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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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Difficulties and Victories

September 3, 2014 4 comments

I have been avoiding this blog.  Of late, I have been wracked by difficulties, namely financial pressures and depression and anger, cycling states, resulting from it.  I am a diabetic who, on a pretty small budget to begin with, has had to shuck out $243 per vial of insulin to get the stuff I need to live.  This eats about half a paycheck, and this happens at least once a month.  I do not like to write in this headspace, not for this blog, at the least.  A good chunk of my early poetry as a teenager was written in stages of anger and depression, similar in cycles to what I am going through right now.  I do not like to be vulnerable like this.  I don’t.  This is the stuff I keep pretty tight to the chest.  This is the stuff that I tend to keep even from close friends because of some misguided notion that I am keeping my problems off of people.

I will admit, right now my problems seem pretty insurmountable with anything other than the passage of time.  I have made my prayers, and I will keep making them.  I will smoke my personal sacred pipe, and keep on smoking when I am in the headspace where I can do so in respect and appreciation of the sacred act.  I I have made offerings with my family and will continue to make them.   Still, I feel gnawing anxiety, sometimes panic when I think about the $20,000 hospital bill waiting to breathe down my neck that my hospital has gracefully kept at bay for the time being.  Then there’s the collection letter, the first one I have ever received, that arrived in the mail because the physicians go through someone else other than the main hospital billing department.  Turns out the help the hospital offered did not include the physicians and I found myself on the other end of a phone begging to pay half the bill in two months time.  Here’s hoping it won’t squelch my credit score.

I write this not as some kind of pity-party, but because when I came back to this blog a few years ago after a hiatus, I wanted to present a more full image of myself, my religious life, and my journey as a shaman, priest, polytheist, father, and lover.  My life is rather difficult right now.  I want to be pretty damned clear: sometimes the religious aspect of my life is a great balm and comfort for these trying times, and sometimes it is a struggle to even work up the desire to do a meal prayer.  Anger and depression coupled with anxieties about finance do that.  It eats, gnaws at you.  When your doctor tells you everything is going to be okay, and hugs you and you want to cry, this person you see maybe once a month, you know things are rough.  Our son and his mother help quite a bit, both with keeping my spirits up, and keeping the prayers and offerings.  I cannot do this alone.  This is a tribal religion.  If this were all on me I am unsure I could do it, even without that aspect of it there, given the challenges before us.  The beautiful thing about being in a tribal religion though, is that you don’t need to do it all.  You can be weak, and that is okay.  In letting yourself be weak you can allow others to be strong.  For you, if no one else.

I mentioned sometime back that the shrines/altars I care for alone are the shrine for the Dead, the shrine for the Warrior Dead, and Rùnatýr and the Runevaettir’s altar.  All the other ones Sylverleaf and our son take care of together with me. This does not mean I should not or do not take care of the other altars and shrines, but when I am this low sometimes it is all I can do to ask for help with the altars and shrines.  Again, taking strength from them and them helping me has kept me pretty motivated and keeping on keeping on with the offerings and prayers.  Occasionally I will take some time and talk, especially with the Ancestors, Odin included, and talk about my situation, how I am feeling, and ask for Their help.

It’s funny, in writing a post so in-the-moment how things can move forward.  I started writing this 8-27-2014, and then,I got the call the next day: I finally qualified for Medicaid.  My financial problems are far from over, but an important step in making sure we aren’t hurting for money all the time has finally, finally, been reached.  I have been trying to get this leg of the journey done since January.  It took months and months, and my first case manager did not get back with me or the hospital at all.  The hospital got so pissed at this person and the lack of communication from DHS that they said ‘fuck it’ to my bills in February.  I was denied twice before this ruling, despite being told over and over I qualified.  While it is still up in the air whether Medicaid will help me with the April’s $20,000 bill, going forward I won’t have to panic if I need to head into the hospital.  I will be able to afford my life-preserving meds now.  I will be able to see the doctor, and get the physical I need so that I can qualify for a better job, if not get into a career.  I will be making offerings and prayers of thanks to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

This does not mean that the Gods somehow favor me over other people, even if my prayers have been answered.  Piety does not equal prosperity.

I am poor.  If it weren’t for my folks there is no way my family or I would be in anything like a stable living situation.  I’m saddled with a lot of student loan debt, and were we completely on our own we would be struggling to pay rent, let alone put food on the table.   I am the subject of ridicule when people write derisive works of people living with their parents till they’re in their late 20s and 30s.  This, despite going to college while working, and taking on an inordinate amount of debt with nothing to show for it.  At the moment the only options are to a) scramble around trying to save enough to survive on and hope some breakthrough comes our way, or b) head back to college to be saddled with yet more debt in the hopes of making a career.  I am working on the latter, going for my MA in Counseling.

Many of the people that I look to as friends, colleagues, and elders have been or are poor.  There should be no shame in being poor, but there is; a deep amount of it.  I have no delusions of being a temporarily embarrassed millionaire; my family has been blue collar and/or union jobs for quite a while.  Everyone except my generation, and some of the last one, has worked the land since they were young.  Both sides of my family raised chickens, ducks, geese, vegetables, and herbs.  This is the kind of life I am looking to go back to.  I see no viable future in the rat race, no good coming of indulging in the idea that those who have the most toys at death win.  I want to leave something lasting; odal land to my people, whether it is Sylverleaf, our son, or our community.

When I think of getting our own home, our own land, I think of the Hávamál, line 36 and 37 in the Olive Bray translation edited by D.L. Ashliman:

36.
One’s own house is best, though small it may be;
each man is master at home;
though he have but two goats and a bark-thatched hut
’tis better than craving a boon.

37.
One’s own house is best, though small it may be,
each man is master at home;
with a bleeding heart will he beg, who must,
his meat at every meal.

Piety does not equal prosperity, yet this also does not mean that the Gods will not bless our lives, or that it is hubris to recognize those blessings.  Rather, it is hubris to ignore the blessings They give, leave it unmarked, without thanks.  I have held on to some very good mead for awhile now, given as a gift to me, and it may be time to offer and share it.

I’m not shouting from the rooftops going “Woohoo!  We’re great!” because we’re not.  Getting Medicaid and being able to care for my chronic health conditions are small steps in a series of steps to living on our own, raising our family, and bringing together the life we wish to have.  There are still financial challenges ahead, mercifully one of them not being the medication I need to live or doctor visits to help keep me healthy.  We are moving forward together and celebrating this victory.  We will keep pushing forward to the next one, reaching for our goals.  We are getting there.

For anyone who has offered prayers, kind words, an open ear and mind, or wisdom in all of this, thank you.  Thank you for helping us get through one more leg of our journey.  Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities, and individuals who all have supported us in these hard times.  Thank you for continuing to support us, and help us wherever you can.  Thank you.

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