In an earlier post, Teaching Children Paganism, I discussed some of the techniques and activities that my husband and I use to pass on our beliefs and practices to our children. If you have very young children and plan on doing similar, I highly suggest you take a look at it, as it gives a basic structure for the first four years that lays a good foundation for more formal teaching when your child is older. But, what if you have older children and have yet to have discussed religion or spirituality with them and have now decided to share your beliefs and practices with them, or maybe they’ve started asking you questions about your beliefs, what now?
Teaching older children Paganism and/or Witchcraft is a very different matter than with younger children. For one, with younger children, teaching basically falls under the category of full immersion: the child has been exposed to your beliefs and practices for as long as they can remember; it’s as much a part of their daily life as it is yours. But with an older child, this naturally means that there has been some sort of exclusion: the child was kept separate or unaware, and now that ground must be crossed.
Reasons for waiting to teach a child Paganism are just as complicated as the reasons for not waiting, and there is certainly no judgment to be found here in regards to which method is better; you know your child and your life situation better than anyone else, and your choices as a parent are yours alone to make. All decisions have consequences that we must face, and we do so to the best of our ability. Certainly, each approach has its own benefits, as well as downfalls, and what works well for one family may only prove disastrous for another, or, at the very least, contradict that family’s values and world view. Again, as with any decision in life, we do the best we can with what we’ve got.
Regardless of what age you begin to teach your child, the most important thing to remember is that you are your child’s greatest example. Your child will learn the most about Paganism (what it means to be Pagan, how to live life as a Pagan, et cetera) just by watching you and the way you behave. This is probably the most difficult part, too. It means having your act together, living your life with integrity and truly living the values you claim to espouse and are trying to pass on to your child. In other words: walking your talk. But why is this so important? Easy answer: you don’t want to teach your child hypocrisy. So, after you have a discussion with your child about how the Earth is sacred, make sure you follow through and live like you truly believe the Earth is sacred (e.g. reduce, reuse, recycle, buy locally grown produce, etc;) after you explain the interconnection between all life, make sure that you live that awareness (e.g. volunteer in your local community, donate regularly to a food pantry, read books or organize a game of Bingo at an assisted living facility, etc;) after you’ve explained why a particular day is considered holy and its implications on one’s life, then make sure you actually celebrate that Sabbat together, incorporating the various elements of the Sabbat that you explained to help solidify the lesson in your child’s mind.
It’s also crucial to be patient. Remember they are a kid: they’re most likely not going to have a complete grasp of any one subject unless you can explain it really well in very basic terms, but even then, your child is not going to understand what you’re talking about the same way that you do –and that’s a good thing! Your child is a unique individual, and just as if you’d been trying to explain the same subject to an adult, they’re understanding and grasp of the subject is dependent upon so many things, such as their experiences, perspective and personal worldview (which changes for us all many times throughout our lives, it’s a consequence of living: the only constant is change and that which remains stagnant, refusing to flex and adapt to the changes occurring around it will decay. And so we each evolve as people, based upon our experiences and choices, coming closer and closer to actualizing who we truly are, and so it is the same with your child,) that there’s no way they could understand it in the same fashion as you. This isn’t something to get
frustrated about, but rather to anticipate and cherish. It’s helpful, in explaining anything to anyone (regardless of age) to identify the basic, underlying point and then focus upon accurately conveying that. This ensures that, even though the other person may get the details wrong, they will understand the spirit of the concept, and that is incredibly more valuable.
With older children it’s also very important to remember to take things slowly. It’s easy to get excited when your child starts showing interest and understanding of basic concepts, the idea of practicing together can be quite attractive, but jumping into concepts and activities before your child is ready can prove disastrous. Your child may end up feeling confused and this may lead to frustration and them losing interest in learning anymore. Let your child set the pace and try to stick to it. Think back to when you were first starting out, how easy it was to become overwhelmed by just how much information there was, how many different facets of Paganism and/or Witchcraft there are. Just as you couldn’t learn them all at once, neither can your child. So start slowly, one subject at a time, going on to the next not just after your child shows understanding in one subject, but also once it’s relevant and makes sense to do so.
