Archives For Religion

UNITED STATES –Analysts at the Pew Research Center have released a second report parsing data collected during the 2014 Religious Landscape Survey. Where the initial report “described the changing size and demographic characteristics of the nation’s major religious groups,” this second one instead “focuses on Americans’ religious beliefs and practices and assesses how they have changed in recent years.”

While the activities of those who belong to religious minorities, including those who fall under or near the Pagan umbrella, can at best be inferred from the data — out of 35,071 survey participants, only 605 are listed in the “other faiths” category, which was separate from the 92 identified under “other world religions” — the overall trends in the United States suggest a slow, generational shift away from any religious activity. However, among those who hold religious beliefs, the frequency and variety of religious activities has not appreciably changed since the first survey, conducted in 2007. Those interested in digging into the data have, for the first time this year, an interactive tool for combing through the results as well as the full report in PDF format.


While 70.6% of the survey respondents indicating that they are some type of Christian, some of the questions suggest that the survey itself was written by people who are largely unfamiliar that other perspectives exist. That includes the finding that a “growing share of religiously affiliated say they regularly read scripture, participate in prayer or scripture study groups, share faith with others” – all activities strongly associated with Christian faiths in particular.

Another section of the report notes that a “declining share of Americans express absolutely certain belief in God.” The report further indicates that six-in-ten respondents “believe the Bible or other holy scripture is the word of God.” It’s not clear if or how the wording of questions impacted responses from, for example, the 456 Hindus or responded. Additionally, while the results are parsed by gender in several sections of the report, no allowances are made for non-binary respondents.


One thing made clear by the new survey is that the number of “nones” — those who do not identify as affiliated with a particular religion, including atheists — continues to rise. This population went from 16% in 2007 to 23% in the 2014 survey. That progression has not been homogeneous: younger people are more likely not to identify as religiously affiliated than older Americans, and is more widespread among respondents who listed themselves as Democrats or Democrat-leaning.

PF_15.10.27_SecondRLS_overview_peaceWonder310pxOne pair of findings which might suggest a Christian bias to the survey is the the “nones” are less likely to believe in God than they did seven years ago. At the same time, feelings of spiritual peace and wonder at the universe increased among the religious and non-religious alike. By separating “spiritual” from “religious” activities, Pew researchers may have created a distinction that only represents a difference in certain faith communities, albeit the majority ones in the United States today. Given that unspoken definition, it appears that those with a religious affiliation are loathe to give it up, but members of the millennial generation are more likely not to have picked one up in the first place. While no one appears to be abandoning religion, the percentage of people who practice one is still on the decline.

Among those who adhere to a specific religion, the survey found that the distribution from highly religious to those who are less so hasn’t significantly changed from one survey to the next. Similar percentages of respondents attend worship services, pray, and express belief in their deity as did in 2007. The bulk (57%) of those identifying as having a religion conceive of “God” as a person rather than an impersonal force, including 70% of Christians. C

uriously, 2% of atheists said that the believe in a personal deity. There’s been no appreciable change in conception of deity — among the religious — from one survey to the next.

Two highly political issues were also called out in the survey, with questions on topics such as homosexuality and abortion. Across the board, the percentage of people who accept homosexuality is on the rise, with increases shown in every faith group, including Mormons, whose church recently ruled that members in same-sex marriages are to be considered apostate, and their children denied baptism until they reach adulthood. (It’s not clear if the mass resignations spurred by that decision will change the overall attitude of Mormons in future surveys, however.)

Belief that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, however, hasn’t really changed overall since the 2007 survey was performed. What’s interesting about the abortion data is which groups trended in what direction: the nones are more supportive of the right to choose an abortion, while there was a slight downtick among non-Christian faiths, of which most of the respondents belong to another Abrahamic group. While generational trends drift toward more liberal views on issues other than homosexuality, namely the environment, immigration policy, and the proper size and scope of government. Abortion, however, has its opponents strewn throughout all age groups.



Given the relatively small number of people who practice any sort of Heathen, Pagan, or Polytheist religion, trends in these communities are impossible to track in such a large survey. It’s entirely possible that trends toward less religious involvement in younger people do impact the growth of these religions, but as they are generally adopted in adulthood, and without attempts at conversion. It’s also possible that those in the shadow of the Pagan umbrella are bucking these trends completely. Unless and until this amalgam of faith groups and solitary practitioners grows to the point of making a statistically significant blip on the national stage, focused surveys such as the Heathen census will serve to provide more meaningful data about who we are and what we do.

The recent terror attacks in Lebanon and France have sent shockwaves through Europe and the United States. On Nov 12, Beirut suffered a double suicide bombing killed 43 and wounded more than 200 people. That was quickly overshadowed by events the next day in France, where 129 people have died and over 100 were wounded. Daesh has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

In response, France has initiated a military campaign against suspected terrorist targets in Syria and has arrested over 100 suspects. Anti-immigration protests are taking place nationwide, and theits President has proposed changes to the French constitution that would expand his powers. Belgian officials are considering shutting down what what they call “certain radical mosques” in Molenbeek, an area that has been linked to a major terrorist attack five times in the past 18 months.  And, the Governors of 26 U.S. states have now said they will not accept Syrian refugees unless there is a stringent screening in place.

As this international crisis continues to evolve on a macro scale, these brutal attacks and their aftermath, have affected people on the micro level, including many Pagans who live in both France and Lebanon.

In Beirut, two suicide bombers struck at rush hour in a busy shopping district. Daesh said that they chose the neighborhood because it is home to Shiite and Palestinians, both of whom it views as apostates. Although Beirut has endured such attacks in the past, it had been relatively calm and peaceful for many months.

downloadLeyla, a polytheist living in a suburb of Beirut said that the city isn’t as a dangerous a place as many Americans may think. She said, “[It] has been calm for months. Then the bombing happened. The bombing was shocking. We are shocked. We have been enjoying cafes and visiting friend, now we stay at home.”

She added that the bombing by Daesh has also increased tensions between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees living in Beirut. She explained that many homes are filled to overflowing with extended relatives who had to flee Syria. “I pray to Ashtarte to bring peace to our country and to the whole of our place. We have so many refugees from Syria, but now they are suspicioned. Yes, you trust your family from Syria, but others? Are they refugees or men with bomb belts? We do not know.”

Leyla said that she is also worried about France’s military actions, but even more so she worries that Daesh will take over Lebanon. “The attacks on Daesh by France are good and bad. Daesh must be stopped. After they swallow Syria, they swallow Lebanon.” Leyla added that she especially fears what will happen to Pagans like herself and to her family. “[Daesh] will kill all pagans, all Christians, all those not them. It is known they kidnap and keep for raping women who aren’t Islam. But bombs from France will not stop them, only kill innocents. Bombs spread sadness.”

The suicide bombings in Beirut were barely making onto the world’s radar when the Paris attacks happened. Attention was immediately diverted. Leyla said that she’s hurt, but understands, “We, too, were more shocked [of the] attack in Paris than attack here. Paris is thought so safe and Lebanese have special ties to France. If such acts happen there, how is anyone safe?”

In France, the attacks took the form of several suicide bombings and shootings. The first explosion occurred outside the Stade de France, located just outside of Paris. The attacker attempted to gain entry to the facility, but was stopped from entering. Another suicide attacker blew himself up at a fast food restaurant near the stadium. Meanwhile in the heart of Paris, gunmen attacked patrons at the Le Carillon bar, and then crossed the street to attack diners at the Le Petit Cambodge restaurant. Then came yet another attack on diners a few streets away at the Le Café Bonne Bière and La Casa Nostra pizzeria. The next reports of shootings were at the La Belle Equipe bar, further south. The final attacks happened at the restaurant Le Comptoir Voltaire and in the 1500 seat Bataclan concert venue.

download (1)French officials have said that it appeared there were “three coordinated teams” responsible for the attack. While most of the terrorists have been identified as native French citizens, one of them may have slipped into France by pretending to be a Syrian refugee.  

French Pagans, like their co-religionists in Beirut, responded to the attacks with shock.

Babette Petiot, a French Polytheist living in the Auvergne countryside, said, “Everyone is shocked, but how not to be, it is the biggest attack on France since WWII. From what I have seen, the reactions were prayer, the Ligue Wiccane Eclectique organised Saturday night a Facebook event for people to pray or have a small personal ritual. And on French blogs, it was mostly about sharing love and sending love.”

The Facebook prayer event was created for “Wiccans and pagans who want to unite to pray for the victims of the shooting in Paris of 13.11 and their families, we offer a ritual convergence tonight at 21h Paris time.” Organizers asked people to “direct [their] thoughts, comfort and peace to the souls of those shot and their relatives, and the injured of Paris.”  According to the event page, 42 people participated.

The prayer event included the following chant:

Paix en nous, paix en eux,
Paix autour de nous et paix autour d’eux,
Paix ici, paix là-bas,
Paix à [Paris] et et paix dans le monde,
Apaisons les tensions, accueillons la …

Xavier Mondon, spokesperson for La Ligue Wiccane Eclectique, said that he hasn’t sensed any fear or anger in the city. He said the mood was more one of sadness, “And, also, a willingness to be united, all together against this craziness. That will not last: French people like to argue, and are not always in agreement with each other. But for this moment, there is a willingness to unite and be present.”

Ms. Petiot said that tensions have risen in France, and that there have been some retaliation directed at Muslim communities. She said that this sentiment could affect the upcoming December elections and tilt them in favor of the far right and its anti-immigration platform. She also added that this political calculation may be affecting how the current French government responds.

