Most pagans don’t proselytise or recruit. Many folk find their way to paganism as part of a process in which they have rejected more rigid faiths. Most pagans dislike authority and dogma. So while people of other faiths seem perfectly at ease teaching their children religion as fact, pagan folk often find this area a minefield.
Raising a child as a pagan denies them freedom of choice and risks plying them with dogma – an abhorrent thought. However, paganism is not just a religion for whipping out at a few key festivals, so how do you handle offspring in a pagan household? Keeping them out seems just as wrong as indoctrinating. I’m going to offer some approaches, and would be delighted to hear how others handle it, so do please leave comments. I think the important thing to focus on is values.
Green ethics. Paganism is nature based spirituality. Teaching children about the natural world, how to respect it, and take care of it is a great way of sharing pagan practise without having to touch on the subject of belief. Whatever they choose to believe, planet centred ethics are a good thing to explore. Teach them about recycling, energy conservation, the importance of re-using. Help them learn to recognise plants and animals. Make them conscious of their own impact and help them make good choices about how they live.
Philosophy. Most children love asking ‘why?’ This creates wonderful opportunities to talk with them about life, the universe and everything. Once they start asking all the big awkward questions, there’s scope to flag up all the things people don’t have answers for. Invite them to think about how they imagine it all works. If they need input, try and offer a range of perspectives – as with life after death. Some people believe in an afterlife, some that you just stop being, others in re-incarnation. Help them explore what makes sense to them.
Rules. I know a lot of parents have rules for their children. My son and I try to have as few as possible, and to discuss what they should be, working them out together rather than my dictating. This helps develop free thinking, individuality and personal discipline. A rule a child has understood and helped create is far more likely to be respected than something forced upon them. It’s about engaging with society, beginning on the family scale, understanding justice, and why rules are sometimes needed. You can help a child develop their own sense of honour this way.
Respect. Now, I think respect should be a core value passed on to all children – respect for themselves, for others, for the planet, for all life. However, being around other people’s children, I don’t get the impression many are taught to consciously explore this issue. Again it’s a good ‘non-belief’ issue that will equip a child for life as a pagan should they go that way and will stand them if they don’t. Self respect makes such a lot of difference, so many adults don’t have it. Show children how you treat yourself with respect. Make it clear when you are treating them with respect, and share treating other life forms with respect. It’s a very powerful process and worth making as overt as you possibly can.
Share the stories. Pre-Christian faiths are rich with folklore. Share the myths with them. If they are drawn to being pagan, this will serve them well, and if they aren’t, then a good store of tales will not harm them. Roman, Greek, Viking and Egyptian mythology is fascinating stuff, for those in Europe. If you’re further afield, look for tales that connect to your land, or your personal heritage. Share the stories of your ancestors, so the child knows who they are. Where you can, share stories of your own pagan experiences. Explain what you do and why, and how it makes you feel. That way they can understand you better. Tell them other stories too, from any other faiths and groups you are aware of, so that they have something to compare their own tales with.
They may choose to be pagans, they may not. Either way, they will be conscious, rooted, informed people, and that will serve them well in life.