Archives For European Indigenous Tradition

[The following is a guest post from Andras Corban Arthen. Andras Corban Arthenis the founder and spiritual director of the EarthSpirit Community, an international religious and educational organization, established in 1977, which is dedicated to the preservation and development of Earth-centered spirituality, culture and community with a special focus on the indigenous European pagan traditions. He currently serves on the executive committee of the board of trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the oldest and largest interfaith organization.]

Andras_and_Jonas

Jonas Trinkūnas & Andras Corban Arthen

EarthSpirit recently sponsored a series of performances in Massachusetts and Vermont by Kulgrinda – the ritual performance group of Romuva, which is the name given in modern times to the revived ethnic pagan religion of Lithuania. Jonas Trinkūnas, the krivis (supreme priest) and founder of Romuva – who took part in those performances – is an old friend, someone I’ve known and respected very highly for some twenty years. Jonas attended Rites of Spring back in the nineties, and I have visited him, his family, and his community in Lithuania. In 2008, when the Parliament of the World’s Religions put me in charge of finding representatives of the indigenous spiritual traditions of Europe to attend the upcoming Parliament in Melbourne, Jonas’ name was the first on my list.

A few days ago, on 6 July, Jonas had the distinction of receiving the prestigious Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas, one of Lithuania’s top civilian honors. The award was personally bestowed by Dalia Grybauskaitė, the president of Lithuania, who praised Jonas for his involvement with the underground resistance against the Soviet regime which ruled Lithuania for over forty years, as well as for his work in preserving traditional Lithuanian religion and literature.

(l. to r.) Inija Trinkūnienė, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Jonas Trinkūnas

(l. to r.) Inija Trinkūnienė, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Jonas Trinkūnas

Lithuania was the last country in Europe to officially become Christian – a change which took place mainly for political reasons, and which was not completed until the beginning of the 15th century. The pagan religion co-existed with Christianity for a very long time beyond that, and continued to survive even after Catholicism became dominant and gradually attempted to assimilate and eradicate the remaining pagan practices. But paganism still lived on in the countryside: a large sector of the peasantry, though nominally Catholic, kept alive their traditional pagan spiritually which was deeply ingrained in their everyday lives. A very strong folkloric movement which began in the 18th century helped to keep alive, in the urban centers, an awareness of Lithuania’s pagan roots.

Kulgrinda

Kulgrinda

Jonas Trinkūnas immersed himself from an early age in the myths and folklore of his native land, and by the time he’d finished his university studies in the early 1960s, he had published a number of articles as well as a dissertation on pre-Christian Lithuanian religion. He became a researcher and professor of literature and ancient cultures at the University of Vilnius, and during that time he founded a very popular folkloric organization which presented a variety of traditional folk music and dance events; he also began making extended visits to the countryside, to learn directly from rural villagers what still survived of the original pagan traditions.

Jonas’ activities brought him afoul of the Soviet authorities, who feared that his religious and folkloric pursuits were fomenting nationalistic sentiments which could lead to acts of sedition. He was interrogated by the KGB, and subsequently dismissed from his teaching position at the university, and forbidden from holding any kind of teaching job; for many years, he was forced to do various kinds of menial work in order to support his growing family. His folkloric organization was officially suppressed, and he could only engage in his religious practices clandestinely.

Romuva and President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

Members of Romuva and President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

Finally, with the loosening of Soviet government controls brought about by glasnost and perestroika in the late eighties, Jonas was able to resume his public activities and to bring Romuva out in the open. Since 1990, when Lithuania achieved its independence from the Soviet Union (the first of the former Soviet republics to do so), Romuva has grown steadily and has achieved a strong presence in Lithuanian culture, though it has not yet managed to gain official government status as a traditional religion.

It may have been an unprecedented event for a pagan leader to be awarded a high honor by the president of his country – it’s certainly something that should make all pagans around the world very proud. Let us hope that the bestowal of the Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas upon Jonas Trinkūnas signals a growing willingness by the Lithuanian government to grant Romuva the official status it has long deserved.

