Is interfaith work necessary or a distraction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erynn Rowan Laurie

Erynn Rowan Laurie

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

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49 thoughts on “Is interfaith work necessary or a distraction?

  1. The dichotomy between “larger” and “smaller” interfaith is somewhat false.

    Most forms of Heathenry have at as much in common with Hinduism as they do with

    neo-Paganism, for example.

    To me, intrafaith would be working with other denominations of Heathens. (Something I guess I do on a near daily basis.) Anything else in interfaith.

    • Yes that makes sense. In fact, I think there’s often *more* of that sort of work that needs to be done, there is so much in-fighting within pretty much every type of Paganism that I think we need to focus on cleaning up our own “backyard” so to speak. I’m a Unitarian Universalist, which is a giant interfaith experiment unto itself, and they definitely could use some more education on the diversity of pagan/polytheist religions, as they tend to be mostly aware of Wicca and Goddess eco-spirituality but not much else.

      • I am also a UU and formerly involved in CUUPS. You are spot-on about the level of Pagan information in my congregation, apart from the reference library. My minister has set up a program this church year exploring the UU Sources, and what you talking about would fit right in with that. (I’m doing the same.) If you belong to a UU society whose minister is open to deepening the congregation’s exposure to its own theology, you might suggest it.

    • IME, many Hindus consider themselves to be pagan, if not Pagan, and have sought to ally themselves with those of us Pagans who do work in interfaith arenas.

      • The distinction between “small-p pagan” and “big-P Pagan” is extremely important.

        Personally, I detest the former and find the latter extremely muddy, as terms.

        The former is based on Abrahamic superiority, as it presumes only two types of religion – those “of the book” and those not.

        The latter has no fixed definition at all.

        • We are new religions and we are still in the process of defining ourselves. I think of my path as being a “living religion.”

          • Your definition is massively broad. You’re encompassing traditions and groups that are not compatible within that term. When the term becomes so broad, it loses most meaning.

            Further, reject the term neo-pagan only muddies the waters further. There are paths based in more modern thinking and concepts and those that aren’t. There is considerable friction between the two. Removing the distinction seems rather unhelpful to the desire for accuracy. For example, many of the most popular and prominent neo-pagan faiths wouldn’t fit under your definition. Wicca under no circumstances is a historical tradition or recreation. That has nothing to do with the value it provides to many many people, but it simply does not fit within that category.

          • Yes, the definitions proffered here are broad. I agree with you about some based on modern thinking and others not. Interfaith is encompassing.

          • So you agree that it is interfaith rather than intrafaith? Just for clarification, because I’ve met many people who use definitions similar to yours who do not, and rather consider anything within the “Pagan” community as intrafaith.

          • Hinduism is its own umbrella, as it Native American. Heathenry is another. As is Wicca. Each definable in a concise and coherent manner.

            Can the same be said for Paganism?

            When everyone has their own definition for a word, that word cannot be adequately used in conversation.

  2. As a wild-ass estimate I’d say a quarter to a third of Wild Hunt posts are about fighting prejudice against us, fighting the effects of marginalization. Interfaith work helps us become less marginalized as Christians encounter us as individuals rather than abstractions.And they can learn — all the stuff they say about us in Richard Reidy’s pithy summary, they used to say about each other, and worse.

  3. High Five for Sannion!

    I feel like a lot of interfaith work is a bit of a waste which has little to do with actual Paganism.

    Imo, it is important to reach out to all spheres of Pagan and Occult movement because there is still so much that divides the different communities, just see how most Heathens loathe Wicca and you’ll see that there is still a huge, and highly detrimential gap to be filled.

    I also think it is important to show solidarity with practitioners of traditionnal and indigenous religions whenever possible. Hinduism as well, because we basically stand for the same thing: fostering the right to follow an ancient tradition you feel close to.

    But let’s be serious, Interfaith with Abrahamics? I mean, I know lots of of them can be very nice people, even in the clergy, but they will never see us in any better light than the shepherd sees a lost lamb (to use some very christian imagery). I will forever be opposed by principle to religions of the book which deem themselves infallible and universal. Sure, they may tolerate us, but can they do anything more? And also, why would they feel compelled to respect or include us? They literally rule the whole world (except parts of Asia) !

