Archives For HAF

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta: "such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism."

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta joins the paganism-as-slur chorus: “such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism.”

  • I guess I should take this as confirmation that I was on the right track with my recent article on the world “paganism” being increasingly used as a slur. Political snark-blog Wonkette notices all the “pagan” talk too, most recently evidenced by Fox News Analyst Liz Trotta. Quote: “The only place where “paganism” seems to be making real gains, of course, is in wingnut rhetoric. In the good old days, it was “secular humanism” that was supposed to be taking over, but in recent years, these guys seem to be warning more and more about “paganism” — by which they seem to mean almost anything they have a faith-based excuse for disliking [...] Fundies have always worried about anything they think might be occult or witchcraft — consider the freakouts over Harry Potter — but now the fear of a pagan planet seems to be increasingly seeping into garden-variety wingnut discourse like Trotta’s [...]  It’s hard to get a sense of just how widespread this nutty “the pagans are coming” meme is, but it’s definitely out there.” The question for us capital-P Pagans is: how do we respond to this growing trend?
  • So, what happens when Christianity religiously dominates a state in Hindu-dominated India? Well, apparently you get Satanists. Quote: “Christian groups in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland are working to quell the rapid growth of Satanism after reports that thousands of teenagers from churches had taken up devil worship in recent months. The Vatican’s Fides news agency recently reported that more than 3,000 young “worshipers of Satan” have been identified in Nagaland’s capital of Kohima alone.” If you give people two choices, and only two choices, God or Satan, it seems inevitable that those unhappy with the Christian God will turn to his opponent. This is what happens when religious ecosystems are critically disrupted. 
  • Is the secular West heading into “a galloping spiritual pluralism?”Columnist David Brooks seems to endorse that future, one paraphrased from Charles Taylor, author of “A Secular Age.” Quote: “Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.” Would modern Paganism be one of those achievements? 
  • The Fast Co.Design blog does a feature on the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for Veteran’s grave stones and markers. Quote: “To most of us, Mjölnir might bring to mind Jack Kirby’s trippy Marvel Comics Asgard, a rainbow-striped city of no fixed point in time. Or it might make us think of an armored Chris Hemsworth bellowing as he smashes his hammer down on Captain America’s raised shield. But it’s also a symbol that represents virtues so profoundly felt that two men lived and laid down their lives for it in service of their country. Great symbols resonate deeply within all of us, but each to our own unique frequency. That’s what makes them more powerful than even Mjölnir.” Yes, I’m quoted in the article. There are some things I personally would have changed, and I’m sure a Heathen representative from an organization like The Troth could have done a better job, but I think the piece overall is positive and sympathetic.
  • The Colorado Independent has an in-depth piece up about the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, by former inmate Evan Ebel, and how the policy of long-term solitary confinement without re-integration may have damaged Ebel’s mental stability beyond repair. Quote: “’Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,’ Clements told me in 2011. ‘Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.’” I mentioned this case back in May due to revelations that Ebel had listed himself as an adherent to the Asatru faith. 
Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