Petiot explained, “France was already engaged in Syrian conflict beforehand alongside our US allies. François Hollande, our president, has a nickname: ‘Flamby’ [a very soft flan au caramel dessert]. As you can imagine, it is associated with weakness, spineless, softness … Like doormat if you see what I mean. After the refugees crisis in Europe, that is still carrying on, he mostly followed Germany’s and Angela Merkel’s opinions. Friday night, he was in the Stade de France, at the soccer match France-Germany. It is believed he was one of the targets in those terrorists attacks. Because of this, he had to react ‘strong’ and ‘hard.’ “

Mondon, who lives in Paris, said that he himself hasn’t heard much criticism of the president. “I have not heard anyone criticizing Hollande about the raids. Truthfully, there is little talk of politics. It is now a time for contemplation and for solidarity. Politics will come later.”

In a previous interview with The Wild Hunt, Petiot describes France as a very secular country, one in which religious people are somewhat looked down upon. In that article, Petiot explained that the French have a very different relationship with religion, “There has always been this vision of [religiosity] as something for the poor, non-educated, or for women. [This] explains partly why secularism is such a big deal. I’m almost sure a French person will far more easily talk you about sex than religion.”

The existing cultural divide between a small minority, who are described as overtly religious, and the over 80% of French people who do not describe themselves as religious. This may be partly what Daesh wished to exploit. The Wild Hunt asked Petiot and Mondon for some insight into how France’s cultural views of religion affect the current situation.

Mondon explained that French secularism is not an anti-religious sentiment. “On the contrary, it permits all religions to co-exist. Muslims, just like Christians, Pagans, Atheists and even followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, have a right to express their beliefs. It is absolutely permissible, except for in public schools or public administration. As far as I can see, this passive coexistence and respect for differences has not been threatened [by recent events.] On the contrary, the current feeling of national unity is moving us closer to this ideal.”

Going into more detail, Petiot had this to say:

France was a colonial power. Most Muslims [here] are second or third generation in France. They are Muslims by tradition, like most french Christians, who go to church only on Christmas and weddings and such, so do Muslims in mosques. They spend Eid with family, try to do the Ramadan but drink alcohol and live mostly like everybody else. We have 7% of the French population who declare themselves Muslim. But only a very small part of this is really openly religious, with hijab or abaya worn by women and djellabas bearded men …

This small group is [seen as] the real problem. French motto is “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” By their attitudes and outfits they negate the motto, because of religious beliefs, ‘I will not dress like you, we are not equals, we are not brothers.’ They do not realise, but it is very aggressive, especially to those born during WWII and the flower power generation. You know, something lost in translation … 

She explained how most French people feel that if you have a religion, “we are very happy and proud of you. [But] the problem begins when you show it off … I find it gross and rude, and certainly not acceptable!” Petiot further added,

As for the refugees, it is a completely different problem. Those people were living lives very similar to our own, most of those are educated and fled for their lives, they had enough money to attempt the daring trip. Unfortunately, and because of a very small proportion of visible devout Muslims, those refugees are perceived like a threat. And frankly, it is stupid …

I believe most French people don’t really recall their own history. Because of our geographic [location], we are at the center of population flows: celts, gauls, franks, romans, goths, hiberians, vikings, sarrasins … And we have been also great invaders … and not only in Europe! I believe mixing is a formidable chance. I believe in humanity.

Some Pagans events in Paris were cancelled after the President declared a State of Emergency, but outside of Paris, events are still happening. Petiot said, “As for me, this weekend, I will share an art exhibition with a few of my fellow artists. I am completely changing the layout and I will present calligraphic artwork on freedom theme. And we will share art, culture, music and obviously food! And we will drink wine, in honor of the innocents who were killed, in honor of those who survived, in honor of all our [First Responders] and for the conviviality. Because it is our way of life since the dawn of time.”

NEDERLAND, Col. – Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and resting at an elevation of 8,230 feet lies the small town of Nederland, Colorado. It was founded in 1874 by settlers who were attracted to the lowland valleys as a outpost for their trapping work. Eventually mining became the town’s sustaining business and, when that disappeared, tourism and farming took its place. But since the 1960s, the town has slowly attracted new types of residents, including artists, musicians, and those specifically interested in the great outdoors. Being only 17 miles southwest of Boulder, the town has thrived, while still retaining its unique small town feel.

[Courtesy H. Wendlhandt]

Rev. H. Wendlandt [Courtesy Photo]

Within this little town, there is a congregation called the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church (NCPC) led by Reverand Hansen Wendlandt. The congregation, like the town, has a long history beginning the with mining boom. The church building itself was erected in 1912 and is still being used today. Rev. Wendlandt, originally from Arkansas, describes how his religious beliefs are unmistakably merged with his love of the outdoors and the mountains of Colorado. In a bio, he writes, “Mountains have always made me feel small, but grand in the responsibility God gives us to steward all this creation. Whether it is through nature, or music, or arts, or gardening, or however you feel the Spirit alive …”

Rev. Wendlandt has served the NCPC community for only 2 and half years, but he is making quite an impact. Included in his personal devotion to service is a passion to help the community, both his congregation and the entire town of Nederland. With that in mind, he recently initiated a new program hosted by NCPC. He announced his concept in an article published in the Mountain-Ear, a local newspaper, Titled “Religiously Literate Citizens,” the article discusses the importance of religious literacy in an increasingly diverse world. He writes:

Religious illiteracy hurts our communities by creating distance; it hurts our political system when ignorance breeds fear; it hurts individuals who could otherwise explore on their own any spiritual ideas and practices for well-being. And to make matters worse, all of this has been magnified with each successive generation over the last century or so.

In that article, Rev. Wendlandt goes on to discuss the need to expose children to the religious beliefs of their neighbors, saying, “I believe it is time to do more for our young people, so that they can do more for our world.” He notes that there is remarkable religious diversity just in the small town of Nederland and added that, as children make their way into the bigger world, they will face even more difference. “We can help prepare them,” he writes.

Nederland Community Presbyterian Church

Nederland Community Presbyterian Church. [Courtesy Photo]

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Rev. Wendlandt further explained that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for kids to learn about different religions – to become religiously literate. He said that he himself comes from a background of pluralism, and sees this type of education as essential for life.

So Rev. Wendlandt set out to create his own religious literacy program with lessons to be held each month. The program is aimed primarily at teens and pre-teens, and is open to anyone in the surrounding communities, not just his congregation. One Sunday each month, a period of time is set aside to teach and learn about a different belief system. Rev. Wendlandt wrote:

The plan is to have food associated with each religion, make the learning interactive and fun, look at sacred objects and texts, and have plenty of room for questions and conversation. There will be no persuasion or argument, just a chance for young people to grow.

For the first session, held Oct. 18, the Community Church welcomed Naveen, a follower of Hinduism. He brought food to share from Kathmandu, a local Nepalese restaurant. Rev. Wendlandt explained that he chose to begin with this particular religion due to the October festival of Navarati. He believes that the lessons are all the more richer if they coincide with a specific holiday.

For the second installment, held Nov. 1, the Church welcomed Kim Culver and Kimba Stefane, two local Pagans, to talk about Wiccan traditions. As with the Oct session, Wicca was chosen for this date so that the lesson coincided with the festival of Samhain.

Kim Culver and Kimba Stefane are part of a Nederland-based Wiccan group called The Five Weird Sisters. Culver is a local chef and herbalist. She has been practicing Wicca since 1976, when she lived in the Bay Area of California. She remembers the early days when Covenant of the Goddess was still forming. Stefane is the owner of the Blue Owl Bookstore, which sells a mix of items from books, jewelry, local art and music and some metaphysical supplies. It also serves as the local ice cream parlor. Both women are well-known in Nederland.

Joining Culver and Stefane in the Five Weird Sisters are Janette Taylor, Nancy Moon and Gail Eddy, all locals. In an interview, Culver explained that they each were practicing solitaries.Then, five years ago, the women began to meet for social outings and discussions, which eventually led to the formation of a group practice. In the past, the Five Weird Sisters have sponsored a public, annual Witch’s Ball, hosted open rituals and even orchestrated an spiral dance.Their next ball will be in October 2016.

Five Weird Sisters

Five Weird Sisters: (left to right) Janette Taylor, Kim Culver, Nancy Moon, Gail Eddy, and Kimba Stefane. [Courtesy Photo]

Rev. Wendlandt knew both Culver and Stepfane, and contacted them about participating in his religious literacy program. The two women agreed. Culver said that they saw this as a fun community opportunity and a great way of fulfilling the “service aspect of Wicca.”

The Nov. 1 session was held at 11 a.m. at NCPC. The women set up a table containing a number of religious items, which are typically used in Wicca. Culver said, “We touched on history, tools, magic, and beliefs..nothing too in-depth.” The lesson also included some traditional harvest foods and a hands-on project. The group made Fire Cider.

Since the program is directed at children, there were very few adults in the room. Culver said that Rev. Wendlandt wanted “to create a safe space for the children to learn” without adult interruption. And, he agreed saying that children are “less likely to ask questions” when adults are in the room. He wanted them to have the comfort of freedom to engage.

Culver described the participating children as being both surprised and fascinated. Laughing, she recalled that their first surprise came when she and Stefane arrived not wearing pointed hats and long robes. The children didn’t expect the visiting witches to be dressed in “normal” clothing. Rev. Wendlandt also noted how intrigued and enthusiastic the children were. He said that one nine-year old boy asked, “When did you know you were a witch?”

