Wednesday, December 19

Pagan Gingerbread

Baking gingerbread cookies is a Winter Solstice tradition in the House of Mama Stacey.  It is a process of many days, organic ingredients, funky cookie cutters, and elaborate decoration.

To begin, we use more natural ingredients in this dough than we do for our other batches of cookies.  We use organic flour, blackstrap molasses, raw sugar, and freshly ground spices.

Our recipe is an adjusted version of the Vegan Gingerbread recipe over at Post Punk Kitchen.  Isa & Terry's recipe is wonderful, and we used to follow it to the letter, but after several years we have made a few changes.  Where PPK's recipe calls for canola oil (yuck!) we use melted coconut oil and where they call for soymilk, we're fans of almond milk... but everything else is essentially the same.  

When the dough is ready and the oven is warmed, we roll things out and go crazy with our growing collection of witchy cookie cutters.  We have antlered beasts, cauldrons, pointed hats, fairies, stars, and round-bellied goddess'.  

We make our cookies thick.  I love a chewy, rather than crunchy, gingerbread cookie.  My son has inherited this preference.  We usually rest our gingerbread for a day before icing.  I still don't have a favorite icing recipe and with the rush of the holidays, I sometimes just whip food coloring into pre-made tub frosting.

**Note that this was originally intended to be a 2-part post... but everyone ate the gingerbread so quickly that I had nothing to photograph!  We will try again soon LOL** 

The only picture I managed to snap was with my cell phone.  It was the wee hours of the morning while Doodle Bug was supposed to be getting ready for school.  Haha!  If you look close though, you can almost see that the cookies are thick and how I pipe icing on to outline the shape.  

Tuesday, December 18

The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Holly King

Title page of A Christmas Carol
I imagine almost everyone has, at one point or another, become familiar with a telling of A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens - 1843).  It is a ghost story told in novella form, but as it is just oozing with 19th century British Christmas traditions, it is much more common to see plays and films during the winter holiday season.

If you don't own a copy (although they are downright ubiquitous this time of year) there are free electronic versions of the book available at Project Gutenberg.  There you can find many e-versions including Kindle-friendly files, with or without the original illustrations from 1843.

I am ashamed to say that I am a snobbish reader.  I had it in my head ages ago that old books were dull, stuffy, wordy, and could never peak my interest.  That all changed when a school assignment forced me to read several works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from the Sherlock series.  I was surprised at how entertaining they actually were.  Far from dull, they were witty and kept me on the edge of my seat.  I now find "old books" to be better reads than a lot of the fluff being published today.

That said, A Christmas Carol is a rather speedy read; illustrations included it is only around 160 pages.  It begins with the wonderfully eerie opening line of "Marley was dead: to begin with." and keeps you hooked until the last line of its happy ending.  An interesting thing you may find is that the book does not end in the same manner which most of the movies do.  Scrooge does not dine with the Cratchit family, instead spending time tending to his own.  It is a great story and Pagans and Christians alike can be warmed by the core morals of the story.  One day I hope to work the reading aloud of this book into our family traditions for Solstice.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Portrayed in every play and movie as a jolly vibrant man bursting with life, images of Dickens' second spirit could be easily interchanged with just about any idea of the Holly King from Pagan mythos.  Not just in his appearance, but in the wave of life he brings with him.  When Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, the scene is described as such:

The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door. - Dickens, 1843 ~ A Christmas Carol, Stave 3

That sounds like a perfect Yuletide celebration to me.  The spirit is dressed in green robes lined with snowy-white fur.  He has an aged scabbard at his waist, although the sword is missing.  The missing sword could be taken as a tip of the hat to the duel he loses to his brother the Oak King in the spring.  He has long brown hair that runs free beneath a crown of holly.  The spirit is bare footed and his robe is open at his chest.  He has a twinkle in his eye and a laughter in his voice as he invites Scrooge to "Come in! and know me better man!"

"Scrooge's third visitor" and original illustration by John Leech in 1843.

My favorite representation is from The Muppet Christmas Carol.  Perhaps because I love his size and the way his hair bounces and the song he sings in the film, but he is the jolliest spirit that I have seen in movies yet. 

The Muppet of Christmas Present, with Michael Caine as Scrooge - 1992
Take a look at these other Ghosts of Christmas Present and see if they tickle your 'Holly King' bone.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge - 1999

The Ghost of Christmas Present, with Reginald Owen as Scrooge - 1938

The Ghost of Christmas Present - 1984

The Ghost of Christmas Present - 2009

Monday, December 17

The Monday After Sandy Hook...

I was half expecting to get a call on the automated school-alert system that classes would be canceled Monday at my son's elementary school.  By Sunday night I did not receive a call and nothing ever changed on the school's website so I knew I would have to send my little man to school today.

I suppose it's better this way.  Some children might not know and it would be hard to explain the sudden day off.  I think a good portion of parents didn't clue their kids in.  But Doodle Bug found out.  Somewhere between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning he must have heard an adult conversation because he climbed in bed with me while I was napping Saturday (this pregnancy has me taking a dedicated hour long nap each day!) and asked me about "the shooter".

Holding back tears I tried to answer his questions as vaguely as possible, but he's a curious child and kept pressing for details.  Eventually I told him that a lot of children and teachers had died because of an angry man with a gun.  He seemed to take it all in stride, but asked why the man did it.  We talked about how some people are "sick in their brains" and that they do things that don't make sense.

