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“Joining the Family”

Titled: Paganing, Wiccaning, Naming Ceremony, Baby Blessing Ritual, Welcome Home Celebration.

When: Between birth and weaning/2nd year, usually within the first year of birth. Adoption may also be an appropriate time, at any age, to have a Welcome to the Family ritual.

Why: To welcome a child into the family. To introduce the child to the family. To introduce the child to deity, spirit, the elements and ritual space. To bless the child and offer it protection and gifts from parents, family and community. To see that the child is offered future protection and provision from parents and family, an affirmation of the community’s commitment to the child. To establish who the child is in relationship to other members of the family and what is expected of the family in regards to the child. Begin the bonds that may last a lifetime.

Typical Features: Choosing of a special name for child. Introducing the child to those present both physically and spiritually. Choosing of godparents, goddess parents, fairy parents or sponsors (alternate parents should something happen to the first pair and special opportunities for spiritual guidance), asking of blessing, protection and guidance for the child from deities or spirits. Anointing the child with holy water or special oils. Presenting gifts and personal blessings from individuals which may be recorded in a book to be read later. A special candle may be lit or a special plant may be planted, a tree is popular so that it will grow as the child grows and the child will be able to measure its life by the progress of the tree. Also, one may thank the deities for the special gift of the child. As with most rites of passage, a party may be in order afterwards.

Ritual Themes: The themes surrounding this ritual would be about new beginnings, purity, joy, nurturing and growth. Also, ancestral connections and kinship

Examples: One neat idea for families that are welcoming children who have siblings or combining mixed families is to light a candle for each child and parent, then, much like the unity candle well known for weddings and handfastings, using all the candles to light a central family candle later in the ceremony. The zodiac sun sign of the child can be used as part of the theme. At the end of the ceremony, the child’s name may be chanted by the attendees or the child’s name may be said individually by each attendee as the child is passed or brought around the circle.

Changes: The changes occur mostly in the community more than the child who is experiencing everything for the first time. After this, however, family members and parents may be more inclined to guide and teach the child in a spiritual way, exposing the child to religious and spiritual ideas. Many pagans have a belief that a child should be given the opportunity to learn about many religious paths and choose a path of their own when the time comes. Parents and other community members may make themselves available to teach the child or provide the child with materials and experiences which will grow their knowledge of paganism and more mainstream religions as well as providing a solid background and understanding of the moral guidelines that are important to the parents.

This story was submitted to me by my friend PoisonedSpoon:
"My husband and I performed a baby blessing/presentation at the Men-An-Tol holed stone in Cornwall back in 2005. We had asked a good friend of the family to come out for the ceremony and to be the baby's Godfather. It was April so it was just a little cool. We drove down to the site and parked as close as we could. We still had to walk about 3/4 of a mile to get to the stones.

As we walked there, with our baby in his little stroller we passed by stone walled farmsteads with grazing cattle so close you could reach out and touch them. In one of the fields we passed by a massive, muscular, young black bull with a big ring in his nose. He was digging with his nose and tossing dirt in the air, pawing at the ground and grunting. He made a big show of how studly he was. We had to stop and watch him for a while, he was amazing.

When we reached the stones it was only us; my husband, myself, my son and our friend. I didn't participate in the ritual beyond photographing it. My husband was a Druid and it meant a lot to him to be able to present his son to his ancestral Gods. He greeted the directions and asked our friend if he would swear to be a good Godfather, patient and proactive in our son's life. He accepted and my husband passed our son through the holed stone into the hands of his new Godfather.

I took a lot of photos of the whole thing. It was really beautiful."

