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SALT LAKE, Utah — In one week, thousands of people from all over the world will descend on Salt Lake City to participate in the Parliament of the World Religions. The opening ceremonies and procession take place Thursday, Oct. 15 at 6:30 p.m. and are followed by four full days of workshops, observances, plenaries, meals and music. Within the expansive walls of the Salt Palace Convention Center, eager attendees will be seeking a unique educational, and potentially transformative, experience only found through global interfaith interaction, communication and harmony.“The 1993 Parliament at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago was a truly transformational experience, one that changed my life in ways that I could not have anticipated. I’ve heard a lot of other Pagans say the same thing after attending their first Parliament. So, I would strongly encourage people to come with open minds and open hearts, and with a willingness to let change happen,” said Andras Corban-Arthen, who has attended every Parliament since 1993 and is currently serving on the Parliament’s board of trustees.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions began in Chicago in 1893 and was part of a larger exhibition event. Originally called The World Congress of Religions, the Parliament was the very first large scale meeting of western and eastern religious leaders. Due to wars and economic down turns through the 20th century, the event was never repeated.
Then in 1988, a council was formed to resurrect the concept and host a new Parliament. That happened in Chicago in 1993, a full century after the first one. Not only was that event a landmark as the rebirth of the Parliament, it was also largely considered one of the first times that Pagans “came out of broom closet” to the world’s interfaith community.
The Parliament was then held again in 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa; in 2004 in Barcelona, Spain; and in 2009, in Melbourne, Australia. The basic idea was to continue hosting this international interfaith conference every five years. However, in 2012, the Council was having financial trouble and nearly had to shut its doors. Then, in 2013, the Parliament was saved with an emergency fundraiser, in which Pagans played a significant role.Soon after, the Council began immediate planning for the 2015 Salt Lake event. Angie Buchanan, a trustee emerita and a member of the Parliament’s site selection committee, told The Wild Hunt, “So much work has gone into producing this event. Staff, volunteers, presenters, attendees but, it’s all worth it in the end because, this event can be life changing. The heart and energy of it has the potential to change the world.”
Before Thursday’s opening ceremonies, there will be a daylong women’s assembly. During that time, women leaders will speak on “two primary themes, which will [then] be further explored by attendees in small group discussions.” The themes include: “the responsibility of the world’s religions to affirm women’s dignity and human rights” and “share sources of religious and spiritual inspiration for women’s empowerment.” There will also be a number of related workshops.
Following the assembly are four full days of scheduled events, ending Monday with a closing plenary at 3:45 p.m. There are religious observances every morning, beginning at 7 a.m. Several Pagan observances are on the schedule. For example, Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox will host a Brigid Healing ritual and a Ritual for Planet Earth. Ivo Dominguez Jr. and Jim Dickinson will be offering “Chalice of the Four Waters.”
One of the big Parliament features is a free daily lunchtime meal called Langar, which is the Sikh word for ‘open kitchen.’ Sponsored by local, national and international Sikh communities, Langar is a tradition expressing inclusiveness and the “oneness of humankind.” Everyone is invited, and the only requirements are a head-cover, open mind and appetite. Rev. Selena Fox said:
One of my favorite memories of the 2004 Parliament of World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain was having lunch with thousands of others at the Sikh’s Langar. The Sikh’s free food serving area was in a huge, air conditioned tent pavilion. We sat on the floor in long rows with our plates and cups before us and members of the Sikh community went down the rows and served each of us delicious traditional foods … I look forward to experiencing Langar again at the 2015 Parliament.
Throughout the conference, there are multiple workshops, talks and lectures during every single time slot and even in-between. In some cases, one time slot may host 20-30 different events at once. Corban-Arthen said, “Be prepared to feel overwhelmed by all the programs you want to attend, which conflict with one another. Pick and choose wisely.”
He also advised, “Don’t just attend workshops – there are also great concerts, religious observances … films, artistic presentations, exhibitions … informational/merchandising booths, and of course, lots of opportunities for making new friends.”
