Pregnancy is a magical time. New life is blossoming in every way and ultimately represents a new chapter in our lives.
Many feel drawn to create altars to celebrate the blessing of pregnancy as soon as conception is confirmed. This permanent and evolving altar serves a number of functions throughout pregnancy and after birth; enabling the prospective parents not only to celebrate their state of glorious experiencing but also support the process magically.
Such altars initially start out as fertility altars. It doesn’t matter whether the couple performed fertility rites ahead of conceiving, though any altar previously dedicated to that purpose should form the basis of this one.
Items to incorporate into the space may include eggs, seasonal flowers, pomegranates and other fruit or animals associated with fertility and multiplicity.Associated colours would be green, for growth, and pink, representing love.
As the pregnancy progresses milestones, such as ultrasound scans, can be commemorated and the space can be used to perform personalised rites of celebration on a regular basis.
As time and pregnancy progress the symbolism of the altar should adapt to represent new life this might include using images of young animals with their parents. You may also wish to include images of family members that have gone before at this point.
After the birth of the child a final rite of thanks and celebration should be performed. In particular any deities or powers invoked during its use should be thanked and any promise of offerings made good on. Once done the space can be deconstructed and cleansed for reuse in other ways.
As society has increasingly become more secular there has been a rise in the popularity of naming ceremonies. These ceremonies focus on the welcoming of the newborn into both the family and often wider network of friends and community. The same kinds of promises of guidance and support are made by family and friends but the emphasis on a ‘God fearing’ duty has been removed.
In modern times these welcome ceremonies are performed within months of the new arrival however the ancient ceremonies which many Pagans like to cite as the origin of suggested ceremonies were more often carried out as children reached their third or fourth year. This is the point in life when a child had proved it was likely to survive and be able to offer something to society. Many modern pagans are uncomfortable with this seemingly mercenary attitude but in a time when infant mortality rates were high and the demands of life and society great such timings are understandable.
As a result most naming ceremonies are carried out in accordance with the prevailing Christian time scale of within a few months of birth. The necessity to baptise within the first minutes and hours of birth to avoid original sin is long since past and to retain this early welcome is more in keeping with social norms.
Organising a Ceremony
There are many naming ceremonies published in books and on website and it can appear that they differ wildly from one another. One reason for this is that many ceremonies are written to fit a particular tradition or understanding of Paganism. The underlying format of the ceremony is so simple that they can be adapted to suit the family needs. It is not unusual for a nuclear pagan family to have extended family members who are not pagan and the benefit of the naming ceremony is that it can be made ‘Pagan Lite’ by using the Humanist Ceremony and adding appropriate readings and invocations if / where appropriate.
There are people who, for a fee, will carry out a naming ceremony on your behalf. Often they will be willing to working with the family to build a ritual according to their needs however some may wish to limit themselves to their own traditions.
Given that there are no universally recognised officiating Pagan bodies those unable to find, or afford for someone to officiate on their behalf in an official capacity can always ask a trusted friend to officiate for them. Equally, there is nothing to stop the parents carrying out the ritual themselves, although the tone pf the ceremony may need to be carefully managed.
Themes to Consider
When constructing a naming ceremony there are a number of elements which can be included in addition to the central reason for the event, the presentation and naming of the child.
- Consider statements on the following subjects
- Responsibilities of parent towards child
- Responsibilities of wider family towards child
- Responsibilities of sponsors towards child
- Nature of guidance in respect of nature
- Nature of guidance in respect of wider society
- Nature of guidance in respect of deities (if appropriate)
These may be made organised as statement and response, or repeat after me statements and pendants by the official or participants.
In Set Up
It isn’t necessary to cast a fully and ceremonial circle, or indeed possible or reasonable in all circumstances. That being said the symbolism of the circle is highly appropriate and where possible attendees should invited to stand in a circle or semi circle around the central participants.
Given that a wide range of people may be attending the ceremony it is advisable to keep ritual elements as few and/or as simple as possible. If casting a circle keep summoning simple and general. If invoking deity don’t get too in depth about their attributes, particularly if they are prone to be misunderstood by those lacking familiarity.
Ideas for Gifts
Living in a materialistic culture we tend to find new born are inundated with stuff. Toys, cloths, equipment; the chances of getting something in triplicate are high. When I was planning our naming ceremony we were given two suggestions for gift giving ideas, both of which fit into the concept of blessing a new arrival.
Invite family to buy a gift for the child to receive in the future, say when they are 16 / 18. The gift should represent a wish that the giver has for the child. I invited people to write a little message on a tag which was then attached to the gift so that in years to come the intention, and giver, were identifiable. Some of the suggestions may be
- Animals ornaments with totem associations
- Coloured candles
- Crystals with meanings
After the ceremony the items and tags are placed in a box. There is no ceremony but at a later date it will be a fun family exercises to open it up and review with your grown child the gifts, the givers and all the thoughts and memories that go with them.
