Archives For interfaith

BLMausMELBOURNE — The Black Lives Matter movement has reached Australia. So far, there have been rallies in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane. The ABC, Australia’s state-owned and funded national public broadcaster, reported that 3,500 people attended the Melbourne rally on Sunday, July 17.

The movement, which began in the U.S., has a struck a chord with Australia’s aboriginal people. Although aboriginal people make up only about 3% of the Australian population, they reportedly make up 26% of the prison population. Blogger and Witch Cosette Paneque explains, “BLM is also embraced by [Australia’s] non-aboriginal black people and other people of colour who regularly experience institutionalised racism.”

Paneque lives in Melbourne and attended the recent local rally. She said, “I’ve been watching the BLM movement with great interest since the 2013 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I’d been watching from a distance and feeling helpless. I had to go to the Melbourne rally to show solidarity with the movement and with my black friends who are perpetually grieving and terrified for their children. It’s moving to see BLM speak to Australians.”

Paneque called the rally “a powerful and peaceful display of solidarity.” She added that it was “incredible to walk to with aboriginal people and elders, Torres Straight Islanders, West Papuans, as well non-aboriginal black people, African-Australians, and other people of colour.”

“As a woman of colour and as a Pagan, for me, the personal is political; I had to be there.”

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Don Frew

UNITED STATES — The July Issue of The Interfaith Observer (TIO) featured Wiccan elder Rev. Donald H. Frew, who has been involved in religious freedom actions and interfaith work since the 1980s. Frew has attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions since its re-establishment in the 1990s, has acted as an interfaith representative for Covenant of the Goddess, and has traveled extensively abroad representing modern Pagan practice in various interfaith forums.

The July TIO issue includes ten of Frew’s articles, covering subjects such as, “When Wiccans and Evangelical Christians Become Friends,” originally published January 2012, and “When Nature Talks Back,” originally published February 2015. The issue also includes two articles by the journal’s editor focusing on Frew’s work, and it also includes a video interview.

TIO is a “monthly electronic journal created to explore interreligious relations and the interfaith movement as a whole.” The journal is “a member of the North American Interfaith Network, an affiliate of United Religions Initiative-North America, and a Cooperation Circle of United Religions-Multiregion.”

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PD200-228x228LONDONPagan Dawn magazine, the official publication of the Pagan Federation, is celebrating its 200th issue. Along with work by the magazine’s regular staff writers, the issue includes “exclusive interviews with Prof. Ronald Hutton, Susan Cooper, Steve Rothery and Pat Mills.”

Pagan Dawn was founded in 1968 as The Wiccan. When the Pagan Federation was born in 1971, it was adopted as the organization’s official publication. In 1994, the magazine changed its name to reflect the growing number of non-Wiccan Pagans in the community.

Editor Kate Large said, “Reaching 200 issues is an incredible landmark for a magazine staffed and run by volunteers. And our journey from just a few sheets of paper to a glossy, full-colour magazine, also mirrors the larger journey of Paganism. Once, Pagans had to tread carefully; the community was smaller and much more divisive. Now, we can live more freely, often thanks to the work of the Pagan Federation. We’re now looking to a future of inclusivity and diversity, and are eager to engage with more international readers.”

Other contributors to the 200th celebratory issue include “Candia McKormack, Rachel Patterson, Rebecca Beattie, Joanna VanderHoeven, Andrew Pardy, Baba Studio, Nimue Brown, Valerie Thomas, Vix, Tony Furminger, Anna McKerrow, Daniel Bran Griffithand, Andy Stout, David Spofforth, Claire Dixon and Sam Proctor.”  Pagan Dawn has been publishing quarterly since its inception. It is available through its website in both print form and, since 2014, in a paperless edition.

In Other News

  • Tenders’ high priestess Karen Bruhin of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel will be participating in a four day interfaith prayer event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Titled “DNC Prayer Circle Hosts: Interfaith Prayer Circle for Peace, Unity, and Justice,” the event will host prayer circles offered by 15 different clergy and religious leaders over a four-day period, while the Democratic National Convention is taking place. Organizers Xelba and Vanette write, “Please join us as we pray, chant, and meditate to promote peace in the city and the world, unite our people and causes, and lend spiritual strength to those who lift up their voices for justice.” For interested locals, Ms. Bruhin is on the schedule for Tuesday’s session. More information is on the Facebook event page.
  • The Edmonton Wiccan Seminary has received its incorporation as a federal non-profit, and will begin accepting its first students January 2017. Founder Samuel Wagar said, “Edmonton Wiccan Seminary is established to provide clergy training in the Wiccan religion to those called to a public clergy path and Wiccan religious education services to the general public.” Wagar went on to say that the group will have four paths, including “academic work, personal work, outer court group leadership, and starting new public groups.” He also added that the seminary is hoping to partner with temples and clergy to “mentor its students.”
  • The Pagan/Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) announced the time and date of its 4th online conference. PAEAN will held online Nov 7, from 6-9 p.m (+1 UTC). The theme will be “Pilgrimage in Europe: Ancient and Contemporary Pagan Pilgrimage Practices.” The keynote speaker will be Dr. Thomas Clough Daffern, philosopher, educator, and peace studies specialist. Organizers are currently looking for paper submissions on a number of related topics. Specifics are on their event page, and the deadline is Oct. 7. PAEAN is a conference sponsored in part by Pagan Federation International.
  • For those readers who own the book Simply Runes by Kim Farnell, it has been re-released by publisher Hampton Roads as Runes Plain and Simple. Blogger Morgan Daimler reviews the new edition on her Patheos blog Irish-American Witchcraft. Daimler writes, “It’s a decent very basic introduction to the runes. I would still suggest supplementing it with another rune book as well though for a different point of view.”
  • Many Gods West is only two weeks away. Polytheists from around the U.S. are preparing to meet in Olympia, Washington for three days of talks, lectures, rituals and other festivities. The schedule of event is now online. The opening remarks and ritual, hosted by Sean Donahue, will be held Aug. 5 at 12:30 p.m.

That’s if for now. Have a great day!

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Mary Hudson made waves when she became the second Pagan chaplain at a higher education institution in the United States, continuing a service that began with the advising the Syracuse University student Pagan club. Two years after that chaplaincy appointment, Hudson decided to attend the Global Conference for Chaplains in Higher Education, which was being held at Yale that year. Unfortunately, the experience left a decidedly bad taste in her mouth, which she shared with the conference organizers. They took her feedback to heart, and asked her to return this year as a presenter.

