Dear Witchful Thinking,
Let me start off by saying I love your writtings everytime I read your articles I race around the house like a school kid .. to tell the wife “guess what she said about this”…lol!
With that I ask a personal question that is troubling me…My wife and I got married about a year ago and she has a son that is 7 years old. He has been living with her mother since she came here to find work and make a home for him but, we want to be a whole family again and don’t know how to go about introducing him back into the family without shocking the childs mind. We are pagan family and her mother is raising him christian and we are afraid of how he would react to the change of life style… her mother has fought bringing him down to us saying we are not stable enough a family for him, but we want to be whole. She has always had an excuse to keep him from us but we want to be part of his life. My wife crys a lot and misses him badly to the point she calls everyday. How do I bring my family together again? And at the same time keep from scaring the child with culture shock.
Loving Pagan Father
First of all, thank you for your comment about my writing. You are exactly who I am writing for!
Second, family. I really feel for your wife. It is hard to be away from your child, and the way it is being done, it sounds like a judgment against her, know what I mean? Somehow having her son at his grandmothers says “it’s because you aren’t a good enough mom”. I doubt very much that is what grandma means. The real question here has little to do with religion and has everything to do with what is best for the child.
My question is: who has custody? Who is legally responsible for the boy? It sounds like the arrangement was supposed to be temporary and has become permanent. If grandma has custody, you will have to go through the courts. The courts prefer that children be with their mothers, and are much more enlightened about Paganism than they were in the 1980’s. All you have to do is prove to the court that you are stable and will be good parents. This will be things like no illegal drug use, toys and space for the child, demonstrating affection and some knowledge of child development (that is, you aren’t asking your 3 year old complex questions and expecting an answer, etc.).
If mom has custody, then it should be easier. Grandma might be holding on because she doesn’t trust the situation–has she checked it out for herself? Give her the opportunity to see what a loving family you are, whatever your religion. If you haven’t already, set up a room for the son. Magically, this sets up the expectation that he will come to stay, and makes room for him in your family. Your other children will begin to see that there will soon be a new addition. Have them help put it together.
Create the magical idea of the whole family by including your son in things, even if he is not there. So if the the other children get a new coat, so does your wife’s son. He gets cake on his birthday, even if he isn’t there to celebrate with the family. He’s included in family prayers as part of the family. This sets the intent and gets your side of the family ready to include him. It will help your wife feel more whole.
Find out from Grandma what “stable” means. She might mean financially, but she might mean morally. On one you can change her mind on, but the other you are far less likely. If she does not have custody, remind her–this is not her choice. If she keeps the kid against your wife’s consent, I’m pretty sure that is kidnapping, no matter what state you are in. Go fetch the child yourself. Bring the whole family. Tell Grandma, in no uncertain terms, to pack him up (and then be prepared to pack his things when you get there). This puts less burden on Grandma to do all the work, and shows that you are more than serious about this, and ready to take responsibility. If you get there, and she refuses, call the non-emergency local police, and ask for an escort. The law is on your side, and if it escalates, they can help out. If nothing else, it sends a very strong message. But consider this your last resort. Having the police come is very embarrassing, and might cause trouble for both of you. Still, you need to know that you have that as an option.
I know you are worried about culture shock, but your son is so young, he hasn’t formed a concept of moral right or wrongness. He doesn’t really get religion. He understands structure, love and affection. In an ideal world, you would have Grandma start talking to him about going back to live with mom, and how exciting it will be. When you get your son, have a sit down talk (as much as a seven year old will sit!) and introduce him to everyone in the family. Talk about the rules of the house, such as if he has any chores, how he gets his allowance, what time bed time is, etc. Make special note of any rules that are different: “I know at your grandmas house, you got in trouble if you _____, but here we _____.” You can even approach religion: “I know at your grandmas house, you went to church on Sunday, but here we have a different kind of church, and we go when the moon is full.” Or whatever the case may be. Talk about what consequences will be for breaking the rules, and be firm about them. Give him the opportunity to ask questions about how things are, and don’t put him in timeout for breaking a rule he doesn’t know about. This is all good parenting, Pagan or otherwise.
