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Chapter 5

Teaching Children



Much of the way in which Pagans want their children to grow is not uniquely Pagan. We want children who are honest, responsible, helpful, intelligent, loving, hospitable, honorable, and happy. Who doesn't? These are the common values of our culture.

Paganism's unique contribution to values is its attitude toward nature. Helpful, yes, but not just to humans. Intelligent, yes, but not at the expense of the planet. Much of Pagan childrearing, then, is geared toward developing a love of the world. Less emphasis is placed on those things that seem specifically religious -- belief systems and practices. Those are important too, and our children must be taught them, but without the right attitude toward the world they are useless and perhaps even harmful.

Pagan instruction isn't a one-shot thing -- this is what we believe and do, now run along. Nor is it even a set course -- fulfill these lesson requirements and we'll be all set. At its best, the teaching goes on all the time. You compost, you turn off lights when you're not using them, you work in the garden. And you make sure your child is doing these things along with you.

Remember that Paganism is a religion of doing. Much of your teaching will take place when you are performing the rituals in the rest of this book. At the very least you will have to explain why they are done. (Children are very good at asking why.)

Children learn best by parental example, second best by discovering through doing, and third best by active teaching. Parental example requires constant awareness of what is being done by the parent and why. The more fully you live a Pagan life, the more your child will learn about Paganism, and the more she will want to live a Pagan life as well. Beyond that, not much can be said except "be fair." Fairness is the first ethical concept children learn. Indeed, if there is any inborn root to ethics it must surely be fairness.

Teaching through doing involves many things. The rituals are important teaching tools. They show what a Pagan does. Many other activities provide useful teaching.

When choosing activities for young children it is important to remember that you are not training priests or priestesses. You are working with children, trying to awaken them spiritually and give them a framework in which to do it. It is best, therefore, to hold back on the mind-blowing, life-transforming experiences as well as on psychic exercises. These can be reserved for adolescence, a time of natural life-transformation and awakening powers.

Activities that can be done with children:

1. Meditation

There are many forms of meditation, from the quiet empty sitting of zazen to the more active forms involving chanting or dance. The very quiet forms can be hard for young children. Still, it is good training for them; it might even teach them how to sit still for a while and the concentration it develops will help them in other things, in school work, for example, or when they start doing rituals of their own. Try doing it for short periods, two minutes for instance. If they react poorly, back off for a while. Let them see you do it, and make sure they know that they can meditate too when they are old enough. "You can do this when you are old enough" is a great motivator for children.

Don't be discouraged if your children are uncooperative. My daughter hated meditating, so we stopped. Then I discovered, some time later, that she had been doing it on her own. Plant the seed, and let it grow.

To meditate, sit with your back straight, your body relaxed, and your hands in your lap. Try to sit in the lotus position. Children are very flexible and very proud of their ability to sit in unusual positions. This is especially true if you have trouble doing that yourself. Sit with a pillow under you so that your knees can both touch the ground. This will also help you to keep your back straight. Breathe slowly and evenly, being sure to push from your diaphragm. Count your breaths, counting either on the inhale, exhale, or both. Count to five and then start over.

2. Chanting and singing

Children love to sing, and so do Pagans. See the reference section for a list of some recordings of Pagan songs. Pagan periodicals usually have advertisements for these.

3. Self-blessings

These give the child a short ritual that he can do on his own. A number of these have been published. A very simple one can be done with a bowl of water or olive oil. The child holds his hands over it and says:

May this water [or oil] be blessed with the power of the Gods
so it will bless me.

He then anoints himself with it. The places blessed can vary, but usually the forehead is included. If he is preparing for work or sports, he may wish to anoint the parts of his body used in those activities. Self-blessings may also be used for morning or evening prayers.

4. Mask making

Masks have long been used by Pagans. They have been used to change shamans into their power animals, to invoke Gods and ancestors into their worshipers, and to transform actors in sacred drama into the deities they play. Masks overlap the border between fantasy and reality as well as that between magic and fun. They can give power, teach a child to identify with an animal or spirit, free a child from normal constraints, and just be fun. With a mask a child can be something different, trying on a new way of being for size.

The easiest material to make masks from is paper. Easy temporary ones can be made from paper bags or cardboard. A paper plate can be turned into a mask by cutting eye and mouth holes and punching a hole on each side for strings or elastic to hold it on. Faces and designs can then be drawn on with crayons, markers, or paint. Feathers, ribbons, and seeds can be glued on. Other items such as large feathers and seashells can be attached with ribbon. More permanent masks can be made with $papier mache. (See Chapter 3 for directions.)