    I would personally have no problem engaging in non-religious work alongside religious organisations, like disaster relief or such, but I will never pray alongside them. I oppose their ideology, theology teachings, acts, past, present and future and their god is not my god. That’s not negotiable.

    Again, I know lots of high-ranking Pagan figures have been engaged in interfaith but I honestly do not understand what good they hope to achieve. I honestly don’t understand the comment by Richard Randy that hanging with monotheists will do us any good. They don’t acknowledge the validity of our beliefs and would rather see us gone forever. This is not going to change by parading in their churches talking about mutual self-respect while they openly discredit us.

    • Just a point of information: interfaith work is not religious work, per se. The Abrahamics in my interfaith experiences in no way see us as lost lambs. They seek my opinion on some things, and they most certainly love the ritual experiences I’ve shared with them — chants and chanting, spiral dances, etc. IME, they especially value the different perspectives we bring to the communal table. They are losing members, remember. Those with eyes to see can discern (1) that we have much of value to offer, and (2) that we’re really in this together.

      Interfaith work is not about telling Abrahamics about Paganism, except when an event is specifically designed for that. Examples are our annual National Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, which has three speakers from three different traditions (including Wicca on occasion); our biannual daylong retreats feature two speakers from two different religious expressions offering what they call “teachings” on the same topic, also including Witchen. One retreat was about sisterhoods and featured my friend Sister Marion of The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael (Roman Catholic) and Sister Chandria of Brahma Kumaris (originated in India, celebrates Hindu holidays, but, they tell me, not Hindu). Another was about light. Another about neuroscience and spirituality, featuring a neuroscientist and a Catholic-reared, Buddhist-in-current-practice psychological counselor.

      We focus primarily on social justice and environmental issues. I recently offered a prayer and chant at an interfaith memorial for those who died homeless in our community. I’ve done this several times, and nearly always someone comes up to me and whispers “blessed be” or says they go to St. Rafael’s RC Church on Sundays because there they can worship Mary and they’re a goddess-worshipper. In other words, there are Pagans in those populations for whom it’s good, powerful, important, validating to see a Pagan priestess up there with the rest. We also do an annual Thanksgiving service with the homeless, where we gather new sleeping bags and bags of socks and such as our offering at the front of the space, and where I have traditionally briefly told the story of Demeter and Persephone and sang a song to Demeter.

      I take care always to make it clear that I’m a Witch and that there are lots of other Pagan paths, not just the one most are familiar with (or at least think they are). I specify when I say anything whether I’m speaking as a Witch or as a Pagan in the broadest sense.

      We Pagans are, in case some where unaware, a very small demographic. So to have some prominence in a local interfaith group is a pretty big deal. Also, IMO, a heavy mantle to bear when it comes to speaking clearly and responsibly about all of Pagandom. If they ask me questions about Druids or some other Paganism, I’ll answer if I know, but usually will say I cannot speak for them. I offer to find out the answer (or, ideally, someone from that path to speak directly with the querent) and get back to them with it.

      I’m happy to report that Matt Whealton of the Temple of Ra has attended some of our events and will be engaging in interfaith in San Francisco. We Witches — I’m not Wiccan — can only do so much. If there are non-witchen Pagans nearby who’d be interested in engaging in interfaith, I’m happy to introduce you to my colleagues. Bottom line, tho, is one must play well with others.

      It’s best to approach interfaith involvement with no chip on one’s shoulder and without the expectation that you’re gonna talk theology, i.e., tell everyone about your religion, and worse yet, why it’s better.

      Personally, if I’m in need of help, I’ll accept anyone’s prayers on my behalf. Just like I’d accept a blood transfusion from any matching donor with no regard to his/her religion.

      I don’t experience anything at all like not acknowledging the validity of my beliefs. In fact, just the opposite. My perspective on many issues is sought out. Remember, the kind of Abrahamics in interfaith are not evangelicals, not the Westboro Baptist Church, not Islamic terrorists (altho the Muslims around here are unduly harassed because John Walker Lindh was a member of a local mosque). Abrahamics in interfaith, altho it’s true they do come with a set of hard beliefs and blanket assumptions, are already progressives. They are prepared to engage with non-Abrahamics, and they do so. It’s when they start claiming that we all are worshipping one creator that I part ways with them. They need to be reminded of that now and then, but they’re definitely educable.

