Archives For The Interfaith Observer

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

fortean_times_12856_12Steve Moore, an author and occultist who helped found Fortean Times, passed away earlier this month. Moore worked extensively with famed comic writer Alan Moore (no relation), who credited him with learning how to write comic scripts. The Strange Attractor journal, to which Moore was a regular contributor, has posted a moving tribute. Quote: “Steve was a warm, wise and gentle man, with a surreal sense of humour and an astoundingly deep knowledge that covered history, the I Ching, forteana, magic, oriental mysticism, martial arts cinema, science fiction, underground comics and worlds more. Steve was amongst the earliest members of the Gang of Fort, who launched Fortean Timesmagazine in the early 1970s, and later edited its scholarly journal Fortean Studies. He was also the author of a great many influential comics and short stories for publications.” What is remembered, lives.

510KxQLOMyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Anthropologist Murphy Pizza’s history and ethnography of Minnesota’s Twin Cities Pagan community, dubbed “Paganistan,” will be published by Ashgate Press in April. Quote: “The story of the community traces the formation of some of the earliest organizations and churches in the US, the influence of publication houses and bookstores, the marketplace, and the local University, on the growth and sustenance of a distinct Pagan community identity, as well as discussions of the patterns of diversifying and cohesion that occur as a result of societal pressure, politics, and generational growth within it. As the first ever study of this long-lived community, this book sets out to document Paganistan as another aspect of the increasing prevalence of Paganism in the US and contributes to the discussion of the formation of new American religious communities.” This will no doubt be required reading for many. You can find the Amazon.com listing, here. The hardcover is pretty spend-y, so you might want to await the paperback edition.

2014-03-15 08.46.12Sacred Space Conference board member Caroline Kenner has posted an overview of the recently held East Coast event at The Witches’ Voice. Quote: “2014 marks Sacred Space’s 24th year, an extravaganza of classes and rituals designed for an audience of intermediate to advanced magical practitioners. Each year, Sacred Space hosts national presenters as well as local teachers. This year, M. Macha Nightmare, Selena Fox and Orion Foxwood were our featured talent, and sponsored guests Jason Pitzl-Waters and Renna Shesso also joined us. We were delighted to welcome back Selena and Orion in particular: they both presented at the first conference of Sacred Space’s most recent incarnation, held in 2008. This year, we were able to give them a much larger and more vigorous audience for their teaching.” You can listen to the Appalachian Folk Traditions panel from Sacred Space here at The Wild Hunt.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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

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

The New Alexandrian Library Rises

The New Alexandrian Library

The New Alexandrian Library, a project of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel which hopes to create an institution that will become “one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance,” has launched a new short crowd-funding initiative to continue the ongoing construction on the future physical space in Delaware. Quote: “The exterior of the building is almost done and interior work is proceeding. lf we can keep things going at the pace we are moving we could potentially use the early Spring months of 2014 to actually start setting up the shelves and moving in. We need a total of an additional $60,000 in the next 6 months, But right now, we are asking for immediate funds of $15,000 for the next push forwards.“ I think a video from 2012, at the groundbreaking of the library, does a good job of explaining the importance of building infrastructure projects like the NAL. So if libraries run by Pagan and esoteric interests is something you value, be sure to visit their IndieGoGo page and add your support. In the words of the campaign: “The NAL will be one of the cornerstones (of many created by various groups across the globe we hope!) of a new magickal renaissance. The benefits of this growing network for future generations will be incalculable.” For all of my coverage of the New Alexandrian Library, click here.

camplalanadaPNC-Florida has coverage of the recently held Florida Pagan Gathering Samhain 2013, which featured special guests Amber K, Azrael Arynn K, Ivo Dominguez, Jr., Stephanie Woodfield, Rev. Kirk S. Thomas, Grey Ghosthawk and Gypsey Teague. Quote: Florida Pagan Gathering Samhain 2013 was held November 6th through  November 10th at its beautiful new home at Camp La Llanada in Lake Wales, Florida. The organizers of FPG, Temple of Earth Gathering Inc., had chosen this location to host Beltaine 2014 but quickly pushed forward with the move due to the government shutdown’s effect on the former location at Ocala National Forest. Guests and staff of the event were so pleased and grateful for the hard work of the board of directors of Temple of Earth Gathering for making the transition so swift and smooth. One long time guest of The Gathering, the venerable Lady Solar Bear, remarked on how good it felt to be in a place where children came to learn about their heritage.” While I’m on the subject of PNC-Florida, check out their recent stories, which includes an update on Pagan clergy attending an interfaith child hunger summit.