5. Gods' Eyes

These are designs made from two sticks and colored yarn. (See figure 1.) $ Made in elemental colors or dedicated to different Gods they can edge a sacred spot. Made large in the color of spirit, with smaller crosslets at the ends of the sticks in the elemental colors, they can be an educational protective wall hanging. They can sit in the family shrine as symbols of the household guardians. Yellow ones make good solar decorations, especially if made with six or eight arms.

Take two or more sticks or dowels and cross them in the middle. Take a piece of yarn and tie the sticks together in a cross shape. Wrap the yarn around one stick, looping it over. Wrap it around the next stick, looping it under this time. Keep doing this, alternating the direction of looping, until you run out of yarn or sticks, or until the gods' eye is big enough. Leaving some of the sticks protruding from the yarn when it is done will prevent the last loops from slipping off. Tie the last bit off and cut the yarn flush with the knot. Colors can be changed, either mixing different colors or using two or more shades of one color.

6. Shrine

Have each child make a shrine in his room. This should have a deity figure as a focus and be for devotion rather than magical work. Go through some simple self-blessing and worship rituals with him. Then leave him to it. Tell him to perform some ritual at the shrine at least once a day (first thing in the morning or last thing at night) for a month.

How complicated the shrine is will depend on the age of the child. Very young children may be content with a statue or drawing and a bowl for offerings. Older children can use candles and incense, once they are taught how to use them safely. The rituals performed at it will also vary. For young children you will most likely need to write a short prayer or two that they can use. Older children can write their own or wait for the deity to inspire one in them. At one point in her training, I had my daughter look through books on deities and choose one to have a shrine to. She chose the Shinto Goddess Amaterasu. Her main symbol is a mirror, so I bought a small mirror and we used this for the image in the shrine. I wrote a small ritual, taught her how to do it, and then had her perform it first thing in the morning for a month. I had deliberately told her only the minimum about the Goddess, in order to see what would happen. At the end of the month, I asked her about how the rituals had gone, and she asked me if Amaterasu was connected with the sea at all. She is indeed, but this was something that I had not told my daughter. This is a good example of how such exercises can lead a child to a personal experience of deity.

7. Rattle making

Rattles can be made from many substances. The most traditional is a gourd. Choose one with no blemishes. Some gourds can be used simply dried, with the seeds to make the sounds. Usually, though, they need help. Cut off the gourd's end and scrape out as much as you can. Keep it in a dry warm place until dry. If too much flesh is left behind or if the gourd is not dried carefully, it will become moldy. When the gourd is dry, put some of the seeds back in, along with some pebbles, and plug the end.

$Papier mache, though, is easier, especially when working with children. Blow up a balloon to the desired size and cover it with strips of paper soaked in wallpaper paste. Put on several layers for strength, alternating the direction the strips are laid. Leave a thin spot at the top and an open spot at the bottom for the stick. When the rattle is dry remove the balloon. (It will probably have collapsed already; if not, just pop it.) Put noise makers inside. It is traditional to include both quartz pebbles and seeds. Popcorn works fine for seeds. Shape a stick to fit the hole in the bottom. Carve the top of the stick so that it is thinner than the rest. After filling the rattle with the noise makers, put the stick through the bottom hole. Where it touches the top, make a hole just large enough for the stick to come out. Seal the two holes, top and bottom, with more strips of paper and extra glue. When it is completely dry, decorate it with paint, feathers, or ribbons.

Easier still is to take a small plastic bottle such as an empty vitamin bottle and fill it with pebbles and seeds. Put the top back on, and you have an instant rattle.

8. Image making

Make images for the child's shrine or make the ones for the household shrine with the child. You can use clay or $papier mache for statues, or they can be drawn or painted on paper, cardboard, or wood. Clay that can be fired in a regular oven is available in art supply stores. Seeds, sticks or stones can be used to make collages for images.

9. Nature journal

With your child, keep track of one year, noting dates of flowering, appearance of leave, changing and dropping of leaves, migrations of birds, behavior of animals, weather, etc.

10. Observing a space

Choose an area about one yard square and mark it off. On your own land this can be done with rope. On public land it can delineated by natural features or marked with sticks pushed flush into the ground. Observe it daily for one hour for a short period (two weeks, for instance) and then weekly for longer (several months to a year.) Call on the spirits of the place each time. Do not interfere with it, observe it only.

11. Garden

Have your child choose the plants, plant, care for, harvest, and prepare the garden for winter. The size and complexity can increase with age. Have your child write and carry out a garden blessing. Remember that a garden can be a window box, plants in pots on a balcony, or even an indoor herb garden kept by a sunny window.