Doodle Bug was very concerned for the safety of his teacher and wanted to call her at home.  I told him that it was her day off and she wouldn't like that.  Instead, we drove past his school so that he could see that it was still there and safe.

This morning I was moving slow, cherishing our conversations over teeth brushing, lunch packing and shoe tying.  So much so that he missed the bus.  I can't say it was an accident.  I was most definitely hesitating.  Why?  I don't know... perhaps fear of copy-cats?  We live in a county with zero mental-health facilities and a lot of gun owners.  If it can happen in western CT, I'm sure it can happen in western PA.  My partner reminded me that I can't let my fears interrupt our son's day.  I agreed and decided to drive him to school.

We scooted through the door just as the morning announcements were starting.  Because my son is a special needs child, he is in a special wing of the school and I often walk him in.  A lot of the staff know me and say "Hi" to my son.  Today was only a shade different.  The hall monitors and random staff members all offered a knowing nod and allowed through the hallways.

Doodle Bug lit up when he saw his teacher.  She later told me that he was very attached to her today, but that she understood.  Before I left, she pulled me aside to let me know that increased safety measures were being instituted and that I would have to sign-in at the front desk and get a visitors badge from now on before walking my son to his classroom.

We chatted for a moment, sharing tears for the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary and talking about how stressful the staff knew today would be.  She shared that the principal had called an early staff meeting and that he had broke down twice while trying to make some announcements and cheer everyone up.  Just before leaving his teacher assured me that in a situation like this, she wouldn't have minded a phone call from one of "her kids" and made sure I had her home number. 

As I got to my car in the parking lot, I noticed a police car circle the lot and then stop near the flag pole.  Three older children came outside to hoist up the American flag for the day.  They raised it to half mast and then dashed inside.  I noticed that the police man waited until the children were all locked back inside before he pulled away.  Something about that made me feel a bit better.

When my son got off the bus that afternoon, he dumped his backpack like usual and I fished through it for homework, his empty lunch bag, and the communication journal that his teacher and I use to keep daily tabs on Doodle Bug's progress.

Today she wrote: "******* talked about CT often.  He told me he wished 'the shooter woulded go to the doctor so the doctor could healed the bad guy's head.'  I reassured him that he was safe here.  He told me frequently that he missed me when he wasn't in school."

I'm lucky to be so close to Doodle Bug's teacher.  I'm lucky that she feels a close bond with him and that he trusts her so much.  It helps me to let go of his hand at times like this and I'm pretty sure it helps him too.

I hope your family is dealing with the repercussions of this tragedy in healthy ways and finding methods to cope and heal.  Mine has been in avoiding news stories and, honestly, a lot of crying.  Still.  Every time I light a candle for this tragedy I end up sobbing.  Maybe as a mother the loss of a child just hits too close to home.  Maybe I'm 6 months pregnant and hormonal.  Maybe I'm just human.  

Sunday, December 16

The Christmas Witch

There are many aspects of the Christmas Witch throughout Europe and Slavic/Baltic regions.  Some are quaint, some bring gifts, some expect gifts, and some are terrifying!

Mother Berchta/Berta

Horned Goddess in white, Mother Berchta.
The name Berchta means "bright light".  Compiled from remnants of ancient Goddess' in German and Teutonic (Norse) mythology, Mother Berta is sometimes endearing and dressed in white, other times she is haggard and dressed in dark rags.  Some myths refer to her as a fairy, yet on other occasions she has horns or is even rumored to be triple-headed (probably a reference to her being a triple goddess).  Over time, the myth turned her into a temperamental hag who travels with a goat. 

A current take on Mother Berta is tells the story of an old, gnarled woman who rides a goat named Skeggie.  She comes into family's homes, with her sack across her back.  She would prepare a feast for the family and bring toys for children if she felt they deserved them.  Part of the feast included the cooking of Skeggie.  The family could eat as much as they wanted so long as they threw all the bones back into the sack.   When finished, Skeggie would magically climb back out of the sack good as new.  But sometimes a greedy child would break one of the bones to suck out the marrow and when Skeggie climbed out, his leg would be broken or missing.  At that point, Mother Berta would throw the bad child into her sack and disappear!

Steven Posch, a prominent member of the 'Paganistan' community of Minnesota, tells the story of Mother Berta and her sack; "Will she take presents and toys out?  Or will she stuff kids in?"

Triple Goddess

Some myths combine different notions of the Christmas Witch into a triple goddess, citing Holla or Holly as the maiden, Berchta/Berta as the mother, and Befana as the crone aspect. 

Unfortunately, I've found nothing to support this as an ancient mythos.  I find references to Holla as a mother goddess or even a crone who is related to Hecate.  Stories, however, do support the idea of Befana as a crone.  She is sometimes referred to as Grandmother Befana.

La Befana

Available at Barnes & Noble
Befana is an Italian tradition associated with the celebration of the Epiphany.  She leaves goodies in the stockings and shoes of children on January 6th.  In Italy, the Epiphany (sometimes referred to as The Befana festival) is a national holiday and children celebrate their holiday break from school from December 24th until January 7th.

