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I was in high school when I started to seriously study and practice any form of Paganism.  I was solitary except for a few experiments with an equally curious friend.  I didn’t meet any other Pagans in person until college.  The introductory books did not prepare me for the diversity in our community.  I remember an elder  looking down his nose at me when I blurted out a socially awkward “Blessed be!” in the local metaphysical store after I heard what he was talking about.  (We later had a very positive relationship.)  I vividly remember the first time I met a self-proclaimed Vampire.  (It was really uncomfortable.)

Although I never experienced witch wars or anything like that, I occasionally butt heads with people in the eclectic group I belonged to in Utica.  I came to realize Wicca did not resonate with me, but many people in the group embraced it or its teachings.  I realized I was a polytheist, a liberal reconstructionist with a blossoming interest (calling?  obsession?) in Irish culture.  I no longer embraced the Law of Three or the Rede.  Fueled by youthful passion, I wanted to remind everyone, whenever I could, that I didn’t always share their perspectives. While I seldom work a curse, studying Irish (and other Indo-European lore) revealed that it was part of those cultures and not demonized in any way.  Indeed, some of the earliest Irish curses are against inhospitable rulers who were not treating their people with dignity.

The moment you admit any of that, the moment you dismiss the Law of Three, the moment you stand in contrast to Wicca (by your ethics, your tools, your methods,  etc), lines form.  I don’t always mean for that to happen, but it’s been part of my learning curve.  It became painfully divisive whenever I shared my concerns of cultural appropriation when we planned eclectic rituals.   It was exhausting, but I loved everyone I worked with.  They were patient with me, encouraged me to share my own interests, and we always strove to be respectful, even when things became heated.  I’m really lucky that my first foray into the Pagan community was like that.  It could have been worse.  I know many people who refuse to celebrate with others because of really bad experiences.

Now that I’m a little older, I hope that I’m a little wiser.  I realize there is strength in our diversity.  It forces us to think and not become mired in tradition.  It’s good to see things from other perspectives.  Although I prefer to work with and learn from fellow Druids, polytheists, and traditional witches, some of the kindest, smartest, and most talented ritualists I know are Wiccan or influenced by those teachings.  While I find the sacred in the forests and rivers, I now understand that many find it in city streets.  I may be a vegetarian, but I know many who very respectfully hunt or lovingly raise animals, then offer some of the flesh.  I may lean towards hard polytheism, but I understand and appreciate that others see all gods as aspects of one spirit.

If you haven’t already, you should read “Undoing the Hard Work of Pagan Pioneers” by Bekah Evie Bel.  (Fair warning – it’s a Patheos blog update.  They always slow my browser.)  The author explores a topic that I and others sometimes think about.  How society sees us, and how we see each other, play a role in the novel I’ve been writing.  More people are talking about “rewilding” our traditions.  Some are calling anew to Aradia.  In our fight for rights and recognition in larger society, many worry that we have declawed ourselves in the process.  Why is it somehow possible for  Western people to accept that cultures in other countries make offerings, revere their ancestors, talk to plants, or dance while their gods ride them?  When it happens in other countries, it’s interesting, entertaining, it’s so  weird you can’t look away, it’s exotic.  When it happens in a Western country, especially in your own backyard, it’s suddenly alarming to many.  (Obviously, indigenous people live here, but the dominant culture tends to treat their traditions as exotic, too.)  Within our own Pagan community, certain practices will draw ire – you may even be ostracized.  Most people regard Paganism as a monoculture.  Heck, many people within our own community still view it that way, leading to culture shock and conflict upon encountering different traditions.

I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this…  just that I’ve been thinking about these topics.  I seem to come back to them every once in awhile as I reflect on my growth.  While there are definitely certain practices that must stay in the past based on laws and evolved perceptions of human decency, I think it’s important that individuals within the Pagan community continue to grow in a spirit of mutual respect.  We don’t have to agree all the time, but recognizing that not everyone will embrace the same practices or traditions is important to our preservation.  It’s important that we continue to learn about each other and come together to celebrate our diversity.  When we can do that, we’re better able to brainstorm and ameliorate issues concerning race, gender identity, cultural appropriation, elder care, and others challenging our growth. It’s part of why I’m involved in my local FAE Fest and enthusiastically attend PPD – to promote education so we learn about each other, celebrate our similarities and differences, and support each other.

