Last week I visited a place that I hadn’t been in a while– Unity of Fayetteville. Just to give you a little of my history; it was over seven years ago that I was a member there (and I stayed a member about a year). I had recently divorced and was living on my own for I guess the first time in my life really. I had lost contact with any kind of Pagan community and I was seeking a simple spirituality and a loving community. I was eventually drawn away from Unity and back to the Unitarian Universalist fellowship (of which I had previously been a member in the 90′s) by a thriving UU Pagan group. (Yes, Unity and Unitarian Universalist are two different denominations with similar names. Sorry if it’s confusing.) That subgroup came and went and the local UU fellowship has had its ups and downs. Well, a lot more downs than ups it seems to me, but I won’t get into that other than to say there’s been one disagreement after another, bad vibes, and a lot of my friends have stopped attending. Recently, a congregational survey revealed that the majority of the members were agnostic or atheist. I assumed as much before, but looking at the statistics made me think. How much can atheists have in common with polytheists? So I decided that the UU isn’t a place I want to be at the moment. I keep leaving and coming back to the UU, and I don’t think I’ll stay away forever, so I’m going to try and keep my membership current so that my name isn’t “taken off the books”.
For a while, I’ve been thinking of the druid group (Ozark Druids) as my “microcosm” (community in miniature; we have but four active members) and the UU fellowship as my “macrocosm”; my larger spiritual community. In an ideal world, I would have just one group, but I digress. I was wanting to go somewhere other than the UU for community and I mentioned this to my youngest daughter. She (the church hater) said that if I started going to Unity again, she would go with me! So waxing nostalgic, I visited Unity the very next Sunday.
It was Sunday in which there were no guest speaker or musicians, so I got a taste for what a “regular” Sunday there is like. It was better than I expected it to be, and even better than I remembered it. They have an inspiring minister and wonderful music directors. Before anything was even said, I felt uplifted from the energy in the room. This church has a segment in the service where everyone gets up and greets each other with “Namaste” while music is played and a song goes with it. The sermon itself used Christian language and even quoted a couple of Bible verses. Maybe it was the way it was done, but the Christian language didn’t bother me at all. The minister described a method of forgiving people that sounded like a magic spell. She said many things that felt very mystical and meaningful to me. At one point, random people in the congregation commented and created a wonderful banter with the minister. By the time the service was over, I knew I wanted to rejoin.
Since then, I’ve been contemplating how this fits in with the rest of my spirituality. Unity espouses a pantheist belief system, an esoteric metaphysical Christianity. I’ve been considering some sort of a polytheism-pantheism combination or some sort of Gnostic Paganism, but I’m still exploring what that means. Right now I am inspired by the Northern Gnostic website, and am just mulling it all over in my mind. Funny thing, I found an anti-Unity article by Jude Ministries that points out all the things I like about Unity: Cults and World Religions Unity School of Christianity. I feel like Gnosticism could expand my beliefs to be more inclusive and find deeper meanings in comparative mythology. Although that sounds a bit complicated, I think it may simplify and enrich my spirituality.
Recently I’ve talked to a lot of Pagans who have said some of their kids converted to Christianity after they were grown. I talked to one person who was raised Pagan, remained a Pagan as an adult, but whose siblings converted to Christianity. I’ve been wondering why this is. The most logical explanation is that there is a lot of pressure from society to be mainstream in one’s beliefs. Also, it can be difficult in many parts of the country to find a good-sized Pagan community for friendship and support. One thing I’ve noticed through years of organizing and helping with public Pagan groups is that its very hard to get people to regularly attend and participate unless it’s a High Day (Pagan holiday or Sabbat). Many Pagan groups hold regular meetings to plan, study, discuss various topics and socialize. It gives group members a chance to get to know each other and build friendship and support networks. Many Pagans don’t realize the importance of just showing up. Your being there may fill an unconscious need (yours or someone else’s) for like-minded friendship, conversation and camaraderie.
Another reason the children of Pagans grow up to join another faith is that the parents don’t want to “push” their spirituality onto them. They do very little to guide them or create pleasant memories of their Pagan faith. They may have had their children before they had it all figured out, or found their Pagan path when their children were at an age that they didn’t want to accept something new.