Although she is probably a hold-over from ancient Pagan Saturnalia celebrations, Befana's story has been largely Christianized.  She is said to have been sweeping her home when the three kings (the Three Wise Men or Magi) came to her door, asking for help in locating the Christ-child.  Depending on which version of the story you hear, she was either too busy or thought herself too feeble to help and sent them away.  After awhile, she regretted this and left her home to help search.  To this day, she travels the world on the night of the Epiphany, leaving sweets for children and searching for the Christ-child.

For years, Befana was the primary holiday icon for Italians, however after World War II, Father Christmas (Babbo Natalle) and his mythology came upon the scene.  Befana moved into the background, becoming Santa Claus's helper in some places and disappearing all together in places like Sicily.

La Befana dolls [source: Stanko Mravljak]

Currently, she is celebrated as a kindly grandmother figure who rides a broom and is kin to Santa Claus.  She was featured in a French children's film titled "La Freccia Azzurra" (The Blue Arrow) which was later dubbed into English and retitled "How the Toys Saved Christmas" in 1997.  In it, the Befana character is named "Grandma Rose" and she is Santa's helper who runs a toy store.  She falls ill and the toys come to life and take a journey to deliver themselves to all the children of the village.

Named "Grandma Rose" in the English version, La Befana. 
The Befana festival is celebrated in a manor similar to Halloween in America; though creepy decorations are not used, it is common for people to dress up as witches and go door-to-door asking for sweets. 

Frau Holle

Sometimes referred to as Frau Perchta (a twist on Berchta for sure), she is a remnant of the Goddess Holda or Freya in Switzerland.  As the myth moves into Germany, she becomes a second name for Saint Lucia. 

Frau Holle roams the countryside on the twelve nights of Christmas.  She travels to the homes of children and if they've been good, leaves silver coins.  This idea is generalized from the older myths where she would check to be sure that all young girls had spun their assigned allotment of wool or flax.  If they had not, she didn't simply pass them by... she was rumored to either slit their bellies open and stuff them with straw or curse the remaining wool and flax to spoil and rot.  Stern stuff.

Thursday, December 6

Little Bear's Winter Solstice

Best known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak also has a nature-based show called "Maurice Sendak's Little Bear".  The show, aimed at children 5 and younger, is gentle and nature-centric.
Based on an extensive book series by Elsa H. Minarik, Little Bear was made into a animated tv series in 1995.  Little Bear and his family live in the forest and have days and nights full of star gazing, pinecone gathering, moon wishing, flower picking, and all sorts of things steeped in the reverence of nature.  There are episodes about Mother Nature, Jack Frost, and wind spirits.  A highly recommended Pagan-friendly show, it airs on Nick Jr. here in the US, and is offered on Treehouse TV or APTN in Canada as well as Tiny Pop in the UK. 

In the second season, Little Bear and his family celebrate the Winter Solstice.  Nick Jr.'s website in the US used to offer this full episode for free viewing here:  Little Bear's Winter Solstice, however in the fall of 2014 they changed the site and currently, only short clips are available for free.  

The episode opens on a moonlit night, with Little Bear sitting in the kitchen.  The table is dressed with goblets and cloth napkins.  Grandmother and Grandfather Bear come up the snowy walk outside, pulling a sled.  Little Bear greets them and the family gathers around a bare tree in the lawn.  They talk about traditions while hanging lanterns and lights in the tree for the "snow angels".  The family then holds hands and sings a song about loving winter.

They continue their celebration by hanging strings of dried fruit, popcorn, and bags of suet in the tree.  Little Bear contributes by hanging sugar cookies from the branches.  Neighbors come to visit and the children play in the snow while Solstice dinner finishes cooking.

When Mama Bear calls for dinner, the gang sit down to a feast of baked salmon, stew, potatoes, and corn on the cob.  While they are enjoying their Solstice feast, deer and other forest animals approach the decorated tree and eat the offerings left by the family.  After more singing, Little Bear checks the tree for evidence of "snow angel" activity.  He finds a single baby deer struggling to reach a cookie on the tree.  Little Bear helps the fawn and wishes all the animals a "Happy Winter Solstice".

As stated above, you can access this episode via the Nick Jr. website or, if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can view it and other episodes there. 

If you'd like a more permanent version of this, you can buy a digital copy of  Little Bear's Winter Solstice for about $2 via Amazon. This episode contains three stories, all winter based (The Snowball Fight, Winter Solstice, and Snow Bound).

If digital isn't your style, you can pick up a VHS copy of "Little Bear's Winter Tales" (4 stories in total) through Amazon or Ebay.  As of today, a new copy will run you about $40 while a used copy will only run you about $5 with shipping.

Or... if you're a thrift-store connoisseur like Mama Stacey, you may just keep your eyes peeled for this at Goodwill.  They're usually less than a dollar. 

Happy Solstice!

Filking Christmas Carols

Do you know what 'filking' is?  And, no, that's not a typo.  LOL

Filking is the practice of taking a traditional song and changing the lyrics or the topic of the song to better suit your needs.  It happens at Science Fiction & Fantasy conventions all the time... people writing about Star Trek or Firefly.

For Pagans, a common form of filking is in the reclaiming or re-purposing of Christmas carols.  Some don't need much work to ring true with the spirit of Yule.  "Deck the Halls" is a prime example:

Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
'Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Don we now our gay apparel,
 Fa la la la la la la la la.
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
See the blazing yule before us,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Follow me in merry measure,
 Fa la la la la la la la la.
While I tell of Yuletide treasure,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Fast away the old year passes,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Sing we joyous all together,
 Fa la la la la la la la la.
Heedless of the wind and weather,
Fa la la la la la la la la. 
Of course there are variations on even this song that replace all mentions of 'Yule' with 'Christmas' or replace the line 'Don we now our gay apparel' with 'Fill the mead-cup, drain the barrel'.  Some Pagans may even find the mead reference more suiting to their celebrations.

