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Book Review: What is an Altar? By Rowan Moss

August 1st, 2017


Happy New Year!

Some of you celebrate the New Year on Jan. 1 and some of you don’t but even if it’s not the beginning of your seasonal year, it’s still a new digit in our year. 2008 is now 2009. Can you believe it? I remember when we brought in the year 2000. I was thinking about what life would be like in 2010. In 2000 I was 17 so I had no idea what was ahead of me. So am I happy with where I am? Yes. Things could always be better but I have a husband who loves me, and two beautiful children. I’m happy.

So how much does a 5 year old understand about the New Year? I don’t know. My children aren’t 5 yet but I’ve worked with 5 year olds and they seem to understand it signifies the change of the calendar year. They may have heard adults talk about resolutions but may not fully understand what they are. Do you make resolutions for the New Year? I do, but I make sure to stay away from goals related to weight loss. Controlling your weight is difficult and you may not fulfill your goal, through no fault of your own. Stick to simpler goals but don’t be too broad.

For example, I plan to keep my house cleaner is too broad. I plan to sweep and mop once a week is better. I plan to write a novel is too complicated (who writes a novel in one year?) I plan to come up with a plot outline and get started on the first chapter is better.

Why are resolutions important? Goal setting in particular is different and there is just something about the New Year that makes us want to do better. What does this all have to do with children? Lots!

I want my children to see the importance of goal setting, including not just the setting of goals but also the follow through. Making the goal is just the first step. If you ignore your goals for the rest of the year only to make new goals (or the same goals) again the next year, you aren’t modelling the importance of goal setting to your children.

Even children as young as 2 ½ can understand about doing better in the new year. Perhaps they want to learn to use the potty or how to tie their shoes. The trick is though, not to pick something YOU want them to learn and tell them it’s their goal. They need to come up with it themselves, something THEY want to learn or do better. If your child can’t come up with anything, even with you suggesting some things, than just leave it. Wait till next year but keep up with your goals and keep modelling goal setting.

Imbolc

Moving on, Imbolc is coming up Feb. 2. As next month’s ezine will be too late to plan for Imbolc, I want to touch on it here.

Imbolc of course, is a celebration of light as winter is ending and spring is on its way. It’s not here yet (that would be Ostara) but each day has more and more light. Deity-wise, it is the time that the Goddess recuperates after giving birth to the God.

So what can you do with your little ones to celebrate Imbolc?

* Light candles and watch them burn. Your child is too young to be making candles but with your help they can light candles and watch them from a safe distance. This is a good time to teach fire safety. NEVER leave your child alone with a candle.
* Look for signs of spring. Are there any shoots on the trees yet? Perhaps there is less snow? Or a bird tweet? It all depends on where you live as to how much of spring you will see at the beginning of February.
* Have a purification bath. Either bathe with your child or bathe your child, whichever works best for you. Bless the water before you and/or your child get in and perhaps say something about the deity (deities) of your choice blessing and purifying you and your child.
* A child 3-5 might be able to make a Brighid’s Cross out of pipe cleaners, with help. Just bend them in half and put them together as you would straw.
* Have a very simple ritual. I think many Pagans underestimate their ability to make their own ritual. Ritual does not have to be long and complicated with lots of actions and speaking parts. You wouldn’t want this with a child under 5 anyways. Perhaps turn off all the lights in the house (during the day so it’s not too dark) and hold hands. Then say something about spring being on it’s way and light coming back to the earth. Then go around the house and turn on all the lights. Then hold hands again and say Welcome. Turn off unnecessary lights after 30 minutes or so to save energy.

I hope I’ve given you some good ideas. I’m sure you can think up some more on your own. Ask your child what he/she thinks you should do to call spring back. They just might have some great ideas.

All right that’s it for this month, I hope you’ve found something helpful. As always, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please email me at [email protected] I always welcome comments here too of course; it’s great to know my article is being read.