Of all of the presented topics, Culver believes that the history lesson provoked the most curiosity. This was particularly true when the women touched on the oppression of folk healers, in general, as well as the practitioners of old religions by the Roman Catholic Church. After it was over, Culver said that an adult women, who happened to be a Deacon at the local Catholic Church, approached her saying that she was shocked and had no idea about witchcraft persecutions. She said, “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hold that against us.”

Additionally, Culver noticed that “the young girls and even the women” were particularly surprised by the presence and even dominance of a Priestess. Culver said, “They were surprised that they could be in charge.” Rev. Wenderlandt used this moment to open a dialog about a woman’s role in other faith traditions. He asked the children, “Why do you think some religions don’t treat women this way?” He noted that a similar discussion had come up during the Hindu presentation, saying that these sessions are creating opportunities for extended discussions, and it’s the kids asking the questions.

Table with Wiccan religious items at the NCPC Church religious literacy lesson [Courtesy K. Culver]

The entire Wiccan lesson lasted for about an hour and a half. Culver said that the event was beneficial to the community, but also to herself and Stefane. She said, “The event reaffirmed my personal beliefs and made me think about who I am and who I project out into the community … It also made me realize that there are people out there who want to know, even if they don’t want to follow.”

She added that being in that church to share her religious beliefs with people, who she had thought would be closed-minded, “opened her heart.” Culver said that, after class, she and Stefane immediately went into the forest for an impromptu ritual, during which they “dug into their roots.” .

When asked if they have received any backlash or complaints, Culver said, “nothing really.” Rev. Wendlandt said the same. He has received nothing but support. In fact, next month, a local alternative high school will be sending its World Cultures Class to the Sunday session. And, he has even been asked to run a similar program for adults, to which he currently answers maybe.

Going forward, Rev. Wendlandt has scheduled a Jewish speaker for December in conjunction with Chanukah, and a Buddhist speaker for January. Beyond that, he is working on scheduling the rest of the year through May. He said that there are already plans to feature Islam, Humanism, possibly Catholicism and Mormonism, Eastern traditions and various Native American religions. Rev. Wendlandt added that he prefers to welcome local residents as speakers, which has its limits. Why locals? He said, “I want the kids to see their neighbors as diverse, not just the religions.” He wants the children to see these practices and people as normal, real and in their lives; rather than just concepts floating in space.

As for Culver and Stefane, they have decided to continue this outreach work. After witnessing the need for and interest in Rev. Wendlandt’s program, the two are now planning an independent interfaith potluck women’s group, during which people can share their religious beliefs. Culver also said that they might be doing another session at NCPC around Imbolc. She added, “This is a really good thing. There is a quest for this kind knowledge.”

Rev. Wendlandt said that his “religious literacy” program is really not very unique and that many small churches across the U.S. are doing the same thing. And, while it may not be well publicized, the trend is growing and this delights him. As he expressed in both the article and in conversation, “We’re in this life thing together. I hope these events can help our young people be a little more ready to make their lives and their world a bit more connected, peaceful and meaningful.”

Pagan voters in two U.S. regions have the opportunity to do something unusual –  vote for a fellow Pagan. In Virginia, Lonnie Murray was successful in his bid for re-election as Director of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD). And, in Maine, Thaum Gordon is up for re-election as Supervisor for Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District. The Wild Hunt spoke to both men about their experiences as elected officials and what advice they have for Pagans considering running for office.

[Photo Credit: Tom Arthur from Orange, CA, United States ]

[Photo Credit: Tom Arthur from Orange, CA, United States ]

Mr. Murray, who identifies as an Animist, was first elected as Director of TJSWCD in 2011. His bio lists his past experience serving on the Charlottesville Citizens Committee on Environmental Sustainability, the Albemarle County Natural Heritage Committee, and the Biscuit Run State Park Master Plan Advisory Committee. He was also one of the founders of Charlottesville’s Earth Week. In this election, Murray faced Steven Meeks in the November 3 race and defeated Meeks 52% to 47%.

Mr. Gordon, who is an eclectic Druid, was also first elected in 2011 and faces an opponent in his re-election bid. Unlike most other states where supervisors are on the general election ballot, Maine requires voters to request absentee ballots to vote for board supervisor. All ballots are due by November 11.

Lonnie Murray [photo from Facebook]

Lonnie Murray [Facebook Photo]

Although some Pagans and Heathens running for office have faced very public, and sometimes harsh, scrutiny of their religion, both Murray and Gordon said that religion hasn’t come up in either election bid. Murray says he’s fortunate to live near Thomas Jefferson’s home town where he says religious freedom has always been a community value. Although Murray said it’s inappropriate for people to use religion in their campaigns, he believes it’s important for Pagans to know that there are other Pagans holding office. He added, ”When you are a minority of any kind, it helps to know that you do have a voice and that serving in a public office is an option for people like you too. All that said, I represent people of all faiths, and those of no faith.”     

In addition to his time holding elected office, Gordon has been involved with public service over 40 years. “Some folks know I’m Pagan, but I’ve never felt the need to announce myself as such in governmental work,” said Gordon. What he has done is share his experience and qualifications with the public. That won voters over in 2011.

In his election, Murray was able to point out his past accomplishments while serving on the TJSWCD. He said, “As promised, while in office I worked to bring more attention to urban areas, and how we can clean up streams by creating biofilters, and by planting more trees and native wildflowers. Generally people like trees and wildflowers way more than pavement and martian mudscapes.”

Murray said that his advice to Pagans considering running for office is to attend local public meetings and volunteer for public advisory groups. He noted the possible the impact in municipal and county offices.“Local government has way more importance to your life on a day to day basis than anything that happens in Washington. Schools, roads, water, sewer, fire departments, police, land use and many environmental issues are all decided locally.”  

Thaum Gordon [photo from Facebook]

Thaum Gordon [photo from Facebook]

Gordon suggested running for a Conservation District position is a good way to enter public office, “There are almost 3000 Conservation Districts in the US; it’s a great first step to get involved with public service. Likewise, there are thousands of water utility districts, sewer districts, parks commissions, and other special-purpose units of government that need board members. These can be stepping stones to more competitive county or municipal elections.”

Both men believe that Pagans and Heathens may have particular strengths that could prove success in politics. For example, Gordon stressed a certain openness to other people’s ideas and an interest in looking for common ground. Murray notes that there is common approach to working magic and working in politics. “While it takes lots of patience to see progress, there really is magic in how by applying effort and intention you can help solve important problems in your own community.”

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions is now over. As you have heard both here and in other places, the event, which began on Thursday, Oct 15, ended this past Monday, Oct 19. The official numbers have been released. The Parliament was attended by 9,806 people representing 30 religions with 548 sub-traditions. The following article contains a series of news notes and links, ending with a short editorial, to help wrap-up and provide a taste of what exactly happened.

Opening Fire Ceremony at 2015 Parliament [Photo Credit: Greg Harder]

The early morning opening fire ceremony conducted by local Indigenous groups. The fires were tended and kept lit for the entire conference / 2015 Parliament. [Photo Credit: Greg Harder]


Following the 2015 Parliament, the Board of Trustees elects and names the next Board. This year, it was announced that the new Vice Chair-elect would be EarthSpirit’s co-founder, Andras Corban-Arthen. He said, “I’m very honored, of course, at being elected Vice-Chair, particularly because of the trust it implies on the part of my fellow trustees. I think we have an excellent new governance team, led by Chair-elect Dr. Robert Sellers, whom I greatly respect.” Sellars, as we previously reported, is a Baptist minister from Texas, who has shown great interfaith leadership and, specifically, positive support for Paganism and other minority religions.

Corban-Arthen, who has attended every Parliament since 1993, added, “There are some interfaith organizations that cater only to mainstream religions. The Parliament, from the beginning, has not only encouraged participation by members of minority religions, but also has included some of us in leadership positions — Angie Buchanan, Phyllis Curott, and I have all served as trustees and officers of the Parliament.”

For the 2015 Parliament, Curott took lead on producing the inaugural Woman’s Assembly held on Thursday, Oct 18. The all-day event included workshops and large panels focusing on global issues facing women today, from education and violence; to leadership and building support structures. Curott spoke during the first assembly session saying, “The world’s religions cannot continue to allow the denigration of half of humanity.”

The Women’s Assembly not only provided a full day of focus on women’s issues, but it also inadvertently caused what some would term a “teachable moment” for the Parliament as a whole. On Thursday evening, after the final assembly sessions were over, the Parliament opened in earnest with its very first plenary. After a stately and impressive processional and drumming session led by local Utah indigenous groups, the audience became quiet as eight men, all wearing dark suits, took the stage to open the event. It was reported that, at some point early on in the plenary, a number of audience members stood up and yelled, “Where are the women?”

Four of the eight male presenters at the opening ceremony. [Photo Credit: Greg Harder]

Four of the eight male presenters on stage at the opening ceremony / 2015 Parliament [Photo Credit: Greg Harder]

That message got through to the Board of Trustees and conference organizers. In fact, the Parliament posted and tweeted out the following Atlantic article titled, “The Odds That a Panel Would ‘Randomly’ Be All Men Are Astronomical.” In it, mathematician Greg Martin explains how it is “statistically impossible” for conferences to have a speaking panel of all men, and that the under-representation of women on such panels can only be accomplished through calculated choice.

In other news, the local Sikh community, who organized and served Langar each day, announced that they had donated a total of 3,800 pounds of uneaten food, equal to 3,166 meals. The logistics of this size donation were difficult, but the community was aided by the Utah Food Bank. The donation, together with the daily Langar meals, are two ways in which the Sikh community gives service.