12. Mythical character costume party

Invite your child's friends to come a party dressed as mythical characters. You may have to limit this to Pagan children.

13. Drumming

Drumming is the best thing that ever happened to Neo-Paganism, and the earlier a child gets involved the better. Drums can be used for communication, ecstasy induction, dance rhythm, or just plain fun. Drum with your child yourself, either just with your own drum or keeping a beat to recorded music. You can use rattles instead of a drum, or along with them. Once she can keep a simple beat she should be encouraged to bring her drum to a Pagan gathering. There will probably be rituals where she can drum. The experience of being part of a group of drummers contributing to a ritual is overpowering. Children have few opportunities to take part in rituals in such an active way.

Inexpensive drums are available in music and toy stores. Small good quality frame drums costing less than thirty dollars can be ordered through most instrument stores. For an even less expensive drum, a shoe box, oatmeal box, or plastic container works well.

14. Story telling

Stories can be myths, fairy tales, or made up on the spot. They can be told by the parent to the child or the child to the parent. One can start it and then hand it off to another who must then continue it for a while before again passing it on. The traditional time for story telling is winter, when there is little to do outside and it is comfortable to settle around a fire and talk. Hearing the old stories is one of the most important things that can happen in a Pagan child's life. The stories are a link with the Pagans of old times as well as models for ritual and life.

When telling stories use all your abilities. Use props and different voices, and don't be afraid to embroider the tales, provided the essentials are kept.

15. Decorations

Decorations for celebrations can be made with children. One easy way to make them is to roll oven-firing clay thinly (between 1/8" and 1/4") and then use cookie cutters or kitchen knives to cut suitable shapes -- moons, suns, seasonal symbols, and such. These shapes can be decorated with designs scratched into them before they dry or they can be painted after firing.

16. Deity study

Choose about a dozen Gods and Goddesses. Over the course of several months, teach about them, one at a time. Give their functions and explain how they can be called upon. Give attributes and descriptions to help the child visualize them better. You can make pictures of them. If possible, teach about each of them at an appropriate place: Manannán at the seashore, Demeter in a garden, Thor under an oak tree.

After the series is over, ask your child to pick one of the deities you have discussed. With your child, build a shrine to this deity and devise rituals to worship him or her.

An interesting variant on this is to choose a particular one for her to work with by taking a number of craft sticks (you can buy these at craft stores; they are essentially popsicle sticks) and writing on each of them the name of a deity. Pick about two dozen deities. When you have prepared the sticks, have the child throw them on the ground. Put aside the ones that land face down, and have her cast the other ones. Have her do this until only one is face up. Put an image of that deity in a shrine for the child to pray to. When my daughter did this, the final one was Rhiannon, who was already her patron deity. Very impressive, and I think it made a strong impact on her.

A common method for encountering a deity is guided meditations. These bridge the gap between the instruction required by a beginner and the imagination desired in the more advanced. They do this by providing a description of a journey or image, while leaving parts to the meditator.You can write your own with a little research. After choosing a deity, read the relevant myths and seek out photographs or drawings of images to determine the deity's appearance, as well as the types of scene in which he or she might be found and what teaching will be imparted.

Many books and tapes give texts for guided meditation. I have given one for an encounter with the Wiccan Goddess, with an emphasis on the child forming his own image, and one for encountering the Wiccan God, where the image is more defined.

As with all meditation, the goal is to be both relaxed and alert. Start with whatever meditation work you usually do. Then read the text in a slow soft voice. When the meditation is over, it is best for the meditator to remain for a while in the same position, breathing slowly, before ending.

A Goddess Guided Meditation:

This can be done before making an image of the Goddess or simply to help the child in his devotions. Its goal is to form an image of the Goddess in the child that will help him imagine her more clearly. In the course of it, the Goddess gives a teaching that will be unique each time it is done.

Have the child sit in a comfortable position. His back should be straight. Read the text slowly, pausing to give him time to think when it is called for.

