Magical Parenting: The Metaphysician Mother


Or father. I’ve been hearing a lot about parenting for pagans and wanted to add my own thoughts. However, I won’t be talking about it from the perspective of the parent. I want to talk about it from the perspective of the child.

Now, my parents are not pagan, mostly because that word is not in their vocabulary. They’re Taiwanese immigrants. However, my mother is a metaphysical practitioner, though she wouldn’t see it that way. What she thinks she does is as natural as cooking, praying, dreaming, meditating, and just using what you have within reach to manifest what you want.

I think that is an important point. Growing up, I never saw what she did as “occult,” though living in the Western society has made me realize that Westerners would define what she does as totally occult. Paying attention to equinoxes and solstices, knowing when the veil was thinnest, when to honor the dead, what to do when there was heightened spirit activity, calling upon the elements of nature and combining it with recitations to make things happen, understanding the phases of the moon– these weren’t seen as pagan.

“After their deaths, in my dreams I went down to the realm your late auntie and uncle were trapped in and it was so cold and dark. They told me they were hungry. So we burned offerings and chanted prayers for them and then many nights later I visited them again. I saw that they were now in a different, better realm, very happy and at peace.” (Mom, paraphrased)

I’ve come to understand that in the Western society, that is absolutely bonkers, but in Mom’s world, that was perfectly normal. And accepted at face value. After a death in the family, she’d relay her dreams and all the relatives would just nod. Yeah, that makes sense, they’d confirm. Okay, let’s burn offerings and chant prayers. And then they’d all wait for Mom’s post-dream-shamanic-travels to verify that the offerings and chanting worked. Mom always said that dead people liked to call to her from the post-mortem realms they were in, and so she’d go to them in her dream state to bring back messages for the living. God, growing up when that happened, I’d cover my ears and run out of the room and make it clear to all who’d listen that I thought all of this was batshit crazy.

As for my father, the best word to describe him might be open-minded. Very open-minded. I want to describe him as agnostic, but I’m not so sure that’s correct. I once asked him point blank what religion he identified as. His response: “I am every religion.” (So he is a pantheist…?)

Spirit and “supernatural” activities are perfectly within the realm of possibilities for my father. That’s probably because of my mother and also my paternal grandmother, his mom, who was very much into the metaphysical, according to him. My maternal lineage was also very much into this “stuff.” My maternal grandfather mixed herbs and gave them to local neighbors as medicine. TCM, they call it these days– traditional Chinese medicine. My late maternal grandmother was wayyy into talismans, sigils, and that kind of craft. She left behind lots of stuff that no one could readily identify, and then upon closer study, “oh shiez…it’s a what?!”

I grew up rejecting all of it, mostly because my parents let me. That’s a point I wanted to make here. My mother never imposed her beliefs onto my sisters or me. Sure, she took me to see various psychics, shamans, fortune tellers, spiritual teachers, religious figures, weird people, and made me go to temples and monasteries, but actual belief she never force-fed. She made available, is really what she did. I hope a metaphysician parent today will do the same– make available to your children, but don’t become the same proselytizing evangelical religious nutjob that most of us are allergic to. If your kid is just not vibing with your goddess, I hope that is going to be okay with you. Let it be.

In terms of magical parenting, there are a few memories here and there that weren’t construed as “magical” at the time, but now in retrospect, were certainly not “normal.” I recall when I was very young being afraid of the dark, of potential monsters in the closet. Mom would tell me to recite this particular mantra, which invoked a male deity and female deity together, and assured me that the recitations would form a protective shield around me so the monsters couldn’t get to me. At that age, in that moment of fright, this made perfect sense and that’s exactly what I would do until I fell asleep. In adolescence, when recounting the instructions my mother used to give me, I’d think of it as Santa Claus or the Easter bunny. Now in retrospect, from a Western occult or even “New Age” perspective, I can see what she was doing there.

