I remember when I was in nursing school, and I was dating a guy whose family was Catholic. They weren’t Catholic out of belief that the Roman Catholic church was the one true authority on God or the only institution able to unlock the doors to the kingdom of Heaven. No, apparently they were Catholic because they always aligned themselves with “power,” and it was their position that the Catholic church was the most powerful religious institution the world. True or not, their reasoning had little to do with faith.
I remember also that his parents were not exactly thrilled with my choice to be Wiccan. It’s one of the few times I ever considered converting–he was a good looking guy, his family was well off, and he adored me…for a little while, anyway. These are not good reasons to convert, and, obviously, I didn’t. I in no way regret that choice, nor am I ashamed of the thought processes going on at the time.
Nonetheless, it bothered me. Were we so unenlightened that a simple disagreement over religion was more important than love? Well, it wasn’t love, but I thought it might be at the time. I talked to my Catholic aunt about it, and I asked her, “If you had a son and I weren’t your niece, would you allow him to marry me?”. She was quiet for a moment, and then softly replied, “No. No, I wouldn’t be OK with it.”. I was living in her house, eating her food, she was sheltering me, but that would have been crossing a line for her. It was eye-opening in many ways. And yes, it hurt.
Then I had the joy of shocking her in turn–I informed her that I would not raise my children in Wicca. This was confusing to her: “Wait, you would practice a religion you do not deem fit for your children to practice?”
It’s always interesting to me to see Pagan gatherings or groups that are specifically family friendly and welcome children. I think it is wonderful that they are sensitive to the fact that parents need spiritual fulfillment, and they provide resources to help introduce children to what the Pagan community is about. It is a difficult thing for parents to choose just how they want to handle spiritual education for their children, and I am glad that we are providing resources to aid in that endeavor.
Wicca isn’t merely a set of benign beliefs. My plan, at the moment, is to raise my children with my personal philosophies, and, as they grow, to expose them to many different religions and discuss them to help them make the most right choice for themselves. If, as adults, they want to pursue Wicca, I would embrace them with open arms. But Wicca is not a family religion.
I’m speaking directly about Wicca. I have no issue with Pagan parents wanting to raise their children with Pagan philosophies as that’s exactly what’s going to happen in our home. Our children will learn several different mythologies, a reverence and respect for nature, how to honor the moon and sun cycles, and we will likely do lots of arts & crafts. Wicca is not the same as being Pagan. Wicca is a priesthood, a system of not only beliefs but also practices that require proper training. It is in our vows only to bring the properly prepared to the magic circle—how can a five year old be properly prepared to maintain a world between worlds? This is true in other religions. You do not have five year olds who are permitted to take vows and preach from the pulpit. Children who show promise may be fostered and guided to a spiritual life, but they are not made clergy until they are adults with the fully formed faculties to make that choice and be effective leaders.
This has nothing to do with maturity, or whether children are “old souls” or not. It’s about recognizing the fact that Wicca as a religion is not the same as Christianity as a religion or Hinduism as a religion or any other path. I know of no traditional covens that will accept students who are underage unless they are the children of current members, or they are of a minimum age with parental permission. Even then, in our tradition, teenagers are limited to reading and learning philosophy. This is not meant to hinder them but rather to allow them to develop into fully functioning adults, giving them the faculties and resources to best make use of their abilities as priests and priestesses. Teenagers are a little volatile by nature anyway—it protects them as well as their elders by carefully guiding their development. I was a teen Wiccan once; I remember the frustrations that came with it very well.
It has nothing to do with elitism, either. I remember being accused of it, once upon a time. “Wiccan elitists, think they’re the only ones who are doing it right.” It doesn’t have anything to do with practicing Wicca the “right” way and everything to do with understanding that we are priests. Not every individual in a community is meant to be a priest—some are cooks, some are warriors, some are sanitation engineers, and so on and so forth. Within a coven there are people who hold those roles as well, but a coven is a group of priests who are in service to their community at large, howsoever they choose to define that, even if it is just that coven. This is part of that beautiful tapestry I spoke of in a different blog entry, the wide variety of the types of people we have on this planet. Not all of them are called to be clergy, let alone Wiccan clergy, and that’s OK. Remember, Wicca does not teach that it is the only right way to worship.
I enjoy being Wiccan. I enjoy sharing the joy and contentment I find in this religion with those I meet. But it’s not for everyone; it’s not for children. It is not merely a faith, a set of guiding principles. If we choose to follow those principles and teach them to our children, then they are Pagan, and that is a wonderful, beautiful thing to share with them. Wicca, however, is something else. It is not meant for families—it is meant for priests.
**This blog post may be an exercise in semantics. No offense was meant to any parents who have chosen to raise their children in any particular fashion. I do not judge your choices—rather, take this post as food for thought. I honor you for the difficult choices you have undoubtedly had to make in your role as parents, and I would never pretend to know better what path any one person ought to have taken. Only you as parents and individuals can know what is most right for yourselves and your families. Blessed be.