Raising Our Children in Pagan, Polytheist, and/or Animist Traditions

Inspired by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ recent column entry, It’s Hard to “Think of the Children“, I decided to sit down and write about why Pagans should raise our children in our traditions. E’s own column was in response to Patheos’ Symposium Passing on the Faith: Teaching the Next Generation. As second generation Pagans come up in our communities, and as many first generation Pagans have children through birth or adoption, it is something we all need to think about.

When the topic of raising children as Pagans has been raised, I have seen the objection that we, as Pagans, should not indoctrinate our children. There seems to be a misunderstanding of the difference between raising a child in a Pagan tradition and merely indoctrinating them. There is a steep difference between the two. Indoctrination’s definition tells us that it is “teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically” (Princeton). Raising a child in a Pagan tradition, by contrast, allows for questions, doubts, concerns, critical thought, and exploration as much as it asks that a parent teach and model the tradition’s worldview, beliefs, theology, orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Raising your children in your Pagan tradition is not indoctrination. It is parenting. If you do not do this someone else will. To not take an active role in shaping your child’s religious life is handing off that responsibility to another, whether that is their friends, other family members, or society itself.

To abrogate this responsibility is to give over control of the development of a good portion of your child’s worldview to someone else.

We are not a secular country. Our default lens, the ‘secular’ lens, is WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant); it pervades our media, our government, and many of our lives. It is the source of a good deal of madness that amounts to us shitting where we live and not complaining about the smell or illness resulting, i.e. fracking, oil production and refineries near bodies of water, strip-mining and dumping chemicals in or near sources of water or right into the soil, etc. After all, if the Rapture comes all that pollution won’t matter, and if you die before Rapture comes, (assuming you’re a good, God-fearing Christian) you’ll be in Heaven, so this world isn’t all that terribly important.

This worldview is one of the main sources for vile hate that determines that trans* people are freaks as opposed to people, that tells everyone other than straight, white, heterosexuals they are not due respect.  It is a worldview that, very often in the name of them being persecuted, seeks to put a boot on the neck of any religion and/or philosophies outside of theirs. It is the set of theologies, ethics, and beliefs that razed Native American peoples and perpetuates untold violence upon their communities, that oppresses indigenous people of all kinds all over the worlds today, and that makes people turn on their own children, such as LGBTQI kids who are thrown onto the streets or threatened with violence, or the victims who are accused of being ‘child witches’. It is a worldview in which women are often looked upon as chattel, and violence against them is earned. This worldview is one that perpetuates violence against women and all Pagans where and when they are given a choice, desiring our submission to their God, and destruction where we will not bow.

That, that is what you are asking to help raise your children and mold their worldview when you do not raise your children in the religion. You are having them to strap a monotheist, specifically WASP filter onto their lives and walk around as if it is normal to have their soul wounded, eyes clouded, ears muffled, and their voices choked.

For those who profess that those who raise our children in our religious traditions are being imprinting or presumptuous for our children: it is my job as a parent to be presumptuous of what would be good for my child. It is my job as a parent to imprint proper behavior, as well as worldview, throughout their lives until they come of age at the least. To do otherwise is to give over that responsibility to another person and/or entity.

Note that I am not, in any way, saying how one should raise their child as a Pagan. I would no more do that then tell a worshiper of Greek Gods how to conduct a ritual.  They may follow mainstream reconstructionism or have a particular means of worshiping their Gods. In any case, I actively worship most of my Gods within certain means that I and my family follow. In the end, the reason I am not saying ‘this is how we must raise Pagan/polytheist/animist children’ is because they’re not my children.  If someone were to ask me for advice, or even teaching, that is a wholly different situation.  I also respect that my view of what raising a child in a Pagan/polytheist/animist home should look like could be very different than another’s.  I am not calling for a size-fits-all method of raising kids, nor am I saying that mine is the only true and right way.  What I am saying is that it is the job of every parent to raise their child and this includes giving a firm foundation in worldview.

This piece is meant to call people of our polytheist, Pagan traditions who are parents to do their job as parents and raise their children. It is a call to all Pagans, polytheists, animists, and so on, to be good role models. It is a call for us all to show the upcoming generations, not just talk about or suggest, how to engage well with their Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. To be living examples, passing on wisdom rather than hiding it or not passing it on. To teach and model respect for our Elders, traditions, beliefs, views, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. To teach reverence for all we hold dear, and to show all the ways we can engage with the Holy Powers. To build and maintain living traditions that aid in all of this.