I recall serious consideration placed on dreams. Dreams were never just increased activity in the amygdala during REM sleep. Dreams were omens or, crazier yet, legit messages from The Beyond that we now needed to dissect and interpret because the only reason The Beyond would reach out and communicate to us is because something important needed to be addressed. Generally speaking, I don’t often remember my dreams and would assert that I don’t dream. The dreams I can remember are few and far between. My mother used to tell me, “You’re lucky. No dreams means everything is at peace and just the way it should be. A dream means there is something you must do, and that can be tiring, always having to do things.”

Mom also had an altar. She’d say it was a Buddhist altar, but in my adult years when I did academic research into various religions, I’d have to say that, at least in terms of historically verified traditions, it was not a Buddhist altar exactly. She was really into sourcing relics that represented particular elements, and really liked her so-called mystical bells and whistles to spruce up the altar. In retrospect, she’s definitely more Taoist, or at the very least, integrates Taoism with her Buddhism. Historically and culturally, this makes sense, I’ve come to research. That was exactly what people in southern Taiwan did.

The altar cloth could be this ornate gold one with woven patterns or it could be red. I was okay with the gold one, but the red… oh gawd. I’ll never forget the day she had all the red candles on her altar lit, casting flickers across the gold and resin statues of her deities, the bell…thing and other various occult looking doodads, the incense smoke choking everyone in the room, and that red altar cloth when a bunch of Christians visited our home. I saw the way they looked wide-eyed at it all, backed away slowly, and seemed zoned out in prayer.

I grew up fascinated by religion but effectively religion-less. That’s not to say I wasn’t religious. With my mother’s infectious conviction, it was hard not to believe in reincarnation, ghosts, hungry ghosts, deities, angelic beings, karma, feng shui, curses, protection magic, and spells. I did have thresholds, though. Those thresholds would change. At one point it was more atheistic and none of it passed the bar. Other times I’d accept maybe karma, reincarnation, and feng shui, but nothing else. Then the bar eased and eased, letting in ghosts, then maybe deities and angelic beings, and then just maybe spell-crafting, and on it went.

I did find myself, from as young as I can remember, gravitating toward Western occultism. I won’t recount my whole tarot story, as it has been told a number of times since Holistic Tarot came out. But then for a while, in young adulthood, I reverted back to a my-religion-is-science phase though that’s not even quite accurate; more accurately, religion and spiritual practices were, simply put, not part of my life. At all. I focused on career advancement and attaining all the material things that would make an Asian parent proud.

Metaphysician Mom was supportive every step of the way, and I interpreted her support for my career ambitions as her preference that I focus on my career ambitions. Somehow I missed the point– that she would have been supportive of anything I did, as long as she was assured it was what I wanted for my life. Anyway, I took that career support as an implication that she didn’t want me to partake in any woo whatsoever. (I believe at one point she told me that people who devote their lives to the woo live difficult lives, and it “wasn’t for everyone.” Something to that effect, which could be construed as her not wanting me to partake in woo.) So I continued to not partake in any woo.


Then Holistic Tarot happened, which may not have surprised the hubby, who had been with me every step of the way, but would have surprised the parents. I’ve never openly advertised my interest and personal studies into Western occultism (though one glance through my personal library would have made that clear as day….), so I didn’t know what they knew.

As it turns out, Mom didn’t really bat an eye. I don’t think I ever successfully hid anything from her. She knew. A mother knows. Especially the metaphysician mother. In fact, paradoxically, once she gained a rudimentary understanding of what tarot was, her beliefs about tarot went far into the fantastical. Everything she believes about what I do is in stark contrast to what I say about analytical tarot in my book. She believes not “just anyone” can use tarot, but only special people with special powers can. She believes it can be used as a communication tool with the dead and the spirit worlds. She believes tarot cards can forecast the future. She believes a powerful practitioner could conceivably use tarot cards to fix a future. (None of these ideas were instigated by me, please know. Anyone who has read the opening chapters of Holistic Tarot is now in a fit of hysterics, I’m sure.) She believes tarot cards can become energetically “dirty” if I use it to read for too many people, so I better consecrate it on occasion.

