I started writing this book not too many years ago, but I have been working on it for the 19 years I have been married, especially the 18 I have been a father. Since its original publication I have refined the rituals and thought more about many matters. I have also had the benefit of reviews and readers' comments. From all this I have been working out what it means to raise Pagan children and to practice Paganism with them. This has required a lot of original work; there were at the time of the original writing no books specifically on this subject that I could turn to. (This lack has to some extent been fixed, but there is always room for more.) A lot of my time was spent writing and trying out rituals; indeed, the creation, performance, and acceptance, modification, or rejection of rituals has been an important part of this book's genesis. The rituals my family has rejected could make their own book.
The problems that face my family are not unique. As the young Pagan movement starts to leave its adolescent years behind and its members raise children, the problems become more acute. Are we to remain a religion of converts? Or will we be able to develop an organic form of Paganism in our children, one that is as much a part of them as their names, one that will grow when we are no longer here to feed it? The answers are at least two generations away. New cultures take time. We will not know whether we have been successful until our grandchildren are grown, but it is time to start.
This is a book for families with children. These are not the only kind of families, of course, but there are already many books that can be used by families composed of adults. But the kind of Paganism that works with adults doesn't necessarily work with children. A different kind of Paganism is required, and that is what I have concentrated on. For the purpose of this book, therefore, I have defined family as a multi-generational group of people, one or more of whom are children, living together and possessing a close tie of blood or love. At the same time, many of the rituals, especially the seasonal ones, are quite workable by adults alone. Indeed, with my daughter off at college I face this prospect myself.
In a sense no Pagan is without children. We are all responsible for the rearing of the next generation. The old myths tell us this, with the uncles, aunts, and grandparents that serve as teachers. Our own experiences as children tell us this, with many of us having better relationships with our grandparents than our parents. And now, as adults, it is our turn to teach the world's children, even if none of them have sprung from us, even if none of them even live in our house.
This brings us to the thorny question of what a Pagan can teach another's child. The lessons of honesty, fairness, respect for others and for the planet -- these we can teach with enthusiasm. But what of our Pagan ways? How much of that can be passed on? The answer to this is simple to formulate but hard to accept. As long as a child is legally under the care of others you must get permission from those people before you teach anything about religion. Perhaps it can be made easier to accept if you imagine how you would feel if someone else's parents tried to save your child's soul.
There is still plenty of ambiguity here. For instance, can you tell myths? Be careful, but yes, it is possible. After all, even for the non-Pagan familiarity with the myths can help in understanding much literature. (And, conversely, an understanding of the Bible by Pagans will be equally useful.) If you know the children's parents are Fundamentalists, of whatever religion, even this much can be dangerous. Be careful. We do not do ourselves or Paganism any favors if we make others afraid that we will try to steal their children's souls. If there is any doubt at all, refrain.
That having been said, I would like to extend an invitation to Pagans who do not have children of their own to help those of us who do. It is a hard thing to raise Pagan children in our culture, and we can certainly use the help. When our children reach their difficult teenage years (do not be under the illusion that Pagan children will somehow have an easy adolescence), they will need adults other than their parents to confide in and ask advice from. And let me say it again -- we all have children. Our children belong to the People, and the next generation is everyone's business.
This is not just a book of rituals and information. There is no Neo-Pagan authority to give final judgments or to impose liturgy. Here you will find opinions, arguments, and suggestions. You may disagree with some of them. Your vision of Paganism may be very different. If it is, please add your voice to the discussion. The Paganism of the future will have many roots. Out of the contending and complementing of ideas will eventually come a living Paganism for the next generation and the next. After that, they're on their own.
Although I have intended to provide a complete system of Family Paganism, this book is more than that. It is an invitation to Pagans to join in the quest for a form of Paganism that can mean something to our children. That is why as well as including rituals for occasions I have pointed the way towards developing your own rituals, both in the "traditions to raid" sections and in the references and resources. These are as important a part of the book as the set rituals. This is as it should be. Paganism is a tree, not a crystal; it will continue to grow and change as long as earth and sky endure.
I have written mainly for the reader who is already familiar with Paganism, but I have included some basic information for the non-Pagan who may have seen this book and thought, "A Pagan family? What the heck does that mean?" With the great variety within Paganism of both practice and belief this information may also come in handy for Pagans who want to know what sort of Pagan wrote this, as well as adding to the growing body of Pagan theology. There is a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers.