      • Thanks so much for sharing. I love this kind of interfaith work. My mother learned Buddhist meditation practice from a Catholic nun. 🙂

      • Macha, you’ve been an inspiration to me during my years of interfaith work here in SC. I’m so grateful for the example you set there in Marin, and for the ideas, experience and advice you’ve provided along the way.

  4. No one is keeping anyone from doing intra-Neopagan networking, if that is what they are called to do, but it is vitally important to understand that interfaith work is NOT a “distraction”, it is the direct manifestation into the world of our core
    principles as Pagans.

    The Covenant of the Goddess started doing interfaith work on behalf of the Craft in 1975 – the same year in which it was founded – when co-founder Glenn Turner joined the Berkeley Area Interfaith Council. At that time, and for many years thereafter, the BAIC was the only interfaith council in the US that was inclusive enough to include Witches. M. Macha NightMare and others participated in those
    early BAIC events. When I joined the Council in 1985, I was immediately welcomed
    and accepted based on peoples’ fond memories of Glenn and her fundraising work on the Council’s behalf.

    Back then, we all thought of “interfaith work” as just another aspect of doing public relations… specifically educating other religious groups about what we were and what we weren’t. I believed that at first, but soon learned how wrong I was. I went to that first BAIC meeting as just another part of being CoG’s National Public Information Officer. As NPIO I was CoG’s liaison with the public, the media, law enforcement, the military, the government, so sure, why not other religions? Over
    time, interfaith work would consume my life and my work, shoving other NPIO duties to the side and resulting in the creation of a new position in CoG. I have been a National Interfaith Representative for CoG for 16 years. At various times, CoG has had up to seven National Interfaith Representatives, because we believe the work to be that important and because there is so much work to do.

    In 1992, when people started talking about the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions, I heard about it through the interfaith grapevine and convinced CoG’s Grand Council that we needed to support the Parliament and attend. CoG became a sponsoring organization – along with Circle, EarthSpirit, and the Fellowship of Isis – and planned to send me and two others to represent our organization.

    Over 40 CoG-members ended up attending at their own expense.

    The wonderful, marvelous, magical story of what happened at the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions has been told in other places – a long account is on WitchVox – and any one of the 9,000 people who were there (including me, Rowan Fairgrove, Allyn Wolfe, and many others) will gladly talk your ear off about it, but suffice it to say that the Parliament was a turning point in the history of the Craft and the broader Neopagan movement.

    The media called it “the coming out party for the Neopagans”. One Wiccan writer said that it was “the most important event in the history of modern Wicca since the publication of WITCHCRAFT TODAY in 1954”.

    It was an historic moment of transformation for the interfaith movement as well, in three critical respects:

    1) BEFORE the 1993 Parliament, interfaith had beenabout official representatives getting together and speaking in a weird form of “diplomat-ese” about the official positions of their organizations. With 9,000 people showing up for the Parliament, it was about EVERYBODY talking to EVERYBODY. Interfaith transformed from OFFICIAL relationships to PERSONAL relationships.

    2) BEFORE the 1993 Parliament, interfaith work had been almost exclusive between various forms of Christians and Jews, with the odd Muslim or Buddhist included here and there. People would look at the broad inclusiveness of the BAIC and say, “Well of course YOU can do that… you’re BERKELEY!”

    But EVERYONE showed up to the Parliament… followers and practitioners of almost EVERY religious and spiritual tradition on Earth! INCLUDING us! And we all had a great time talking together, eating together, listening to music together, and being in ceremony together. After the Parliament, every interfaith council was asking the same questions: “Who’s not here?” and “How can we be more inclusive?”

    3) The first Parliament was in 1883. The second in 1993. One hundred years later. At the time, there were no plans for a third Parliament. Many folks were saying “I don’t want to wait another hundred years! I am excited NOW and I want to do something!”

    Into this pregnant vacuum stepped the United Religions Initiative (URI), offering opportunities for ongoing, local interfaith work, welcoming everyone, and reaching out to provide empowerment to a grass-roots membership.