Mary Hudson preparing an altar

Mary Hudson preparing a handfasting altar. [Courtesy Photo]

Hudson would like very much to return to the conference to do so. However, “global” means that the conference moves around, and this year it will be in Brisbane, Australia. She has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the needed travel expenses. As of this writing, her campaign has raised nearly 60% of the $5,000 she expects the trip will cost.

Hudson’s history of working with college students on questions of religion dates back some 14 years, as she told The Wild Hunt. The position fell into place because she was already a university employee and practicing Pagan:

Many years ago I was sitting in my office when a student, non-trad, walked in. We had met at a small Pagan gathering a couple of months earlier and they had a request: would I consider being the advisor for a student Pagan group registered at the chapel? This student had been working with the Lutheran chaplain to get Pagans recognized, as it had become evident based on the amount of students looking for such a group that something needed to happen. I asked what my duties would be and I was told all I had to do was sign the paperwork. Well, that wasn’t exactly true as I came to find out. I stuck with it because the students needed to find community someplace and they needed to learn, from elders and from each other, that they were part of a larger community and not alone.

When in 2009 Hudson was preparing to leave that job, she began to look for another adviser for the Pagan students, whose club was called Student Pagan Information Relations and Learning, or SPIRAL. What she learned from some of the campus chaplains was that she was qualified to become one herself, partly because she belonged to the legally-recognized Church of the Greenwood. She worked with the church’s president and university officials to create the first Pagan chaplaincy. Then, she was appointed to the newly established position.

The University of Southern Maine had already created such a position in 2002, but Hudson understands that the original chaplain there, Cynthia Jane Collins, has since left and no replacement has been found. As TWH reported at the time of Hudson’s appointment, “Not everyone is happy with this growing ethos of interfaith cooperation, both Free Republic and conservative Anglican site Virtue Online have gotten the vapors over this development.” Despite those complaints, the overall reaction was positive.

Three years later, TWH reported tha,t under Hudson’s guidance, Pagan students had obtained and built their own sacred space on the Syracuse campus.

The project was approved with relative ease. On October 14, the school installed four permanent altar stones in the main quad, each representing the cardinal directions. Coincidentally, while the stones were laid, a Native American student group happened to be performing a ceremonial dance across the quad. Mary says,“[This] is a true symbol of the dedication that the university has to supporting all people in a diverse world.”

But it was in 2012, attending the chaplains’ conference at Yale, when Hudson experienced firsthand what it can sometimes feels like to be a Pagan in a predominantly Christian world. It is not that she was openly discriminated against, as she explained. However, the overall impression she received was that Paganism was a surprising oddity. At one workshop in particular, which was focused on crafting a common language for spirituality, she found the intolerance towards non-Abrahmic paths quite overt. She said:

The workshop leader started by declaring that they had found, based on research they had done on their own campus, that spirituality was a word that should be done away with; it was not a viable way to talk about connection to anything. Religion had to be based in longstanding tradition and practices and that is what was needed to be built on in the schools so that students “have a foundation of belief.” This attitude and belief was cheered and it was stated that only religions with texts which tell people how to live, and the organizations which hold those texts, are valid. It became worse as the participants began to snicker and mock the idea of [the] “other religious” designation in the program. I was the other religious designation – literally. I wasn’t listed as Pagan but as Other.

The mocking grew more vociferous when the workshop presenter talked about a student in her study that identified as Jewish Wiccan Quaker. These three faiths were what the student grew up with in her household. Participants openly mocked the student’s self-identification and attempt to claim a multi- and inter-faith tradition. The man seated next to me openly stated that the terms multi-faith and interfaith should done away with as there were no such things and never would be. I was seething with anger, and at the same moment felt attacked. No one in the room other than my friend knew my faith practices; no one knew the other was sitting amongst them and so there was a comfort in belittling and mocking anyone not part of the norm – meaning Christian.

Hudson said that this was just one of the many experiences she had at that year’s conference.  When organizers called for a reflections paper, she provided some strongly-worded feedback, and it was that paper that led directly to an invitation for her to participate again, including sitting on a panel.

[The feedback] was scathing, and I called it what it was – a horrible event that wanted nothing to do with anyone other than Christians. I was contacted immediately and told that my paper would be published in the journal dedicated to the conference and asked permission to share it with the forming committees so that they could change. The individuals in charge had no idea how the “other” faiths were treated or felt. It was eye-opening. This request to participate shows and effort to change and I think it is imperative to attend and show those that are willing to see what true hospitality is about. I firmly believe it takes just as much courage to accept change in others as it does to try and change the self.

The panel, on which she will be sitting, has the curious title of “Pulling Apart a Platypus.” The focus will be four different models of chaplaincy in use today. Hudson will be sitting beside a Catholic priest, a Buddhist, and one other person whose religious designation — if any — Hudson didn’t know.


After her emotionally bruising experience at Yale, Hudson does have some advice for other Pagans who feel put upon. First, she said that what you do and say really depends upon the situation. Then she offered:

I don’t normally “hide” and after the first three workshops that is exactly what I did. I was in “hostile” territory and I didn’t feel safe. I did find two friends that came with me. They were allies with whom I could talk to about what was going on and what I was feeling. I think it is important for people to have someone to talk about what is happening and how they are feeling.

I have to stress that no one is alone. They may feel that they are at times but truly they are not. Look to the local shops, PPD websites, Witchvox for local groups, and other such places for contacts that might be able to give you support and healing kindness. I would also stress that help doesn’t have to come just from other Pagans. Someone being mistreated for their faith will find allies in people who dislike injustice. Talk to people of faith, minority on non-mainstream traditions, to seek out an ally if you need to. You would be surprised at where help can come from.

Those interested in helping Hudson with her triumphant return to the Global Conference for Chaplains in Higher Education can contribute to the GoFundMe campaign here.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass — When the Parliament of the World’s Religions was staged in Salt Lake City last year, thousands of people gathered for this interfaith event. Being first held in 1893, the parliament is the oldest event of its kind, and others, which have emerged since, have not yet stripped it of its unique characteristics. One way the parliament stands out is in the fact that minority religions, including indigenous and Pagan ones, are given a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion.

