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Chapter 4

Celebrations of Birth



Children are born religiously pure. No matter what this little soul's karma, in this incarnation she is without flaw. No one is responsible for another's actions, so this condition will continue until she is old enough to make her own mistakes. It was this attitude that allowed Sioux children to wander unchecked through the most sacred of ceremonies -- the sacred cannot be disturbed by the sacred.

The point of rituals performed for babies, then, is not to purify the child but to incorporate her into the family and the community, and extend the protection of the Gods and the household guardians over her.


Welcoming



As soon as the baby is seen, whether born or adopted, say:

Little One, welcome to our family.
We have waited so long to see your face
and sing to you our welcoming songs.

All members of the family should do this, including other children who are old enough. Children too young to say the words may give a hug or kiss instead.

After the birth it is appropriate for the mother to make a special offering or prayer of thanksgiving to any birth or mother Goddess to whom she has prayed for help during pregnancy. Suitable offerings include bread, cookies, eggs, milk, breast milk, flowers, and sandalwood, rose, or mint incense. When offering, this prayer can be used:

Mother of All,
We have been pregnant together
and now I, like you, have given birth.
Thank you for bringing me through this time
and for helping me to deliver a beautiful child.

Oddly enough, to some of the ancient Pagans at least one of the Goddesses who presided over birth were virgins. For instance, in Rome, this responsibility was given to Artemis. If the mother has prayed to such a deity, she would, of course leave out the second and third lines, and replace the first with an invocation to the particular deity.


Blessing Soon After Birth



Many people have seen how in the mini-series Roots a father presented his newborn to the earth and sky. This delightful custom was not the invention of a screenwriter, nor is it only found in Africa but also among Indo-Europeans and the Japanese. Its meaning is clear: the child belongs to earth and sky, and she is being brought before them for their acknowledgment and blessing. This can be seen as presenting them to the God and Goddess if the family is Wiccan, or to the whole world (earth and sky together) if they are not.

As soon as the mother feels up to it, then, take the baby outdoors. The mother should place the baby on the ground and say:

Born of woman
Born of earth.
The Mother [or Earth] knows Her children.

The father should then pick up the child and hold her up to the sky and say:

Conceived by man
Conceived under the sky.
The Father [or Sky] knows His children.

(In some of the cultures that practiced this tradition, by picking up the child the father was affirming his paternity. While this may seem a bit outdated, this moment can be quite a powerful one, giving the father an occasion to ritually acknowledge his new responsibility.)

One or both of them then say:

You are the child of earth and sky
and you will live your life between them,
Mother and Father to you
and to all living things.

Some people plant a tree at the time of birth. If you can be relatively sure to be at the same place when the child is grown up, this is a lovely custom. Be careful, though; the fate of your child may be bound with that of the tree. If you wish to dispose of the afterbirth or umbilical cord ritually, it may be buried with the planting of the tree. This will tie the child to the place even more, so consider carefully if you want to do this.

Welcoming Home and Presentation to Household Guardians



Although it may be assumed that the spirits of the household, like the parents themselves, have learned to know and love the child during the pregnancy, she must still be presented to them. This inaugurates her ritual relationship with them.

As you bring the child across the borders of your property, make an offering of eggs, flowers, wine, or grain to your border guardian at the edge of your land. Say:

Crossing your border is one of your own.
See her, know her, remember her:
Protect her property.

Then go to the house, place the baby on the threshold and say:

Guardian of the Threshold,
Here is one of us.
A new member of our family has come home.
Remember her.
Watch over her comings in.
Watch over her goings out.

Touch a cup of water, milk, or wine to her lips, and sprinkle some of it on the threshold. Take the baby to the household shrine and say:

Guardians of our household,
Here is one of us.
A new member of our family has come home.
Remember her.
Watch over her as she goes about her daily affairs.
Keep her safe.
Keep her happy.
Keep her healthy.

Again touch the cup to her lips, hold it up in offering to the Guardians, and then place the cup in front of the guardian images and leave it overnight. In the morning, offer the rest to the spirits of the wild.


Naming and Dedication



Although the child may have been introduced to earth and sky and presented to the household guardians, there is still one more ritual that should be performed, when the baby is officially given her name. Having taken her place in the family, she is now presented to the larger community. Since a name is what a baby is called by others, and since relatives may well expect a celebration (and they have a right to do so, since a baby is an addition to the whole family), this is best done with your extended family and friends.

