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Pagan Parenting

Rediscovering Pagan Traditions

by Juanita Schläpfer-Miller

The children decorate large sun-shaped cookies with copious icing and edible glitter. Their older sister is baking bread and kneads into it her wishes for the coming year. The mother tells them all a story about the death and rebirth of the sun. Later she will put a candle by the bed of each child to keep vigil for them throughout the longest night of the year. They will all get up at first light, gather with their friends on an east-facing hilltop, and sing songs until the sun rises on Winter Solstice morning.

We are Witches who celebrate the seasons and rites of passage in our families' lives with rituals like the one I have described above. We use the word Witch even though it makes some people feel uncomfortable, because it is the truth and is the best word to describe who we are. The word comes from the Celtic wicca — to bend or shape (energy), which is what we do. This can also be called magic or the art of deliberately changing consciousness. In other religions, this would perhaps be described as meditation or prayer.

It is important to me to raise my child to see the Earth and all beings as sacred. To see herself as part of the interconnectedness of the Earth and its elements, plants, humans, and other animals. To hold something sacred means to respect and love it and to not want harm to come to it. For if we believe in the sacred, we will not be wasteful of the Earth's resources, and we will strive for the equality of all beings. My hope as a mother is that if my daughter sees her body as sacred, she will not abuse it with drugs or alcohol or allow others to physically abuse her.

I want her to be aware of and respect the spirits of her ancestors so she is grounded in time and appreciates her life as part of the circle of life of all beings.

For small children, the spirit in everyday life can be shared by a walk along the lake, or by planting something in the garden or in pots on the balcony. In our tradition, the seasons and rites of passage are celebrated, so the shortest and the longest days of the year are made special by a ritual, and events in our lives do not pass without markers.

In Switzerland, as in many other European countries, there are many surviving pagan traditions such as "Secheleuten," the burning of winter, the children's kurbislicht parade, the pre-Julian calendar new year celebration in Appenzellerland. Most Christian holidays were grafted onto existing pagan celebrations — of course, or the people would not have gone for them! Christmas at the time of Winter Solstice, the birth of the sun. Easter, the rebirth of Christ, at the time of the Spring Equinox, an ages-old celebration of spring and birth — hence Easter eggs.

But paganism as we practice it today is a minority religion with a stigma. Witches are at best comically stereotyped and at worst vilified by popular culture — a residual attitude from the 16th century Burning Times. It is not without some trepidation that I write this article, thus exposing myself — "coming out of the broom closet" as it is known.

There are personal spiritual practices that we can do as a family but religion for me is also about community. It is important for a child to know that she is part of a tradition. It is also fun to celebrate with other families. How to do it as a family in isolation from my community in San Francisco remains to be seen. I want my daughter to see that our religion is only one way of explaining the world and that there are many other explanations.

Juanita Schläpfer-Miller is an artist/scientist who lives in Switzerland with her partner Beat and almost-two-year-old daughter Tashi.