Holiday Gift Guide for Magical Kids (and Kids at Heart)

When I’m shopping for my kids for birthdays or holidays, I rarely think to myself ‘is this Pagan?’ I don’t care if something is exactly my flavor of spirituality. What I’m looking for are things that foster creativity and enjoyment, and stories that reflect the values with which I and my husband are raising our family. There isn’t a lot of high quality Pagan- or Hindu-specific kid stuff out there (that I can find easily). But there are some things I’ve found and I’d like to share with you. Some of these books and media I’ve written about in other posts. I apologize for the repeats.

First, you’ll find no toys listed here. Basically anything that fosters imagination and creativity (paper and markers, blocks of any kind, dress up clothes, fake kitchen items, science kits, robotics kits, etc) are great for kids, as are anything that will get them outside. What could be more spiritual than creativity and nature? These sorts of ideas extrapolated for adults are also a good idea, because it’s rare to meet an adult who is getting enough creative or outside time. I know I’m not!

Books

We are a house full of readers. Below are some of the books I have particularly loved for kids of all ages.

Lakshmi, from Kathleen Edwards' Holy Stars.

Lakshmi, from Kathleen Edwards’ Holy Stars.

*Holy Stars by Kathleen Edwards is a great book for overviews of the world’s religious figures. Equal space is devoted to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Yahweh, Muhammad, Lakshmi, Krishna, Buddha, Chango, and others. It’s all done in a graphic novel style that is engaging and fun to read. Snippets from prayers are included. It won’t tell the full story or answer all questions, but introducing kids of all ages to the world’s spiritual characters is a wonderful way to promote religious diversity, understanding, and literacy.

May not be ideal for kids under 4 or 5. Some of the gods’ stories can be…. scary. For example, the crucifixion of Jesus is not easy to explain to a 3-year-old!

Click on the image above to go to the author/illustrator’s site to see more images.

bigmomma*Big Momma Makes the World, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, is a beautiful picture book telling the story of creation. What I love about this version is that it doesn’t use an old, white man as the Creator. Instead we see an African-American woman as the Creator. The images are simply gorgeous.The narrative voice is delightful. I think this book is appropriate for all but the most conservative of traditions.

This book is appropriate for all ages.

abc_cover_small* ABC Book of Shadows is a board book, perfect for tiny hands and little ones just learning their letters. I will admit that the art in this isn’t my favorite, but little eyes love the bright colors and child-like drawing. This book is written with a Wiccan point of view, and I’m not Wiccan, but you know? It doesn’t matter. As my son got older we were able to talk about some of the differences between what I believe and what the books says. No matter, this a well-loved book in our house. I’m pretty sure I have it memorized, that’s how many times we’ve read this. In fact, our copy is starting to fall apart. I don’t expect it to last beyond the third child!

Click on the image to go Itty Bitty Witch Works, the author’s small press.

elsa beskowchristmas* While not explicitly Pagan or religious, but simply marvelous all the same, are the works of Swedish author/illustrator Elsa Beskow. We have three of her books and I would gladly have more! My children love the pictures as well as the stories. Beskow focuses on images and cycles of nature from her native Sweden. Characters are embodiments of the elements, seasons, or folk tradition (such as trolls) that sometimes interact with human children. Some books are slightly more Christian in theme, but none of the books are ‘religious’ in any overt way. The length of the stories might be hard for kids under 3 to sit through, but the images will grab them. Content-wise, these books are appropriate for people of all ages and all traditions.

 

* A great find at our local library was Gillian Cross’s wonderful retelling of The odysseyOdyssey, with Neil Packer’s stunning illustrations. This isn’t a complete retelling, but it’s enough to entrance a child – and the parent who has to read it aloud! Books of ancient tales and myths, if well done, are popular in our house. This one was a particular favorite. In fact, we will be gifting our son with his own copy for the holidays.

