A bit over a month ago, my midsis told me that she wanted to get back into Neopaganism, and she’s interested in Ásatrú/Heathenry. In thinking about our blustery twenties, a lot of the tension we had was religious — I didn’t understand why neither of my sisters had persisted in Neopaganism despite all of us having been raised going to Circle. Come to find out, it was our different personality styles.
When I was a girl, after we started going to Circle, here was how I approached upskilling:
- Which books do I need to read to understand what is going on?
- What are the holidays, the meanings behind them, and the ritual components?
- Who are the Gods I want/need to worship?
I asked for books to support these questions for my birthday each year when I was in my preteens and teens — or, when Waldenbooks had things on the steep discount sale table, I’d ask our parents to buy me a book, or — when I had a part-time summer job after I turned 15 — I would buy them myself.
In other words, I’m a very self-directed learner. I do best in small discussion groups with some level of accountability and ability to translate things into an applied setting, and I’m a bit pushy. It never mattered to me why our parents brought me along to Circle when we started going; I was curious, and I sought to learn. It ended up being a good experience for me, and I learned a lot. Our parents never pushed me to attend Circle or read or upskill, so all of this behavior was voluntary.
People in the broader Neopagan and polytheist communities could point to me as an example of how doing hands-off, do-what-you-want-religiously parenting is a good thing — my mom is now a degreed Wiccan priestess, and we’re both polytheists even though our religious outlook is different, so how could that parenting style have been anything less than good if I persisted?
The problem with this is that I have two younger sisters. Over the past year, I’ve learned that neither of them felt welcome or included in Circle when we were kids — it was something I did, or my mom did. My midsis never realized that she could have just asked to be more included. Whereas I’m the sibling who tends to identify a path forward and execute the steps to get there, they both needed a bit more social reassurance. I’m imagining most kids would! Had our parents (especially our mom) encouraged them to learn more about Neopaganism at an age-appropriate level, and had I reinforced that as the eldest, things would have been different. I can now point to moments when I was doing what I was doing as a preteen and teen where I could have included them — after I was sixteen, I was doing religious study pretty much daily — and it makes me feel bad that I didn’t. Even if my sisters would have still done their own religious journeying, giving them a grounded foundation would have provided a better framework for the voyage.
This isn’t to say that acclimating kids to a religious environment needs to be draconian. In many cases, what I see online from people who wouldn’t welcome their children into their own religions is a reaction to the pain and suffering they themselves experienced as children raised in religions that were toxic to their psyches. If one focuses on the positive, though — the joy of giving offerings, the cycle of the calendar and the seasons, the ethical frameworks that give people opportunities to thrive, even an interpretation of evil that puts it back in its proper context without inappropriately-thrown blame — the end result is someone who will at least be empowered and grounded. (There are a lot of other things in the world that can harm kids apart from toxic belief systems. While I wasn’t taught I had original sin or whatever, I was school bullied, and my dad taught me that it happened because there was something wrong with me, not the situation, because he’s a gaslighter. Religion — and polytheistic views of the human capacity to be good — are actually protective in this sense because I have a mechanism for fighting negative self-talk in my head.) At minimum, I’d suggest encouraging kids by telling them that there are a lot of Gods they can worship.
My midsis and I have been talking a bit more. I did the librarian thing and asked around about good books for her — and looked at reviews on my own — so she’s been reading up on things and has started to do offerings. She’s reading the UPenn UP version of Poems of the Elder Edda, and I also bought a copy because I decided that reading something I know she’s reading could be fun. I’ve been reccing YouTube videos and the like as well.
Part of me feels a bit sheepish. We’ve known each other for her entire life and have only intermittently connected over anything. Why is it so much easier to talk to my midsis when we have something in common? Does it seem a bit weird that I’m being more attentive to our relationship now that we’re having religious conversations? We had a conversation while I was walking to work Tuesday about the Elder Edda, specifically the Völuspá. It was fun even though neither of us 100% understands the poem.
To be honest, it’s refreshing to talk to family. There are so many people in NRM polytheisms who are not connected to their families. There are also people who treat religion like a hobby instead of the bedrock of their life perspective (and people who are working hard to move from a hobby → bedrock mindset; I want to make sure I’m giving them credit because it’s a difficult pivot to make). I do worry a bit if my midsis goes online because I see so much toxicity in various polytheistic communities, and I don’t want her to get hurt by them. The lack of strong social ties in the community makes people assume the worst about others whenever an argument happens or someone shows a lack of knowledge. In-person community is a lot easier.
Ultimately, I hope this post — and these reflections — are helpful to people thinking about kids in polytheism or Neopaganism. Children do grow up, and one can learn from the experiences of us adults who were raised in the NRMs to make things better for the next generation.