372854_57526231713_1400552470_nTwo Llewellyn Worldwide titles have won awards, and two more were finalists, in the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, a contest sponsored by USABookNews.com. Quote: “The 2013 results represent a phenomenal mix of books from a wide array of publishers throughout the United States. With a full publicity and marketing campaign promoting the results of the USA Best Book Awards, this year’s winners and finalists will gain additional media coverage for the upcoming holiday retail season.” The winners were Discovering the Medium Within, by Anysia Kiel (in the New Age: Non-Fiction category), and Great Sex Made Simple, by Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson (in the Self-Help: Relationships category). The finalists were The Magick of Flowers, by Tess Whitehurst (in the New Age: Non-Fiction category) and Living a Life of Gratitude, by Sara Wiseman (in the Self-Help: Motivational category). Congratulations to Llewellyn and the authors!

In Other Pagan Community News:

Patrick McCollum in India

Patrick McCollum in India

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

When we talk about Pagans and interfaith, there are many different layers to consider, and different challenges inherent in each one. Because modern Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faith traditions, we have to expend almost as much energy on building relationships with each other as we do with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. For modern Paganism as a movement to effectively interface with the rest of the world’s religions, we have to be conscious of how we are progressing with Pagan ecumenical and intrafaith initiatives.

Considering the fact that many non-Pagans still have a hard time understanding that Wicca isn’t Druidry, and that neither of those are Asatru, and that all of those are distinct from the many reconstructionist faiths, every Pagan involved in the global interfaith movement must be, to some extent, a default representative for all of us. This is not an ideal situation, but one that many individual Pagans find themselves in when they attend an interfaith gathering. Gatherings often predisposed to only focus on Abrahamic concerns.

Don Frew at the Parliament of the World's Religions

In the latest edition of The Interfaith Observer, Don Frew, an official Covenant of The Goddess (COG) interfaith representative, talks about how 9/11 refocused interfaith efforts on peace, and on the dominant Abrahamic religions, making it harder for Pagans, indigenous traditions, and other minority religions to have their concerns addressed.

“The events of 9/11 had their roots in ancient conflicts among three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It was natural that the solution would be sought in dialogue among those faiths. The rest of us – some without any history of perpetrating religious violence – were shunted to the side. We watched what we had entered with optimism and enthusiasm about a fully inclusive movement, focused on issues of truly common concern, become ever more narrowly focused on one issue, rooted in in-fighting within one family of religions, the descendants of Abraham.

Where was the focus on economic justice, the environment, the concerns of women and indigenous people? Where were the representatives of the non-Abrahamic faiths? Repeatedly we were told that peace was now the highest priority for time and resources. Other program concerns have to wait. Repeatedly we were told that panels were full or that because the focus was on Abrahamic issues, other representatives were not as needed.”

Despite this attitude, which Frew says has started to subside somewhat, Pagans have made impressive strides in the global interfaith movementPagans currently serve on the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, play important roles within the United Religions Initiative (URI), and participate in several smaller regional interfaith councils. While some Pagans are skeptical of these interactions, they can make us important allies in our own struggles, and help change misconceptions. Further, we are only enriched when we pursue greater fellowship, cooperation, and alliances with religions that do share some of our values.

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about Pagans and interfaith, and at that time I pushed not only for greater engagement with the global interfaith movement, but for Pagans to use the skills learned in that context towards strengthening our own community.

Thorn Coyle, photo by Greg Harder

Thorn Coyle at a Pagan ecumenical gathering. Photo by Greg Harder.

“Interfaith can not only humanize us to the ignorant, but also create powerful bonds with those we can learn much from. In addition, I believe that those of us who are engaging in interfaith need to take those skills and bring them back to practice them within our own movement, to bring better communication between faiths and traditions that have, at times, chaffed under the crowded “Pagan” umbrella.”