Ideal to read aloud to pre-literate kids and great for older kids to read on their own. Click on the link above to see more images from inside.

sea of trolls * I have written at length about The Sea of Trolls. In fact, I consider it one of the best non-magic books about magic! Here’s part of what I’ve written before:

The Sea of Trolls is set in the 8th century in Saxon ‘England’. Our hero is Jack, an 11 yr old boy. His father longs for Lindisfarne, his mother keeps bees, his 5 yr old sister Lucy insists she’s a fairy princess, and he befriends a Druidic bard. In the first few chapters of the book, Jack is the bard’s apprentice and he begins learning and witnessing magic. Then comes the Viking invasion, and he and Lucy are carried off as slaves. We briefly see Picts and then Jack and Lucy are taken across the North Sea and must venture into Jotunheim, the land of the Ice Giants/Trolls.

It’s a wonderful story, with great characters. The writing is simple – very appropriate for readers 9-11 yrs old. While I like the story and enjoy reading it aloud to my son, what blows me away is the depiction of magic and spirit.

I have read this book many times to my son. There are perhaps two chapters (one on berserking, in particular) that might be too descriptive for your under 10 child – your mileage may vary. I admit to skipping bits here and there for my son.

This book is the first in a trilogy. I enjoyed the entire trilogy, but this is by far my favorite. A great easy read for the older kid or adult who likes fantasy, myth, and/or history.

GraveMercy_* For teens and adults who enjoy YA writing, I recommend Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassins series. Grave Mercy is the first in the historical fiction series. So far there are two books; I believe the third is coming out in the spring of 2014 (I can’t wait!). What’s great about these books are the strong female protagonists. They are trained assassins and nuns for the Breton god of Death, Mortaine. The young ladies haven’t really chosen their lives, and so their motives are complicated by politics and romance. I greatly enjoyed these stories.

What makes me include them here is the complex, if fictional, depiction of ‘the old gods’ existing in a newly Christianizing world. There is also an incredibly powerful vision of the god of Death at the end of Grave Mercy that made the theologian and Pagan in me jump for joy.

MeetPolkadot* The last book I want to recommend for kids is not spiritual at all, yet I think many readers of my blog will be interested in it. Meet Polkadot is an educational book on gender diversity for kids. Talcott Broadhead is a local (to me) author and social worker with a gender identity-diverse family. This book has bright illustrations and explores the topic through the eyes of Polkadot, a transgender child (or, for those that assume transgender means surgically altered, let me also throw in the phrase ‘gender neutral’). In a society that doesn’t know the difference between sex and gender (one is biology, the other is identity) and is suffocating under the tyranny of ‘blue is for boys, pink is for girls’ nonsense, this book is more than needed on bookshelves everywhere.

But better than my recommendation is the fact that my 5-year-old loved it. My nearly 3-year-old listened to the whole thing, though I don’t think she really understood much of it. We had great discussion afterwards, too. My son really wanted to know whether Polkadot was a boy or a girl – and that was a great opportunity to talk about the many ways people react to non-normative gender expressions.

This book is not available on Amazon. Please click on the either the picture or the link to go to Danger Dot Publishing.

Not books

* Once you’ve read all the books and you want to sit and watch something with positive Pagan values, I can recommend nothing as highly as the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series. I know, it came out years ago, but there still isn’t anything out there as compelling, with such outstanding design, strong females characters, well-written story arcs, and what I see as Pagan values. Sure, the last point is debatable, as there is nothing in the show explicitly Pagan. The series draws more from Asian and indigenous cultures than Western ones, yet this lack of Christian-based morality is a breath of fresh air. The values presented are all ones I hope my children (and myself!) emulate. I am sure I have seen every episode 30 times, and it still doesn’t bore me.

This program is suitable for kids over the age of 2 (the first season especially; the ending four episodes might be more appropriate for 5 and up – again your mileage may vary).

* Another cartoon that I recommend for its feminist leanings, excellent art and depictions of magic is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I am no fan of content created for marketing, but this cartoon series was designed and spearheaded by the amazing Lauren Faust. She’s worked on the Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends (two other cartoons that I am a big fan of). There is nothing spiritual about this series, but I can’t help but recommend something using magical tropes AND filled with strong female characters (and solid animation). I love Rainbow Dash, but suspect I’m more of a Twilight Sparkle. Suitable for all ages.

