The Joys and Pitfalls of
Pagan Parenting, Teen Style
You read it all the time. Teenagers, both male and female, are discovering Paganism, and Wicca in particular, at an astonishing rate. Wishing to publicly proclaim their new-found faith, they often wear pentacle necklaces and "Gothic" style clothing and makeup, which unfortunately can cause a bit of a stir with both school officials and peers. Then mom and dad get involved, and in many cases, fearing that their children have become involved in some sort of Satanic worship, they confiscate and destroy their recalcitrant offspring's jewelry, books and other assorted Pagan paraphernalia with strict orders never to bring such things into the house again. Any protest from their children are met with stony glances and, in the case of deeply religious Christian parents, dire pronouncements and threats of hellfire. There are thousands of personal accounts by people both on the Internet and in books wherein they state that they had to wait years and in many cases leave home in order to be able to freely practice their chosen religion. Still others collapse under the pressure of parents and friends and return to the religion in which they were raised, which in many cases also unfortunately means returning to spiritual dissatisfaction.
Then there are those kids who are actually raised in the Pagan tradition by likewise Pagan parents, or by parents who adopt (and in some cases, convert to) the Pagan faith when their children are older. No matter how they reach the Pagan path, It takes a lot of faith, strength and heart for these parents to attempt to raise their children in a non-mainstream religion. It's that much more difficult when those children are teenagers.
A good example is a conversation I had with my oldest daughter, "Jane," a couple of months after she had angrily flounced out of the house shortly after her eighteenth birthday, declaring that she'd had enough of living by our house rules. Though my husband and I had been Pagan for years and have attempted to raise both of our daughters according to basic Pagan ideals, I realized that we perhaps hadn't done as much as we could have with Jane when she made an offhand remark as we ate lunch in a café shortly after she had left home. Upon listening to my attempt to counsel her to cease her self-destructive behavior, she said, rather incredulously, "but, mom, it's not like you're a religious Christian or something!" I spent the rest of our conversation trying to explain why you don't have to be a Christian to be religious and to believe in---and practice---leading a decent life.
It was after hearing that very telling comment from Jane that I turned my attention to my younger daughter "Anne," who is five years younger than Jane and was already beginning to exhibit some of the identical behavior that had gotten Jane into trouble on more than one occasion.
Anne was just then beginning to show a marked interest in learning more about Paganism, and I bought her a copy of Silver Ravenwolf's "Teen Witch," of which we read a lot together. Up until this time, my husband and I had maintained a quiet practice of our faith, and although we would perform little observances like going outside and murmuring a salutation to the rising full and new moons, we hadn't yet performed any formalized rituals, though I had been yearning to. When Anne showed an interest in doing so, it seemed like the perfect time to start. My husband was also enthusiastic, and we eagerly planned our first Esbat ritual for October 1999. This was followed shortly by our first Sabbat ritual: Samhain. With only a few exceptions, we've observed every full moon and Sabbat since then, and gave Anne a nice Athame as her year-and-a-day gift this past Samhain.
I think that like most teenagers who become interested in Paganism, Anne was attracted to the idea of practicing magic and casting spells to achieve one's desires. However, I don't think she was disappointed when she learned that Paganism, far from being as it is often portrayed on TV and in the movies, is actually an earth-centered, conscientious religion full of balance, harmony and wise principles, centered not only around the worship of a God but a Goddess as well. I sincerely hope that being a member of a family that actively practices a religion has given her a little something extra that her sister, much to my regret, was unable to benefit from.
Anne has perhaps had a little rougher time than most kids in explaining her family's faith to her peers. Though she has met one boy who claims to practice Wicca with his father, the rest of her friends---with the exception of a couple who are Jewish---are Christian, as is roughly ninety percent of the population in the small Arizona city we live in. And just as Kermit the Frog put it, sometimes "it ain't easy bein' green"---or, in our case, Pagan.
Most of Anne's friends have taken a good look at the small silver pentacle I always wear (I am also completely "out" both at work and in public). Though none of them have asked me it's meaning (and I've found that there are a lot of people who don't have any idea that it means anything), some have asked her and she has been truthful with them without going into great detail. Though Anne herself has worn one to school on a couple of occasions (I was half expecting a phone call from the principal the first time, but none came, thank the Gods!), she decided that it wasn't worth all the negative feedback she got from some of the Christian students. But both my husband and I both pledged to support her decision no matter what it was, and it was a great opportunity to explain that wearing a pentacle alone doesn't make one a Pagan!
Since Anne has always attended public school, she of course has heard her friends speak of their religions. Occasionally, she has attended their churches, an activity that we have supported, as we believe that a well-rounded religious education means learning about all religions.
However, the last time she attended one, which was about two weeks before Samhain, she appeared troubled when she came home. When I inquired as to why, she said, "mom, that minister said that Halloween is evil, and told all the kids in the youth group that if we celebrate it, we're glorifying the devil!" Needless to say, I was rather upset to hear this, and spent a couple of sleepless nights mulling over what to do about it.
Finally, it came to me. I addressed an email to the editor of our local newspaper and sent him the link to the website on The Witches' Voice explaining the true meaning of Halloween to the press. I received an almost immediate reply from one of the paper's reporters, which ultimately resulted in my doing an interview in which I explained my consternation at the fact that some of the local Christian clergy members were passing inaccurate information about Halloween to their young parishioners. The reporter who interviewed me was respectful and honestly curious about Paganism, and allowed me to explain the true origins of Samhain. The article was printed on---you guessed it----Halloween, and nobody was happier than Anne, who, because of the fact that she confided her concerns to me, was able to help further education about our religion.
I guess if I had to use one word to describe Pagan teen parenting, it would be perseverance. Of course, the parent of any teenager must by necessity be perseverant, but I think that in the case of Pagans, we have a bit of an advantage over the members of other faiths. Not only have we learned to rely on our intuitions, but we're also pretty easy to talk to. We're well-versed on many subjects, and while we know that there's something called human nature, we also know that it takes time to develop the maturity needed to control it.
When teens learn this, they are able to affect a healthy transition to adulthood. For the parents, the perseverance comes in the form of education and observation. Life is a learning process from start to finish; and in the case of Paganism, there is so much to learn about where we've been, where we are and where we're going that there can never be an end to the possibilities.
The observation of ritual, in whatever that form takes, is also important. No, you don't have to cast a circle and perform a set ritual (though Anne has become quite adept at this); try taking your teen(s) to a beach, lake, desert or mountain for a day, and point out things to them that they might never have noticed before. The time spent together is what is most important. Whatever you do, do it with conscience and reverence and you can never go wrong.
Goddess and God bless!