Where does the Parliament go from here? Corban-Arthen is chair of the site selection committee and said, “Now that Salt Lake City is over, we have a lot of work immediately ahead of us to choose the host city for the next Parliament.” While he can’t offer anymore than that, the event will not be held in the United States. So Americans need to get their passports in order. Typically, the model has been to host the event every five years putting the next Parliament in 2020. However, there reportedly was an announcement that the Board is shifting to a new model that will allow the Parliament to be hosted every 2 years. However, no site or plans have been announced. Stay tuned and ready your passport.

Notes and Links

During the Pagans at the Parliament gathering, Angie Buchanan stood up to thank everyone for attending. Buchanan is former trustee and member of the site selection committee. Buchanan was instrumental is coordinating efforts for Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists, acting as both a welcoming face and advocate for their presence. In retrospective, she said, “The most important part in determining the success of an event resides in the seed planted in the hearts of those who participate, and in what they will nurture that seed to become. It may be too soon to tell but it feels as though the seeds of a forest have been planted by the Parliament in Salt Lake City.”

Pagans at Parliament reception / 2015 Parliament [Photo Credit: Greg Harder]

Pagans at Parliament reception / 2015 Parliament [Photo Credit: Greg Harder]

Since the Parliament ended, a number of videos, photographs and writings have surfaced, which suggest that Buchanan was correct. Seeds have been planted.

More highlights, photos, videos and discussions will emerge over the next month, including the video recording of The Goddesses Alive! performance that was featured in a previous article. To keep up with the growing number of reflections, readers can visit the Pagans at Parliament 2015 Facebook group, which has been made public.

Along with the opening plenary, as linked in the news section above, a number of other recordings have been posted either on the PWR website and in various social media locations. The official videography team recorded and has made available all the plenaries, which covered the following topics: WomenIndigenous Peoples; Climate ChangeWar Violence and Hate Speech; Income Inequality and Emerging Leaders. Please be aware that the links provided above may only be to the first half of the recorded plenary. Look through the list to ensure that there is not a second part available.

Within several of these plenaries, readers may notice familiar faces. Notably, in the emerging leaders category, EarthSpirit’s Donovan Arthen addressed the crowd. Around minute mark 39:45, Arthen takes the stage. He describes how he grew up attending Parliaments with his parents, and how that experience planted the seeds for his own understanding about interfaith work. After a brief talk, Arthen then leads the entire room in ritual sound experience.

Donovan Arthen [Screen Shot from Video]

Donovan Arthen [Screen Shot from Video]

The Pagan and Heathen presence at the Parliament was very notable. One anonymous attendee said, “Pagans rocked the Parliament.” Another attendee, Audrey Galex, who is content director for Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasting, said “I am so happy to see such a large Pagan representation in both attendance and presentations.” And, Circle Sanctuary member Casey Burke Pope reported that the teachers of the Religions 101: Islam class mentioned Paganism multiple times. In one instance, a speaker said, “Pagans need to be heard,” adding “we may not agree with them, but they need to be heard.” Pope recalled, “It was surprising and nice to be recognized.”

Pagans and Heathens participated in a number of activities and presentations, including the first ever Parliament chorus. The group sang “Songs for the Earth: A Cantata in Praise of this Earth.” Look closely in the sea of faces for friends.

This list of contributions and interactions is endless. The takeaways for Pagans and Heathens, and from Pagans and Heathens, are seeds as Buchanan suggested. In retrospect, Corban-Arthen said:

I am delighted that the Parliament was such a great success, and that so many more pagans attended than ever before. When we come right down to it, what the Parliament does – by bringing together so many people from such diverse backgrounds and perspectives – is to provide the opportunity for meaningful, important experiences, be they spiritual, cultural, artistic, political, or just plain social. Those experiences, in turn, can induce profound changes in people, and motivate us to work together for the common good, despite whatever differences we may have. That, above all, is what I hope those pagans who attended will take home.

And, Buchanan added, “I look forward to seeing the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions prosper and grow the interfaith movement into something that changes the world for the better. If ever there was more important work for Pagans to be involved in, I don’t know what it would be.”

Editorial, from Wild Hunt editor Heather Greene

I could not conclude any write-up about the Parliament without sharing a little bit of my own experience. Walking around the Salt Palace, I was passed by so many people representing so many different backgrounds; speaking so many different languages and having so many different beliefs. The doors of opportunity to learn were blown wide-open and the interior spaces were thoroughly inviting. While I have never lived in a fully closeted way, I did note the feeling of freedom to be openly Pagan without any reservation in speaking authentically to anyone, including my own community members.

The five days were filled with both learning, listening, hearing and teaching. Outside of reporting for The Wild Hunt, I also participated in the Goddesses Alive! performance; sat on an excellent panel about the Pope’s encyclical with John Halstead, Sylvia Linton and Andras Corban-Arthen; assisted Circle Sanctuary with a beautiful healing ritual, and attended a delightful dinner bringing together Evangelical Christians and Pagans. The days were busy, to say the least. Other personal highlights included visiting the United Religions Initiative space; listening to the entirety of the Women’s Assembly; seeing the famous Mormon Tabernacle buildings; meeting a host of amazing new people and talking to old friends; sitting quietly in the Hindu religious space and Sunday night’s rousing spontaneous sacred singing session.

Circle Sanctuary’s healing altar. [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

When I returned home, I reflected on all that had happened over those five days. At times the tears fell and, at other times, I couldn’t help but smile. Then, I realized what was so unique about the Parliament; what had touched me in such a profound way. I had felt very comfortable in the extreme diversity of human experience and belief. I not only felt safe, but I also felt invigorated. And, it reminded me of my childhood, growing up in the urban outskirts of New York City. The building in which I lived contained the same level of extreme cultural diversity. We even held a yearly party, which could have been mistaken for a purposeful multicultural celebration. So, at the Parliament, I felt at home.

What The Parliament of the World’s Religions offers us directly is education by providing the safe space to share, discuss, debate and learn. At the same time, the Parliament offers something indirectly that is just as valuable, if not more; something that I received growing up in that building and something that Donovon Arthen mentioned in his plenary talk. It is exposure. Through the Parliament we are exposed to the basic humanity that lies beneath all of the differences holding us apart. And, simultaneously, our own humanity is exposed. We eat together; we laugh; we walk; we clap, smile and sing. And, then, we all go to sleep and start again the next day. Through participating in this level of true human interaction, we find a way to stop thinking of our differences as obstacles, and start seeing them as a beautiful, curious details inviting us to the dance.

This is how the Parliament of the World’s Religions can save the world. Like the Olympics, the Parliament is a global stage. However unlike the Olympics, which is centered around competition, commerce and plagued by political controversy, the Parliament just aims to be a safe space of interaction and exposure. Whether you sit and simply watch people come and go, or attend a full day worth of sessions, you are exposed to a world of color. And, that alone is worth the price of admission.

The only unfortunate part is that the Parliament speakers are, to coin a phrase, “preaching to the choir” in many instances. The attendees aren’t necessarily the ones that need to hear the messages spoken and witness that humanity. However, the experience is still invaluable, inspiring and life changing. And, going back to Buchanan’s quote, perhaps the seeds that we all took away, and those that we planted, will germinate, grow and expand outward into our extended communities. And, with each passing Parliament, the messages will thrive and eventually cover the world over.

“May the roots grow deep and the branches spread wide. May it provide shelter and strength, wisdom and sustenance. May it remain a peaceful sanctuary, a cathedral of healing, an institution of learning, and the voice that encourages and reminds us to do better, to be better, every single day.” – Angie Buchanan

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The Parliament of World’s Religion was held on American soil for the first time in 22 years. Held in Salt Lake City, Utah, thousands descended on the mountain filled desert in search of interfaith dialogue, multi-faith exploration and the opportunity to teach others about their religion.

[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

One of the major themes this year was violence, hate speech and other issues that specifically impact women; all of which are important and need to be addressed around the world. It is also customary for the Parliament to host forums addressing some of the current issues that plague the local land of that year’s host country. To the surprise of many guests, the issues of the brutality and militarization of police, systemic racism and the killing of Black and brown peoples at disproportionate rates were not given focus as one of the prominent issues within the United States today. As one of the leading causes of violence and hate perpetuated in this country, it appeared to be treated as a minor issue or not an issue at all in the landscape of this year’s Parliament.

Of the many workshops held over the 5 days, only two workshops clearly focused on the plight of Black people in this country. One of those workshops was a “Moral Monday” sermon, and another that was a panel held on Sunday night at 5:15 pm. 

This panel had three Christian ministers who have been involved in the movement for Black lives and racial justice. The three included: Rev. Michael McBride, Rev. Jim Wallis and Rev. Francis Davis. They referenced the horrible statistics of Black people killed by some form of law enforcement, and the rise in Black liberation protests that have awoken young Black people to the fight for justice.

The audience appeared to have about 200 to 250 people present with over 20 Pagans and Polytheists in the crowd. Several Pagans in the audience submitted questions to the panel to address the murders of Black Trans women in 2015, and to highlight the other marginalized faiths that are also involved in the justice movement for Black people. There was a short video shown of recent incidents and protests that left many audience members visibly emotional. This can be viewed below in the linked recording of the event, occurring about 23 minutes into the video.

I reached out to several Pagans and Polytheists, who were present in the audience, to gather their reflections on the panel and to seek clarity on what might have brought so many of them to this one single event on the program. I asked three questions:

Do you feel having a BLM discussion at the Parliament was important and why? What were you hoping to get out of the panel? Why do you feel it is important to have space for this topic to be explored in faith communities?

