school would be best. I am blessed that my grandparents paid for that opportunity or I could have never gone. Here, I had to completely hide the fact that I was pagan. Even the kids who had become my best friends, I never told, or I would have been removed from the school. I also had to hide my sexuality because I would have been removed for that as well. Here I was seen as some sort of freak. We were extremely poor. I'm not talking we had to buy our clothes at the dime store poor. I'm talking dirt floors, no washer or dryer, no water heater poor. While that mattered in my last school it REALLY mattered here in this private school filled with the kids of doctors and lawyers. Also, coming from public school I knew about all sorts of things that these kids had never even heard of, like drugs and sex. My senior year, at age 16, I was holding a sex ed class in the girls locker room once a week for the 19 year old girls in my class. These girls did not even know basic anatomy or how the act of sex physically took place, as in what went where-at 19! They were leaving for college for fucks sake and I was terrified they would be raped or get pregnant as soon as they got there. This, I saw, as a huge fault in being raised Christian. I did not like the way these kids were terrified and into not doing certain things but were never really taught about why not to do them other than "because the bible says so".
So I was this weirdo that didn't pray in chapel, or sing their songs (we had chapel every Tuesday for 3 hours), or pray in the morning or before meals. I lived too far away (45 minutes) to ever have anyone over, plus I was embarrassed of the 30 year old trailer we lived in at that time. I knew far too much about sex and drugs and the "secular" world in their eyes. It's funny; while every one wanted to ask me questions about sex, they called me a whore behind my back for knowing the answers...because that's what Jesus would do, you know.
So, this brings me to another question I often get. "How do you raise your children?" I am married to a man who is agnostic and extremely respectful of my beliefs. He is proud that I am so self sufficient. I know how to grow our food, forage for food, make our soap, make our candles, grow herbs and make our medicine from them, raise animals, and more. These are the things I will be teaching my children-not necessarily about the beliefs of our family. Being raised pagan, I was given a choice. I could CHOOSE if I wanted to be pagan and participate in rituals and such. This is not common for organized religions. I have seen families abandon their children for choosing to be Pagan over their Christian upbringing-some of these were my own students. It is heart breaking and mind boggling.
You may think "Why wouldn't you raise your kids as Pagan, it's so great!". It's not. It's great for ME and great for YOU. It may not be great for my kids. I don't know yet, and neither do they because they are 3 and 4 years old-there is no place for religion in their lives. Just as I believe it is wrong to raise a child as Christian, I believe it is wrong to raise a child Pagan. Children should be having fun, not worrying about communing with deities. It's far too heavy and complex of a subject for a child's mind to understand. They don't understand it and it causes fear, anxiety, and guilt over things they can not comprehend but feel they are supposed to.
Now, being raised Pagan and from a Pagan culture, it is my CULTURE to make herbal medicines, to make protection amulets, to make candles, and make oils-as my ancestors have done for thousands of years. This is where my religion overlaps with my culture. I view these things as life skills, self sufficiency, and it doesn't hurt anyone to know how to do them. In fact it makes you stronger and more likely to survive in this world.
I do not keep my religion from my children. I practice around them daily, I have my shop, I do readings, we celebrate the sabbats-but I will never make them participate. Honestly, I don't even hope they will choose Paganism because I hope they will choose what makes them happy. I hope they choose to honor their culture in whatever path they choose-which may be no "path" at all. Would I be disappointed if at 23 my daughter tells me she is a satanist? Maybe a little, because I do not find it to be a religion based on much reason or compassion. Would I disown her? Never. Would I chastise, ask her to change, or belittle her choice? Never. She's an adult, it's her choice and if there is one thing I want for my children it is freedom. For me, freedom is one of the most beautiful parts of being raised Pagan.