You don’t have to leave them alone for ever more. I have added items to the girls boxes over time, particularly as relatives have passed. Memories of milestones and activities are also things I have added, making the box as much about memories as blessings
This option is really one for those with a little more space and requires the purchase of a tree sapling. The sapling, which represents the child and their future growth, should form a central part of the ritual and attendees invited to write down wishes and blessings for the child and to tie them to a tree.
After the ceremony (and writing down who wished what for posterity) bury the wishes amongst the roots of the tree so they may nourish the seedling as it grows. So too, sympathetically at least, the child will be nourished.
Those that I am aware of having done this have invited those wishing to give to the child to gift the cash equivalent which has then been uses to start savings accounts for the child’s future.
Coming of Age
Coming of age ceremonies based on biological development are something society has has a fluctuating relationship with. Historically, and what is now called the Middle East, such times were important in marking when a child became ready to take on more adult responsibilities within their society.
Female coming of age ceremonies are inextricably linked to the ability to reproduce. Those first, bright signs of fertility signal that a girl has become a young woman and is ready to take on fuller responsibility within the community. In times past these were not just relating to domestic roles but those of motherhood as well.
In contracts, coming of age ceremonies for young males ceremonies were more often based on age, or the achievement of certain feats and social goals. Although physical maturation and development of adult characteristics may have played a part in timing they were not as significant with comparable female events in terms of significance.
The form these ceremonies took would be dependant on the society and the particular skills or characteristics held desirable in the male population. Any even would have been designed to highlight the desirable characteristics of that society either through deed or instruction.
In recent decades and in particular within spiritual circles, that has been an increase in the observing of female coming of age ceremonies. So called Red Tent rituals or Menses celebrations are used to celebrate feminine maturation and coming of age. These celebrations focus on the feminine identity and role of women as bringers of life and fertility. The appearance of the menses is is a key on dictionary that a your woman is biologically capable of bringing life into the world, if not physically so.
There are a number of issues that arise from this revival of observation. Firstly, in a modern western society girls can begin their menses as young as 9 and 10 years old as a result of the improvements in diet and health care. Historically, such ages ranges would have been unusual, even amongst the higher classes. Even today, these tender ages are hardly classified as being ‘mature’ and the concept of coming of age at this point seems somewhat premature.
Secondly, not everyone agrees that the revival of such practices are a positive step. Red Tents were, originally, a form of social exclusion of women who were experiencing their menstrual cycle based on the believe that women were made impure by this natural process. The issue of social exclusion, lack of access to feminine products and even healthcare because of these antiquated believes is still very real issues in this day and age, particularly in third world countries. Whilst many who recreate Red Tent and similar rituals do so from a standpoint of reclaiming femininity not all agree that it is a universally positive process.
Next is the tonality that is associated with some Red Tent movements. Take this as an example. Presumptive? Definitely. Creepy? Pretty much. It is hardly a good advert for the Red Tent movement but even step back the movement encourages some unhelpful and hazardous (biologically anyway) practices, such as free bleeding in an attempt to reject the patriarchy.
Finally, many feel that such biologically driven ceremonies exclude too many people from participating. In addition to excluding transgender children it is important to note that not every young woman will experience a menstrual cycle for a whole host of medical reasons.
For these reasons, and others which I am struggling to articulate, I won’t be recommending this kind of ritual. Instead, I belief that such coming of age ceremonies should be based on age in relation to societal role and responsibility.
The obvious age to go with is sixteen. Generally this is considered the point of social maturation it is at this age a young person can leave compulsory education and get a job should they wish to. Although the really juicy possibilities like voting, buying alcohol or becoming totally emancipated from adult guardians will not occur until the age of 18; at 16 the responsibilities of adulthood coming creeping into their awareness.
I have not reached this stage with my children and the subject is such a minefield that I am hesitant to direct people to online resources.
Personally I would like to arrange a good old knees up, tied into the 16th or 18th birthday, and invite friends and family. Ultimately this would be something that the children would have to decide on. They may not be interested in a pagan path in years to come and as it has never been my intent to force my path on them. It might just be a birthday party but they may wish to have something more ritual in nature as well. In my mind this would be something very similar to the blessing ceremony we had previously, with a small ritual content which called on the ‘powers’ to witness the event. Given that 15-16 years is a long time I would also want to work in an ancestors element, calling on departed loved ones to witness the occasion and guide the maturing child in the years to come. In concept I also like the idea that the parents would be adjusting the promises made at the naming ceremony to reflect the increased maturity of the child. This should both confirm the child is moving towards adulthood and ready to assume greater responsibilities but reaffirm that the parents will always be there to guide them.