Lee Gilmore

“The Black Lives Matter panel was one of the most important conversations at the Parliament. On a basic level, it is critical to keep pushing these truths because without doing so black lives will only continue to be disregarded, targeted, and vulnerable. And the more these concerns get out to diverse religious communities, and the more that we put justice at the center of our conversations…  

“On a fundamental level, I attended simply to show up and put my white body in that room, and to continue to listen to voices that help me “stay woke.” I was also grateful to Pagan leaders like Thorn Coyle and Elena Rose for pushing the speakers to give voice to trans lives and non-Christian activists, as well as to the organizers somewhere back along the line who clearly laid the groundwork with the ministers on stage that lead them to publicly and clearly acknowledge that queer & trans lives matter.

“One of the key themes I heard being raised by indigenous leaders at the Parliament was the importance of listening to our ancestors, as well as the importance of thinking about how our actions affect the future. As a Pagan, these are concerns that I share, and for me this means making reparation for the violence committed against black and brown bodies by some of my ancestors by working for a more just and equitable future for all of our descendants. That means supporting Black Lives Matter.”

T. Thorn Coyle

“I have so much to say on the topic of Black Lives Matter at the Parliament. I’m very glad the panel happened, because this discussion is important to all communities, and now is the time that the energy of this movement is poised toward making change. That said, we needed much more than what was offered. We needed multiple panels, teach-ins, sit-downs, and presentations. We needed systemic, personal, and community racism denounced at every plenary because it weaves through all topics: climate change, women’s lives, indigenous rights, and spiritual service.

“That didn’t happen. The “Pagans in the #BlackLivesMatter” movement panel I put forth was rejected. I therefore figured that there would be more programming on the topic than there was. The panel that ended up happening – with three Christian men on the stage – felt almost like an afterthought. Good things were said there, though two Pagans – myself and Elena Rose – had to challenge the speakers. We weren’t the only ones. I’m not disrespecting the three men who showed up to lead this panel. They are committed activists and do great work. What I am critical of is the entire lens through which the topic is viewed by those holding relative power: Clergy means Christian; Two Black and one white cis men is diverse enough; Scheduling the one thing specifically dealing with Black Lives Matter on the final full day of the conference, overlapping the gala music and dance performance, was acceptable …. I’m not OK with any of those things.

“I’m glad that #BlackLivesMatter was present at the Parliament. But I wish that I hadn’t felt the need to stand up and shout those words at the closing plenary, because they had been left out. And I wish that my words hadn’t been swallowed up by the vastness of the hall.”

All we had was our bodies and

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Given the ostensible world stage of the Parliament, it was important to have the event as an option. I am disappointed that there were as many empty seats there as there were, and that from what I could tell, most of the attendees were Americans from mainstream religious traditions, but I’m also glad that there was a definite Pagan and polytheist faction there as well, and that not only did the efforts of some of our people in terms of activism get recognized (even if it was because of well-timed and well-asked questions from those very people), but also that the contributions of trans* People of Color in #BlackLivesMatter got named in front of everyone, and that Rev. McBride specifically stated that he and other Christian leaders have had to “sit at the feet” of these trans* activists to learn from them about the struggles of queer people of all stripes.

“I was hoping for two things. First, just to hear more about this movement, the stories and voices that have been made prominent by it, and to learn more about it. To my knowledge, there is no visible presence of the movement in my locality, and I’d have to go to Seattle to participate in it, which I can’t do without major difficulties at present. I feel this was certainly something that I came away with as a result of attending the panel. Second, I was hoping to get some further ideas on how I might be able to support the movement from a distance. I think I also gained that as a result of the panel.

“I also think, as a polytheist, that our traditions have a great deal to teach and share in terms of how our basic theological ethics–dealing with individual Deities on a reciprocal relational basis–also extends to how one can best deal with the diverse humans with whom one comes into contact, and the basic ideals of hospitality, respect, and celebration of diversity and inclusiveness which polytheism requires are good things for all people of all religions to value and hold both dear and to the utmost in their dealings with others.  While those of us who are polytheists or Pagans of various types do not suffer now as much as People of Color and indigenous peoples still do as a result of these things, especially if we are white, nonetheless the continued marginalization of, ignorance about, and disrespect towards our religions that is alive and well–even at the Parliament–is based in these same notions, which have not been properly acknowledged by the leaders of major hegemonic monotheistic religions of the world, nor by the political leaders of diverse world governments, including that of the United States, as being the basis for this continued license to dehumanize and commit violence and other atrocities toward People of Color.

Black Lives Matter panel

Black Lives Matter panel [Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

Dr. Gwendolyn Reece

“I think it was absolutely important and was disappointed that it was not in a more prominent time slot. The reason that I think it is so important is that this is an international gathering and although racism is a larger and more universal topic, this session addressed the more focused topic of state-sponsored violence against Black people who are a vulnerable minority in the United States and this issue needs international attention. Part of what we know from the work of groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and so forth is that in addition to citizens trying to hold their society and their governments accountable, there is an important and powerful role that can be played by international communities demanding accountability from a sovereign state. So, we need to combat racism in all of its guises, but in the very immediate we need to stop the state-sponsored violence and mass incarceration of Black people in the United States and we need increased international pressure to hold our governments (local, state, and federal) responsible.

“I honestly went in with open expectations and a willingness to be moved and changed rather than with specific expectations.  I can tell you that what I found most powerful in the panel were two different things. First, although I have been really striving to be informed about and engaged in BLM and have participated in demonstrations and have heard some of the leaders, in those contexts they are putting forth a platform, which is the appropriate strategic action and I support it. What I had not heard before, though, were the kinds of descriptive stories about the specifics of the backlash and the film that they showed was more graphic, upsetting, and powerful than I had seen in the media.   

“Although what was shown in the film was shocking, painful and upsetting to watch, I needed to see it. I needed to see it in its horror. You know, they rarely actually show the moment someone actually dies on the news. I think it was spiritually important to watch and bear witness.

“From my particular perspective as an Hellenic Pagan and a citizen of the United States (and as a priestess of Athena and Apollon, the duties of a citizen are sacred to me), I have a moral responsibility to act. Aristotle talks about the virtue of gentleness as being in right relationship with anger. If you have too much anger, then you are irascible. But in situations of injustice and atrocities, situations like the horrific violence perpetrated against our citizens of color by the people who are supposed to be the sacred guardians (the correct role of the police) if you are NOT angry, there is something morally wrong in your character. Sometimes to be gentle is to be filled with rage. In a society that mistakes placidity for gentleness, I think that we need spaces to explore, develop and harness holy anger.”

Elena Rose

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

“I expected black lives matter to be a fairly prominent topic at the Parliament, and was surprised to find that it was barely present. The Parliament of the World’s Religions potentially has the power to bring people together to work on mending the world. At the Parliament, we were encouraged to look at the pain, injustice, and tragedy in the world directly with an eye to taking action informed by our spirituality. Given this goal, I wonder at the virtual absence of BLM at the Parliament.

“I was there to hear stories of those on the front lines. I was there to hear voices that bolster the will to continue the work. I was hoping for more than was offered, and I worked to be grateful for the work of those on the panel despite their sometimes flawed representations.

“As soon as I got home and reconnected with the news stream, I discovered that Black churches were being burned again. Religious people aren’t the only ones that work to change the world, but they often have infrastructure that is needed for taking action. Faith communities are often a place to regenerate and to heal before re-entering the fray. Without a place of solace, activists can lose heart and clarity of thought. Dialogue leads to relationships that lead to solidarity. Faith communities need to join efforts to rebuild what hatred destroys.”

Elena Rose

“Black Lives Matter is the biggest theological debate happening on this continent right now, in the sense of an argument about meaning and the implications of meaning. Literally, we’re arguing over whether or not the lives and bodies and stories of Black people are worth the same as, matter as much as, are as precious as the lives and bodies and stories of other people. We’re having a national–and to some degree international–debate about what a Black body means and what that meaning demands of us as people in community. This isn’t a legal or scientific argument; it’s a matter of theology, of symbol and metaphor and value and most especially of who is worthy of love, worthy of protection, worthy of grace, worthy of justice. Where better to wrestle with the issue than in religious communities– especially considering how many religious communities have been at the frontline of the struggle?

“Black Lives Matter, as a movement, is a lot of things, but one of the things it is–even in the most secular sense you can dig up–is a question of morality, faith, theology. Do we, or do we not, listen to and have faith in Black people?  Do we, or do we not, have moral obligations to our Black neighbors? These questions are written in enormous letters all over our public discourse right now.  Any religious movement that wants to be relevant to our civic life has to at least address those questions, to acknowledge them and offer an answer.  If a religious movement is claiming to speak to the state of community, it has to answer to the call Black Lives Matter has put forth.  If a religious movement is claiming to say something about what matters about a human life, it has to answer the exposure here of massive, systematic dehumanization of millions of people. If a religious movement is in the business of caring for the people who come to it, of proclaiming compassion, it has to reckon with the terrible damage done to so many by white supremacy, unequal treatment under the law, murder with impunity, police misconduct. It’s not just vital, it’s simply not optional any more; pretending away this cultural moment, pretending away the call it represents, is the worst kind of abdication of responsibility.

