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Planting Seeds

March 4, 2015 24 comments

In thinking on the last post and the centers Nicholas Haney brought up in God-centric?, is that one of the centers that tends to get left by the wayside in the larger polytheist and Pagan blogs is family, and in specific how we raise our kids in our religions.  It is something that has been on mind for a while.  There’s a host of questions I will tackle here that I hope will generate deeper dialogue in the Pagan and polytheist blogs and communities.  I believe these are really important questions, tied not just to the center of family, but to the health and well-being of all the centers.  Without children, all we have are new converts to sustain the traditions and religions.  In my view, that is a lot of people coming to understand a whole new way of being, whereas kids raised polytheist do not have that learning curve, or the need to decolonize, or remove as much of the dominant culture’s mindset.

Before I get to the questions, however, I think it is important to tackle some of the reasons that I have heard, in person and online, for why people do not raise their children in our religious traditions.  Chief among them is some variation of “I don’t want to force my kid to follow my religion” or “I don’t want to indoctrinate my child.”  I will be honest, these reasons make me want to pull out my hair.  The definition of indoctrination is:

to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs

Raising our children in our religion(s) is simply not indoctrination.  Teaching them about our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, is not indoctrination.  Unless you are actively denying your child the ability to question concepts and people in the religion, not allowing them to explore the religion, or are actively denying your child’s ability to consider other points of view, you are not indoctrinating your child.  You are, rather, raising your child in the religion.  There is a gulf of difference between teaching a child “This is what the sagas say about Thor and these are my experiences with Him,” or “This is how we worship together as a family,” and “This is the only way to worship Thor” or “Only our way is the true way to worship Thor.”  Now, that is not to say that a given family will not have traditions, taboos specific to them, or certain ways they worship, but to entirely cut a child off from alternative views, and stunts the religious growth of a child.  My taboos are just that: mine.  We do not have taboos on offerings as a family.  What we do have are basic expectations of respect in religious space, how offerings that have been expended are disposed of, regular times for prayer, and guidelines and rules on handling altars, statues of our Gods, and various tools that may be on the altars.  For instance, on our Gods’ altar our son can dispose of the liquid (usually water, but sometimes beer or mead) offerings we make to Them.  He does not touch the offerings to Gods he does not have an active relationship with. Sylverleaf makes regular offerings to Frigga on this altar that our son is not to touch, as that is between her and Frigga.  He is not allowed to touch the swords or the hammer  on the altar without permission and an adult present.

How do we bring children into our religions?  Is it from birth?  If not from birth, when do they begin to learn, and what can they learn at what age?  How do we help our children understand religious phenomena?  If one has a very active religious life, how does one relate to a child that simply does not?  Vice versa?

The answers I have to these questions are lived by our son.  We brought our son into our religion by doing a baby blessing as soon as he was born, asking the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits to watch over him.  He was there as we prayed at our altar when we first brought him home, and has been raised with us praying and making offerings ever since.  Had we waited we would probably have started teaching him about our religion around age 3-5.  He has been raised with the prayers we make before he goes to school and before he goes to bed, and at each and every meal.  He is living polytheism.  He has been raised with a Dad who takes time out to explain religious concepts on his level, and who is not shy about being very blunt that “the Runes ask for blood in Gebo, and this is something you are not ready for yet, if you ever do pick Them up.”  He knows that if and when he does, it will be his choice and he will be able to make it on his own.

I firmly believe in raising children in our religions.  Without our children learning our religion, and co-religionists teaching their religion, there is no way for the religions to continue.  Teaching kids only a little bit about the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and not making daily prayers, devotion, etc. is giving a little soil to the seed and expecting a tree to grow to its full height.  Not teaching one’s children at all about the Gods is denying soil to a tree entirely.  Without a firm grounding in religion, the soil is loose and is blown away in the wind, or swept aside in the rain.  If we desire good religious communities that will last beyond us, we need to raise the children in our communities.  Indeed, we must do far better by them than has been done by us.

So how do I relate to our son when I have a very active religious life?  Some of the explanations we work with him on are helped along because we have taught our son how to interpret the Holy Powers’ messages, whether he has a reading done, asks Them to work with him through his intuition, or look for omens.  A good chunk of this work has been to encourage him to trust his intuition, to admit when his signal clarity is not where it needs to be, and to ask for help when he needs it.  He is encouraged to admit when he does not know.  We regularly talk on our religion, on the religious work I do, how it feels, and how it affects me.  I bring my son along when I do certain religious work, such as tending the graveyards I have been called to do, teaching him how to respectfully make offerings at the gate, to ask permission from the Dead before tending Their graves, and why we leave offerings of tobacco, or why I blow smoke on graves when I smoke a pipe as we clean.

