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!

Maxim Monday: Honor a benefaction

I actually had to look up what a benefaction is. I figured it meant something positive. It does: a charitable gift or deed. Honor gifts given or good deeds done.

How can we do this? I think a simple ‘thank you’ is always sufficient and in good taste. The art of thank you cards seems to have died out, but are always a nice touch. Sometimes an email or phone call to say thank you can work just as well. Perhaps this means not giving anonymously? Allowing others to thank you for your donations or efforts on their or their organization’s behalf. Perhaps this means praising others that you know give graciously of their time and other resources.

There’s not much to say about this maxim. Merely, simply: thank you.

Maxim Monday: Use your skill

All of us are skilled at something. Maybe you are a violinist, a carpenter, or speak two languages. Maybe you knit or craft or bake the best muffins in your town. Maybe you kick ass at video games, play a mean game of foosball, or know how to carve wooden swords. I don’t know, but I’ll bet all of us are good at more than one thing. So the questions this raises for me are: are you valuing the skills you have? And, how are you using them?

Often times our skills can be put to use for the benefit of others. Sometimes we get to make money with our skills or use them in our day jobs. Many times our skills really shine when we use them for own pleasure.

Whatever your skills are, I encourage you to use them. You’ve likely worked hard to develop them, or at least spent many hours over the course of your life developing the skills you’ve got. Using our skills is a sign of pride in ourselves, can be a gift, a help or a blessing to those around us, and honors the work that we’ve done to hone our skills. Plus, when we use our skills they get better.

I’m good at several things: I am a skilled reader, a decent writer, and I know a lot about religions. I can cook and I can sing. I can organize like a mofo. I am trying to use the first set of skills in a more professional way. I have spent a lot of time, effort and money developing those skills – I’d like to use them!

I cook three hot meals a day for my family; this is an act of love and service. Cooking and hospitality also bring me a lot of joy and weave into the vision I have for my life, my community, and the world at large.

Singing is another skill on which I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money. Not singing seems like a waste of all of that effort. Besides, singing brings me joy, and I’ve also promised Kali I would sing! My husband tells me that my singing brings joy to him and others.

Lastly, I organize my household, but in the past I’ve used this skill extensively in my professional life, and I hope to do so again some day.

All of those skills utilize different aspects of my self. They all bring me different kinds of satisfaction. I am guessing that your skills do similar things for you: tapping into the varied parts of who you are and bringing you pleasure.

Let us value the varied skills we possess and encourage one another to use our skills for joy.

Serpent Songs, A Review

By now you probably know that I am an unrepentant fan of Scarlet Imprint, publishing house of fine occult books. For my birthday at the beginning of June, my husband gifted me with Serpent Songs, a collection of essays whose central theme is traditional witchcraft. I squeed with delight. The book is beautiful to behold, as I expected. The textures of the paper feel good in the hand; the color and printing are a delight to the eye.

Image taken from Scarlet Imprint's web page.

Image taken from Scarlet Imprint’s web page.

That said, I found this collection to be very hit and miss. Several of the essays I loved. Some I found entirely uninteresting. One essay in particular made me so upset that I wanted to hurl the book across the room. And not in ‘intellectually stimulated and challenged’ upset sort of way.

Let’s start with the awful and get it out of the way. Shani Oates, Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain, has written a bloated essay in the purplest of prose. I read it three times, hoping that it was me and not her. Alas. Ms Oates writes as though she has mined a thesaurus for the most beautiful words she can find. There are lovely phrases, yet nothing seems to have any meaning. I suspect that she may have been writing in code. Many Craft practitioners do this, so as not to reveal secrets or break oaths. But some authors, like Serpent Song‘s editor, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, are gifted at both writing in code, yet giving non-members plenty to chew on without condescension. Ms Oates essay reeked of outsider exclusion. Given that Scarlet Imprint writes for the smart occultist, without an emphasis on a particular tradition, I am stumped as to how this essay was included.

There are also some rather dull essays, ones I thought only marginally interesting. They reminded me of things I read in graduate school. I thought they might have been more at home in a decidedly academic collection.

But then there were several essays that more than made up for the others. I enjoyed Johannes Gårdbäck’s essay, ‘Trolldom.’ It’s a subject I don’t know much about. Gårdbäck, a Swede, used the tale of assisting a couple to inform the reader of many aspects of Trolldom, Swedish folk magic. It was interesting story telling and informative, too.

Several of the essays are ones I will come back to again. I was particularly impressed with the two contributions from Basque sorcerers, Arkaitz Urbeltz and Xabier Bakaikoa Urbeltz. This is a tradition I knew nothing about until reading these two essays. The way the home and hearth are central to their tradition, way of life and understanding of their world spoke to me in a deep way; I related and felt challenged to think more deeply about connection to home and place. One essay discusses Mari, a goddess I had heard stems from the Basque tradition, and is only found outside of it in the Feri/Faery tradition I practice. I felt these two authors did a beautiful job communicating their beliefs and practices in poetic, yet clear ways.