“So, for all that, I was eager to see a discussion of Black Lives Matter at the Parliament of the World’s Religions–a whole international host of people who claim to be moral authorities, to be leaders of communities, to be seekers for the answers of what matters in the world, people you could expect to have fruitful conversations about big moral and theological questions. I wanted to see, if we put our Pagan, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu, Indigenous heads together–if we got the Jains and the Heathens and the Unitarian Universalists in a room and lit the spark–if we could come up with better answers, or at least an agreement to act together in the name of justice and restoration. The US faith communities needed to see that the eyes of our colleagues around the world were on us in this place of crisis; the international leaders needed to see us grappling. The Parliament was an opportunity for us to have the conversation with survivors of the fight against Apartheid and with people who had no idea any of this was happening, to get outside perspectives and inside perspectives working together, and my hope was that it would happen in front of the many thousands of people attending the summit. This year’s theme was about reclaiming the heart of our humanity–what better way to do it? “

jim Wallis

Matt Whealton

“Hearing the direct witness of the speakers was a key aspect here. As we know, media messages are a cacophony that in some (or many) cases actively attempt to distract people from understanding the events and issues around BLM. Pastor McBride was brilliant in his descriptions of what happened at Ferguson and his personal growth through working with the young leaders of BLM there. I wish more could have heard his words. His and the panel’s personal transformation in confronting the violence against black bodies is inspiring, and the Parliament could have provided an even louder amplifier for them.

“The Parliament’s sessions can educate those from other parts of the world who may not be exposed to the issue. The Parliament’s purpose is to spark discussion and cooperation on the important matters that affect us across our traditions. BLM is surely a topic important enough for major programming. More could have been provided here, I believe.

“I feel it was necessary to show up and be counted in support of BLM, even though it was clear that the issue was not a mainstream one for the Parliament (an aspect that I believe was a miss of a great opportunity on the Parliament’s part).

“Another was the chance to hear about the current state of the movement. This was covered well, both by the speakers on the local (Utah) and national levels and also by some of the commenters during the Q&A at the end – some great stuff there. It was heartening to hear the audience going beyond just listening to share useful information, which in itself demonstrates just how non-centralized the movement is.

“On a personal level, it is a sacred act for me to “do Maat and speak Maat” (that is, live and act according to the principals Maat embodies – Truth, Justice, Order, Compassion, etc). Every faith community has a version of these ideals to guide individuals in or very near its core beliefs and obligations. So it is only natural that we should be working both within and between our traditions to effect changes. Maybe not every person will be inspired for this particular issue, but by opening spaces for BLM, those people who are inspired can join and not only build bridges but provide a ‘wall of bricolage’ – a wall stronger and more resilient than one built of just one material.”

Rowan Fairgrove

“I think it is especially important to have Black Lives Matter at the Parliament. If people of good faith trying to make the world a better place aren’t mobilized around this issue, then I would despair. I was interested to hear the story of Rev. Francis Davis, pastor of an historically black Baptist church in Salt Lake City. He noted that the African American population is about 2% in Utah – if he wants to get allies he has to reach out to the interfaith community to have a voice. And he has been successful in getting interfaith allies.

“I was hoping for a bit more analysis and more suggestions for follow-ons. “Black Lives Matter. Black Lives have been discounted. Here is the work that must be done.” People at the Parliament are supposed to make an ongoing commitment to make a difference in the world, fighting for #BLM could have been offered as a focus. [And not to be snarky, but I was hoping for a younger, more diverse panel. And that it take place earlier in the Parliament instead of being shoved to Sunday night.]

“The majority of people in the world look to a faith or spiritual community in their life. The core of most such traditions holds that people should be treated with dignity and respect; that fairness and truth are prime values. When there is so much structural imbalance and white supremacy present in our country, people of faith need to speak out, do the work, and dismantle the historic injustices. We need to work to make our vision a reality — of a world where all people, but especially those oppressed by the current system, can have prosperous, dignified lives as a welcome part of the community.

“I would also have liked more programming on the topic! We could share best practices and create a network of groups working within their communities. In San Jose, for instance, we are having Beloved Community meetings between the Police Department and community members (facilitated by clergy) … I would have loved to had a chance to hear what other communities are doing!”

  *   *   *

Although the room was more than half empty on this Sunday night timeslot, the impact of this one panel brought some much needed dialog about the responsibility and intersections of our faith communities in the demand for justice.

I sat in that room, not as a journalist or columnist for The Wild Hunt, but as a Black, Pagan woman looking for more ways to understand the impact of spirituality in the equity movement. It felt rewarding and supportive to know that so many Pagans and Polytheists were also motivated to attend this isolated offering at the Parliament. There were parts of the video shown in the panel that were emotionally evoking. Hearing the passion in the voices of the speakers on the panel, and in the audience, was truly an indicator that we are pushing beyond disbelief and into action.

It was also heartening to see people building coalition together, asking the hard questions, and acknowledging the work that has yet to be done. Among the many concerns we have become more comfortable fighting against, issues of systemic racism seem to still challenge many in greater society and within the modern Pagan and Polytheist communities. Yet so many people came to listen and participate in this workshop despite challenging planning on the Parliament’s part; there is still so much to discuss and so much to do within this time and space.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus added a profound thought in eir interview that I would like to close with it here because it leaves us to think about the role of interfaith work in the justice movement, and why it is important to work together to challenge the status quo of our intersecting communities. E said,  “That #BlackLivesMatter even has to be said, and that religious leaders of mainstream religions even have to be reminded of this, demonstrates how very far from actualizing this recognition both religions and the general public are at during this moment in history. While making this more visible in a religious context is good and important, I am not certain that doing so will properly filter out into the general populace, either.”

Our communities have to continue to think on the importance of dialogue, and what is missing when Pagan, Polytheist, and voices of color are not included; And what is gained when we are at the table aiding in conversations that open up possibilities.

Below is the recorded livestream of the Black Lives Matter session at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – On Oct 14,  Rev. Patrick McCollum was elected as the new Vice President of Children of the Earth (COE), a United Nations Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). Rev. McCollum, mainly known in the Pagan community for his work championing prisoners’ rights, spoke to The Wild Hunt about what this opportunity means for him and for the greater Pagan community.

Patrick McCollum at The Parliament of the World Religions 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

Patrick McCollum at The Parliament of the World Religions 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

COE, was created in 2001 and is a non-denominational educational non-profit organization that provides hands-on learning activities through the ancient art and science of tracking, awareness, and wilderness living skills. COE says its mission is to “ensure the survival of future generations by guiding youth and community to a pure connection with the Earth.”

Rev. McCollum has been on the Board of Directors of Children of the Earth for approximately ten years. The position, like all positions at COE, is completely volunteer.

The Wild Hunt: You had your first meeting at Parliament, correct? What can you tell me about that?

Rev. Patrick McCollum: I first met Nina Meyerhof, the COE president at the Parliament in Barcelona in 2004. [On Monday,] our youth leadership team made a presentation and were warmly and passionately greeted. They did a dynamite presentation and laid out our plan to change the direction of youth engagement worldwide. I am so proud of them, and have every confidence that they will succeed. We have already successfully executed numerous world projects and changed and saved many lives.

Our primary goal is not project oriented, but rather it is directed toward developing the inner skills necessary to perform the outer duties of projects. We teach our youth how to Reflect, Connect, and Act. Then they go to town and do the work.

We have already successfully executed projects in 16 plus countries from building schools, to empowering women, to providing disaster relief, to helping with hunger and clean water. I could list hundreds of projects, but instead, I would press those who want to know more, to go online and see our web pages and media. One of our current big projects is One Peaceful Africa, a youth movement to take back the African continent from terrorists and roving bands of violent gangs.

TWH: What do you hope to accomplish?

PM: It is my hope that through my mentorship and that of the youth leaders that already have been trained by COE, we will create a better, safer, and more sustainable world that we can all live in with diversity being seen as sacred and equality being seen as our highest ideal.

TWH: Do you feel having a Pagan heading a United Nations NGO helps Paganism become more mainstream or accepted?

PM: Yes I do!  It is specifically the Pagan values from my tradition that have gained me the respect internationally that has led to my being asked to be VP of COE. Everyone in COE knows that I am a Pagan and all of the people and officials connected to projects that I have helped with across the world know that I am Pagan.

Many people know this, but for those who don’t, I specifically put myself out on the world stage openly as a Pagan to give credit to our community as I move forward. When my projects are successful, I always share with media and all involved that while I can’t speak for our community, my work and the successes connected to it are are representative of what our community has to offer!

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

TWH: Did any of the kids you met with have any questions or concerns about your religion?

PM: Early on, some of the youth wondered and asked questions about my faith and spirituality and had some concerns, especially those of Christian and Muslim origins. But now, I am universally accepted as the spiritual mentor of COE, and am often called upon in that capacity. I often offer prayers to open our meetings or as a part of launching our international projects in other countries.  I try very hard to walk in the role as a broad spiritual mentor and leader rather that just as a Pagan mentor or leader.

Sometimes being a Pagan in areas I work in can be dangerous. Not in the context of COE, but rather in the context that those connected to Paganism, Witchcraft and the like, are often killed routinely in some countries we work in. It is a delicate balance for me, trusting in my connection to divinity to protect me, while at the same time being as practical about safety as possible. I have to be willing to die for what I believe in, and willing to set aside my fears in this regard. In some places I go, this work is not for for the weak-hearted or for those who do not fully believe in their own spirituality. This can sometimes be tough dangerous work.

I can’t speak for others, but for me, I consider this work sacred, and I have made the same commitments that many other spiritual leaders and peace activists from other faiths have made before me. I am quite sure that the majority of those we look up to like Gandhi or Martin Luther King had exactly the same challenges in their work, and yet they still moved forward. I believe I can make a difference and it is only that singular purpose that I focus on, not all of the dangers that might go along with that.

TWH: Is there anything you’d like to add?

