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by Patricia Lafayllve
These days, more and more children are being raised in alternative faiths, from Asatru to Wicca. Bringing up a child is challenging in a number of ways, most of them rewarding, and faith development is definitely one of them. One caution, however, must be put forward, and that caution comes when we find children interested in magical workings. Children of alternative religions are particularly exposed to magic at a young age. The question really comes to this: do we let our children practice magic?
First off, allow me to step in and define magic. Magic, to me, is the method we use to alter and/or interact with the environment around us. It differs from religious ritual. In ritual, we have proscribed means, mainly through some sort of prayer form, to connect with our gods and the spirits of the land. In Asatru/Heathenism religious ritual consists mainly of blot or symbel. In a Christian manner, we are discussing Mass. Magic, however, can be done at any time and for any reason. Asatru/Heathens have many expressions of magic, including Rune practices, galdr, seidhr, healing ceremonies, and so forth. Now, it is possible for religious ritual and magical work to be combined, as in when one casts charms to bless the plow during Disablot. What I am interested in expressing here is the idea that magic differs from religious ritual.
Enter the young person. Children are, in many ways, less bound by the edges of reality than adults. A childs world of imaginary friends, randomly composed games of hide-and-seek, and so forth really allows more for a shift in outlook toward the Other. As adults, we have had the linear boundaries of our world (at least as current society would have us perceive it) hammered into our heads for so long we have trouble stepping aside from ordinary reality. Simply put, it is far easier for a child to practice magic and achieve results than it is for an adult. A child accepts magic, sees it as just another way to view the world, and can make it happen without much thought or effort.
This is where the problems begin. Children have a great deal of power. I am certainly not going to question that! However, a childs power has little focus. This is as it should be. As a child grows his or her power matures as well, eventually taking on its adult expression. The earlier a child begins to practice magic, the more his or her power will be shaped. The caution here is that the mold this particular childs power is forming may not, in fact, be the shape the childs power is meant to have. Eventually, power will reclaim itself. The results of such a rebound can be explosive, to say the least.
Children lack discipline. Yes, yes, weve heard this before. I am speaking here of mental discipline. There are years of training involved in using magic successfully, as anyone who truly studies his or her art can tell you. I remember once a friend of mine approached me, asking me to teach him magic. I looked dead into his eyes and said Learn to breathe and call me in a year. One of our primary lessons, be it in working with the runes, entering trance states, or simply doing relaxation techniques, is to focus. This involves shutting away outside influences, breathing deeply, and connecting with our selves. At early ages a child lacks the attention span to consider this. As the child grows, focus becomes easier, yet it is an acquired skill which takes time, and effort, to master. A child practicing magic may well lack this discipline, which can cause harm to the child and to those around him.
Another point is that children do not truly understand what it is they are doing. In a childs eyes, magic is cool (heck, it is cool to an adult eye as well, isnt it?). I hesitate to use a word like respect, because I know there are a number of very respectful children out there, yet the meaning applies. Using magic is often like handling a firearm. Magic is a tool, like a weapon, and is not inherently good or evil. It can be destructive, however, and must therefore be handled with the proper respect. Many children have problems discerning that type of respect. As we have often seen, sometimes even when a child knows how to handle a firearm, it goes off in their hands. Innocently enough, a tragedy occurs. A child is far more apt to use magic to show off. The results can be tragic.
Now that I have become the Prophet of Doom, we come back to the initial question. Do we let our children practice magic? I strongly urge the answer to this question be negative. We, as members of a religion that encompasses magical practice, owe a debt to our children in this regard. We need to be open about the various methods we have. Answer our childrens questions about Rune lore, or seidhr. Show our children these things are simply another part of life. Yet, explain the dangers. Let a child know that, as he or she grows, you are there to assist them. This advice works for any aspect of a childs life, really, and magic is no exception.
There are a few final words of advice. If you are raising a child, remember that the onset of puberty is a chaotic time for everyone. Having a few basic disciplinary practices down, such as deep breathing, simple visualization and relaxation techniques can make this time easier. A female child should avoid practicing magic until after the onset of menses. It is difficult to say when a male child should be able to begin practicing magic with as certain a sign, but truly he should wait until after the onset of puberty as well. Allow children to be children. Let the child know there is plenty of time to master techniques. Avoid turning magical methods into rewards (if you clean your room, I will teach you to journey), and also avoid scare tactics. We all know there is little in life more challenging than facing something frightful, and little tempts a child into action more than the words this can kill you, dont do it.
Lets face it, with the preponderance of fantasy novels, movies, and characters like Harry Potter in the world today, our children are going to want to learn to practice magic in some form. Among members of an alternative religion such as Asatru, this is merely a natural extension of our belief system. This is how it should be. Rune lore, galdr, seidhr and the like should not be feared, hidden, or cast into the realm of youre a child, you wouldnt understand. However, they should be handled with the respect and discipline they deserve. Teaching our children this early on will help them develop into healthy members of our faith.
last modified 07/20/2003