For example, after you’ve talked about the Wheel of the Year with your child and they understand how there are eight holidays, based upon energetic changes in Nature at that time, it is tempting to then go into deep explanations of the importance and meaning of each holiday, and then discuss the cycle of the Sun, and then the Moon, and then how these cycles relate to the cycle of human life. It makes sense, but that’s too much at one time, for anyone (especially if you expect them to remember any of it!) Rather, once you’ve explained the Wheel of the Year, wait before you address the subject again. Point out changes you see in Nature, relate them to your explanation, but leave it at that. Don’t go into extreme details about any of the Sabbats until that Sabbat comes up, then focus fully upon that holiday (i.e. how it relates to the Wheel of the Year, changes in Nature, similarities in our own lives, what the importance is for us as a community, as individuals, etc.)
Handing your kid a book to read is not teaching them -it’s a cop-out. If your child asks you questions then you answer the questions, you do not hand them a book and tell them to read it. This doesn’t teach your child anything but that you can’t be bothered to help them, that you don’t know what you’re doing or talking about in the first place so the kid shouldn’t waste their time asking you, and that none of this is really as important to you as you claim it is. We’re back to acting with integrity here and walking your talk. Remember, one of the basic themes of Paganism is community, the interconnection that exists between us all. This means that it’s much more important that you truly be living your values, teaching your child and practicing as a family than it is that they have all the details right; it means that you teaching your child rather than relying on them to learn entirely from books is more in line with Pagan values because you’re showing that you care and respect your child. Quick note on family practice: this doesn’t mean that either of you won’t still have your personal practices, family practice is in addition to personal practices, which is unavoidable: no one can truly practice any religion without having that spiritual element which they will express in their own way. Religion is about community, spirituality is about the individual; they compliment and balance each other.
However, it is okay to use books to supplement your explanations or to cover more complex subjects. For example, while it would be wrong after your child asks you a question about the nature of Deity and the functionality of polytheism in society to hand them Bullfinch’s Mythology, it could be useful to refer to that (or another) book to analyze the natures of specific Deities from various cultures, looking for similarities, discussing that Deities relationship with humans and the Earth, and what similarities there are amongst polytheistic cultures and how the perspective of those cultures in regards to Deity and the world are similar to our own modern society. It’s a lot more work, but in the end your child will have at least one answer to their question, a more comprehensive understanding of the subject in general, and they’ll know the importance of research and critical thinking (which helps with the secular areas of their education, as well.) And, there’s a very good chance that you’ll learn something new, too!
It’s also very important that when talking with your child, you remember to listen. Not only will your child most likely have many questions, but they may also have many observations and insights to share with you as well! Children have an innate sense of awe for the natural world, it’s important to encourage that sense of wonder, that sense that there is something so much greater out there yet still so close that it can almost be felt. In teaching your older child Paganism, you’re helping them to touch that greatness, to recognize their place in the world, and that that sense of awe and wonder is good and should be maintained. And, if you’re lucky, your child will share their journey with you, their experiences and thoughts, teaching you just as much as you hope to teach them.
But, the most important thing to remember when teaching your child Paganism, regardless of age, is to be consistent. After all, your religious beliefs and practices are important to you, they influence every other aspect of your life, so let that show. Once you start talking to your child about what it is you do and believe, continue to do so (unless they ask you not to.) Continue to be open to their questions, continue to involve them, let them see how these quirky little things you do have spiritual/religious basis for you and explain the relevance of those actions in your life and your reasoning for them (e.g. why you go outside and stare at the Moon every night, why there are so many varieties of herbs growing in the garden and why you talk to the plants before harvesting them, etc.)
In the end, there’s no one method that’s going to work for teaching your child Paganism, only ideas and suggestions that you can try and change as needed. Just as your own practice is a journey, full of unexpected moments of beauty and frustration, so will your child’s practice be and so will sharing your practice with your child be. After all, no one ever said parenting would be easy.