Raising Pagans 

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

Page 5 of 6

Donna views her kids' multidimensional faith as enriching. Every year, Miriam participates in a Christmas pageant at the house of Donna's sister, who is Mormon. They occasionally attend services at First Congregational (Miriam goes to Sunday school) and participate in a Jewish circle. The girl likes Judaism because it has "good food" and "good music," though she was hard-pressed to come up with reasons she liked Christianity. Paganism is her favorite by far. "It's less sitting down," she says. "And it's not really hugely strict, so you can be in as one particular circle but maybe not worship this one deity that that circle worships and they're, like, fine with it."

But what Miriam seems to enjoy most is all the holidays. "I celebrate Christian holidays, I celebrate Chanukah, sometimes Purim, and I celebrate Pagan holidays," she said. "So ... I don't go, 'I am just one thing.'"

The Berkeley-raised teenager has seldom encountered negative reactions to her being openly Pagan. Most of her peers respond with awe. But once in the fifth grade, a Christian girl told her she was a witch and was going to hell. "I really took that negatively," Miriam recalls. "Now I'm kind of, like, Yes, I'm a Witch. I don't care what you say, I'm a Witch."


Fear of the 'Dark Side'

On a recent evening, Sean and Elizabeth Nettleton are prancing around their parents' bedroom shaking sistrums, Y-shaped percussive instruments with coin-like rattles on a thin metal crossbar. Tina made them for the kids, although she typically would use them in rituals to rattle away negative energy.

In the corner is a small altar flanked by two large drums. A ceramic Goddess statue with arms outstretched sits in the middle. Tina explains that the objects on the table symbolize the four elements, directions, and male and female energy. A small feather represents air; a red candle, miniature cauldron, and an incense burner represent fire; an acorn, garnet stone, and a stick represent the Earth; and a dish of water and a dolphin figurine represent water. A gold-colored chalice represents female energy.

Tina carefully pulls out a small double-sided blade kept underneath the altar. It's an athame, a ritual knife that represents male energy and is used by most Wiccans. Its handle is a womanly figure with a spiral design on its tummy representing creation, and a little butt on the back (Tina thinks it's cute). While the knife is used strictly for "cutting" sacred space during rituals, it freaked Chris out, Tina says.

It's not the only aspect of her religion that makes him uneasy. "I'm still weirded out by the whole going to the dark side," he says, "and that's okay, I'm uncomfortable with that."

"Like Darth Vader?" asks Sean, who is listening in.

"Yeah, like Darth Vader," Chris says. "I see God as a really benevolent thing, kind of like in the traditional Christian or Buddhist [theology], and I don't think Wicca sees it necessarily that way. I think they kind of embrace both, more like the Hindus do with Kali and there's destruction. So that's really difficult for me."

That "dark side" debate began in February when Tina excitedly told Chris about a PantheaCon workshop that addressed the "crossroads." She describes it as a place where "the living world and the spirit world meet." According to Tina, going to this in-between place involves meditating — "looking at what I connect to in the world below, what I connect to in the world above, what I connect to in this world. And how that can make me the best person I can be."

Her husband's fears, she says, have to do with his Christianized view of heaven and hell, which don't exist in the Pagan worldview. "We're talking apples to oranges," she said.

Chris may grasp that intellectually, but when Tina holds informal ritual circles at their home, he doesn't want anyone invoking dangerous Gods or Goddesses. "Maybe it's my Catholic upbringing and watching The Exorcist one too many times," he says. "I joke, but there's some seriousness because I think there are like evil energies and entities out there. I'm concerned that if she opens herself up to those kinds of things that there is a potential of ..." He drifts off. "So I have to trust that she's going to take every means necessary to keep us safe."

Such topics have become more common in the Nettleton household as of late, especially with Sean asking about things he learns in Catholic school. When differences arise, Tina and Chris try to reach an understanding. Recently, Chris taught Sean to say, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Goddess" instead of "Holy Spirit." When they can't agree, Chris explains what he believes in, and that Tina might believe something different.

The Nettletons are still working out what they believe and how to teach it to their kids, but they are determined. Both parents want the children to have a sense of spirituality, whatever path they take to get there. "What we do is present to them, at their level, 'Well, Mommy thinks this,' and Chris will say, 'And Daddy thinks this a little differently,'" Tina says. "And you get to decide when you're grown up. That's the point."

"I think it's hard that he gets one concept from school and then we may give him one a little bit different, and that's tough because he has to think about it," Chris added. "He can't just absorb and say, 'Oh, that's the way it is.' So I think that's it's probably richer and it's probably harder."

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