As our movement continues to grow and expand, a whole new generation is now being raised within Wicca, and paganism in general, rather than converting from old religions. I know that when my children were young, I missed having the fellowship of a church membership that I remembered from my Baptist and Presbyterian youth. This fellowship, this feeling of belonging and culture and extended family, is an important piece that we can provide to today’s new generation of pagans, wiccans, and witches.
Our church home, Crossroads Tabernacle Church ATC, is one of the few Wiccan congregations in the country open to families, including their children. Most of the children present are usually mine, but there are others who come regularly, and we’ve had many more visit. We encourage children to attend rituals with their parents, and we provide our Moon School program of religious education.
Here are the most important lessons I have learned over our last few years of bringing my six children to Crossroads:
- Children are not switches. When children have not been brought up with regular church attendance, they will be unfamiliar with the behavior expected. Also, the rituals themselves may be strange and new, which can prompt some children to act out at first. Always have an exit plan. Smaller children should have a parent or older sibling ready to take them out of the circle if they become disruptive1. Older children should be aware of expected behavior; they can either sit quietly if they are having trouble, or can take themselves out of the circle entirely if needed. Children should all understand that leaving the circle should only be done once, at great need, and coming and going is not allowed. Priests conducting a ritual including children should be ready to cut a doorway when an exit is needed, and may perhaps want to appoint a magister or guardian for this task.
- Children need to be fed. While some traditions advocate fasting for an hour or two before heading into ritual space, children are not small adults and are not prepared for this challenge. (Even some adults are not physically comfortable with this challenge!) Just as children are exempted from fasting in other religions around the world, they need to be exempt from it in our own. Have snacks available before ritual starts, so that the children can munch while the ritual space is prepared and adults are robing up. Carbs are best for maintaining energy and willpower, so look to provide fruits and grains. Children with full tummies are like a completely different species from hungry children, and are much better able to maintain focus.
- Children need to be engaged. When planning a ritual where you expect children to present, focus more strongly on chant and action, and less on speeches and stories. If you want to tell a story, encourage the children to participate in the telling, following you around the circle for a hunt or a journey, pretending to be growing flowers in the spring or falling snow in the winter, cheering spectators for a battle between the Oak and Holly Kings. Most children love simple play-acting, and singing and movement get them involved with all their senses.
- Children are believers, not seekers. Children don’t come to ritual because they want to study to be priests and witches. They come to ritual because it is part of their culture and lifestyle. Learning about their culture is part of it, but homework and tests and deadlines should not be. Opportunities to participate in ritual can be offered, but should not be required or expected.
- Children want to help. Consider allowing older children to help set up the altar and ritual space, and calling the congregation to attention when a bell or song when it is time to begin. Younger children enjoy helping serve cakes and ale, and collecting dirty dishes. Again, though, these jobs should be offered, not expected or required.
- Children like repetition and routine. They are more comfortable when they know what to expect. Don’t be afraid that using the same quarter calls and the same chants is getting stuck in a rut. While some variation is good, having a stable foundation provides security for most children. Make sure you have chants and calls that get used at every ritual, and make some element of each holiday the same. This gives the children something they know to look forward to, and a mental “home base” to prepare them for whatever new pieces you have prepared.
Do you attend ritual with children, yours or somebody else’s? What lessons have you learned?
1. Disruptive behavior includes tantrums and inconsolable crying. It does not include behavior that is unusual, especially if that behavior is a part of the child’s way of participating in ritual. My autistic 5-year-old likes to move about the circle constantly and repeat all the calls…but he doesn’t get into the altar or knock things over, and it is fairly easy to keep him from leaving the circle entirely. This is his way of participating. We have learned to accept it and work with it, and in fact our rituals feel a bit empty and lacking now if he is absent.