My son's Ganesh murti.

My son’s Ganesh murti.

* Finally, I think a small Ganesh murti can be ideal for kids. Their very own statue! Plus, small murtis aren’t often that expensive – usually between $10-20. Ganesh is a fantastic god to keep in a kid’s bedroom. He’s kind, loving, happy, and will keep watch over the littles! I like to say he’s a great gateway god!

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Navratri 2013

Navratri, nine nights devoted to the Holy Mother in her various forms, began on Saturday with the dark of the moon. Last year I kept the observance rather simple and personal. This year I feel pulled to engage with the holiday more deeply.

The first three days are a purification of sorts. The focus is on Durga, but also Kali and Parvati. I spent one day on each goddess, making kala, and working on letting go of what no longer serves me. I burned black candles and spent a lot of time in meditation. I pushed myself in my yoga practice.

Today begins three days of devotion to and focus on Lakshmi. I made an extra effort with my clothes and make up today. I made a sugar scrub with jojoba, olive, rose, and jasmine oils. I am taking time out for beautiful novels and music. Sitting in meditation this morning I realized how necessary this break from such seriousness is! It’s usually all Kali, all the time in my head! But a person needs a break from the unrelenting intensity She brings. Lakshmi says to me, “Flow. Seek out the beautiful in each moment. Create beauty in each moment. Bless each moment and person you touch.” Such a different outlook on the world!

Mahalakshmi

Mahalakshmi

As Lakshmi is the goddess of abundance, I will be asking for blessings upon my family’s finances, seeking Her assistance in finding a house for our growing family, and making donations to various organizations. I have learned that there is no receiving if you are not ready to give out of the abundance you already have.

After Lakshmi’s days come three days devoted to Saraswati. She is the patron goddess of sound, speech, and knowledge. I will petition Her for blessings on my voice and writing, and my husband’s business. The last day involves placing your books and tools used in your vocation in front of the altar. That means Sunday will be a media fast for me.

I’ve also brought some of the observance out into the main living area. I have a smaller altar area set up on the dining table. Flowers, a pot with water and rice (representing Ma as the earth and foundation of our sustenance), a cup for incense, a candle, and today’s banana offering. I light the candle morning and evening and say a simple prayer. It brings the observance a bit more into the family sphere, without having to involve them in my detailed observances.

IMG_0734

May you and yours be blessed with abundance of all good things! May you find the beauty that surrounds you and is in you! Jai Ma!

Bargaining with Kali

I’ve been quiet lately in this space. There is a lot of intensity in my personal life right now. The last I wrote with any depth was about praying to Kali. She continues to work in my life. I continue to ask her to slay the fears that limit my spirit, and she continues to give me plenty of opportunities to face my fears. I rarely like what I see, nor do I feel all that secure. I made a promise to my partner that I would not back away, that I would press forward.

Here is the image I have in my head: I am riding a wild white horse bareback as it is racing across a wide open plain. My hands are at my side. My chest is thrust forward. Riding another white horse ahead of me is Kali. Her black tangled hair writhes like snakes around her. She rides her horse backward, facing me. She is performing open heart surgery on me. In her hands is a long spear with a scythe tip on the end. My chest is bloody and wide open. She has my heart snagged on the tip of her scythe and she is pulling ever so gently as we ride like the wind across this vast land. She is smiling. She has no fear; it is not her heart oozing on the tip.

Does this mean I am a victim? No. I am a willing sacrifice. I am offering up the old boundaries, the old patterns, the old cage that held my heart. Break it, smash it, make room for something bigger, wilder, freer.

There are big, big changes afoot for my family in 2013. I did a money spell on the dark moon. Next week on the full moon I am sending out another wish bird spell for a house. The emotional work I am slogging through is an incantation for my transformation. I still pray: O Kali Ma, slay the fears that limit my spirit. And she has delivered! She has given me the opportunity to do just that. Lakshmi has poured abundance in my lap. Now I must pry open my hands, let go of what no longer serves, and make room for all that goodness.

