Kids and religion

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While I disagree strongly that religion is the only way or even necessarily the right way to instill the basic values of respecting property, using violence only when necessary, communicating honestly and truthfully, and encouraging respect through asking questions rather than operating on labels formed by parents, it is for the most part the system we have and the only system parents themselves know. It’s often the false belief that you can only be a good person if you have religion, or all too often, if you are Christian (with a patronizing “maybe” for the other monotheists at the party.)

I certainly don’t believe that religion is the only path to “righteousness” or as I prefer, “decency.” I’ve seen plenty of firsthand behavior that has demonstrated devout Christians, Muslims and neopagans being terrible, terrible people and every single one of them had some excuse crafted from a convenient and deliberate lie to themselves from their own religion. Religion as a tool for community in instilling positive values is a great thing as long as the values are placed ahead of the religion. Sometimes, that’s just not so, unfortunately.

So when a minor comes to me with questions about practicing Wicca and getting away from their familial religion, those children certainly have my empathy, although I frankly question their motivations the same as I would any adult practitioner. Even though they have my empathy, I will get away from that line of dialog as fast as I can.

Why?

Mainly because there’s a good chance their parents are crazy. Lawsuits for corruption of a minor or even worse implying some sort of inappropriate acts with the children flash before my eyes. I do not want some kid’s parents stomping over my home and privacy because that kid just wants to hang a pentacle in his or her room.

Also, because as long as the parents are not abusive, those kids have no civil rights. None. Not until you’re 18, and thus old enough to die in a war. You do get Miranda rights – you’re still responsible to behave legally, you just can’t sign any contracts ((which is why I consider confirmation vows made before age 18 invalid)) and your parents get to make all the decisions about your welfare – religion included. Some parents are more lax about it than others, but ultimately the parental units make that final decision about how much freedom you do or don’t have.

I realize if you really want to practice Wicca, that sucks.

But since I’m pretty sure a good chunk of people don’t want to practice Wicca so much as they want to be “just like Willow,” I think it’s fine.

I don’t believe Wicca – or any other form of neopaganism – is or ever was supposed to be a growth religion. And when kids get “into it” it and then drop it when they find out exactly how mundane and non-dramatic magic really is, it devalues the longterm cultural legitimacy of my faith. It already took us until 1980 to get recognized by the IRS, and even that’s shaky ground.

For the rare and truly serious child, there will be a few things quite evident early on:

Wicca is a religion of calling. It is not meant for everyone, it should not be meant for everyone and we don’t have a particular message to bring to the masses. We are part of the crowds and a fair chunk of us do our work from there. ((I’m sure some predatory Evangelical will make hay with that one.))  To practice Wicca, you do not need a pentacle. While the Burning Times was a myth, an interesting part of that myth is also an interesting object lesson: part of the myth is that brooms, bells and besoms were used as ritual implements because it was what they had on hand anyway as they were common household objects. Why nowadays it’s only valid if it’s specially purchased and obviously different or it’s “olde” comes back to a long list of personal insecurities revolving around being a younger-sibling religion.

If you are under 18, I would say that unless your parents are Wiccan, you don’t need to be Wiccan, either. I would suggest the following if you really and truly want to emerge as an adult Wiccan the following:

1. Keep going through with your family’s core faith. God/ess can find you anywhere. The better you understand your religion of birth, the better equipped you’ll be for spiritual experience outside of it. Explore other versions of your birth religion’s faith: I think people who come to Wicca as damaged Christians hating all Christianity when they know only a fraction of it range between the tragic and pathetic, and those wounds give you a crap foundation for magic.

2. Journal, and look closely at yourself. If you tend to be petty and jealous, you need to work on that before it turns you into a warped adult of any religion. This is true even if you think of your own jealousy as “normal.”  If you know things are wrong in your home, find the courage to get help somehow. I realize a lot of people are attracted to Wicca because of the lack of control in their lives, so getting in some third party help is a good thing. Just be prepared, and be totally honest about what’s going on. Have evidence. We no longer live in a world where people can take you at your word, so making up stories for attention is a spectacularly bad and damaging thing to do.

3.  Pray. No, seriously – taking time out daily to pray is generally acceptable by parents and can help you get a handle on what’s going on around you. You can pray to your family’s god or to God/ess, just get used to having that line of dialog open, and make sure you have some moments of “silent prayer” to give God/ess an opportunity to talk back.

4. You don’t need to read books on Wicca to learn about magic. Depending on how strict your family is, you can read up on ancient history and civilizations, mythology, physics and other sciences, skeptical reasoning, interpersonal communications and body language and a bunch of other stuff that will definitely come in handy should you choose Wicca as an adult.

It’s a complicated matter, and when you’re a kid you’re either guessing blind or not thinking about the future at all. I was guessing blind – my every thought was about the future as that was where all my hope lived. But to make it work, you have to work with your present – and having one less thing to fight with your mother about (assuming it’s possible to avoid fights with your mother) is probably a good thing.