Through the latter portion of my life, Mom stopped talking to me about her woo. Sure, there would be the infrequent mention of visions that came to her during meditation when she believed it pertained critically to my future, the feng shui of my dormitory or apartment, or the metaphysical acrobatics she went through to pick out my wedding date, or a few intermittent casual mentions of dream travel into the underworld (shamanism?), often right after a relative has died. But nothing as cray as I remember from childhood.

A decade ago.
A decade ago.

In reflection now, I know why. It’s because I had explicitly expressed my disdain for the woo and her parenting style was to support the formation of my own independent opinions and not try to convince me otherwise. She knew the visibility of the unseen world was something she could not tell me or convince me of. It was a sight I had to see for myself. I think the publication of Holistic Tarot was a sign to her that I was more like her than I had led on. So she came out full on as the metaphysician mother, especially in helping me with my second book, The Tao of Craft.

I’ve always known my mother to be odd. She just wasn’t like everybody else. She knew things she couldn’t and shouldn’t have known. We all knew secretly she could make things happen if she willed it. She possessed the classical ego, pride, and overconfidence of ceremonial magicians, though she was also very humble. Seems like a contradiction, but it really is so. Her parenting style was such that to this day, I can’t say for certain whether my own interest in metaphysics is because of her or something I arrived at on my own, since I took a different path from hers. And that’s another thing– she let each one of her children take their own paths.

It saddens me greatly when I hear of people who have to hide their metaphysical practices from their own mothers, because of their differing paths. Growing up with a metaphysician mother meant I didn’t have to hide anything. It meant when she caught me burning candles and incense in my room and yelled at me, it had nothing to do with her disagreement of burning candles and incense as a teenage me experimented with Western witchcraft; it was because she wanted me to burn them at the main altar and spell-craft under her watchful eye. (She could be overprotective…)

Having grown up with magical parenting means when I confided in my mother about this crazy thought I had about a possible hex, she’d one-up me by telling me exactly what to do, step by step. It meant constant monitoring of my astrological charts for fortune-telling purposes, monitoring of my auric field, and meditation retreats. It meant after the meditation when she asked me if I saw anything and I hesitated and she prodded and then I’d admit maybe sort of seeing a glowing silhouette of an eye right here, pointing between my brows, she’d relax, sit back, bored, and say, “Oh, that’s just your third eye. But did your third eye see anything?”

In pagan parenting discussion circles, there’s debate over how much and what to expose a child to in terms of the, I guess, woo. I don’t have an opinion on that debate, but I can attest to one case study byproduct of magical parenting where the metaphysician mother didn’t hold back at all through my most formative years. (And I came out okay, I think. In fact, I came out very mundane, very conformist and the opposite of what you’d assume would happen.) It wasn’t until my adolescence when I was extremely self-conscious and I was the one who wanted her to “keep up with the Joneses.” And she kinda did. I won’t get into the discussion of whether what she did, going deep cover, was right or wrong. If and when I become a parent, I can see myself doing the same. Because it’s about giving your child space to forge her own path and if that means she doesn’t want exposure to your path, then as a mother, I guess you need to decide how you want to parent. Mom made available and yet Mom gave space.

When we are all grown up, we find that our own parenting approaches are informed greatly by how we were parented, whether that means we overcompensate, go in the opposite direction, or try to mimic. I’m one of the lucky ones, so for the most part, I’m going to try to mimic. Having grown up with magical parenting has been a blessing. My subconscious (maybe not so subconscious) retaliation against the Eastern-based esoteric woo I grew up with pushed me toward Western occultism, tarot studies, and is how Holistic Tarot came to be written. My own growth and maturation, thus return to Eastern-based esoteric woo is how the forthcoming Tao of Craft was birthed.