  • The Pew Forum analyzes Canada’s changing religious landscape, noting the growing of “other” religions and those who claim no religious identity at all. Quote: “The number of Canadians who belong to other religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity – is growing. Collectively, these smaller religious groups account for more than one-in-ten Canadians (11%) as of 2011, up from not quite one-in-twenty (4%) in 1981. In addition, the number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011.” You can read my article on Canada’s census data, here
  • The Lancashire Constabulary has apologized after The Police Pagan Association acted on several complaints regarding allegations that Paganism might somehow be involved in a rash of “horse slashings” in the area. Quote: “We are aware that comments made to the Lancashire Evening Post recently suggesting that Pagans may be linked to attacks on horses has caused some offence. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been offended; this was certainly not our intention . The comments made are not a reflection of the views of Lancashire Constabulary as a whole. Lancashire Constabulary encourages an open and inclusive culture and celebrates the diversity of our workforce and communities.”This is not the first time that allegations like this have surfaced, and so far no mysterious cult or occult practitioner has been caught bothering or harming horses. It seems to come down to sensationalism and superstition. 
  • There are lots of reasons to not like the new “The Lone Ranger” film, but Tonto not being a Christian certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Right? Quote: “The new “Lone Ranger” film has been a critical and box office disappointment, but the fact that the Indian character “Tonto” is not a Christian has upset some Christian conservatives.” Also problematic: evil businessmen and daring to mention that our country slaughtered Native Americans. As I said, this is film is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but daring to show non-Christian faiths as heroic or positive shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • A challenge to Selma, California’s fortune telling ordinances was dismissed on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff never bothering trying to go through the process of getting a license. Quote: “In Davis v. City of Selma, (ED CA, July 2, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds various challenges to the city of Selma, California’s ordinance which requires “Fortune Tellers” to obtain a license in order to provide services within the city.  Plaintiff, a spiritual counselor, initially sought a business license under the Selma Municipal Code (“S.M.C.”), but never completed the application process because it was too restrictive.  Instead she sued claiming violations of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and RLUIPA.” In legal matters, process is important, and if you don’t follow that process, your case can fall apart overnight. 
  • Suhag A. Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation analyzes the recent high-profile decision regarding yoga being taught at a public school, and whether that violated the separation of church and state. Shukla notes that what was being taught had all Hindu elements removed, and truly was free from religion. Quote: “While I haven’t read Judge Meyer’s ruling yet, media accounts indicate that our position is in consonance with his. Yoga is rooted in Hindu tradition, he reportedly said, but the “yoga” taught in Encinitas was stripped bare of all cultural references and even the Sanskrit names for poses, rendering it non-religious. I would go further to say that such asana based courses should not be called yoga. They are immensely helpful, and schools should embrace them, but yoga means so much more.”HAF has been on a campaign to “Take Yoga Back” and remind people that the practice did spring from Hindu religious culture.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Patrick McCollum and members of HAF with the resolution.

Patrick McCollum and members of HAF with the resolution.

On Monday in California a resolution introduced by Senate Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett was unanimously adopted by the State Senate. SCR-32 designates October as Hindu American Awareness and Appreciation Month, and was backed by the Hindu American Foundation. Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum, who was honored by HAF in 2009 due to his work on behalf of minority religions, was invited to be a part of this moment, one that he called “historic.” McCollum added that “Pagans and Hindus have supported one another for equal rights and recognition and we stand together for a better world.” This is the first such resolution to honor American Hindus, and one of very few resolutions to honor a non-Christian minority faith in the United States. As State Senator Corbett says in her official statement, quote, “I am honored to represent constituents from many diverse backgrounds, including a significant number of Hindu Americans, California is home to a thriving community of over 370,000 Hindu Americans that enrich our state’s diversity and professional assets in fields as diverse as academia, science, technology, business, arts and literature.” You can see a picture of Rev. Patrick McCollum with Senate Majority Leader Corbett, here. Congratulations to our Hindu cousins!

COVR Award

COVR Award

The International New Age Trade Show (INATS) was held this past weekend, and the annual COVR (Coalition of Visionary Retailers) awards were handed out. Pagan and metaphysical publisher Llewellyn Worldwide took home four COVR awards, including a First Runner Up award (Wicca/Paganism category) for Rev. Mark Townsend’s “Jesus Through Pagan Eyes” (reviewed here). The big Pagan winner of the weekend was author Christopher Penczak, who took home First Place awards for “Buddha, Christ, Merlin: Three Wise Men for Our Age” and “The Gates of Witchcraft,” a Runner Up prize for “Feast of the Morrighan,” and two awards for his spell coins. Penczak said he was “humbled and grateful” for the recognition he received. You can read more about this year’s COVR nominees and winners here, here, and here. For an insiders perspective of INATS, and the future of the occult/metaphysical market, I found this blog post very interesting.  Congratulations to all the winners!

Adocentyn Research Library

Adocentyn Research Library

The Adocentyn Research Library in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, in the process of building what they hope will be “the premier Pagan research center in the Western US,” have reached a new milestone. According to Adocentyn board member and co-founder Donald H. Frew, their online catalogue has surpassed 4,500 volumes, with far more volumes on-site and in the process of being catalogued. Quote: “There are over 6000 volumes currently on-site (plus hundreds of periodicals) with another 5000+ coming (plus ephemera such as correspondence, notebooks, etc.). Cataloguing takes time, but we have 19 volunteers helping us move things along. We will be opening soon.” This is exciting progress for the library, and you can keep up with the latest announcements at their official Facebook page. As I’ve reported previously, Adocentyn is in preliminary talks with the New Alexandrian Library Project (currently under construction) and other institutions in forming a Pagan Libraries Organization so that they can share information, and offer inter-library loans.