I’m thankful to our Neo-Pagan elders and all they did to help us get where we are today, but I’m ready for certain stigmas to go away within our own diverse community.  The greater misconceptions are more likely to vanish from public opinion when we ourselves stop perpetuating the falsehood that we all believe or practice the same way.

 

 

 

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I recently watched a documentary called “When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West.”  It was both informative and inspirational.  Although Druidism, largely informed by Gaelic Polytheism, is my spiritual home, Buddhism has always interested me.  I often find myself watching documentaries about it and reading about it when I can (although I remain a novice on the subject).  One thing I found particularly fascinating about this documentary was that it wasn’t so much about the history of the religion/philosophy; the focus was on how Tibetan monks brought the practice to America, and how that practice looks here.  Many of the tensions that exist in modern American Druidism can, in some ways, find a parallel in Buddhism in America.  For example, how much value should be placed on cultural traditions versus the central tenants?  How can we create spaces for our religious practices that don’t compromise our values?  How can we take a very old tradition from another land or culture (even one that belonged to our ancestors), and make it relevant to modern people in a different land?  How much time should be spent studying versus practicing? I think modern Pagans of many traditions can learn a lot from the movie.  It’s also especially inspiring to see how this minority faith has been able to build beautiful centers for its adherents around America.  In short, the Buddhist community in the US seems to exist because there are very devoted and serious members who spend a lot of time and, yes, resources on their spiritual passions.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what drew me to Druidism through comparing my “conversion experience” to those shared on the camera.  Like the Americans drawn to Buddhism, I embraced Druidism because the messages I was receiving from the dominant culture did not resonate with me or my values.  So often, business and money are elevated above health, the environment, and true self-improvement.  “American Culture” is so influenced by monotheism as well as a tendency to generalize “exotic” concepts from other cultures.  So much of that is often watered down until it’s as useful as an advertising slogan.  It’s no wonder so many people like myself look outward or even backwards to a time many have forgotten.  I sought something different, fully willing to get my feet muddy and be transformed.

In Buddhism, part of the central focus has to do with suffering.  Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths address the reality of suffering and how we must come to terms with that and find peace. Druidism, as we know it, doesn’t really emphasize that so much, but in some ways, it could be argued that the suffering of Nature brought me to it.  In recognizing that my brother and sister Nature Spirits suffer, that we are all connected, and therefore their suffering is my suffering, I embraced Paganism and eventually modern Druidism.  Did the ancient Druids have teachings on suffering?  Perhaps.  The closest I can get to it right now is through the reported belief in life after death and the heroic way mythic warriors ran into battle, even when fate was against them.  Yes, you may have broken a geis – a taboo – that will lead to your downfall, but there is still honor in fighting because there’s integrity in it, courage in it, and people will sing of your perseverance despite the suffering you may endure.  So, I suppose, suffering is indirectly addressed in Druidism, but it doesn’t seem to be a central focus (nor does my attempt at finding a parallel mean that there has to be one).

So what is the central focus of Modern Druidism?

Harmony.

After a lot of thought and meditation, I’ve realized that my own concept of Modern Druidism’s central focus is harmony.  Again, I want to stress that this is just my opinion and only applicable to Modern (Neo) Druidism, though influenced by my fledgeling studies of Gaelic Polytheism.  Perhaps others would disagree, and my thoughts will likely evolve as I grow.  Right now – harmony.

So why harmony?

Many in the Druidic and Gaelic Polytheistic communities will agree that the concept of reciprocity is huge in Indo-European cultures.  The lore shows us that there must be an exchange of something in order for the cosmos to stay in order.  Rulers must protect their subjects and fairly distribute resources.  In exchange, everyone in the realm continues to work hard so that resources are obtained and everyone receives the services they need.  Culture can flourish.  When the ruler mistreats his or her people, as Bres did the Tuatha Dé Danann, there is disharmony that must be rectified.  In some stories, even the land herself rebels, hence accounts of sacrificial kings and symbolic marriage to the land.  In ADF Druidism, our liturgical tradition is based around reciprocity.  “A gift calls for a gift,” it is said.  When you are in a productive, healthy, meaningful relationship with another, there is mutualism.  The tall oak may appear to be the most important being in the forest, but such an ecosystem flourishes because of the give and take of the collective.  There must be harmony.