Global Voices points to an Open Democracy report from last month on how Mari Traditional Faith (the indigenous belief system of the Mari people in the Republic of Mari El) is facing a renewed form of “anti-religion” in Russia.

In response to an appeal by the local state prosecutor, Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court found Vitaly Tanakov guilty of religious and ethnic hatred in 2006, sentencing him to 120 hours’ forced labour. In 2009, Mari El Supreme Court ruled that his leaflet – “A Priest Speaks” – contained religious and other extremism. It is now banned throughout Russia.

Peoples influenced by the Bible and Koran “have lost harmony between the individual and the people,” argues Tanakov, in what is actually one of only a few references to other faiths in his leaflet. “Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, mutual aid; everyone and everything are infected by falsehood.” By contrast, he boasts, the Mari traditional faith will be “in demand by the whole world for many millennia.”

There are growing claims that Russia’s controversial anti-extremism law is being used to persecute and suppress religious minorities in the formerly communist nation (with even more restrictive anti-religious passages being proposed). Some fear that a Russian government and Russian Orthodox alliance is partially to blame for growing tensions and hostilities towards resurgent forms of Paganism in Russia. A Mari text mildly critical of Christianity and Islam being labeled as “extremist”, along with several other incidents, paints a grim picture. Some have even considered seeking asylum in the West.

Vitaly Tanakov, the controversial author of “A Priest Speaks” labeled “extremist” for writing lines like: “you have felled a tree, you have destroyed a living being”, is now looking outside of Russia for help to fight these persecutions, and wants to reach out to other Pagan and indigenous faith traditions.

A first step, proposes Tanakov, would be an international symposium of peoples true to the Old Religion. He would certainly invite the Native Americans, and is somewhat impressed by the Druids’ ceremonies at Stonehenge, “although they don’t yet know what they’re doing, it’s just improvisation.” Mari El’s most notorious kart squints knowingly: “With our unbroken traditions, we have something to tell them.”

One wonders if there’s a Mari representative at the ongoing World Congress of Ethnic Religions in Italy? Can indigenous traditions and revived Paganisms truly gather in a global symposium outside the purview and sponsorship of large events like the Parliament of the World’s Religions? Can cultural and theological differences be overcome in order to work on a shared political agenda? These remain open questions, but I’ve seen a new and fragile openness from all sides towards dialog on areas of mutual interest, hopefully it can bear fruit for all sides.

For more on the Mari people and their traditional religion, check out the MariUver blog (particularly this post).

August 26th in Italy sees the beginning of the 13th annual World Congress of Ethnic Religions. Formed in 1998 at the first gathering in Lithuania, the congress works to promote tolerance of ethnic indigenous religions and create networks of support among adherents of ethnic traditions across the world. There are member organizations from across Europe, and the Congress also welcomes delegations from India, Russia, and the United States. The theme this year is “Ethics in the Contemporary World”, and is being organized by the Italian organization Gentilitas.

“The Congress theme will be to compare the different ethical views of individual members of the religious associations within WCER to find a lowest common denominator or, more simply, to discuss ethical and religious views during the development of rings.”Federazione Pagana, Italy

WCER President Jonas Trinkunas (Romuva), who recently attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia, was inspired by his experiences there to propose a change of name and focus for the organization.

“In 2009 Romuva (Association of Lithuanian traditional religion) was invited to the Parliament of World Religions held in Melbourne, Australia. Romuva was invited to participate and was an active participant in the section of the Associations of indigenous religions. During the conference I presented not only the religious activities of Romuva, but the activities of the WCER as well. The invaluable experience of having taken part in the Parliament of World Religions after ten years of WCER encouraged me to see again and define the vision and the area of our activities. That’s why I want to reassess and redefine the term which we refer to ourselves. I refer to WCER – World Congress of Ethnic Religions (World Congress of Ethnic Religions). There is a word that I propose to discuss: the change of the term ‘world’ with ‘European’. Hence the change of name to ECER – European Congress of Ethnic Religions (European Congress of Ethnic Religions).”