The Wild Hunt sat down with vice-chair Andras Corban-Arthen during A Feast of Lights to talk about the parliament, his duties within the organization, and what he sees in its future.

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]


Among his several responsibilities, Corban-Arthen is chair of the site selection committee, which is responsible for assessing potential sites for the next session. “It’s a big deal,” he said, and a job he takes quite seriously. The official invitation to submit proposals has not even been released, and already there has been interest expressed on behalf of several cities.

He said. “People think it’s a great idea to bring it to their town,” but not every city can handle the sheer number of people who show up, such as the near 10,000 which attended in Salt Lake City. That pressure depends in part on location: when it’s in the United States, where the parliament held its first and second sessions (in Chicago, 1893 and 1993), many more people attend than when it’s elsewhere in the world. However, there’s a clear desire to maintain the international scope of the organization by not restricting host cities to just one country.

It’s understandable why it’s appealing to bring the Parliament of the World’s Religions to town. The event translates into $15-20 million dollars spent by those visitors. That could offset any infrastructure improvements made to accommodate the crowds.

Corban-Arthen is also part of the nominating committee, which is arguably even more important. “It shapes the direction of the board,” he said, which impacts the overall tenor of the organization. It is because of the makeup of the board that such efforts as its indigenous task force even exist; he’s been part of that since 2008. That might be enough to keep him busy, but Corban-Arthen also is a delegate to the United Nations, representing the parliament as a non-governmental organization in the interfaith field.

“One thing that distinguishes the parliament is that minorities play a big role,” he said. “People ask where the Christians are,” he added, despite the fact that in Salt Lake City they were indeed the majority of those present. “It didn’t feel like it,” he explained, even though they are also a majority on the board, because they are “respectful and conscious, and let us be out in front. It’s a very healthy thing.”

Andras Corban-Arthen

Andras Corban-Arthen

An area that Corban-Arthen has worked in since long before the parliament was reinvigorated in 1993 is that of indigenous European religions. With the parliament now holding sessions regularly, skepticism that there might be survivals of those traditions has fallen away, as members of those traditions have come forth to participate. Indeed, the 2009 parliament in Melbourne generated a small controversy about how that might affect the very definition of Paganism. While Corban-Arthen believes it proved to be a hot topic among Pagans largely due to misunderstandings, at the same time he feels that 2009 represented a seminal moment when the larger interfaith community recognized indigenous European traditions into the fold.

The very concept has sent ripples throughout Paganism and the interfaith community, he said. “I was told that Paganism has nothing to do with indigenous traditions,” he recalled, while some tried to expand the definition of “indigenous” to include religions like Wicca, which while it did emerge in Europe, is generally considered newer than what’s referred to as indigenous. At the same time, he remembers a Presbyterian minister who was excited at the idea of indigenous European survivals, but “it bothered him that they turned out to be Pagan.”

Representatives of those indigenous traditions were included in the plenary session, he recalled, and “people had a huge, positive reaction” to the idea that Christianity didn’t wipe those traditions from the face of the Earth, as has been widely believed. “It felt like a vindication for them.” That’s a key role for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in his view: to support minority and indigenous traditions.

The parliament is where the modern interfaith movement started, and it continues to hold the largest events of that kind in the world. “Other groups may feel it’s not what it should be,” he said. “One major organization has criticized the parliament because it has Pagan members on its board.” That’s part of why it has such a large impact, he believes: minority voices being given the chance to be heard.

The Pagans sitting at that table didn’t get there by chance, though. “They didn’t really invite us” in 1993, he recalled, and he characterized the organizers at that time as being “reticent” to include them. His own Earthspirit Community, together with Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess, combined their efforts into what he called a “three-pronged approach” to convince those organizers to grant them admission. Then, they set up one joint information table in the area reserved for that kind of educational outreach, and disabused many attendees of the notion that Paganism was a thing of the past.

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]

One interesting effect of having a parliament in a city, Corban-Arthen noted, is that the local Pagan community tends to thrive in its wake. That was true in Cape Town, Barcelona, and Melbourne, where local Pagans got a seat at the table and it opened doors for them into interfaith work. He said that new Pagan groups formed in those cities, and new leaders emerged. Time will tell if the “parliament bump” helps the Salt Lake City Pagan community find its footing.

Big names at the parliament typically include figures such as the Dalai Lama. However, a Roman Catholic Pope has never attended. That might well change with the next session, although Corban-Arthen isn’t sure it would be a benefit. He noted that among the potential sites is a city in Europe where the erstwhile organizers hope to extend an invitation to Pope Francis, who has proven himself to be more popular — among Catholics and people not of that faith alike — than any of his predecessors in recent memory. “That might be counterproductive,” Corban-Arthen said, because Francis has a following of his own that could distort the character of the parliament. “It might be all about the Pope,” he said. “We might not want that.”

Despite the fact that Vatican City is there, as well as members of those aforementioned indigenous traditions, Europe is a tough place to sell the parliament as an attraction, because “so much of the society is secularized.” That, more than other factors, could be why attendance is higher in the United States: there are more religious people here, despite recent downward trends.

What Corban-Arthen finds gratifying about the parliament is that “people don’t spend time arguing theology. They present their beliefs and observances, but we focus on social issues and trying to solve them, especially when religion is the cause.” That’s why he believes it’s so important for Pagan voices to be part of that conversation, as they have much to say about issues such as the environment and women in the priesthood. They can also be an important part of any dialogue about money, much of which is dominated by the Christian model that presumes it’s the root of all evil(and, seemingly at the same time, an earthly reward for living a good life.

Money is something he’s often found himself at odds with other Pagans about. He recalled a disagreement he had with Judy Harrow in the 1980s on that topic. “She felt that Christians put their model on us, but that small community-based Pagan groups couldn’t build mega-churches,” he said. “I told her that if a thousand people contributed five dollars a week for a year, that would be $260,000, which would be a good start” toward any goal that they established, including paying for staff, programs, schools, films, legal defense, and buying land. “We need to create infrastructure,” he added, echoing his side of an argument which is as old as the modern Pagan movement. “Until we do, we won’t be real to ourselves.” That’s a perspective other parliament members have shared with him: Pagans don’t take themselves seriously enough.