But, then there are gems like this reworking of "Jingle Bells":

Popular Solstice Music

A popular filker of carols for Pagans is Karina Skye.  One of her most outrageous, and my absolute favorite, songs is "Faunus, the Roman Goat-God" done to the tune of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer".  Karina's version makes liberal mention of Faunus' ::clears throat:: endowment and his popularity with the ladies.  Her song is a proper Saturnalia tune, and plays in many homes this season. 

Youtube has entire channels and playlists devoted to Solstice carols sung by people at home, UU choirs, professionals like Karina, and non-filk performers like Jethro Tull, Damh the Bard, Emerald Rose, and Dar Williams

Filking at Home

Rewording carols is nothing new.  If you long for some song sheets to share with your family this Yule, you can check out Willow Firesong's website.  It's another one of those Pagan websites that seems to be as old as the internet.  She lists the lyrics to dozens and dozens of filked carols HERE.  [Warning, this is a free Tripod site with LOTS of popups!!!!]

Another collection, organized by the Greenwood Singers and published by the Green Egg e-zine back in the early 1990's can be found HERE.

Children and Yule Carols

A young Doodle Bug sits in a friend's lap, singing Yule carols and making pomander balls.  [2006]

As most parent's know, children LOVE to sing.  Music is in their bones and is the fastest way to calm a room of children.  Preschools use filked songs to mark just about every transition in the classroom because most kids will join in and act out the words of the song (like singing, "This is the way we pick up toys, pick up toys, pick up toys.  This is the way we pick up toys, before we eat our lunch." to the tune Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush )

Music is a key part of celebration and and easy way for children to join in the holiday fun, especially if you have a special needs child, like our Doodle Bug.  Perhaps you could go caroling with your local Pagan community?  If not, these will be delightful to sing around a backyard Yule log fire or even to play around with while decorating the tree.

So, I hope you'll take a moment to either indulge in filking or at least sing a merry Pagan tune with your witchlets this holiday season.

Monday, October 22

Paganism for Babies & Toddlers

I get asked quite a bit about how to teach babies and toddlers Paganism.  My personal belief is that at these ages the children are already learning so much everyday about everything!  They're learning physical balance, what emotions are, cause and effect, motor skills, speech… more than can really be summed up in one blog article.  My point is that specifically teaching religion isn’t really needed at this age.  If it's there, they will learn it.   

Experiencing the Elements

These are simple things you can do with your child to reinforce the correspondences of the elements.  Knowledge of the elements is essential to the basics of magic, spellwork and circle casting.  Embedding these associations early will benefit your little one.

Photo credit: valentinapowers / Foter / CC BY
FIRE can be something parents are hesitant to share with their children.  Sitting near one with an active toddler can be heart-stopping enough!  However, this element can easily be taught through its associations.

  • Babies may enjoy a massage with an oil or body lotion that has a touch of spice to it.  Be cautions with essential oils as many can be too harsh for baby's skin, but adding just a drop or two of a warmer scent like nutmeg or cardamom to coconut oil should be just fine. [If you have doubts, test the mixture in a small spot inside baby's ankle and wait 10-15mins to be sure there is no reaction.  As always, keep oils and lotion off of baby's face and hands to avoid eye/mouth contact.]
  • Babies can also sit in a steamy bathroom with mom or dad to experience the warmth, or simply lounge in an inch or two of warm [never hot] bath water. 
  • Interacting with natural objects which are dominated by reds, golds, and oranges can reinforce the basics of the Fire element.  Brilliant red blossoms on a flower, shiny gold fabric, a fiery orange autumn leaf.  Red is easily recognizable from birth and other colors will become clear by 8 months or so.
  • Anything that glows or flashes is a wonderful representation of the Fire element.  Cracking and shaking glowsticks for toddlers or playing with a soft toy with flashing lights for baby.  Children of all ages love the new LED toys you can find at Oriental Trading and such [like rubber bracelets and lizards with flashing lights].
  • Wrap your child in a blanket or towel fresh from the dryer.
  • Watch a balefire with your child in your lap [or even a single candle flame].  Talk about the fire: how hot it is, how strong it is, how tall it is, explore the colors in the fire.  My son enjoys looking at candle flames and pointing out the "clear" part, the blue part and the yellow part of the flame.  If your child is too young or sleepy to talk about the fire, that's okay.  Try singing the "Spirit of the Fire" chant to them.  Unimpressed toddlers may find the fire more interesting if they look at it through a kaleidoscope. 
  • Toddlers who have reached a stage wherein choking is not a major risk, may try spiced candies and cinnamon taffy so they can feel the heat on their tongues. 

While enjoying these activities, use song and word association to remind your child that these things belong to the Fire elementals. 

Photo credit: aha42 | tehaha / Foter / CC BY-NC
AIR is an element that some parents struggle with because many things are just too obvious.  Air is our primary need, so much so that we may take it for granted.  It is so important that we rarely think about it. 