In addition to the various European delegations, at least two Pagans of note from the United States will be in attendance. Andras Corban Arthen of EarthSpirit (also one of the Parliament’s Board of Trustees), and Prudence Priest, a COG Elder and co-founder of the American Vinland Association. At the AVA blog, Priest has a post running down the schedule of events at the WCER, and  talks about her role “promoting Heathenism” on her travels.

“Here’s why I’m always behind. Too busy out proselytizing and promoting Heathenism to stay home and deal with paperwork. And here’s what Marina sent me. I edited the most glaring mis-translations, but wanted all of you to know where I’ll be for my next adventure. I have never been to Italy, and when I asked all my friends, not one had been to Bologna. The only two things I know about it is when I watch the “Coliandro” mysteries on PBS (the mHz International Mysteries) and they show its environs as they do on “Streets of San Francisco”; and that some church there has the largest extant zodiac sundial.”

Priest also has a personal blog set up, so hopefully she’ll be sharing her experiences at the WCER as things progress. You should also keep an eye on the EarthSpirit Voices blog for any updates that may happen there. There is also supposed to be streaming video of the WCER proceedings, check out the WCER 2010 site for more details.

My hope is that, moving forward, the Pagan community can foster better lines of communication and resource sharing between communities in the Americas, Australia, the UK, and the rest of Europe (and ultimately the whole world). The World Congress of Ethnic Religions, soon to be the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, is laying the groundwork for a better awareness of Pagan religions (whether revived, reconstructed, or indigenous) across the globe. Creating networks that will be vital for future activism and collaboration. Modern Paganism is an increasingly global phenomenon, and it’s important that we pay attention to its growth and struggles.

For those of you enjoying the wide-ranging discussions about Pagan identity that have emerged in the wake of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (specifically the categories of “Traditional/Indigenous”, “Reconstructionist”, and “Neopagan”), I’d like to quickly point you to some explorations of this topic going on elsewhere. First, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton explores the politics that underly terms like “indigenous”, and whether they can apply to contemporary Pagans.

“So are today’s revived and re-created Pagan traditions “indigenous.” I think not—not because they lack ancient roots, but because they are not generally connected to land claims and other current political issues.”

Meanwhile, at the Pagans at the Parliament group-blog, T. Thorn Coyle has posted a three-part reflection (part 1, part 2, part 3) on Nature Religion, and Paganism as an indigenous religion, while on the road in Tasmania. Thorn wonders if applying “indigenous” labels to certain contemporary Pagan groups might become problematic in the longer run.

“In these conversations about which Pagans are “indigenous” and which are “neo-Pagans” how long is it before indigenous comes to equal authentic and authentic comes to equal pure and pure comes to equal superior?”

I urge my readers invested in this current discussion/debate to read and comment on all of the linked entries, because I think they have some important insights and wisdom to convey. Also stay tuned to the EarthSpirit Voices blog, where Andras Corban Arthen promises a report on the “The Revival of the European Pagan Traditions” Parliament panel that seems to have sparked much of this discussion.

Considering the fact that my initial entry last week about the language used to define (or not define) the various Paganisms at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne is edging near 200 comments, I think we can safely say it struck a few nerves. At the heart of the discussion was Ed Hubbard’s quotation from EarthSpirit founder and Parliament Board of Trustees member Andras Corban-Arthen that seemed to imply that some forms of Paganism were, well, not quite Pagan.

“Andras Corban-Arthen points out that Wicca, for example, cannot be seen as an indigenous Pagan faith practice and is instead a modern syncretic movement. Under this description Wicca therefore would not fall under the definition of Pagan, and would be squarely a New Religious Movement, while British Traditional Witchcraft could be considered a Pagan and Indigenous faith tradition.”

From the start of this discussion, I have urged my readers to await word from Corban-Arthen and the other trustees on this matter, before we jump to any conclusions.

“…there is always the chance that comments were misconstrued, or misunderstood. So we should await official word from the Pagan members of the Parliament Board of Trustees before we accuse anyone of trying to drive wedges between different Pagan groups. Context is king, and I don’t want to start any flame-wars for an off-the-cuff idea or mis-stated opinion.”

