Irish-American Witchcraft: What We Pass On


Irish-American Witchcraft: What We Pass On – My two and a half year old son was sitting in my lap the other morning when he grabbed my hand and started tracing the lines on my palm. Only half joking I asked him if he was going to read palms like his great-grandfather, and he agreed enthusiastically and made a game of inventing stories for each line.

It was a funny moment but it did make me wonder if my son really would read palms some day, as my husband’s grandfather does. Now mind you my grandfather-in-law is not a witch – he is solidly Catholic in a very Irish-American way, but he has always read palms and no one bats an eye at it. I can still remember being at a family picnic with my daughter when she was about 18 months old and having him come sit with us and take her hand and start reading it as the rest of the family ate hot dogs and chatted. Much like my grandfather always poured out a bit of anything he was drinking onto the ground if he was outside, as the portion owed the Good Neighbors, and no one ever questioned it. And this line of thought made me wonder how such a thing would be passed down, when my husband’s grandfather isn’t in a position to teach my son and no one else in the family ever learned the skill.

One of the questions that gets asked in the pagan community over and over is whether or not its right to teach our children our beliefs, in effect to pass on our traditions. What I realized as I was contemplating my son’s palm reading game was that choosing not to pass on our beliefs might or might not give our children more freedom of religious choice but it certain is contributing to the old ways and skills being lost. When we make a choice not to actively teach our children what we believe, what we do, and why then we are significantly reducing the chances that those beliefs and practices will be continued beyond our lifetime. The only way to be sure that what matters most to us spiritually continues is to make sure we do what we can to see it live on beyond us.

The Druid Order I belong to has an approach to training that is less common in modern Neopaganism. It is based on the old Irish system of fostering, and means in the case of White Oak that a student fosters with a teacher for several years of one-on-one training. It’s a slow process, and one not suited to everyone.* But, it is also one that passes on our Order’s traditions and practices in a very in-depth way. There is a general core structure, but there is also personalization an flexibility; the witchcraft I practice is much more ephemeral and hard to pass on as a cohesive thing, although I am certainly trying.

Some things, need to be nurtured and explained. Some things need to be taught. Too often I think we assume that things we do will be carried on by our example, but that is not always true. Some things need guidance or it is too easy to forget or dismiss them. I wonder if I’d pour out a bit of drink of on the ground if my grandfather hadn’t said why he was doing it.

As we move into a new year I am asking myself more and more, what am I passing on?

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