Kids are a problem.  No, no, I’m not talking about the trials of parenthood; I’m referring to the problem of teaching minors about Paganism.  Though there aren’t any laws that specifically say to teach somebody’s child about a religion is unlawful, there exist community and cultural customs that condemn the teaching if it is done without parental permission.  In the case of Paganism, the problem is just as big as it would be if a Jewish family was to find their child being taught Islam… maybe bigger.  The problem is complex and I don’t intend to cover every facet here, but I will put forth some ideas about it in the hope that it will stir the cauldron a little and cause some discussion.The age of majority in the USA is generally considered to be eighteen for most everything.  When a person reaches that age, they can be held legally responsible for their public and private decisions.  That is, they can legally be bound by contracts, sued in a court of law, hold a driver’s license, get married, join the armed services, be able to vote, and generally be treated as an adult in most social and legal things.  If anyone of that age or older comes to us and asks for teaching or initiation, there isn’t anything that can be done by parents or relatives to legally prevent it.  But if they are under that age, there are a lot of legal avenues a parent or guardian can pursue to make it a problem for anyone who accepts the child for studentship without parental permission.

Beside the possible legal trouble, a parent who doesn’t understand our spirituality is often afraid of it and will react in a violent way when they find out we have been teaching their child about ‘witchcraft.’  It doesn’t matter what we might call our brand of spirituality, what most parents will immediately think is that ‘devil worshipers’ are indoctrinating their child!  No amount of quiet reasoning will work against their panic, and the facts have nothing to do with their perceptions.  In case you forgot: perception is reality.  The determination and ferocity of a parent who believes their child is in danger should never be underestimated.  And even if you have parental permission, you should still be aware of how your teachings might be misinterpreted by society and attract the unwanted attentions of any number of governmental groups.  This can be true even if the child you are teaching is your own!

There is a great deal of information that can be passed on to the next generation but you should be conscious of four considerations whenever you go about teaching anyone about our faith:

  1. WHAT is being taught?  There is more to a myth besides a fun story, for instance.  The traditions and lore of any faith group reflect its values and perspectives as well as customs and culture.  Information about any aspect of magic or spirituality always contains a subtext that you need to explore fully before trying try to pass it on.
  2. WHO is being taught?  Information that would be appropriate for a person who is 20 is not likely to be suitable for a youngster of 10.  A child probably won’t be interested in the complexities of western religious and political history.  Similarly, an adult isn’t likely to want to draw pictures of Isis for an hour.  And, in case you didn’t know, boys learn differently than girls.  They pick up information and use it in different ways, even if it is the same information.  It is not just a cultural prejudice; male and female brains work differently.  And, as any parent of teenagers will confirm, there sometimes isn’t any way to figure out how a pubescent child will react to anything!  Even they don’t have a clue.  There’s a good reason that the most common answer to the perennial question, “What were you thinking?” is a blank look and a mumbled, “I don’t know.” They really don’t.
  3. HOW is it being taught?  You can teach the information about incense making by the book.  But to get down and dirty with the actual making of a particular compound, to use it for an actual purpose, or to present it to others with, “I made this,” will make the learning more powerful and meaningful by far.  Learning is more than memorizing information; it’s about making a change in the learner.
  4. WHY is it being taught?  There must be a purpose and a plan to your teaching.  Simply to spout information is not the same as teaching.  Information needs to be related to real life as well as everything else that the student has or will encounter.  Any teacher worth their salt will transcend their own agendas and look to the needs and visions of their students.  If you teach because you think it will make you look important, you will only be seen that way by yourself.  Think back to the teachers in your life that have had the most impact on you and you will see the truth of this.

