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Our Most Precious Resource: Some Thoughts on Children in Ritual

Author: Bronwen Forbes [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: January 31st. 2010
Times Viewed: 6,937

There seems to be some division within the Pagan community between people who are comfortable with the idea of children – their children, other participants’ children – in ritual and those who are not. As a parent of a five-year-old child, I firmly believe that there are times when it is appropriate for children and adults to circle together and times when the kids either need to have their own circle at a different location, or stay home with a babysitter.

This does not mean that I believe that every ritual where children are present should be oriented to the kids to the exclusion of anything that might be meaningful to the adults. When my daughter was an infant the family briefly attended regular services at a local Unitarian fellowship. Most of the other participants had kids under the age of ten, and those kids literally ran roughshod over every service.

They pushed their way to the front of the line to light the individual prayer/blessing candles and then took for-bloody-EVER to say what they were thankful about or what they wanted to pray about. They screamed if they didn’t get to help with one particular aspect of set-up (we met in a classroom on the periphery of the college’s indoor gym) .

The whole service was about the children – and as an adult, it left me cold. And bored. I learned more about how to NOT incorporate children into ritual from five months with that Unitarian group than I did in nearly three decades of Pagan coven and community ritual life.

Notice I said children and adults circling together, rather than kids participating in children-specific rituals. I am all for separate kids’ rituals – the chance to experience the Divine in a group made solely of your peers regardless of your age is truly a blessing – not to mention a great bonding experience. It’s probably the reason adult Christians love the idea of sending their kids to events like church camp, vacation Bible school and Sunday school.

However, as a parent it is my responsibility to provide my daughter with a moral compass, strong positive ethics and a spiritual framework in which to organize them. In short, I am the one who’s supposed to teach my kid about my religion of choice. Some Pagan parents may disagree with me, saying that I am “imposing” my faith onto my child just like their more mainstream parents raised them Christian. To these Pagan parents I say this: A child must learn the alphabet before she can write her own book; a child must also learn the basics of religious expression before she can make an informed choice about her own spiritual path.

So, as much as I can, I try to take my daughter to as many adult (yet appropriate for her age and level of spiritual comprehension) rituals as I can. As of this writing, she‘s been invited to our otherwise-middle-aged-to-senior-citizen coven’s Yule ritual next week. I’m sure she’ll do fine. Yes, the ritual start time has been adjusted to an earlier hour, but that’s as much in consideration of some members’ work schedules as it is for the attending preschooler.

Would I take my five-year-old to a Samhain ritual? Probably not. Although she is old enough to remember some family pets we’ve had to euthanize, I’m not sure she fully understands the concept of death. Nor do I think a ritual where adults are likely to be in or near tears would be appropriate for my daughter. For the same reason, I’d probably not take her to a funeral – of any religion, not just ours.

If a ritual started too late or was expected to last more than, say, an hour (just the ritual, not the feasting and social time afterwards) , I would not take my daughter. She’s a little kid – by definition she doesn’t have *that* long of an attention span. Nor would I take her to a ritual where the main activity of that particular circle was a lengthy guided meditation or pathworking. Sitting still and totally silent for that long is just beyond a child her age. But nice, active, cheerful rituals like Yule, Litha or Ostara? Bring on the kids! (In my opinion)

Notice I didn’t include Beltane in that list. I took my daughter to a lovely Beltane ritual put on by a very dear Druid friend (and her grove) a couple years ago – but only *after* I made damn sure the ritual would not include anything overtly sexual (I figured that any subtle sexual references would go completely over my kid’s head. I was right.) .

Taking your child to an otherwise adult Beltane takes as much pre-consideration as taking an almost-four-year-old to a PG-rated movie: know what’s going to happen BEFORE you arrive. (I learned this lesson the hard way when I took my almost-four-year-old daughter to, you guessed it, a PG-rated (but animated) movie. If I’d bothered to do my homework, I would have known that there is a scene at the end of the movie where the dog and his little girl nearly die in a horrible fire – and not taken her to see the film. Especially when she started sobbing in the middle of that scene. But I digress.)

Of course, if my daughter starts to get restless, noisy, or downright disruptive during a ritual, I remove her. Just because I believe she should be as full a participant in the family religion as possible does not mean she has the right – nor do *I* have the right – to ruin any other attendee’s participation in the same ritual. If that means I miss the rest of the ritual, so be it. I can always attend another ritual at another time.

In a public circle, there’s always a chance that one of my fellow attendees is new to the Pagan path and this may be his first ritual. He may have overcome a huge case of nerves and no small amount of trepidation to take this first crucial step and reach out to others by coming to this particular event. The last thing he needs is a screaming child in the ritual.

Which brings up an interesting point, that some Pagans apparently feel that ritual is “dangerous” for kids – and I’m not talking about open flame and sharp athame type of danger (although little ones do need to be carefully monitored by a designated adult around those things) . There are some folk who think that ritual is dangerous unless all the participants are relatively experienced and know what they’re doing.

In some rare cases, this may very well be true – at an intensive healing ritual or a very long Sabbat, a child or untaught beginner (neither of whom may have learned the basics of grounding and centering) could expend so much personal energy that they become sick afterwards – as happened to me after my very first five-hour-long Samhain ritual.

But the only way for newcomers to our community and the children we are raising in our faith of choice to learn about ritual is to be in ritual, side by side with the adults. It’s a lot safer to circle with experienced practitioners than for them to fumble around on their own. This is why we teach our children how to drive rather than just hand them the car keys and say, “Go figure it out!” when they turn sixteen.


Bronwen Forbes

Location: Bloomington, Indiana


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