Few moments are as precious to mothers as the hushed rituals of bedtime.
Kristin Madden's memories include watching her 3-year-old son use the first personal altar he built on his father's old ironing board. He covered it with a blue cloth and added rocks, a baby tree, an earth flag and his hatching-dragon sculpture. Then the two of them would snuggle and talk about magic and the travels he would take in his dreams.
Finally, they would say a favorite prayer, such as: "Now I lay me down to bed. Great Spirit, bless my sleepy head. As I journey in my sleep, I know the Dragons my soul will keep. Mother Earth and Father Sky, watch over me here where I lie. Fairies please carry my love to all. Relations and loved ones, I do call."
Kristin Madden is a tutor in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Pagan mothers say bedtime prayers, too. They also celebrate Mother's Day, which is natural since they focus their spirituality on nature and, literally, Mother Earth.
The pagan pantheon includes female and male deities and most rites are rooted in cycles of birth and death and the four seasons. Madden stressed that it's hard to make sweeping statements about the legions of groups in this complex and evolving movement. However, most Wiccan believers emphasize feminine and lunar traditions, as well as spells and witchcraft. Druids blend masculine and feminine symbolism and are more solar oriented.
This is certainly an interesting time for magical families, said Madden, who was raised in a single-parent pagan home in the heady 1960s and now lives in Albuquerque, N.M. The pop-culture powers that be are so fascinated with the occult that this has turned into a problem for many pagan parents, especially recent converts. Children often think that what's happening in movies and on television is real, she said. "You hear kids saying things like, 'Wow! Cool! You're mom's a witch? Can she cast a spell on someone for me?' "
In Hollywood, this is the age of "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," "Practical Magic," "Charmed" and "The Craft." Oprah Winfrey is leading Middle America in prayers to the spirit of the universe and covens can be found in many liberal Christian seminaries. Pentagon debates about pagan chaplains, naked worship and sacred daggers offer the first glimpses of another constitutional issue -- the separation of coven and state in the age of faith-based initiatives.
Works friendly to neo-paganism, especially Wicca, fill shelves in mega-bookstores. In the wake of the New Age explosion, pagan publishers are producing waves of their own books, from "Astrology & Your Child" to "Secrets of Western Sex Magic." Madden is the author of "Pagan Parenting" and the "Shamanic Guide to Death and Dying."
And everyone is pondering the kid-culture earthquake triggered by You Know Who.
"The whole Harry Potter thing has just taken off and glamorized everything. It makes it seem like all of this is about spells and magic," said Madden, who has chosen not to read the J.K. Rowling books with her 5-year-old. "It can be hard to get children to remember that what we're about is faith and spirituality ... Many pagan parents consider Harry Potter a mixed blessing."
Pagan parents realize that they live in a culture dominated by a "lip-service" brand of Judeo-Christian values. The key, said Madden, is that the mainstream fears any form of rigorous faith that "isn't normal" and becomes counter-cultural. Thus, she is considering home schooling to avoid having to compromise her family's strong beliefs.
Ultimately, this entire neo-pagan revival is about choice, she said. More and more Americans are claiming the freedom to find their own gods and goddesses, their own rituals, their own truths and their own brands of spirituality. This revival is about believers insisting that they can be their own priests and priestesses.
"As a pagan believer, I am very hopeful," she said. "America is really coming along and becoming more open and tolerant. ... People are out there searching for a personal relationship with a god and with nature. They don't want dogma. They want new experiences and their own kind of spirituality. They are ready to try all kinds of things."