In my work, I often see kids in split homes, and when they come to the visiting parents home, they throw temper tantrums, are fussy, or break rules they know on purpose. This is part of testing the environment and the parent. Your son might do that. If you are firm and clear, you will nip a lot of later problems in the bud. I’ve found that open and honest communication with children stops a lot of problems. They are more perceptive than we think. At any rate, give the son a lot of affection and attention when he gets there. Do things with him, ask what he wants to do or check out and do it together.
When it comes to Paganism, treat it as a normal thing that the family does— because it is. If you are raising your children Pagan, you can help him create an identity by getting him a pentacle, teaching him to meditate and talk to faeries, whatever your persuasion is. You might consider doing a ritual to welcome him into the family. There are some really great books about family Paganism and introducing children to Pagan ideas. If he asks about why things are different, just explain as best you can that your family is Pagan and different from Grandma’s family. Your attitude about it will go a long way in how the child frames the experience. If you are awkward about it and treat it with shame, so will your son. As always, give him the space to ask questions and address problems directly. Children are skilled negotiators!
Most importantly, I think, let Grandma be a part of his life, but in a normal Grandma way, and not as primary caregiver. You and your wife should set the limits on that, so have Granny come over for the afternoon or the weekend to do things with the whole family. The truth is that being a whole family also means making peace with other generations. Grandma did your wife a huge favor, and while this period is over, she deserves your families gratitude and respect (no matter if you had to call the police or not).
Whatever you do, if you do it in the spirit of Love, and the Best Interest of the Child, you will do right. No one will ever be a perfect parent, and there is usually never quite enough to make a household perfectly stable. But if you do your best, you’ll do right by your son and by the Gods.
You know how in college you can take classes on different perspectives on literature? You know, like I took Native American lit or you could take GLBT lit or the African American Perspective? Well, what if there was a Pagan one? I wrote this as an undergraduate level class. If I ever get a doctorate in anything, maybe I’ll teach it. Until then, here it is! If you’d like to use it, please let me know.
Goal: By understanding the Neo-Pagan perspective on life and literature, one can gain additional meaning from a text that might otherwise be overlooked. Paganism is complicated, organic and diverse. It is part history, part culture, and part religion.
Week 1: Day 1-What is Paganism? Read from Drawing Down the Moon. Bit of history from Prehistoric Goddess worshippers, to Middle Ages, to Occultism, to Wicca and Neo-Paganism.
Day 2-Our stereotypes and cultural images. Clips from: The Wizard of Oz, Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, Disney’s Snow White, The Craft, Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, etc. What are the social ramifications of these images? Should one work with or against the stereotypes? Last watch Video: Lifetime Intimate Portrait: Witches. Misinformation Worksheet due beginning of class.
Day 3- examine where these stereotypes come from. Read from Maleus Malificarum, the Construction of Witchcraft. The Burning Times: All Neo-Paganism must be viewed with this in mind. What are the social ramifications of this? Where did these ideas come from? Clip: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Week 2: Day 1-The Divine Feminine. A woman’s place in Patriarchy. Read: “Charge of the Goddess”. What does it mean that God is a Woman? Seasonal cycles. Read: Wiccan myths about seasons. Symbols of the feminine.
Day 2- Read: Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld. ‘Thou Art God’ idea and its ramification. Read “Descent of the Goddess”
Day 3- Mythology and its place in Paganism. Read from: The Feminist Companion to Mythology. Group up, each choose a culture to present in class over next few weeks. Take cue from the essays: choose a myth not represented in the book and write an essay analyzing the role of women in the story and what it means to be a woman in that society. Use visuals, if possible. Tell of the major Deities in that particular culture. 3-5 pages.
Week 3: Day 1- Read and discuss: The Power of Myth. Hero Cycle and Spirit Journeys. Analyze The Matrix or other movie and “Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld”
Day 2- Archetypes according to Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Psychology in Mythology. Bolen? Divine Archetypes. Intro to Tarot.
Day 3- Discuss the use of archetypes and cycles in myths that we’ve read. Deification of heroes like King Arthur. Discuss essay and presentation requirements.
Week 4: Day 1- Group presentations. Discuss: The Power of Myth all week. What is mythology? How is it important to us?
