Archives For Pagans at the Parliament

In recent weeks I have stressed the importance of national and international interfaith efforts by modern Pagans, how this form of outreach can bring attention to issues we face and build important alliances in the global faith community. One of our most important achievements in this area has been with the Parliament of the World’s Religions,  where the modern conception of “interfaith” was born in 1893. It was at the revived 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago that modern Paganism effectively “came out” to the global interfaith movement, and where we established ourselves as faiths to be taken seriously.

“The Pagan presence at the Parliament was historic. The fact that this Parliament included Pagan group sponsors, speakers, and delegates in the first place was noteworthy, since Nature religions were excluded from the first Parliament. At this Parliament, however, there was inclusion, respect, and support. In addition to Wiccans and other Pagans, there were those from a variety of traditional Nature wisdom paths, including Winnebago, Navajo, Hopi, Yoruba, Maya, Santeria, Lakota, Cheyenne, and others. Pagan and Native American participation received widespread positive media attention. Some reporters commented that just as the first Parliament served to introduce Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions to the realm of religions in the West, this Parliament served to bring Pagan and Native American spiritualities more fully into the community of the world’s religions.”

In the 20 years since that parliament, modern Pagans have made important contributions to the global interfaith movement, and since 2002 three modern Pagans: Angie Buchanan, Phyllis Curott, and Andras Corban-Arthen have served on the Parliament’s Board of Trustees. Yesterday, these Pagans came forward to fundraise on the Parliament’s behalf, noting that the organization is in peril due to circumstances beyond its control. Andras Corban-Arthen, founder and spiritual director of the EarthSpirit Community, and Parliament board emeritus, sent the following out to various email lists and social networking sites.

Andras Corban-Arthen (center) with Parliament board trustees in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Andras Corban-Arthen (center) with Parliament board trustees in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“The Parliament of the World’s Religions has been promoting peace, understanding and respect among all peoples, religions and nations for a very long time. The Parliament gave birth to the interfaith movement in 1893, and through the vehicle of interreligious dialogue, has spread its message to many thousands of people all over the globe.

For those of us who are pagan, or who follow any of the Earth-centered spiritual paths, the Parliament has provided a welcoming place where we could openly share our practices within the community of the world’s religions: pagans from five continents have been featured presenters & performers at the Parliaments in Chicago (1993), Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004) and Melbourne (2009), and at the World Interreligious Encounter in Monterrey, Mexico (2007). Since 2002, three pagans — Angie Buchanan, Phyllis Curott, and myself — have also served on the Parliament’s Board of Trustees. The Parliament was the first major interfaith organization to give our community a seat at the table.

Now the Parliament needs our help — it faces an unexpectedly immediate, one-time financial challenge, which threatens its very existence. We need to raise $150,000 by 12 April, and the many world-wide religious communities which participate in the Parliament are already mobilizing to help us reach this goal.

This is the time for the pagan movement to show its support for this organization which has welcomed and supported us for so long, and in so many ways. Please give what you can: your contribution, no matter how small, can make a big difference!”

Phyllis Curott, founder of the Temple of Ara, and recently elected to serve as the Vice-Chair for the Parliament, posted an appeal as well, giving some background into how this fiscal trouble came about.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

“The Parliament incurred a large and burdensome debt as the consequence of an unexpected drop in the attendance of the 2004 Barcelona Parliament due to a terrorist attack in Madrid weeks earlier. As a result, there was insufficient income to cover the expenses of the event. While we have been paying it off slowly, a Spanish arbitrator ruled against the Parliament and despite our efforts to challenge the award, a US Court has now ruled that the Spanish arbitration award is binding and the balance of the debt is due immediately. In anticipation that we might lose, we started raising funds last Fall, and have raised about half the amount needed. We expected to have several more months to raise the rest, but the remaining balance is now due immediately. We need to raise $150,000 and have until April 12th to do so […] This is the time for the pagan movement to show its support for this organization which has welcomed and supported us for so long, and in so many ways. Please give what you can: your contribution, no matter how small, can make a big difference!”

This is the most recent setback for the organization that organizes the parliaments, which had recently announced that the 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions will not be happening in Brussels due to the ongoing economic hardships in Europe, and that they are seeking a new home for the gathering. So the continued fiscal health for this organization is precarious if they can’t raise the money necessary to pay off this debt. Pagans involved with the parliament are hoping our community can raise $25,000 of the total $150,000 amount needed and have started a page at causevox.com for those who want to help. 

