Contemporary paganism and polytheism are, for the most part, religions of conversion. Few of us were raised in the traditions we follow and most of us went through a difficult and at times quite painful process of distancing ourselves from our cradle faith. Some never entirely work through their issues and carry with them a deep antipathy that unconsciously shapes their beliefs and actions for the rest of their lives. This is never more apparent than when the topics of evangelism and religious instruction for children come up.
I admit from the outset that I am probably not the best person to be addressing this considering my fairly vocal anti-marriage, anti-children and hell just anti-family in general stances. If there is a hell I am fairly certain that it resembles the children’s department of a Walmart. One thing that I do not agree with my God on is his high regard for life and young life in particular. My aversion to the notion of reproduction is so strong that I had a vasectomy to ensure that such an unfortunate fate would never befall me. (In fact I went back to the doctors six months later to request that they repeat the procedure, just in case — that’s how strongly I feel about this.) I would like to attribute this decision to my own decadence, debauchery, laziness, self-absorption and misanthropy but I cannot completely rule out the possibility that, seeing my nearest relations, I was moved to annihilate the line in order to spare the world more of us.
So it may strike some as odd that I feel parents should raise their children up within their own traditions. What the child does when they have reached a state of maturity where they can think critically and make decisions for themselves is their own business, and I believe that the parent should be supportive of those decisions regardless of whether they personally agree with them or not. The whole point of raising children is so that they can eventually be an independent person capable of making their own way in the world and if you’ve done your job well they’ll do well as well. I believe it’s also important to give them the freedom to explore, and to cultivate a questioning spirit in them.
None of that, however, necessitates raising a child without traditions. I mean, you can nurture your kids in the faith without being a total dick about it.
“No dinner for you, Aloysius, until you’ve recited the complete Seventh Homeric Hymn. In Greek. With proper accenting and everything!”
“It libates to Hestia or it gets the hose again.”
Really? Is that what you guys are afraid of becoming? Because if so, maybe I’m not the only one who should get snipped.
It’s really fucking simple as far as I’m concerned. Model positive behavior for your children. Show them the kind of virtuous and pious person you think they should become by being that person yourself. Teach them about the religion by actually living it.
As you’re going through your regular devotional routine — honoring the household Gods and ancestors, praying, making offerings at your shrines, keeping festivals and marking seasonal and other changes, visiting holy places and showing your respect to the local land-spirits, etc. — they’re going to observe this and want to participate. Children are naturally inquisitive and enjoy playing games (or so I’ve been told.) And if you make it fun they’ll want to do it without being coerced.
Here are some handy suggestions:
- Help them make their own shrines so that they won’t be all grabby with the stuff on yours.
- Encourage them to do art as an offering to their Gods and Spirits.
- Find or make up songs about your Gods and Spirits.
- Include masked processions and dances and games as part of your worship.
- Give them simple tasks to perform during ritual such as carrying the basket the offerings will go in or picking wild flowers along the way or pouring out the libations. You know, stuff they can’t really screw up, and then as they get older, give them increasingly more important responsibilities.
- Teach them how to recognize the presence of the divine and notice signs and omens in the world.
- Teach them mechanical divination.
- Read the myths to them as bedtime stories and give them more advanced literature as they get older.
- Instruct them in the moral precepts of your tradition and encourage them to analyze their meaning and apply that to everyday situations.
- Explore other traditions and other religions from the perspective of your own.
- Make special foods for festivals and similar occasions and explain any associations that these foods may have.
- Perform the traditional rites of passage.
And a zillion other things one could mention but I can’t because all of this thinking about family and children is making my gorge rise.
In summation, this shit ain’t rocket science. Traditional polytheist cultures managed to do it from the beginning of time, and you can too. It also ain’t oppression. It’s just living your faith, making the Gods and Spirits a central focus of your life, and letting your kid participate in that. If they choose to participate in something else later on, that’s their choice and once they’re out of your house they’re going to do whatever the hell they want anyway, so don’t make a big deal and don’t cut off ties because when you do that everyone loses out.