Then there’s another thought that’s been growing in the back of my mind- it is the idea that Paganism can be perceived by those on the outside, and even by some on the inside, as less than wholesome. (By wholesome I mean conveying a feeling of spiritual goodness and well-being.) Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are plenty of reasons that Paganism is wholesome (read the awesome article, A Good, Wholesome Pagan Girl).
However, there may be certain aspects of some Pagan paths, and roadblocks in the process of raising kids Pagan, that may be considered detrimental or unwholesome. So before you begin to pass on your faith to your children, you may want to think about a few of these issues:
- Does your particular Pagan path (denomination) have a pseudo-history? Don’t believe it, and don’t teach it to your kids. They will rebel in a big way when they find out the truth. There is no Pagan path/tradition that has been carried on in an unbroken line since Paleolithic times (with exception, perhaps, of a few very isolated areas of the world). Paganism, as us westerners know it today, was created in the 19th and 20th centuries. For the most part, the “burning times” was not a religious persecution and there was no peaceful ancient matriarchal utopia. Lies are unwholesome and the truth will set you free.
- Is there anything about your Pagan path that you would be embarrassed to talk about openly, or would take a great deal of explaining to justify to an outsider? Examine these issues further. Is it your own (or society’s) hang-ups that make these items somewhat taboo, or do they exist merely for the shock value? Are there a lot of secrets involved in your tradition? Why should there be? Examine the history and purpose of each aspect of your faith tradition.
“Re-examine all you have been told…
Dismiss what insults your Soul.”
― Walt Whitman
- Are you willing to find (or create) a loving, supportive, family-friendly community of local Pagans? Your child will not only need to see that other Pagans do indeed exist, but also make Pagan friends so that she or he will not feel isolated.
- What is your faith’s views of other religions and cultures? It should be tolerant, better yet- positive. It is neither mature nor wholesome to disrespect other religions, especially in the presence of your children. Your family may benefit from being a part of a Unitarian Universalist community, where your children will encounter diversity and acceptance. In my family, our UU fellowship is our larger social circle and our Pagan group is our microcosm. Other denominations a Pagan may feel at home in (especially if you are a pantheist rather than a polytheist) are Unity, Centers for Spiritual Living, and Liberal Quakers.
- Is love a guiding force in your life? What parts of your spirituality makes this so? Are there kind and loving stories about your patron deities that would give your children comfort? How about your hearth culture’s after-life scenario?
- Does your spouse share your faith (or at least support it)? If your spouse is not supportive, you will not be successful in raising your kids Pagan. If you’re married to a Christian, you may want to adopt some form of Pagan/Heathen Gnostism as your belief system so all of you may worship together in peace as a family. (Supplement it with mythology and Pagan customs of your culture.) Finding enough common ground to worship together will (hopefully) reduce power struggles and provide children with a strong sense of family unity. However, there is a high probability that when you raise kids in a blended faith household, that they will gravitate toward the more mainstream belief system. Be prepared to accept this without resentment.
I know that the word “wholesome” means different things to different people, much like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What do you think, are there some things that make a child’s upbringing wholesome?
A couple of years ago I decided to make a portable ritual kit that I could keep in a backpack, enabling me to have a simple solitary ADF ritual on a hiking trail. Now that I’m dong more group rituals, I have found the need to have the same kind of thing, but on a larger scale. Not that we’re doing rituals on hiking trails, but the rituals are often away from my home, and I always seem to leave something behind and we end up making do without a particular item. So I decided I was going to be more organized than that. I set out looking for a box or basket, large enough to hold all the items for ritual, but also the right height, and with a flat lid,so that the top could be used as a table; an altar, or just a place to set offerings and such. Also, I needed to be able to set my offering tray in it without turning it sideways. At a thrift store, I found a garden tote that has the perfect dimensions.
I didn’t include a firepot (like I did in my original ritual kit) because this kit is to be used at someone’s house (who has a firepit), a park (where we would use built-in grills), or at a campground. I also didn’t include water in this kit, because water would be readily available in most location scenarios. For short rituals, the firestarter is all that is needed for a small fire, but it’s good to keep some chunks of wood in the trunk of the car in case none can be found at the ritual site and no one brought any. I’ve painted a tree on the side of the box, to stand in as a symbol for our tree hallow if we are in a location with (gods forbid!)– no trees. The box also comes in handy for a place to stash my handbag while doing ritual. A large scarf makes a pretty good altar cloth. At the group rituals we have, we’ve been having everyone use their own goblets instead of having a communal one for the blessing cup, so I like to bring a few extras in case someone forgot theirs. The grey goblets and the small water bowl in the picture look like glass but they are plastic. It saves risk of broken glass, and makes the box lighter to carry. If the potluck dish or beverage are heavy or might leak, I would carry them separately. If the ritual is at a park or campground, I would also bring a dishpan containing plates & cutlery. As for seasonal items, I might put in little statues or plaques of our “patrons of occasion” and any materials (craft stuff) we’d be using for the “magic” or “commemoration of the occasion” portions of ritual. A checklist fastened to the inside lid makes it good-to-go!
