So a person in your school (or other teaching arena - gymnastics, swimming, scouts etc) practices a Pagan religion, one with which you may not be familiar. This article is simply to give you the basic information you need to understand the different experiences this person may share with you, and answer any questions you might have, (and for other children's parents - the article may allow you to feel more comfortable permitting your child to attend a sleep over at their Pagan friend's home).
What is the Pagan student likely to practice and believe?
Because Pagans practice a developing spirituality, there may be even more variants between the various Pagan religious beliefs than there are between the various denominations within Christianity.
The Most commonly known form of Paganism is Wicca, however some of the other more commonly practiced forms of Paganism also include; Heathenism (Asatru and Odinism), Druidry, Eclectic Paganism, Wytchecraft or simply Paganism, just as a Christian can be a Catholic, Presbyterian, or simply a Christian. All of these are somewhat different from each other. Because of this, the following statements may or may not be true for every Pagan you encounter.
However, there are some practices that are generally more common among Pagans; and you should feel comfortable asking, the student or their parents who provided you with this information, they will happily tell you if their practices differ significantly from the following:
- A Pagan student will generally celebrate a nature-based, polytheistic religion. As a result they may be very environmentally conscious, have a large knowledge of animal life or be very clever with their hands.
- Pagan student will honor the Divine as both masculine (God) and feminine (Goddess), sometimes with a greater emphasis on the Goddess. One effect of this is that the student is likely to treat gender equality as a foregone conclusion and will be very put out if told something is reserved for one gender or the other, unless an equivalent option is offered for the alternate gender.
- A Pagan student will most commonly celebrate religious ceremonies within small groups (sometimes Family based other times Coven based) on Full Moons and at the beginning and midpoint of each season, rather than with large congregations or at a set weekly schedule, though this may not be the case. These celebrations are often called 'Sabbats', 'Esbats', 'festivals', 'rituals' or 'circles', and the congregations called 'covens', 'groves', 'hearths', or 'circles'. This of course will depend upon the family beliefs and how they celebrate their particular faith.
- Some of the items that may be commonly found on the altar in a Pagan ceremony (or a Pagan Home)may be statues of Ancient Deities; candles; crystals; wand; knives; cups; cauldrons; incense; and often a five-pointed star called the pentagram or pentacle. You may hear the student make mention of these items or they may bring some of these with them to show - please note it is considered bad form for anyone to touch these items, other than the owner - without permission.
- A Pagan student may wear a symbol of their religion as an item of jewelry. The most common symbol is the pentacle, a five-pointed star in a circle. The misconception of the pentagram as a satanic symbol is based upon its inverted use by those groups, in the same manner in which devil-worshippers may use the Christian cross inverted. The meaning of the pentacle as worn by Pagans is rooted in the beliefs of the Greek Pythagoreans, for whom the pentagram embodied perfect balance and wisdom; inserting the star in the circle adds the symbol of eternity and unity. Other jewelry that may be worn includes Celtic knotwork; crosses; triskelions; Thor's hammer; the labrys, a double-headed axe used as a symbol by Greco-Roman worship of Cybele; Goddess figurines; crescent and/or full Moon symbols; the Yin-Yang symbol; or the eye of Horus or horns of Isis from Egyptian mythology to name a few. Feel open to ask the child about any item they may be wearing, they will probably know at least some of it's meaning.
- A Pagan student will view Divinity as immanent in Nature and humanity, and view all things as interconnected. This often leads to a concern with ecology and the environment, and a fascination with the cycle of life. They may also be more aware of death and have had more experiences with the natural cycles such as witnessing the birth of animals, or having seen an animal being slaughtered for food. A greater understanding of the sources of food products may also be atrait.
- A Pagan student will believe in magic, and may spell it 'magick' to differentiate it from the art of illusions. This may include belief in personal energy fields similar the Chinese concept of chi, and may also include the use of rituals and tools to dramatize and focus positive thinking and visualization techniques. It does not mean that the student is taught that they can wiggletheir nose to clean their room, summon demons, or do anything else that breaks natural laws, though if young, like any child, a Pagan child may pretend these things. Like all children sometimes the lines between imagination and reality cross when they tell stories and so, although they may be describing a real ritual they may include imaginative elements within their story telling, such as using magick to make a favourite food. It also does not mean that the student is taught to hex or curse; in our ethical structure such actions are believed to rebound on the sender, and therefore are proscribed.
