07 August 2008

Sharing your pagan faith with your children

Lately I have been receiving notes from acquaintances and friends asking me about how to share their various pagan faiths with their children. (Obviously I am being mouthy again, else how would they know I have such strong opinions?!?!?)

Anyway, most of us have all grown up "outside the faith" and discovered it as adults.

That can make it tough to figure out how to share paganism with our children. Part of the problem, of course, is that we mostly learned about paganism through books (our intellects) when we first discovered it, and it can be hard to pass that along to small children.

Often we *do* have a strong emotional reaction, especially once we start practicing with a group, but it's not usually a "verbal" emotional reaction...that is, there are still no words that we can use to share the emotional truth, because the only words we have for it won't tell our wee ones much.

Adding to the challenge is that unlike, monotheistic religions, there is no one "catechism" for most pagan religions, so what is important will vary a lot from one group of pagan parents to another, and that means that each family has to decide from scratch what it is we want to teach in the first place. ;)

In many ways the best religious education grows organically from what we do rather than what we teach. While you're working on the "what", try to think back to how your parents taught you about their religion, and then use methods similar to the ones you liked. In the end, those are what will speak to you best and your child might well like them, too.

Now, on to the "what".

One thing we all share is a reverence for nature. Nature Study is a Victorian educational philosophy that a lot of pagan families have adopted and it can help us to help our child develop his or her own reverence. It starts with the noticing of leaf buds, bugs, flowers, etc, and goes on to more involved kinds of noticing and then more involved study of botany and zoology.

We can start with "nature study" just about as soon as the child is old enough to go for walks and then step it up as they're ready for more depth. At 18 months, we'll point out trees and flowers and grass, and ants, and ducks, and dogs. At three, we'll start noticing that there is clover in with the grass, and that ducks like to hang out together and geese like to hang out together, but they don't usually hang out in a big group of mixed water fowl (unless someone is feeding them).

As your child approaches six or seven, you can take nature study to an even greater depth. You can learn more about how formal nature study is done, complete with leaf rubbings and observation journals, on several web sites and Victorian books available free on the web. These are not pagan sources, but you can adapt what you learn:
In your noticing, you can point out various herbs you find growing and mention the plant's medical and magickal purposes. Demonstrate how to harvest them properly for tisanes, infusions, and ritual use, and then follow up with a lovely cup of herb tea you harvested yourself. Mint is wonderful, as are raspberry leaf and strawberry leaf.

Beyond nature study, you can introduce the Wheel of the Year at about the age of five. By five, most children have enough memory of previous years to begin to understand the cycle of the seasons and so the wheel of the year. We can discuss casually what Sabbat we are celebrating and what it means in your own particular faith and compare it to the last Sabbat and to the next. Maybe talk about how you celebrated last year and the meaning of what you'll do this year.

Another thing that you can do is create a children's 'Book of Shadows' to cover the religious and spiritual topics that you have discussed with your child so that you can review everything together regularly. Make sure that it has lots of visuals -- drawing, photos, etc.

Chants and simple songs are your teaching friends! If your trad has a collection of poems and chants that you use, they make really superb teaching tools. Five year olds memorize better than anyone else, but children of all ages respond to music and sing alongs! There are chants to cover most important topics, so that can cover a LOT of what you need to do. If your group doesn't use much music, you can get music from Libana (We use A Circle is Cast) and Reclaiming (we like Chants). We don't have it yet, but we also hear great things about Circle Round.

If your group doesn't have trad poems, you can find some cute, kid-friendly poems online at the Bigwood Family site. I particularly like the Kids Charge of the God and the Kids Charge of the Goddess. ;) Read the poems together often, write them in your book of shadows, or use them in ritual with your kids.

Another project is to learn about the altar, if your trad uses one. Examine the stuff on your altar and discuss what each item means. (You might want to leave it at one item per week, and then spend time talking about that thing and finding things that could represent the same idea) and then help your child build his or her own altar on a small table in his room or on a chunk of wood under a tree, or whatever. It's best to let your child use whatever speaks to him -- leaves, toys, stones, etc-- on his altar. Ours is, after all, and "experiential" religion.

One thing to remember, is that it takes a long time for children to internalize lessons they have been exposed to. Present the material, and then leave it alone until they have questions. If we let the process be, they will explore the idea in a thousand-and-one ways on their own, and then blurt it back at us as their own discovery, just when we figure they have forgotten it.

You might like to read books about the old gods from the ancient classics. You can find a lot of them online, free.

Above all, celebrate with your child. If you can, attend public gatherings or bring them to celebrate with your group whenever it's appropriate. If you work alone, include the children in your circle.

I expect there's a lot more to say, but I'm writ dry for now.

Good night.

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