    The URI was created over the course of many annual Global Summits in the 1990s, culminating in the signing of the URI Charter in the year 2000. CoG members participated in the creation of the URI’s core Preamble, Purpose, and Principles and our influence can be detected. The Purpose of the United Religions Initiative is “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, end religiously motivated violence, and create culture of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”

    Our presence is valued, at the Parliament, at the URI, and across the interfaith world.

    There have been Neopagans in the Parliament’s “Assembly of the World’s Religious and Spiritual Leaders” and at least one Neopagan on the Parliament’s Board of Trustees since 2007. There has been a Neopagan on the URI’s Global Council – or Board of Trustees – in all four Global Council terms since the URI’s founding, and there is a Neopagan on the URI’s Global Staff as one of eight Regional Coordinators. There is also a Neopagan on the Board of the North American Interfaith Network, and two on the Editorial Board of the online journal THE INTERFAITH OBSERVER.

    All of this representation is wildly out of proportion to our numbers as a percentage of the world’s population. The reason for this over-representation is that the leaders and teachers of world’s religions want to hear what we have to say.

    The “Abrahamics” in interfaith are not the inquisitors of Christian stereotypes or the terrorists of Muslim stereotypes. They are good, progressive individuals – from
    Cardinals and Imams to your next-door neighbors – who have reached the
    realization that the traditional, conventional aspects of their faith traditions don’t work anymore, who know their traditions must be open to new (or old) ideas, and who are ready and willing to listen to the voices of the People of the Earth.

    * They are desperate to understand how to relate to the Earth in a sacred way. We live and breathe this relationship.

    * They are longing to understand and embrace the feminine aspects of the Divine. The Mother Goddess speaks to our hearts and can speak to theirs as well.

    * They wish to reconcile and understand how the Divine can seem to be so different in so many contexts. Our Gods stand as examples.

    * They are pulled to relate to the Divine and the Earth through ritual, but have no training in their design and creation. We do this at the drop of a hat and can guide
    them in this.

    * They are finally starting to question “faith” as a basis for their personal spiritual lives and yearning for spiritual lives like ours, in which the Divine is ever-present.
    They, too, want a spirituality that is based on experience, rather than faith, and we model what is possible.

    * They are used to structures of hierarchy and authority that are breaking down and losing their relevance. We are used to grass-roots governance and consensus process and can share what we have learned.

    * They realize that they need to listen to the voices of indigenous peoples, but don’t know how to do it. We bring experience of networking and community building that can use their resources to gather our people together from across the world and speak with a chorus of voices loud enough to be heard and understood.

    I have lived through more examples of all of this than I can count, and through it all I have made more friends than I can keep track of. It’s hard to find a country where I don’t know someone. And over and over again I hear stories about how these friends have acted, on their own, in their home countries, to increase understanding about Neopaganism and Wicca, to dispel negative stereotypes, to fight against horrific abuses like witch-burnings, and to secure religious freedoms for Pagans of all types.

    There is so much more going on that you don’t know about. Pagan media has barely uncovered the tip of the iceberg. The interfaith world is an ever-growing network of friendships all over the world. Friends help friends, whenever and wherever they can. WE have friends all over the world, and they are going out of their way to help us every day.

    As those of us doing interfaith work have always affirmed, interfaith work may SEEM to be about public relations – explaining to other religions who we are and what we aren’t – but what it REALLY IS is an unprecedented opportunity to act on our principles in the world and work side by side with others on issues of common concern.

    The only TRUE change comes through changing peoples’ minds, and nothing has the power to do that that religion has. Religions working together for the common good has the potential to be the most powerful force for positive change on the planet. I firmly believe that interfaith work – from the global to the local – is truly our last, best hope for peace on Earth and healthy, happy lives for all the living beings that are Her children. How can we not be involved?

    Blessed Be,
    Don Frew

    • To be clear, you represent (your form of) Wicca at these interfaith gatherings, right? Because you’ve not described the Paganism I’ve been familiar with, and you certainly aren’t describing Heathenry.