Blue plaque ceremony.

Blue plaque ceremony.

Last week’s Summer Solstice saw the dedication of a commemorative blue plaque at the Brighton, UK home of Dorren Valiente, called by many the mother of modern religious Witchcraft (you can read my previous coverage of the plaque here). Druid leader Philip Carr-Gomm, who attended the ceremony, said that this was a historic moment for more than one reason. Quote: “This is a first for Wicca and Paganism but this was also a historic moment for another reason – it is apparently the first blue plaque to appear on a council block.” The Centre for Pagan Studies has posted a video of the unveiling which I’ve embedded below. You can see additional coverage of the event at The Argus, which has also posted a video from the ceremony. John Belham-Payne, who inherited the bulk of Valiente’s Pagan-oriented estate, says he plans to open a museum in Brighton. Quote: “I’ve been contacted by museum owners in Salem but Brighton is the only place for the collection.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

PPR SeekingtheMystery draft2 187x300

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Yesterday a neo-Nazi by the name of Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and opened fire, killing six, and wounding at least three others, before being shot and killed by police at the scene. The shocking incident brought up past trauma for the American Sikh community, which has faced over 700 reported bias attacks since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. To the ignorant, Sikhs, with their beards and turbans, fit the stereotype of “Arab-ness” in the post-9/11 era and found themselves literally caught in the crossfire as American extremists decided to “retaliate” against Islam. The World Sikh Council – America Region, released a statement yesterday urging everyone to pray for the victims and their families, and thanking the first responders. The organization called this “a troubling day, not only for Sikh-Americans, but also for all Americans,” and promised to launch an investigation into understanding how this terrible incident happened.

Sikh Temple of Wisconsin

“In the coming days, along with Sikh advocacy organizations, we will be working with public officials, and law enforcement authorities, to understand the events of today and to help the community in whatever way we can. The Council will also be providing support mediums for our interreligious partners and the public as we sort out this situation. This shooting comes on the heels of another tragedy, as our country continues to recover from the senseless shootings in Aurora, Colorado.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, expressed “that this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful,” calling the shooting “dastardly.” Also weighing in was Jathedar Singh Sahib Giani Gurbachan Singh, the current religious head of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib, the supreme religious authority of the Sikhs, who opined that “this is a security lapse on the part of the U.S. government,” and called on American Sikhs to enact stricter security measures at their temples.

Meanwhile, American Dharmic and Pagan organizations have been issuing statements of prayer, condolence, and support in this time of tragedy. The Hindu American Foundation issued a statement saying they “join all Americans in shared shock, disbelief, and outrage” at the killings.

“Dharma traditions–the Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Hindus–hold non-violence and peaceful co-existence as paramount values. It is a cruel irony that Sikhs, donning the turban as among proud symbols of a spiritual mandate to serve humanity as defenders of dharma against all onslaughts, find themselves sought out and victimized by ignorant assailants on too many occasions. We call on all Americans today to join Sikhs in mourning a senseless attack and to take this opportunity to not only learn about the sublime teachings of Sikh gurus, the Sikh faith, and the meanings of its external symbols, but also join hands to ensure that the gurudwaras remain sanctuaries of joyous worship and celebrated sharing of langar, or community meals, for generations to come.”

Another prominent American Hindu, Universal Society of Hinduism president Rajan Zed, pointed out that that “Sikhs had made lot of contributions to America and the world. Various faith and inter-faith groups nationwide should join hands to express support to the Sikh community and to spread the message of peace, love and harmony at grassroots level.” He is calling on all Hindus to say prayers for the victims and their families.

Within the Pagan community, learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary issued a statement calling for reflection and silence within their community to mark this tragic and senseless eruption of violence.

“As Pagans, we are particularly sensitive to the violation of sacred space and disregard for human life which occurred.  Furthermore, we cherish the pursuit of ongoing education as an antidote to the violence bred in ignorance and misunderstanding.  We call on each member of our seminary community as well as our supporters and friends to set aside a moment of contemplative silence today in memory of those who lost their lives, and in support of all who are suffering because of this tragedy.  In addition, we recommend that you seek ways to express support for Sikhs in your own community.”

