Quick Notes: Protecting Sacred Lands, The Interfaith Observer, and Teenage Clergy

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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!