How can harmony, as a core concept of Druidism, apply to our practice?

For the Buddhists in the documentary, suffering influenced people to go through great lengths to improve themselves and their ability to find peace.  Obviously, there is a lot of meditation, but there is also a lot of study.  Whereas the stereotypical monk spends much of his or her day in meditation, in reality, he or she is also involved in a deep study of philosophy and, as Druids would call it, lore. Several of the Western Buddhists were also engaged in studying the Tibetan language to better engage with the culture that inspires them – something many modern Gaelic Polytheists can understand. At one point in the film, some of the monks discuss the importance of memorizing whole texts in Tibetan.  One man explained that there may come a day when someone will ask a question, and rather than make an excuse such as, “Oh, well, I don’t have my books with me right now,” you become the book.  That reminded me of the ancient Druids and their emphasis on oral history; they were said to activity discourage the written text.  Modern Druids have taken the pendulum and swung it the other way.  I think the Buddhists are on to something with regards to studying texts but then working to memorize them – to internalize them.  There’s a harmony there.  Furthermore, they have to find a harmony between their book studies and their spiritual practice of meditation.  A reoccurring discussion in Pagan circles often involves the need to find a balance between how much time one spends studying and actually working or experiencing.

Looking to a very successful minority religious practice for inspiration, one can see the benefits of finding harmony between both. In addition, Modern Druids must also find a harmony between doing that individual study and work, and then serving the community.  In my opinion, based on the historical basis, Druidism is a religion in service to others – the tribe, the spirit world, and the land.  Thus we nourish harmony within ourselves, then cultivate it around us in our relationships.

Harmony with Nature

As explained above, working with Nature was a driving force in my coming to Druidism.  While I wouldn’t describe our ancient predecessors as environmentalists, there’s evidence that they had animistic-type beliefs such as a deep respect for the land and the reciprocity needed to maintain harmony. The rich lore about Nature from Celtic nations inspired me, and the landscape reminded me of my own in certain ways. The modern world is so out of harmony with Nature. It only seems natural for people who strive to cultivate positive relationships with the spiritual world -including the spirits of Nature all around us – to embrace a lifestyle that at least attempts to live in better harmony with the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits. Historical precedence will only take us so far. The necessity for modern Druids to embrace environmentalism (of some breed) is based on contemporary needs. Many in the modern Buddhist community are doing the same. Their meditations on the beauty of Nature have moved several to act. The documentary gave some examples of how modern Buddhists are out picking up litter, marching in protest of environmental degradation, and speaking out for more sustainable practices. Seeing that was really inspiring.  Again – harmony between the desires of the self and the needs of the community.  Druids should also embrace that.

How do you find harmony in Druidism or Gaelic polytheism?  If you feel differently than I do about the central focus of Druidism, what is your opinion and why do you think that?

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As my current readers know, I started a Druidic study group a few years ago that eventually blossomed into an official ADF Protogrove.  We’ve been very successful so far, and I think a lot of that has to do with taking things slowly and beginning as a study group.  Now I’m seeing more and more people ask about starting such a group, seeking advice from those who have done it, and I thought it was about time that I wrote some advice here on my blog.  As with many of life’s challenges, we should consider the Druidic virtues in our endeavors.  Some people may not agree with all or some of what I say, but each group will face different circumstances.  I hope you find some of my thoughts useful in your journey!

    • Wisdom – I was very lucky to have had experiences with other groups.  These experiences taught me many things which gave me a little wisdom in how successful Pagan groups behave.    I learned from my experiences with a diversity of people, traditions, and group roles.  Most importantly, I learned that a good group requires a smaller group of people running the show, working together to keep things going and preventing any one person from burning out.  There’s usually one person organizing and leading in some capacity, but there is also a fair amount of democracy.  Groups exist for the group, not for the leader.  My first bit of advice is to get experience with other Pagan groups.  Isolated?  Drive an hour or two every once in awhile to see how your closest grove does things, or attend a festival once a year.  If that’s still not possible, draw on other experiences in which you might have had to take on a leadership role and work with others – high school or college clubs, work, other religious groups.  What worked?  What didn’t?  Think about these things before you create an event.  When you do create your first event, I highly suggest that it is a simple meet and greet to gauge interest.    Be a good, democratic facilitator and see what everyone is interested in trying next.   Would you rather meet up and practice the Two Powers Medtation or take a nature walk and make offerings?  Give some guidance, offer a set number of choices, trust your instincts, and guide the group.

