Polytheist Pride

Think-of-the-Children

Someone recently pointed out an article wherein the author, ostensibly a Hellenic polytheist, goes on and on about her home not being a polytheistic one, and insisting that she is not raising her children in her faith. (1) This comes up every so often. Usually I see it from neo-Pagan quarters, not so much in general from polytheistic ones but whenever it comes up my response is the same: Shame on you. What a disgrace to yourself and the Gods.

If we are not going to pass our traditions on to the next generation than what are we doing this for? The strength of any tradition is its intergenerational transmission of praxis and belief. Without that transmission, our traditions will wither again on the vine. There will be no restoration.

There are obligations inherent with taking up this restoration and this is one of the really fundamental and base-line things: raise your children polytheistic. Inoculate them against the depredations of secularism, consumerism, and monotheism. If one is living one’s faith, this should occur naturally. We learn by osmosis and imitation at first after all. To doggedly refuse to expose your children to your faith is pathetic. It’s a cop-out. It speaks volumes for how little one truly values one’s Gods and traditions. I find it contemptible. Why this is even an issue, I truly don’t understand.

Now I realize some people come from deeply troubled and perhaps even traumatic backgrounds where their birth religions were concerned and may associate raising up a child in a faith as forcing one’s faith upon that child. Firstly, I would counsel that person to get therapy to work through those issues; first and foremost because they will impact one’s new faith deeply and often in deeply deleterious ways. Also, if you can do something that helps heal pain, that’s a good thing. One’s religion should not be a thing that brings one existential anguish, especially not because of other people misusing religious teachings. Monotheism is a terrible thing, soul destroying and cruel. If there is healing to be done, work on that. That is a separate issue from denying your children contact with your Gods.

Secondly, I hear many in this situation fretting about denying their children freedom of choice. Well, I guess you just let them do anything then? I guess they can stay home from school, not learn to read, never brush their teeth, and run out in public naked. We deny children freedom of choice in a thousand ways every day and we do it so that they will grow up kind, intelligent, healthy, and whole. It is the job of a parent to educate a child and that includes teaching them how to approach the Gods rightly and well. This need not be abusively imposing one’s religion on a child. Our theologies after all are not generally rooted in self-hatred, shame, and abuse. What it means is teaching them to see the world as a polytheist.

Furthermore, for those who may not be familiar with how polytheisms worked in the ancient world (when the entire world was, for the most part, polytheistic), adults were free to initiate into whatever cultus they wished, but there was almost always the veneration of one’s family, ancestral, and community Gods as well. One did not negate the other but because people were raised with a polytheistic understanding of the world, raised steeped in family and community cultus, they understood far better than we how to approach the sacred. It’s not that easy to learn when one is older.

There’s been a lot of study done on the acquisition of grammar and apparently there is a very brief and finite window wherein a child can learn to use grammar.(2) If a child is not exposed to language at that time (and it is very young, if I recall my reading correctly, before the age of three), then he or she will be incapable of learning it later. That part of the brain shuts down. The connections are not made and the capability for them to be so later disappears. I would maintain that the same paradigm can be carried over to teaching about spiritual and devotional connections. If a child isn’t exposed to it young, maybe they’ll never learn to do it well. Maybe it will always be a struggle. Maybe those spiritual connections, the ability to form them, will atrophy. Hell, half the issues we are dealing with in the polytheistic communities today are a direct result of the fact that almost none of us were raised polytheistic.

Thirdly, there are those in mixed marriages, where a spouse is not polytheistic. Well, this is one of the main reasons I don’t favor mixed marriages and as a priest refuse to do them. (3). Now, I should be clear about what I consider a mixed marriage: a monotheist (or atheist) and anything else. It’s one thing to have two polytheists from differing traditions forming a household. That can be negotiated fairly easily: the worldview is the same, for the most part. It’s quite a different thing to have a polytheist and monotheist (or polytheist and secular humanist) raising children together. Unless the non-polytheistic partner really doesn’t care (and it’s amazing how otherwise reasonable people suddenly care very much when children are involved), the child usually does not end up being raised in our traditions. Compromises are made and one should never, ever compromise on the integrity of one’s faith.