      • To be clear, I represent myself and my own experience. Ever since the 1993 Parliament, interfaith dialogue has shifted from official representatives repeating the party line of their organizations to individuals speaking their own truths. Everyone I speak with knows this. They also know, if we have time to get into it, that I am a Gardnerian priest, that I am a “Wiccan” (but that “Wicca” is sometimes used synonymously with “Neopagan Witchcraft” and sometimes more narrowly to refer to the subset of Britrish Traditional groups), that I “represent” the Covenant of the Goddess (but that CoG is more analogous to the breadth and diversity of the National Council of Churches than to a church), that Wicca is one branch of Neopaganism (but that there are others, including groups who would prefer NOT to be labeled “Neopagan”), and that Neopaganism should be included in the much broader category of “Pagan”, across time and around the world. They also know that they should NEVER assume that I am speaking for ANY of these categories larger than myself unless I SPECIFICALLY say that I am doing so. And in return, I understand that the people I am speaking with are representing their own truth, and not anyone else’s.

        The interfaith movement has grown and changed dramatically since 1993. I recommend that folks check out the Interfaith Observer to get a better handle on how it works these days. (

        Blessed Be,
        Don Frew

        • Ever since the 1993 Parliament, interfaith dialogue has shifted from
          official representatives repeating the party line of their organizations
          to individuals speaking their own truths.

          Then I do not see the point. You listed a whole bunch of charitable work that “interfaith” organisations do but, quite honestly, there are plenty of other charities dedicated to such works, may as well just join one of those.

          • The point is that 2.5 million people are doing social and environmental work who weren’t doing it in an organized, supported-by-their-governments, effective way before they formed Cooperation Circles. And they are working alongside Pagans and educating others about Pagansim as they do so. I’d call that a plus. Also, a significant percentage of those folks are also high-ranking leaders, teachers, and theologians in their own communities, where their experiences are shared and have influence. In terms of “bang for buck”, interfaith work has the highest pay-off for the Pagan community of any work we could be doing. I say that after having served five terms as CoG’s Public Information Officer during the Satanic Hysteria of the 1990s. Interfaith work is more productive and has greater penetrance into society than all the work we did with the FBI and the Justice Department back then.

            Blessed Be,
            Don Frew

    • Thank you so much for sharing all of this, Don! Your and Macha’s work have inspired my own here in SC the past four years. Like you, I now have so many wonderful new friends that I can’t count them. And I know from experience that they have my back, something I’ve not always been able to say about my Pagan community, alas.
      I might add that not everyone in interfaith is unhappy with their own religion. Most are just fine with it, but they do recognize that they must be open to new ideas, and they are very aware of the attrition happening among their ranks. You’ve identified some important aspects of Paganism (yes, I’m using the term broadly) that intrigue them.
      Where I live we have an understanding that most people come to interfaith thinking that they are going to “educate” others about their own religion. I find that most Pagans are still stuck at this point. If they are lucky, they will stick with it and discover how transforming and stimulating it can be to regularly engage with humans from diverse spiritualities and religions.

  5. I notice that Sam Webster’s view of interfaith work is absent from this. His views would be a welcome addition and provide a very differently colored viewpoint than the, what are essentially identical posts, above. Interfaith work is often just another way for other people to try and convert us. It gives them a platform in which they cannot be challenged in any meaningful way, and often things are predefined to exclude Pagan beliefs, esp Polytheist beliefs. No thank you. Pagans need to focus on Pagans and leave others to do their thing.

    • “Convert us”? Not in any national or international forum of which I am aware. I can’t speak to what goes on in every local interfaith group, but in 29 years of interfaith work, I have NEVER had anyone try to convert me to anything! All 1.5 million members of the United Religions Initiative swear to uphold its Preamble, Purpose, and Principles. Principle 21 states: “Members of the URI shall not be coerced to participate in any ritual or be proselytized.” Conservative Christians who are opposed to interfaith work cite this as proof that interfaith people condemn evangelizing. Some do, some don’t, but ALL agree that it has no place in interfaith dialogue. I am sorry, but the statement that “Interfaith work is often just another way for other people to try and convert us.” betrays a serious lack of understanding about modern interfaith work. If anything, there is FAR more concern in Abrahamic circles about US converting THEM.

      BTW, Sam Webster attended the recent reception for the new Executive Director of the URI that was held in the SF Bay Area. Twenty-nine Pagan groups of all types sent representatives – Wiccans, Heathens, Afro-Diasporics, Druids, etc. Sam said his piece about being opposed to interfaith work, and was the only one who did so. The others were very pleased to be involved in the reception and were impressed by the new URI Executive Director and his desire to reach out and engage with the Pagan community.