 

    • Piety – Similar to one of my previous points about how a group exists for a group and not the leader, the group also exists to continue the old ways and honor the Kindreds.  Never lose sight of this.  Even though starting as a study group is an important first step, don’t merely lecture.  People learn in different ways, and a great many learn by doing.  Work towards doing a full ADF ritual together.  In the meantime, do smaller things that people will see in ritual.  Remind people that Druidism is not something to do eight times a year – it’s a way of life.  Demonstrate your piety by sharing in common, daily Druidic activities together.  Again, take nature walks, make offerings, and pick up litter.  Even if you don’t feel ready to do a public ritual, expose everyone to prayers, chants, and cultural traditions.  Have a special supper for the Ancestors around Samhain, for example.  If personalities ever start to clash, help everyone remember why the group exists to begin with.

 

    • Vision – Before you create an event, have clear goals in place.  If you intend for the study group to turn into an ADF protogrove and, eventually, grove, make your vision known to those who attend your first meeting right away.  In fact, state that in your event description.  Some people may attend who have other goals in mind.  Wiccanate seekers may hope for the group to form along those lines, and you’ll need to be firm about the ADF tradition.  Yes, the group exists for the group, but if you are setting out to start an ADF grove, refer to the virtues of piety and integrity. If you are ok with forming a more open Pagan circle, then clearly, make that goal known.  If you are truly not interested in that, step away and allow those who are to continue along those lines.  Along with having the wisdom to wait until the group is ready to do a ritual together, share your vision for ritual with those who attend.  Express the desire and get people excited to help and learn more.  Because many people learn best by observing, share that vision with others by watching some of the rituals that have been recorded and placed on Youtube.  Discuss these and let others start to share their visions for the group.

 

    • Courage – This virtue is necessary to even get started.  If you live in an area where there are few Pagan groups, let alone Druids – courage to build community.  If you live in an area where protogroves and groves formed then disbanded – courage to try again.  If you are like me and live in an area where Druids (for some reason) had a bad reputation – courage to demonstrate your positivity and seek redemption for the overall community.  It takes courage to put yourself out there, meet new people, and basically out yourself as a Pagan in certain (but not necessarily all) circumstances.  You will need to keep this courage when others challenge your group’s shared vision that is sometimes at odds with other types of Pagan expression, when interpersonal drama arises, and when delegation is necessary.  You will need to share this courage with others when the group holds its first open ritual, seeks places to meet, and represents itself at Pagan Pride.  Help foster others’ courage by having meetings in public places were newcomers can feel safe.

 

    • Integrity – I touched on this in vision.  If you are like most of us, you want to start a group because you feel called and because you would like a community of like-minded people.  Perhaps you’ve looked elsewhere and just didn’t feel that it was a good fit.  Many communities have open circles, and they tend to be very Wiccanate.  There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it naturally won’t appeal to everyone.  Some of us want something different, and ADF fills that need for many people such as myself.  Be true to your vision in starting an ADF study group.  This sometimes requires a balancing act between firm tenacity and gentle guidance when it comes to issues such as appropriation, the cultural focus of a group, what is and isn’t a part of liturgy, etc.  Remember why it was that you started the group.  If nobody, and I mean nobody, is interested in an ADF group, let it go, but keep looking for others. Don’t fight over something that hasn’t formed yet.  When you do meet others who share your vision, politely point those who don’t to groups who could be more helpful to them.  Keep it positive because you don’t want to burn bridges.  Always make sure visitors know that they don’t have to be Druids to attend, but they should have an open mind and respectful attitude.  Thankfully, my group has drawn a lot of like-minded individuals, and I think part of that has been because of my integrity.  Keep in mind that, even though ADF draws people in part because of its scholarly approach, not everyone drawn to your group will be as keen on that.  Some may be more or less recon-oriented than you.  Compromises will have to be made, but try to focus on what your shared vision is.
    • Perseverance- As stated in the integrity point, don’t give up if you’re having trouble finding others who share your vision.    Continue to reach out to new seekers.  Let others know that they’re welcomed to rituals even if they don’t practice Druidism.  You’ll be amazed what could happen.  Sometimes people don’t know they were seeking Druidism until they see it in action.  Keep the old saying, “You can’t please everyone,” in mind and continue to move forward with your group’s vision.  Also remember that not every workshop, book discussion, craft night, or ritual will go as planned.  It’s ok – keep learning and improving as you grow!

