Burning Questions

Sep 9th, 2016 | By | Category: Articles, Guest Blogs, Pagan People

By Imelda Almqvist

IMG_4780How can we keep magic alive with children whose parents can or will not feed and encourage this, while honouring different perspectives and religions?!

From the earliest days of me running a shamanic program for children in London, UK, the most heart-breaking scenario (occurring at regular intervals) has been: a child wants to join and explore some of the most ancient spiritual techniques known to humankind – but his /her parents won’t let them because on some level they have internalised the Christian prohibition of “speaking to spirits” and a “fear of magic”.

I have had profound soul struggles over this issue because the “rebel in me” feels it ought to be the right of any child to have a spiritual toolkit and to explore different spiritual perspectives, especially powerful ancient ones – not just the religion or cosmology imposed by their parents.

Obviously everyday life does not work like this because religion and spirituality are such emotive issues and (thankfully) there is a lot of diversion in our multi-cultural society

Let me first paint a brief history of our present “spiritual climate” in Western Culture – because we need to understand where the Fear of Magic originates and then I will share ideas for keeping magic alive with these children!
A brief history of the Fear of Magic

Western culture is profoundly coloured by Christian beliefs and dogma, even if the majority of families in our society do not attend church or call themselves practicing Christians in any sense.

As a teacher of Norse shamanism I am intrigued by the period in which Iceland and Scandinavia converted to Christianity. This did not happen out of any great desire for the new religion but more as a strategic response to economical and political pressures from the Continent. The following link gives a very vivid description of the period and process:


The Tale of Hall (as told in Njal’s Saga, from around the year 1000) shows this and more. He allowed the Christian missionary Thangbrand to baptize him on condition that Archangel Michael became his “fylgja” (guardian spirit). This shows the exact moment in time where the ancient indigenous fylgja changed into the Christian concept of a guardian angel.

This is where a fork in the road occurred that still influences daily life today.
Studies in Comparative Religion show that when new gods arrive on the scene, older gods and goddesses are often demonized and (almost literally!) pushed underground. In Scandinavia this is how Satan came to “reside at” Valhalla – originally Odin’s Hall of the Slain, a desirable destination in the afterlife for the warriors who died an honorable death on the battle field.

jhp56fd43e1c6ccaAnother way of telling the same story is to say that this tale shows how and why Odin, Freyja, Thor, Frigg (and many other Norse gods) were “dethroned” and thrown on the compost heap. However, being the timeless powerful beings they are they shape-shifted and found ways of “staying around” (e.g. in the names of places and rivers, the days of the week, the names of wild flowers, in grimoires – books of magic – and in folklore remedies). They never really left. They are still around!

The Church Fathers actively used fear as a social tool to divorce people from the far more ancient existing pantheons of gods and goddesses and heathen ways in all corners of Europe.

Sometimes we need remember (and somehow try to imagine!!) that before Christianity there was no division into absolute good (one almighty God) and absolute bad (the Devil). The ancient gods and goddesses were passionate beings who often mirrored the characteristics and conflicts of human beings. Their exploits appear in myths conveying timeless archetypal truths about the human condition. (Think of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus as well!)

With the arrival of Christianity a massive split occurred (around 900 – 1000 CE in most places in Europe) and this was folowed (between roughtly 1550 – 1700) by, what some call, The Scientific Revolution. The magical thinking that still reigned supreme in medieval times (where everything was seen as part of a larger Divine Plan or manifestation of God’s Will and trees were seen as “the thoughts of God”) was dropped and Europe switched to the linear scientfic mode of perceiving reality that is our dominant reality today.This all began with Nicholas Copernicus who asserted a sun-centered (not earth-centred) cosmos. Next Isaac Newton discoved the basic laws of (what became) modern physics and the notion of a Mechanical Universe – an Universe that runs like clockwork or a machine, prevailed.

So… we lost our vibrant native gods and goddesses. Magic was demonized by the Church and over a period of centuries we lost both magic and magical thinking . And today we still habitually rob young children of this – even though children are very obviously born as profoundly magical beings (pick up almost any picture book for children!) or chat to any toddler!

During the Reformation (from about 1450 to 1750) Europe saw a period of witch hunts, witch trials and mass executions. This created an immense fear that many of us still hold (mostly unconsciously, without questioning the origin) somewhere in our ancestral field and bodies. Our family soul holds the memory of this (most clients and students I work with have at least one ancestor who died this horrible way) and “lives in fear “of a repeat of this. (This is why I have called this piece “Burning Questions” and I hope it will become a larger collection of related pieces over time).
Children in the 21st century

To cycle back to our focus on children in the 21st century: today many parents will not give permission for their children to explore shamanism or magical work because “talking to spirits is not allowed, dangerous or sinful”). In the air hangs a faint sulphurous notion of a wicked witch (me) pulling out a Ouia board and putting children at risk of spirit possession in addition to endangering their mortal soul.

This divide even runs through my own family of birth I have just published a book about using shamanism creatively with young people while my youngest brother is a science teacher and committed atheist who deliberately gives his children no spiritual education at all. His children (aged 10 and 9) were not allowed to attend the funeral of their great grandmother earlier this year. They were kept out of church and parked at my my mother’s house (i.e. the other grandmother’s place) for the day. This presents the loss of a major spiritual opportunity in my “book” – but my opinion was not asked or given. My parents gave their three children a very traditional Roman Catholic upbringing but (crudely put!) they ended up with “one shaman and two atheists”.

So what can we do when the parents of children will NOT encourage magic or provide soul food for their children?!