“Imagine a world without the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Imagine that tens of thousands of global citizens didn’t attend the South Africa Parliament in 1999 to see how the interfaith movement helped end apartheid. Imagine the indigenous tribes in Australia who long stood outside their societies still waiting to be heard until their voices were the core of the Melbourne Parliament in 2009.”

Supporting the Parliament of the World’s Religions at this time has practical and symbolic value. The Parliament helps bring our religions to the global stage, gives us a voice in which we can interact with other faith leaders, and helps us speak out on issues of importance to us. Supporting the Parliament also shows that we can, and will, lend support to the organizations that involve and support us. It shows that we are ready to walk on the world stage. As modern Pagan religions increasingly become world religions we will need spaces where we can dialog and make alliances, where we can reach out, and if need be, speak truth to power about injustices done to us. As recent events have shown, our reach is longer now than ever, so too must be our responsibility and sense of global purpose. Ensuring that the Parliament of the World’s Religions survives ultimately serves our needs, and we should strive to see that it does.

If just 25,000 of the estimated million American Pagans gave a dollar to this campaign, it would already have reached the goal set for it. That, in my mind, would be a dollar well spent. If just a mere fraction of the global Pagan community gave a little, we could erase this debt ourselves. Let’s send a message, image if the headlines read: Pagans save the Parliament of the World’s Religions. That is a headline I’d love to write, and I suspect, that many of you would love to read.

Here’s the link to donate: http://parliamentofreligions.causevox.com/pagans

Top Story: While the mainstream media has been generally focused on controversial statements from Harry Reid in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s “Game Change,” a new book about the 2008 presidential election, there are some other surprising revelations to be found. For instance, did you know that Rielle Hunter, who famously had an affair with presidential candidate John Edwards (and most likely bore his child), was (allegedly) Pagan?

“There was nothing legit, however, about Hunter’s behavior. It was freaky, wildly inappropriate, and all too visible. She flirted outlandishly with every man she met. She spouted New Age babble, rambled on about astrology and reincarnation, and announced to people she had just met, “I’m a witch.” But mostly, she fixated on Edwards. She told him that he had “the power to change the world,” that “the people will follow you.” She told him that he could be as great a leader as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. She told him, “You’re so real. You just need to get your staff out of your way.” She reinforced everything he already believed, told him everything he wanted to hear.”

Not exactly the kind of revelation of modern Pagan involvement in national politics one hopes for. Then again, if you believe everything in the book excerpt about the Edwards campaign, Hunter was hardly the most crazy element in that bizarre love triangle. Hunter’s life seems to have always skirted fame and notoriety, but when her moment in the sun finally arrived it was ultimately as an infamous footnote in a historic presidential election.

In Other News: The particularly brutal murder of an elderly woman in South Africa has some calling once again for laws banning the practice of witchcraft in the country. Columnist Michael Trapido argues that the infringements on free expression such a law would create are a small price to pay for greater safety.

“So until such time as someone can put forward a better suggestion for protecting people accused of witchcraft — and not the current law which makes it an offence to call someone a witch — legislation to make it a criminal offence to be a witch seems to be the only answer. In tandem that anyone now possessed of this legal channel to accuse witches, who practices self-help, be given the stiffest possible sentences available to a court faced with that charge. Denying some form of religious freedom is very ugly but what happened to an 81-year-old woman and many others like her is far uglier.”

So in the course of attempting to stop witchcraft-related murders, Trapido would support a law that is so broadly worded that it essentially bans non-violent religions like Wicca. That, I suppose, wouldn’t be such a large issue except for the fact that there is a thriving Pagan community in South Africa. I’m told that the South African Pagan Rights Alliance will be releasing a statement on the matter soon, but they have made their position regarding witchcraft bans quite clear before.

“Witchcraft in South Africa is a recognized Pagan religion. Most Pagans in South Africa self-define as Witches – as adherents of the religion of Witchcraft. Every South African citizen has the right to freedom of religion and belief, including the right to proselytize their religious beliefs should they choose to do so. This constitutional right includes not only the right of religious communities to define themselves and their own religion, but also to challenge anything they may perceive as harmful to themselves and their religious communities.”