 

    • Hospitality – ADF exists with the purpose of offering open rituals.  With that in mind, I started my study group so that we functioned that way from the beginning.  We still meet in public places so that newcomers feel safe. We send out invitations to other Pagans each High Day, reminding them that they do not have to be Druids to attend – all we require is an open mind and respectful attitude.  We have potlucks to foster our sense of community.  We established that our group is to be family friendly and so we try to make it a safe place for breastfeeding,  we remind visitors not to smoke, and are continually working to offer child-friendly activities.    Part of hospitality is the reciprocity of the guests. We try our best to return the hospitality of our hosts by cleaning up after ourselves. We expect others to help.  In fact, as we grew into a protogrove, we modeled ourselves after other groves and protogroves by only giving certain people the privilege of making major decisions and leading rituals (here’s wisdom at work again!).  That privilege goes to those who continue to help and reciprocate our hospitality.  This keeps things running smoothly and ensures that only those who value the group and its vision are in a position to make decisions.  This also helps reduce my burnout as a facilitator.  If someone consistently shows up too late to set up and leaves before cleaning, do not give that person the ability to organize or lead an event until they prove themselves.  It doesn’t matter how experienced or knowledgeable that person is  – there’s more to Druidism than ritual and book smarts.  Demand excellence and use the Nine Virtues as a rubric.
    • Moderation – Piggybacking on hospitality, wisdom, integrity, and vision, remember to find a balance.  Not everyone will be as interested in a particular subject as you.  Not everyone will be as drawn to a specific hearth culture as you.  You will need to compromise.  Whereas you needn’t do that in your solitary practice, I feel it is necessary for a functioning, democratic group to thrive.  Try your best to keep things interesting and applicable to different learning styles; alternate between listening, talking, and doing.  As the organizer, remind yourself that you need time for you every now and then.  If you’re like me, I know you’re passionate and want to do everything well, but delegate and allow others to experiment.
    • Fertility – For the purpose of this entry, fertility here refers to growth and creativity within the group and not baby-making orgies. (Sorry.)  I’m not going to lie – I wanted my study group to grow just as I want my protogrove to grow.  Now I’m not saying that quantity equals quality, but you need a certain number of dues paying ADF members to transform into a grove.  We don’t need a huge congregation to be successful.  What we do need are more talented people to help!  The more people in our group who embrace the ADF tradition and want to add their own talents and perspectives, the more interesting our rituals will become and the more energy will flow. The more people we’ll have available to volunteer for park cleanups, tree planting, ritual parts, and such.  We won’t be so spread thin. It’s natural.  Until certain people arrive, you’ll have to fill voids creatively.  By keeping the virtues of moderation and hospitality in mind, the group will grow and continue to flourish and, hopefully, grow into an amazing grove!

 

Good luck forming your study group! Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

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Just a quick share today. I’m super busy with appointments and breastfeeding!

My friend RavynStar shared this link on her FB last night. I found myself nodding in agreement and feeling frustrated with the status quo. Who knows what religion, if any, my daughter will embrace, but it’s annoying to think that she may have to deal with the same issues that I do as an adult. I’m not keen on “bashing Christianity,” but there’s a difference between that and constructive criticism about the culture surrounding most forms of Christianity in America. People who practice this religion are privileged. Just raising the question of who is and isn’t privileged can be a huge provocation to some people, but I’ve always found it a fascinating, if complex and often dangerous, topic. To make any progress in this area, we of minority beliefs need to reflect on the ways we are not as privileged. I didn’t even think of some until reading the list!

First take a look:

30+ Examples of Christian Privilege — Everyday Feminism.

Now, rather than sit around and complain about Christianity, how can we in the Pagan and/or Polytheistic communities react in a way that is productive and positive? How have other minority beliefs made strides in the right direction?

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A figurine from my mother and baby’s first photo on our family altar.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2012

I can’t remember the first time I considered raising a future child Pagan.  When I started down the polytheistic path, I was still quite young and wasn’t even sure I wanted to have kids.  I have memories of seeing the topic on forums and noticed a divisiveness about it.  People either felt strongly for or against it.  Little has changed!