Now, we have some of that clarification. Andras Corban-Arthen has sent me a statement from Australia, clarifying his statements and positions. I am reprinting the statement in-full below.

On representing, defining & speaking for all pagans:

I am nobody to define “paganism” for all pagans, much less presume to speak for them. Neither is anybody else, for that matter. It would be absurd and laughable for anyone to seriously try to assume such a role. Paganism (however anyone defines that term) is far too wide and complex a topic to fit neatly within any one person’s definition. Whenever I talk publicly on the subject, particularly in front of non-pagan audiences, I start by mentioning that fact, and continue by saying that my views represent only myself, and, to whatever general degree, those in my immediate community who’ve given me permission to represent them. I said this at the Parliament prior to each of my presentations; so, for that matter, did my pagan co-presenters and colleagues on the Parliament’s Board of Trustees.

On the “redefinition” of paganism:

Not to split too fine a hair, but for there to be a “redefinition” of paganism, there would first need to be an accepted definition, and there simply isn’t one — there are many, and some of them substantially contradict each other. Some of the more alarmed comments from your readers seem to have been in reaction to the idea that someone would attempt to “redefine” paganism for all of them. This is not something that I or any of the other speakers at the Parliament ever proposed to do; in fact, I don’t believe that any one of us even used the word “redefinition” once. It was Ed Hubbard who started talking about “redefinition” in his blog, and while he’s certainly entitled to his opinion, his opinion does not accurately represent my own views nor, I daresay, the views of other speakers at the Parliament (more about this below).

On the definition of paganism in relation to “indigenous European spirituality”:

This is by no means a new definition of paganism — some of us have been using it for at least 25-30 years or longer, and it is fairly common among many pagan reconstructionist groups. If it is new to some pagans, then perhaps that is an indication that they’re not as well-informed as they could be regarding some important conversations and perspectives that have been developing in certain sectors of the pagan movement for quite some time, as well as an incentive to get better informed.

On the role of the Parliament:

Perhaps because in the U.S. we’re mostly used to hear the word “parliament” in reference to legislative bodies (e.g., the British or Australian Parliaments), there may be an incorrect and unrealistic weight being given to what happens in the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The word “parliament,” in its basic sense, means “conversation,” and that’s precisely what the PWR is and does — an ongoing conversation (or series of interrelated conversations) on topics that have to do with religion or spirituality. It is not a governing body of any sort, nor an accrediting institution or bureau of standards. It is not about to try to define paganism for pagans, nor decide who’s a pagan and who is not…

On the distinction between “Indigenous Spirituality” and “New Religious Movements”:

In the interreligious community, there are several different categories under which various religions are grouped. This is done for the sake of understanding better the nature of & relationships among religions, the categories are not cast in stone, and there is often a lack of consensus as to which categories certain religions belong to. Indigenous traditions are generally those associated with a specific culture, ethnicity, and geographical region and which predate the arrival or development of a larger, more “organized” religion (examples are the Lakota, Yoruban, or Wurundjeri spiritual traditions among many others). New Religious Movements tend to be those formed since around the middle of the 19th century which have a character uniquely their own, or which derive, but are significantly distinct, from older and more established traditions. These are generally considered to include, for instance, the Bahá’ís, the Christian Scientists, the Mormons, the Brahma Kumaris, the Hare Krishnas, the Pentecostals, the Theosophists, the UUs, various New Age sects, etc. It is simply not true, as some have suggested, that the interfaith movement bestows more emphasis or credibility on the Indigenous over the NRMs. There are some interfaith leaders who (usually in private) dismiss indigenous groups as regressive, theologically unsophisticated, and lacking anything of value to offer the modern world (I strongly disagree, of course). On the other hand, the Bahá’ís, for example, are hugely respected among interfaith people, and Dadi Janki, the international head of the Brahma Kumaris, was one of the speakers at the Parliament’s closing plenary, a role which many covet as a status symbol. Modern pagan groups are typically categorized as NRMs, and rightly so, in my opinion. But I, for one, have long been arguing that *some* forms of paganism which still can be found today more properly qualify under the Indigenous category, and this year, for the first time, that argument was finally seriously considered and, to whatever degree, accepted. I would add that while this perspective may indeed help other religions to look at us differently and thereby gain us some added acceptance & credibility, that is not at all the main reason (or at least not mine) for proposing this categorization.

