Do Family Traditions really exist?
Not according to some people, I recently heard an anthropologist who happens to be pagan say it was just pagans trying to claim to be an indigenous religion. I would have to disagree.
I can only speak for myself but growing up with magick in the family was nothing like my more formal training as a Witch.
Growing up in my family was an adventure and that was how I was taught to look at life and the world.
The magickal folk in my family were highly educated and trained in many different fields and I’m sure this affected what they taught me as a child. I later learned that what they taught me was not what other children were being taught by their families and I learned very early on in my formal Craft training that most teachers felt family traditions either really didn’t exist or just weren’t considered as good as “formal” training.
So, what happens in a “fam trad”? Here is my story: I was raised in a mostly Scottish family with Swedish bits thrown in when they had to be on holidays.
My maternal grandmother who was responsible for most of my “training” probably never, ever would have used the “W” word. As far as she was concerned she was a Presbyterian like the rest of her family. She went to church on Sunday with my grandfather and was there any time one of us kids were singing or playing hand bells in the choir. She was there when my father was ordained as an elder in the church. But in the rest of her life she went her own merry way as she had been taught by her grandparents and as my great- grandfather attempted to teach my mother.
I can’t compare my traditions with others since most family traditions are kept very quiet in the family but I can tell you how I was taught. I also can say that I believe family traditions probably grow and evolve just as other more formal traditions do. I say that because I have yet to meet pagan that wasn’t intensely curious about the rest of the world and did every thing in their power to learn all they could. In my family learning and books were the greatest treasures a person could acquire. My grandmother got her college degree in 1910 from what would become U.C.L.A and never stopped reading and learning, and was a woman who did as she pleased. She was a silver smith. A leather worker, a wood worker, a gardener, a mountain climber and hiker, at some point she painted china did some ceramics. She took a cruise with her best friend when she was sixteen to Alaska in 1906. She was a bit ahead of her time, women didn’t get the vote until 1914. If she was interested she did it. When she died she was taking Japanese cooking lessons from the gas company. She was in her 80’s. Her mother was just as ornery and made a practice of buying property in her neighborhood. One part of the family had moved to Canada from around Balmoral Scotland and the other were Scots who came from Northern Ireland and from around the river Boyne in Ireland but they always called themselves Scots because they moved there against their will. They moved to California on January 01,1901 from Canada.
Education and experiences change your view point and as a result I don’t thing it is possible for a family traditions to be completely unpolluted.
So how did it start? Well from what I can tell the oldest child was the one who was taught by their grandparent. I have an older cousin and I don’t know if Grandma offered to teach her or not but somehow I lucked out. I spent every summer with my maternal grandparents and it was the most wonderful part of my childhood. I was born blind in one eye and only partially sighted in the other (my mother had the measles before I was born) and my grandparent’s house was the only place that treated as if my disability didn’t matter. And when I was seven I had one of the first child eye surgeries and it didn’t matter after that.
Some of my first memories are taking walks around my grandparent’s neighborhood. My grandmother would take me around and introduce me to all the plants and trees. Her introductions were no different than when she introduced to Mrs. Foote, her neighbor, except I didn’t have to curtsy to the trees. It was very clear that I should treat them with as much respect as any human.
When I was 6 my grandparents took me to the San Diego Zoo and to this day I don’t know how my grandmother did it but she talked the Aviary keeper into letting me hold a toucan. I was so enchanted by this bird with blue eyes and a huge bill. I got to feed the bird and that just was an amazing and awesome experience.
She took me to Marineland so I could talk and touch Orky, Corky and Bubbles, the whales. It was on a weekday and fairly deserted and visitors were encouraged to be friendly with whales. Many years later when I was employed as a Girl Scout Program Director I visited Marineland on a day it was closed to the public to arrange a G.S. day at the park . The woman who worked at the park took me up to the whale tank. It was her turn to talk to the whales. It seemed that on closed days the whales got lonely and bored and Corky had broken the glass on the tank more than once until people started talking to them.
I read a book on the training of Druids not too long ago and was startled to find that every subject covered was taught by my grandmother. Obviously she had some idea of what I needed to know but I never was aware at the time I was being taught.
I learned my family traditions and genealogy for both sides of my family. I learned the stories of the famous members of the clan. She was still incensed at Robert the Bruce for killing the Red Cumin on the altar of a church in Dumfries Scotland like it had just happened. It happened in the 1290’s. I have to admit when I read Katherine Kurtz’s novel about the murder of the “evil pagan” the Red Cumin I was just as angry. Those good Christian stabbed him the back. Not exactly sporting was it? I learned about Rob Roy MacGregor and the MacGregor’s punishments. I learned about Adam Smith and Queen Victoria’s ghillie John Brown, they were my cousins (He’s my first cousng thrice removed, pretty convoluted). I learned our tartans and mottos and had my own tiny Cumming tartan kilt when I was so small I had to be lifted on to the bleachers at the Highland Games. I learned about being a Cumming, a MacGregor, or my dad’s Robbs, Stewarts, Campbells and MacFarlanes. I later took Highland Dancing which was a bit of disaster as I was painfully shy. I took Gaelic as an adult so I could read in some old books we had.