We are going to imagine the Great Mother.
It is good to imagine.
Imagination is halfway to magic.
If you keep imagining the Goddess you will find She becomes real and then your imagining will have become real.
You will have built her a road to come to you on.
She is everything, of course: Maiden, Mother, Crone.
Today we are going to imagine the Mother.
Think of her.
She is strong.
She is beautiful.
She is peaceful.
She is smiling.
Ask yourself questions and put the answers in the image.
Is she sitting or standing?
Is she wearing clothes or is she naked?
Does she have jewelry?
What color is her hair?
How long is it?
Is it curly or wavy or straight?
How is it worn?
What color is her skin?
What color are her eyes?
What do you see in them?
Is her nose small or large?
Hooked or straight?
Wide or narrow?
Are her lips large or thin?
Are they dark or light?
Are her breasts large or small?
Are her hips narrow or wide?
How does she hold her hands?
Does she hold anything in them?
She says something to you.
What is it she says?
If you can't hear her, that is OK.
You can feel something, even if it isn't in words.
She loves you.
She has the strength to help you.
It is yours when you want it.
When you are afraid
or worried
or just need a hug
and no one is around to help you
imagine her
and she will hold you in her arms.
Hold her image for a few more seconds
and then thank her and say goodbye.
Let the image fade away.
But don't worry.
She is still with you.
She is everywhere.
Always.

A God Guided Meditation:

This is a different type of guided meditation. In this type, the meditator is given very specific imagery and a particular message. The point of this type is to convey what sort of imagery and teaching is associated with a particular deity. To use this type with a child requires you to be sure of these yourself.

Imagine that you are in the woods. The trees around you are pines.
There is just enough light to see by, but it comes to you from above the branches of the trees.
The trees are very tall, and their branches don't start until very high up, higher than a house.
Everything around you smells like pine.
The ground is covered with needles.
The trunks of the trees rise from those needles,
straight and tall and rough and hard.
You can hear birds in the branches, but you can't see them.
Except for the birds, there is no noise at all.
Sit for a second and imagine the trees and the birds and the quiet.
(Pause)
From somewhere in front of you, you start to hear a sound.
It is the sound of a drum beating.
It beats in time with your breathing.
As you pay attention to it, it starts to sound louder, and now you can tell that it comes from exactly in front.
Walk towards the drum.
As you walk, you find the way is easy.
There seems to be a path between the trees.
Maybe deer have made it.
The path leads just the way you are going.
The pine needles on the ground are soft, like a carpet,
so you take your shoes and socks off and walk in your bare feet.
You keep walking through the woods.
The trees are still pines, but they start to grow closer together.
You keep walking, and soon they are so close together that you can't fit between them anymore.
It's as if they have grown together into a wall.
So you start to follow the wall to your left.
It starts to curve, and you realize it makes a circle.
You look closely at it as you walk, and you notice that in some places it is not so solid.
In fact, you find a place where, if you try real hard, you might be able to just barely squeeze through.
It looks hard, but you are brave, so you push yourself through.
On the other side of the wall is a clearing.
It's still a little dark, but if you look straight up you can see the sky,
and in the middle of the sky is a single star.
In the center of the clearing is a small hill.
In the side of the hill is a small cave.
You go to the mouth of the cave and look inside.
There is a man sitting there looking at you.
He is sitting cross-legged on the ground.
He has antlers growing from his head.
His hair is rough and shaggy.
He is wearing pants that seem to be made of leather,
but his chest and feet are bare.
Now you notice he is smiling.
On his lap is a bag of coins.
He takes one out and gives it to you.
On one side of it is picture of the man.
On the other side is the name "Kerntos."
Of course, he is not a man; he is a God.
In fact, he is the God, the one who is the father of everything.
He says, "Keep this coin, and when you want to feel me near you, just imagine you are holding it in your hand."
You thank him, and then he starts to fade away.
Around you the cave is also fading away, and the wall of trees, and the woods.
You find yourself right back in your own home, back where you started.
You open your eyes, and here you are.
But in your pocket, you can feel the coin.

Follow the meditation with a talk on a particular subject. If the meditation has been a guided journey, with contact with a deity or other spiritual being, you will want to talk about that. If possible, include something for the child to do as part of this.


Watching certain videos can provide teaching. Many movies play with mythical themes. Most of them draw from hero myths -- Star Wars, The Never Ending Story, Camelot. Joseph Campbell and William Moyers' "Power of Myth" series is available on tape and can be used for older children.

Don't forget extra-curricular activities. Trips to museums, nature centers, the beach, the woods, or even just a walk can be very educational, especially if you don't point that out to your child.

There are many activities sponsored by non-Pagans that can be part of a Pagan education. Summer camps, nature and science centers, and scouting all teach knowledge of and respect for nature. Art museums sometimes give workshops in skills such as mask making. Community centers and ethnic societies give lessons in traditional dance and music.

Older children should be given practical living-in-the-world assignments to teach them to live out their Paganism. Examples would be recycling, composting, volunteering, helping teach other children, taking care of an animal, etc.