On the question of Wicca not being “pagan”:

This statement, made by Ed Hubbard on his blog (and not by me or any of my fellow panelists), seems to have aroused the most controversy. For the record, here are the definitions which I used in my “Introduction to Paganism” which was widely distributed at the Parliament:

“Paganism is a term that refers collectively to the Indigenous, pre-Christian cultures and spiritual traditions of Europe, some of which have survived into the present, while others are being reconstructed or revived in modern times.”

Beyond that, I proposed three main categories of pagan approaches:

“There are three main general categories through which paganism can be defined. Traditional paganism represents the survivals into modern times of Indigenous European beliefs and practices among, for instance, the Celts, the Balts, the Basques, the Slavs, and the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. What has survived of traditional paganism is typically found in small, isolated rural communities in regions of Europe which retain strong ethnic identities and in which the ancestral languages have not been lost. Reconstructionist paganism is a modern attempt to recreate traditional forms of paganism through the study of literary, historical, linguistic, and archaeological sources; it includes such practices as Ásatrú (Norse paganism), Celtic Reconstructionism, and Hellenic Ethnikoi. Neopaganism is a mostly urban and syncretic effort to develop modern forms of paganism within mainstream Western culture, including Wicca, Neodruidism, and Celtic Shamanism.”

I fully understand that this definition is narrower than what a lot of pagans would use, and that many pagans (including some of my co-panelists) might well disagree to one degree or another with various aspects of it, and that’s just fine with me. Such a definition is not meant to be the final, absolute statement of what paganism is (again, no one can really do that), but a brief, working statement to serve as a foundation for further discussion & clarification of who we are. I don’t even agree with all of it myself because there are gray areas between the categories that just can’t get addressed by its brevity (for example, some forms of Ásatrú really fall more properly under “Traditional” than “Reconstructionist”).

All of this is by way of clarifying that this “controversy” comes from a misrepresentation of the above in Ed Hubbard’s blog. Ed writes: “Andras Corban-Arthen points out that Wicca, for example, cannot be seen as an indigenous Pagan faith practice and is instead a modern syncretic movement.” So far, mostly correct, though what I actually said was that Wicca didn’t belong under “Traditional Paganism,” but under “Neopaganism.”

Ed goes on: “Under this description Wicca therefore would not fall under the definition of Pagan, and would be squarely a New Religious Movemen…) I said no such thing; if Ed had left the word “Traditional” before “Pagan” there’d be no argument (though there probably also wouldn’t be any controversy). Finally, he writes: “…while British Traditional Witchcraft could be considered a Pagan and Indigenous faith tradition.” Again, not only did I not say that, but the term “British Traditional Witchcraft” did not once cross my lips during the entire Parliament. It is entirely Ed’s extrapolation & misrepresentation of what I said & wrote.

I don’t know Ed Hubbard; as far as I am aware, I only just met him at this Parliament, where he introduced himself to me as a pagan journalist. Since I don’t know him, I’m not in a position to judge whether this was an honest misunderstanding and thus inaccurate reporting on his part, or a deliberate misrepresentation meant to generate controversy for ulterior motives. I’d like to think it’s the former, especially in the light of other statements Hubbard made in Melbourne which would indicate a tendency on his part to jump to hasty conclusions without fully understanding what’s involved. If that’s the case, it might be useful for all of us to reflect on how easily a tempest can be stirred in the pagan teapot by the omission of just one key word.

I hope this sheds a little more clarity on some of what we discussed at the Parliament. In case anyone’s interested, I will be posting more about all this, including the pagan participation at the Parliament’s Indigenous Assembly, on our EarthSpirit Voices blog .