Within that staggering four-day schedule, there will be number of specifically Pagan or Heathen -themed programs. Corban-Arthen said that the 2015 Parliament will have at least double the amount as were ever offered previously. In fact, there is even a specific “Pagan track” listed in the Parliament’s mobile scheduling software.* While there are too many to list here, some highlights include:
“Staving off Ragnarök: A Heathen Response to Climate Change” with Diana Paxson
“Black Madonnas and Dark Goddesses: Images of the Divine Feminine” with Vivianne Crowley
“Calling the Ancestors Home” with Solar Cross
“Diversity in Contemporary Paganism” with Jeanine De Oya, Eblis Correllian and Andras Corban-Arthen
“Goddesses Alive! Ritual Perfomance” directed by M. Macha Nightmare (as featured in a previous Wild Hunt article)
Those are only five of the many amazing workshops, observances, panels, performances and talks with Pagan or Heathen themes. How does this measurable increase in events impact the overall interfaith Parliament experience for everyone? Corban-Arthen said, “This time around, we will have the chance to present various elements of paganism in much greater depth and breadth.”
In addition to an increase in programming, the 2015 Parliament will also have the largest Pagan and Heathen representation than ever before. There will be an estimated 200 Pagans and Heathens in attendance, which is 120 more than the well-attended 1993 Chicago Parliament. Buchanan said, “We are glad so many friends and community members have chosen to come experience it for themselves.”Many national and international Pagan and Heathen organizations will be represented including, Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess, EarthSpirit, Solar Cross, Earth Traditions, The Pagan Federation, Cherry Hill Seminary, the Pagan Federation International, The Wild Hunt, Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and others. Rev. Selena Fox said “Circle Sanctuary has more than three dozen ministers, ministers in training, community members, and networking associates as part of our delegation.” Some of these groups, like Circle Sanctuary, will be hosting informational booths in the Parliament’s exhibit hall.
While an attendee’s day could certainly be filled with Pagan and Heathen events alone, there are 100s of other offerings on the scheduled as well. Buchanan said, “I would encourage you to try new things, see as much as possible, sing, dance, participate in rituals and ceremonies that you may never have another opportunity for. Stretch yourselves, learn something new, share, be amazed, and be amazing to those who find you as curious as you find them.”
Corban-Arthen agreed, reminding attendees that this isn’t a Pagan event. He advises, “Leave your prejudices at home … You might be surprised to realize how much others at the Parliament already know about us, how willing they may be to accept us. Some might even tell you that they not only take us very seriously, but that, if anything, they don’t see us taking ourselves seriously enough … And don’t be surprised if a Christian offers you a heartfelt apology for what their religious ancestors have done to pagans over the course of history (I’ve had that happen to me at least once every Parliament). It’s that kind of an event.”
During the conference, there will be six plenaries, each is separately themed and will include a panel of speakers and a major declaration. The topics include: Focus on Women; Emerging Leaders; Income Inequality; War, Violence and Hate; Climate Change; and Indigenous Peoples.
Corban-Arthen said, “The one question that will weave as a common thread throughout this Parliament and beyond is: what insight, what wisdom can our spiritual traditions offer to help us heal these global problems?” He added, “Pagan voices can, and should, be heard in those conversations.”Buchanan agreed, saying, “When the world’s religions come together to be part of the solution, the possibilities are endless. It is positively magical and we Pagans are an important part of it; an important voice in the interfaith movement and at the table for the discussion of global issues that have an impact on our planet; our environment.”
The Council is now in the very final stages of preparatory work as attendees prepare to make the trip to Salt Lake City. The mobile application is available to download and, while it is not perfect, the app does provide a basic tool to help navigate this seemingly monstrous event.
For those that will be attending, Buchanan is hosting a Pagan Reception at the Marriott Hotel Thursday at 3:30 p.m.This scheduled social time will provide a good opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones before the Parliament begins in earnest.
The Wild Hunt will be in attendance and live tweeting beginning Thursday morning through Monday. You can follow us @thewildhunt.
* Important note: Not all Pagan or Heathen – themed events are listed on the Pagan track. This is due to the way they were cataloged.
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