Sarah Lawless contributed a beautiful article on the ‘Mysteries of Beast, Blood and Bone’ which ends the volume. It is animistic in tone and practical in focus. It was a delightful ending to a mixed bag of essays, ranging from incredibly annoying to boring to possibly practice altering to profound.

Overall this book is, as are all Scarlet Imprint’s tomes, for the serious collector or practitioner. This book contains some of the worst writing I’ve yet to see them publish and some of the most beautiful and interesting. As always, there are several versions of this text, finely bound and digital.

Maxim Monday: Give back what you have received

I think this is basically an ancient way of saying ‘Pay it forward.’ I absolutely agree with this idea. Now that I have a family, I believe this even more. I can respect and care for my parents, who have given me much for my success in life. But I can pass on the gifts and resources to help my kids succeed as a way of paying forward the generosity shown to me.

And not just my kids, but everyone’s kids. Modern America is a divided society, segregated primarily by class. We have less upwards economic mobility than we have in several generations, and less than most other industrialized nations, particularly Western Europe. Rising inequality is primarily to blame. My husband and I talk about how much easier it was to buy a house and support a family with only one working parent 30 years ago than it is now. Yet, I feel like those of us in our 30s and 40s are still living under the expectations that we can have the lives our parents had, and raise kids the way we were raised. I don’t think it’s possible. At least, not without help.

Giving back, helping others, is much easier if we ourselves have received assistance. It’s easy to judge welfare recipients if we’ve never struggled to pay bills, afford stable housing, or get enough to eat. I guess some people are so used to having others pay their way or handle their struggles for them that they expect others to always bail them out. I’ve met very few of those people in my life. Most people I know have worked hard and accepted help when it’s been needed.

Adam reminds me that perhaps this maxim might be talking about giving back negative things. I don’t know how the actual Greek breaks down. Instinctively, I leaped to the positive interpretation. I’d like not to live in a world where we give back negative for negative. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, so goes the saying. I’d rather walk away from those who hurt me or create systems of oppression and work instead to pay forward the good.

Too much of politics and parenting seem built around the bitter attitude of ‘well, I had it hard, and I turned out fine, so you shouldn’t have it any easier!’ But what if we didn’t have to work so hard? I’m not talking being lazy and never working diligently for anything. I mean, what if we didn’t have to work obscene hours at menial jobs for pay that doesn’t afford us basic health care? What if we didn’t have to protect children from abuse and neglect? What if we didn’t have fear walking down the street at night? What if we didn’t have to have bars on our windows and make certain we locked every door? Why can’t we make it easier for our descendents?

So I’ll be voting for things that make others’ lives easier. I’ll be raising my kids with every resource that’s been given to me. I’ll be donating regularly, even when times are tough, to area organizations doing the same. (This last one is also enlightened self-interest. Who knows when I might need assistance?) Paying it forward, giving back what you have received, is a form of gratitude. Gratitude is an antidote to bitterness. Gratitude is also a powerful way to make our families and communities better, healthier, happier, stronger units.

Maxim Monday: Test the Character

I feel like this one is incomplete, as in an incomplete sentence. Test the character of what? But I suspect this one is telling us to test the character of the people around us.

Knowing of what sort of character our friends and family are made of is a good idea. Can we trust them? Do their words and actions line up? But I don’t think we actually need to test anyone’s character. If we just pay attention we’ll find that people reveal their character regularly. In my experience, life is full of tests of character; there is no need for me to go adding in extra tests.

Maybe this one means testing our own character. To that I repeat, life is full of challenges and tests of our character. There is no need to set ourselves up for more tests. And yet, when tests and challenges come up, we can embrace them as tests. Sometimes we discover that we’re weaker in some areas or under some circumstances than we realized. So then we can reflect and hopefully strengthen ourselves for the future.

May we all score an A+ in the tests to come.

Maxim Monday: Consult the Wise

I love this one, and it’s one I have problems doing myself.

Who are the wise? They are those trusted souls who have walked before us. They might be elders in our family or communities. They can be authors of books. They could be our mentors, teachers, or spiritual leaders. Maybe even one of our friends is especially wise. Many of the people around us have struggled with the same questions or tried some version of a similar task or quest. All we have to do is reach out and ask, “How did you do it? What was your experience? What did you learn?”

And that’s the part I struggle with. I am so independent that I too often forget to consult the wise ones around me. I storm forward. I ask for forgiveness, never for permission. This kind of boldness and initiative is often a blessing. I am rarely stymied by others’ opinions of my abilities. My courage muscles are well flexed. But this kind of independence can be a weakness too, as I have to learn the hard way. I also deprive the people around me of being more intimately involved in my life. I miss out on the wisdom of the wise in my life.

Consulting the wise can bring perspective and sometimes that perspective isn’t what I want to hear. I don’t want to ask permission, because what if the response is No? What if the wise tell me to wait? As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more receptive and open to reaching out to others for advice and assistance. I have cultivated relationships with many people whom I trust and respect, and who have a wealth of diverse experiences. I know I have much to learn from them, and I trust that they love who I am.

At its core, this Maxim is yet another one reminding us the value of listening (to ourselves, to our gods, to each other) and of interdependence. We need each other. And I definitely need to be reminded to consult the wise more often than I do!