PM: Yes! I firmly believe that our youth are the future of our planet, and if we don’t step up and both share our expertise with them and also empower them to operate independent of us, they will have to reinvent the wheel in order to resolve the problems that face them and our planet. I want to be a responsible citizen, mentor, and spiritual leader.  And in order to accomplish that, I have to do more than just talk, I have to show up.

And so here I am. I am showing up for our youth and for the future of our planet, and will continue to do so to the best of my ability for as long as I possibly can.

COE is a leader in this area worldwide, and if I am going to help steer that ship, I have to do everything I can to steer it to its destination as safely as possible, with all of its cargo intact.  It’s a big job, but I am both honored and privileged to do it.

  *    *    *

The Wild Hunt congratulates Rev. McCollum on his new role within an UN NGO and it sounds as if his first meeting as Vice President of Children of the Earth at the Parliament of the World’s Religions was successful. We’ll have additional news from the Parliament of the World’s Religions this week.

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While here at the Parliament for the World’s Religions, I have heard discussed the many, many problems that currently plague our world, from climate change to social injustice; from economic inequities to violence against women. While the will to fix these problems is certainly sincere and needed, the solutions are often just out of reach. Or, the problems are too complex and intertwined to allow for a single utopian answer.

But we keep striving and hoping, moving forward in pieces and making change in our own ways, with our own talents, within our own communities and circles. One of the methods that I personally practice and advocate for is the concept of “Teaching the Change.” In other words, teach the children. They are the future movers and shakers.

I recognize this is a slow process, but it works.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

Recently, I witnessed three 8-year-old girls walking along the sidewalk in their stereotypical conservative American suburban neighborhood. They were chattering away and planning their playtime. One said, “Let’s play house.” The others agreed enthusiastically. A second girl said, “I’ll be the mommy. You can be the daughter.” The first girl responded, “I want to be the mommy.” The second girl said, “OK, we can both the mommies. That way we can all play together.” A third girl chimed in, “We can do that now. Because they changed the rules and it’s OK for two mommies to get married.” Then, the three happily skipped off to play house.


Childhood is an incredible time of learning, growing and absorbing all that is offered up by the world. Every day is filled with the endless potential of a thousand tomorrows with new adventures, some good and some bad, waiting in the wings. There are many ways to capitalize, for lack of a better word, on this fragile and glorious time, in order to bring about a better world – not only for us and them, but for their children and beyond.

One very effective method of teaching is through children’s literature. Books play an essential role in this growth process, keeping the mind open and providing windows into worlds outside the limits of reality. Books explore the trials and tribulations of childhood while providing the needed inspiration for self-identity. Books give permission to ask “what if” and the freedom to explore our inner and outer lives. For both children and adults alike, books can be as comforting as a friend, as exciting as a vacation and informative as a teacher.

Unfortunately, there is not a plethora of Pagan and Heathen – specific works for children. They do certainly exist, such as Kyja Whithers’ Rupert’s Tale, Starhawk’s The Last Wild Witch, Jennifer Lohr’s The Basics of Heathenry or W. Lyon Martin’s Aidan’s First Film Circle. These are four examples which focus specifically on religious experience. Generally speaking, however, Pagan and Heathen parents must use mainstream books to not only enrich their child’s spiritual understanding but also to teach the change.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

Luckily that isn’t difficult. Mainstream books incorporate some of the fundamental ideas found within the spectrum of Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist religions and certainly employ themes that can help teach some basic values, like compassion, acceptance, earth-reverence – all of which can lead to a better future.

Over the years I have developed quite an extensive library of children’s literature. I am collector and near addict. All the recommended books below are well-written, well-illustrated and have been read to my own children and others many times over. They are all Pagan and Heathen -friendly, in terms of their language, and can serve to expand, support and inspire any child’s worldview. They can and they do teach the change.

Earth Stewardship

One of the top concerns of our age is climate change and the destruction of our eco-system. Earth stewardship is also at the heart of many Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist religions. Fortunately the environmental movement has inspired an abundance of eco-friendly children’s literature – some good and some bad. Here are six favorites: Dear Children of the Earth by Schim Schimmel; Mother Earth by Nancy Luenn; Out of the Ocean by Debra Fraiser; Curious Garden by Peter Brown; Where Once There was a Wood by Denise Fleming; and the Dr. Suess classic The Lorax.

The first two specifically use the term “Mother Earth” and, thereby, create a true Gaia persona to which children naturally connect. The second two celebrate the gifts given to us by nature, if only we’d look closer. The latter two books demonstrate the devastating effects of overindustrialization and commercialism, while offering a hope for a greener future. These books can be enjoyed as inspirational tales with or without further discussions.

The air is her breath. Sunlight and fire the warmth of her body. We are her eyes and we are her children. From Mother Earth by Nancy Luenn (Aladdin Publishing, 1995)

Habitat Conservation and Animal Protection

Children are naturally intrigued by animals. There is absolutely nothing more exciting than finding a worm wriggling through the dark moist soil or a hawk perched in low tree branch. Such discoveries can provide hours of entertainment for a young child.

Animal-themed storybooks open up doors to these secret worlds when life can’t. They generate curiosity, compassion, understanding and respect. In her books Tall Tall Grass and Small Small Pond, Denise Fleming whimsically explores two different eco-systems. In A Stranger in the Woods, Carl Sams and Jean Stoick use striking images to share an encounter between forest wildlife and a snowman.

Storybooks can also directly teach the need for animal protection and wildlife advocacy. Craig Hatkoff has documented and published for children a number of nonfiction rescue stories. These include: Owen and Mzee, Knut, Looking for Miza,and Leo the Snow Leopard.

While Hatkoff’s books are for older children, author Bill Martin, with illustrator Eric Carle, wrote several books dedicated to endangered species such as Panda Bear, Panda Bear. This particular book provides an excellent first opportunity to explore the subject of habitat conservation.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

While those books directly teach about nature and various problems, most animal-based books are focused on engaging a social problem and providing a moral lesson. As such modern storybooks accomplish what ancient oral storytellers once did. They guide children’s upbringing through the observation of nature. Jannell Cannon does just this in her books: Pinduli, Crickwing, Stellaluna and, my personal favorite, Verdi. Each book offers a specific social lesson (e.g., growing up, being brave, accepting yourself) through the observed characteristics of the main animal.

Award-winning author and illustrator Eric Carle has published a number of his own books highlighting animal behavior while exploring interpersonal and social issues. Mr. Seahorse, for example, is the tale of a daddy seahorse who journeys through the ocean carrying his young. Within this simple story, there is embedded message about fatherhood. Other similar authors include Lois Ehlert (Waiting for Wings) and Leo Lionni (e.g., Inch by Inch, Fish is Fish, It’s Mine!).

“Dreaming child, dreaming child what do you see? I see animals all wild and free.” From Panda Bear, Panda Bear (a tribute to endangered species) by Bill Martin (Henry Holt and Co., 2006)

Our Multicultural world

We live in an increasingly diverse society. One of the biggest gifts that we can give to our children is to teach them to see the beauty of difference and to celebrate it – whether it be religious, cultural, ethnic, racial or otherwise. Lessons like this are best learned from experience. However, we don’t always have the luxury of exposure. This is where books come into play. They demonstrate to children that their way is one in many and not the only; that their appearance is one in many and not the only; that their choices are one in many and not the only. Books can normalize diversity and inspire a healthy curiosity about different cultures and peoples.

One of my favorite authors in this category is Patricia Polacco. Most of her books showcase moving stories in which difference is directly confronted. Despite challenges and conflict, Polacco’s characters always overcome adversity through their connection to deep humanity. In her vast collection of books, she tackles religion (Just Plain Fancy, Mrs.Katz and Tush), sexuality (Our Mothers’ House), race (Mrs. Katz and Tush, Pink and Say) and more (Babushka, Baba Yaga, Thank You, Mr Falkner.)  It is difficult to read many of her stories without being profoundly moved – adults and children alike. Have a tissue box nearby!

Outside of Polacco’s work, there are many others that tackle socio-political issues with regards to diversity. Two notable books are Debra da Costa’s Snow in Jeruselum and Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches. The former deals with the current socio-political problems in Israel through the tale of a Jewish boy, an Muslim boy and a single white cat. In the latter, Dr. Seuss demonstrates how a Sneetch is still a Sneetch no matter how many stars on its belly. This allegory is one of Seuss’ commentaries on social and economic inequities.

[Public Domain / PIxabay]

[Public Domain / PIxabay]

Another way to teach the very important appreciation for multiculturalism is to read stories written by someone of that culture, originating from that culture or respectfully-inspired by that culture. In many cases the characters’ names and places may seem foreign to a child, but the lessons and spirit are all very relatable.

Gerald McDermott, for example, enjoys bringing to life the folk tales and mythology from indigenous cultures. His books include Anansi (Ashanti People of Africa), Arrow to the Sun (Pueblo) and Raven (Pacific-Northwest Native Americans). Author and illustrator Tomie de Paola reconstructs old folk tales (e.g., The Legend of the Bluebonnet, The Quilt Story) and also incorporates cultural mythology into his own original works (e.g., Jamie O’Rourke and the PookaStrega Nona.)

Other authors in this category include:  Verna Aardema (e.g., Bringing Rain to Kapiti Plain, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ear), Jan Brett (e.g., The Mitten, The Trouble With Trolls), Caitlin Matthews (Celtic Memories), John Steptoe (Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters), and Rachel Isadora (At the Crossroads).

Learning about world cultures through folklore is important. However, it is equally critical to understand the diversity within our own backyards. For decades children’s stories were set primarily on farms or within idyllic upper-middle class communities. Most of these stories were dominated by white characters of a nondescript ethnic descent, all of whom celebrated Christmas.