Further, the South African Pagan Council is a recognized Religious Organization with SA Home Affairs and SA Revenue Services. So to enact the “solution” of banning “witchcraft” they would have to knowingly outlaw a religion they have previously acknowledged as deserving legal recognition. These murders are horrible, but the solution is education, aid, and enforcement of existing laws, not arbitrary (and discriminatory) new laws. I fear Ben Franklin would be rolling in his grave at Trapido’s “ugly” solution. I think the country of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu can do far better than reactionary attempts to outlaw a belief in hopes it will solve the problem.

A group of lawyers, scholars, activists, and religious leaders from the across the political spectrum have collaborated on a new statement encapsulating the current understandings of Church-State law and freedom of expression in America.

“As the role of religion in public life continues to spark intense political debate and high-profile court cases, a group of diverse leaders from religious and secular organizations has issued the most comprehensive joint statement of current law to date on legal issues dividing church and state. Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian leaders from the evangelical, mainline and Catholic traditions joined with civil liberties leaders to draft Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law, released Tuesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.”

A project of the Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, the statement should be required reading for anyone concerned about legal decisions made regarding religious expression in America. You can download the 34-page PDF file, here. Almost all of the legal issues facing Pagans today in our schools, prisons, military, and the workplace are touched on in the document. Don’t miss out!

Kathy Nance gives us an update on the ceremonial rattles created by Pagan artist Julee Higginbotham for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. After being blessed and distributed by the Pagans at the Parliament, they ended up being gifted to several key spiritual/religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama.

And each was blessed at Pagan prayer circles in St. Louis, Melbourne Pagan events, and the Parliament itself. At each circle, the hope that the gifts would convey messages of love and unity were repeated. On the next to last day of the event, before coffee and breakfast, came word that the Dalai Lama’s personal secretary was on his way down to pick up a shaker. River, a Pagan from Missouri, handed over the gift. It was wrapped in cloth and twine used at the Pagan Peace Ritual. “The shakers passed through hundreds of hands with blessings for world peace and for understanding between different yet similar religions,” River said. “We were all tremendously moved that we were able to give one to the Dalai Lama.”

In addition to the Dalai Lama, shakers were gifted to His Majesty Robert Daagbo Hounoun, world wide leader of the Vodun Hwendo faith Professor “Auntie” Joy Murphy Wandin, AO Senior Woman of the Wurundjeri People, and “Uncle Bob” Randall, Yankunytjatjara Elder and Traditional Owner of Uluru (Ayers Rock). According to Parliament Board of Trustees member Angie Buchanan, the shakers “opened many doors” between Pagan delegates and indigenous communities across the world.

In a final note, famous Los Angeles Buddhist/New Age/metaphysical bookstore Bodhi Tree is closing down. LA Daily reports that the close came about due to rising costs, rising taxes, and a widely dispersed market.

“Books on Wicca and Astrology and Native American shamanism used to be tough to find. But now every Borders and Barnes & Noble carries a significant selection of religious, spiritual and New Age literature. And what can’t be bought at a bricks and mortar shop can undoubtedly be found online at Amazon. For cheap.”

Where once Pagans, New Agers, occultists, and Buddhists would often be forced to shop at the only place in town that carried “their” kind of books, thanks to the Internet it’s easier than ever to get a hold of material that you find interesting. Indeed, the “community” created around these stores were almost always due to necessity, not a shared theology, practice, or even politics. It was inevitable that as these groups grew into their own, and materials became easier to obtain, the “New Age store” would suffer as a consequence. While there is a part of me that has a somewhat romanticized view of that era, catching only the tail-end of it in the 1990s, I also wouldn’t trade that time for what we have now.

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

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

05. Jose Merced, Santeria, and Animal Sacrifice: The battles over animal sacrifice, and the legal rights of adherents to Santeria, were in my top ten last year, and things have only intensified since then. The biggest story was the resolution of a case involving a Santero, Jose Merced, who was restricted from practicing his religion in Euless, Texas, due to the town’s animal slaughter laws. Merced, who lost his initial challenge to the law, was backed in his appeal by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and ultimately prevailed in his case.

“If this decision is ultimately allowed to stand, Merced v. City of Euless could be the case that takes the precedent initially established in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah nationwide, clearing the way for legal animal sacrifice in religious ceremonies.”

As sweet as this victory, and the precedents it sets, has been for adherents to Santeria in America, the faith is still a long way away from acceptance or mainstream understanding. One had only to look at the variety of random dead-animal cases blamed on Santeros and Santeras (or other African Diasporic Faiths) as proof that they have a long way to go.