  • Bubbles are an obvious choice here.  Even adults love bubbles!  Do a quick search on Pinterest and you'll find dozens of recipes for homemade bubbles, colored bubbles, glowing bubbles, even touchable bubbles. 
  • Using a large peacock feather or feather boa, tickle your baby.  Run the plumes along their cheeks, abdomen, arms and legs so they can feel the light, soft touch of the feather. 
  • Talk into a fan with your toddler.  Again, you should have no problems getting your child to participate in this :)
  • Watch the wind move the treetops.  Raise your arms and sway with the trees.  If trees are too distant for your little one, a field of tall grass, grain or wild flowers rippling in the breeze is just as enjoyable. 
  • Blow on your baby's belly.  If they're up for it, blow tummy bubbles on their belly.  Toddlers may delight in having their hair ruffled by a blow dryer set to 'no heat'.
  • Whistles, recorders, flutes, pan-pipes, ocarinas and other wind instruments relate well to the element of Air.
  • Fly a kite!  Even better, help your older toddler build a kite, from scratch or from a kit.  Here are some preschooler friendly instructions for a simple kite.
  • Sing!  Sing along with the radio.  Sing a Pagan tune.  Sing a made up song about your baby or the cold wind outside the window... anything.  
  • Visit an aviary with your toddler.  Talk about how big the bird's wings are and how high in the sky they can fly.  Listen to the songs and calls of the birds together.  Mimic them with your toddler.
  • Can you whistle?  Share this with your baby and if your toddler asks how to do it, try and teach them. 
  • Smudge your child with incense, sweet grass or sage.  When children are young, it is best to do this outdoors and do so lightly.  Smoke is smoke and eyes and lungs of infants and children are especially sensitive to it.
  • Build a pinwheel with your toddler and blow on it.    

When Doodle Bug was young we took him to a children's museum with an air tunnel.  If you have access to this, your toddler may love it.  Just be sure to hold onto them as the wind speed in these things is enough to tumble a small child.  We held Doodle Bug in a 'superman' pose and let the wind blow over him.  He was thrilled!

Again, you'll want to use songs, chants and word association with these activities to link them to the Air elementals.

Photo credit: Eyesplash / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
EARTH is such a tangible element.  The possibilities are endless!

  • Watch a birdfeeder with your toddler.  Let them help you fill one up.  Or better yet, help them make a simple peanutbutter and birdseed pinecone to hang outside.
  • Eat a grain, fruit or vegetable without anything to dress it up.  No butter or salt.  Help your toddler to enjoy the true taste of the food they're trying.  [Never feed a child raw meat or eggs.  Be aware of choking hazards in young ones.]
  • Help your little one explore a simple loaf of fresh, uncut bread.  Smell it, put it to your ears and listen to the crackle of the crust as you squeeze it, taste it, tear it open, touch the flaky parts and the soft spongy parts. 
  • Breast feed your infant.  There is nothing more a mother can do to connect her child to the ideas of mother and earth.  
  • Hold your baby's hands while they walk with bare feet on grass or sand.
  • Be outside.  Explore an outdoor area such as a park or forest with your child.  Encourage them to touch trees, climb on rocks, smell flowers and watch wildlife. 
  • Act like animals with your child.  Make a game out of it.  In preschool, Doodle Bug loved when the class got to play "Animal Action".  The accompanying song can be found here.  When the music stops the kids would go crazy acting the like animals in the song.  You haven't seen anything until you've been in a room of 16 three year olds acting like snakes!
  • Crunch fall leaves, squish mud or lay in the grass with your baby.  Some outdoor tummy time in a shaded part of the lawn is perfect, just don't forget to get in the grass with your child. 
  • Toddlers may enjoy using a nutcracker to explore inside shelled seeds and nuts.  This can be hard for some, so help your child.  If you don't have a nut cracker, explore easy-to-open nuts like pistachios and peanuts. 
  • Dig in the dirt with your child.  Help them plant large seeds like peach pits, legumes, and pumpkin seeds.  
  • Sensory activities like running your child's hands through dry beans, oats, or rice. 
  • Interaction with animals such as horses, dogs, mice and even lizards.  Touch their skin or fur with your fingers, feeling the texture.
  • Visit a zoo or animal rehab/sanctuary. 
  • Tastes of whole foods like mashed banana, egg yolk, and avocado for babies older than 6 or 7 months are a great link to Earth.   
  • Teaching your toddler to watch bugs instead of squishing them is an excellent option.  Follow a caterpillar or beetle as they move through the lawn.  Watch the spider weaving its web.
  • Allow your toddler to have a rock collection. 
  • Play a drum with your toddler.  The drum is said to reflect the heartbeat of the Earth.  Help them make big, deep beats.  
As you spend time with your child, use association words and songs to relate these activities to the Earth elementals.

Photo credit: Fadzly @ Shutterhack / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
WATER is an element where immersion is easy for some and not for others.  Some children are very terrified of water, even the bath tub.  However, if you start early and often with bathtime and water play, fears should subside. 

