Raising Pagans 

When Daddy is Catholic and Mommy is a Witch, what's a couple to teach their children?

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The recent Paganism boom has brought about a wave of second-generation Pagan children, which has in turn spawned Web sites such as Witchvox.com and PaganParenting.com. Books, groups, and Web discussion boards have cropped up to address everything from kid-friendly rituals to how to find good Pagan daycare.

The increasing presence of children is transforming a community that has historically practiced behind closed doors. "Twenty-five years ago when the first Pagan children were coming out, there was no place for them in the Pagan community," says McCollum, who has raised three children. "Now every major event you have for Pagans, they have playgrounds and directors that oversee children's programs."

That's a dramatic departure from Pagan parenting of the past. "It was dangerous to participate in Pagan events, and if you take your children, you might have someone come up and firebomb you," McCollum says of the 1960s and '70s. Parents who did involve their children faced the possibility of having them taken away, he notes. Many Pagan events still require parents to sign a waiver.

Vibra Willow remembers having to warn her two kids — the eldest is now 27 — against disclosing their identity as part of the East Bay's Reclaiming community. Reclaiming is a form of feminist, modern Witchcraft that includes kids in its rituals. "I know that was traumatic and unhealthy for them, having feelings about growing up different and weird," she says.

Now, perhaps for the first time, Willow's children can be open about their religion. "Paganism now is no longer a shocking or scary thing to mainstream culture, and as a consequence, children can identify themselves as Pagan or Wiccan," she notes. "The words 'Pagan' and 'Witch' — you have to imagine a time when those were frightening, pejorative words. And it's been a long, slow struggle to change that."


Despite the newfound openness, many Pagans are still cautious, even here in the East Bay. On a rainy Saturday afternoon in February, about two dozen kids and their parents make a circle inside the back porch of a San Leandro home. Tranquil New Age music emanates from a boombox. Strings of shiny foil shamrocks dangle in the window. In the middle of the carpeted room, crayons and Pagan-themed coloring books cover a round table. One of the group's two leaders is 25-year-old JoHanna Coash, who requests that the location not be disclosed. For safety reasons, she explains.

It's the first meeting for the Bay Area chapter of the SpiralScouts, a Pagan alternative to Boy and Girl Scouts. SpiralScouts was launched in 1999 by the Michigan-based Aquarian Tabernacle Church, which calls itself "the first Wiccan church with full legal status and recognition by the governments of three nations," including the United States. The alt-scouting organization now has more than 130 "circles" — or "hearths" for smaller ones — in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The fledgling chapter, designated #171 Earth Heart Circle, is the only one in the Bay Area.

It was Coash, a Pagan Alliance member majoring in art and education at New College of California, who launched the local scout circle. The very first day she posted ads on Craigslist, Tribe.net, and Pagan message boards, she received e-mails on behalf of sixteen interested children. "There's a huge demand for it," she says. In all, 27 kids from nineteen families are participating. They range in age from three to fifteen and come from as far away as San Jose, Benicia, and Clayton.

Although developed on Pagan beliefs, SpiralScouts is open to children of all faiths. Each coed group is led by one man and one woman. Like mainstream scouts, they learn camping and wilderness skills, but also traditional woodland lore, ancient mythologies, life strategies, and skills for teens. The kids earn badges based on the four elements (earth, air, fire, water), which they plan to affix to sashes they will sew.

In true Pagan fashion, though, SpiralScouts has no rigid structure. Coash wants a consensus-based group, hence today's "Intention Circle," where each parent and child can express what they'd like to get out of their scouting experience.

Lizzie Nettleton has crafts in mind. "We could make stars and moons," she pipes. "We could make leaves. We can make some Goddesses."

The group listens to the ideas as Coash jots down notes. She's good at encouraging the shy kids, no doubt because of her own childlike demeanor.

"For a craft, we could use paper to make our own witch hats," suggests Sean Nettleton, who wears a brown hooded sweatshirt adorned with Thumper the rabbit.

Tina learned of SpiralScouts at PantheaCon, a three-day Pagan conference that drew thousands of people to San Jose in February. She tells the circle she was looking for a fun place where her kids could express themselves, and learn some skills.

Many of the new SpiralScouts parents took part in traditional scouting as children, and hope their kids will have a similar experience, only in a more Pagan-friendly environment. Nicky, a single mom, says she grew up as a solitary Witch and wants a magical community for her son. One boy says he and his younger brother got hurt a lot in the Boy Scouts because the kids were too wild. Another boy says he wants to make friends and go fishing.

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