The biggest link between all the religious work I do, and explaining it to our son, and in some cases involving our son, is the concept of Gebo: gift-for-a-gift.  Reciprocity.  That word opens up the larger world of animism and polytheism because it places us not at the center, but in relationships with all things, all Beings.  It is why we leave or make offerings to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, landvaettir, housevaettir, and so on.  It is that recognition and/or fulfillment of reciprocity.  It is sometimes asking for help, which may be a form of reciprocity in and of itself.  Bringing our son to rituals, performing them with him, helping him develop as a polytheist, in and of itself is a form of reciprocity with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, as it ensures that the religion, and the Gebo engendered between the Holy Powers and ourselves, and our communities does not die with us.  It allows us to pass on the maegen and hamingja of these relationships between our communities, and the generations that follow on with, and after us.

Helping our children develop their own understanding of the Gods, their intuition, and communication with Them is, to us, part and parcel of raising a child in a polytheist home.  It is the hope that when they raise their own family they will have a well-developed understanding of how to understand the Gods even if they never engage in ecstatic spiritual techniques or do trance work.  Sylverleaf, for instance, does not do much in the way of ecstatic work at all.  It is simply not a part of her religious life.  A simple divination technique she uses when she asks Frigga questions is to hold two of Her sacred keys in her hands, and the hand which is heavier is the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  If there are more complex questions she may ask me to read the Runes.  If she needs to get answers from her Ancestors, she may work with an oracle deck dedicated to Them.  Having two very different parents in this regard gives our son more models of polytheist life to understand, recognize, and live himself.  Raising our children as polytheists, then, is more than simply teaching and explaining.  It is modeling good Gebo, and the ways we do things by actively living in relationship with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  We are living examples to our children.

What age should we bring our children into animism or polytheism?  It is my belief that it is never too early nor too late to begin a lived animist/polytheist life.  Regardless of our age or the age of our children, sharing our religion is an important bond that we share between our communities, our families, and our generations.  It is the lattice-work that makes a strong bridge between the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and one another.

In speaking with Sylverleaf on this, she has said it has been far harder for her to keep with regular prayers and offerings in contrast to me because she was raised in a largely non-religious household.  Lacking a background in any religion made it that much harder for her when she did find the Gods and became a Pagan, as she had no models to follow except those in books, and no community to speak of for quite a long time.  Living a religion does have a learning curve, and she hit this hard because until we met she did not have regular time for prayer, any rote prayers to draw upon, or regular times for making offerings.  In talking this over coffee and pancakes, it hit me that she was denied a lot of things that I took for granted in my religious studies as a child.  For one, pondering the nature of God was probably something very hard to tackle in a home that either did not think much on God or thought the subject of God was a non-starter where conversation was concerned.  I was able to talk with priests who were more than happy to answer whatever questions I threw at them, digging into the meat of theology with me and explaining as best they could their understanding of Scripture, the nature of God, and where we fit into the Catholic cosmology.  That grounding is absent when religion is not lived.  The hunger of curiosity cannot be sated when the entire subject of religion is off the table.  It also cannot be sated when the religious community one belongs to has a piss-poor grounding in its own theology, as she discovered her youth ministers had, during the short time she attended a church.  This is why our children need not only parents grounded in good relationships with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, but communities, and their leaders, priests, spiritual specialists, etc. need this too.  We cannot support the centers of our communities without them all doing the necessary work of living the religion.

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Question 5: Relationships and Being a Godatheow

March 10, 2013 2 comments

From Dreaming in Smoke and Fire:

How does being a godatheow affect your relationships with your family? partner? child? employment?

Being a godatheow puts my God at the top of my list.  Given how most people feel about children, and how much I love my son, that is not an easy thing to admit.  Mercifully, it is an understanding with Him that my partner understands, and much of my family at home understands.  As for my employment, well, this is may sound odd, but I did not get regular employment until after I became a godatheow.

I had a temporary job in the drought of four years of unemployment.  When I was laid off from that job after about two months, ironically while I was at Etinmoot, where I was told I by Odin that I was His godatheow, it was another year or so before another job so much as reared its head at me.  I worked for the Great Golden Arches for a few months under a wonderful, understanding manager, and now work doing respite care and direct support.   The pay and hours are better, and I am getting practical experience in my degree.  So while there was upheaval in my life from the impact of becoming a godatheow, once I got with the program and started walk with the leash instead of against it, my life, and that of those around me, got easier by several degrees.  I have a budget now, and by and large, have stuck to it.