  • Swimming is the best immersion technique we have really, at any age.  Swimming pools, family time at the beach, having playtime in tub....  It all works.  Just be certain that you have a firm grip on your children, especially infants.  They are trusting you to keep them safe.
  • Tell tales of mermaids and water sprites.  Watch videos about dolphins and sharks.  Remind your toddler that water is it's own world, teeming with life, both common and fantastical.
  • Water play outside of the pool, lake, or ocean is fun too.  Sprinklers, squirt bottles and sponge balls soaked in water are tremendous fun. 
  • Snow!  Playing in the snow, rain's frozen counterpart, is perfect for toddlers.  Just watch for frozen fingers and noses.
  • Let your child watch you crack open a coconut and share the fresh milk with them. 
  • Set baby in the highchair and give them a handful of fresh, clean snow to play with.
  • A water table is usually available at play groups or children's centers.  These are giant vats of water full of measuring cups, funnels and other toys so toddlers can pour and dump water, learning the wonders of cause and effect. 
  • Encourage your toddler to drink cool, clear water with you at meals.  Leave soda and juice behind so you can enjoy the powerful cleansing benefits of water together.
  • On a warm day, give your toddler ice cubes and try to melt them.
  • Make a wave bottle with your toddler.  Here are some instructions.
  • Rent a paddle boat with your toddler and peddle out onto a lake so they can float and observe with you. 
  • Take a mommy & me/daddy & me swim class with your toddler.  Aside from learning basic swim techniques, your child will learn safety skills.  Some classes, like those taught at most YMCAs also throw in boat safety and life jacket skills.  I feel this is important because while water is beautiful and healing and peaceful, it also needs to be respected.  Learning skills like these will help your child understand this as well.  
  • Water the garden together.  You can do this with a toddler or while baby wearing.  Face baby out so s/he can see the water as it touches the plants and soaks into the ground.  Show your child different water pressures and let them see how different water can be, from a fine mist to a scouring jet.
  • Let your children see you cry.  Crying is normal, for men and women, and a superb stress reliever.  Crying is part of not only pain relief but any extreme emotion such as anger, fear or even happiness.  Let your child know that crying is okay, that emotions are okay and that even mommys and daddys cry.  If your child tries to comfort you, accept.  Empathy and healing are in the realm of water.
  • Listen to a thunderstorm together.  Some children are frightened by these sounds, but if you make this a secure time with cuddling, communication and perhaps even a story [from their favorite book or you can tell them stories of Thor and the giants of Asgard] your child will grow to be unstressed by thunderclaps and pouring rain. 

Until just a few years ago, when school taught him 'proper' ideas about rain, Doodle Bug used to enjoy yelling up at thunder clouds with me, telling the giants to "Quiet down up there!"  It is a cherished memory <3

And, as will the other elements, use word association and Pagan chants to relate these activities to Water elementals.

There are always ways to turn common moments into teaching moments with your child.  Use that to surround your little ones with love and gentle waves of information so they can build themselves a firm foundation of understanding about their family's religion.

Thank you for reading and comments are always welcome!  I will leave you with the Element Chant as sung by Spiral Rhythm.

Friday, October 19

The Tooth Fairy

I don’t remember how old I was when I knew there wasn’t a Santa Claus.  What I do remember is continuing on in my belief for years, even helping to make sleigh bell noises and eat cookies for my younger siblings.  I am the eldest of three and grew up in a single parent household.  I saw how much my mother struggled to maintain some normalcy in our lives, including childhood magics like the Tooth Fairy.  I admire her for that and so continue on that tradition with my son.

Doodle Bug's Tooth
Doodle Bug, is 9 years old, going on 10 in November.  He lost his first molar at school last week and delighted in grossing me out by rehashing the story of pulling the tooth out all by himself.  Ugh.  Blood, I don't mind... but dangling nerve endings creep me out. 

Anyway, it had been 8 or so months since the last tooth and just as I was about to tell him we'll put it safely away in his keepsake box with the others, he asked how much I thought the Tooth Fairy was going to give him for losing a “big tooth”.  And that's when I remembered my sacred duty as an ambassador to Tooth Fairy Land.  I couldn't believe I'd almost forgotten!  So, after tucking him into bed, I scrambled to find a few dollar bills in the various junk bowls and purse bottoms that they usually end up in.  I folded them into a pretty shape, a kind of tradition for us, and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Honestly, I don’t remember ever having as difficult a time sneaking into his room as I did that night.  I checked him every hour on the hour after 9pm but found that he either wasn’t asleep, or that he’d shut his bedroom door and locked it, or that he’d turned on the light in his closet so that he could catch a glimpse of the Tooth Fairy.  After another failed attempt at midnight, I went to bed and set my alarm to go off every hour until I could get the deed done.  

He woke up at 1am and at 2am whenever I walked down the hall.  When he asked what I was doing, I just turned into the bathroom and told him to lay back down.  Luckily, at 4 months pregnant he’s used to me using the restroom half a dozen times a night and obliged.  At 3am he woke up again.  This time I went into his room, turned off the closet light again, and sat on his bed.  He asked why the Tooth Fairy had not come yet.  He opened his hands to show me the little baggie with his tooth in it.  I thought “Oh blarg! Even if I had searched under his pillow, he’s been holding the darn thing this whole time!”

I explained that it was because he wasn’t asleep yet and he hadn’t put the tooth in the proper place.  I retucked him into bed and put the tooth back under his pillow.  I told him that there are rules and that the Tooth Fairy was just like Santa Claus: she could tell if he was sleeping and whether or not it was safe for her to come yet.  He seemed agreeable and finally, by 4am I was able to perform the little miracle without waking him.

And of course he burst into our bedroom at 5:30 in the morning celebrating his dollars and thrilled that the Tooth Fairy hadn’t let him down.