“We are left to guess what “evidence” led the authorities to guess it was a ritualistic matter, and what, exactly, makes them point the finger at “Santeria” or “Palo Mayombe”. While people of “African, Central American, Haitian, Cuban or Caribbean decent” lay low, will we eventually find out it was some disturbed teen? Why only people of color? Is it because these police know that white people never do crazy things and give them a ritualistic veneer? Again, this is a recipe for misinformation, stereotyping, and ultimately, discrimination.”

Perhaps now that we have a new Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, who has publicly stated that distinctions between “traditional” and “non-traditional” religions” are “intolerable”, and has actually ruled favorably on cases involving adherents to Santeria, we can start to see a slow turn-around in the misconceptions and slanders that pass for wisdom among police and animal control officers. But as we enter the new year with yet another lurid Santeria dead-animal case on our hands, that turn-around seems far away and slow in coming.

04. Pagans at the Parliament of the World’s Religions: If there was one event that could point to how far modern Pagans have come in terms of international visibility and relevance in the last twenty years, it would have to be the role we play in the Parliament of the World’s Religions. From a curiosity (and scandal to some) in 1993, to having three Pagans serving on the Parliament’s executive council in 2009. Simply put, our participation and movement toward leadership roles within the global interfaith community in the last fifteen years is extraordinary. We are emerging as a significant world-wide religious movement at a time where our voice and perspective is increasingly relevant and needed.

This Parliament also saw Pagan organizations really reaching out to share the work, discussions, and connections there were being made in Melbourne. With several collaborative efforts being made to give a picture of what Pagan participation in this event was like. Even though there were some mis-communications and controversies in the process, it also made many people feel invested in these events for the first time, and no doubt paved the way for even greater things to come in the future. Modern Paganism is a global phenomenon now, and we are starting to make our voice heard globally.

03. The International Epidemic of Witch Hunts: Thousands of innocent men, women, and children are currently being killed, displaced, and abused because someone, somewhere, believes they practice “sorcery” or “witchcraft”. This state of affairs has grown so large that UN officials are  saying that this is an international problem that is destroying the lives of millions. Far from being a localized phenomenon in “primitive” or isolated villages, witch hunts and witch killings are now global in nature and spreading. Some have stated that this isn’t our problem because the victims aren’t modern Pagans, or that by expressing concern over this trend, we are somehow conflating ourselves with these poor souls, but I think this attitude fails to look at the larger picture. That, as I said yesterday, Paganism is now global, and we have thriving communities in the “over there” places like India and South Africa that are dealing directly with this madness. That we are being naive to think such lunacy could never spread to the “First World”.

“The anger and hardship that cries out for a scapegoat is right here in our backyard. Right now “socialism” or “the government” may be the popular/populist nightmare,  but that can change. A global epidemic of witch-hunts is our issue, not because we share some theological bond with a “witch” killed in Nigeria, or imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, but because we don’t live in an enlightened vacuum, free from the troubles of the “third world” … those of us who are “safe” need to realize that what happens to “witches” in India and Papua New Guinea is no longer a string of  isolated incidents that will always stay “over there”. A “global” problem means it could indeed happen here, and perhaps sooner than any of us would want to admit.”

That fact that churches in America, Australia, and the UK send funds to churches in Africa that engage in witch-hunting only further proves how interconnected this problem is to our homes. Though, to be fair, some countries need no money or encouragement from the West in executing supposed heretics and witches. Luckily some countries, like Nepal, and India, are doing something to reverse this trend, but we need an international initiative of education, aid, and reform if we are to ever see the end of this ongoing tragedy. In the meantime, for those who want to help the witch-children in Africa, two good organizations to send money to are Stepping Stones Nigeria and CRARN (Child’s Right and Rehabilitation Network). In India you can support the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

02. Patrick McCollum’s Chaplaincy Case, and his Meeting With the Obama Administration: In 2008, Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum made this list for his historic testimony concerning the treatment of Pagan prisoners before the US Commission on Civil Rights. His work continues, and this year two events have made McCollum especially newsworthy and important. First, despite some recent setbacks, his ongoing battle to overturn the California prison system’s “five faiths policy”, which limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents, has gained a coalition of  new allies.

“Though a judge recently ruled against McCollum in February (twice), saying he had no standing to challenge the policy , his federal-court appeal is gaining support from groups like the Anti-Defamation League (PDF) and Americans United (PDF) … Other groups filing amicus briefs in support of McCollum’s appeal were The Interfaith Alliance, the Hindu American Foundation, and Pagan organizations like Cherry Hill Seminary.”