I fall into the former category.  I intend to raise my child in a Pagan household.  I’ve come to see that this means different things to different people, and a lot of it probably has to do with our own experiences of childhood and religion.  As I’ve explained before, I was raised Roman Catholic.  I went to church on Sunday mornings (eventually Saturday evenings) with my parents.  I did the sacraments right on up through confirmation (when I was starting to feel it as all a personal charade to please my family).  I experienced religious education, family pressure, and that fun little guilt that comes along with Catholicism.  Somehow I emerged from it as an independent thinker, as a proponent of pluralism, as a tree-hugging Pagan.

I feel a lot of it had to do with my parents.  My father is fiercely independent.  Although his family was the biggest influence in my religious upbringing, he also values the American Constitution and the rights it promises us.  Although he initially had difficulty understanding my decision, he’s come to see it as my right to practice how I believe.  He also taught me much about respecting nature by planning various excursions to the Adirondacks and explaining the power of fire.  My mother is what I describe as liberal Catholic.  She introduced me to polytheism and magical thinking without even realizing it.  She taught me to pray to different saints with different concerns and she valued the divine feminine in Mary.  To this day, she keeps an altar to Saint Theresa in her bedroom.  She kisses the ancestors’ photos before bed.  She taught me that, when you find a fuzzy seed, that it’s from Santa Claus’ beard and, if you make a wish and blow it, the wish will go to him in the North Pole.  She taught me to believe in unicorns and the rights of even the smallest creatures.  She taught me to use the sky to divine the next day’s weather.  They both encouraged me to read, to write, to explore exactly what I was into – which turned out to be fairy tales, mythology, and ancient civilizations.  And they wondered how I came to Paganism!  Most importantly, they showed me love no matter what, which is why I believe I have a healthy, open relationship with them and a positive perspective on raising kids in a spiritual atmosphere.

When I say “raising a child Pagan,” I mean that he or she will be living their life in a largely Pagan household.  As someone who lives Paganism, I know that my child will see it and wonder about it.  There is no hiding my Druidic beliefs at home!  I have altars throughout the house, indoors and out.  I pray before dinner, before travel, before bed.  I leave offerings frequently.  I talk to the plants and I sing songs to the Gods.  The child will have a right to know, to be included.  Ancient and modern, Druidism was/is a tribal religion.  It is based on community and, although there are many solitary practitioners, the bulk of Druids come together to celebrate, even if it’s once a year.  My child will come with us to the High Day rites to sing, to pray, to laugh, and learn with the rest of us.  The child will be living Paganism because I live Paganism.  I can’t just stop being who I am.  My plan is not to isolate the child from other beliefs, to scare him or her into Paganism, nor to insist on it.  How could I?  My agnostic husband comes to the High Days but does not keep an altar.  He is respectful and supportive of my religion – and our child will also wonder about that.  He or she will be exposed to my husband’s way of thinking too, just as should be!  And the beauty of the Pagan community is that it is so diverse!  They child will be brought up in a world of varied thought and practice, seeing, I hope, that it is healthy and okay to think outside the box.

My plan for raising my child is quite simply inspired by how my parents raised me, although with more spiritual exploration and no hellfire sermons.

What It Shouldn’t Be :

  • Isolation from other spiritual paths
  • Threatening should the child show curiosity in other faiths
  • Indoctrination towards only one way of thinking
  • Boring or without consideration of child development
  • Forceful – if a child doesn’t show interest in a topic, make sure he or she understands enough to be aware but don’t press.  Not every person is destined to be a bard, an artisan, a historian, a warrior, a priest, etc!

What It Should Be:

  • Full of exploration – independent and with parental support 
  • Inclusive – involve extended family and friends who come from different walks of life.  Look at the Koran, light a menorah, visit a Buddhist temple, admire pentacles in jewelry and apples, and explore science museums.  Find the connections, marvel at the beauty, and model how a mature, well-adjusted adult behaves with others, even when you don’t believe the same things.
  • Respectful of elders – This will extend into respect for the ancestors once the child is old enough to really understand who they are.
  • Safe feeling – the child should know we will love him or her no matter what spirituality is embraced as a teen or adult
  • Full of honest discussion – children should understand your path but also know that not everyone believes the same way.  Children should feel safe questioning and disagreeing. Again, model how to do this with respect!
  • Celebratory and respectful of nature – regardless of spiritual path, a good Druid will raise a child to be aware of the environment, the interconnections, and the seasonal changes
  • Sex-positive in a way that takes into account the child’s development, safety, boundaries, and own self-worth
  • Fun – learning about life, nature, Druidism, and other religions should be joyful
  • Artistic – self-expression is an essential part of Druidism, and carries over into other facets of life and other spiritual paths.  Help your child find his or her voice!
  • Based on virtuous behavior – I will teach the child the nine Druidic virtues but, as he or she ages, we’ll compare them to other systems (that of Asatru, the ten commandments, the noble truths, etc) in the hopes of finding commonalities.  When paired with literature and personal experiences, children will soon develop a sense of empathy towards the world – one that can extend beyond a religious practice.
  • Magical – let children revel in the magic of the world.  Make wishes on dandelion seeds, plant love into the garden, stir healing into daddy’s soup.  Read fairy tales, folk tales, and mythology.  Talk about your dreams and encourage imagination.
  • Balanced – while teaching simple magic, don’t ever forget to teach science.  Name the plants, name the animals, look at the stars, and give magical and scientific explanations.  When you don’t know the answer, model how to find it.
  • Patient – children aren’t ready for everything right away.  Learn about developmental levels, pay attention to your child’s interests, and don’t automatically include your child in every Pagan practice.  Remember that kids sometimes just want to play on their own and may not be ready or interested in quiet meditation or involved magic.

 

My Favorite Resources:

To end with, I want to share some of my favorite websites on alternative parenting.  They’ve been very helpful in informing my perspective!

Offbeat Families – I was a huge, huge fan of Offbeat Bride when I was getting married, so it was only natural for me to turn to her other blog featuring families!  This site is great.  There are so many resources on different kinds of families, different styles of parenting and, you guessed it, religious pluralism!  It’s very inspiring and worth checking every few days.

Ozark Pagan Mamma – This fellow ADFer has been raising Pagan kids and blogging about her experience!  She shares a lot of wonderful seasonal crafts which I look forward to doing with the wee one.  In addition, she sometimes shares child-friendly explanations for holidays, the Pagan Otherworld, the Three Kindreds, etc.  I’m happy to have found a blog devoted to raising Pagan kids written by an ADFer.

Pagan Dad – Written from a male Wiccan perspective, this blog is still very informative since he’s had to deal with similar issues that I’m now considering – raising children Pagan, to “do” Santa or not, seasonal activities, etc.

Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom – Although not exclusively about parenting, Mrs. B has posted several things on seasonal ideas, introducing magic, and book reviews.

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Christmas has come and gone, and I know I’m not alone in the Pagan community as I breath a big sigh of relief.  While celebrants often feel a sense of regret or let-down that Christmas is over, I am thrilled to be out of such a stressful period.  For the last few years, December has come with a certain insecurity and anxiety.  Everyone at work seems to celebrate Christmas, and they just assume that everyone else doe!  Fearful of discrimination, I don’t correct anyone.  I try to focus on the commonalities and that my coworkers mean well.  I’m not lying when I play along – I do visit my family for Christmas and exchange gifts, yet having to wear a mask is exhausting.  I can’t quite take it off after vacation starts.  Although my immediate family knows quite well that I don’t observe Christmas, they still want to spend time with me on their special day.  That’s understandable, of course, and I’m hopeful that they’ll reciprocate next year since it will be our little one’s first Winter Solstice.  The mask goes on firmly when I visit with other family members who either don’t know I’m a Druid or don’t quite understand and think I’m all about Christmas.  It’s exhausting trying to explain otherwise, and most of the time, any attempts are seen as hostile or me acting as a party pooper.  So I do my best to go along and enjoy myself all the same.

Every year, I seem to have a traditional Christmas meltdown.  High on hormones, this year was particularly bad.  I was stressed with finishing last minute gifts, wrestling with what-if explanation scenarios in my head, and girding myself for new questions about how I will raise my baby.

In the end, my anxiety was dwarfed by two very profound things.

