I hear the question over and over: How do I teach my children about my Pagan religion? How do I teach them about magic? How do I teach them about my faith without forcing it on them?
I feel like this should come naturally. It should come as naturally as teaching a child to speak or to walk. We speak, we walk. Our children want to speak and walk because they see us do it. When they give it a shot, we help them out. When they do it on their own we stand by to make sure they don't hurt themselves. Easy, right? There are a lot of things that should come naturally, but sometimes they just don't. (like breastfeeding!) I get that.
Many of us were already adults when we came to our spirituality and our craft; we did not have the advantage of having our natural talents nurtured from childhood. Many of us regret this and are determined that our children not be limited in this way, and yet we don't want push our worldview on our children, as this is also stifling. What a dilemma!
The truth is, we don't need to actively teach our children anything about our spirituality or witchcraft until they start asking questions. Then we just need to answer.
But how will they learn? How will they know to ask questions if we don't teach them something?
Oh you'll teach them. Children, especially young children, learn what they see and hear. They are little parrots copying your words and actions, soaking in every opinion you express, taking lessons from the stories you tell and the songs you sing. Learning values by watching those things in life that you embrace and those things you reject or discard. Children learn to respect nature by observing your respect for nature. They learn to pray by watching you pray. Just like they learn violence and bigotry from violent, bigoted adults, no matter how much they are told that it's wrong. You can't teach them, you can model for them. And answer questions.
Unsatisfying I know. There are some Pagan/Witch specific things we can do.
Teaching in Nature
My son delights in asking and learning the the names of every plant, animal (including birds) and stone that he comes across. Sometimes I don't know the name and we have to look something up. Sometimes we have to take a stone to our local crystal shop for an ID. Whenever he finds a plant or stone he doesn't know the name of he asks me its name. He is learning! He is learning some very important foundation information that I struggled over. When he sees cinquefoil in a spell 15 years down the road, he will not have to whip out the plant ID book to figure out what he's looking for, he'll already know. And if he's not a witch, well it won't hurt him to know what cinquefoil is. Maybe he'll be a gardener, or a landscaper or a botanist. At that age, how many "converted" witches even knew different plants, birds and stones had different names?
My son loves to take my bag of crystals off the main altar, spread them out on the floor and sort them by color, and size and shape and to ask what their names are. (In fact, he now has his own bag) The magnetic hematite is his favorite.
Learning at the Altar
The altar is also a great source of education that doesn't constitute a lesson. He loves to play with the altar pieces, though he has to be closely supervised as some are small and some are breakable. (the boline is stored inside the altar, so he can't get to it). It's just there, and he goes to it and asks the names of the pieces. He loves the Hermes altar especially because, among other things, I consider Hermes the God of found money. So any money we find goes in a special cup on Hermes altar. This money is our "gambling" money, which in our house means we use it to buy lotto tickets.(Hermes is also a patron of gamblers) Sunshine loves to put money in Hermes cup.
Playing with Cards
My son loves cards. Playing cards, (he can tell you all their names, to his grandmother's astonishment) flash cards and tarot cards! (or Lenormand, or whatever) Tarot cards are fun to look at together and tell stories about. You don't have to try to explain their function to a young child, he won't reach adulthood without figuring that out, but they are fun to look at together and make up stories about. Don't worry about the real meaning. Just see what your child comes up with. Work with them like a wordless story book. For me, the hardest part about learning Tarot was letting go of the "real and official" meanings and allowing the specific message to come through. Practicing storytelling exercises with cards in childhood can prevent this sort of block. Use different sets and see what sort of different stories he comes up with.
Speaking of stories, stories are huge! It can be a challenge to find good story books for Pagan children. Those that are specifically for Pagan children may or may not have anything to do with your own religion or flavor or Witchcraft. How useful is a Wiccan children's book going to be for a child of Druids or Hellenic Reconstructionists or JewWitches? Not very. But there are some things we can all agree on. Mythology, folklore/fairy tales, nature, diversity and astronomy. It can sometimes take a bit of searching to discover some that align well with our own view.
The little rituals we observe daily, weekly, even monthly, instill our values in ourselves and our families, if we share them with them. Simple things like, pouring libations before meals, giving thanks before meals, greeting the Earth and sky the first time we leave the house each morning, discussing our dreams over breakfast, saying a prayer before bedtime, or saying goodnight to the moon all tell our subconscious, and whoever else is listening, what we believe in and what is important to us.
Celebrate the holidays! Create traditions, or revive traditions you may have let slide by the wayside because of your busy schedule or because you associated them too much with your non-Pagan past. Plan a menu of seasonal foods for each holiday, collect stories that reflect your beliefs about each holiday, decorate your home with decorations that reflect these beliefs and dig this stuff out each year when each holiday rolls around. Traditions are magical. You don't have to cast a circle and call the quarters with your kids and have a formal ceremony. Most kids don't have the patience for all of that anyway. A few simple activities, an egg hunt, tree decorating, making jack o' lanterns, is enough. After the kids go to bed, have your formal ceremony if you like and when they're old enough to stay up and watch, let them. And when they want to participate, let them. And if they would rather watch It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, let them!
But keep this in mind; You don't need to explain to your kids why you do everything at first. Just do it. Taking the time to explain every detail takes the magic out of things and makes it weird. This isn't a big weird thing to them unless you make it so. It's just the way things are. The stories we tell contain allegories to the mysteries and they understand that on a soul level better than we give them credit for. One day your child will ask why you do things a certain way and you can tell her then. Until then, just do it. Many of us get so caught up in the why's and wherefores that we never get around to doing. Don't get caught in that trap. When your child is ready for formal training, when she is a teenager or an adult, then you can get into all the complicated particulars. In the meantime, let magic be magical.
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Comments, questions, criticism?