One thing that Corban-Arthen has learned in working with the Parliament of the World’s Religions especially is that his words are sometimes interpreted by members of his own community as speaking for them. “I don’t speak for all Pagans,” he said. “I’m just expressing my opinion. I represent the community that supports me,” not those who see things differently. That’s true for all board members of the parliament: they do not serve as formal representatives of their traditions. If other Pagans were to “step up,” they might also get elected to the parliament’s board. But with the ground work that he and others have helped to lay, perhaps it won’t take as many years of consistent effort to make that happen.

NOTTINGHAM, England –Members of the Nottingham Pagan Network organized an ongoing food drive to the feed refugees who have made it as far as England and any others in need in this storied city. The donations have been given to the food bank run by Himmah, described on its web site as “the first Muslim food bank in the U.K.

NPN members providing donations to Himmah food bank [photo credit: Gordon McGowan]

NPN members providing donations to Himmah food bank [Photo Credit: Gordon McGowan]

It’s interfaith cooperation which made the effort possible, according to Sarah Kay, spokesperson for the Nottingham Pagan Network. “NPN joined Nottingham Interfaith Council in 2014, and we were invited onto the committee to represent Pagans,” she explained.  “We’re finding that many parts of mainstream society are becoming more aware of Paganism and want to see it represented properly and sensibly alongside the other faiths, especially in a city like Nottingham where Paganism’s profile has become more visible thanks to things like the Pagan Pride festival,” she said. “We think the basic concepts of interfaith are already active in the Pagan community since, as Pagans of diverse and sometimes contradictory religious faiths and practices, we are used to coming together with people of a different religious and spiritual outlook.”

Paganism has become so visible in Nottingham due in no small part to the efforts of the Nottingham Pagan Network. It started as an online group and, then, transitioned to the physical plane when a local gathering, or moot, dissolved. “We’ve also run Pagan Pride’s community projects for several years,” Kay explained, “and thanks to a couple of our more high profile members we’ve been able to pull national Pagan leaders together for that.”

The NPN has strong ties to the Pagan Federation, the Children of Artemis, the Centre For Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation and, as Kay put it, has “a reputation of ‘punching above its weight.'” The NPN has itself seeded a number of moots and organized other events, but its purpose, said Kay, “has always been to encourage and facilitate Pagans to connect with each other and . . . to provide communications about Pagan, Pagan-related and Pagan-interest events in the region,” not simply be the source of those events.

Interfaith work is par for the course at Himmah, as well. Local Pagans had already been contributing to a project the Muslim charity had organized jointly with the Nottingham Liberal Synagogue, namely the Salaam Shalom Kitchen, which provides prepared meals to those in need on a weekly basis.

Refugees from the war in Syria started being admitted to the United Kingdom last year in a process slowed by a general anti-immigrant sentiment, with half of them so far being settled in Bradford, about two hours’ drive north.  That touched NPN members so much that “. . . deciding which charitable project to undertake our members were probably, like everyone else, focused on current world events which is why [donating to Himmah food bank] was a good choice,” Kay said.

Some of the collected food [courtesy photo]

Ashley Mortimer with some of the collected food [Courtesy Photo]

Kay said that NPN members worked as part of a larger team, drawing more Pagans into the wider effort. “Himmah [has] support from both faith and non-faith communities in Nottingham, so we are just a part of the collective effort to support the project and we thought that if we targeted our own (Pagan) community then Pagans would be supportive of the idea, not just for the good of the project, but to be seen as a community to be doing something good for the wider community. . . the multi-faith aspect of Himmah . . . drives awareness of its good works.”

Where some social groups might make charitable giving into a friendly competition, the Nottingham Pagan community didn’t keep score. “It’s all about understanding that every little bit contributes to the whole, if everyone does something, whether it’s to donate a pound or a tin of soup or to offer to drive around collecting donations for the evening no one is counting, all efforts are communal and we just need to keep contributing and doing without worrying about how much we’ve achieved.”

Nevertheless, “the response has been magnificent, the Himmah people have come to collect from us over two or three moots and we’ve done several runs ourselves to take them supplies. Many of our members simply gave us money so we’ve had a couple of shopping trips to specifically buy for Himmah.”

The profile the NPN maintains by participating in interfaith and charitable work will, Kay hopes, serve as a model, to “inspire and encourage other small local groups wherever they are to get busy and do good works — after all everyone who achieves something big or global is also local to somewhere!”

SHELBY, N.C — When the Foothills Interfaith Assembly (FIA) was created earlier this year, it was inspired by concerns over public prayer policy in its local region. However, this was never supposed to be an issue that the group focused on. Nevertheless, the assembly has played a public part in shaping a recent prayer policy debate, which has made clear that religious political tensions are alive and well in the foothills region of North Carolina. A strong sentiment against Islam is evident, and Pagan members of the assembly are equally concerned about discriminatory policies and behavior.

foothills logoThe latest salvo came when the Cleveland County School Board replaced a moment of silence with public prayer at its meetings. North Carolina Piedmont Church of Wicca‘s Tony Brown told The Wild Hunt that the school board was reacting to “a lot of pressure from Christian groups in the community to do so. The public comments section of the last few meetings have been filled with calls for Christian prayer, met by thunderous applause and standing ovations. They even moved one of the meetings into a larger venue to accommodate the crowd.”

Brown explained that how the public expressed these opinions doesn’t, in his mind, bode well for the inclusive policy that was passed. “During three of the last four board meetings, when they called for a moment of silence dozens of people instead stood up and loudly recited the Lord’s Prayer,” he said. He worries about non-Christians having their prayers disrupted, building on what happened when the county commissioners allowed a Muslim to pray. “I don’t think it’s much of a leap for them to do the same over a prayer from another faith.”

The Lincoln County commissioners rescinded their inclusive prayer policy during the same meeting that saw its first non-Christian prayer, when FIA co-founder Duston Barto read verses from the Quran. The chairman of the commissioners walked out to keep his word that he would not “listen to a Muslim pray,” according to the Lincoln Times News. One woman in attendance held a sign which proclaimed, “No Moslem Prayer.” An unplanned vote at the end of that meeting rescinded the prayer policy, which had been offered as an alternative to the many years of prayer led by local Christian ministers.

