Archives For URI

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.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

International Pagan Coming Out Day: May 2nd has been announced as the first International Pagan Coming Out Day, an initiative “to achieve greater acceptance and equity for Pagans at home, at work, and in every community.” Cara Schulz, executive chair of the sponsoring organization, has a post up at Pagan+Politics explaining the event’s purpose and rationale, while Diana Rajchel at PNC-Minnesota interviews her about the new annual event.

Our website offers resources (like the IPCOD’s Guide to Coming Out authored by Drake Spaeth, PsyD) and encouragement for Pagans who choose to come out. We give Pagans a place to make their voice heard as they recount their personal stories of coming out or as they relate the experience that caused them to decide that they were not able or willing to come out yet. Through these stories, by more Pagans coming out and being visible, and by showing Pagan allies how they can stand with us, we hope to reduce stigma by putting a human face on Paganism. Some of the ‘out’ stories featured on our site are: A Pagan mother faces a home visit by her child’s teachers. Telling your parents. And my story, coming out in a police station.

The IPCOD site has listed ways in which individuals can participate, or if you’d like to become an IPCOD organizer. In addition to Schulz, the IPCOD executive committee is comprised of CUUPS Board Member Emeritus Dave Burwasser, licensed clinical psychologist, and Earth Traditions co-founder, Drake Spaeth, Anne Newkirk Niven, editor of three magazines for Pagans and their allies: SageWoman, Witches&Pagans, and Crone, writer and blogger Laura M. LaVoie, webmaster David Dashifen Kees, Nick Ritter, a Theodsman, and old Frisian and archaic Anglo-Saxon language specialist, and your’s truly. I have joined with Cara on this project because I think a unified effort towards ‘coming out’ is a needed one, a complimentary movement to our already vibrant Pagan Pride days. I hope you’ll support IPCOD, and help spread the word.

PantheaCon 2011 is Coming! PantheaCon, the largest indoor gathering of modern Pagans in the United States, held every President’s day weekend in San Jose, California, has posted their official schedule of events. A veritable “who’s who” of modern Paganism, Pantheacon features a large number of prominent authors, teachers, ritualists, and scholars giving talks, making presentations, participating in panels, and holding rituals. In addition, PantheaCon also hosts musical entertainment, including this year, Lasher Keen, Pandemonaeon, Wendy Rule, Land of the Blind, Celia, and Ruth Barrett. As I’ve mentioned previously, this year’s Pantheacon will feature a special screening of Alex Mar’s documentary “American Mystic”, which will be followed by a Q&A led by me with the director, Morpheus Ravenna, and members of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary.

Finally, on a personal front, I will be presenting an introductory talk on the Pagan Newswire Collective, followed later that evening by a special PNC meet-and-greet a the COG/NROOGD/NWC Suite. In addition I’ll be leading a panel discussion entitled  “Exploring New Media: A Pagan Perspective” featuring Thorn Coyle (Did you know she has a Twitter feed now?), Brandi Palechek from Llewellyn, Star Foster of Patheos, and Christine Hoff Kraemer from Cherry Hill Seminary. I’ll also be participating in a panel led by Devin Hunter entitled “Pagans in the Media: A Panel on 21st Century Pagan Leadership”. So it should be a busy time! Representatives from several PNC bureaus will be there, and I expect this may be covered PantheaCon yet! If you’re going, drop by and say hi!

After Datura, Mandragora: After the success of their anthology Datura (discussed here at TWH), Scarlet Imprint is planning a second collection of esoteric poetry, to be titled Mandragora.

“We are currently fielding poetry submissions from the global occult, magical and pagan communities for this work. Continuing in the same luminous, bejeweled tradition of excellence found in Datura, this new anthology will likewise combine a sampling of the best poetic work available from contemporary practitioners, as well as additional essays about the practice/performance of poetry, the role of poetry in devotional and ritual work, and the artistic culture of magic.”

Deadline for submissions is October 31st, 2011. To submit work to this project, please send 3-5 pieces of your best work along with a cover letter via email to collection editor Ruby Sara. For more information, check out the full announcement.

Pagans at the United Religions Initiative: Over at the COG Interfaith Reports blog, Don Frew reports from the in-progress first meeting of the Regional Leadership Team (RLT) of the Multiregion of the United Religions Initiative (URI) in Tepoztlan, Mexico. A Covenant of the Goddess National Interfaith Representative, Frew was recently voted in for another term as an At-Large Trustee for the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative.