How many of us came to our path(s) and hoped and wished for a good teacher? Why would we deny the next generation our collected knowledge and gnosis, experience, wisdom, trials and triumphs? In what other arena would one generation demand that the next reinvent the wheel rather than learn from it and improve upon it?

We have the opportunity to build a solid foundation for polytheists and polytheism. We have the ability to give the upcoming generation a chance many of us never had: to grow up in a place where worshiping our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits is not only accepted, but seen as a good. To grow in the wisdom of our Elders, to grow well in our relationships with our Gods from a young age, and to develop these from a foundation clear of the trials Pagan converts have. Let us build that foundation, with care and determination, and let those who come after build upon it.

5 thoughts on “Raising Our Children in Pagan, Polytheist, and/or Animist Traditions

  1. Reblogged this on The Den and commented:
    I really like this article, it is well written and concise (an article after my own heart). I have built my own tiny house-tradition for the sole purpose of raising children within it. A home-tradition that gives a safe place for children to grow as they ask, challenge, doubt, worship, and explore the house-beliefs. I look forward both excitedly and nervously the day I can begin passing what I’ve learned along, and all the topics and questions that will give me new perspectives on many things (because, kids do that).

    I agree with Sarenth, there is a stark difference between growing up Pagan, and being indoctrinated into Paganism. Sadly, both exist in our extended community. I look at it this way – the same plate of information is presented: The indoctrinated ones get it shoved down their throats as their noses are pinched. The ones raised with it get to eat slower, and actually see what’s on the plate; how they feel about it, what they like, what they don’t, but in the end eat everything that’s been presented to them. Hell, some of them may just go for desert.

    Even though I do not have children, I would like to one day. So, I strive to always live by what I believe, even if I don’t think anyone is watching (because I’ve learned the hard way… Someone, is watching). Having experienced the critical eye of spirits and Ancestors, do you think a child’s eyes are going to be any less critical or piercing?

    I think the problem with society has towards Pagans raising their children within our own traditions is the loss of control. I have noticed many Pagan children (as a former Junior High School teacher) are growing up thinkers, researchers, questioning what they are taught and/or told. Many first generation, and subsequent generations are being raised to not just take things in – but to question, test, and explore. Being raised Pagan (Such as myself, who has never been a Christian, despite their later attempts), we are not ‘indoctrinated,’ by the assembly line of western society itself. We, as Pagans, are raising people, not mindless robots.

    Keep it up Pagan parents.. And I hope to be a parent myself one day.


  2. I remember we had an interesting debate in the car as you drove me home once (Thanks for that btw :)) and I think I used the exact point that I don’t desire to indoctrinate my daughter. It’s a topic that my fiancee and I have seriously considered and discussed, and ultimately we made the decision that no religion will be forced on her. To me that is not a passive stance, but rather an active stance that calls for an active effort in giving her the freedom and space to think for herself. I will be honest: I would be denying both her and myself if I were not to share my values and my traditions with her. But I’d like to suggest rather a middle ground, because as you know there isn’t just Christianity and paganism, there are many different world views. There may be many people trying to push Christianity, and we are vary wary of that, because as we are so used to it it’s easy to overlook. I may have to fight with parents at her school when their kids try to convert her. I might get into a huge argument when someone tells her she’ll go to hell if she doesn’t believe a certain way. I understand this threat is very real, but I also understand that indoctrination is what makes this so harmful. Rather, I think it’s important to note that sharing traditions and being open and honest about your beliefs is NOT indoctrination. Coercing them to come to the same conclusions that you have, or only allowing certain lines of questioning, or to not allow them to come to their own conclusions, is. And that is what is so harmful about Christian indoctrination, is that it is often not just sharing of traditions but forcing of a belief system. I do not plan to raise my child to be a pagan, I plan to share my pagan path with her, and to try to educate her on multiple religions. To me it really is a balance, between allowing her the freedom to think for herself and sharing the wisdom I’ve found along my path to guide her along her own. And in that sense, I think it is important to know the difference between beliefs and facts, between sharing and indoctrinating. It is not that either you indoctrinate in your own religion or they’ll indoctrinate her in theirs. It is not allowing their indoctrination to make the firm stance that the child will not be indoctrinated. It is a fight. As for me, if my child asks me, I will tell them what I believe. But to compel her to believe the same? Parent or not, that is her choice, her path, not mine.


  3. Pingback: Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Emily Kamp | Gangleri's Grove

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