I learned the songs of Scotland. One of my earliest memories is having my grandmother try to teach me “Speed bonny boat” in the backseat of the car. Why are so many lullabies so grisly? I learned about Greyfriars Bobby, the dog who wouldn’t leave his master when his master died. I learned about bogles and faeries and the family brownies. My first and best gift after my eye operation was a magically illustrated book of faery tales from her. I still have it, after my cat and my sister it would be what I grabbed in an emergency.
I learned about divination. My grandmother had a tarot deck and a gypsy fortune deck she hid in her desk. She also had a contraption I have never seen since. It was a small wooden board a little larger than a cribbage board with small holes through it from which you pushed out fortunes.
She had some interesting crafts. We made sachets from good smelling things in the garden. We took special paper needles and wove paper. I learned embroidery and stitching. I learned to draw and make little books to keep my drawings in. We made fruit cordials and her father’s Scottish shortbread. We gathered flowers and herbs and pressed them. We sang charms as we did crafts to make them. I thought it was too make them go faster if I was getting bored. I know differently now.
I learned it was no big deal to know things before they happened. I thought every one knew who was on the phone before they answered it. I learned the life was magic and couldn’t be separated from it.
I was given books to read, art supplies, anything I wanted to create with and I was never told no when It came to what I could learn to do. If I was curious I was taken to the library or bought a book on what ever it was. I took classes at our local botanical garden. Every holiday we went to museums.
My parents were both teachers and when I was growing up I never knew that other families took vacations to places just to have fun. We went on expeditions. We traveled the Mission trail. We went to the gold country of California. We went to famous author’s houses like Jack London. My favorite visit was the one we took to Luther Burbank’s home. We went to places like Lava Beds National Monument and Lassen National Park. We went to wildlife sanctuaries and botanical gardens. I was an adult before I knew my mom hated the tadpoles I came home with, after all, she helped me catch them.
My father was raised on a farm and he was the one who gave me my first garden. There ought to be laws about children abusing radishes and carrots. Poor radishes, being yanked out of the ground to see how big they are everyday. He taught his family’s stories. My father was a very conflicted man. He was the one who took care of us when we were throwing up. He was the one who bought our sanitary supplies when we were too chicken to go in the store but he also was the most angry person I have ever known in my life.
All my male relatives with the exception of my father were Master Masons. So I’m sure those attitudes coloured what I was taught also. My great uncle Winn had all of us kids convinced that if we turned around fast enough we would see his garden gnome push his wheel barrow. Why we don’t all have permanent whiplash I don’t know. One evening when I was small he took me outside in the twilight to his backyard to show me some Magic! First he showed me a hummingbird’s nest with its tiny, little eggs. Then he pointed Sputnik overhead in the sky and lastly he showed me the great horned owl who lived in the wild part of his backyard. It was a beautiful evening and I will always remember it. I have garden gnomes in my garden now because one never knows, do they? When my mother and her brother were small he had them convinced that they heard Santa’s reindeer’s sleigh bells on Christmas Eve.
I’m afraid I also absorbed some quirks of Presbyterianism along the way into my Craft. Presbyterians have almost no decoration except flowers and some carved wood in their churches. Anything else is considered idolatry and not done. The only “frills” they have are music, poetry and storytelling. I tend to be that way now if the ritual is over dramatic or elaborate with no purpose or energy behind it I lose interest fast. I’m too like the boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes and likely to laugh and point.
I don’t know if when I was an adult the things I learned and the way I was taught would have changed because my grandmother died when I was seventeen. The summer before she died she sat me down and made me make a promise to her. She wasn’t sick so I don’t quite know why she did it. She made me promise never to look in her casket when she was dead. Me, being clueless, promised and didn’t think too much about it. I thought she was being morbid. The next August she had a stroke and died a few days later. When I visited her in the hospital it was the first time in my life I had ever seen her furious. She was angry at her body because she couldn’t speak or move. I knew exactly what she was mad at and I think she willed herself to die because she couldn’t communicate. At her funeral that promise I made came due. My mother raised holy heck about it and the whole world knew about it. She was screaming at me in front of the whole funeral home and I kept saying that I had promised I wouldn’t so I wasn’t going to break my last promise to my grandma. This was all so weird because my family doesn’t do open casket at funerals anyway. She was also mad at me for crying. She said I was hurting my grandfather’s feelings. Some times the Swedish non-emotional part of my heritage is a pain in the patoot. I still struggle with that part of me.
I do know I keep her lessons and attitudes in my heart. My grandmother and great uncle are the reason I’m not an axe murderess because my dad may have been a teacher but he could not hold his tongue or his temper and I was his punching bag. If I hadn’t had a garden and books to escape too I might not be alive today.
So back to family traditions, I know of two other women who were taught in the same way by their grandmothers and I suspect most family traditions in magic are passed the same way. What better way to learn than from someone you love and adore and would do anything for?
So yes, there are fam trads. Most of us just learn to shut up about it. You wants to be told you don’t exist?