Our ideas and ways of looking at life are especially appealing to people in their late teens.  Our freedom of spirit and joy of living are much like their own youthful enthusiasm.  And, at least on the surface, our belief in magic seems to answer their wish for simple solutions to the complex problems they are becoming aware of all around them.  We will always have those who think of magic as a quick fix for all the ills in the world. They come with stars in their eyes, blinded to the fact that all true magic workers are hard workers.  Their naivety might be a source of amusement but it also makes them extremely vulnerable.  They so much want to believe there are easy ways to overcome large problems they will do almost anything to prove themselves ‘worthy’ of such fantastical powers.  Instead of allowing them to be victimized, we need to find ways of educating them about the real powers of magic.  Simply trying to burst their bubble of fantasy will not work.  They will reject our discouraging words and go looking for someone who will reinforce their dreams.  We must translate their visions into actions that allow them to find their own truths and powers.  Putting them to work on real projects, giving them an opportunity to figure out how to make something work and make a change is the greatest teacher of all.  Yes, they will make mistakes; who doesn’t?  But let’s be frank, isn’t that the way we learned?  Celebrate their successes and don’t ever be too busy to offer help.

Because we don’t have ‘all the answers’ written down, our beliefs are centered on individual experiences.  We call them ‘the mysteries’ because that best describes the role these have for us.  We ‘solve’ these mysteries by living the moment and discovering who and what we are in relation to the reality of our experiences.

Providing opportunities for the young to encounter their own mysteries needs to be tailored to the abilities of the student.  Most school systems use a three-tiered structure for teaching youngsters.  The youngest group usually covers from age six to eleven or twelve.  The next learning group is the so-called ‘tweens,’ ages twelve to fifteen.  Last, there is the sixteen to eighteen group.  There are sound reasons behind splitting up the learning in this way.  Each age group learns in different ways.

The brain functions of the youngest group are nothing like the oldest.  Though they absorb prodigious amounts of information at an astounding pace, the information is in its least complex form.  Very little associative thinking goes on in this age group.  For instance, a child in this group might easily learn the names for every town in their state but not be able to understand a map.  Complex relationships between one thing and another are difficult for them to understand.  That’s why stories for this age group are written in such black-and-white terms; heroes are all-good and villains are all-bad.  No explanation is necessary about why the kiss from a charming prince is required to awaken Sleeping Beauty, it simply does.  As any parent who has had a child go through this age knows, explaining why a certain rule is established doesn’t mean anything to these kids.  That’s why, “Because I said so,” really is the best explanation in many cases.  Teaching this group about Paganism requires information that is not subtle:  Pan is the god of wild things… period.  The more you explain, in some cases, the less they will understand.

The middle group, the ‘tweens,’  is in the transitional stage from one method of learning to the other.  Their comfort zone in learning is still back with the black and white, childhood model.  But their world is steadily growing and they’re becoming more independent every day.  Relationships are now more apparent and reasons are becoming necessary to explain them.  This is the age of reason for these people so what is taught to them needs to be accompanied with more in-depth information.  Motivations behind actions and beliefs begin to play an increasingly important role in their understanding and they will question boundaries and limitations more.  Because their bodies are going through an accelerated growth time, they will often physically test themselves against many of these limitations and dare the universe to slap them down.

The oldest group is making its entrance into adulthood and the methods by which they learn are pretty much the same for the rest of their life.  Associative or relational thinking has become more comfortable and its value to the student has been steadily growing for several years by now.  From here on, the student will question relative value structures, relying less on quantitative and more on qualitative information.  Though their decision-making abilities are relatively immature, they nevertheless feel the need for independence and freedom to act.  Lessons must relate to this urge or the importance of the information will not be perceived.  Now, not only does the information about Pan being a god of wild things become a part of their overall consideration, but background information that makes Pan a more interesting and complete god-form must accompany it.

Our rituals allow the primary school child to enjoy the fantasy and wonder of our beliefs.  For the middle school aged, they also teach something about the complexities of those beliefs.  For the young adults, the fullness of meaning is a feast for their minds and hearts.  It is the same demarcation as the teaching levels.