      Blessed Be,
      Don Frew

      • Because Sam is the only person with courage enough to express his thoughts on that matter. The bottom line is, modern Pagans want to be liked and this is their ticket into being liked. I’m sure at those meetings it’s rainbows and butterflies. When the rubber hits in the road though, here in the real world, nothing has changed.

        • Have you been to “those meetings”? Don’t knock it till you try it. Nothing changes if nothing changes – we have to get in there and do the work. One man’s personal opinion in no way deters me from this good work.

        • Do you have any actual arguments other than emotional? Sam’s “courage,” Pagans “want[ing] to be liked”? Have you a personal experience of interfaith serving as a cover for Abrahamic conversion?Sam adds value to a discussion because his contrarian views add dimension. That’s not the same as validation of those views.

          • Thank you Holli and Baruch for your replies. Holli, yes, I have been to those meetings and took a very large role in interfaith work when I was a Catholic Christian. And we were told and I promoted that to the faces of those we invited to the table, you nod and smile and say the nice things you’re supposed to say at groups like that. But that really this was all about earning souls for Christ, and that we were only using the platform of interfaith work (and related things like tolerance, diversity etc..) to spread the message of Jesus. Baruch, yes what I wrote is reality as I’ve personally experienced it. Modern Pagans, those I’ve met and spoken with and had chats about this subject with, reveal that ultimately they want to be liked. And that it’s less about Paganism and more about Christians and others thinking nicely of us. Which usually entails leaving massive pieces of the Pagan mosaic at the door, like hard polytheism for example, or ritual sacrifice. I’m not sure what argument you want from me, since I’m not advancing any particular position other than I think interfaith is a distraction and waste of time and sharing my personal experience. I think my views add much value and voice to the community. If you don’t thinks so, feel free to ignore them. And if they’re emotional, well yes…it’s very emotional to have taken part in the destruction of other peoples’ faith and now to step back and watch Pagans participate in things that I know from experience are aimed at destroying their faith and Pagan culture and values.

          • You’re welcome. Thank you for asking and giving me a chance to share more.

          • As to what you were told as a Catholic… I can only say that this is not what the official position has been. Cardinal Leveda, the recent head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – what used to be called “the Inquisition” – has long been a supporter of interfaith work, and his representatives have been among the most ardent supporters of Witches being included in the dialogue. He went out of his way to make sure that the Wiccan community was represented at interfaith events. The current Pope, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, held interfaith events in his cathedral. And no, I have never had any Catholic in interfaith make any attempt to convert me. (I must say that I have difficulty imagining the nefarious conversion scheme the Episcopal Bishop of Sao Paolo had when he invited me to come teach classes on Wicca at his church, so the kids would get accurate information rather than the stuff promoted by TV shows.)

            As to “leaving massive pieces of the Pagan mosaic at the door, like hard polytheism or ritual sacrifice”… I discuss these topics in appropriate interfaith conversations all the time, along with sacred sexuality, deity possession, ritual magic and spells, entheogens, talking with spirits, and many more “difficult” topics.

            The interfaith process moves through phases, as do the interfaith groups themselves. I characterize these as 1) identity, 2) cooperation, and 3) authenticity. Phase 1 is all about establishing a group’s identity in relation to others and can sometimes be a bit confrontational / competitive. Phase 2 is about cooperating for the social good while using inclusive language to avoid topics that might make this difficult. Phase 3 is about being true to one’s own path and being open about our differences as well as our similarities. Most of the national and international groups are at Phase 3. We learn about each other. We use our own religious terms and concepts, knowing that others won’t take offense because they know we aren’t giving offense. Misunderstandings are opportunities for education rather than opportunities to get upset.

            I am not expecting anything from you. I am just concerned that the folks reading all of this get an accurate picture of what the interfaith process and movement is all about and why it is vitally important for Pagans to be involved. You speak from your experience, and I am sorry that you had a bad one. However, I think it is fair to say that I have had a much broader and longer experience of the interfaith community and that my experience might be more representative as a result.

            Blessed Be,
            Don Frew

          • The way interfaith organizations operate these days, being a likeable person increases one’s effectiveness and influence, so being likeable is probably selected for. It doesn’t follow that the main motivation people have for engaging in interfaith activity is a wish to be liked. Unless you have known a person for a while or have had the opportunity to watch him or her in action, whatever you think that person’s motivations might be is only a guess.

