Guest Post: Caste, Cows, Karma and Magic at PantheaCon 2011

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 4, 2011 — 28 Comments

[The following is a guest post by Mihir Meghani, M.D.; Board Member & Co-Founder, Hindu American Foundation (www.hafsite.org)]

INTRODUCTION

Witches, Heathens, Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, and even someone dressed as Lord Shiva, a divine representation of the God and the infinite in Hinduism — this was the colorful scene at PantheaCon 2011.  Drawing 2300 people, this outstanding event left me and other members of the Hindu American Foundation with energy and hope that we can do a lot together for a better future.

Who knows what spells were cast, but Amadea certainly must have cast a good one in 2009 in Melbourne, Australia at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Call it karma, but since the Hindu American Foundation’s (HAF’s) Managing Director and Legal Counsel Suhag Shukla, my wife Tanvi Jhaveri, and I met her, Patrick McCollum, and other Pagan leaders there, the Hindu-Pagan relationship has blossomed.

PANTHEACON 2011

Pantheacon serves a very important role not only for Pagans, but for non-Pagans as well. The variety of topics, speakers, and sessions provided opportunities to catch a glimpse of many Pagan traditions, participate in Pagan ceremonies and ritual, and dialogue about issues of concern to the Pagan and non-Pagan communities. As with any cultural event, this is best experienced when one leaves behind preconceived notions about what is about to be experienced and participates without inhibitions. Given my personal friendship with Pagans and my background working with Pagans, I felt quite at home. Though I couldn’t find that elixir for a long and happy life or a potion to cure the flu (although rumor has it that these things might exist), I was immensely happy to see the large turnout, the pride in Pagans for their traditions, the organizational level of the conference, and the very warm welcome given to Hindus who had come to learn, share, and join together for future collaboration with Pagans. The fact that Hinduism could be presented to a friendly audience was quite a relief from the “caste, cows and karma” tones of academic meetings on Hinduism.

HISTORY OF HINDU-PAGAN INTERACTION

There has been Hindu-Pagan dialogue and cooperation in the past. The International Center for Cultural Studies and the World Council of Elders of the Ancient Traditions and Cultures have had events focusing on bringing Hindu and Pagan leaders closer together. HAF was represented at the World Congress of Ethnic Religions (now European Congress of Ethnic Religions) at their conference in Latvia in 2007 where several landmark resolutions were passed: Against Hate Speech; Against Exploitation of the Vulnerable in Proselytization; For Tolerance; and To Ending Discrimination Against Ethnic (pagan) Religions.

COMMON GROUND

Ongoing discussions with the Pagan community have found common ground – ancient legacies interrupted by invasions, murder and mayhem by certain crusading elements in some monotheistic faiths (what PantheaCon panelist Easan Katir coined as “Only-My-Godism”); a world dominated by an ideological framework in which the views of our faiths are afterthoughts; flourishing in a world where we are minorities; challenging the usurpation of religious symbols, festivals and traditions; dealing with prejudice and promoting civil and human rights; representing our traditions to the broader community in which we live; commonalities in attempts to understand and interact with nature and the divine; acceptance of the inherent equality and spiritual power of women and female representations of the divine; respect for self-directed spiritual experience; belief in the value of religious pluralism; countering predatory proselytization; and the reality of the diversity within our spiritual families.

The three Hindu-Pagan sessions at PantheaCon were outstanding in that they provided Hindus and Pagans an opportunity to openly share emotions and perspectives about the past, challenges about the present, and hopes for the future on friendly turf. The depth of understanding was quite good and the session formats allowed quite a bit of time for discussion. I left Pantheacon feeling like I had left an extended family reunion, but with a much deeper understanding of my relatives.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Most importantly, we need to work together more closely. Tremendous challenges loom – the decline in pluralism over thousands of years will take decades if not hundreds of years to reverse. However, challenges present opportunities. The Hindu American Foundation has made pluralism part of its motto “promoting understanding, tolerance and pluralism,” and pluralism is one of the defining characteristics of Hindu and Pagan traditions. Hindus and Pagans can make a lasting contribution to the world by once again promoting pluralism as a core value of society and its individuals – something evidently lacking in the world today in which intolerance is so prominent. We need to challenge ourselves to make pluralism a value similar in respect to values such as honesty and charity. People should be proud to proclaim that they are pluralist – that they revel in and respect the diversity around them. Children should be raised with this value. For the survival of not only our traditions but humanity altogether, we must move from the motto of, “I will tolerate you though you are wrong,” to a true commitment to pluralism.