Well, quite a lot…

I have formulated some “rules of engagement” and guidance based on years of shamanic work with children and families:

Parents set the moral and spiritual climate in which children grow up. This needs to be respected at all times. And remember: there will be a reason on the level of “soul alchemy” why any child chooses a particular set of parents or other set-up in this lifetime.

It is NOT the role of a grandparent/aunt/uncle/godmother or well-meaning neighbour to “stir up trouble” or offer a “spiritually more evolved perspective”. FULL STOP!!!

Having got that completely straight – there are many things you can do….

– You can feed and encourage the magic that young children naturally possess – not “peddle” an established shamanic/Buddhist etc. perspective.


Few parents (of any religious persuasion or background) will object to their child

* knowing the names of plants and which ones can be used safely to make herbal teas
* writing stories inspired by the shapes of clouds
* listening to ancient fairy tales or stories from grandpa/grandma’s own childhood when some things were done differently from today
* children lying on their backs in the grass listening to the sounds trees make as the wind moves through them, or the music in the surf on the beach. (Now can we imitate those sounds and play around with them?!)
* Grandma feeding their child’s imagination in a respectful way (there is a reason why myths and ancient fairy tales go strong for generations and centuries! Tell some of those old stories as story telling is something many crazy-busy modern parents “skimp on”, skipping pages or putting on a DVD instead!)
* Experiencing one memorable day where everything happens upside down and back to front! The child will remember this vividly until the day they die!

Following on from this: when speaking to such child(ren) use phrases like: “In my imagination…” or “I once had a dream where….” (rather than saying “the spirits are telling us…”)

The same thing goes for power animals. Don’t say “Shamanism teaches that every person has a power animal”. The parents may prefer “guardian angels” Saints, or “The Holy Ghost” or no spirit allies at all. (Think back for a moment to Iceland around the year 1000!)

Instead talk to any child with an open heart and mind. It is perfectly OK to talk about their favourite animal. Why is it your favourite? What qualities do you like about this animal? Could we plan a small safari to the sea-shore/forest/wildlife park (or other destination) to see this animal and draw it? Buying the child a cuddly version of a favourite animal to sleep with won’t upset anyone, neither will “horsing around” having wild fun imitating the animal.

When a child asks (and some will!!) some pointed questions or shares experiences “I sometimes see angels or fairies but I can’t talk to Mum and Dad about that” – tread with extreme care but say, very mildly, that some people DO believe that fairies exists and that angels watch over us (after all many books have been written on the subject. Visit any library or bookshop! Go to a museum and look at truly beautiful paintings of angels…) Say that as the child grows older it will probably see the world a bit differently from their parents (and this is how our world changes and evolves. It is natural! This happened to grandpa as well…)

Say, again gently, that all human beings have to learn this lesson: that we can only share certain things with certain people – not everthing with everyone, sometimes not even with our parents (or siblings).

Make it clear that the child always has a non-judgemental ear in you. That it is safe to share abolutely anything without being criticized. Just STAY CLEAR of pushing a belief system different from the parents “on” a child. There is a fat red line there! And never ever say “your parents are wrong”. It is the journey of the child to eventually work out where they stand on the worldview and belief system absorbed from their parents. This is not your journey to make!

Gently and respectfully keep possibilities alive. The same child will believe different things at different ages. Over time you will observe a “rational period”, a “peer pressure and fear of ridicule period” and so forth, in any child you have a long-term relationship with. But the greatest gift you can give a young person is to be a true mentor for them: share your own life wisdom, allow them space for exploring and thinking outside the box, give them a space where secrets are safe. (Caveat: if they tell you they are self harming or in danger in any other way you MUST tell their parents and tell the child why you are doing this . As an adult you have this duty of care and responsibility for the childn’s welfare!)

Anolther thing you can do is encouraging the child to plan thoughtful surprises for others:

I have drawn a tiger for you! (What may remain unspoken is: “We both know that there is no point talking to you about power animals but I often see a tiger with you and you will love having the picture up in your kitchen!”)

I picked these flowers for you! ( I know intuitively that their plant spirit medicine is exactly right for you but you don’t need to know that to put them in a vase. Their yelow faces will left your spirits!)

You could practice the ancient custom of sleeping with certain flowers under your pillow and sharing dreams the next day. Talk about dreams anyway, the way tribal peoples always have done – this can be a fun part of a sleepover. (Wow! Grandpa has time to listen to my dreams and he does not need to rush me off to school!) The same goes for making a fire, climbing a tree, making your own herbal tea, writing a poem in which magical events occur.

There are hundreds (probably thousands!) of things you can do to feed the soul of a magical child without crossing any lines or setting up any conflicts. These things are not “full blown shamanism or paganism” but they address the thirst for magic in a child and may just create a small reservoir the child can draw on times of difficulty, or in later life when they gain more spiritual freedom.

Children are natural born shamans and magicians! So are many grandparents. They have trained in the School of Life and lived long enough to know that miracles are more common than we think and that scientists or medical doctors do not hold the monopoly on “truth” or “human reality”.

Grandparents see the portals between world too. They understand why it is important to jump across the cracks in the pavement – or deliberately fall through them like Alice in Wonderland fell through the rabbit hole…

And if you are really looking for ideas for magical projects to do with children – check out my book as it is full of tried and tested material!

Imelda Almqvist, Kärrshagen, Tystberga, Sweden, August 2016
About the author:

Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books in August 2016. ¬†She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally.¬† She was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in July 2016.





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One Comment to “Burning Questions”

  1. carollynn johnsen says:

    love this! very helpful

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