Phyllis Curott a noted Pagan who serves as a trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, said she was “deeply saddened by the terrible shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.”

“There is so much hatred and fear in this country, in this world – and so much work for us to do to heal and transform it. Today, prayers and offerings of peace to my Sikh brothers and sisters, especially those whom I know and work with at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and to all in their community who suffer and grieve. Please join me in these offerings.”

Other Pagans who have made public statements include author of Temple of Witchcraft co-founder Christopher Penczak, who sent “magick and love and prayers to the victims and mourners of the Sikh Temple attack,” noting that  “at one time I almost joined a Sikh group,” and T. Thorn Coyle, who posted: “May Guru Har Krishan dispel your sorrow. We stand by your side.”  Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, which is also based in Wisconsin, offered “healing, protection, peace, condolences, [and] other support to all those impacted by the shootings today at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.” 

As fellow Patheos contributor Star Foster said earlier this morning, I want us to be better than this. That such hate and fear runs rampant can wound the very soul with its meaninglessness. I also want to echo Teo Bishop,  who hopes that “our collective response to the temple shooting tragedy be one of compassion.” At this moment of crisis and tragedy, we should stand together, firm in the notion that religious minorities in this country are, in the words of our President, “a part of our broader American family.” The Dharmic and Pagan family of faiths have deep and interweaving ties, and this moment should be a catalyst for greater outreach, interaction, and mutual support. Today we stand in unity with the Sikh community, you have our prayers, and our support.

ADDENDUM: Thorn Coyle adds: “Solar Cross Temple gave $100 to help the Sikhs of Milwaukee with medical bills incurred by the temple shooting. The officer wounded will also get some assistance. Can you help?” 

The campaign has already raised over 46 thousand dollars, and are now trying to hit a new goal of 75 thousand.

In addition to the ongoing dialog over gender that has defined PantheaCon 2012 for many, there were several other amazing talks, presentations, rituals, and panels that were important to our community, and deserve wider reporting. One of those was a panel discussion between modern Pagans and members of the Hindu American Foundation entitled “Pagans and Hindus Together: One Billion Strong.”

“This panel will discuss ideals held in common by Pagans and Hindus. Panelists will include Patrick McCollum, T. Thorn Coyle, Mihir Meghani and Raman Khanna. Moderated by Amadea. Topics will include: The Sacredness of Nature, The Divine Mother, Advancing Pluralism, and Shared Social Action.”

Author, teacher, and activist T. Thorn Coyle has posted audio of the entire panel at her Elemental Castings podcast page, and I encourage everyone to head over there and download the show. Due to the fact that Patrick McCollum was in India, he couldn’t attend the panel, so I was honored to step in and contribute, weighing in on shared social action between Pagans and Hindus.

Pagans and Hindus Panel. Photo: PNC Bay Area

Pagans and Hindus Panel. Photo: PNC Bay Area

During the panel, I noted several instances where the interests of Hindus and Pagans have coincided, spoke briefly about the 20+ year history of Hindu-Pagan interfaith interactions, and made recommendations as to where our relationship could go in the future. I proposed that perhaps the time had come for our dialog and alliance to take the next step into working directly together in a organization that focused on the rights and concerns of minority religions in the United States. I think that Hindu and Pagans, working with other pluralistic, like-minded, faiths, can create a unique synergy that would enrich both of our communities.

Panelist Mihir Meghani, M.D.; Board Member & Co-Founder of the Hindu American Foundation, touched on our shared commitment to pluralism during the panel, and I think it would be appropriate to quote from some of the guest-post he wrote for The Wild Hunt last year.

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

These Hindu-Pagan panels at PantheaCon are an important part of building a lasting alliance. I hope that next year we will see even more discussion on concrete moves forward, shared initiatives to make the Hindu voice, and the Pagan voice, heard. I’d like to thank Amadea for inviting to fill Patrick McCollum’s shoes, and my fellow panelists, Thorn, Mihir, and Raman, for an engaging and productive panel. Again, I encourage everyone to download audio of the panel from the Elemental Castings podcast page. There’s so much more there than what I’ve briefly talked about, and it deserves to be heard by any Pagan interested in the future of Hindu-Pagan relations.