“One of the CCs I coordinate – Spirituality & the Earth – is a Multiregion CC and was one of the founding CCs of the URI.  I had also served two previous terms on the Global Council.  Apparently they felt this gave me sufficient experience and ongoing connection to be able to jump right in and get to work.  (And boy did they have work for me to do!  In addition to helping revitalize the Multiregion, I was also asked to serve in the creation of and on the new External Affairs Committee, which will be responsible for crafting the URI’s official response to world events like what’s going on right now in Tunis and Egypt.  But that’s another story…)

While in many ways the Multiregion embodies the highest aspirations of the URI – people of all religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions working together around the world “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings” – it has always been sort-of the odd-man-out.  It’s been a lot easier to organize CCs who all live in one geographic area than it has been to organize something as far-flung as the Multiregion.  We have been VERY reliant on modern technology to create and maintain our network.  We had our very first face-to-face Regional Assembly only last March.  (See the reports in this blog in March 2010.)  That meeting generated a LOT of enthusiasm in the Multiregion and we really didn’t want to see this dissipate.”

You can read part one, here, and part two, here. COG as an organization has long been one of the trailblazers for Pagan involvement in the interfaith community. This work, while seemingly unexciting to the outside observer, creates huge dividends of good will and new networks with indigenous communities. To keep track of this meeting’s progress, be sure to subscribe to the COG Interfaith Reports blog.

Reporting on the Pagan Studies Conference: I’d like to close with a quick plug for the work of LA Pagan Examiner Joanne Elliott, who recently posted a two-part run-down of the recent Pagan Studies Conference at Claremont Graduate University.

“Pagan scholars discussed “Building Community” on Jan. 22 and 23 at the 7th Annual Conference of Current Pagan Studies in Claremont.  More than 70 Pagans gathered to hear the ideas and results of research by the 27 Pagan scholars, researchers and leaders who came from greater LA as well as from other areas of the country.

They gathered to discuss issues that relate to the Pagan community at large. It is important to that community’s health and growth to meet and learn from one another. It’s also important for all Pagans to be involved in the public arena and have their voices heard. With an estimate of over a million Americans now self-identified as Pagan, the Pagan religion is coming of age. And it is feeling, now more than ever, the need for trained leaders and clergy to build stronger Pagan communities that also see themselves as a part of a larger community.”

This event, sadly, wasn’t much covered, so I’m very happy that Joanne was there to keep us informed. Be sure and check it out!

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

Top Story: Circle Cemetery, located at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, just north of Barneveld, Wisconsin, has become America’s first National Pagan natural burial ground and contemporary Green cemetery to be platted and recorded in Wisconsin.


Selena Fox at a memorial for Marion Weinstein.

“For its first fifteen years, Circle Cemetery took the form of an area on a ridge top where cremains were placed and Green funerals were conducted.  In 2005, Selena, along with her husband Dr. Dennis Carpenter, Circle Sanctuary church attorney Chip Brown and others in the Circle Sanctuary Community began the legal process of permitting body burials and expanding the size of the cemetery to 20 acres.  Circle Sanctuary minister Rev. Nora Cedarwind Young of Washington State assisted with Green cemetery platting research. In Spring of 2010, Selena, Dennis, and Chip took the expanded cemetery proposal before local government officials through a series of meetings.  Circle Cemetery zoning was approved by the Town of Brigham Zoning Committee on April 20, by the Brigham Town Board on May 4, and the Iowa County Zoning and Planning Committee on May 26.  On June 15, Circle Cemetery’s plat was approved by the Iowa County Board, and the following day the remaining official signatures were added to the plat and the plat was recorded, completing the process.”

While there are other Pagan sites that allow for cremains, this is the first Pagan-run cemetery in the United States that will also allow for full (non-cremated) body burials. Circle Cemetery currently  holds the cremains of seventeen Pagans. Celebrations for this development are planned at this year’s Pagan Spirit Gathering Summer Solstice festivities in Missouri and at the Solstice Full Moon evening at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in Wisconsin.

If you are interested in supporting Circle Cemetery fiscally, you can donate here. For inquires relating to arrangements for cremains placement, body burials, and memorial markers, you can contact Selena Fox.

A Pagan Buddha Killer: The long-running religion e-zine Killing the Buddha features an essay by Eric Scott about growing up in a Pagan family, and gathering the children of his parent’s coven years later to celebrate Lughnasadh.

“We sat in the den of the house in the suburbs, chewing on scalloped potatoes and roast beef, and wondered what to do. We longed for the mystery we felt when we were young. We longed for the magic that turned TV rooms into temples. We longed to feel something again at the moment the scimitar carved the mystical from the mundane. We talked, and we frowned, and we decided that next year, we would take the festival of Lughnasadh.”