Midwifery, birthing techniques and birthing rituals

Speaking of birth… let’s not forget the mother and what she goes through to give birth. The pagan women I know tend to be rather empowered women who see childbirth not as an illness that a hospital visit and a doctor can cure, but a special, sacred process that may include hospitals and doctors, but often goes far beyond that. The choices available to the modern mother are many and varied. A woman may choose to give birth at home, some may choose a special birthing center, and some may choose their favorite hospital… or just the closest one. A doctor may be asked to assist, a midwife might be involved, family may be asked to join or just the mother and a special friend or partner may be all that is asked for. She will be faced with many choices… painkillers or none, breathing excercises or some other technique, a water birth or a dry birth, standing, sitting or lying down, even surgical assistance.
A woman’s choice for how she will give birth will be determined by her and the baby’s physical condition, the availability of resources, her beliefs about herself and her body and her spiritual views.
Let’s go over some of those choices. Choosing a midwife to aid with the birthing process is becoming a more popular choice. Many witches see midwives as common kin since the ancestors of modern witches played this role in earlier times and the natural methods employed are familiar to pagans. The herbal remedies, natural pain relief techniques, their training to let nature take its course and not interfere with the birthing process unless necessary and the simple fact that midwives serve not just as a physical help, but also a guide and mentor to the mother from prenatal through postpartum periods can be very attractive to a pagan woman who wishes to add a strong dose of dignity and tradition to the process of giving birth. Many work independently, but are able to integrate well into the hospital environment however, the World Health Organization claims that there is no evidence that physicians attend to births better then midwives… neither is there any evidence that midwives are better and they don’t often come cheap.

Choosing to give birth outside of a hospital setting can be a hard choice to make, but can help a mother stay calm and relaxed during the process. Being surrounded by familiar things and people can be soothing and takes the stress of running to the hospital at the first contraction out of the equation. Also the thought of one’s child living in the same house they were born can be a powerful one. To some women, this could have important spiritual connotations and don’t like the idea of giving birth in a sterile, unwelcoming hospital, while to other women, a hospital will feel more secure and welcoming and the presence of a large number of health-care professionals an high-tech equipment will help to lessen a mothers anxiety.

Water birth is another choice that is gaining popularity. A water birth is when a mother labors in a tub or pool of warm water. Sometimes, the birth itself takes place in the water. The first question a lot of people ask is, “Born into water! But it’ll drown!” However, the baby has been enveloped in a sac of warm water during its entire development and hasn’t drowned… the physical features that have protected its lungs in its mother do not just vanish in the birth canal. Instead, the babies reflexes don’t react until they are exposed to air and the baby can breathe normally. It is thought that the warm, relaxing environment soothes the mother and is also gentler on the baby. Fans of this method claim that the water creates buoyancy in the woman and baby allowing for freer movement, and that the warm water helps relax skin and muscle in the mother allowing for a smoother birth, is soothing to the mother cutting down on the need for painkillers and also lowers blood pressure. This method may be very attractive to people who are drawn to the water element, adding another layer of meaning to the birth. Water births can be done anywhere an ordinary birth can happen, as long as there is room for a tub of water. More and more hospitals are becoming water-birth friendly.

Another thing to take into consideration is the ritual aspect. Certainly, there can be no purer and more powerful ritual than a mother giving birth, but some families like to add something special to the occasion by marking it with a ritual of their own invention or tradition. Take, for instance, the ritual of cutting the umbilical cord. Often, this is a privilege offered to the mother’s partner and I have heard stories of pagan fathers wishing to do the honors with a special blade that will be presented to the child when it comes of age. Cleanliness, however, can be an issue with that and any blade that will come in contact with the umbilical cord while it is still in contact with the mother or child will probably be subject to sterilization. One family had a blade with a non-metal handle that couldn’t be put in the sterilizer, so the ritual was changed so that the blade cut a piece of cord that the father had already removed. Other rituals, occurring just before, during or after birth might be considered. Rounds of chanting may be incorporated into the birth to sooth the mother, a clergy member may be present to bless the birth during labor or bless the new family member directly afterwards. Family or coven members may wish to do their own rituals to send healing energy and strength to the mother as she labors. Songs, chants or other efforts may be used to call the baby out or ensure its health.
Any ritual taking place in a hospital setting or at the birth should be discussed with the professionals attending to the mother… To be honest, every aspect of the birth should be discussed with all involved, even where the baby will go directly after the birth or what should be done if an emergency arises. Will the placenta or umbilical cord be saved for medical or ritual reasons? There are a number of traditions that involve saving these artifacts for special purposes… Cord blood can be banked for later medical use should a problem arise. I’ve also heard of women ritually cannibalizing their placentas or burying them in a safe place, or planting a tree with it for the child.

The most important decisions, however, will be based on the medical conditions of the mother and child and these decisions require deep thought and good medical advice and I encourage you to do your own research to see which methods might work for you. No matter what way a child comes into this world, no matter who is there or what building it’s in or what sort of medical attention it gets, it will be a sacred event, the most sacred of all living moments.