This post’s topic can really be parsed down into “How do your religion and major life events intersect?” Which is a fair question; most mainstream religions have things in place for major life events.
In many pagan religions there’s a lot of bootstrapping, of figuring out your own path, of deciding what major life events need a religious component and which don’t. There aren’t a lot of set things that tell you how to deal with these things.
When I tell people I’m pagan and getting married, they immediately assume handfasting. Why? Because it’s the main narrative in the pagan community about alternatives to Christian weddings.
But the thing is, I’m not getting handfasted. I’m not having a Wiccan ceremony at all, though my clergy is part of the ATC — I wanted my good friend Mary to be clergy because I wanted pagan clergy and I knew she would respect my wishes, and she accepted.
Will my ceremony be pagan? Yes. It will be a blend of religious and secular things, because it’s an interfaith marriage — one agnostic/atheist, one polytheist. But I’m having to build it mostly from the ground up because there’s not much out there for me to grab on to. So I have to bootstrap.
This is only one example; I latched onto it because my wedding looms soon
and I’m so behind oh my gods. But there are lots of other major life events: puberty, moving out for the first time, first love, first time engaging in sexual activities, having children (whether through adoption or birth), your role in your children’s major life events, dealing with death of loved ones, setting things up for your own death and funerary practices, and all the other accomplishments that are individual to people but are, nonetheless, major life events.
There has been some addressing of these things in pagan circles — I know there’s the Pagan Book of Living and Dying, which I have yet to read but is on my list, and I know Pagan Parenting by Kristin Madden has sections on puberty and death and dying, as well as a chapter on tough questions. Again, another book I haven’t read, but I know vaguely about the content. The point here isn’t to vouch for the books’ usefulness or not, but to point out that there are pagans out there tackling these questions and addressing these things.
Thinking about my upcoming nuptials really drives home for me the fact that I need to put together some sort of framework for dealing with major life events — whether they’re good or bad. Often big things can be so stressful if you don’t already have something in place you can fall back on, you’ll be left grasping at straws — or, in some cases, a previous religion.
Now, not everyone needs religion or religious rituals to get through stressful times. I’m not suggesting they do. But for those of us who do find it necessary, being raised with those rituals on hand can be incredibly useful in times of trouble. If my children end up being anything like me, they’ll need religious ritual to fall back on when they are stressed. So I plan on creating some sort of framework for the major life events, for the minor life events, for the daily and weekly tribulations of being mortal.
I have a lot of bootstrapping ahead of me. I plan on reading everything I can in order to supplement the framework I build for a pagan religious life, and I hope that what I come up with stands the test of stress.