We also have much work to do in fighting for our rights in the courts through groups like the Lady Liberty League and HAF. We have to make our voices heard in fora such as the Departments of Education in each state, the United Nations and the U.S. State Department. If we don’t represent ourselves, then who will? In order to do this effectively, we must set up institutions that can effectively fight for us. And such work will require immense sacrifice from volunteer trailblazers – their time, energy, and money. Failing in this will only serve to provide a foundation on which the mistakes of our ancient pasts can happen again.

History has shown that we were conquered, converted, and enslaved due to lack of unity because we had not understood our common core values, and therefore could not see our common goals. Our long term success in the future therefore should not be based on how strong Pagans or Hindus will be, but how strong Pagans and Hindus collectively become. Our histories are ancient, and carry periods of glory and periods of demise as we did not join forces when attacked, but our futures can be brighter if we let our core pluralism bring us together. We have the education, the creative spirit, the skills and the money. We need to let our energies flow and address our current needs and long term goals in unison. Remember, together, we are 1 billion strong!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://www.facebook.com/EdAHubbard Ed Hubbard

    This is a wonderful post, and I am excited about the concept. I have a number of Hindu friendships, and I have been able to share in some of their rituals. It really is amazing how much Wicca and Paganism has absorbed of Hinduism.

    • Gareth

      What's more amazing is Wicca can share many similarities with certain forms of Hinduism without any absorption or transmission consciously having taken place. (Check out 'From Tantric Chakra to Wiccan Circle? Indic Borrowings in the Pagan Revival' by Geoffrey Samuel. It can be found in 'Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon').

      • Jennifer Parsons

        I was always curious about "borrowing" (as we Pagans tend to do) from Hinduism in Paganism and how deeply it lay. Thanks for the suggestion.

      • Bookhousegal

        We do get to be the young ones, from some perspectives. Maybe someone needs that. A bright eye shines on many a musty old text. :)

        Whatever's going on there, *why not?* :)

  • Tea

    *Applauding*

  • http://www.greensborominister.com Wes Isley

    It encouraging to see this sort of cooperation and dialogue! Thanks for the post.

  • Ainslie Podulke

    This is great!

  • Sharon Knight

    This is very exciting indeed!

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    We are all children of the Gods. That which we share is vast and deep. That which divides us is narrow and shallow.

  • Jennifer Parsons

    Not only is this fantastic, I think credit should be due to people like Jason and those on the PNC– reporters and media analysts who point out and encourage solidarity of the Neopagan community with outside traditions. By the same token, members of traditions who reach out to the Neopagan community should be lauded.

    Thank you!

  • Ceinan Kimbrough

    What a well written and thought out article. In its relative brevity -for a subject which I am sure could take hundreds of pages- it touches upon the core of so many of the issues I have taken to heart regarding our Pagan development.
    I am excited to be part of this movement of ethical, thoughtful, well informed pluralist religious peoples around the world.
    Let's keep on spreading the word; Let's keep on sharing information on Pagan happenings; Let's keep on being open and truly listening to each other; And most of all, let's keep on being serious, committed and responsible Pagans.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I am ill-informed on civil liberties aspects of the Hindu experience in America. Pagans experience a wide range of affronts, from attempt by zoning authorities to deny Pagans the use of their own land in a manner that Christians are permitted, to disapproval by schools or employers of Pentagram pendants in environments where a Cross or Star of David is accepted without comment. Do Hindus in America run into comparable infringements on their freedom of religion?

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      Historically there were explicit legal sanctions to keep Hindus out of the United States, and if they managed to get here, to bar them from becoming citizens. In 1923 the Supreme Court ruled that all "Hindus" (this term was used with both a religious and ethnic meaning at the time) were barred from becoming US citizens, and this was to be applied retroactively to strip citizenship from any Hindus who had managed to become citizens already. One man, Bhagat Singh Thind, had his US citizenship revoked twice on these grounds.

