Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ask Me Anything: Pagan "Baptism"

In this semi-regular feature on Witch Mom, I answer select questions from readers. There is always a box to the right of my blog posts if you would also like to ask a question, or click here. It could be about The Craft, parenting, pop culture, multi-religious education, homeschooling, or whatever! I cannot promise to answer each one, but I will read them!

A reader asks: "You have such interesting posts and a lot about parenting, do you know a pagan equivalent of a baptism that can be performed for a baby by a solitary practitioner? (My family is far from open minded about my faith, so having others join could be kinda hard.)"


From The Cauldron, link to article on right.
Not knowing what Path you follow, I am going to give you a generic idea that can be adapted in many ways. Hope you get some great ideas from it. Blessings to you and your new child! There are other Wiccan ideas for such a rite- many people call them "Wiccanings" or "sainings"*).  I myself am not Wiccan, so here is a basic form for you to follow, regardless of your path.

Baptism, as it is practiced by the Catholic Church, has pretty misogynistic and scary roots. Catholic doctrine says that a child is "unclean" and "impure" because it is a product of "original sin" and came from a woman's vagina (which is pretty much always unclean by their standards).
"During a Catholic baptismal ceremony, the priest still addresses the baby, 'I exorcize thee thou unclean spirit... Hear thy doom, O Devil accursed, Satan accursed!" The exorcism is euphemistically described as a 'means to remove impediments to grace resulting from the effects of original sin and the power of Satan over fallen nature.' -The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara Walker
This liturgy comes from a belief that humans are evil and belong to the devil (which is not my fanciful "pagan" idea of Catholicism- it comes directly from St. Augustine and Tertullian). They believe every baby is born evil and babies that die in the womb go to hell. Thus, a baptism is necessary to ensure the baby's salvation. But in Church history, babies were considered so impure and dangerous to priests, that they refused to touch the infant for forty days after the birth. Wow. Just wow. That is some serious misogynistic baggage.

From a Wiccaning in MN.
(Photo from PNC Minnesota bureau)
These days, the Church talks only about declarations of name, of presenting the child to the community, and of dedication to God (the previous dogma no longer plays well in Peoria, I suppose), but these traditions have deep roots that have spiritual repercussionsand meanings today. I would no sooner baptize my son in a Catholic church than I would tell him flat out that he is inherently evil. And I have a hunch, as a pagan, that you feel the same way. So how do we, as pagans, bless and welcome a new babe? Can't baptism be reworked or reclaimed? Sure!

After all, what is baptism (looking at it through pagan eyes) if not a blessing by water? We can remove the stigma that a man (priest) can somehow bless water and (only then) make it holy. We can say it is not necessary to use "holy water" and that salvation is a silly idea. We can proudly proclaim that all water is holy and a miracle. We can use it, as well as other elements to bless our newborn.

Water is an important element (but only one of five). I would say a blessing rite that I would do for a pagan child would include a blessing by all the elements.

Here is a simple proposal that you could embellish as you please:

1. Gather tokens of each of the five elements- earth, air, fire, and water. Be creative about what you gather- perhaps for earth you could get a leaf from the tree under which you planed your child's placenta. Or a bit of sand or soil from a particularly sacred spot for you or your family. Graveyard dirt form a beloved ancestor, perhaps.

The Chalice Well
For water, there are so many sacred springs and wells- I myself have a bottle of water from the Chalice Well at Glastonbury Tor that I use sparingly for such occasions. Or perhaps taking waters from a meaningful river, lake or creek, or an ocean that means something to your family.

For fire, you could obviously use an oil lamp or a candle. Or light a cauldron ablaze and do the rite in the out of doors. When my son was born, I created a birth altar that had, among other things, a very large green pillar candle on it. I burn it now at each of his birthday celebration as well. It should last until he has moved out!

For air, a feather or wing of a bird or insect to act as a fan would be lovely. Pick something that is again, meaningful. I have ties to owls, crows, parrots, and butterflies.

For the fifth element (aether or spirit), is known to imbue everything, especially through vibration- so a lovely song that speaks to the aim of your ritual would do nicely. Another option is a vibrant work of art, displayed. If you have a talent for art or music, or someone in your family does, perhaps an original work would be especially meaningful. The art could be displayed in a nursery or could be sung to your child long after the rite as a lullaby.

2. Create liturgy. You may wish to create language around how each element is blessing the child. Air can bestow clarity, earth can provide grounding, water can provide insights through dreams, fire can provide a creative spark, for example. Whatever gifts you wish the elements to provide is all you need to say, or be as fancy as you like! Are there gods that will be invoked and present? What do you want to say to them? How will you present your child to them?

Personally, I would name the child at the rite for all present to hear (sometimes that is just you and your gods) and then present them to crowd and the gods of your choosing. Proceed to then bless the child with all five elements. Perhaps if a song is chosen to represent aether, it could play throughout the rite, as the rite will not take long.


One suggestion I have is to adapt the Witchcraft tradition called the "fivefold kiss" which blesses a body at rituals, including ones like handfastings.

The words that accompany each kiss are as follows (there are other versions in Gardnerianism and Alexandrianism):

Blessed be thy feet that have walked this Path
Blessed be thy knees that kneel at the sacred altar
Blessed be thy sex which gives and receives pleasure
Blessed be thy breasts formed in strength and beauty
Blessed be thy lips that shall utter the Sacred Names.
                   
At each line, the place on the body is kissed/annointed/blessed. Riffing off of the five fold kiss idea, you could anoint these areas with the four elemental symbols as well as (or instead of) kiss. Or come up with your own novel way of blessing the child with the elements.


3. Once you have assembled your materials, decide who will be in attendance and/or participating. If you could have one other person there, it would be helpful- as they could hold the child as you administer the blessings. If it is you and only you with the child, having them in a bassinette or car seat would do nicely as well. This step includes any deities that you may want to invoke and be present at the ritual. While you do not need fancy statuary, a candle lit at the time their name is said will help bring their attention to the rite.

4. Create your script and practice. When does the music start? Do you have liturgy, or are you being impromptu? Is more than one person participating in the rite? Who does what? Is there a spot for a god to "speak"? I always suggest at least one "run through" before the actual rite, to make sure everyone is on the same page and it makes the transitions smoother.

5. Do the rite when the child is present and awake.

Blessings to you and your family. I hope this helps you.




*I personally do not like the term saining as applied to this ritual, as it implies the child is impure as well. Saining is a term that refers to the ritual cleansing of a space or person, usually pre-ritual. Since I do not buy into the doctrine of sin or original sin, I find cleansing a newborn to be unnecessary at best and offensive at worst.


4 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful post. Thank you so much for this, it came at the right time for my family.

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  2. I'm a pastor who has studied theology and religions of the old world for many years. My convert to paganism is only a matter of time. I find you post to be most informative. I've been a Christian all my life but have never found it to be very fulfilling. What advice can you give me as I explore this new path in my life?

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    Replies
    1. Hi davemartin!

      My best advice for you is to experience the Craft, rather than only read about it. This path is an experiential one, rather than being all "in your head".

      You could look on WitchVox for contacts in your area to see if there are folks like you who are exploring or folks who teach.

      When seeking a mentor/teacher, please understand that there are plenty of incompatible paths and unscrupulous people out there exploiting seekers, just like in Christianity. This does not invalidate the genuine paths and teachers out there, it just makes them harder to find.

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    2. Thank you very much. There is a young lady in my area and she is a friend. I have pick her brain a little. I will talk to her again and see if she is willing. Thank you again and looking forward to talking to you again.

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