Day 2- Group Presentations. Mythical Beasts: what they say about our fears and inner psychology. Other issues in Campbell’s book.
Day 3- Group Presentations. Modern Myths: Comic books, movies and television, huge phenomena like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc.
Week 5: Day 1- Creation Myths: what this important myth says about a culture and its sense of self. What of America? What myths does it have? Start: American Gods.
Day 2- Discuss American Gods, book origins, Neil Gaiman himself, Norse culture. Any questions about book.
Day 3- The role of sexuality, Gods recognition. Symbolic roles using Tarot.
Week 6: Day 1- More on Tarot. History of Magickal Correspondences.
Day 2- Essay Due. Symbolism, Magickal Correspondences and uses in literature. Read and analyze “For Breaking a Curse”, MacBeth Act 4 Scene 1, “The Maypole of Merry Mount” and “Scarborough Fair”
Day 3- Rituals, tools and secrecy. Read: “Initiation Ritual”. Persecution today comes in many forms. Occult knowledge. Group Presentations. Finish American Gods. Essay?
Week 7: Day 1- Magic, prayer, and asserting your Will. Thou Art God as it relates to practice. Spells as they generally are done. Compare to Occult, Satanists, and ritualists (ie: Aliester Crowley, Golden Dawn or Masons) Read from: A Triumph of the Moon.
Day 2- Wordsworth, Kipling and other Naturalists. The reaction to the loss of spirituality in life and church. A resurgence (or reinvention?) of pagan themes.
Day 3- Discussion of texts. Brief overview of Astrology and how it can be used as Literary Analysis. Get a free reading from Astrology.com
Week 8: Day 1- Spell casting (sympathetic, candle, charms, talismans, curses, prayer, chant, astral work), ethics (rule of 3), black vs. white magick. Moon cycles and magick. Read “Before a Flight”, “Witches Rune”, “The Wiccan Rede”, Read a curse.
Day 2- Other poems from A Pagan’s Muse. Begin Wizard of Oz.
Day 3- Coming out of the Broom Closet. Modern Neo-Pagan movement. Gerald Gardner. The “New-Age”. Read: “A Witches Manifesto”. Read from: Voices from the Pagan Census. Discuss how Pagans recognize each other (symbols in packet).
Week 9: Day 1- Literature by Pagans, for Pagans. How can academics analyze? Read: “The Golden Ring” “God Rest Ye Merry Pagan Folk” “A Pagan Prayer for the Dead”
Day 2- Finish Wizard of Oz. Discuss how it impacts mainstream thought. Map using Hero’s Journey. Examine archetypes. Magic (consciously projecting the will).
Day 3- A day for catching up. Discuss final.
Week 10: Day 1- Analyze any other Pagan/Non-Pagan texts of interest to class. Pagan jokes and parodies.
Day 2- Instructor evaluation. Text evaluation (what would you add or drop?).
Day 3- The future of Paganism: striving for equality. How you can help.
Final: Choose a Disney Movie. Analyze its Pagan elements, its structure, the potential ramifications of the themes presented as they relate to the mainstream, its material success, the development of the story, etc. Try to include one of the academically unusual methods of analysis we covered in class. 5-7 pages.
Suggested Disney Movies: Beauty and the Beast, Brother Bear, Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, Bambi, The Black Cauldron, Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Hercules, The Lion King, etc.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman. Harper Torch, 2002.
The Complete Book of Tarot, by Juliet Sharman-Burke. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996. (?)
Drawing Down the Moon, by Margaret Adler. Beacon Press, 1979.
The Feminists Companion to Mythology. Edited by Carolyne Larrington. Pandora Press, 1992.
The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft, by Hans Peter Broedel. Manchester University Press, 2004. (?)
The Pagan’s Muse, Edited by Jane Raeburn. Citadel Press, 2003.
Read: “Thine Inmost Divine Self: An introduction to Pagan Poetry”, “Charge of the Goddess” by Doreen Valiente, “The Charge of the God” by Archer, “A Song to Mithras” by Rudyard Kipling, “The Dandelion Woman” by Jessica Jordan Nudel, “The World is Too Much with Us” by William Wordsworth, etc.