Teaching about our beliefs is quite different from exercising them on circle.  Nothing we do, with the exception of where we meet and with whom, is a secret.  When you teach others about our beliefs, our lore and practices, you should be mindful of how your words will be interpreted.  Your students or audience need to understand what is meant, not just hear the words.  For instance, “to make a spell,” will undoubtedly be interpreted as some sort of supernatural hocus-pocus by any who are not aware of the processes involved.  Far better you should forego the term and explain the process.  Then you can tell them that that process is called spell craft.  The same goes for many other words and phrases we commonly use in Paganism.  All specialized knowledge has its jargon and we aren’t any exception.  Educating others requires us to explain things without the confusion of language that can be easily misinterpreted.

Teaching others is also a way of learning.  Every teacher is a student and every student is a teacher.  The Pagan faiths have grown and will continue to grow because its people have had the courage to teach and train others.  It is one way we can help our faith group become better, both because we will refine our own knowledge and because we will gain new perspectives with each person who comes to us.  We must take this challenge seriously and never allow charlatans or abusers to rule over people whom the gods have sent our way.

Peace Walker: The Legend of Hiawatha and Tekanawita

Peace

by author C.J. Walker

I love reading the tales and mythology from all over the world.  A people’s culture is well represented in the stories shared over time. When I received the book Peace Walker: The Legend of Hiawatha and Tekanawita by author C.J. Walker, I was very curious to read it. I knew almost nothing about Hiawatha, other than the name and a ridiculous Disney cartoon.

Before beginning the book, I decided to gather my wee ones, as they are the true test of such up book aimed at their age group.  We all sat down and I read it to them after an evening meal.  My little ones are extremely “busy.” Getting them to sit still is always a bit of a chore, but they seemed to enjoy this book with minimal distraction.

The imagery within the story was vivid, painting pictures in the minds of my children and I.  We learned of evil shamans and leaders, one so evil that snakes inhabited his hair! The pictures already contained in the book added to the story, rather than taking away from what we were imagining. And at the end of the book, we found out how the story played into the formation of the United States’ democracy.

This story is definitely one to be treasured and shared. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it should be part of the curriculum in the elementary social sciences courses. What a fun way to learn!

  • Age Range: 7 – 9 years
  • Grade Level: 2 – 4
  • Hardcover: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Tundra Books; First edition (September 14, 2004)
  • Language: English

 

Before I had children people often said to me that children learn foreign languages by osmosis, they “pick up a foreign language as easily as adults pick up a common cold”. I am Dutch, married to a Swede but our family is living in London, UK. To my mind that meant three languages ready to be absorbed by osmosis!

The reality was different. Our eldest son had Dutch as his first language until age three (when he started nursery). By then his brother was 18 months old. Between them the boys never spoke another language than English, from day one. A third brother was born and he was slow walking and talking. Mum (that is to say I and I alone) had enthusiastically divided up the day into three parts: speak Dutch all morning, speak Swedish all afternoon and then speak English in the evening when Dad comes home… Our pediatrician said that my ambitious scheme was totally confusing the youngest one who was barely speaking by age two. He told us to choose one language and speak it consistently to all three children. I followed his advice. By the time that Son #3 spoke fluent English there was no way the older boys were going to return to speaking Dutch. I would still try and they would say: “Get off it Mum, speak English!”

 

 

It is hard to say whether my original intention could/or would have paid off eventually. At the time my dream of three children being fluent in three languages was “downsized” to our youngest son speaking one language fluently enough to cope in school. If my husband had been Dutch I guess there would have been a stronger home language. However, he has never spoken anything else than English to the boys, so teaching them Dutch and Swedish fell to me. I even went as far as being involved in starting a small children’s choir at the Swedish Church with two other Swedish mums. I wanted my sons to be able to sing all traditional songs in Swedish. For a time they did.