Thanks,

Andras Corban Arthen

So there you have it. Problems and controversies solved? New ones created? Was this merely a tempest in a tea-cup? Feel free to respond to the statement in the comments section.

Top Story: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy is holding a special two-day conference with the theme of “God today: with Him or without Him, that changes everything”. Normally I’m not overly interested in the day-to-day goings on of the Vatican, but a couple quotes reveal, I believe, the under-riding fear behind Benedict XVI’s ongoing smears of both classical and modern forms of Paganism. In short, they believe secularism will hasten the growth of modern Paganism(s).

“Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to CEI President Card Angelo Bagnasco for the occasion. In it, the Holy Father said, … “When God disappears from man’s horizon, humanity loses its sense of direction and could take steps towards its destruction.” … In his opening address, Cardinal Bagnasco said that the question of God is linked to that of truth, which “separates man from animals and machine.” For the cardinal, the more the ‘question of God’ is “marginalised and psychologically removed” from culture, the more it “reappears in disguise” and takes the form of today’s interest in the paranormal, the occult, and esoteric religiosity in which reason “is defeated”.”

The process they describe is known to scholars as “re-enchantment”, and far from being antithetical to reason, some see the current trend as one that embraces “secular rationalism” alongside  new-found “esoteric religiosity”.

“To Pagans, the “spiritual but not religious”, the scores of “no religion” agnostics who believe in God, and the many other groupings taking part in the West’s re-enchantment, it isn’t a choice of Dawkins or Pope Benedict. Instead, it is melding of the best aspects of rational and secular progress with the immanent and transcendent spiritual experiences provided by various religions and philosophies. While the old binary view of religion and rationalism continues to duke it out, Pagans are having their (secular re-enchantment) cake and eating it too.”

The Catholic fear, I believe, isn’t (primarily) of the death of reason, but of the birth of competition. Of a post-Christian Christianity that doesn’t mind dabbling in the supernatural now and then, of a coalition of non-Christian faiths who won’t sit quietly and allow the Vatican to continue “asserting the reasonableness of the Gospel” to the exclusion of any other point of view. Of a world that has no problem being religious and living in an age secular rationalism.

In Other News: Author and Pagan scholar Michael York, who attended and presented at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne (check out my audio interview with him), has added his two cents to the wide-ranging post-Parliament discussion over identity and terminology in Wednesday’s post.

“The Indigenous Peoples issued a Statement to the World in which the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493 and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery were exposed for the evils that they were. Angie Buchanan’s argument is that we pagans who follow a European tradition are examples of an earlier and more complete eradication that the indigenous peoples of today are themselves facing. We are allies and not enemies. _Some_ were sympathetic to this reasoning; others less so. Andras’ classification of paganism into Neo-pagan, Reconstructionists and Indigenous I have trouble with – especially when he described the second as intellectual reconstructions as opposed to revivals of indigenous survivals. For me, Neo-pagan includes Wicca as well as much contemporary Druidry and comprises a specific alignment of elements and directions as well as the eight festival calendar. Reco-paganism is ethnic reconstructions _and_ revivals. Geo-pagan is something else that is more vernacular and often less self-conscious.”

I urge you to read the full comment, his follow-up statement, and the exchange between him and Celtic Reconstructionist Erynn Laurie (among others) for some thoughtful expansion on the hot-button issues brought up in the main post. I’d also like to recognize and thank all my commenters for their thoughtful, challenging and respectful discussion on these issues. I like to think that this blog’s reader-commenters present a unique cross-section of the diverse theological, political, and social backgrounds, to be found under modern Paganism’s wide umbrella. As a result of this we often generate more light than heat on controversial subject matters. So thank you.

An extremist Russian pagan group is being blamed for an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir.

“A suspect detained as part of the authorities’ investigation into an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir is believed to be a member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths, a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry’s department for the fight against extremism told Interfax on Friday. An explosion occurred at the Sts Cyril and Methodius Church on the premises of the Vladimir State University on December 6, the spokesman said. A pamphlet that was written on behalf of the White Storm group and contained remarks “aimed at inciting ethnic and religious hatred” was found inside the church, he said. “A 28-year-old resident of Vladimir was detained for his suspected role in the crime. The information available to us suggests that he is an active member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths,” the spokesman said.”