This would be Pagan ecumenicism, a word normally applied to relations between Christians, but one that, at its root, is very Pagan. It doesn’t seem immediately apparent, but a large proportion of Pagan events are in fact large ecumenical gatherings in which we humanize one another, seek common ground, and build a common vocabulary. PantheaCon, Pagan Spirit Gathering, Starwood, and Pagan Pride days, are all manifestations of Pagan ecumenicism, and are vital to making the term “Pagan” mean something. Many pan-Pagan initiatives are born at these events, and they represent those rare instances when Pagan leaders and clergy are able to mingle, socialize, and learn from one another. Without these events, we not only have a hard time relating to other Pagan faiths, but it becomes impossible to sometimes answer even basic questions that may be posed to us at the interfaith level.

Diana Paxson leading Seidh ceremony at a Druid (ADF) gathering. Photo: ADF.

Diana Paxson leading Seidh ceremony at a Druid (ADF) gathering. Photo: ADF.

Another vital element to both Pagan interfaith, and Pagan ecumenicism, is Pagan intrafaith, how relations are handled within a single religious grouping under our umbrella. Covenant of the Goddess is an excellent example of an Wiccan intrafaith effort, one that creates coalitions and empowers individuals like Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, and M. Macha Nightmare in their larger interfaith activities. Their yearly MerryMeet and Grand Council a chance to not only conduct business, but to strengthen bonds that have lasted for decades. Another example of a Pagan/Heathen intrafaith organization is The Troth, which seeks to build fellowship between practitioners of the pre-Christian religion(s) of the Germanic peoples. They, like COG, also hold a yearly meeting, called Trothmoot. Steven Abell, part of the Troth’s leadership (Rede), recently wrote about Trothmoot, and how best to deal with theological tensions that arise within Heathenry/Germanic Paganism.

“Each of these viewpoints [concerning the god Loki] significantly affects how people practice their Heathenry, but The Troth is not a sect. Somehow, we have to get all of these people drinking peaceably from the same horn at Trothmoot’s Grand Sumbel. If we can’t have frith, grith will do. [...] What should our policy be? It needs to be based on the fact that The Troth is not a sect. It needs to pay attention to a wide range of strongly felt sensibilities. If you belong to this organization, don’t base your membership on any kind of belief that everyone here thinks just like you. This is religion and that’s not how it works. Furthermore, this is The Troth and that’s not how it works.”

Abell speaks to the important work of building fellowship at a basic level, between individuals who share (comparatively) large amounts in common, and how even that can be fraught with complications, challenges, and heated emotions. It may not seem like disputes between Heathens (or Wiccans, or Druids) are as important as working on the global stage, or even on finding common ground at the large Pagan ecumenical events, but the process Abell speaks to is vital in making our collective community “work”. If we are to collectively ask the world to pay attention to what we find important, vital to our survival, and our planet’s survival, we must do the sometimes frustrating work of building coalitions and understanding among ourselves.

As Pagans, we understand that we must tend to the microcosm in order to influence the macrocosm, that we must align our Will in our own lives if we ever hope to influence the wider world. In some circles this is called “As Above, So Below,” but the ethos transcends any one tradition’s teaching. Pagan interfaith is vitally important, but it rests on a foundation of Pagan ecumenicism and intrafaith work. Without that, our efforts to transmit our common values would fail, and our efforts on the global stage undermined. So let’s remember to do the real work of understanding those we already assume are with us, to build bridges among those we think we already understand, so that we can better communicate with those who don’t understand us at all.

While the concept of interfaith, constructive interaction between representatives of different religions, is truly ancient, its modern conception was largely birthed by the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions (re-dubbed the Parliament of the World’s Religions in more recent times) where representatives of “Eastern” religions (Hinduism, Taoism, Jainism, Buddhism) created lasting contacts with representatives from the “Western” traditions of Christianity and Judaism. The star of that parliament was Swami Vivekananda, credited by many for bringing Yoga to America, who spoke to a rapturous audience of over 7000 about the end of religious fanaticism and intolerance.

Swami Vivekananda at the 1893 Parliament

Swami Vivekananda at the 1893 Parliament

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and it’s horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful Earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”

Today, the modern interfaith movement continues its work to end religious persecutions, whether by sword or by pen, and modern Pagans have played integral roles in its shaping. Pagans currently serve on the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, play important roles within the United Religions Initiative (URI), and participate in several smaller regional interfaith councils. In some cases, Pagans can engage in kinds of interfaith dialog that more mainstream faiths can’t, as illustrated by Don Frew from Covenant of the Goddess.