Foothills Interfaith Assembly was formed in part to allow more people to qualify to lead such prayers, and that was an important test of the effort. That’s why Brown was concerned that the Cleveland School Board, if it didn’t have a plan to enforce decorum, would not be welcoming to prayers from minority religions, regardless of the wording of the policy, which includes requiring the superintendent to invite all religious groups to offer a prayer.

The underlying purpose for FIA, then and now, is to foster understanding and defuse hatred by allowing people of different faiths to get to know one another. Brown said that it’s “important to remember that we’re not really a political organization, even though we were born out of a political situation. We’re not just here to annoy government bureaucrats by praying at them. We want to make a difference at a deeper level.”

That’s a tall order right now, particularly when it comes to acceptance of Muslims. In this town where the man who killed nine people at the Mother Emmanuel Church was finally arrested, people who appear to practice Islam do not always feel safe. According to Barto, two Muslim women, who are members of FIA, have been missing meetings recently because they don’t wish to go out in public wearing a hijab. It is that climate of fear and mistrust that FIA seeks to undermine with members of different religions leading discussions at monthly meetings. However, worldwide attacks by the hate group Daesh pose a significant challenge.

Combatting fear and hate is an abstract goal, albeit an important one. Prayer at public meetings is more tangible. Therefore, Brown and Barto both have an interest in making sure that any such invocation is not offered exclusively to members of one religion. Barto noted that “while people accuse us of being instigators in these events, it is important to point out that in both cases it was Christians who wanted to force an all-Christian agenda on the population that brought us to the microphone. We stood in defense of liberty, not in opposition of religious expression.”

In the meantime, the FIA continues to draw people to its meetings, and those people do practice a variety of faiths. In addition to the aforementioned Wiccan and Muslim members, several Christian sects are represented, along with Ba’hai and Humanism. “We were invited to hold a meeting in the fellowship hall of a Presbyterian church in Lincolnton, which was wonderful,” Brown said. He hopes the assembly will be able to rotate its meetings through a continually expanding list of locations.

There are a number of other Pagan and related faiths in this part of the state, Brown said that this list includes Druids, and groups that follow Gardnerian and Strega traditions. He has gotten expressions of interest from several of them, and he’s ambitiously thinking forward to deeper interfaith work for the assembly, such as hosting a multi-faith presentation on the topic of rebirth, perhaps in the spring.

Whether springtime, for all its associations with new beginnings, is enough to reboot the political-religious tensions that keep cropping up in the Foothills, is a question yet to be answered.

[Columnist Christina Oakley Harrington is our talented columnist based in London. She is one of the team members who has assisted in expanding our coverage beyond U.S. borders. If you enjoy reading her work, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. We are completely reader-funded, so it is you that makes it all possible! So, donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

Among UK Pagans, everyone has heard of the Pagan Federation. It’s been with us forever: a bit staid and not always terribly exciting or visible. It’s the body that deals with officialdom; gives information on paganism to civil servants in government bodies; and provides balanced quotes when news stories come up. Most university chaplains, registrars and news journalists know the basics nowadays.

This is unexciting work, but it is worthy beyond measure. When a dramatic event occurs associated with a pagan, such as a crime, the Pagan Federation helps the news media separate the crime from the religion, and lets them know that our community will not tolerate otherwise.

But the Pagan Federation’s work is invaluable, too, in times when pagans meet officialdom in the daily business of life. My experience of the past week has shown that more clearly than I ever imagined.

[unknown origin]

[creator unknown]

I live in London, but nine days ago I raced to Heathrow airport to catch the first flight to Toronto. My father, a Canadian, was in the hospital; his health failing him. On arrival I learned quickly that he was dying. And I, his eldest child, faced the unimaginably painful task of asking for his extra oxygen to be removed, as Dad had wanted. It was the equivalent of switching off the life support.

It felt too much for me at that moment, so I asked for the nurse to send for the chaplain. I knew the chaplain would not be Pagan, but I had to have someone. To the hospital bedside came a loving and experienced man named Jason. He was a Christian of course, but we met as human beings. He did not bring any agenda; he brought his insight and care. Our two hours together at my father’s bedside helped me greatly, and I did what I needed to do.

Hours later, dad died. Almost immediately my relatives took me to the funeral home where we had to plan the funeral. With no sleep and still in shock, we had to negotiate religious differences. Dad was atheist, but came from a committed Presbyterian family. He had in me a pagan daughter and two spiritual, but not religious, other adult children.

A minister we’d never met would take us through the ceremony. In he walked to my aunt’s formal living room. His name was Darrow. Dad’s atheism was acknowledged with kindness, and he fit these facts into the way he guided us to choosing readings for a service which was framed in the Christian structure so important to my father’s sister. He noticed and understood my tiny silver pentagram pendant with a gentle smile, and we agreed on a reading about nature.

Somewhere, somehow, both the chaplain and this minister had learned a bit about paganism. They didn’t know much, but it was enough. They were neither confused nor disturbed by me, and I could be open with them. It was clear that pagans had been part of their interfaith education. To those nameless Canadian pagans who showed up to a seminary, a meeting, or a conference years ago, I say ‘thank you.’ Because of those pagan, at a time of great vulnerability, a bereaved pagan daughter thousands of miles from home could speak from her heart and hear words of consolation.

[Credit: Jessica Rossi]

[Credit: Jessica Rossi]

Pagans often express a healthy disregard for the bounds of convention. We pride ourselves on being on the edges and challenging restrictive norms. I love this about us, but there are times when we simply need our faith to be understood; so we can get through, without fuss or fight, those difficult times of death, suffering or despair.

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In the UK, when a person dies, the funeral normally takes place a week or two afterward. This gap allows time to plan a personalised ceremony. Most pagans are situated in a wider family who are not of their own faith, so they will have a balancing act similar to that of my own family. Some of us, however, do leave a majority of family and friends of our own faith.

Wiccan priestess Doreen Valiente (1922-1999) asked to have a pagan funeral and her friends accorded her one in the crematorium’s non-denominational chapel, with friends she had chosen in advance standing in the four quarters. Priestess Madge Worthington (d. 2004) of the Whitecroft line of Wicca had the Charge of the Goddess read at her funeral. Here in Britain, crematoria chapels are where most non-religious funerals take place and the staff are beginning to be less surprised when pagan rites are done in them.