This ritual is commonly called "Saining" by Neo-Pagans. The name derives from a northern dialect of English, and is simply that dialect's version of "signing." The reference is to making the sign of the cross over the child, and saining was thus a term for baptism. Some Pagans may wish to avoid it on these grounds, while others may think that since it is no longer used by most English-speakers in its original meaning they need have no more hesitation using it than Christians do using the originally Pagan "Easter" for their most holy day.

Naming should take place after the baby's umbilical cord drops off. Until then the baby is still connected spiritually to her mother in a way that she is not to others.

There is no uniquely Pagan way to choose a name for your child. Some Pagan cultures have chosen names that refer to events surrounding children's conceptions or births. Others have practiced divination. An interesting variant on this is the custom found in both Wales and Ireland of naming the child after a chance remark after its birth. Still others have used family names, names that reflected the order or day of birth, or simply names the parents liked.

Many of the usual names found in our culture are fine. Many Pagans like to name their children after Pagan heroes or Gods. This is fine, although it might be best to avoid the names of the highest Gods. Ancient Pagans that included Gods in their names used such compounds as "Mithra's friend," or "Servant of Lugh." Using unmodified Gods' names for children has generally been a sign that the Gods are no longer believed in. To name a child after a God one believes in would be what the Greeks called hubris, a claim to equality with divinity. Children can also be named after ancestors, especially boys after their fathers' people and girls after their mothers'. My personal preference is for the child to have her own name, so she will have her own deeds to live up to.

If possible names have been pared down to a small number without an obvious choice, one can be chosen through divination. This can be done simply by writing the names on pieces of paper or tiles and then drawing one blindly from a bowl. Before doing this, pray:

Lady and Lord,
Divine Parents,
You have given us a child.
Now help us choose a name.

For non-Wiccan parents, replace the first two lines either with the names of your family's patron deities, or with the deity you hope will become the child's patron deity, or with a deity or deities of childbirth or childhood.

If you don't know the sex of the child yet, you'll have to do this twice, of course.

The main purpose of a dedication is to name the child. Its secondary purpose is to place the child under the protection of the deities. This is a natural desire.

Childhood is almost universally seen as a dangerous time and children need all the help they can get. It is also natural to want your children to grow up with the same worldview and morals. Children need guidance in this and what other spiritual path are parents more qualified to teach than the one they are on?

To help the parents in this task, and to ensure that the child is seen as the responsibility of the community, the ritual appoints godparents. They are called "guardians" in the ritual to avoid confusion with Christian baptism, but that is perhaps an awkward term. Although honorable enough, it may be confused with the concept of legal guardian. If you wish to use "guardian," though, "godparents" might be just the word to use when explaining the position to non-Pagans.

The ritual is written to be done by more than just the immediate family. If at all possible, that is how it should be performed. The child is being welcomed into the world, and the world is not just the family. It may therefore be performed in the presence of understanding non-Pagans. Please brief them beforehand. Inviting them to a "baptism" that turns out to be Pagan rather than Christian would not be a good introduction to Paganism. As well as the guardians, this ritual calls for representatives of the elements. Older children may serve in this role. This is also a nice way to incorporate extended family or friends.

The ritual may be impossible to perform as written since not all Pagans know other Pagans who can take part. It can even be done by the parents alone. My wife and I did it that way ourselves, when we were living in England, thousands of miles away from our families and friends. Remove the challenges to the parents and guardians and the passing of the baby around the people. The parents then take the roles of the Priest, Priestess, and representatives of the elements. Instead of one presiding officer they should share the words.

The declarations of what it means to be a parent or a guardian are based on my own understanding of those responsibilities. If your understanding is different, then rewrite these to reflect it. Since these are essentially oaths, they should be written beforehand rather than made up on the spot. The parents and guardians are binding themselves to the child and to their responsibilities towards her. They are not expressing themselves here; they are expressing their willingness to step into the roles that have existed since sexual reproduction has.

Ritual:

Because this ritual is attended by people who are not in the immediate family, it will usually be held outside the home. You will need to create sacred space, then, by casting a circle, or whatever means your tradition uses. Put a table in the middle of the circle and put on it whatever you will need for the circle casting, water, olive oil, and milk. The representatives of the elements go to their respective directions, holding symbols of their elements. Create your sacred space as usual. If you like, when you call the directions you can say:

Spirits of the East
Spirits of Air
A new child has been born to us.
Come to see her.
Come to bless her.
Come to us who wait for you.