A Paganism Reader, Edited by Chas S. Clifton, Graham Harvey. Routledge; 2003 (?)
The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers. Double Day, 1988.
The Spiral Dance, By Starhawk. Harper, San Francisco, 1979. (?)
A Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, by Ronald Hutton. Oxford University Press, 2001.
Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States, by Helen A. Berger, Evan A. Leach, Leigh S. Shaffer. University of South Carolina Press, 2003. (?)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank Baum.
Confessions of a Pagan Nun, by Kate Horsley, Shambhala, 2004.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Harper Collins, 2001.
The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Theordore Roszak. Random House, 1995.
The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Del Ray, 1982.
Seasons of Magic, by Laurel Ann Reinhardt. Llewellyn, 2001.
Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein. Ace Charter, 1995.
Waking the Moon, by Elizabeth Hand. Eos Printing, 1996.
Witches Were for Hanging, by Patricia Crowther. Mercury Publishing, 1998.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Penguin Books, 2003.
Result of the Needs Based Assessment
This questionnaire has taken on a life of its own. People posted the link on other lists and used Facebook and other social websites. I have received over a dozen responses from clergy, mental health practitioners and Pagan practitioners. Based on the excitement, I had expected more responses. Some commented that the length and openness of the assessment may have put some people off.
Because the survey was written as a qualitative assessment, and I don’t have enough to give a true sample size, these written results will necessarily be qualitative in content.
Of the survey’s I received, almost half were from California alone, particularly the Burkely area. This is most likely because it got on a local list there, and the Pagan community is very politically active and well-educated. About four survey takers were from the Midwest, one from the South, and only one from my home area of the Pacific Northwest. Of all the lists I sent the survey out to, I only received a response from one person I actually know in real life.
The main concerns listed by survey-takers are job and money related. As predicted, most of our community is affected by the economic depression like the rest of the nation. In particular, our community is stressed about affordable healthcare, getting enough food to eat, and the burden of student loans. For some, these concerns are compounded by their religious affiliation—more than one survey indicated that they could not use the local food bank because they had been harassed by the mainstream religious group running the program. Although no one knew of specifically Pagan programs that could help with this problem, most folks had no hesitation about using government programs like unemployment, food stamps, and Free clinics.
The next most often listed item was a desire for Pagan related services for problems such as alcoholism, birth and death, and dying rites, and general psychological and emotional support. While no one knew of any specifically Pagan programs for this class of issues (unless they are directly involved in one), they did indicate that Pagan clergy might take some responsibility for this, or at least disseminating information on local resources. Yet no one was comfortable going to a mainstream program unless they knew it was Pagan friendly. Many in our community volunteer these kinds of services, but find their resources stressed.
Pagan clergy seem to, in general (that is, in all but one survey), be greatly desired in the community. There is a distrust that clergy are not adequately trained, and that they shouldn’t get involved in things they have not had experience and training for. The survey takers expressed desire to move towards more formalized organizations like churches and 501 c. 3 non-profits. Several surveys indicated an exasperation at the perceived “reinvention of the wheel”—that is, organizations come and go, and maybe if they banded together, they could get more accomplished.
Mental health practitioners and Pagan practitioners both agree that there needs to be more “out” counselors and opportunities for Pagans to receive mental health. Because Pagans have a unique woldview and religious orientation that differs greatly from mainstream ideas of mental health, they are often labeled as pathogenic under a disease model. Pagans will resist complete openness with a counselor if they are not sure that their worldview–which includes magical thinking, fantasy, play, sexual exploration, ecstasy, alternative lifestyles, and mind altering religious experiences perceived as very real–would not be accepted or understood as a positive aspect of a client’s life. Besides having “out” counselors who are accepting, Pagans also need emotional support through hard times, which they believe they can get from well-trained clergy and counselors.
Several people focused on big ideas such as environmentalism, capitalistic greed and large corporations taking over. They suggested that solving these social problems will alleviate a lot of the depression and hopelessness that our community feels, yet they also could suggest no solutions or ways of addressing this problem.
