Raising Kids in a Polytheist Household

Online, nobody argues with me about raising pagan kids because the first or second thing out of my mouth is usually “I was raised in Neopaganism and here is my constructive criticism” followed by “please give your child religious structure by raising them in the faith.” Nobody seems to know how to respond because those of us raised pagan are apparently like unicorns wandering into a clearing. The only people who could argue effectively against me are others raised pagan.

I said the word “pagan” a lot, primarily for search engines, but I am actually referring to a range of modern NRMs that can be described as pagan or polytheistic, where ritual practices for deities are central. I am not including witchcraft because worshipping many Gods does not equal witchcraft, and in fact, one of my biggest previously-disclosed critiques of being raised pagan is just how much written content is targeted at spells instead of actual stuff that I wanted to learn more about as a teen, like theology.

In this advice post, I am making five recommendations, and I will back them up with anecdotes from my own childhood and late teen lived experience.

Make your kids feel included in your religion.

As a kid, I adopted the pagan identity marker as soon as my family left Christianity. Worshipping many Gods (and especially Goddesses) made sense, and I considered Christian doctrine to be irrelevant and cringe fairly immediately. I am the eldest of three girls and an ENTJ. My middle sister, who did not adopt the pagan label, always felt like she wasn’t welcome at pagan rituals and that the reason I was involved was because I was the favorite child (which I’m not). She was also afraid of the vicious anti-pagan school bullying I endured after our family got outed. My sister told me once (paraphrased) that she wanted our parents to welcome her in and make her feel like she mattered. My middle sister ended up waffling among religions in her late teens and early 20s and is now married to someone who won’t allow her to practice paganism because he believes it’s Satanic. It wasn’t until after it was a point of contention in her marriage that she realized that she missed it. My youngest sister is all over the place.

You will mitigate some of these issues if you make your kids feel welcome and valued.

Emphasize ethics.

I am following the first point with this because a common critique of “raise your kids in your religion” is the harm caused by many variants of Christianity. Ethics — anything beyond an’ it harm none and the rule of 3 — often become taboo because they are associated with Christianity. Many people believe that in order to have ethics and to cultivate virtue, one must believe that one is a terrible person destined for terrible things after death. Ethics and virtue are associated with shame, guilt, and humiliation.

Systems of virtue and ethics, when properly taught in the context of a religion that isn’t toxic, do not do this. You are providing your children with a positive, affirming framework for approaching all of the random sh–t they will encounter in their lives, from how to have an argument online without resorting to over-the-top personal attacks to what to do when drama hits their college friendship groups. While my mom taught us a lot about social justice growing up, my parents did not provide us with this good foundation, and we filled in the gaps with the media and peer pressure. I read Sallust when I was 20 and was completely floored. It changed my life to think about virtue, and it suddenly gave me a way to think about my interactions with everyone — especially the unhealthy stuff. I made a few changes immediately, and it has taken longer to work on others. I am not a perfect person, but I have a decent toolkit now that I wish I had learned when I was a literal child.

Involve your kids.

Give them small decisions to make: what incense to offer, whether a baked good should be created, and so on. While you, as the parent, will be the primary director of the household cultus, your kid should have some way to feel that they have contributed.

Conversely, I’m on the fence about privately-maintained young children’s shrines in their bedrooms. I had one when I was a preteen onward — after being taught candle safety — and that was okay, but kids and teens often get fixated on a whirlwind of Gods as if they are on a chaotic playdate, so investing in agalmata/icons is likely a bit premature, and it may be best to keep most cultus at the main household shrine until they become a teen. I had to declutter so much from my childhood, and there are things I no longer have that I know were charged to specific deities that I didn’t value with the sacrality I should have when I was a teen and in my early college years. This is because I was not taught to do that.

Teach your kids how to distinguish among religion, mystical/esoteric practices, New Age, and the occult.

Your kid will go online, either with your permission or in secret. This is inevitable. What you want is for your child to have a firm foundation in reality so they don’t end up joining a cult or some fringe group that believes it is channeling new physics from aliens on a planet orbiting Zeta Reticuli. Critical thinking skills are an absolute must.

Even when something they encounter online isn’t cut off from reality, there is so much overlap online among pagans, polytheists, and indigenous traditions, on the one hand, and New Age, the occult, and witchcraft on the other. I am exposed to new ideas all the time from people with backgrounds that are completely unfamiliar to me. Boundaries and clear explanations of how all of this fits together, and especially the places where it doesn’t fit together and which are likely to cause giant fights, are important.

I was bullied at school and under duress at home because my parents’ marriage was falling apart. In the words of a therapist I once had, “you had nowhere that was safe, did you?” — we all kinda know how bullying works, but at home, there were several times when my dad was having explosive rages when I barricaded my door, and I had a plan for how I would escape from my second-floor bedroom if something awful happened. Kids dealing with that barrage of pain often indulge in bizarre self-soothing and escapism methods. I felt like nobody loved me and like I was a weird, unrelatable thing, and for a few years, I hung out with Otherkin online. It was only after confronting the uncomfortable truth that the people in my immediate online surroundings were coping with trauma via conspiracy theories and farfetched escapist fantasies and that I was a coward for letting things slide and allowing all of this to continue that I exited it. And then I was 19 and having a crisis of faith for a year due to all of that because I was worried that those experiences meant that all religion and esoteric beliefs were delusional, a crisis I eventually left via the grace of the Gods and a heavy dose of Sallust. I am sharing this because many children grow up in less than ideal circumstances, which can be given a metric like an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience(s)) score, where a score of 4 or higher in most versions of the test (a category many of us adults are in) indicates a higher risk of poor life outcomes unless interventions take place to help someone learn to manage the long-term impacts of the events. While I would need to back this up with data to be sure, I can hypothesize that a higher ACE score means an increased risk of escapism, spiritual bypassing, and other unhealthy religion-adjacent behaviors. Combined with the “anything goes” approach common in pagan communities, this can be a perfect storm.

Kids don’t need to be watched every second online, but they do need structure, critical thinking, and parents who care about their spiritual lives. They need to be taught what boundaries are. And you, as a parent, if you are in an awful relationship that is harming your kids, need to actually end that relationship instead of dragging it on because our society has told you that divorce is worse than an unsafe home.

Your kids should be able to succinctly explain what their religion means, its scope, and its core practices.

They will be asked these things by classmates, friends, and family, and this is also stuff that will help them cultivate boundaries when they are teens and dealing with peer pressure. It will help them in college when they’re dealing with time crunches. It will set good boundaries and make them confident that they know what their family is doing and why their family is doing it.

You don’t need to make a baby-mobile of the emanation of all things from the One and the Henads, but knowing what we are doing and why from a young age is important.

👩‍👩‍👧

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