Spirits of the South
Spirits of Fire
A new child has been born to us.
Come to see her.
Come to bless her.
Come to us who wait for you.

Spirits of the West
Spirits of Water
A new child has been born to us.
Come to see her.
Come to bless her.
Come to us who wait for you.
Spirits of the North
Spirits of Earth
A new child has been born to us.
Come to see her.
Come to bless her.
Come to us who wait for you.
Call a mother goddess from your tradition -- Diana, Rhiannon, Demeter, Isis, etc. Call a father god-- Kerntos, Woden, Zeus, Dagda, etc. For instance, you can say:

Diana, Our Mother
We ask your presence here
to bless this child we bring before you.

If the child is a girl, the Priest presides, and if the child is a boy, the Priestess does. The form given is for a girl.

The Priest says:

We meet today to bless this child, to place her on the path to happiness, and to name her. Naming is no slight thing, for it is said that the name is the thing. The path is no slight thing, for of the many that she will find, perhaps there is only one path that will lead her to happiness. And let no one disparage the blessing of the Gods, the protection of the elements, and the love of the People.
You who come before us, who are you?

The parents answer:

[Their names], parents of this child.

He says:

Do you know what it is to be a parent?

They reply:

It is to love and nurture,
to watch a child grow
and lead her to the path to right living
that she may know the good
and, knowing it, choose it.
It is to teach and to learn.
It is a way of great joy and great pain.
It is to take in and cherish so that one day you might let go.
It is the greatest responsibility we can take:
For our love has become manifest in a person
and who may know its end?

He says:

You answer well. May all the Gods,
who give birth to the world,
guide you in your responsibilities.

The Priestess then challenges the child's guardians, saying:

You who stand here with these parents, who are you?

They answer:

[Their names], chosen to be guardians for this child.

She asks:

Do you know what it is to be a guardian?

They answer:

It is to open the many paths before a child,
to show her the ways she may take,
to help her choose that which is hers,
and, once she is on it, to help her live by it.
It is to be second parents,
ready to counsel, ready to love,
always to be there when needed.

She says:

You answer well.
May all the Gods, who give birth to the world,
guide you in your responsibilities.

The parents place the baby on the altar, where the presiding officer traces a pentagram or other symbol of blessing on her forehead with water, saying:

May all the Holy Ones keep this child pure.
Let all that is wrong be far from her.

The parents then take the child to the east, where a representative of the Spirit of Air blesses her by censing, blowing, waving a fan, or ringing a bell, and say:

Little one, receive the blessing of Air.
Keep, as long as you can, your holy innocence.
Greet each day joyously,
Always rejoicing in its newness.
Greetings from the Spirit of Air,
Your protector and friend.

The parents then go clockwise to the other quarters. At the south the baby is passed over the candle flame (be careful of long garments), while the representative of the Spirit of Fire says:

Little one, receive the blessing of Fire.
Receive the creative spark to dream with,
the courage to keep your ideals,
and the will to make your dreams come true.
Greetings from the Spirit of Fire,
Your protector and friend.

At the west, the baby is sprinkled with water, while the representative of the Spirit of Water says:

Little one, receive the blessing of water,
the womb from which we all come.
Yield gracefully to what must be,
knowing the treasures you hold within.
Greetings from the Spirit of Water,
Your protector and friend.

At the north, the baby is sprinkled with salt, sand or cornmeal, while the representative of the Spirit of Earth says:

Little one, receive the blessing of Earth,
the earth from which you grew.
Be strong in silence and fertile in growth.
The North is darkness, out of which comes light.
Greetings from the Spirit of Earth,
Your protector and friend.

The baby is then laid on the ground in the center of the circle. If you are inside, or if the ground is too cold, touch her feet to dirt in a bowl. While this is done, the Priestess says:

Receive the blessings of the Earth:
May She protect you all of your days,
wrapping Her arms around you as you go your way.

The Priest holds her up to the sky and says:

Receive the blessings of the Sky:
May He protect you all of your days,
watching over you as you go your way.