An excellent look at growing up Pagan in a Pagan family; I recommend reading the entire thing. Also worth checking out is his piece Hrafspa, which also appears at Patheos.com.

Andrew and the Archdruid: Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic references a recent essay by John Michael Greer (Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America) that talks about peak oil (a favorite topic of Greer’s) and the revitalization movements that will emerge as the reality of peak oil sinks in.

“The optional features [of revitalization movements] range all over the map from the harmless to the horrific. A focus on purification, for example, is one common optional feature, but purification can mean a great many things. In the Native American revitalization movements of the twentieth century, for example, it usually meant abstaining from alcohol and other toxic products of white culture, and did a great deal to help First Nations communities begin to recover from the ghastly experiences of the previous century. In the European revitalization movements that sprang up in the wake of the Black Death, by contrast, it usually meant getting rid of Jews and other social outsiders who were blamed for spreading the plague, and helped lay the foundation for the witch hunting mania of the following centuries.

It seems uncomfortably likely to me that such movements could be set in motion by the emergence of peak oil as a publicly acknowledged crisis. Tendencies in that direction are already welded firmly in place in popular culture across the industrial world. The Sarah Palin supporters who turned “Drill, baby, drill” into their mantra du jour are engaging in incantation, to be sure, but there’s more to the slogan than a comfortable thoughtstopper; a great many of the people who mouth it believe with all their heart that all we have to do is drill enough wells and we can have all the petroleum we want, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get those wells drilled. That plan of action can’t deliver the goods; they might as well be out there with the cargo cults, building mock airfields on isolated Pacific islands hoping to bring back the DC-3s full of K-rations and cheap trade goods that landed on a hundred archipelagoes during the Second World War. Still, that’s not something they are likely to grasp any time soon; mere reason has essentially no power against a nascent revitalization movement.”

In a follow-up essay, Greer discusses ritual and magical thinking within revitalization movements, and drives home the point that the time of brighter futures is rapidly drawing to a close (you may also want to look at his essay explaining why magic won’t solve our problems).

URI at 10: Don Frew at the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) Interfaith Reports blog discusses the United Religions Initiative, COG’s history of participation in the interfaith organization, and its upcoming tenth anniversary on June 26th. Frew makes a request for a the Pagan community to take part in a joint working of protection for the URI so that its work can continue.

“Every year, my coven celebrates Samhain.  Our ceremony usually includes a trance journey to the island of the Dead to speak with the ancestors.  I often encounter recently passed interfaith friends on the shore.  A few years ago, right after his death, I encountered Gary Smith [an NA/Oneida URI representative] on the shore.  He was intent upon impressing upon me that that the protective work we did at the founding of the URI wasn’t a one-time thing; that such work needed to be done on a regular basis, especially on the anniversary of the URI’s founding: June 26.

I have tried to live up to this, and have shared Gary’s message with those folks in interfaith who wouldn’t be too taken aback by messages from the dead about magical protection rituals.  On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the URI’s founding, I feel moved to share Gary’s message with the wider Neopagan / Pagan / Indigenous community who might read this blog and invite you to share – in whatever way your path does so – in the magical / spiritual protection of the URI, that its work “to promote enduring interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings” might continue to grow and prosper.  So mote it be!”

The United Religions Initiative is one of few modern interfaith organizations that had modern Pagans involved from the very start, and has done a lot to spread awareness of our faiths, and to build bridges with indigenous groups around the world. So protecting it for another ten years seems like an excellent idea. For information about the official 10th anniversary celebration in Amman, Jordan, click here.

Pagans on Godspeed: The Progressive Radio Network show Godspeed has had a run of Pagan guests recently. On 05/30 they interviewed Galina Krasskova, on 06/06 they interviewed Phyllis Curott, and this week they’ve interviewed Pagan scholar Sabina Magliocco author of “Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America”.

“In this hour, topics include: Italy and regional folklore; ‘Strega Nona’ or Grandmother Witch; religious festivals in Europe as economic and political opportunities; how they changed when the economy changed; how the role of women also changed; the “old religion” and old ways of healing; a brief history of Wicca in England; the rise of Wicca in Europe and the U.S.; core beliefs of Wicca; alignment with the natural world and cycles; conflict with Roman Catholic clergy; Neo-pagans in America; Harry Potter – reaching out to reconnect with our magical, mystical being; individual and group worship; holidays and festivals; the importance of folklore — why is it a continuing inspiration and guide.”

All the shows seem available for download, so load up your mp3-player and enjoy!

That’s all I have for now, I’ll be leaving for PSG tomorrow, so stay tuned for the coming week’s line-up of guest-posters!