Happy Diwali!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 26, 2011 — 4 Comments

I would like to extend my best wishes on this Diwali to Hindus (and Indo-Pagans) worldwide. May the triumph of light over darkness bring more understanding, cooperation, and opportunities to our respective faith communities in the year to come. May the blessings of Lakshmi reach us all in these trying times.

Lakshmi by Raja Ravi Varma

Lakshmi by Raja Ravi Varma

Diwali, the festival of lights, is a major Indian holiday representing a spiritual new year, and a triumph of good over evil. Depending on the region and tradition, this day commemorates the return of Lord Rama, the birth of Lakshmi, and the Austerities of Shakti (among other events). Celebrants usually light lamps, set off fireworks, and wear new clothing to commemorate the day. The Hindu American Foundation has a special page set up for this year’s Diwali featuring news of a congressional proclamation, an explanation of the holiday, and Diwali greetings from a variety of Hindus, politicians, and prominent figures from other faith traditions. This year several Pagan voices, including T. Thorn Coyle, Andras Corban-Arthen, Angie Buchanan, Phyllis Curott, Patrick McCollum, Barbara McGraw, and Rachael Watcher share their blessings.

“On this wonderful holiday I bring you Greetings on behalf of the Covenant of the Goddess. It is an amazing opportunity to see offerings of service as worship, alleviating suffering, inequality, and the darkness of ignorance. I cannot help but be deeply moved by the vibrant and active Hindu community that I have found in working with the Hindu American Foundation and its members. I will light candles seeking my own inner wisdom in companionship with you and look forward to a long and happy association on this most joyous of festivals.” – Rachael Watcher, Elder National Board, Covenant of the Goddess, Public Information Officer

For more information on Diwali, check out the Washington Post essay from Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation.

“A contraction from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, that literally means rows of earthen lamps, the day has varied religious significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.  But the metaphysical import is the same across all traditions: let the lighting of the Diwali lamp illuminate and vanquish the dark forces–the vices–that abound in the recesses of the intellect. The light symbolizes the victory of knowledge over ignorance, and goodness over evil and awakens an an awareness of God in every life.”

Again, a very happy Diwali to all!

Earlier this evening a live Google+ video interview/”hangout” with GOP Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson and members of the Pagan media was held. Pagan media organizations participating in the Q&A with the former New Mexico Governor included Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota, Star Foster of Patheos.com, Devin Hunter of ModernWitch Podcast, David Salisbury of PNC-Washinton DC, Crystal Blanton of PNC-Bay Area, and myself. In addition, Ramesh Rao of the Hindu American Foundation also took part. The conference was streamed and recorded by Keith Barrett, and you can watch the entire press conference embedded below (or at this link).

There was also a post-conference podcast hosted by Devin Hunter and Rowan Pendragon where participants shared their thoughts on the event.

A number of issues were discussed, including religious freedom, the rights of minority religions, LGBTQ rights, drug policy, education, taxes, and much, much, more. Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota in the coming days for more details.

Aside from the political issues discussed, I think this is a big step forward for Pagan media on the Internet, and does much to establish ourselves as a community with serious concerns that deserve to be addressed on a national level. My thanks to Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota, who did a marvelous job moderating, for making this happen.

ADDENDUM: The story has been picked up by The Hill.

The former New Mexico governor spoke with members of the Pagan Newswire Collective, ModernWitch Podcast, and Patheos.com, among others. He said it was important to reach out to voters that fall outside the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, while slamming his own party for being too beholden to the Christian right. “I think the world looks down on Republicans for their socially conservative views, which includes religion in government,” Johnson said. “I think that should not play a role in any of this. When Republicans talk about values – you know what? I bet you and I have the same values.”

So it looks like talking to Pagans will gain you some attention.

ADDENDUM II: You can now read a full transcript of the conference, here.

“You know all I have is my own experience and my own experience would be having been Gov. of New Mexico two terms I did not get the social conservative vote in New Mexico in the primary. I ended up getting the social conservative vote in the general election because then it seems like all the Republicans took on their second most important issue which was dollars and cents. And I really thought .. I really think I excelled in the area of dollars and cents. As Gov. of New Mexico it just wasn’t an issue ever. It wasn’t an issue when it came to filling my cabinet, filling the heads of agency. It was never an issue when it came to filling boards and commissions. It just wasn’t an issue. And I don’t expect it to be different as President of the United States. It’s just not a consideration. It’s just not something I ask of people and for the most part most people don’t volunteer it. All though there are those that do. It’s not something that I consider in my actions my appointments.”