            Those individual motivations aren’t very relevant to the reasons why pagan _organizations_ choose to allocate money and time to interfaith work. I know why the Covenant of the Goddess supports interfaith activity. I was involved in CoG when CoG decided to put serious money and work behind national and international interfaith, and have been present for some of the ensuring decisions about it.

            The Covenant’s core reason for existence is to put witchcraft and witches on an equal level with all the other religions–legally, socially, and in people’s minds. Interfaith participation has a direct bearing on this mission and has been paying off so far. A secondary reason why CoG supports interfaith is that many of our members would like to see the the values and outlook of our religion spread more widely in our culture. One of the most effective means for this kind of teaching is to lead by example. Interfaith activity happens to be a very favorable environment for witches and other pagans to do that, because it is a cooperative effort, full of shared experiences and knowledge.

        • “Rainbows and butterflies”? “When the rubber hits in the road though, here in the real world, nothing has changed.”? Just check out the work that, for example, the 650+ Cooperation Circles of the United Religions Initiative do around the world and say that ( We have interfaith groups rescuing and rehabilitating child soldiers in Uganda. Leading reforestation efforts in India. Brokering peace deals all over the world. Helping communities get safe access to clean water. Standing up for the rights of disenfranchised Pagans in Ethiopia. Helping save the traditional lands of Peruvian natives. Preserving traditional teachings of marginal religious cultures around the globe. Teaching indigenous groups to use technology to preserve their cultures and organize ti protect their rights. Leading truth and reconciliation efforts in Rwanda. (And BTW, over one-third of those Cooperation Circles have a “nature spirituality” person of some sort among their members”.)

          Interfaith groups are doing more for the Earth, for women, for indigenous people, for traditional magico-religious systems, for all of our usual “constituencies” than any Pagan groups I know. THAT’s why it’s so important for us to support the work. And if we can help make the air cleaner for rainbows and the environment safer for butterflies along the way, that’s fine too.

          Blessed Be,
          Don Frew

          • Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Don. Although I’m not quite sure how you arrive at the conclusion that your experience with interfaith is more helpful than my own since you don’t know me or the other things I have done or experienced in life. Be that as it may, what I experienced and participated in was very real and very much promoted by the local bishop, parish priest and others. But I do appreciate your insights and post, it does give me a little bit better picture of what some people are doing. Just a little, but something. @Deborah It matters because as I said above, I believe Pagans are walking into a trap when it comes to interfaith work. Sharing my experiences is my small way of warning people to be on their guard. To use a phrase I heard in a recent podcast with Sam Webster, and I paraphrase, “…much interfaith and diplomacy is saying, “Nice doggy” until they find a big enough rock.” I choose to use my voice to say, “Hey, do you see that rock they’re holding? Be careful.”

          • As well as being a witch, I’m a Jewess who grew up with parents who were active in both secular and religious Jewish organizations. I mention my Jewish identity fairly often in comments on this blog, because it gives me a double perspective, coming from a community and culture that has had both a long history of discrimination and persecution at the hands of Christians and a more recent experience (after WWII) of being somewhat accepted into the mainstream and the established American order.

            When I read complaints from American Pagans about the grief that Christianity or individual Christians have given them, I feel like a broken record saying, “Talk to the Jews. We have been through most of what you are experiencing and we have some effective strategies and organizational models.” You might lump all the Abrahamics together, but the pagan Romans had a good deal more respect for Judaism than Christianity ever had. We Jews have been the target of Christian proselytizing efforts, up to and including murder and kidnapping, for as long as anyone else, and we have both horror stories and tales of resistance.

            To cut to the chase, Jews were the first non-Christian group to get involved in the interfaith movement in the U.S. Jews have been doing interfaith since the 1950s. Interfaith has not been a trap for the Jews. It has not resulted in a lot of Jews converting to Christianity. It has paid off in Judaism getting more respect. It has made it easier for Christians and Jews to work together for causes they agree on, like for instance the civil rights movement. Between total assimilation and total avoidance and mistrust, there’s a lot of middle ground.

