By the time we have kids of our own, most of us have reflected on how much, if at all, we want to pass on the worldview in which we were raised. Agnostics sometimes gravitate toward religious formality or vice versa. Others don’t want to reproduce the dogmas of their youth, yet long to maintain the spiritual hygiene church provided. Now many of these in-betweeners are deciding to walk a middle path, raising their children within a pagan framework. While even a decade ago this may have sounded laughable or scandalous, the Internet has done much to clarify stigmas and smear campaigns about so-called heathens. Closeted “witches” and other practitioners of indigenous faiths have found each other on social media, building community.
What’s the appeal? Why do these folks believe a pagan upbringing best benefits their kids?
Global warming, privatized water, deforestation: The urgency of environmental crises can weigh heavily on parents looking down the long road. Paganism (which comes from the Latin word pagus, meaning “country district”) is all about learning and developing reverence for patterns of nature so we can fit into them harmoniously. It’s basically a spiritual, non-anthropocentric approach to good citizenship.
Pagan parents raise their kids to know their local habitat intimately, seeing it not just as a collection of resources, but as a home for interdependent life forms. With this attitude, pagan kids internalize respect for nature by recognizing it as an extension of their own body. For them, environmental stewardship is not just a scientific obligation, but a sacred quest.
Pagan traditions are as varied as the landscape. What they share is an attention to where we are in space in time. To practice a pagan faith is to learn about relationships among the planets, the moon, the stars, and all they dictate – climate, seasons, weather, and the habits of wildlife.
As any parent knows, these are the very subjects that captivate children’s attention naturally. What young kid doesn’t love to learn the sounds animals make, to splash in muddy puddles, help light the dinner candles, sniff a blooming flower, or point out the rising moon? By weaving spiritual guidance into facts about the Universe, paganism works with the instinctual curiosity of children. It marries together ethics and elements, so the developing mind has a cohesive and rational basis for how the world works – and what contributes to its dysfunction.
The educational benefits of pagan parenting extend beyond the early years. Gloria of Lyndon Station, Wisconsin, uses her faith as a basis to homeschool her teenage son. “Throughout the years, we’ve found that all subjects – math, language, science, etc. – are found within the environment.” By studying ancient mythology, they discover much about history, philosophy, architecture, anthropology, and linguistics, all while feeling empowered to pursue “free range, self-directed learning” in an infinite classroom.
Nicole, mother of two in Enterprise, Alabama, recommends Little Pagan Acorns to get the learning started.
With kids growing up in a melting pot, pagan parents love the portability of their values. “We celebrate real holidays, where actual seasonal events are occurring so we have a reason for what we do,” says Ruby, mother of two in Arden, North Carolina. Even across the globe, those main events remain unchanged, though they may be celebrated differently.
Parents note that as the world becomes increasingly globalized, religious tension shows no signs of dying off. Immigration, travel, refugeeism, and worldwide media stir together disparate faiths whose tenants – though similar at their base – often fail to translate. While no practice is immune to corruption, pagan ideology has a built-in guard against extremism: It’s based on what we all have in common.
While paganism is anchored in the Universal, it takes its many shapes from a wealth of microcosms. It’s understood that people from afar will have traditions that may seem strange because the actual place they come from is relatively foreign. Each area of the Earth (pagus) is seen to have a unique spirit and personality, and therefore, cultural difference is expected.
Within that general spirit (which we call “culture”), pagans recognize a pantheon of gods – male, female, and nonbinary focal points of human experience – that affect the world, not through absolute rule, but with their interactions, alliances, and the management of their flaws. Polytheism disrupts the notion that there is one true reality, one right way of thinking, one God for whom anyone can speak with authority. Rather than instilling shame or fear of punishment, pagan parents prepare their kids to make considerate choices by teaching them about archetypes and consequences as illustrated by the comedy and tragedy of myths.
Best of all, there’s nothing sacrilegious about honoring another’s traditions along with your own. Kids don’t have to choose between loyalty to their heritage and respect for someone else’s. “I feel that paganism has made me a better parent because I’m much more open-minded and accepting of other’s paths,” says Cedar, mother of three in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
There’s a reason Christian holidays borrow so much from their spiritual predecessors. Pagans know how to party! From month-long festivals to daily dances, Earth-based faiths around the world are famous for worshipping the way kids actually want to. Imagination is not mocked, the body is not stilled, and humor is not regarded beneath seriousness. These “childish” qualities are valued as natural and essential lubricants to the emotional labor of living and dying well.
But where there is light there is always dark, and parents also appreciate the matter-of-fact inclusion of death, mystery, and struggle that pagan faiths acknowledge. By keeping the big picture close, kids grow up inclined to resiliency rather than self-pity or denial.
Before the world was colonized into empires, people of all ethnicities ritualized their awe of our life-giving planet. Modern parents are reviving these long lost cosmologies, not just to build a strong nuclear family, but to rekindle ancestral heritage that has been overwritten and replaced by entertainment, ambition, and consumerism.
Sharing in song, dance, and ceremony helps privileged generations stay in touch with the gratitude and alertness of their far-off kin. Families research their genealogy together and discover what it meant to be from a specific place, rather than generalizing the history of a continent or a shade of skin. The desire to appropriate other cultures wanes as one’s actual culture is reclaimed.
In short, paganism is primed for a Millennial revival. Soulful, decentralized, non-hierarchical, intersectional, and green – its infinite incarnations appeal to the earnest and the edgy alike. Perhaps most importantly, paganism leaves lots of room for kids to grow into (or out) of it, according to their own pace and taste.
“To me, children are always their own people, never possessions,” says Susan, mom to three in Meridian, Mississippi. “It’s my job as their mother to help them find their own path in life, whatever it may be.”