Luckily, no one was hurt in the explosion. There have been serious ongoing tensions between modern Russian Pagan groups (both extremist and otherwise), and the state-approved Russian Orthodox Church. Extremist Pagans groups have been listed as suspects in the recent murder of an Orthodox priest, and one group was recently tried and convicted for the murder and harassment of non-Slavic immigrants. The various forms of Paganism in Russia are a complex matter for outsiders to grasp, especially when press coverage focuses almost solely on violent and racist gangs instead of the broader Pagan impulse in the country. I await a serious expose’ on this issue, one that separates the peaceful productive groups from the thuggish gangs who terrorize Orthodox priests and immigrants. Perhaps some Russian Pagans or Russian Pagan ex-pats can shed some light on the matter?

Lahaina News reports on a Goddess Movement conference coming to West Maui in January, organized by Dr. Apela Colorado, founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network, and featuring Kathy Jones and Lydia Ruyle.

“Organizing gatherings is old hat to Colorado. “I’ve done hundreds of them. This is the first one I’ve done about the theme of the goddess, with the central focus on the goddess. Normally, I’m doing gatherings that pertain to indigenous wisdom and spirituality and bringing it together with western science,” she said. “What’s the same about this is that it’s bringing out the ancient ways of understanding life,” she added. Colorado reasoned why the conference is being held on the West Side. “All of West Maui is dedicated to the feminine powers of life. It’s all about the waters, the fresh waters. In the West Maui Mountains up there, it has a big lizard (mo‘o) in the landscape that’s at the headwaters of Kauaula, the red rain. The red water is an allusion to the menses, the blood flow of giving birth,” she explained.”

Oh, and Starhawk is also attending, though that strangely wasn’t mentioned in the article. I do find it somewhat curious that a Goddess Conference held in West Maui doesn’t feature any native Hawaiians on the speakers list (that I can ascertain, there are several names I don’t recognize), an oversight perhaps? Is there some sort of social/political tension that I’m not clued in on? Perhaps some of my Hawaiian readers can fill me in.

In a final note, I normally don’t plug individual business on my blog, but I think this is a good cause. Witchy Moon is teaming up with Operation Circle Care to make it super-easy to send a Pagan solider a care package this holiday season.

“WitchyMoon Magickal Pagan Superstore today announced that is supporting Circle Sanctuary’s “Operation Circle Care” program to collect Yule gifts for Pagan soldiers stationed overseas. As part of this sponsorship, WitchyMoon will be selling care packages on its web site, which can be sent to Pagan service members abroad. WitchyMoon will be offering a 25% discount on all care package items. “Through this Yule program, we are sending a very powerful message that we care about our Pagan troops, which are working hard to defend America,” says Lady Falcona, proprietor of Witchy Moon”

You can find out more about Operation Circle Care’s care package program, here. Perhaps Witchy Moon’s generosity of spirit will inspire other Pagan retailers to offer similar deals. If you have a business that is working with Operation Circle Care, please drop a line in the comments and let my readers know.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

The Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, has drawn to a close. The closing plenary by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso the XIVth Dalai Lama given, and some remarkable advances for modern Pagans at this massive interfaith event have been achieved. As we await post-Parliament reflections from Pagan participants, an issue of identity and language has emerged this past week that could spark some bitter divisions just as our interconnected communities gain greater respect and visibility among the world’s religions. In a post yesterday to the Pagans at the Parliament blog, Ed Hubbard, who has been covering the Pagan presence at the Parliament, noted a trend towards new definitions of certain Pagan traditions.

“The first Pagan presentation of the Parliament helped begin this change of identity and was called “People Call Us Pagans-The European Indigenous Traditions”, by PWR Trustees Angie Buchanan, Andras Arthen, and Phyllis Curott. The opening of the description is as follows: As the World confronts environmental devastation, we are beginning to appreciate the wisdom of Indigenous peoples who have lived thousands of years in sustainable harmony and spiritual connection with the Earth. After hundreds of years of suppression, most Westerners have forgotten that their ancestors once shared this wisdom as the Indigenous traditions of Europe.”

