I write quite a lot about children and Heathenry, since my wife and I have two kids and we bring them up in a heathen way, in a heathen context. We try to teach them what we know and include them as much as we can – or as much as they’ll allow us, at least – by taking them to blóts and making them part of the ceremonies we do at home like Torshelgd, but we live in a small village in rural Sweden, and they’re pretty much the only heathen kids around. Usually, it’s not something that they notice, kids usually don’t talk that much about religion, though there has been some notable exceptions. Like when we lived in Gothenburg and the kids started to understand that not everyone was of the same religion as their own family, and they’d ask “are you muslim or christ?” When I answered that we’re heathens they got a bit confused and then asked “but what are you allowed to eat?”, and when told that we could eat anything we want, they pretty much filed us away under the same heading as the christians. (It can be rather refreshing to get a kid’s perspective on religion at times.)
What usually brings the issue to the surface, though, is unthinking school policies and and other adult interference. In Sweden, a lot of schools – at least in small towns and rural areas – often have their end of school year gatherings in churches. I guess it made some sense back when I was a kid as we still had a state/national church, the Church of Sweden, but the state church was abolished 16 years ago, though they maintain some special privileges (all their ministers have automatically the right to wed people, for example, and the vast majority of all graveyards are administered by them). However, religion is a difficult subject in Sweden. We’re always ranked among the most secularised countries in the world (according to the Washington Post Sweden is the second least religious country in the world after China) where only a few percent of the population goes to church every Sunday, but a lot of cultural Christianity remains. Also, since so few people take organised religion seriously, there’s kind of a feeling that the church buildings belong to all swedish people rather than to the church organisation. Having had a state church for so long will do that.
So, a heathen family is odd because they’re religious, because they belong to an odd religion and because they are opposed to things like using the local church to gather in – “it’s such a pretty place”. (And it is. Our local church is an amazing 300 year old wooden structure, built on the site of previous churches that burnt down*, eventually going back to the 13th century. And that church was possibly built on top of a cultic site sacred to Freyr – but I digress.) This lack of kids in the same or similar positions can be tough for our kids. There’s a lot of pressure on them to conform in order to be one of the gang, so to speak. When end of school celebrations became an issue for my eldest he at first didn’t want to go to the one in church, because he didn’t want to sing any christian songs. In the end he changed his mind, because he wanted to be together with his friends from school, naturally.
I started a Facebook group called “Hedniska föräldrar” (“Heathen/Pagan parents”) back in 2008, just after our first son was born. For the first few years the members on it only shared ideas and stories and discussed how to raise one’s kids in Heathenry and other polytheist religions, but in 2012 we organised our first summer camp. It was quite a success, both the children and their parents enjoyed it immensely, and we have held one each year after that (except for 2015 when IASC was in Sweden so the people that usually organise our summer camp were busy with that).
We’ve had various levels of ambition. Sometimes we haven’t had very much of a program, but rather let the kids enjoy running around freely and play with all the fun stuff around: swim in the pond, ride the canoe, roast (well, burn) marshmallows over the fire and play with stones and sticks. Other years we’ve been more organised, and since we’ve had the luxury of having a professional storyteller among us we’ve made use of him. He also created something like a mix of storytelling and larping for the kids, and one year they had to recover from the jotun Aurbaute for Freyja the ruby that gives the red colour to the rainbow. It was amazing, and the kids absolutely loved it! We’ve also had craft workshops, carving in wood, baking and such. This year the kids got to try a bit of wood carving to make godpoles. My eldest carved “Tor och Freyja” (“Thor and Freyja”) in runes into a stick and put it on the harrow/hörgr.
One of the major benefits as I see it is that the kids get to see others of the same age taking part in ceremonies, and every year we have a blót were we try to get the children as involved as possible. It’s amazing to see the kids I’ve known since they were babies stand infront of the gods and speak confidently (or at least speak, some of them are a bit more shy) to a fairly large group of people. And even the younger kids take part as much as possible. We stood together in a circle and everyone got to say what they were happy about with the weekend, and everyone took part – except my youngest who fell alseep on me… – and everyone had such great things to say. They were happy about seeing the other kids, they were happy about the hens and other animals, they were happy about the pond (you can imagine my pride when my eldest thanked the god of the pond for the good times swiming and canoing).
When we got home on Sunday we were tired, muddy and smelled of wood smoke, but in a really good mood. We had been outside in the woods and meadows virtually non stop for four days, something that I see as integral to the heathen experience that I really hope my kids will grow up with and see as something natural, like I did. I think that’s one of the main reasons I became a heathen, and I want to give them that opportunity. I want them to learn their way around the woods, what to do when you get lost, how to make a fire and what to eat and not to. Not to fear nature, but to respect it. Like a heathen should.
* Two of them were struck by lightening. For real.