Don Frew at the Parliament of the World's Religions

“Being a non-Abrahamic practitioner in dialogue with conservatives, Christians and others, has been helpful not only in talking to “exclusivists” but to non-exclusivist conservatives. Non-exclusivist Muslims and Jews who interpret their traditions and associated rules very strictly can feel excluded by what happens sometimes in interfaith settings. Because my own tradition has so often been excluded, they confide in me.”

That said, the interfaith movement has faced entrenched skepticism from some corners, including from many modern Pagans, who echo the question asked by Chas Clifton: “what do Pagans get from interfaith activities?”

“Were it not for the American constitutional tradition of religious freedom (and similar traditions in some other Western nations), I do not think that the Pagans would get a seat at the interfaith luncheon table.”

That skepticism is only enhanced when we see Catholics use interfaith as a way to criticize their guests, or when presidential contenders like Rick Santorum (who also happens to be Catholic) claim that the concept of equality comes only from his God, and is not found in other religions.

“I get a kick out of folks who call for equality now, the people on the left, ‘Well, equality, we want equality.’ Where do you think this concept of equality comes from?” Santorum asked the enthusiastic crowd packed into a restaurant here. “It doesn’t come from Islam. It doesn’t come from the East and Eastern religions, where does it come from? It comes from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that’s where it comes from.”

American Muslim and Hindu groups were appropriately offended, and it caused many religious minorities to reiterate the question, do we get anything from trying to sit at the same table with faiths who seem to continually slander us? Rachael Watcher, a National Interfaith Representative with Covenant of the Goddess, says yes.

“A more pertinent question is “What DO Pagans get from Interfaith Activities?” (emphasis mine) The very most succinct answer that I can offer is legitimacy, respect, a place at the table. [...] If you think that this does not make a difference consider a comment from one United Church of Christ minister when told that individuals from a local Interfaith organization in Las Vegas had threatened to leave if Witches (In this case a full professor at ULV) were allowed to join. He wrote to the organization and then followed up with a call that boiled down to: “if they want to quit let them. You will loose nothing and gain a group of sincere people who are always the first to arrive (to be available for set up), the last to leave (to assure that everything is clean). They are not interested in trying to convince you of how important they are. They are simply involved to serve and share.

When Lady Liberty League and others were fighting for the right of Pagan Vets to have the pentacle on their grave stones, we were shoulder to shoulder with Ministers, Priests, and other Professional clergy who wrote letters and in some cases occupied the offices of the of the Veteran’s Administration. These religious leaders know who we are and respect us because of our long tradition of service. When Pagans are faced with violations of our civil rights, we are now supported, often by very well known and prestigious religious leaders. It pays to have friends.”

To emphasize their belief in, and commitment to, interfaith, Covenant of the Goddess is once again offering a scholarship contest for one young Wiccan/Witch to attend the upcoming 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Belgium.

“The Covenant would like to see Wiccan youth involved in these historic occasions and has committed itself to providing the necessary financial support to be able to do so. We are beginning this call for applications early in order that young people can start the process of planning and becoming active in local organizations which in turn will help them with the experience that they will need to apply and participate in this call.”

As for my own opinion, I think Pagan involvement in interfaith, so long as we understand both the strengths and limitations of this movement, is a desirable and healthy thing. If the modern Pagan movement wants to have a voice as religious demographics shift and change, then we need to continually establish ourselves here and now. We need to make sure the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of our communities, and those of our allies, are not silenced by non-participation or the petty bigotries of  ideologues like Santorum. Interfaith can not only humanize us to the ignorant, but also create powerful bonds with those we can learn much from. In addition, I believe that those of us who are engaging in interfaith need to take those skills and bring them back to practice them within our own movement, to bring better communication between faiths and traditions that have, at times, chaffed under the crowded “Pagan” umbrella.

What we “get” from interfaith is a chance to change the very fabric of mainstream religion through dialog instead of violence. It drops a pebble in the waters of faith, and ripples forward through time. Just as 1893 saw Hindu and Buddhist voices establish themselves in the consciousness of America, so too does Pagan participation in modern parliaments, and similar gatherings, establish our thoughts and values to those who would find our ways alien and even dangerous. There is no instant radical change in interfaith, but the ripples are already starting to be felt, and it would be folly to draw back just as we are starting to emerge as a worldwide religious movement.

