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 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.
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!