Firstly, apologies for taking a break of several months. The summer months have been suitably hectic and I have had little time or energy for writing. Blessings of the Autumn Equinox to everyone!
I have just read a great blog post by Hannah Warwick-Mahoney on the Pagan Federation blog, asking whether as a community we exclude children from events. My experience is that, to some extent, we do; at least, we lag behind other religions in getting children involved. There is no Pagan equivalent of Sunday school. Many events and rituals are deemed unsuitable for children and there seems to be a general fear of being too pushy, of somehow forcing our religion onto our children.
I remember clearly at the age of 14, writing to a well known Pagan author to ask for advice on where to go next after reading her book and being deeply moved by it. She wrote me a lovely letter in response, urging me to keep reading but basically telling me that until I was 18 no Pagan group would have me. I felt a little bit patronised, as if I was being told 'you are too young to understand these mysteries. Come back when you have grown up'.
No other religion seems to be so ambivalent about involving children. My thoughts are that, certainly in the UK, we have yet to move on fully from the way things used to be a few short decades ago when Pagans felt the need to practice in secret to avoid persecution. We have all heard stories of Social Services becoming involved due to children being exposed to 'witchcraft'. We do live in a very paranoid culture, especially where children are concerned and it is easy to feel that we are constantly under surveillance when it comes to parenting. Some people still feel the need to be discreet in their religious practice due to prejudice and general ignorance; it can be hard to constantly have to explain yourself and answer questions.
We, however, as a family are 'Pagan and Proud'. We feel strongly that we should not have to hide away as if we are doing something wrong. Both my husband and I are priests, in service to our gods and our community and we have a duty to represent our community in a positive way. We do not want our children to think that there is any need for secrecy. Luckily, the UK government agrees with us and fully subscribes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the 1981 United Nations Declaration on Religious Intolerance, stating that we should have freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. I genuinely feel that our rights are protected and that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible for our children to be considered 'at risk' purely because of our religion.
While we do not teach our religious views as fact, or as the only true way, we do believe that our Druidry gives us a strong sense of our place in the world and a deep knowingness of our connection with the universe. Why would we not want to share this with our children? I love what Hannah has written about children being inherently Pagan, with a sense of magic and the divine in all things, filled with awe and wonder. How lovely if, rather than having to rediscover this as adults (as we have had to do), they never lose it in the first place; never succumb to the illusion of life as a place of suffering, never fall asleep and forget that the hustle and bustle of our modern rat race is just a dream in which so many of us get caught.
Not all activities that we get up to are suitable for children to be involved. Sometimes we facilitate rituals for others that are profound, deeply transformative and involve a great deal of concentration; it would be impossible to do this well with small children playing nearby. Sometimes we meditate, journey or perform complex magic that we simply couldn't manage whilst also tending to the needs of small people. When this happens we ensure that little ones are either asleep or being looked after by someone else. Those occasions are quite few and far between, however. Our families live some distance away and are not available at the drop of a a hat to babysit. We have learned
to be creative and that far more can be achieved with the help and involvement of children than we ever imagined.
Public and community rituals tend to be easy. There are always a few children around and they seem to dip in and out, running off to play alongside or joining in as they see fit. Mostly they are well tolerated; children are, after all a part of our community too.
Our little ones join in our 'everyday' prayers, offerings and spells the same way they join in or copy everything else we do. It is a part of our lives, not something separate or secret. We encourage them to make their own offerings, to say 'thank you' to the spirits of place and to the gods but they are not forced to if they do not want to. So far it is a joy to see them making their own relationships with the world around them. They may well decide not to be Pagan when they grow up, but I am determined that if that happens it will be a properly informed choice and not because we were too nervous to teach them.