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?