So I was planning for an ritual and thinking of ways to organize the offerings. I wanted a system to keep track of everything and have all the offerings in one place. In ADF rituals, there is an emphasis on making offerings; to the “outsiders” (opposing spirits), the Earth Mother, the Three Kindreds (Ancestors, Nature Spirits, and Deities), to the “Patrons of Occasion”, and we even give tokens to our sacred Three Hallows of Fire, Well, and Tree (portals to communing with our Kindreds).
When I was packing for a solitary ritual, I just placed little baggies of offerings in a basket and placed it in my backpack. Now that I’m doing group rituals, I decided to come up with a better system, in which the items are easier see and to get to during ritual, and a system in which I wouldn’t forget to bring anything. My first idea was to take a basket and wedge large re-purposed yogurt containers in it. That system would allow for a large amount of a few offerings, and the lidded containers would insure that it wouldn’t spill on the way to the ritual site.
My next idea (the one that stuck) was to use a lidded snack tray I got at a thrift store recently. It has a flat lid that locks into place, and the lid is also flat, so I can stack other things on top of it when packing for a ritual. (I’m just careful not to turn the box sideways!) The compartment in the middle is perfect for holding the Three Hallows offerings in small re-purposed spice jars; oil for the Fire, silver beads for the Well, and epsom salts for the Tree. The number of compartments around the edge gives a nice variety of offering options, and just enough of each for a small group ritual. (We offer large pinches at a time, rather than handfuls.)
When time to set up, I turn over the lid, drape a large scarf over it, nestle the tray inside and twist the edges of the scarf around the base.
1. Before All Hallows Eve – Caiseal Mór
2. The Gates – Reclaiming & Friends
3. Ancestor Chant – Sharon Knight & T. Thorn Coyle
4. Let the Fire Begin – Mary Jane
5. Tam Lin – Fairport Convention
6. Demeter’s Song – Reclaiming & Friends
7. All Soul’s Night - Loreena McKennitt
8. Lyke-Wake Dirge – Pentangle
9. Samhain Eve – Damh the Bard
10. Blood of the Ancients – Jami Sieber & Charlie Murphy
11. Alison Cross – Malinky
12. Fires at Midnight - Blackmore’s Night
13. Dante’s Prayer – Loreena McKennitt
14. Breaths – Crow Women
15. The Unquiet Grave - Circulus
16. So Spricht Das Leben (So Sayeth Life) – The Mediaeval Baebes
17. Samhain Night - Jenna Greene
18. Farewell, Farewell – Fairport Convention
19. No End to the Circle: Goddess Devocation – Reclaiming & Friends
20. The Parting Glass - The Wailin’ Jennys
One of the easiest, yet meaningful, salt dough crafts is making salt dough skulls, in honor of your ancestors and beloved dead, for your Samhain altar.
Mix up a batch of salt dough, or use the last lump of salt dough left over from another project. You may wish to personalize a salt dough skull for a specific ancestor blending in scented oil, dried herbs, or flower petals that remind you of that person. To shape each individual skull:
1. Roll kneaded dough into a ball shape. Flatten the bottom by tapping on the counter top or table. Shape the dough into an oval at the front, so that the front of the skull is facing out, not up (like a picture in a desk frame, as opposed to a picture laying on the table). Push in the lower sides of the face with your thumbs, to create cheek hollows.
2. Use the end of a wooden spoon to create eye sockets.
3. Cut slits (or a triangle) with a butter knife for the nose.
4. For the teeth, cut three horizontal lines below the nose.
5. Finish the teeth with vertical cuts.
Set your salt dough skulls on wax paper and let dry completely. Turn over every day for even drying. When completely dry, they can be painted and decorated, if desired. This same shaping method can be used with fondant to make sugar skulls.