When I opened the newspaper this summer to read of ‘Britain’s First Pagan Funeral’ I knew it was not true. The event for the death of Cornwall’s ‘Eron the Wizard’ was colourful, hippy, gothic pagan, with the press invited. Everyone who reads the papers in the UK now knows that pagans die too, and that we can have outlandish funerals. This is to be welcomed.

Some prefer a more sober style of funeral. But at the end of life, we need our spirituality there with us, just as do all people of faith. When we can receive an understanding smile from a crematorium porter, a funeral director, or a chaplain at this time, it means the world. The unglamourous work of interfaith education pays all of its dividends at those very moments.

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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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[Our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. Your support and your donations are what make our work possible. How much would you pay for a subscription to a magazine or a newspaper? If you like reading articles, like the one below, on a daily basis, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Donate here. Thank You.]

In 1999, artist Lauren Raine was commissioned to create 30 leather masks that each reflected the spirit of a different Goddess from around the world. Earlier that same year, she had a dream during which she saw “a long line of Goddesses in all colors, in beautiful costumes.” Then, as if by magic, Raine was presented with a commission to create the series of masks to be used in Reclaiming’s 20th anniversary Spiral Dance in San Francisco.

On her newly updated blog, Raine wrote, “Masks in traditional societies are viewed as liminal tools, as vessels for the sacred powers. With a mask it is believed the Gods and Goddesses can visit, tell their stories, give their blessings, heal or even give prophecy.”

masks graphic

Oshun, Brigit, Pele [Masks by Lauren Raine]

Although the commission was the beginning of her “Masks of the Goddess” project, Raine’s interest in mask making began years before. She said, “My first Goddess mask was Kali … It was a time in my life when there was just so much I had to get rid of, so much maturation I needed to do, so many old patterns and ways of being I needed to get beyond in order to evolve. In retrospect, I think I made the mask of Kali as my own kind of invocation, my call for help from the One who helps us to slay the demons of the mind, to cut away that which has to go.”

When Reclaiming commissioned the masks, Raine welcomed the challenge, saying “I wanted to create them as contemporary temple masks to be used to invoke and re-claim the feminine faces of God.” In the end, the 1999 Spiral Dance used 20 of Raine’s masks for a 3 minute long Goddess invocation.

One of the mask wearers and supporters of the mask project was Aline O’Brien, more commonly known as M. Macha Nightmare. During the Spiral Dance, she wore the Morrigan mask. In 2007 blog post, O’Brien, remembered, “[This was] the baddest-ass Morrígan you ever hope to encounter. Even my friend Urania who helped me put it on was afraid once it was in place … I reddened my palms and displayed them as the Washer at the Ford in the processions.”

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Amateratsu Omikami

After the Reclaiming event was over, O’Brien felt disappointed with the presentation. Although she was personally “inspired by the masks,” she felt that they were underused and “not appreciated.”

With that in mind, O’Brien set out the design her own theatrical ritual that would emphasize Raine’s art, focus on the masks and embody the spirit of the various Goddesses. With the help of Mary Kay Landon, she wrote a script and an innovative ritual structure that focused solely on the Goddesses and the masks.

Then, in February 2000 at PantheaCon, O’Brien had the first opportunity to present her mask ritual, which she named Goddesses Alive! She found volunteers to assist with the both the staging and the various aspects of the performance, which included song, music, readings and dance. The brochure read:

Goddesses Alive! A processional and experiential ritual of masked, embodied goddesses to bring a re-awareness of the Goddess into current Pagan practices. We encounter the goddess embodied by 13 priestesses wearing stunning leather goddess masks created by Lauren Raine

O’Brien told The Wild Hunt that she chose 13 masks for the project, specifically those that would be the most recognizable to her audience. These included Artemis, Hecate, Bridget, Isis, Spiderwoman, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu, Inanna, Oshun, Sedna, Pele and Kali. Despite the limited budget and time, the ritual was a success.

Later that year, Goddesses Alive! was staged for a second time. With support from the New College of California and the Lilith Institute, O’Brien produced the ritual in a dance studio the following December. Once again, she had no budget but the performance was a success. Live music and a chorus of 5 people accompanied the words and movements of the Goddessess. It was attended by around 100 people. Looking back, O’Brien said, “I loved it.”

Despite the success of both performances, O’Brien had no idea if she would ever have the opportunity, time, energy or money to ever do the project again. The Goddesses Alive! script was filed away. The experience was left only to memory with no photos or video recordings ever taken.

Although Raine was not actively involved in either of the Goddesses Alive! performances, she said, “[O’Brien] activated the masks. She created a beautiful, and effective, sacred container for a community to use the masks, and ritual theatre, allowing each participant to evolve them in her or his own way. I think she would be happy to know that her vision has kept going.”

After O’Brien’s rituals in 2000, the masks were used again many times over in other theatrical performances throughout the U.S. Raine even expanded her collection, including elemental masks and other Goddesses. On her blog, she wrote, “I’ve been privileged to share my work with dancers, ritualists, playwrights, storytellers, priestesses, activists, and students bringing the Goddesses into the world in many ways. No artist could ask for more.” Raine created a compilation video of some of that theatrical work:

In addition to using the masks in performance, Raine also began selling them as art pieces. When thinking back on all the many masks created over the past 17 years, Raine said, “The affinity with certain masks changes as I change, but … my favorite masks concern Grandmother Spider Woman, my guide. She always seems to be in the background, the hand at the heart of the great Web.”

Over that same period of time, O’Brien never forgot her own dream of re-staging her very unique Goddesses Alive! ritual. Then, in 2014 when the Parliament for the World Religions sent out a call for presentations, Raine and O’Brien both had the same idea: let’s bring back Goddesses Alive! And, to their delight, the presentation was accepted. O’Brien said, “I was blown away.” She never really thought that she’d get a chance to do it all again.

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Inanna

With experience both as a ritualist and as a interfaith representative, O’Brien had the know-how and skill to adapt her otherwise Pagan-focused script for a broader audience. When asked about the adaptation, she admitted that “not much really had changed.” The biggest difference is the actual room size. The original ritual was designed for an inclusive theater-in-the round with only 100 audience members. The new script allows for the same set up but within a large ballroom and for an audience of over 300.

In addition, O’Brien selected new Goddesses based on mask availability and also to better reflect global diversity. She chose the following 13 masks: Hecate, Sedna, Brigit, Isis, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu Omikami, Inanna, Oshun, Kali, Pele, Pachamama and White Buffalo Calf Woman.