18 thoughts on “Magical Parenting: The Metaphysician Mother

  1. Carol

    I really appreciate hearing your perspective on this. I frequently talk with my teenage daughter (and anyone else who will listen ; ) about Tarot, crystals, Shamanism, etc… and there is usually some “rolling of the eyes” LOL, which I totally get, so I keep it to a minimum. I occasionally offer to buy her a tarot deck (and the answer is so far “no”). I think she’s taking it all in and one day it will be something for her to reflect on, as she finds her own way. Thanks Benebell – Carol


  2. PeggyLou

    Dear Benebell
    Thank you for sharing your story. It was beautifully inspiring and insightful as always. I love the way the east and the west come together, we are the the third rock from the our Sun. As a mother and a daughter I can relate (even though I left home at a very young age because of my relationship with my mother). I didnt ubderstand a Mothers Love until I became a mother. BTW your Mother did an amazing job raising you because you are an amazing woman.Also, I hope you do the motherhood thing too.
    As a woman in my 50s I still am my Mothers daughter and esoteric DNA is magical blood. Its a gift we are lucky enough to inherit, acknowledge and cultivate. Some of us are lucky enough to get it from both sides of our parents. As females we start as maidens then mothers then crones. Its up to each of us to share our gifts with humanity to raise the vibrations of this world with Knowledge, Love and Light so all if us can evolve to our highest potential. I’ve always said if we weren’t supposed to evolve we would still be living in caves.
    Benebell you do such a fanfreakingtastic job in teaching, writing and sharingloads of information with the world. Im so grateful and blessed to have the honor of chatting and learning from you. I consider you a dear friend even though we haven’t met yet. I can’t wait for, “The Tao if Craft” to be avaible..When can I get it?
    Lots of Love,


  3. I love reading about your mom and your experiences growing up with her and her beliefs and practices, Benebell. I loved it when you shared about her in your Facebook posts while you were writing the Tao of Craft as well. It’s so interesting to see how you came into your own path, because of, or regardless of, your mom’s beliefs. =)


  4. Kitharo

    Your mother sounds so interesting, she definately shaped you! Now I can’t wait to read your new book… September seems so far away, though!

    Currently I’m working with your “Holistic Tarot” and the Fountain Tarot and even though it’s not a RW deck (I know, I know) it works perfectly. Everything you say in the book makes sense for the Fountain, too!
    Thanks for your work!


  5. Vanessa

    This is such an awesome post! I was raised in a Mexican Catholic family with very similar ideas about dreams as omens and visitations from spirits / communication with family members who had passed on. It might seem weird in a Catholic family but I think folk magic is just a big part of Mexican culture. All of the women in my family share their prophetic dreams with the family from time to time. When I was a kid I had a similar reaction to you, rolling my eyes and being like “Mom, that was just a DREAM, you didn’t meet any real spirits.” And now here I am studying Tarot.. which I was surprised to realize when I started that a lot of the symbols have a very Catholic resonance, although I’m not Catholic anymore. I’m coming full circle I guess.

    Anyway, thanks for this great post! It’s really interesting and reassuring to see how spirituality and seemingly clashing metaphysical concerns come together in other families.


  6. Tiffany

    That is so fascinating!! I don’t know where the tale of “practicing woo brings doom or hard life to the practitioner”, my mom told me the same thing when I read tarot, she is interested in having readings but scared for my love life at the same time!?!? Your mom sounds amazing! I’m also lucky that my mom doesn’t push any religion or spiritual practice on me, then again, she’s Buddhist so maybe Buddhism might play a role. Thank you for sharing! Now I’m very curious about your 2nd book, I don’t feel like I have “special power” to practice the craft!


  7. What a beautiful post. 🙂 I grew up with an emotionally unavailable mother so I’ve never really been able to share spirituality with her openly. My family was (is?) Catholic and people often think Catholics are so strict and “churchy” but there’s a lot of mysticism and folklore in there. I remember one time my mom had been experiencing feeling “weird” at home, and she went to church to get some holy water to splash around the house while telling the spirits/ghosts to leave us alone. We’ve also always been close to dead relatives, talking to them, and feeling their presence in everyday life. I don’t remember my father even being part of these things though, only mom. And my mom visited a tarot reader when she was young and was told how many children she’d have and other very accurate stuff. 😉 The thing I wish she’d had a more healthy relationship to is death. She always saw it as a huge trauma and had a major depression when her parents passed away. I’ve had to work very hard to try to change my view of death after this… Rambling. 🙂 I hope if I ever have kids I can share my spirituality with them.


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