There are many pagan groups out there who are exclusively adult. If you meet in a pub, or want to work naked, then having kids in the mix isn’t workable. Many people (especially those who do not have kids in tow) find younger humans distracting and disruptive. It’s important not to generalise though, because some children are great in ritual, and some are a nightmare.
My personal feeling is that it is really important to have spaces where families can celebrate, and children can be included. I don’t imagine our pagan ancestors excluded their offspring from spirituality, but we have fear born of media to contend with. I was a child in the bad old days when social workers did take children away and accuse parents of Satanic abuse. As far as I know, no one ever got to the bottom of those cases, but they bred fear. For a long time, you had to be 18 to access anything pagan, for fear the organisers would be accused of something heinous.
Most of us live in better, more enlightened cultures now.
One of the things I love about open Druid gatherings is how child friendly they are. Whether that’s out on the grass at Avebury, or hiding away in the woods, kids are able to be there. They don’t have to stay in circle and behave, either. Most of them roam around the area, exploring nature (and cow pats), joining in where it suits them. With a little support and guidance, they are certainly no more disruptive than tourists, rainstorms and other people’s dogs, and we cope with them.
Part of the issue here is how we think of children. What are they? If we perceive them as noisy, disruptive lumps of irritation, then we won’t engage with them, and their presence will damage the atmosphere. I’ve seen it done enough times. Relate to children like they are small people, and quite often they behave better. Talk to them, include them, make space for them in ritual and if they feel loved and wanted, they are more likely to co-operate. Find them little jobs – collecting wood for the fire, helping to make the altar, etc. If you like to cleanse the circle by sprinkling water about, children are always brilliant at this, spreading droplets and giggles as they go. We can also relate to children as being like other disruptive forces of nature in our midst. Because they are. We can honour that chaos, learn to take ourselves less seriously, loosen up and enjoy them!
Children who are able to attend ritual, have a broader life experience. The playing outside is good for them. So is being part of a community. I think it’s a great shame to entirely exclude younger folk. It’s important to be clear in advance of a ritual about whether it’s child friendly, and so that folk attending know to expect kids, but we shouldn’t keep them away. Excluding children frequently means excluding parents as well, and so a whole section of our community is exiled, and that seems very wrong to me.
As we get more folk who have grown up pagan and want to raise their children pagan too, we need more family spaces, more scope for celebration. Make space at your fire for the younger humans, and all the wild magic they can bring with them. Sometimes, they will throw your ritual off track and drive you mad, but they are the future, and we need them.