Kali Devi

Kali Devi

Morpheus’ recent post on sovereignty and The Morrigan inspired me to get before my altar, to get even more specific with Kali. This is not a one-sided relationship, where I beg for crumbs from some feudal master. I am not Kali’s equal, but I have my own sovereignty. From one angle I am the one with my chest cracked open. From another angle I am Kali performing the surgery.

Ok, Kali, I said, sitting before my altar this morning. You have given me what I asked for. Thank you. I will not retreat. I will press forward. I will not retreat. But if what you are pressing me forward fo —

YOU MUST SING.

I didn’t get through my prayer before a loud voice in my head told me I had to sing. I went cold and thought, this could just be my brain. But I’ve never interrupted myself like that before. I must sing.

Fuck.

I went back to praying: If this is really going to happen, I need some security, some emotional, spiritual and material support. You give me that and I will sing. I will sing and you provide that. Help me. In this open heart surgery, give me a blood transfusion with the courage and strength to keep riding this horse.

Is it wise to bargain with Kali? We shall see.

What is the significance of singing? In what feels like a different life, I used to sing: jazz, opera, musical theatre. This January marks my 23rd year since I started studying voice. Twelve years ago I was given the opportunity to pursue a path toward professional singing and I chose theology. In the last four and half years (since my son was born) I’ve done barely anything at all. Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on the voice and the will. Having an infant gets in the way of rehearsals. Now I resist the painful rust that rests on my chords.

I am reluctant to go into the details of my love/hate relationship with singing. A history of performance anxiety and panic attacks certainly doesn’t help a singer’s career. I have long known that I would need to face this part of me again as I deepen my magical practice. My husband looked at me last night during a conversation unrelated to singing (and yet entirely related) and asked me, Do you want to be an initiate? Do you want to be half the witch I think you are? My answer is, of course, YES.

I will press forward, I will not retreat. The surgery is begun, let it be completed. Winter officially arrived yesterday with snow and cold; the winnowing season is coming to a close. Solstice is around the corner and winter feels like a good season in which to recover. Let the heart surgery continue.

I will sing. I might resist, but dammit, I will sing.

 

 

Be careful what you pray for….

Because you just might get it.

I’ve been quiet. There’s been a lot going on in my house since Adam’s grandmother died two weeks ago. As soon as he returned from the funeral, my in-laws arrived and then it was Thanksgiving. Then my daughter came down with a double infection and a bronchial thingamajig. Oh yeah, and I’ve been not so successfully fighting the cold and…..

And dealing with so much stuff that I cannot talk about publicly. On top of some wonderful opportunities that I look forward to sharing with you next week, I am dealing with some very deep relationship issues. Which leads me to the title of this post.

Yesterday I was overwhelmed with intense feelings. I felt like a deer in headlights, paralyzed, unable to see if the bright lights were safe or potentially fatal. I walked myself into my office (altar room) and sat in meditation for a while. The moment I walked into the room I was smacked upside the head with the realization that every single day I pray to Mahakali to slay the fears that limit my spirit. If I’m not prepared to face my fears – my deepest insecurities, to dig deep, to expose my heart – then what the hell am I doing praying that prayer?

Kali Ma

Kali Ma

And I realized I had only last month prayed and venerated Lakshmi, goddess of abundance, asking for all good things. If I am not prepared to make room for that abundance, then I am foolish indeed.

So I’m facing my fears. Mostly it feels like I’m flailing and talking too much to my loved ones. Mostly it feels like I’m vacillating between feeling strong and expansive, and shame that I’ve not got my shit figured out. I am clearing out the dead weeds in my patterns, past and heart, making room for new growth, new love, new patterns; more, better, stronger.

Celebrating Diwali

Diwali is like Christmas. It’s a festival of lights, a celebration of light over darkness, of ushering in the new, and giving gifts to loved ones.  There are many traditions, some vary according to community, but some of them are: new clothes for everyone, new jewelry for women, a new kitchen utensil for the house, closing up the year’s account book and starting a new one, leaving all the lights on, and creating colorful mandalas, decorations and footprints leading up to the front door to let Lakshmi know to visit.