As Raine went to work on prepping the performance masks and, in some cases, creating new ones, O’Brien dusted off the old script and began recruiting performers and a tech crew. By summer 2015, she had her team and planning began. Jeffrey Albaugh signed on as the stage manager. When asked about the upcoming performance he said:

It is difficult and to serve as stage manager for an event like this, where all the performers are coming from so far away, and with no time for rehearsal. It puts an onus on me to make sure the production goes off without a hitch, and is as close as possible to Macha’s vision. However, with this kind of production, focused on movement, sound, voice and using Lauren’s brilliant masks, I think there is a high possibility of real magic occurring during the performance. The numinous will hopefully break through.

As Albaugh notes, the performers and crew herald from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. Cherry Hill Seminary Director Holli Emore will be wearing the Isis mask. She said, “The rich pageantry of Goddesses Alive! is sure to stir people on a level far deeper than cerebral, the emotional place where we become imprinted with life-giving ideas. I feel that years from now we will all look back on this performance as a piece of our collective Pagan history and I’m very proud that I will have a small part in that.”

Emore will be joined by Anna Korn, Jo Carson, Rowan Liles, Áine Anderson, Mana Youngbear, Faelind, Wendy Griffin, Diana Kampert, Maggie Beaumont, Eileen Dev Macholl, Jerrie Hildebrand and myself, Heather Greene.

Rev. HPs. Gypsy Ravish volunteered to be one of the singers. She said, “I am honored to add my voice to this divine Sisterhood.” Other musical performers and script readers include Vivianne Crowley, Celia Farran, Lauren Raine, Rowan Fairgrove, Gypsy Ravish, Robin Miller, Jenn Vallely, Ruth Barrett and Aline O’Brien.

Kali

Kali

Led by Albaugh, the crew is equally diverse, with everyone coming together to make this single event happen. Mary Kay Landon, who helped O’Brien revise the script, said “Working on this production–and watching it evolve over the years–has given me a unique opportunity to research goddesses from across the world and, as I did so, to enter into relationship with them as we, together, created their evocations. What a privilege!”

When asked what Goddesses Alive! will offer a global religious audience, O’Brien said that she believes Pagans have “a deep appreciation of the art and design of ritual” and that is “one thing that Pagans bring to the interfaith table.” She explained that we have a “freedom of design” that is often lacking in other religious traditions. “We bring a freshness … and willingness to change.” And she hopes that this ritual performance will bring about an appreciation for that creativity and flexibility.

Goddessess Alive! was designed to be participatory ritual theater. The music, the singing, the readings and the Goddesses will move from behind the audience and through the audience. This technique serves to surrounded viewers in the full theatrical experience, and O’Brien hopes it helps to “open their minds to perceiving the divine” in new ways and to respecting “non-traditional, non-Abrahamic religious traditions.”

For Pagans that attend and others who are more familiar with a similar ritual performance, O’Brien hopes the experience will “demonstrate that the we have something to offer [the interfaith community] that maybe was unexpected.”

Ultimately, O’Brien would like Goddesses Alive! to be “consciousness raiser” for all who attend – Pagans and non-Pagans alike, and that everyone “leaves the room with a sense of community.”

The Goddesses Alive! ritual performance, which is being dedicated to the memory of Sparky T. Rabbit and Deborah Ann Light, will be held at the Parliament of the World Religions Sunday, Oct. 18 at 1:45 p.m. in Salt Lake City. Currently, the production team is still looking for volunteers to film and photograph the event.

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA –At the beginning of this month, when the darkness and cold of winter seemed to be at their darkest and coldest, a group visited a shrine to the goddess Brigid, clearing away blockages to a spring and making offerings of flowers and milk. While that isn’t particularly remarkably in the Pagan community — many northern hemisphere practices include devotional acts at midwinter — it’s a bit more unusual when the practitioners are Christian.

Header_ImgMembers of the Jubilee! Community Church take “interfaith” to a level that is not commonly seen within an Abrahamic faith. Rather than seeking to understand basic tenets of other religions, they incorporate practices that are seen to tie into their interpretation of Christian faith, including celebrations of quarter and cross-quarter days. The church is based on a concept called Creation Spirituality, and led by Howard Hanger, a former Methodist minister who has turned a few heads, and attracted a fair number of congregants with his theology.

“When we first got started, we were definitely suspect,” Hanger said, and considered a cult by some. “There was a street preacher outside saying that we were sending people to hell.”

Now that the church is more established, “people mostly just leave [them] alone.” And, since they are no longer being actively condemned, they have joined Asheville’s vibrant interfaith community. “We find out commonalities with Baptists, Catholics, Jews . . . we all believe in making the world a better place, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, all that sort of stuff. We’ve tried to connect with local Muslims.” he added, but without much success as yet.

Area Pagans, however, have been more than welcoming. “Pagans have been very wonderful,” Hanger said. “We’re pretty closely aligned with Pagan celebrations of nature, celebrating creation is our big banner, a big connection with the earth-worshipping community.”

Asheville Author and Village Witch Byron Ballard agreed with that assessment. “Jubilee began here as a funky Sunday evening service at one of the largest Methodist churches in town. They borrow from all sorts of places,” she said, and the children’s educational program “goes to a lot of sources for inspiration.”

Even with all of this “borrowing,” there have been no accusations of cultural appropriation. Ballard noted, “Pagans don’t own the agricultural year, and I certainly wouldn’t go to the stake over the Wheel of the Year.” Rather, she said, “it feels interfaith rather than appropriative, as [the church’s Nurture Coordinator, Vicki Garlock] gives plenty of credit and doesn’t try to pretend it’s an old Christian concept. [She] often attends Mother Grove events, and I have spoken in her classes several times.”

Garlock wrote this about the program:

Some may wonder why a Christian congregation would focus so much attention on Pagan resources, so let me share our educational perspective. We’ve developed a Bible-based, interfaith curriculum that we use with kids from preschool through 8th grade. They learn the basic Bible stories and then use these themes and narratives to connect with other faith traditions. For example, when they learn about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, they also learn about prayer mats, prayer flags, prayer wheels, and prayer beads. We want the kids in our program to be grounded in our Judeo-Christian culture, but we also want to provide them with the tools they need to follow their own faith path.

