Here in the United States, much of society assumes—however incorrectly—we all operate under a Judeo-Christian belief set. When you deviate from that perceived norm, you’re immediately subject to questioning: Are you harming yourself? Your family? Do you really know what you’re getting into? As the so-called black sheep in my family, I understand. My family has diverse Christian roots. And me? I am what you would call a tree-hugging pagan.
I have a nine-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son, and both have been exposed to many spiritual practices and religions. Preschool and family events introduced them to Christianity. They practice Paganism, since that is what I encourage in my household. They have also been exposed to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism through family friends.
What I practice is closest to Wicca; however, most neo-pagan religions do not have a set doctrine. Naming them and labeling them is often difficult, even more so when I have to explain the differences to my children. Religion and spirituality encompass deep concepts that even we, as adults, struggle to grasp and comprehend. Our minds cannot always touch the complexity of the divine, the eternal, or the afterlife. It’s why so many of us turn to church or organized practice to help us make sense of it.
Children are more literal in their understanding. As a child, I remember thinking that Heaven literally meant the clouds and sky above me, and that Hell was beneath my feet. God, of course, was a white- bearded fellow who sat on a golden cloud and watched over everyone. As I got older, I realized that my personal beliefs conflicted with how I’d been raised, which started my new spiritual journey.
Explaining all of this to my children has proven to be a delicate and careful dance, especially when they’re bombarded with Judeo-Christian worldviews. When they ask, “Where is Heaven?” I explain that there isn’t exactly one—our energy is everywhere. When they ask, “Where is Hell?” I let them know that there’s a little bit of good in everyone. When they ask, “Who is God?” I introduce them to the Earthmother. God means Goddess too; there isn’t really a gendered aspect. Somehow, everything we can see, smell, and touch, even what we can’t, was made by Earthmother.
When others talk about their beliefs to my children is when it’s the hardest. An Evangelical aunt took them to church with her, which initially made me tense. I had a feeling that my children would come back confused. When they returned, I was gentle in my explanations.
“Different people believe different things. Some believe that Jesus died to save everyone. Others believe that you come back to try again when you die. I believe in the Earthmother. All of these are all right, and they’re all good.”
In our household we celebrate “normal” U.S. holidays. We do, however, ensure that they’re infused with their pagan roots. Christmas is also Yule, the return of the sun with the Winter Solstice. Easter is Oestra, the return of the fertility to the earth. We celebrate the turning of the seasons with Beltane, Midsummer, and Samhain (Halloween), too. I try to teach our children how to watch what is happening in the world around them and observe how it changes. Each season cycles into the next and creates a great circle. As spring cannot happen without winter, life cannot happen without death.
Though I understand that my belief system will continue to present my children with challenges, I refuse to tell them what they should believe. By exposing my kids to a cornucopia of different belief systems, I hope to enrich their personal, spiritual understandings. One day, one religion (or lack thereof) will call to them and they will find their path. All I can do is act as guide, teaching them the common thread that ties each belief system together: be a good person, take care of and love the world around you, and you will be happier for it in the end.