A few quick news notes for you on this Sunday morning.

Protecting Sacred Lands: The Environmental News Network reports that the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Oxford, in partnership with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and World Database on Sacred Natural Sites (SANASI), is creating a world map that will display sacred and holy places, including forests in an attempt to raise awareness for biodiversity conservation.

Sacred stream in Tibet. Photo: Shonil Bhagwat

A team of scientists from the University of Oxford are working on a world map which shows all the land owned or revered by various world religions. This “holy map” will display all the sacred sites from Jerusalem’s Western Wall, to Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Just as interesting, the map will also show the great forests held sacred by various religions. Within these protected lands dwell a wide variety of life and high numbers of threatened species. [...] ”We urgently need to map this vast network of religious forests, sacred sites and other community-conserved areas to understand their role in biodiversity conservation,” added Dr. Shonil Bhagwat, also on the research team. “Such mapping can also allow the custodian communities, who have protected these sites for generations, to secure their legal status.”

It should be interesting to see the final results, and what the threshold will be to discern if something is holy/sacred. What about the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona? The Hill of Tara in Ireland? Would they be willing to list modern Pagan-owned lands like Circle Sanctuary or Stone City Pagan Sanctuary? Depending on where the line is drawn, much of the earth could be considered sacred and holy (especially if you’re a pantheist). It should also be interesting to see how this intersects with initiatives like Bolivia’s Law of Mother Earth.

The Interfaith Observer: COG Interfaith Reports announces that Rachael Watcher and Don Frew will be serving on the board for a new interfaith journal/website entitled The Interfaith Observer. Officially launching in September, the journal will endeavor to “explore interreligious relations and the interfaith movement as a whole.”

Don Frew at the Parliament of the World's Religions

“It will provide historical perspectives, survey current interfaith news, and otherwise provide maps and sign-posts for newcomers. It will offer a context to explore and respond to the new religious world around us. The Observer is designed as a resource for the general reader, anyone interested in the subject; but articles will be filled with references and links for those who wish to pursue a particular subject. Along with examining our spiritual and religious differences, the journal will inquire into shared core values, offer various perspectives on the unparalleled religious diversity enveloping humankind, reflect on theological and spiritual issues, and perhaps develop a social network for interfaith activists focused on service. A long-term goal is to help grow connective tissue between large interfaith ventures and stakeholders and the rest of us. We will promote the major institutional players. And provide space for the creative little guys all over the map who are doing wonderful new things.”

Wiccan Elder Don Frew says that TIO will “be to interfaith work what Beliefnet and Patheos have been to comparative religion.” With two Pagans on the ground floor of this new initiative I feel confident that our perspectives and ideas will be included in their content. The Interfaith Observer launches on September 15th.

Teenage Clergy: This year Ganesh Chaturthi falls on September first, a ten-day festival in honor of the god Ganesha. The BBC reports that in Mumbai there is such a shortage of priests for this festival that teenagers are being trained and recruited to lead the necessary ceremonies.

Photo courtesy of the BBC

According to one estimate, there are barely 3,500 priests in the city when it needs at least eight times the number. So the festival organisers have decided to train 700 young boys and girls this year so that more priests can be made available. Interestingly, many of the children taking the “crash course” in priesthood are girls. “I know there will be some hesitation [to hire us] in the beginning because we are so young and then we are girls. But once [the clients] know that we are as good as traditional priests, they will hire us,” says a visibly excited 15-year-old Neha. [...] ”If the children learn the scriptures which are available in a condensed form and take their job seriously they will be accepted,” says Ganesh Pandey, a veteran priest.

You can see a video of this report, here. Why is there a priest shortage in India? One explanation is that priesthood is no longer seen as a fiscally attractive role, and many children of traditional priests are going into finance and other fields. This shortage has created new opportunities for younger people who may not have had the opportunity to become ritual leaders before. For modern Pagans, I wonder if this development amongst our cousins in Hinduism could offer a lesson in how we approach our own future leaders? To integrate them more fully into our rites, give them more responsibilities, and not shy away from teaching them our faith?

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