      Hindu temples, especially in certain parts of the country, sometimes attract negative attention including vandalism that is religiously motivated. However all the evidence I know of indicates that this is rare.

      Many prominent Republicans are on the record in favor of declaring the United States to be an officially "Christian nation" (or possibly "Judeo-Christian").

      • http://www.hafsite.org Mihir Meghani

        Apuleius, you are right on the money. It is the ideology of intolerance that leads to the affronts that Baruch Dreamstalker pointed out. Many Hindus who immigrated to the US from other countries do not fight for their rights because they feel it is a privilege to be in the US and they don't want to "rock the boat". Many are not familiar with their rights in the first place. Most Hindus face problems being understood, unless they are in a multicultural environment such as San Francisco, for example. Many Hindus raised in the US have stories of prejudice and ignorance growing up – being called "devil worshippers", being told we would go to hell, being told that the caste system was the main part of Hinduism, being accused of exotic practices like rat worship, being tied to cannabalism – all things born from prejudice and ignorance. This has translated into lack of confidence of Hindus in America leading to some hiding their Hindu identity and some converting to Christianity, Hindu temples facing problems getting zoning and construction permits, and lack of broader societal acceptance of Hinduism because Hindu Americans themselves want to "lay low".

    • TLH

      Hindus were included in the anti-miscegenation laws as well. I have an aunt who fell in love with an Indian man and when they wanted to marry, had to prove that he was really "white" to the court. I believe this was before the anti-miscegenation laws were repealed in California.

  • http://erynn999.livejournal.com Erynn

    I was only able to attend one of the Hindu sessions this year, but I sincerely hope that there will be a continuing Hindu presence at PCon in years to come. It was great to hear what they had to say and I'm deeply encouraged by the outreach being engaged in by both the Pagan community and the Hindu community.

  • http://www.hafsite.org Mihir Meghani

    Yes, Hindus from the Hindu American Foundation will surely be there!

    • http://erynn999.livejournal.com Erynn

      I can't tell you how delighted I am to hear that. I'll be sure to attend some of your sessions next year as well! The whole panel had some great things to say and I learned quite a bit. I loved the perspective you brought to the con.

    • finnchuillsmast

      Excellent post! I linked to it my blog.
      Hope to see the Hindu presence grow at PantheaCon and elsewhere!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mathew-Devitt/10131763 Mathew Devitt

    This post made me that much more disappointed that I was not able to attend this year. It also made my resolve that much stronger to try and attend the next one.

    Thank you again for sharing so much.

  • Florence Edwards-Miller

    Such a lovely essay. Thank you for sharing Dr. Meghani. May the ties between our faiths always be strong!

  • http://eternalhauntedsummer.com Rebecca

    It's terrific to see a Hindu presence at PantheaCon. :)

    Have any other traditional (and/or polytheist, animist, et cetera) paths also been in attendance? For instance, has there ever been a Shinto ceremony at PantheaCon? Bon? Voudou? Santeria?

  • Darren Krumwiede

    Wonderful post with great promise and potential. The ability of the Pagan community and others to nudge the rest of the world toward the goal of true pluralism is contingent on every one of us walking the walk in addition to talking the talk. I encourage everyone to find examples in your daily life where an attitude of pluralism can be expressed and make it happen in a peaceful but public way.

  • Sucheta

    Mihir ji, I am just curious when and where was the PantheaCon 2011 conference held?

    • Jason Pitzl-Waters

      In San Jose, California. President's Day weekend.

  • Harish

    It is an eye opening article and the new term coined Only – My-Godism is truly great.

  • Rahul

    Another term for "Only-My-Godism" , is "God Monopolism"

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aundrea-M-Cole-Grooms/1543910720 Aundrea M Cole-Grooms

    Love this article and couldn't agree more. Wish I'd known about this before now but we Native European Traditionalist, aka Asatur, will most certainly like to get involved. Many of us even study the Rig Vedas for comparative studies as we know our way of life and spiritual beliefs have the same origins. Please contact us to let us know what we can do.