I suppose some people may also feel that they just don’t know enough. I would encourage those people to share in the exploration of their tradition with their children. None of us know enough, but we can still honor the Gods and celebrate the holy tides, and live as polytheists learning and letting your children see you engaging in that process of learning (and maybe getting things wrong and having to make reparation or unlearn/relearn, stumbling but persevering) is a really good thing. It will teach them that devotion and faith is a process and that just because mistakes are made, it doesn’t mean that one has to give up. Ours are not traditions that fetishize damnation after all. By sharing that process parents will be teaching their children how to live a faith in a healthy, human way, and that’s a powerfully valuable lesson.(4)

I’ve also heard parents say that they’re afraid that their children will be marginalized for having a ‘different’ religion when they go to school. Not to sound dismissive, but so what? Hindus, Muslims (in America), Sikhs, Wiccans, Shinto practitioners and any other non Christian or non-Jew in the US, depending where they’re located, may face discrimination and ignorance from fellow students and even teachers (and sometimes even Jewish students are harassed for their religion. Christian privilege really is a thing). That does not mean that we should deny our children our polytheisms, which are their birthright I would add, because people are assholes. People are always going to be assholes. That’s why I encourage parents to stay involved with their school, school board, PTA, etc. I encourage them to know their options, and to take proactive measures in educating the teachers. When problems do arise, there are legal steps that can be taken and while it may be an awful thing to have to go to those lengths, sometimes shit happens and this could just as readily be happening because your child were gay or trans or overweight, or not popular, or because the kid was very smart, or because some asshole bully took a dislike to them. I very much understand wanting to protect children from every possible harm, but the way to do that is not by causing more harm in the long run. Ready yourself with all the educational information you need, and be ready to fight like a pitbull if your child is discriminated against or bullied.

Monotheists aren’t shy about raising their children in their faith, sometimes rabidly so. It was the cutting off of avenues of intergenerational transmission in the community at large that contributed to its spread and eventual victory over Paganism and Polytheism, a victory from which we are only now beginning to recover. It is what gave their traditions, (just as it imbued ours once) longevity, growth, and strength. There is absolutely no point in doing this if it stops with us.

Hiding one’s faith, refusing to share it with the child, makes it seem like a shameful thing. If you don’t think your Gods are good enough for your children, if you don’t think that the traditions are wholesome and ennobling, why are you venerating Them and why are you practicing those traditions? In all things we should strive to be consistent.

 

Notes:

  1. She also whines about everything she doesn’t know (despite apparently doing something she calls Hellenic polytheism for twenty years) and shares her belief that people who practice the more mystical or esoteric aspects of our traditions should be institutionalized. I’m purposely not sharing the link. It doesn’t need more traffic.
  2. This has come up with the subject of ‘feral’ children, or children raised without any language or without human contact. Apparently if they’re denied language very early, their ability to learn grammar and syntax disappears and they are incapable of learning it later. It’s really rather heart-breaking and horrifying.
  3. I didn’t always feel this way. When I first started working in the interfaith community, a great deal of attention was paid on training clergy up specifically in order to provide marriage resources for those of differing faiths who wanted to wed. It was only when I really looked at the consequences to the next generation that I came to hold a position adamantly against such a thing.
  4. It’s more complicated when one converts after having children. Then I suppose the best one can do is simply not hide one’s faith from older children; but if they are younger, I would bring them right along with me. It’s not as if one has to throw them into hard core esoteric practices. One can make very simple rituals: like “let’s give a portion of our food to the ancestors in gratitude now” or “let’s light this candle for Freya on Friday”.
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Posted on May 19, 2016, in community, Lived Polytheism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. I agree absolutely. I wouldn’t raise my child to believe that they can decide for themselves whether or not to treat homosexuals with respect, black people as equals, or education as necessary… how, then, could I let my child believe they could opt to abandon our Gods?

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  2. I find myself agreeing with this despite being in that category of ‘mixed religious couple’ that is rather frowned upon in it. Then again, we aren’t having children, so in this matter the point is moot I suppose?

    Liked by 1 person

    • ganglerisgrove

      you know, there are exceptions to every rule. i’m sure there are good mixed marriages out there where the children are being raised polytehist but it’s not the norm that i’ve seen by any means. and yeah…not having children renders my objections at least, theoretically irrelevant. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My husband and I are trying to conceive, and we’ve had discussions about this. His reservations about the idea of raising our kid to be polytheist are some of the ones you mentioned, mainly “our kid will then be bullied at school” and “you can’t force someone to believe something.”

    My response to the first one is that our kid will be bullied no matter what we do.