The parents then hold the child in the center of the circle, while the presiding officer traces a pentagram or other protective symbol over her, saying:

Little one, receive the blessings of Spirit,
which binds the four together,
from which they are formed,
and through which they are made manifest.
The Spirit is your home;
Be open to it, both gentle and vigorous:
Return to the center in times of trouble.

The parents carry the baby to the altar, where the presiding officer puts a drop of milk in her mouth, saying:

May you always have plenty.

He puts a drop of wine in her mouth, saying:

May you always be happy.

He puts a drop of water in her mouth, saying:

May you always be pure.

The Priestess then traces a pentagram or other protective symbol with oil on the baby's breast, saying:

Little one, you are [here her name],
This will be your name until the time comes
when you are admitted to full worship before the Gods.
Bear it well, and may it do you honor.

They then whisper into her ears so only they and the baby can hear a secret name that they have chosen. This will be a name that they can use when calling on the Gods for her, and that she (after she has been told it at a suitable age) can also use in this way.

The Priest stretches out his hands over the baby and says:

May all the Gods smile gently upon you.
May you choose your path wisely
and walk it well.
May you be gentle and strong.
May you be loving and wise.
And may you be happy
For the world is good.

The parents take her to the four quarters, saying:

Spirit of the [direction], behold [her name]
Welcome her to this world.

The baby is then passed among the people present. Each kisses her and says:
Welcome, [her name]:
Much love to you.

It is also traditional for each person present to give a blessing or expression of best wishes.

When the baby reaches the guardians, they say:

Welcome, [her name]:
May you love as you will always be loved.

The parents say the same when the child is returned to them.

When farewells are said to the Gods at the end of the ritual, the Priestess says:

Holy Ones, we thank you
For the gift of life
and the beauty of the world in which to live it.
For the gift of love
and the wonderful people with which to share it.
But most of all today for [her name],
who is both life and love.
We ask your blessings as you depart.
Hail and farewell.

When she dismisses the Spirits of the directions, she says:

Spirit of the [direction],
We thank you for your help.
Go now in peace, but be never far away
and answer quickly when [her name] calls for you
that you might aid her in her need.

Birthdays



In American culture birthdays are already traditional ritual occasions. There is a song, food, candle-lighting, gift-giving, and wish-making -- all the earmarks of a folk festival. Pagans wouldn't wish to take anything away.

But more could be added. Most families, in fact, have extra traditions. Some of these are passed on through the family, some are ethnic, and some are made up on the spot. Some you do once and discover the next year that the child considers them traditions.

When the child gets up in the morning of his birthday, he should wash, dress in special clothes, and then go or be taken to the family shrine. There he makes an offering. If he has his own protective spirit its image should have been placed there or he can place it there himself. If not, the offering will be to the family deities and guardians. Indeed, even with a personal spirit, these added offerings are desirable. You will need one candle in front, or one on either side of the image. If the child is old enough, he lights it; if not, one of the parents does. Then the offerings are given with a short prayer. Some examples:

The wheel has turned again since I came into this world.
I thank the Holy Ones.
I thank the Watchers of my house.
I thank the Spirits of the Earth.
Thank you for everything you have done for me in this year.
Be with me in my new year
and I will remember you.

Ancestors
Old Ones
You who have lived before me:
I am here to show you that I have not forgotten you.
Thank you for helping me to grow through the year.
Help me to grow through the year to come.

Mother of Everything
Father of Everything
Thank you for everything.
Here are some gifts for you
for all you have done.

If the child is old enough, he can compose his own prayers. They don't have to be the same each year; indeed, it is good for them to reflect the child's growing knowledge of the sacred.

The offerings can be incense, food, drink, or flowers. There should be something offered, though; it is only right to give something in return for the great gift of a year. After the birthday, take whatever offerings are left out to your yard or to a wild place and leave them there.

One of the meals during the day should be with just the family present. Put the household guardian images on the table, with the image of the child's personal guardian, if he has one. At the end of the meal, the parents say:

The year has turned [ ] times since you were born
and now it has turned again.
The Gods have watched you grow
and will stay with you as this next year turns.

Then they each bless the child. This is a personal blessing and they should write their own for the occasion. An example of a short one would be:

May the Lord and Lady bless you
and watch you and guard you
as you grow through the year to come.

The party follows this. This is the time for giving presents from the family. And give the kid the day off from school. It is, after all, his day, and only comes once a year.