This is a heartening development in the fight to see Pagan inmates afforded the same rights and treatment as other prisoners, one that may finally lead to this case being fully heard in court.

Secondly, McCollum, while at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, managed to meet with Obama Administration officials concerning how to improve interfaith relations, and limit discrimination.

“According to Rev. McCollum, the meeting was about how the Obama Administration can advance Interfaith relations in the United States. After McCollum’s discussion, officials from the White House sought him out, to have him meet with top officials of the administration to discuss how to limit discrimination and promote Interfaith education in the United States as well as internationally. Upon his return to the states, Patrick McCollum may be able to meet with members with the Justice department as well as the Offices of Faith Based Initiatives to discuss the many outstanding situations that are currently within the American court system.”

That McCollum’s strong voice for the equal treatment of Pagans, whether in prison, or out in the world, was heard in the halls of power here in America is an amazing step forward for all modern Pagans and other adherents of minority faiths. A sign that our issues and needs are being taken seriously, and that we are taking our place at the table in larger discussions concerning the role of faith in our society.

01. Dan Halloran Elected: This one was almost too easy. On November 3rd, 2009, Republican candidate Dan Halloran was elected as the next New York City Councilman for District 19. Why is that so special? He also happens to be an adherent of Theodism, and a member of New York’s Pagan community.


Dan Halloran

“While Dan Halloran isn’t the first openly Pagan candidate running for political office, he may be the first to actually have a shot at winning. Halloran, who is running as an “independent” Republican against Democrat Kevin Kim for a seat on the New York City Council, was recently outed as a prominent Theodsman by the Queens Tribune.”

Despite a campaign that was fraught with mud-slinging, rumors, bad journalism, and accusations of sabotage, Halloran emerged victorious, and proved that an out Pagan can win political office, even in the face of adversity.

“Halloran’s win [has] broken down barriers that will greatly benefit future Pagan adherents looking to get involved in the political process. It has proven that while no race in the near future will be easy for an “out” Pagan, in the right circumstances we can win.”

As if to further prove that point, in addition to Halloran’s historic win in New York, we also learned this year that Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman, 3rd Ward, City of Centralia, Missouri, is a Hellenic polytheist reconstructionist, and that the city of Asheville is happy to elect a post-theist Unitarian-Universalist to their city council. It drives home a message that the “broom closet”, if you want any real part in shaping our culture, should be a thing of the past. That if we stand up, even under bad circumstances, and just be who we are, we can, and will, succeed. It won’t be easy, and we won’t win every time, but if we are to embrace our movement’s future and move it forward, we have to be honest and proud of our identities.

In the words of Harvey Milk:

“You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions.”

Here comes the future folks, let’s get ready for it.

That wraps up my top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2009. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2010!

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 27, 2009 — 15 Comments

I just have a few small items to share this Sunday before we gear up for the year-end count-downs and retrospectives, starting with SF Gate columnist Mark Morford, who argues that all the discussions about pantheism in “Avatar” are besides the point, what it’s really about is “alien porn”.

“But wait, we haven’t hit the best part yet. Because in this movie, you don’t merely get to fantasize about the Other from afar or even just indulge in interspecies sex. You get to literally become one of them … Behold, the ultimate in guilty colonialist fetish fantasy epic porn filmmaking, ever. Flawed, broken white man can, with his righteous modern technology, fuse his DNA with super-hot exotic sexually flawless alien species and become the Other and save the world and then score the hot chick from Star Trek.”

Somehow, I don’t think this new angle is going to please Ross Douthat and other conservative commentators much more than the “Hollywood is pantheist” one. For that matter, I doubt it will please the folks who’ve seen “Avatar” and found it to be a deeply transcendent/meaningful experience. As an aside, since we’re talking about movies, I saw “Sherlock Holmes” last night, and was surprised that the entire plot centered on a Freemason/Golden Dawn-ish occult order. By “centered on”, I mean it provided some sort of plot when things weren’t blowing up. It was quite the romp if you turn your expectations down a few notches.

The clinically obsessed folks at the Christian Civic League of Maine continue to stalk Rita Moran, Chair of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, who was one of two openly Pagan delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Not content with trespassing on private property, or trying to make her book store sound sinister by listing titles found at any Barnes & Noble, they are now engaging in their own sad form of “deep background” looking for some sort of controversy. First it was misquoting a podcast interview she did in 2007, now they are combing through her past involvement with the EarthTides Pagan Network.