Perhaps the most surprising result found in the survey, is the overwhelming desire to help themselves and help each other. They seem to loathe the separateness we have, yet want to maintain their autonomy and independence. Yet when it comes to social services, they feel a real need for them, but few know how to begin, what is already out there, and how to best serve the community. All but one survey taker said they would help by donating time or money to a Pagan cause, and the vast majority of those who took the survey are already helping the community in some way. In general, even while people identified problems, they were optimistic about the future, and were keen to take personal responsibility for their local community and their own problems.
Plan of Action based on the Needs Based Assessment
I have received a few offers of help from folks who wanted to do more than just fill out the survey. One is offering to publish the results of this project if I can make it sound academic enough. Another is brainstorming with me some things we can do to connect people and Pagan-friendly helping programs. We think a website specifically for this focus, or a section of a website that a lot of Pagans already use, would be most beneficial. It seems clear that we need to connect and get out useful information on more mundane topics, not just magical topics.
While I recognize that I cannot personally address all the needs identified in this survey, I am doing my best, and plan to focus my career in service to this community. When I get my license, I will be an “out” mental health practitioner, and work to do academic study and writing about our community for others who may be working with them. I am also writing a book for Pagan clergy on service to the community, and will use these survey results as information to help clergy focus their service and get training without “reinventing the wheel”.
It was my intention to get people who filled out the survey to think about what they could do to help each other. I would not be surprised if programs and organizations started popping up locally. One on the survey said she will re-open a local food bank, with the help of the ACLU to avoid religious persecution. My sincerest hope is that people will be inspired to bring their thoughts into action, and respond to their community without trying to control or judge it. Even getting people back into the mainstream programs as volunteers would be a step in the right direction.
Along with the deer, birds and flowers, the SpiralScouts too are emerging from their Hearths and circles to back out into the world. Soon there will be camping, cookouts and fun in the sun. SpiralScouts is a co-ed scouting group for Pagan children and their families which teaches a love for the Earth in fun activities that include earning badges and pins.
With more activities to go to, it means more funds are needed, and the SpiralScouts International has come up with a few really great fundraiser ideas.
First of all, you can always send your tax-deductable donation straight to headquarters, but if you’re anything like me, you love buying cool stuff that also helps out a good cause.
Moms, dads, grandparents, caretakers and other volunteers might like to purchase a new T-shirt to show their SpiralScout spirit. CafePress has offered to print the shirts, pins and other cool stuff as needed, and donates part of the proceed to this group.
They also have a handful of neat books and CDs that might appeal to the Pagan youngster in your life.
There is a Pagan activity book created by our friend Amber K, and a CD of really fun music that is decidedly great for the whole family—perfect for getting everyone to the festival!
Two books by Miles Batty are for sale: “The Green Prince’s Father” which is perfect for youth and teaches about sacrifice and what it means to be a man; and “Teaching Witchcraft: A guide for Teachers and Students of the Old Religion”, a complete Wicca 101 course!
There is a new book “Magic for the Kitchen Witch” by Deanna Anderson. These items cost between $10-30, so there is something for every price range. Most of them cost less than if you had bought them off Amazon! A great deal all around!
And one more thing…Don’t need a book or CD? Not Pagan? Make a purchase from Mother Earth Fundraising. The site has wonderful eco-friendly products and information that can benefit anybody. If you choose to, SpiralScouts will get a portion of the proceeds as a donation. To credit SpiralScouts International, when you go to the opening page, under “Shop Now”, select North Carolina and then SpiralScouts International. Or you can ask your local Circle Leader if they have a seller account and their Circle can be credited as well!
Follow the pagan Green Man through the cycle of the year, as he grows from young Prince to proud King to sacrificial deity. “The Green Prince’s Father” is written for younger readers, to offer a first-hand understanding of the significance of the Sabbats and the annual cycle of life and rebirth.
The Forest was alive with celebration as preparations were made. A clearing near a stream was chosen as the perfect place, flower garlands were carefully strung, and the ground picked clean of sharp rocks or twigs. The Green Prince was given a special cloak of oak leaves and ivy, flowers were hung in his antlers, and people’s fur and feathers were washed extra carefully. The birds made sure that the clouds were especially friendly today, and the sun was invited.