Outgrowing the Myth

When did you realize the Tooth Fairy wasn't real?  Have your children figured it out yet?
After all the hassle of that night, I really wonder if the magic is fading for Doodle Bug.  I always knew that his delays would grant me a little extra time with fairy tales as his innocence persisted, but something tells me he's entering the realm of curiosity that pushes children to test the validity of the world around them.  Scholars call it "The Quest".  There was a study published through Oxford back in 1982 and a more recent one put out last year in the journal 'European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry' that mentions "the quest" as a moment in a child's life where they naturally begin to question the spiritual world around them.  They have questions, compile some doubts, and search for answers.  The studies show that a child's quest is a very normal part of growing up and critical in forming their spiritual identity.  My quest led me to Paganism.  My brother's led him to become an atheist.  The path is different for everyone.
While I'm happy that Doodle Bug is showing such excellent signs of social and emotional growth, I'm a bit sad that our friends Santa and the Toothfairy may be leaving us.  Perhaps Doodle Bug will follow in my footsteps and play along for the sake of his sibling, due to enter this world at Ostara next year.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see where his quest takes him.  

Pagans and the Tooth Fairy

I don't think it takes much stretching for a majority of Pagan families to endorse the myth of a fairy who leaves presents or money for young children.  The Fae are as prominent as dragons, spirits, and goddess' within most branches of Paganism.  However, not all families do and I think that's fine.  Not all Pagan families spin tales of Santa Claus to their children either.  For those of us that do, her history is pretty nifty. 

Trying to hunt down the origins of the Tooth Fairy is as difficult as seeking out Santa Claus!  But, like Saint Nick, she appears to be a conglomerate of European mythos that Pagans may find interesting.  [A majority of the information listed here was researched from a book called 'The Good People: New Fairylore Essays', Peter Narvaez, editor.]

In northwestern England, Jenny Greenteeth was a legendary fowl water spirit used to scare children into brushing their teeth.  Named for a certain pond scum that looked like green teeth, children were told that if they didn't keep their teeth scrubbed, Jenny Greenteeth would get them! 

'Jenny Greenteeth' by Richard Svensson

In north eastern Italy, a character by the name of Marantega [a literary cousin to the Christmas witch, Befana] is a witch who takes not only teeth, but dreams as well, in exchange for coins.  In some tales she is referred to as the "Tooth Witch" who has a fairy apprentice.

In the late 1800's French children would put their tooth under their pillow and, depending upon the region, either the Virgin Mary or a good fairy would exchange it for candy.  In modern France, children wait for a tooth mouse... and oh my goodness, how cute is that?

Liesl van dur Hoven's "Tooth Mouse".  She says that she grew up with the story
of the Tooth Mouse and that children were told to keep their teeth extra clean because
he builds a house from them.  Everyone wants a nice, clean house right?

Book to Share with Children

There are dozens of excellent Tooth Fairy books out there, some even come with cute little containers for teeth.  Here is a sampling:

The Real Tooth Fairy
[Marilyn Kaye & Helen Cogancherry] 1994

Elsie is excited when she loses a tooth because she knows that the Tooth Fairy will visit her that night.  After sneaking a peek, she finds that it's only her mother.  This is when Elsie's mother tells her a story about the mystical Tooth Fairy.  Once a child awoke and was frightened by the Tooth Fairy's presence in her room, because she was a stranger.  Since then, the Tooth Fairy has disguised herself as someone that the child loves whenever she enters a room.

Abra Cadabra and the Tooth Witch
[Nurit Karlin] 1999

Before there was a Tooth Fairy, there was a Tooth Witch.  She grew old and Abra is brought in as her helper.  She decides to start leaving rewards for children and tosses the teeth into the sky where they become stars.  A creative and good witch, Abra brings joy to the job and becomes the Tooth Fairy.

Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World
[Selby Beeler & G. Brian Karas] 1998

This is a collection of tooth rituals from around the world.  Under pillows, down mouse holes, up on the roof... this book will show your children what kids from other countries look forward to when they lose a tooth.  Child-friendly format.

Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies
[William Joyce] 2012

Toothiana, known the world over as The Toothfairy, is the keeper of children's memories and a valued member of the  Guardians of childhood.  This entire series is wonderful and features other myths of childhood including Santa Claus and The Sandman.

This book's character is also featured in the Dreamworks film Rise of the Guardians.

The Last Slice of Rainbow and Other Stories
[Joan Aiken & Alix Berenzy] 1985

These are all highly treasured stories that some parents may have read in school.  The one we're looking at is titled 'Clem's Dream'.  In it, a boy goes on an adventure to find the Tooth Witch and reclaim a dream she took from him.  In the end, he learns that she is an incredibly lonely creature and shares the dream with her.

There is just so much more to be said about this myth.  I think I may have to continue to spread the Tooth Fairy love in another post.  Until then, enjoy the little ones that put us in these strange predicaments <3

Monday, September 17

Walking the Labyrinth

Labyrinths are a common form of walking meditation.  If you are lucky enough to have experienced one, you can understand when I say the results are often unexpected.  At the Pagan Spirit Gathering, one of my favorite festivals, a temporary labyrinth is usually constructed of candles in a grassy field, lit at dusk and those interested can walk it as they wish until dawn.  For many years I watched as people walked the path and were overcome with emotion.  Some would erupt into smiles and giggles while others would fall to their knees sobbing.  I never walked it.  I was honestly terrified with having to confront such strong emotions within myself.  For 7 years I watched.