 

 

Today all three boys are teenagers. Once Son #3 (now 13) started secondary school he showed a remarkable appetite for learning foreign languages. He excelled in German in school (in year 7) and added Mandarin (in year 8). He didn’t sleep the night before his first Mandarin lesson – he was so excited about getting started! However, the language he wants to learn most of all is Russian. A few years ago I bought him a snow leopard (large cuddly toy) and we called him Piotr, We cooked up a complex story about him being from Moscow with a dacha (summer house) in Siberia. To make the story more authentic we make sure he speaks Russian as much as possible! We were soon reaching for my Russian dictionary and on-line vocabularies to expand our range of Russian words and phrases. Things reached a point where my son demands that I ask him about his day in Russian, when he comes home from school. The excitement lies in choosing a few new words to learn every day, usually related to what happens to be going on in our own family life.

 

With Russian “covered” I began to wonder if the same method might work for Swedish. We recently bought a house in Sweden and my husband is interviewing for a job in Stockholm. Our sons may just end up going to school in Sweden in the future.

We expanded our (stuffed) animal family with a Wolf who promptly refused to live in London. And… you guessed right, he will only speak Swedish! We are spending all our school holidays in Sweden now and I am actively trying to get my son speaking Swedish following the same “method” we used for Russian. I cook up exciting stories and hide small treats but he can only unlock and access those by speaking Swedish.

I will admit that we have thrown some additional bargaining tools into the mix. In Sweden children traditionally eat sweets on Saturday. This is called “Lördagsgodis” or Saturday Sweets. Most supermarkets have a section where you can scoop sweets advertised as Lördagsgodis. Our son (and his brothers) quickly learned the names of the other days of the week. After all, it is worth a try asking for Tisdagsgodis (Tuesday Sweets) for instance, isn’t it?!

During our two week Easter break in Sweden my son earned a handful of sweets by extending his Swedish by a collection of new words and phrases. (Don’t tell our dentist!!) The Wolf is heavily involved in this, obviously! We still speak Russian as well but the reward is not needed. My son genuinely wants to add to his Russian vocabulary. So now we will have a conversation in Russian and then run the same conversation in Swedish. By evening my son asks if he has earned his sweets for the day…

 

 

Dutch has fallen by the wayside (for now), which is a shame, but I have a 13-year old on my hands who will converse happily in four languages: English, German, Mandarin and now Swedish. He uses on-line resources as well for three of those languages, self-directed (but he tells me his discoveries).

My eldest son (now 17) is going to do an internship in Amsterdam this Summer, so he’d better brush up on his Dutch (when he is not revising physics or further maths…) Before the exam period he and I made a point of speaking Dutch together for one hour every evening. I have also asked Middle Son about his progress in German. He says learning German is so easy that he secretly switches to the “teach yourself Swahili” option in class, as soon as his on-line German coursework is completed. So Middle Son too has branched out – without my help. He is a more solitary and self-sufficient character than Son #3, so (sadly?!) I am not learning Swahili along with him!

After years of feeling very disillusioned by comments that “children pick up foreign languages as easily as adults pick up a common cold” I am now feeling more optimistic again: did my enthusiasm for languages (and being a speaker of many languages myself) still plant a seed? Or did they end up with some ‘cool linguistic genes’ after all perhaps? Still, I will never say to any prospective parent that children pick up foreign languages by osmosis. There is way more to it than that.

And I just wondered if any other parents had stumbled across this technique of using stuffed animals that will only speak a foreign language?! Maybe I should patent it?!

Imelda Almqvist

Sweden, Monday 9 April 2017

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About Imelda

Imelda Almqvist teaches shamanism, sacred art and internationally. 

Her book “Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life”, Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages was published by Moon in August 2016. 

http://www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk/

https://imeldaalmqvist.wordpress.com/

 

Imelda is a presenter on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True

http://affiliate.soundstrue.com/aff_c?offer_id=124&aff_id=2260&url_id=86

 

And she will present on the Shamanism Global Summit with The Shift Network on July 25tth

http://shamanismsummit.com/program/132

 

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