So much is going right in my life since Odin took me under His leash.  My relationship with my partner has never been better, to the point where she, along with our son, now live with me.  My relationship with my Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and landvaettir has never been stronger, or so deep in my life.  If anything, becoming His godatheow has been a stabilizing force in my life.

Where my being a godatheow may have the greatest impact is on potentials, such as where I might work, the next place I might live, relationships, and the like.

Odin owns me.  Odin owns me.

If He dictates to me, in a manner I cannot mistake as anything other than a command from Him (and I would do goo-gobs of double-checking, discernment, divination, talking with elders, friends, etc. just to be sure) to leave everything behind and to start wandering I would do that.  Not because I want to abandon my family, not because a roadtrip sure sounds swell, but because my God demanded it of me.  Would I try to get out of such a command?  No, but I might ask Him to delay that until, say, my son is out of school or we are in a better place financially.  I would ask He lay that burden on me, but not upon my family.  I cannot say whether He would accept such a request, but I know He loves His Sons and knows how deep I love mine.  The Gods are not without mercy; He has not asked such a thing of me, yet.

Thinking about this is not easy.  Not in the least.  Let no one tell you being a godatheow is easy, because these kinds of choices can loom over you.  I have to think down this line, and talk with my partner and loved ones about this because there is the possibility that someday I may be called to do something that society would deem ‘crazy’, like taking off for 9 days/weeks/months/years and then coming back.  Is that written in stone?  No, but then again I would be a fool not to look at that possibility, and at the least make people aware of it.

While being a godatheow has been one of the most stabilizing forces in my life, it also has the potential, at any given moment, to destabilize it.  It makes me thankful, even if I am not always as vocal as I ought to be in that thanks, for the stability I do have, for what I may have in the future.  It makes me treasure the moments where I have down time and I am not going here and there doing my God’s Work, or my other Gods’ Work for that matter.  It pushes me to be thankful and treasure the moments I have to be a father and a lover.  It makes me treasure the moments I have to relax.  At any moment Odin can say “Time to go this way” and there I will go.

It is not easy to have this kind of relationship.  It is far easier to brush it off, to self-sabotage, and say “I am not worthy” or “I cannot do this thing” and let the charge be.  That said, it is hard to argue with a leash about your throat and feeling a supreme tugging this way or that.  I will eventually get there, wherever He is leading me, but it is entirely incumbent upon me whether or not I make it harder.

Odin owns me, and in so doing, He has direct influence on my life.  My life is my service, and my service is my life.  In understanding this simple truth I have made my life a good deal easier.  Do I still have autonomy?  Yes, and choices  in my life are plentiful, but this autonomy and these choices are within the larger context of what He gives me to choose from.

With my life being Odin’s, doing well everywhere I can in my life is an offering to Him.  Parenting my son well, treating my partner with respect, love, and dignity, and doing well by my clients are all part and parcel of offering to Him.  My work with the communities, great and small, are part of my Work with Him.  There is no aspect of my life untouched by Him, no aspect of my life that cannot be offered to Him.  While being His godatheow may present challenges to me, my loved ones, and my communities, it is also one of the greatest blessings He has given me.

A Note

Being a godatheow is not for everyone, nor am I any better than one who has never ‘heard’ their God.  This is a wholly different way to live one’s life, to worship and to serve the Gods, a God or Goddess in particular.  I do not expect everyone to be a godatheow to have a deep level of commitment to their God/Goddess, nor godspousery, nor even to ‘hear, see, taste’, etc.  Each person’s relationship with their Gods is between them and their Gods, and while there may be community standards one needs to meet to be part of a community, this is not one of them in the Northern Tradition.  You do not need to be a shaman, a priest, a godatheow, a godspouse, or anything ‘called’ to love your Gods with everything you have.  You just need to give the Gods your time, attention, energy, and love wherever, whenever you can.

Sigyn Project: Day 6

February 7, 2013 Leave a comment

The gentle smile and softest hands

Belie a Will of Steel

A Heart, a Love, a weaning Child

By holy hands You healed

Please let me know these gentle hands

and gentle Your embrace

For in Your graciousness we find

Resolve to face our Fate

 

Odin Project: Day 14

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Remember the fallen, | one’s own kin

In action and word they live;

Lessons learned | from lives well-lived

Carry on to child and friends

 

Remember the fallen, | the friend well-loved

Lives in memory of word and deed;

Memory woven | is like a blanket

Wrapped close in cold times

 

Remember the fallen | the names forgotten

Deeds and memories lost in time;

Better a stone | raised to nameless dead

Than their passage never marked

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