The stone labyrinth at the Kearns Spirituality Center in Allison Park, PA.
After a particularly bad year, I found myself at a small retreat at a Catholic convent in western Pennsylvania.  My sister, who had been going through an even rougher patch, was there with me.  We were presented with an opportunity to walk a small brick labyrinth.  I hesitated.  I was particularly terrified of crying in public, breaking down as a result of the stresses the past year had heaped on... and yet I felt it was time.  Time to walk the labyrinth.  My sister walked as well, entering shortly after I did.

As I walked, I found myself settling.  Instead of anything building up, instead of feeling ready to burst, I felt amazingly calm.  A phrase began jumbling about in my head: "It may just not be so."  This odd sentence made incredible sense to me.  I was a person who worried what everyone thought.  I was a person who feared impossible outcomes.  I was a person who fretted over what-ifs.  I harnessed this phrase, the gift the labyrinth had given me, and applied it to the end of every fear and doubt.  "My mother thinks I'm hopeless doesn't she?" = It may just not be so.  "I am never going to find a job and end up on the street!" = It may just not be so.  "I'm such a failure, I'm never going to accomplish anything!" = It may just not be so. 

Just before I exited the labyrinth, my sister and I happened to pass one another.  We didn't make eye contact, both focused on the meditation, and yet as we walked away from each other we both instinctively reached a hand backwards and touched each other.  It was spontaneous and beautiful and reminded me of the deep connection I share with my sister. 

I left that day feeling empowered.  I now walk a labyrinth anytime I get the opportunity.

Grass path labyrinth at Forest Grove Community Church in Robinson Twp., PA
If you feel that you have gone too long without this experience, here is a website that will help you to find a labyrinth close to your home.

Labyrinths come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  They can be temporary, made of candles or sand.  They can be made of timeless rows of hedges and flower bushes.  They can be made from paver stones or burned into a wooden church floor.  They are all walked the same.

Many are open to the public, but if you desire to take your family, you may try calling to get an "ok" first.  A family trip to a labyrinth can be enriching for children.  They may use it differently than adults, singing or skipping instead of silent walking, and so I would recommend scheduling family time with the labyrinth.  Most organizations appreciate this greatly.

Children walking a temporary sand labyrinth at a Prayer Vigil for the Earth event.
Children have stressors and complicated thoughts, the same as adults.  Take a light snack, a smudge stick, and a bell.  It is common to pause and ground before entering the labyrinth, so stand with your children and join hands.  Encourage them to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths.  Ring the bell once to allow a clean, unifying vibration to pass over all of you (this can also be done via the use of a singing bowl or the strike of gong).  Light the smudge stick and smudge each child to cleanse them.  If you wish to sprinkle with salted water, you may do that as well.  Everyone should enter the labyrinth slowly, allowing adequate space between each other.

Once everyone has had their turn through, sit in a circle and enjoy your snack.  Ask the children about their experience.  You may be surprised.  

UPDATE 2017:

I went on vacation to a small island community in northern Ohio this summer. We had to travel there by ferry as the only other option was a small plane. There was only one grocery store.  Most everyone drove golf carts instead of cars because it was just not feasible to drive a large vehicle on such a small island.  In that isolated, micro-community there was tiny church with a large brick patio.  And there, in pattern of the bricks, was a labyrinth.  These are strong meditative tools that you can make or find just about anywhere.  We continue to walk them whenever we can. 

Sunday, July 29

A Naturewalk With the Huntsman

The children in our neighborhood came across a rather large spider yesterday.  They were keen to "squish" it, but I talked them out of it and put it into a large mason jar.  After a bit of research I determined that it was most likely a breed of Huntsman spider.

His leg span was wider than the mouth of the mason jar.

Doodle Bug wanted to keep the spider as a summer pet, much the way we had kept a pair of female wolf spiders last summer.  We had fed them crickets and watched as their eggs sacs hatched and their babies climbed on their backs.  We soon let them go into my mother's garden and they were on their merry way.  I decided that our Huntsman would not be comfortable in that situation due to his sheer size.

So this morning Doodle Bug and a friend went on a leisurely nature walk with me where we let the Huntsman go.

Doodle Bug saying goodbye.

Our Huntsman is a little hard to see, but he's the leggy grey blob in the grass.

We spent the rest of our walk exploring along side a creek near a cabin we spend the autumnal equinox at most years. We don't get out nearly often enough to do this stuff, living in town.  It was a happy afternoon.

Doodle Bug and his friend Jazmine conquering a stump.

Beautiful image of splintered wood.

The kids spent 20 minutes throwing rocks into the creek.

Doodle Bug throwing a dead branch in the creek.

The kids wasted no time.

Doodle Bug offers "peace".

We found a funnel web spider!

Doodle Bug peeking through a natural hole in an uprooted tree.

UPDATE 2017:

The Mama Stacey Clan has grown since 2011 and I now chase three children and huge dog all day.  We moved out to the country and now regularly hike in a gorgeous stretch of a Pennsylvania state forest.  It has been night and day for the kids.  They run, hop logs, pick flowers, skip stones, ruin their shoes, and sleep well at night. It has been phenomenal for my depression and anxiety, as well.  Fresh air, sunlight, green energy.  You can't bottle this, it has to be walked, inhaled, soaked up.  From my heart to yours, get outside!