On occasion I receive inquires from seekers and friends as to why children are not permitted in circle. Poor Corvus, who runs an open group here in Charlotte, receives these questions from would-be attendees routinely, despite detailing Moon Circles‘ policies and the reasoning behind them on multiple websites.
“Can I bring my children?”
“I have a baby and no sitter.”
“We want to raise our children to be Wiccan.”
And any number of variations thereof.
Corvus’ reasoning for not allowing children is straightforward: they’re distracting, often loud, quickly bored, and usually under-monitored by the parent in question. Circle, frankly, can also be scary for small children (when there are masks, dark rooms, chanting or yelling, and the occasional brandishing of weapons). Most parents I’ve met insist that their own child is an exception, but those of us who aren’t blinded by adoration know otherwise.
In Foxfire, the decision to not allow children is equally straightforward though somewhat more expansive.
Wicca (by which, I remind you, I mean Gardnerian Wicca) put simply, is a priesthood and initiatory Mystery tradition. It’s not suitable for children anymore than it’s suitable for anyone incapable of making oaths and understanding their consequences. And that’s even before we consider skyclad ritual, sexual themes, and the fact that we’re up half the night drinking. You might be fine with some or all of these where your own child is concerned, but a group leader can’t make that call for everyone.
The Wiccan parents I know encourage their children in more broadly Pagan traditions (holiday celebrations, deity worship, time outdoors, etc.). I’m also certainly not suggesting that children shouldn’t learn magic or a love for nature/Nature/the earth/whatever. The first generation of American Neo-Pagan children are full grown and having kids of their own. There are resources available for priming children to follow your Wiccan path without expecting them to be allowed to participate in adult Mysteries. There are books, scouting programs, home study courses, festival resources, and often a very creative body of fellow parents ready to offer ideas. There are also plenty of other kinds of circles and groves that allow children–some are even specifically designed for them.
In Christian traditions, kids go to Sunday school, catechism, or youth group. They generally don’t take vows, and sometimes aren’t even expected to sit through adult sermon services, participating instead in ministries designed for their age group. While I suppose a particularly motherly high priestess could fashion something comparable for her coven’s children, the tradition itself has little if anything to directly address the subject.
I think this is a point of dissonance for people trying to turn Wicca into “just another religion.” It doesn’t really occupy the same kinds of social roles we often expect of religion as a category (i.e. “religion” as, basically, Protestantism). In this case, it doesn’t tell you how to raise your kid. People from Christian traditions find meaning in developing Christian-flavored rituals such as Wiccan baptisms and Pagan Sunday School (Belmont has one, hosted by a local parent), but these are personal additions. Personally, I can think of nothing to say to a Pagan child that I wouldn’t say to a non-Pagan child (“Let’s go outside/don’t be an asshole/learn to read/hooray science/holy crap stop eating that.”), so Pagan Sunday School is lost on me.
Beyond these periodic logistical questions, these aren’t matters I spend much time on. I’ve opted to not have children, and I trust that many of those seekers with small children will find more suitable groups or at least make appropriate arrangements while in circle. Children are not permitted at the Covenstead because of the distraction they pose and because the place simply isn’t safe for them. We all make sacrifices to become part of the tradition, in terms of time, travel, and energy. The process is harder for some than for others, and harder or easier at different points in time. Those seekers and coven members with children have a special set of challenges, but they can’t receive special accommodation at the expense of others, each of whom has their own challenges.