“The identities of the members of these organizations are often kept secret. Moran is active in the EarthTides Pagan Network under the pseudonym “Arwen Evenstar.” Under this pseudonym, Moran has written a book review column in the group’s newsletter for the past several years.”

This situation is so sad and pathological, all in an attempt to ruin Moran’s standing with local Democrats.

“It is a sad commentary on politics in Maine that the highest levels of the Democrat Party rely on an occultist whose political prudence consists of Tarot Card reading and crystal-ball gazing; and whose leadership effectiveness is a matter of casting the right spell.”

This one-man “staff” of the Christian Civic League really needs to get a life. It just goes to show you how bothered some Christians get when any other religious perspective dares to seek political power instead of staying silently in the shadows. They try to make sinister activities that would be seen as sanctified and proper if done in a Christian context. This strife only underlines how important our involvement in the public sphere is, and why the “broom closet” must become a thing of the past.

In a final note, the Pagans at the Parliament project seems to be winding down. The last of the video and audio has been posted to the blog, and we have had several post-Parliament missives from attendees, including a statement from Angie Buchanan, one of the Pagan Executive Board members of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Buchanan addresses the recent flurry of discussion and controversy regarding definitions, and what was (and wasn’t ) said and done in Paganism’s name at the Parliament.

“In my personal participation and my observation of what happened at the Parliament, there was no attempt to “legitimize” anything, nor was there an effort to ostracize anything. There were many very successful attempts to explain concepts, terms and belief structures in ways and using vocabulary understood by those either unfamiliar with or frightened by our practices — by providing them with a frame of reference.”

Despite the flare-up over definition, and who said what at the Parliament, a situation that I take some responsibility in spreading, I do think this event will be seen as pivotal in modern Paganism’s history. Never before have we been so visible and vocal on the world stage, and I believe some paradigm-shifting happened that may greatly benefit all modern Pagans in the long run. I genuinely thank all the Pagans who took the time and effort to be involved with this event, and made our varied voices and viewpoints heard in the context of the global interfaith movement. What happened was important, I believe that we will ultimately experience more signal than noise as we process our involvement there in the coming year.

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

Top Story: The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, once the poster child of creeping Christian militarism and religious intolerance, has apparently made vast improvement in recent months. So significant are these  improvements that even Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is impressed, and accommodations are being made for minority religions, including modern Pagan cadets.

“The academy superintendent, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, says the improvements are the result of a topdown campaign to foster respect and a commitment to accommodate all cadets, even nonbelievers and an “Earth-centered” religious group that needed a place for a stone circle so it could worship outdoors. “If we are going to have success in our primary mission of developing leaders of character, we have to do that based on respect in all things, whether we’re talking gender, race or religion,” Gould said. Academy commanders say the school has started to seek out the religious needs of its cadets and accommodate them, instead of waiting for cadets to ask. For example, a Cadet Interfaith Council with about 20 members helps identify upcoming religious holidays so schedules can be adjusted around them, when possible.”

This is hugely good news, not only for our military-bound Pagans, but for the military as a whole. Despite the insinuations by some that religious tolerance and inclusion is counter-productive to good discipline, the reality is that a trustworthy military is one that truly reflects the diversity and values of our nation. That means a military where Pagans, atheists, and other minority belief systems are given the same considerations, without threat of retaliation (or intimidation), during their service, taken care of in peace-time, and fully honored in death.

In Other News: Egyptian archaeologists have managed to raise a 9-ton pylon from the Mediterranean Sea that was a part of a temple to Isis and part of Cleopatra’s palace complex.

“The tower was originally part of the entrance to a temple of Isis, a pharaonic goddess of fertility and magic. The temple is believed to have been near the palace that belonged to the 1st century B.C. Queen Cleopatra in the ancient city of Alexandria, submerged in the sea centuries ago.”

The pylon will be the centerpiece of a new museum dedicated to antiquities recovered from the Mediterranean Sea. You can catch a pretty good glimpse of the pylon, here.

For those of you not keeping track of the Pagans at the Parliament blog, some great content has been uploaded to that site recently. Including audio and video from the “People Call Us Pagans” panel, audio from the “Indigenous Peoples’ Statement to the World”, and video of the “Australian Pagans Speak” community forum. In addition, I’ve also linked to a Patheos.com interview with COG representative Don Frew from the Parliament.

