I’ve been seeing a lot of irises during my delivery rounds this past week, lots of new purple and yellow and white blooms in people’s yards all around this area. Every time I see an iris I think of two different gods: Manannan, to whom the citizens of the Isle of Man once paid a yearly rent of iris flowers; and Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Seeing so many different colors of iris this year, I’m not at all surprised that these flowers would be named after her!
In addition to irises, other flowers have been occupying my time this past week. After forgetting to buy new potting soil for the last two months, I *finally* bought some and planted the wildflower seeds that we took as a return blessing at our Spring Equinox ritual. They’ve already sprouted, and along with a lovely little apple mint plant I bought with the potting soil, I’ll be placing their pots outside tomorrow, with a small American flag planted alongside to celebrate Memorial Day. Usually I try to visit a cemetery and leave flowers at some of the veterans’ graves, but the lack of a working car will stymie that for this year. Next year, in chrysanthemum! Or something like that.
I’ve also been thinking about another kind of new growth sprouting forth, in the more symbolic sense: our children. No, not yours and mine, I don’t have any yet and I’m not putting any claim on yours! >8) But collectively, the children of everyone involved in the Neo-Pagan movement. No, I don’t have any children, nor do I have any background in education, so I don’t doubt that some folks will be skipping over any opinions I express on the subject, and I’m sure I can live with that. One thing I do know a little something about, though, is what the Ancients did, and I know that they didn’t exclude their children from honoring their gods and ancestors. The Greek ritual for naming a newborn child involved carrying the baby around the household hearth, the symbolic center of the home and the family, to formally introduce the child to Hestia. The Romans expected their children to take part in all of the household rites. (One of my favorite scenes from the most recent season of Doctor Who shows a disobedient teenaged boy being ordered by his mother to make offerings to the lares, and he goes to the lararium in a huff and flicks water on the altar while saying “I honor you” etc. in an annoyed monotone. I imagine scenes like that took place more than a few times in the real Rome.) And children were present at any civic ritual in Greece or Rome, much as they would be in attendance at any city parade in modern times. When religion was part of everyday living in every household, of course the children were involved.
So it surprises me that so many pagans these days seem to treat religion as something that our children must not be exposed to until they’re older. Sam, the woman I carpooled with for our dawn Beltaine rite, mentioned seeing this on an online discussion board recently, and told me how puzzled she was by this attitude. I noted that I had seen this attitude many times, both online and from pagans I talked to at real live in-person festivals that I’d attended, and I didn’t agree with it. From what I can tell, the objections seem to go one of two ways. The first is that pagan ritual is very sexual in nature, therefore children shouldn’t be exposed to ritual until they know something about sex. Uhhhh, okay, if you really think that all pagan rituals are symbolic sex acts, then I guess that makes sense, though I hope these people aren’t letting their kids dance or plug electrical appliances into outlets or ride trains through tunnels or anything else that could possibly symbolize sex.
The other attitude expressed, and the one that really truly puzzles me, is that children shouldn’t be exposed to religion because children should have an open mind about religion and not be forced by their parents into one particular path. Er, why on earth not? It’s not like children always stay in whatever path they were raised in – if that were the case, Gen and I would still be Catholic, Rodney would still be Mormon, and so on, and our Grove would have no members. (An empty nemeton, waiting for Neo-Pagans to spontaneously erupt from the ground like mushrooms – now there’s an image!) And will a child really be well served by being treated as a tabula rasa, and letting them figure out all things spiritual on their own? These are beings who need adults to teach them how to pee and poo into a toilet, never mind understanding the nature of the divine. And as I noted, these beings do have the amazing ability to make up their own minds about these things later in life, regardless of what they were raised in. I intend to raise my children (if and when I ever do manage to have any in this lifetime) in m own Hellenic faith, sharing in my household practices, letting them have their own personal altars in their rooms, and joining me for group rituals with SLG or whatever group I’m a member of – with the full and firm understanding that when they hit the age of thirteen, they have every right to tell me and my gods to go screw ourselves. And if they can make a good case for saying so at a younger age, that works for me too. I’m quite happy to have them spend their adult lives telling their friends about their crazy dad who actually believed the Greek gods were real. Much better than the alternative of letting them go unprepared into the world and letting every cult leader get a chance at hitting them with a belief system that appeals to my kids simply because they don’t know any better, nor know how to test a set of beliefs to see whether they’re beneficial or harmful.
Anyway, it’s all hypothetical for my personal life for now, but I’m happy to see so many pagans in SLG and ADF and elsewhere making our tradition a part of their children’s lives, and I hope that those who feel otherwise at least understand why we’re choosing to do it this way. One can argue that the real benefit of any church comes from community and continuity rather than any direct divine influence, and I hope that we can bring those benefits to our people. Of course, I want to bring the good divine influence as well, but what did you expect, I’m a priest!
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF
PS – Odd discovery of the day. “Pee” is an acceptable spelling according to the Word 2003 spell checker, but “poo” isn’t. Go figure.
PPS – While it’s definitely not safe for work, this video is one of the best parodies I’ve seen or heard in a long time, and since I know that some of my five readers don’t follow my on Facebook, I’ll put the link here as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QyYaPWasos