          • Ru seriously throwing down the, more persecuted than thou card? U could’ve mentioned ur dual perspective without that but nope, u put it in there. Romans were not pagan, that was an insult. They were Romans, Greeks etc…no one in the ancient world was pagan. But maybe with u being Abrahamic in some part ur using that word on purpose? Yes, sometimes the prey escapes the trap. I’m glad. However that doesnt change my experience and my knowing that these traps exist.

          • No I’m not. I neither said nor implied that Jews have been more persecuted than others. I agree that is not useful. I said that Jews and other non-Christians share experiences of discrimination and persecution. Jewish strategies for resistance to persecution are recorded, both the successes and the failures. That experience has relevance to the struggles of other religious minorities and if you ignore the lessons of history because you think you are so special, you are wasting time.

            I’m neither an ancient Roman nor a modern Christian; I’m an English-speaking religious studies student and I use the word “pagan” as a neutral descriptive adjective. I wrote “pagan Romans” to distinguish them from “Christian Romans”. Before Christianity became the state religion of Rome, Judaism was one of the licit religions of the Roman Empire. Judaism had prestige among many Romans because of its antiquity; because it espoused some Roman virtues such as self-control and a military tradition; and because its sacred text and monotheism were features that to the Romans marked it as a philosophical religion, in contrast to more ecstatic religions like the cult of the Magna Mater. After Constantine, there were no licit religions in Rome except for one particular sect of Christianity. All other religions and all unorthodox Christian sects were suppressed by the power of the state.

          • The use of “pagan” as a pejorative originated with Christianity and then spread, but it hasn’t spread to the Jews. Various religions have different vocabularies of insult. Ancient Romans called Christianity a “superstition”. If a Jew wanted to disparage the religion of a Roman, she’d call him an “idolator”.

      • I was chair of a statewide interfaith event held here in the capital in 2013. We had signs on the convention center doors that said “no proselytizing.” I personally spoke (gently) to a couple of non-Christian groups that were going around sharing their materials and clarified our policy. Later when we did get hit by the evangelicals, my Baha’i’ co-chair escorted them out!

      • Sam also said UP FRONT that he doesn’t believe anything good can come from interfaith work either. To paraphrase… do we need to be simply ‘tolerated’? I think acceptance is still a long way off. We have bigger work to accomplish in our own community first.

  6. One of the ideas being expressed in the comments is that interfaith is in some way a trap for Pagans, that the ulterior motive is to play upon our desire to be liked and accepted to get us in the door and then convert us. One problem with this idea is that, at least at the national and global level, Pagans are the ones that are organizing the events in question, We serve on the many Boards of Directors or Trustees, as Committee Chairs, as people in high staff positions, as founders, Directors, Coordinators, etc. We, working alongside others from other traditions, are the ones creating the mission and vision statements, writing the Bylaws, and hiring the staff. We are the people creating the events and we make sure that all traditions will be treated equally and fairly. I really don’t see who could be using interfaith against us.

    Blessed Be,
    Don Frew

    • Thats exactly part of my point, Don. Pagans need to focus on Pagans and building our community, not reaching out to others, thus a distraction and waste of time imo. And if u dont think the others show up without their trap agenda bcuz a Pagan called the meeting, thats just fine with them. Again this isnt a hypothetical thing, I took part in and organized stuff like this personally, and I wasnt alone.

      • I tried to edit this but no such mode. heh I meant to say, “And if you think the others show up without their trap agenda because a Pagan called the meeting, that’s just fine with them.” Was typing from my phone and missed the error. Sorry for any confusion.

      • Communities, plural. I can think of no umbrella term that encompasses more diversity than “Pagan(ism)”.

      • We probably agree on more than it appears. I just thinks folks should be aware that we HAVE been working on building our Pagan community for many decades. CoG will celebrate its 40th year next year. Many other Pagan groups have been working as long as well, or longer. We ALSO have seen a need for interfaith work as part of our community work. There is no reason that we can’t do both. I have dedicated my life to doing interfaith work AND to building Pagan infrastructure, such as opening a Pagan library and founding a Pagan foundation to give grants to projects of service to the Pagan community. The library will be open by Samhain ( and the Foundation shortly thereafter. There is no reason for this to be “either / or”. Why limit ourselves?

        Blessed Be,
        Don Frew