Spirituality Page: Rites of Passage

Children and Rituals: A Basic Primer

© Theresa Smith. Used with permission.

Author's Biography: Theresa has been nice enough to donate several articles and chants to PaganParenting.com

I think every Pagan parent runs into this topic eventually, and most of us get awfully confused about it. I'd like to address this issue, but first, these are just my opinions based on my experiences with a few individual children. You, your religious beliefs, and most especially your children are all different and individual. So please feel free to adapt, adjust, or discard anything that you feel won't work for you and your family or group. Having satisfied the small but incredibly volatile pantheon of political correctness I'll now proceed.

The most difficult part of any ritual, especially for adults, is "getting into" the spirit of the ritual. Really feeling it and not having the significance of the ritual itself drowned out by that little voice in the back of your head that's busy commentating all the time. Children are really lucky in that the little voice inside their heads is still only a tiny echo of what it is in most of us. In fact, they can ignore it for hours at a time. (Which by the way is why they can honestly say they have no idea why they did or did not do something that was obviously a bad idea.) But in rituals, as well as everything else, the child still has, let's face it, approximately the attention span of a Gerbil in mating season.

Add to this the fact that all of our children live in an era of stimulation overload, a cartoon character goes through months of activity during a half hour show which is interrupted four times for commercials, and what we have is a real problem trying to get and keep their attention on anything serious for more than about ten minutes. In order to address these problems here are a few simple guidelines.

1: Keep it Simple.

In some ways this is the entire point of symbolism and all symbolic acts. We are engaged in simplifying the concepts we deal with so that they can be easily grasped. This is even more important when it relates to children than it is to us adults, and we still do it.

Also be patient of laughter and interrupting questions, even if they are done at an inappropriate time in the ceremony. Simply tell the child you'll answer that in a minute, or ask if they need to spend a minute calming down. Laughter is a valid form of joy, and in the case of small children often an uncontrollable element of their make up.

2: The ritual should be easy and engaging to a child's mind and spirit.

Any chant over eight lines and you're asking for trouble and tears. The little ones will forget it, and the slightly older ones will have a field day "accidentally" messing up the words.

Try putting the words to a tune they already know. It makes it easier to remember and more fun to sing.

Use brighter versions of most symbolic colors and use lots of glitter. Children love anything shiny especially glitter! Also they will love helping to make some of the ritual or ceremonial objects.

Make sure that periodically the children have to get up and do something, bow to the corners of the circle, dance in a circle, approach the altar, anything, but if they don't get up and move in the ritual they'll all have the fidgets so bad they won't even hear what's going on much less be paying any attention to it. Also, the child's spirit is truly a thing of motion, and it is natural for them to worship this way. It is unnatural for them to sit still for long periods of time.

Make sure that all the objects they will handle in the ritual or ceremony are sturdy, ethereal beauty is wonderful, but the face of the child who breaks a ritual object is one of horror. Telling them that accidents happen is all well and good, but it just doesn't work. They know instinctively that the ceremony or ritual is an important thing and that ritual objects are sacred objects, and to break one is terrible. So give them a break...don't give them things that will break.

Which leads neatly into my next topic...

3: Safety of the children is paramount in any ritual.

Things that break easily or are very sharp have no place in the hands of small children. They may be cut or seriously injured if they were to fall with such an object. Not only is this to be avoided at all costs for the sake of the child who may be injured, but also the repercussions of the children thinking of rituals as a place where one might be hurt or in danger should be avoided as well. We want our children to feel safe and happy in a sacred space or ritual not full of anxiety and fear.

Flame and children don't mix. Period. We all know it's dangerous, and it serves an even better purpose if the use of flame in ritual is postponed until it's a mark of maturity. It means a lot more if only the "older" kids are allowed to handle it. The older children, "teen-agers", are proud of their new status as bearers of the flame. And the younger children really do hold the flame in more awe because they aren't allowed to touch it.

Also, while adults may feel more in tune with the forces of mystery in the dark, it rarely has that effect on small children. The area where rituals are performed by or with small children should be well lit and warm. My husband and I usually simply hold children's rituals during the daytime or inside or on a lighted patio.

Here's the part where I offend someone somewhere ... my apologies in advance.

4: Don't be afraid to let boys and girls play gender specific roles in a ritual.

Boy's and Girls are aware of the fact that they are different, and no amount of telling them they are the same is ever going to convince them. What we can do is to show them that both genders are equally important and that being either a boy or a girl is OK. This does not mean only little girls bake and only little boys defend, but the duality of male and female is something they are going to deal with from either one side of the fence or the other for the rest of their lives. You must handle it for yourself and in a way that you find acceptable, but ignoring gender differences isn't doing either gender a favor. The world needs the wonderful qualities both sexes.