Apparently the term “European Indigenous Traditions” was used by some during the Parliament as a way to redefine Pagan faiths to non-Westerners unfamiliar with what “Pagan” (or “Neopagan”) meant, to shift relations with Abrahamic faiths that might be hostile to mere “pagans”, and to approach indigenous/native peoples suspicious of cultural appropriation. While redefining (some) modern Pagans as “indigenous” carries with it a host of issues and questions, there was also the matter of who among the modern Pagans aren’t considered “indigenous” (or even “Pagan” for that matter).

“Andras Corban-Arthen points out that Wicca, for example, cannot be seen as an indigenous Pagan faith practice and is instead a modern syncretic movement. Under this description Wicca therefore would not fall under the definition of Pagan, and would be squarely a New Religious Movement, while British Traditional Witchcraft could be considered a Pagan and Indigenous faith tradition.”

So if you are an initiated Gardnerian you get to be in the “European Indigenous Traditions” club, but if you practice some other form of modern Witchcraft, say, Feri, or Reclaiming, you may not be. If you are a book-taught eclectic, you may not even be considered “Pagan” under these new definitions. Now, these are very provocative statements, and I called Ed Hubbard yesterday in Melbourne to verify that his information was correct. He assures me that he has documentation for everything in his post, which he’ll share once he’s stateside. No doubt Arthen, and the other Parliament Pagan trustees, will soon be able to speak for themselves on this issue, and I welcome their clarifications on the matter.

So what does it mean if the Pagans who are representing us on the Parliament Board of Trustees are indeed willing to separate the “New Religious Movement” goats from the “European Indigenous Traditions” sheep within the global interfaith movement? How would we even quantify when a Pagan tradition crosses from “NRM” to indigenous? Claims of lineage? Claims of heritage? Would any proof be necessary? Or is this mainly a political act, with the “right” groups grandfathered in? Are book-taught reconstructionists “indigenous” while second or third-generation eclectic-tradition Wiccans part of  a “syncretic” new religious movement? It just seems like a minefield, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

“So Pagan is redefined to include only indigenous religious movements? And Wicca is therefore not Pagan (despite its position as the forerunner of the Pagan resurgence of the 20th Century)? But British Traditional Witchcraft somehow is Pagan, presumably because it is “indigenous”? That’s just daft. There’s little plausible historical evidence for a continuous indigenous witchcraft tradition, inside or outside Britain, and what I know of BTW falls squarely within the history of Wicca as described by Ronald Hutton and others. I agree with Michael York that the Western Pagan movement does share some vital common ground with indigenous religions worldwide, and I am willing to be convinced that certain European Pagan traditions might plausibly be described as “indigenous.” But it flies in the face of both the recent history of the Pagan movement as a 20th and 21st Century phenomenon, and of what we know of the history of Wicca (including BTW) to redefine Paganism in this way. Plus, I’m not budging. I’m Pagan, and I know I didn’t delegate anybody at the Parliament to speak for me or to define me out of the religion!”Cat Chapin-Bishop, from a comment on the Pagans at the Parliament blog.

Other reacted more harshly, saying these new definitions were a case of “striving for false legitimacy”.

Now, there is always the chance that comments were misconstrued, or misunderstood. So we should await official word from the Pagan members of the Parliament Board of Trustees before we accuse anyone of trying to drive wedges between different Pagan groups. Context is king, and I don’t want to start any flame-wars for an off-the-cuff idea or mis-stated opinion. As for myself, I consider myself Pagan, and part of a larger Pagan movement, even if I wasn’t initiated into a British Traditional tradition, or privy to some sort of handed-down European fam-trad. I’m a modern Pagan, and I have no problem with owning both the “modern” and the “Pagan” part of that term. What do you  think? Are you part of a new religious movement? A European Indigenous Tradition? None of the above? Should we be building fences, or tearing them down?