As with all my observances of Hindu festivals I tried to take the meaning and adapt it to my abilities. My overwhelming experience with Hinduism has been that, despite my inaccuracies, my limited abilities to create ‘authentic’ puja, and my straight up ignorance of Sanskrit, whenever I practice, my efforts are repaid in full. There is juice and Presence in this tradition!

After cleaning the house yesterday, I decided that we too would make footprints to decorate the front porch for Lakshmi.

Me and B drawing

Feet! From top left, clockwise: Adam, Niki, B son, A daughter(with help from me and Bennett)

A outside. B also drew a picture of a robot. “Will Lakshmi like it?” he asked.

Ready to welcome abundance and Lakshmi to our house!

Diwali gifts: books for the kids, a new pair of wing earrings for me (already in my ears), and some sushi items for the house/Adam. You can see a candle burning at the family altar behind us.

After a delicious dinner, I uploaded grades while Adam put the kids to bed. Then I went and sat in meditation for a while, performing a simple puja.

The murtis are front and center. On the left are ramekins of honey, cumin and sweets (gummy bears, because the kids won’t eat them). In front of Lakshmi is a lotus plate with turmeric and coins. In the white pitcher is water with rice, a 50 cent piece, and a lily.

EDIT: After much discussion, Adam and I have decided to edit our kids’ names out of this post. I had originally put their names in, but we feel that since they cannot consent to our use of their names, lives, and likenesses that we are just going to use their initials (B and A) until they can understand what the internet means. I question even using their photos, but I use them so rarely and they’re so cute.

A blessed Diwali!

Diwali decorations are up. Candles are lit. Lights are on. Wine is poured. Gifts given. I’m wearing new earrings and I’m about to cook one of my husband’s favorite meals.

Tonight, after the kids are asleep, I’ll make puja to Lakshmi, honoring her for the abundance and beauty in my life, and asking for her blessings upon my life, my family, and all who dwell in this house.

Pictures (and more explanation) to come tomorrow.

May we all find light in the darkness, may liberation and enlightenment dispel the darkness of ignorance, and may we be blessed with the abundance of all good things.
Jai Ma!

Holidays and Hinduism

Diwali begins today. Well, in some communities. The major Lakshmi puja is observed the day after the dark moon, on Tuesday. What’s hard for me about observing Hindu holidays is that so many of the details depend on cultural traditions of the Indian subcontinent. Tamils observe slightly differently than Nepalese than the myriad other ethnic and cultural groups. The gods even have different names and sometimes slightly different mythology! While this is really confusing, it’s also liberating. There is no “right” way to observe anything in Hinduism!

I spend a lot of time trying to distill what I think the essence of an observance is all about. Diwali is a time of triumph of light over dark, of gratitude for friends and family, of honoring Lakshmi, who brings wealth, beauty, and abundance. It’s all very appropriate for this season – what with various end of harvest traditions, the approaching Thanksgiving holiday in the US in two weeks, and the various festivals of light in December.

Today begins the five-day observance. In some places it starts with honoring the gods of death and darkness. Yes, the light triumphs over the dark, but the dark is necessary, as any devotee of Kali knows! Today also lines up with Veterans’ Day/Remembrance Day. Tomorrow also the marks the astrological end of the Samhain season, so I think one more observance of the Dead is a fitting thing.

This morning I sat on my cushion, lit my incense, my meditation candle and the candle in my black glass votive for the Ancestors. I offered up words of praise and peace for the Mighty Dead, the Ancestors, and all those who have fallen in war – either as combatants, resisters, or civilian casualties. May their souls find peace. May those of us living find peace in our hearts, minds, souls, in our actions and our words. As the prayer of St Francis says, “Where there is hatred, let me sow peace.”

In an hour I’m heading to yoga. It’s been about two months since I’ve been. Today’s yogic focus is on Kali – how could I miss that?! I will offer up my practice on the mat to Kali, praying that any strength I gain will create more peace within me. I’ll carry that into tomorrow’s Diwali focus: freedom from fear.

Only by letting go of hatred, violence and fear is there room for true abundance.