The major source I looked to in devising these rituals was the culture of the British Isles. This delightful mix of Celtic, pre-Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, Christian, and who knows what else, is not only the source for most Neo-Paganism (through the influence of Wicca, the most popular form of Neo-Paganism). It is also a perfect example of just how well syncretism can work. Since most Americans have at least some ancestors from the British Isles (or from their cousins in the Germanic and Celtic regions of northern Europe), and since so much of American culture is already based on their cultures, much will seem familiar.
Three other cultures made major contributions. First, I have found Roman religion and folk custom to have much to offer. They are well-documented, presenting a virtually complete Pagan Indo-European culture. They were especially useful in developing rituals for the house and its guardians, as well as setting the tone for many of the other rituals. Much of Roman religion took place in the home and is thus especially relevant here. And, in typical Pagan fashion, what they did was more important to them than what they believed. Indeed, there were numerous traditions they did not understand the reason for, but still they kept them. They knew how to remember. And they have left their mark on Western popular culture, so their customs seem natural, like old friends. Roman influence has already entered Neo-Paganism through Wicca, both directly through the classical educations of its founders, and indirectly, through the effects of Roman culture on British folk custom both during the conquest and after.
The American Indian cultures also made a major contribution to my book. While they had no effect on the origins of Neo-Paganism, in America they began to influence Pagans early on. This influence has increased in recent years and may even be crossing the Atlantic. (I have heard that English Pagans have rediscovered drumming.) American Indian cultures were important both in filling the gaps left by my other sources and in answering the question of what this land asks of us. While many American Indians see Neo-Pagans as pillaging their cultures, we must still look to them for inspiration. Who else can teach us how to live on this continent in a way that will satisfy earth and sky?
Lastly, I found Judaism to be a source of inspiration. After the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of their people, Jews found they had no choice but to keep their religion alive in their homes. As a minority religion subject to persecution they have kept the way of their ancestors strong through two thousand years. If we do only half as well, we will have cause for pride.
Many other cultures, from all the continents of the world, have made their marks on this book. I have tried to choose with respect and not merely plunder. If any readers feel their culture has been misrepresented, I apologize in advance and ask that they write and educate me.
Because Paganism reveres female and male equally, Pagans are concerned about sexist language. In particular, we want to avoid the generic "he". However, since Pagans revere both the spoken and the written word, we are also concerned about both clarity and beauty of expression.
Sometimes these concerns clash. Some of the alternatives to the general use of "he" are awkward (constant use of "he or she" is annoying) and some are unpronounceable and therefore distracting to many readers. (I am thinking here of constructions such as s/he.) The problem can be avoided in many case by putting sentences in the passive mode, using plural verbs, or avoiding pronouns. Sooner or later, though, an author encounters a situation where none of these will work.
When I have encountered these situations in this book I have tried to balance the needs of non-sexism, clarity, and beauty. What I have mostly done is to use either "he" or "she," choosing in a somewhat random manner. (As the father of a daughter, I must confess a tendency to write of children as "she.") Where either sex is specifically meant, this will be obvious from context.
Most of these rituals can be performed with a minimum of equipment. With the exception of the wedding, dedication of a baby, and funeral (which require the usual Wiccan tools), the items needed are likely to be around your house already or easily acquired, items such as bowls, bells, candles, and flowers. Rattles and drums are less common than bowls, perhaps, but they're not rare in Pagan households, and easy enough to buy.
The items you use may be as special as a Wiccan's athamé, her ritual knife. They may be special in a different way, like china used only on holidays. Or they may be ordinary things, special by virtue of being the materials of everyday life.
Many people helped this book along its way. The reference section gives the names of some of them. Special thanks are due to Beth Goldstein, who first said, "You should write a book." Patricia Telesco, who reviewed my original manuscript, made many good suggestions. Her critique taught me a lot about writing, and helped turn a rough work into a finished one. John Yohalem, editor of Enchanté, made many good suggestions regarding chapter 3. The EarthSpirit Community provided support and guidance, as well as teaching me much of what I know about ritual. More was learned through writing rituals for Ár nDraíocht Féin, and through giving presentations at various Pagan festivals. And of course, my wife and daughter were vital to this book's creation. As well as putting up with my clumsy early efforts at ritual construction, they proofread, made suggestions, and taught me about family dynamics. My daughter taught me how to make gods' eyes, and made sure my directions were correct.