Ezra Jacks Keats (e.g., A Letter to AmyPeter’s Chair, Whistle For Willie) is largely considered to be the first American children’s author to introduce multiracial, multi-ethnic main characters within a wholly urban “real life” setting. His first book featured Juanito, a child immigrant from Puerto Rico. However, his most famous character is the curious and lovable little boy named Peter. Other authors in this category include Vera Williams (A Chair for My Mother), Linda Heller (Castle on Hester Street) and John Dorros (Abuela).

Finally, this section would not be complete without mentioning artist, author, storyteller Faith Ringgold. She takes children’s literature to an entirely new level of cultural experience and artistry. Her inspiring stories shed light on the African-American experience in ways that only she can do. Her award-winning book, Tar Beach, was originally created to accompany her story quilt of the same name which is on display at the Guggenheim museum. The story works on many levels, both as education and as inspiration. I strongly recommend tissues here too.

“All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.” From Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold (Dragonfly Books, 1996)

On Being Diferent

Our collective religious communities are incredibly diverse in practice and belief. However, there is one unifying element – we are all members of minority religions. At some point in life, if only as a result of being Pagan, Heathen or Polytheist, every child will be faced with the hard reality of being different.

Storybooks provide a healthy way of thinking through the pain, offering ways of handling the issues and moving forward. Kevin Henkes celebrates the beauty of unusual names with his clever book Chrysathemum. In Olivia and the Fairy Princesses, Ian Falconer takes his famous little diva through an existential identity-crisis after she decides she doesn’t want dress like all the other children. Leo Lionni discusses the importance of appreciating one’s own color in A Color of His Own. Similar stories include, Dr. Seuss’ Gertrude McFuzz, Mo Williams Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed and Debbie Allen’s Dancing in the Wings.

“Why is it always a pink princess? Why not an Indian princess or a princess from Thailand or a princess from China? There are alternatives.” From Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012)

Women and Girls

Another central issue to the discussions on global concerns is the treatment of women and girls. As with the other subjects, storybooks provide a way to demonstrate empowerment to girls starting at an early age. Not only do they provide literacy, one problem for women in some regions, but they also offer stories that simply celebrate the essence and power in being a girl. I would argue that children’s literature is or should be an essential component to the women’s movement worldwide.

Stories with positive crone characters and strong mothers teach girls the importance and beauty of their role within society as they age. For example, Patricia Polacco retells the Slavic/Russian folktale of the feared forest witch in Babushka, Baba Yaga. At the end of the story, the townswomen learn that the magical Baba Yaga is actually a kind, loving crone who only wants to be in community and love of a child. Tomie de Paolo’s Strega Nona series is a similar tool.

Burleigh Muten authored a book on world goddesses to specifically empower girls through this type of mythology. And, there are a number of books that share this concept.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

However, if a parent wants a more modern approach, look no further than the characters of Olivia and Grace. Olivia is Ian Falconer’s little feminist pig who will have you laughing, and your little daughter expanding her dreams and discovering the will to challenge the world.

Grace is a school-age child who asks the simple question, “Why aren’t there any women presidents?” Written by Kelly DiPucchio, Grace for President is a dynamic modern tale that teaches girls to question societal norms. Through reading this story, a girl will learn that she can be “the right person for the job.”

“The strength and power of goddesses continue to inspire women and girls all over the world…  I wrote this book with the hope that you will discover how adventurous and powerful women deities have been for thousands of years.” From Goddesses: A World of Myth and Magic by Burleigh Muten (Barefoot Books, 2003)

Fostering Love and Compassion

I’d like to end this walk through children’s literature with a final section on love and compassion. This concept, often lost is adulthood, is present readily in the hearts of young children. They want to connect, but often time and experience can erode it away. When compassion is nurtured regularly, the ideal of love and trust can be accessible for a lifetime, and can be the foundation of real global change.

There are many books that reinforce our instinctive understanding of unconditional love. Some of my favorites include Guess How Much I Love You and You Are All My Favorites by Sam McBratney; Love You Forever by Robert Munsch; I Love You the Purplest by Barbara Joosse. In addition to unconditional love, Munsch book demonstrates the cycle of life from birth to death to birth again. And, let me give you another tissue warning!

There are two final books that no child should be without. Both demonstrate our deep connection to the world through our humanity in compassion and love. First, Debra Fraiser’s On the Day You Were Born lyrically describes our universal connection to all life. Birds fly; the moon rises; the rains fall, and a circle of people gather to sing, “Welcome to the Spinning World… We are so glad that you’ve come.”

The second book is The Giving Tree, written by Shel Silverstein. It is the story of unconditional love that takes a lifetime to appreciate. A tree gives up everything, even its own life for the love of one boy. When the boy becomes an old man, he has nothing left but the stump which is, in the end, all he needs. Throughout the story no matter what the boy sought in outside world, he never attained it. It isn’t until the end that he recognizes that all he ever really needed was that tree. Tissues!

“I love you to the moon and back.” From Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. (Walker Books Ltd, 2007)

This is only a small sampling of books out there, and this list doesn’t even touch on other important categories (e.g., mythology, art, science) There are many books available that can help us, as Pagan and Heathen parents, to both teach the important values and ethics of our religions and teach the change we want to see!

[Public domain / Pixabay]

[Public domain / Pixabay]

But most importantly, never stop reading to your children. No matter what books you do own, read to them from the earliest moments of infancy until forever. Doing so will foster a love of reading in your child – a priceless gift that will last a lifetime. It will also nurture their natural need to explore, to question, to understand, to love and to challenge what they see so that their future is always laced with hope.

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FT. MEADE, Md. – A civilian dental technician alleges that she has suffered religious discrimination, a hostile work environment and was subsequently fired after filing a formal complaint. Deborah Schoenfeld said that her Evangelical coworkers and managers at Epes Dental Clinic called her a witch, discriminated against her religion, and called her practice of yoga and meditation ‘satanic.’

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

In a recent interview with The Wild Hunt, Schoenfeld described her faith as Hindu, but has also been studying Wicca for 2 years. She said that the harassment began in April 2015 and that both military and civilian coworkers and managers took part in the problem. Schoenfeld described this harassment as such:

  • Employees were expected to attend Evangelical religious events and were asked to pray that SCOTUS would rule against same sex marriage.

  • Predominately Christian music was played in the office during work hours.

  • Schoenfeld was told that, due to her practice of meditation, she was bringing demons into the office.

  • Her practice of yoga was called “satanic.”

  • She was called a “Hindu witch.”

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has sent a letter to US Air Force officials, notifying them that the MRFF is “immediately providing aggressive advocacy services for Ms. Schoenfeld as a MRFF client pursuant to her resolute quest to obtain a just resolution to her shocking complaints.” The MRFF also said it has filed a formal complaint with the military Equal Employment Opportunity (EO) channel.

As explained by Schoenfeld, she first reported these instances to her chain of command, but received no help. Then, on Sept 2, she filed a formal complaint regarding the harassment. Later that day she was fired for “using profanity against coworker.” Her manager declined to name the coworker or further define the situation on which they had based the firing.

Schoenfeld said that this harassment and the subsequent firing has been stressful. “I have been trying to still deal with the whole complexity of the situation as a whole. If it were not for my Pagan friends and for all the support from outsiders, I don’t think I could have kept myself going. Even my yoga teacher roots for me saying, ‘I’m glad you keep on coming to yoga, it will ground you.’ ”

She also added that the firing itself was a complete surprise. Schoenfeld explained that she had worked very hard and had been asked to perform two jobs at once. Even with the increased workload, she was praised for the quality of her performance,“I even got an award for patient safety back in March 2015. My non-abusive co-workers would give me accolades for helping them with their extra patients, so they would not have to work through lunch or stay after work. This has been my first military job, and the first time in all my career I have ever felt this type of discrimination.”

In an off-the-record interview with the Air Force Times, two of Schoenfeld’s former coworkers confirmed that the harassment against Schoenfeld took place and that they themselves were threatened with termination if they were to back her claims. Additionally noted in the article, those two same co-workers added that a deep suspicion of Hinduism was the motivation for the harassment.

According to USAF regulations, all persons in leadership positions “must ensure that their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief or absence of belief.” Violations can be charged as a felony under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.



The Air Force District of Washington has received Weinstein’s letter and is looking into the allegations raised, said spokesman Maj. Joel Harper.

The Wild Hunt contacted Ft. Meade Public Affairs, but as of publication we have not received a response back.

After this experience, Schoenfeld said that she now has a different view of religious freedom in the US. “I believe it’s only free for certain of the religions. Polytheists are looked down upon by many faiths, although there are many of us. I do hope that one day the Christian church will realize some of us are really just happy just the way we are.”

 *   *   *

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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.

[Photo Credit: Garrett via Wikimedia ]

[Photo Credit: Garrett via Wikimedia ]

“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.

Rev. Selena Fox and others plant a Peace Pole at the Cape Town Parliament 1999 [Courtesy Photo]

Rev. Selena Fox and others plant a Peace Pole at the Cape Town Parliament 1999 [Courtesy Photo]

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.”

MotherTongque, EarthSpirit's Ritual Performance Troupe, at 2004 Parliament in Barcelona [Courtesy of A. Corban-Arthen]

MotherTongue, EarthSpirit’s Ritual Performance Troupe, at 2004 Parliament in Barcelona [Courtesy of A. Corban-Arthen]

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.”

A procession of Pagans at the last Parliament of the World's Religions.

Peace procession of Pagans at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions [Courtesy Photo]

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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