A big thank-you to Masery at the Staff of Asclepius blog!

Top Story: In the second part of a six-part series on the geopolitical ramifications of global warming in the Arctic, NPR’s Morning Edition focuses on Russia’s aggressive push to claim waterways and resources becoming available as the Arctic ice melts. One group that is particularly concerned over the rush to claim the Arctic is the indigenous Saami people, a group native to the Kola Peninsula of Russia. NPR interviews traditional singer Nadezhda Lyashenko, who discusses the environmental consequences of this rush to exploit one of the few remaining untouched regions on our planet.

Nadezhda Lyashenko. Photo: David Greene/NPR

The indigenous people of this region bore much of the brunt. The Saami tribe, for one, has lived centuries in Russia’s northwest, near the Norwegian border. Saami people were forcibly collectivized on farms under Stalin. Nadezhda Lyashenko, the Saami woman singing traditional tribal music here, can recount the horror stories. Her grandfather, a reindeer shepherd, was shot in 1937, accused of being a spy after he crossed into Finland chasing a reindeer herd. After decades of relative peace, Lyashenko says, trouble seems to be returning to her native Arctic lands. She sees Russia and other world powers in a race for oil and gas, ignoring the potential impact to a part of the Earth that’s been rarely touched. “The Arctic is just so fragile,” she says. “This time, it’s a research boat going out there. It’s like the prick of a needle, and the land will heal. But if they go with knives, with spears, they could break everything. And then what?”

The Saami and other indigenous peoples living in or near the Arctic, on the front lines of global climate change, could have much to teach us, if we are willing to listen. Sadly, the rights and concerns of the Saami are often ignored, or greeted with hostility by those who want economic development at any cost. For those who identify with the indigenous peoples and culture of Europe, the plight and position of the Saami should be of great concern. The trend of indigenous rights being undermined needs to be halted and reversed.

In Other News:

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

Top Story: The CNN Belief Blog has a story about Hinduism in America, and how some younger Hindus are trying to “forge a distinctly American Hindu identity that’s more tightly woven into the national fabric.”

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Houston

“Our parents had to build everything from scratch to make a united Hindu community in this country,” said Tejas N. Dave, 17, a high school junior who volunteers with a project bringing yoga to unprivileged Americans. “Now we’re trying to reintegrate it back into society,” he said, “to make people realize that Hinduism is a religion and a way of life and a philosophy that’s not too different from what a lot of others believe. We’re all trying to make a better society.” Some young Hindus are envious of the attention that American Muslims and Mormons have received in recent years – even if not all of the attention has been positive – and are trying to raise Hinduism’s national profile.

The article mentions the Hindu American Foundation and its work, an advocacy group that has done outreach to the Pagan community in recent years, and profiles younger Hindus who want to take their faith “outside officially Hindu spaces.”

Yet [Kavita] Pallod, 23, has spent a good deal of time thinking about how to apply her faith to her life. “I believe that karma is the principal that guides the universe,” she said, referring to the Hindu concept of cosmic justice. “It’s one of the reasons I joined Teach for America.”

In my recent interview with historian Kevin M. Schultz, he mentioned that Catholics and Jews in the early 20th century worked to “present a positive and forceful image of what it meant to be an American” using the “languages of good Americanism to show they belong.” This article makes it quite clear that this process is well underway for American Hindus. That said, despite Hinduism’s many successes in building infrastructure and mainstreaming some of their practices, there still remains a lot of distrust and hostility, as evidenced by the comments section of the CNN profile. American Hindu organizations will also have to decide, ultimately, how they are going to present themselves to other faiths. Hinduism’s theological diversity has allowed proponents to engage with Pagans, noting their common ground, while also (sometimes vociferously) portraying themselves as monotheists. It’s a complex subject, but American politics hates complex subjects, and the process of “Americanizing” a diverse decentralized umbrella faith may present roadblocks in the future.

In Other News:

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

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

PANTHEACON 2011

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

HISTORY OF HINDU-PAGAN INTERACTION

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

COMMON GROUND

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

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

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

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

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

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