Children in Circle

Recently, there has been some discussion in the Pagan blogosphere about children in ritual circle: whether and when they belong there, what the considerations are.

Those of us with experience circling in Pagan ritual know that this can be an issue. A crying baby, an ebullient toddler, a sullen, checked-out teenager who just stands there and refuses to participate…these are all distractions that can make it hard for a ritual to bring participants into the Ritual State* (also known as Presence, Trance, or Flow).

I’ll be the first to admit: I’ve been in rituals that were pretty much ruined for me by kids. I’ve also been in rituals where the presence of children has been a delight, an adorable reminder that our religion is a multi-generational thing; that, though most of today’s Pagans are converts in adulthood, this will not be true in future decades.

My feelings about disruptive children in circle have varied widely. Sometimes I’ve felt stabs of impatience. Sometimes I’ve felt a sinking disappointment that a moment which could have been fervent and meaningful has been scrambled by childish cries or banter.

And then, as I said, there have been the waves of fond warmth.

When I feel kindness and indulgence and familial about children’s inappropriate behavior in circle, it is because I feel connected with them in community. Because I understand that they are just doing what they have to do at their stage of development, and I feel caring for them.

And that’s why we must continue—most of the time, anyway—to indulge children in our circles. Even if it sometimes diminishes our own experience. Because a central aspect of why we circle is to build connection with one another: to create, deepen and grow community.

Recently, I’ve begun work on organizing Moon Meet, the first Pagan gathering specifically for nontheist Pagans and those who are interested in what we do. I’m excited about it, and for exactly the same reason I don’t get upset at children doing what children do when I’m in circle: because it will build community. And that’s a big chunk of what religion generally—and our religion specifically—is about.

Yes, there are times when its inappropriate to have minors at a ritual. When that’s the case, don’t have them there. In some cases, it may be optimal to have separate activities for children. But when celebrating most reasons for rituals, I say let ’em stay if they want to. Parents, carry out your responsibility to shepherd them, but don’t feel shame when they act like the children they are. Goes with the territory.

We should let our kids turn the wheel of the year with us. Let them be a part of naming ceremonies and weddings and memorials with us.

Who knows? Perhaps many or most of them won’t want to be Pagans when they’re old enough to choose.

But in my experience, most of them will. And the community will grow, and healthy values will spread. The world will be a better place.

And by the time they’re grown, they’ll be terrific ritualists.

It’s not about us. It’s about something larger.

It’s about the future.



*For more about the Ritual State, see the Atheopagan Ritual Primer.

One thought on “Children in Circle

  1. There is definitely a need for separate adult celebration and ritual- for our own sanity and full focused intention.
    I know this well, I am a mother of 3. I have my youngest ( older two are near adulthood and in the atheist stage) help with decoration, special food preparation, attending naming and hand fasting, I teach him the very basics, and instill respect for earth and all of life, try to get him to practice stillness, and he enjoys spotting what he calls ” magical found gifts” that we display on a mini alter. I do not ram anything down his throat belief wise. I was raised Catholic and knew it wasn’t for me at all by age 9, and fortunately for me my Aunt was a new age practitioner. She taught me many things which I now practice- earth medicine, crystal healing, chakra cleansing, mother peace tarot, and the proper way and time to harvest wild plant medicines and wild edibles. I was very young and my parents did not really care as long as I was dutifully attending church. As soon as I left after high school and traveled a bit I honed my skills while having my first two sons by 21- they were just raised pretty feral- we instilled empathy and respect for the natural world which was quite easy with my ex having a Sioux grandmother in addition to what I had learned. We didn’t bring them into ritual or circle- just the preparation. I taught them about all religions in a comparative light and basically said- here is all the information, we will raise you to honor your intuition and respect the power of intent but your path is your path. I remarried and had my youngest nearly a decade later and my youngest is on the autism spectrum, and many of the wild craft and symbolic ritual/mindfulness has helped him come out of his shell- so he gets more of the exposure than my elder, but he is also more like an only child and very much with me a lot of the time. That being said, I just get a sitter for adult practice. No big deal.


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