There’s even more great stuff to be found at the Pagans at the Parliament blog, including my previous audio interviews with Michael York, Ed Hubbard, and Zay Speer.

From the “didn’t this happen ages ago” files, it seems that  Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, that subject of documentary filmmakers, and founder of the “Vampyres, Witches, and Pagans Party”, has landed himself in jail for two years.

“Forty-five-year-old Rocky Flash, also known as Jonathon Sharkey, was sentenced in a Marion County court on Wednesday to more than two years in jail. Prosecutors say the man threatened to beat, torture, impale, dismember and decapitate Judge David Certo, who is presiding over another case involving Flash.”

Sharkey was already in trouble for harassing an underage girl, and the judge he was threatening is no doubt the one in charge of that case. Perhaps this will finally close the casket (no pun intended, OK, pun intended) on this perennial Pagan embarrassment’s fifteen minutes of fame.

In a final note, FaithWorld is looking at various picks for the top religious stories of 2009.

“It’s Top 10 time again. As 2009 nears its end, Time magazine and the Religion Newswriters Association in the U.S. have produced their lists of the main religion news stories of the year. They take quite different views. Time’s list is quite broad, the top three being the advance of secularism in Europe, Pope Benedict’s invitation to conservative Anglicans and President Barack Obama’s decision to expand the faith-based office created by George Bush. The RNA picked Obama’s Cairo address to the Muslim world as its top story, followed by the role of religious groups in the U.S. health care reform debate and the Fort Hood massacre allegedly carried out by an American Muslim officer.”

As long-time readers may know, I like to count down the top Pagan stories of the year at the end of December (here’s a link for my 2006, 2007, and 2008 picks), and you can bet I have some great ideas for this year’s list. I’d also like to hear your ideas. Which Pagan stories, in your opinion, were the most notable in 2009? Let me know in the comments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On representing, defining & speaking for all pagans:

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

On the “redefinition” of paganism:

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

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

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

On the role of the Parliament:

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

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

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

On the question of Wicca not being “pagan”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Andras Corban Arthen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following is a news bulletin from the Pagan Newswire Collective that was posted a short time ago to the Pagans at the Parliament blog by PNC correspondent Ed Hubbard. I’m reprinting it in its entirety below.

(Ed Hubbard, PNC, Melbourne Australia) On December 8, 2009, Obama Administration officials from the Justice and Faith-Based Initiative offices, met with select members of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. It was a small meeting of approx. 50 members from various faiths. Patrick McCollum, of Circle Sanctuary [and Cherry Hill Seminary], one of the principal advocates of Pagan based ministry, was invited to partake and speak during this meeting. He was among religious and spiritual leaders from multiple faiths including Native American, Australian Aboriginals, as well as contingents from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhists communities.

According to Rev. McCollum, the meeting was about how the Obama Administration can advance Interfaith relations in the United States. After McCollum’s discussion, officials from the White House sought him out, to have him meet with top officials of the administration to discuss how to limit discrimination and promote Interfaith education in the United States as well as internationally. Upon his return to the states, Patrick McCollum may be able to meet with members with the Justice department as well as the Offices of Faith Based Initiatives to discuss the many outstanding situations that are currently within the American court system.

This has been an advance forward for the Interfaith cause and for Pagans everywhere.

Needless to say, this is huge news, and a big step forward for the equal treatment of Pagan religions in America. McCollum recently made the news for his lawsuit against the California prison system’s “five faiths policy”, which has gained support from a variety of prominent religious organizations. Before that, McCollum appeared before the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, DC, to speak at a briefing focused on prisoners’ religious rights. You can read the remarks he made at that hearing, here. I will be keeping  a close eye on this situation, and hope to bring more news soon.

ADDENDUM: More on the meeting from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary.

When asked about this meeting, Patrick said “I am thankful that the Obama administration’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships participated in this year’s Parliament, held this meeting, and asked for and listened to input. International interfaith dialogue and collaboration are essential for bringing about a better world.” When asked about the Parliament as a whole, he said, “One of the best things about the Parliament has been meeting leaders from other faiths and creating friendships and alliances that will far transcend this event. It was obvious from the discussions that world faith leaders have common concerns and have moved to a place in history where they recognize the value of working together toward the common good rather than being at odds with each other. This brings me great hope!”

Again, more on this as I have it.