    The second one is trickier though. Both of us were raised in non-religious households by parents who rejected Christianity and became atheists. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than being raised by fundamentalist Christians, but either way, I think a lot of people in our community just don’t know the “right” or “healthy” way to raise a kid in a religion. A lot of them seem to be taking the stance that you shouldn’t even attempt it, but to me that seems to be going from one extreme to another.

    I think that there is a right way, we just have to figure out how to do it. Where is that sweet spot between forcing a religion on a kid, and not giving them any guidance at all? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m willing to attempt to find it.

    When it comes to rebuilding polytheism, we’re already having to figure out how to do practically everything else from scratch, so raising children in the religion is no different.

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    • It sounds like your husband was forced to believe one thing, at least: that he should be restricted on how much of his life he shares with his own children. I hope you both ultimately trust in your abilities as parents, because good parents rear children who can decide to follow a different path when they are old enough. It’s so much harder to pick a path as an adult if one has never even walked a mile on one.

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      • That’s basically why I’m thinking we should raise our future child to be Heathen. Neither my husband nor I were raised with any real spiritual foundation. I think we would have been better off if we had.

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  4. It seems hypocritical to me how a parent can be polytheistic but not teach their children that. What are they afraid of?

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  5. In regards to children’s ability to acquire language, the Mughal tyrant Akbar did an experiment in his kaffir phase (i.e. when he had come out of Mohammedanism & started to become interested in the traditions of the Hindus and his Altaic ancestors) that is relevant:

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  6. “Monotheism is a terrible thing, soul destroying and cruel.”

    One can say the same about Atheism.

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    • Atheism is a form of monotheism. They just refuse to know Whom they serve, or that they serve at all.

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      • Atheism is a form of monotheism, and so is Marxism, which is officially atheistic, although some “Marxist Christians” and “Marxist Pagans” look away and whistle loudly as they walk past that part of the Communist Manifesto. 😉

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      • They do know whom they serve….themselves. Atheism is the religion of the Self.

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  7. My error, the famous quote on religion is here. In other words, all forms of theistic religion (including ours) are merely masks for power relations, to an orthodox Marxist.

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  8. I’ve never quite understood the idea that parents should not raise their children in any particular religious position. If it’s based on the belief that one can only adopt a particular religious position with weak and provisional reasons, it’s misinformed. If it’s based on the belief that no religious position is true, it’s question-begging. If it’s based on the belief that the truth of a religious position is relative, then what does it matter? If it’s based on the belief that religious positions are dangerous or bad, then why allow children to figure it out for themselves? etc. etc.

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  9. Yes! I think people just need to realize that there’s a difference between raising kids in a religious worldview, and forcing beliefs down their throats at all costs (which is often, sadly, the experience people have had with monotheism). You can give them a solid foundation in polytheism, while still educating them about other religions (both polytheistic and other) and letting them know that as they grow into their own spiritual awareness, it’s okay if they pursue other things. But at least they’ll still have that important first imprint of a world full of gods and spirits and immanent holiness, which will be a positive influence regardless of what they choose later on.

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  10. Just to note, per early childhood acquisition of skills, etc., in my Montessori training we were taught that the human brain doesn’t learn through conventional teaching in the early years between birth and age 6, but by absorbing completely what is in one’s environment. Further the windows you spoke to are called here sensitive periods. They indicate moments in early childhood development when certain skills associated with certain avid interests, like language, movement, order, etc., can be absorbed and learned effortlessly. When the period ends, these skills can still be learned, but not near with the same degree of ease if done during a sensitive period. What the child is effectively absorbing and learning with respect to religion is a cultural way of perceiving and engaging with the world, which includes a religious orientation (or not), with its attending nomenclature, attitudes, and practices. Therefore, passing these revived religions on depends on exposing young children to them, even free of direct teaching at first, as much as offering many later opportunities for direct engagement and participation in our religious customs and practices. Being included in rites and celebrations with members of all ages helps to better acclimate the child to the religious community and its ethos and mannerisms than separating the child from the holistic community to be conventionally taught by an adult in a community of peers, when they are not actively taking part in communal religious activity. I have always wished our pagan and polytheist religions would do a better job of being family-centric. I did what I could on my own, but a community with this same orientation and understanding would have really helped when my children were small. I could have really used that level of support; families need support. Some of our religions are especially good at this; some need to spend more time developing family support, and understand why it is valuable. Thanks for bringing up this topic.

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