In addition, we actively foster relationship with the Earth. We want youngsters to find the sacred in nature, to understand their connection to the environment, and to celebrate all of creation. These values are found throughout the world’s faith traditions, and many religious holidays coincide with seasonal changes. Kids understand seasons. They feel the changes in temperature, see the changes in plants, and associate certain events with certain seasons. Pagan wheel-of-the-year festivals offer us another opportunity to highlight the shared principles that all faith practices glean from the Earth’s wisdom.

In short, Jubilee’s philosophy, while grounded in Christianity, honors the similarities among traditions. Its credo encourages children to “follow their own faith path,” recognizing the divine in everything. A spiritual journey that begins at the Jubilee! Community Church could well take many directions. As Hanger pointed out, “We don’t worship Jesus. He never wanted that. We follow him. He was into that.”

Perspectives is a monthly column dedicated towards presenting the wide variety of thought across the Pagan/Polytheist communities’ various Paganisms.

The Wild Hunt received responses from four members of the community—Ember Cooke, Gytha of the Vanic Conspiracy and member of Seidhjallr (Sudhri); Richard Reidy, Kemetic Reconstructionist, author, moderator and founder of The Temple of Ra and the Kemetic Temple of San Jose; Erynn Rowan Laurie, author and Celtic Reconstructionist polytheist; and Sannion, the archiboukolos of the thiasos of the Starry Bull—detailing their opinion on whether larger interfaith work (Abrahamic, Dharmic, etcetera) is needed or if it’s a distraction from Pagan-Polytheist-Wiccan-Heathen-Recon-African Tradition inter/intrafaith work?

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

“I absolutely do NOT think that one kind of interfaith work is a distraction from another kind. Both are necessary if Pagans in general are to have increased stability, civil rights and respect, and influence on the world around us. Interfaith work within the Pagan movement is necessary so that we can increasingly work together and function in ways that we have intended to in the past while overlooking the fact of our differences in theology.

Interfaith work with non-Pagan traditions is necessary for us to gain the understanding and support of the larger faith population, which is most of the world. To discard either one is to say that some categories of humans don’t matter very much, so if they don’t understand us and care about us, well, we don’t need to understand and care about them which is a dangerous drawing of lines in the sand that I think causes a lot more harm than good. And yes, I try to actively engage in both kinds of interfaith work when I have the time and energy to do so.”Ember Cooke, Gytha of the Vanic Conspiracy and member of Seidhjallr (Sudhri)

“I see no compelling reason why we cannot be involved in interfaith/intrafaith work with both groups. For myself it is not an either/or proposition. Whatever we may think we know of individual groups or theologies, it helps our own cause to dialogue with them in order to dispel some of the common misconceptions many of them have regarding earth-based religions, pagan and neopagan religions, polytheists, as well as other spiritual/religious groups. Currently in the West the dominant Abrahamic faiths very often label us idolaters, devil worshipers, and profoundly misguided. We—in our own self interest—can work to dispel such potentially dangerous thinking. We owe it to ourselves to try to dispel the myths surrounding our religions.

In regard to the various intrafaith groups, it helps us to interact with others in order to build a sense of solidarity, mutual respect, and understanding. When we see people as “us” rather than just “other,” we enrich each other. Many if not most of our groups are fairly small in number. Many are somewhat isolated. If we wish to last beyond our own lifetimes and achieve any real stability and growth, we cannot afford to remain insular. I remember the great Platonic and Neoplatonic schools that once existed in the Greek empire. They were led by charismatic men and women, with a small group of like-minded students and followers. They all—each and every one of them—died out under the weight of Christian expansionism and repression. All of them—gone! We must not let that happen to us. We cannot afford to simply enjoy our little fellowships and groups and “hope for the best.” The gods and the spirits deserve more.”Richard Reidy, Kemetic Reconstructionist, author, moderator and founder of The Temple of Ra and the Kemetic Temple of San Jose

“I think it really depends on the nature of the work a person is called to do. In my case I’m trying to build a religious community that venerates Dionysos and his associated gods and spirits. The majority of my time and energy goes into research, writing, worship and tending to the spiritual and other needs of my people.

Pagan Leadership ConferenceWhat remains after that goes into fostering dialogue with other polytheists around ways that we can mutually support each other in the restoration and promulgation of our ancestral traditions, which has resulted in projects such as Wyrd Ways Radio, the Polytheist Leadership Conference and the forthcoming Walking the Worlds journal.

I also feel that it’s important to engage in educational outreach with the neopagan and occult communities, particularly with regard to respect for diversity and boundaries, since ignoring our differences tends to create a hostile environment that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to work together on areas where our interests do happen to overlap.

Beyond that I have an interest in ecology and social justice, though I rarely have anything left to give beyond contributing financially to groups whose aims and efforts I agree with. As such I have almost no engagement with members of Abrahamic, Dharmic, indigenous or other religious communities, to say nothing of secular humanist or political groups, though I applaud their efforts when they are not in conflict with my own agendas.

But that’s me, and I have no expectation that others share my vocation or prioritize things the way I do. Indeed I think our communities are made stronger by encouraging people to pursue the goals and activities that they care most about and are uniquely skilled to perform. As Homer said, “No island is made for the breeding horses nor is any man capable of accomplishing all things.” We need priests and scholars and magicians and artists and educators and homemakers and laborers and politicians and soldiers and activists and so on and so forth, each doing their part to create a better society. This is what makes the polytheist worldview superior to all others—the recognition that there are many gods and many ways to serve those gods. It’s only a distraction if you’re not doing the work of your heart.”Sannion, archiboukolos of the thiasos of the Starry Bull

Erynn Rowan Laurie

Erynn Rowan Laurie

“I don’t see why it has to be just one or the other. Both types of work need doing, though maybe not all by the same individuals. It would be a lot to lay on any one person. But it’s important to have communication and attempt to find understanding both within and outside of our various communities. I don’t think restricting ourselves to only one option would actually be a very polytheist type of response, nor do I think doing one of these types of work is a “distraction” from any of the others. That would be like saying “I’m only going to inhale until I’ve got that down. Forget exhaling until I have perfect inhalation technique.” You really rather do need both to function.” Erynn Rowan Laurie, author and Celtic Reconstructionist polytheist