by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
“Children are our future!” “Enough about the ancestors, what about the children?” “What children’s programming do you offer?” These are all things that have been said to me in the course of my path as a Witchcraft teacher, and I struggle with them.
I am a thoroughly modern Witch steeped in past occultism and mystery. By that, I mean I seek the seemingly impossible squaring of the circle to create open and inclusive community with a voice in the world without sacrificing the mystery and magick in an effort to make it palatable to others. And on most days I feel our community does it well (with the expected bumps and bruises, of course).
I envision a place where children can be raised with Pagan values and understand the spirit of nature. While I don’t have kids myself, I’ve done quite a few child blessing/ Wiccaning ceremonies. I’ve done fewer coming of age rituals and even fewer trainings for those children I’ve blessed. It’s the nature of children to seek separation from parents and find their own path. I do disagree with the Pagan parents who refuse any religion to their children until they come of legal adulthood. I think there is cultural context to the passages of life that are diminished without it, but you can raise a child in a Pagan household without the threat of being cast out for exploring something else, as many of us raised in a Christian context felt growing up. But by its nature, Witchcraft is not for everyone, not even for all of your kids, no matter how many hereditary traditions and grandmother stories you’ve been told.
In an antique store with back issues of Life Magazine, the April 1980 issue jumped out at me. It featured an article entitled “Children of a Hare Krishna Commune,” and reading it, I wondered how many of those children were still Hare Krishna. I am willing to bet very few. And I think that is natural.
I know few children of famous and not-so-famous Witches who carry on the mantle. The spiritual descendants are those of initiation, not blood, those who choose to be there and do the work. Witchcraft in its various form is initiatory. There were traditional age limits not only for legal, but also for magickal purposes. Psychic processes catalyzing too early can be destabilizing for adults, let alone children, though some seem to weather it with grace.
There is a strange paradox in magick of welcome and exclusion simultaneously. We feel a sense of belonging and homecoming, yet not everyone can be in your coven. There are processes to vet people and requirements for educational schools and esoteric orders. Your entry or continuation can be denied. There is no guarantee, and there is no right to advancement deeper into the mysteries if you haven’t done the work or the group determines you incompatible with them. Doesn’t mean you can’t find it elsewhere, just not here.
Initiation can be like rebirth, and there is a recapitulation of childhood that occurs in the process. We undergo the “terrible twos” and a teenage rebellious phase, even when chronologically in midlife. Children are our future, but often the child is you, the rebirth of the androgynous child of light, of hope, of promise, within us all.Yes, support of our physical children is an important part of a growing magickal community expanding from coven-only structures and developing our own culture, but we shouldn’t have expectations of their participation in an initiatory order. Our path is not their path, as any parent soon discovers. I love what our own Temple of Witchcraft’s Children’s Ministry does to support children and parents, but due to the nature of kids growing up, it’s hard to maintain a stable group and program. I’ve loved seeing the Spiral Scouts in our area interweave with various Pagan groups, giving magickal children an option outside the mainstream binary of Girl and Boy Scouts.Often when we plan and have children’s programs, parents are focused on their own magickal experience for the festival and don’t bring children. Some events are not appropriate for children and, being Witchcraft, if the hosts are unsuspecting of that possibility, they might not make it clear in the invites and registration. I know some have a vision of family Wicca where children frolic in and out of the circle, all happiness and joy with no disruption to the Sabbat, but that hasn’t been my experience. I remember one very late night Samhain ritual embodying the descent of the Goddess, and when the Goddess priestess was scourged and dramatically yelled out in the hushed reverent silence that followed, a little girl said, “Mommy I’m scared” very loudly, much to everyone’s amusement, breaking the tension but altering the dramatic nature of the mystery. Perhaps it ultimately served, but I wonder how it affected the child, if the parents were ever able to give context, as I think they were general participants fairly new themselves. The hosts didn’t dream children would be brought to a late night ritual on the descent of the Goddess.
While we can provide a purposeful container for culture, traditions, and values by having events for and welcoming children, most of that will be in the home as parents openly model a magickal life. Sometimes it will be appropriate for children to join larger groups, and sometimes it will not. But we can’t pass awakening and initiation on as easily, nor should we. The contrarian Witch knows the magickal realization might better come from a tradition removed from the parents, as it was for so many of us. Ultimately we must walk the path that calls to us.