- A Pagan student may believe in reincarnation. It is the most common eschatological belief held among Pagans, but is by no means universal. However, a Pagan student is unlikely to believe in either Heaven or Hell; she may believe in the Celtic 'Summerland', a place of rest between incarnations, or 'Valhalla', a realm of honor in Norse religions or some such similar place of rest.
- A Pagan student may call herself a Witch (or Wytche), a Wiccan, a Pagan or Neo-Pagan, a Goddess-worshipper, a Druid, an Odinist, or a Heathen. They are unlikely to call himself a Warlock, as that is believed to come from the Scottish word for 'oathbreaker'. And while a Pagan student may or may not be offended by the stereotype, she will likely be quick to inform you that the green-skinned, warty-nosed caricature displayed at Halloween bears no relation to her religion and that it is offensive. Older students may be able to explain the origins of such stereotypes.
Ethics and rules of behavior:
- A Pagan student will be taught ethics emphasizing both personal freedom and personal responsibility. Pagan ethics allow personal freedom within a framework of personal responsibility. The primary basis for Pagan ethics is the understanding that everything is interconnected, that nothing exists without affecting others, and that every action has a consequence.
- There is no concept of forgiveness for sin in the Pagan ethical system; the consequences of one's actions must be faced and reparations made as necessary against anyone whom you have may have harmed intentionally or not!
- There are no arbitrary rules about moral issues; instead, every action must be weighed against the awareness of what harm it may cause. Thus, for example, consensual homosexuality would be a null issue morally because it harms no one, but cheating would be wrong because it harms one's self, one's intellect, one's integrity, and takes unfair advantage of the person from whom you are cheating.
- The most common known forms in which these ethics are stated are:
- The Wiccan Rede, "An it harm none, do as thou wilt"
- The Threefold Law, "Whatsoever you do returns to you threefold"
For further information on Pagan Ethics.
- A Pagan student will hold a paradigm that embraces plurality.
- Because Pagan religious systems hold that theirs is a way among many, not the only road to truth, and because Pagans explore a variety of Deities among their pantheons, both male and female, a Pagan student will be brought up in an atmosphere that discourages discrimination based on differences such as race or gender, and encourages individuality, self-discovery and independent thought.
- A Pagan student is also likely to be taught about and exposed to many comparative religions. Most Pagans are adamant about not forcing their beliefs on the child but rather teaching them Paganism as a spiritual basis while introducing them to many spiritual systems and letting the child decide when they are of age.
- A Pagan student is unlikely to have an emotional concept of Heaven, Hell, or salvation as taught by Christian religions, though he may know about them intellectually. And a Pagan student will be taught to respect the sacred texts of other religions, but is unlikely to believe them literally where they conflict with scientific theory or purport to be the only truth.
- "A Pagan student is likely to enjoy reading, science, and helping professions". (Margot Adler, National Public Radio journalist, reported the results of a survey of Pagans in the 1989 edition of her book, Drawing Down the Moon).
- Results have shown that the one thing Pagans hold in common despite their differences is a voracious appetite for reading and learning.
- Pagans also seem to be represented strongly in the computer and health-care fields, so the Pagan child is likely to be computer-literate from an early age.
- They may have some different or unusual hobbies, such as fencing, embroidery, beekeeping etc due to their religious practices many Pagan children are exposed to cultures and practices of various alternative groups and may choose to participate in some unusual activities (my own son chose to rescue injured wildlife and nurse them back to health - but he chose reptiles as the animals he would help and I spent years with lizards in his room, the yard and under my lounge...lol)
Despite their sometimes misunderstood and misrepresented beliefs, earth-based religions have grown steadily throughout the past few decades, and provide a satisfying spirituality to their practitioners. With the current appreciation of diversity and tolerance, more people now understand that different cultural backgrounds bring perspectives that can be valued instead of feared. It is our hope that as a educator and caregiver this will provide you with the information you need to be able to facilitate understanding both within the other students but also in the larger community. Through education comes understanding.