Before driving to stay with family for their celebration, Weretoad and I went to my midwife for a checkup.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but suddenly I was on my back and she had a small instrument hooked up to a speaker.  Realization dawned on me and, suddenly, I heard my baby’s heartbeat for the first time.  It was fast and otherworldly sounding, and yet there it was – the rhythm of life.  The midwife confirmed that it was a healthy heartbeat.  My husband and I smiled at each other, and he hurriedly found a recording app on his phone so he could share the special moment with loved ones.

Later that evening, we shuffled into our grandparents’ home for our traditional Christmas Eve visit and gift exchange.  When my sister and I were little, this included Christmas Eve mass at a Catholic church.  I’m in the broom closet with this group, more or less.  In December, my anxiety level is always highest visiting this part of my family.  We were warned ahead of time, however, that grandma and grandpa had taken a turn.  Sure enough, our  grandmother was forced to remain sitting the whole time having injured one of her hips.  Our grandfather, on the other hand, has been struggling with cancer this year.  A side of his face droops due to chemotherapy-related nerve damage.  He winced almost continually from pain.  My uncles, his sons, were holding off on his sleep-inducing pain medication so he could see us.  Gifts were handed out at a rapid pace and we agreed that we should go so he could take his medicine and rest.  As we scurried back out into the cold night, my sister cried.  I tend to maintain composure in such situations, but it shook me a bit as well.  My grandmother, despite her injury, is still very alert, talkative, and sharp,  My grandfather, on the other hand, has been reduced from a very active repairman, salesman, town historian, and author to a squinting, shaking, wincing, nearly deaf man who can barely whisper a few words at a time.  His face is misshapen and full of chemical-related pain.  I recalled something he said to me when I was much younger: “The day I stop working is the day I die.”

Thus Christmas Eve was framed by this juxtaposition: coming birth and impending death.  I’ve been reflecting on it since that day, and how timely it is with the themes of winter.  We talk about birth and death in Druidism.  It is in our lore, our symbolism, our music, our ritual, our art.  I like to think we have a greater appreciation and acceptance of the dance of life because of this, yet it always gives us pause when it occurs in our own lives.

I tried my best to focus on family during the Christmas celebration after that.  That is, of course, what really matters regardless of religion or holiday.  I understand that is not easy for all of my readers, but I’m grateful that my family is as kind, loving, generous, fun, and (mostly) easy to be around.

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Even before learning about my pregnancy, I’ve been collecting books for my future child.  Of course, some of this collection includes kid-friendly mythology and history.  I imagine this time of year being a bit confusing for the little one.  Public schools are full of Christmas. The rest of my family celebrates Christmas, albeit some more secular than others.  I wanted to find a piece of children’s literature that demonstrated the common denominator so that we can celebrate what we share rather than feel uncomfortable.

If you’re looking for a young children’s book about winter holidays, not just the Winter Solstice or Christmas, Lights of Winter  by Heather Conrad is a good introduction.  It’s the sort of book to read when the little one notices all the lights people are putting up.  Each page introduces a different cultural holiday – Zagmuk, Yule, Saturnalia, Soyal, Teng Chieh, Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas, Las Posadas, and Kwanza.  Explanations are short and extremely general, and many parents and curious children may want to hit up the library for additional information.  The book is a starting point; it’s not meant to be the end of discussion.  The most important focus of the book is what our holidays share – coming together to celebrate using light.  Be sure to have your child find the lights on each page!  If you’re raising your children Pagan, spend some time talking about the Winter Solstice, Yule, and Saturnalia.  Talk about how, even though the book speaks about the past, people still celebrate those.  Discuss how the old and new celebrations are the same or different.

The biggest critique from Amazon customers was that the illustrations looked amateurish.  They certainly aren’t the most amazing.  One reviewer remarked that they appear to have been done on a simple computer paint program. That said, they get the job done, are clear, and include many details for children to think about.  Perhaps challenge your child to come up with a new illustration?

I definitely suggest this book for families with younger children.  Older kids will want to move on to more in-depth texts (there are a few on the Winter Solstice, several on Diwali, and Teng Chieh  Of course, the major holidays will be easily located).  Open-minded families who value diversity will likely get a lot out of the text provided it’s used as an introduction.  It could also be dusted off and shared with the extended family each year to remind everyone of the common ground and express respect for each tradition.  I think Pagan families will be especially thankful to have a winter holiday book mention Yule.  It is rare to find books that do – most focus only on Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza.

If you’re interested in adding this book to your library, check it out on Amazon.

Happy winter reading!

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