Guest columnist Karen Dales attended the Parliament of World Religions and shares her view from the Pagan Meet and Greet Booth.
* * *
The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love, was the theme of the Parliament of World’s Religions (PWR), held in Toronto, Canada from November 1st – 7th, 2018. This theme thread its way through the Pagan community doubly so. Its eye found in the Meet and Greet Space, given to the Pagans by the PWR after local High Priestess and Toronto Steering Committee Member, Catherine Starr, fought tooth and nail to secure the Pagans four spaces: a Pagan Faith Booth; a Pagan Faith space, which was for morning meditations and evening rituals, facilitated by many Pagans and Pagan organisations; the Pagan Family Festival Booth, and the Pagan Meet and Greet Space.The Pagan Meet and Greet Space could not have been better placed, as an estimated ten thousand people at the PWR had to walk past the very distinct chalkboard declaring the space and listing daily Pagan events. Set up with two tables and chairs, the open double booth allowed a diversity of interactions between Pagans of many Paths and between Pagans and non-Pagans. With twenty-three years of co-running the Toronto Pagan Pub Moot, I had the distinct honour of facilitating this space, integral to the Pagan experience at the PWR. With the help of many volunteers, both local and international, we educated many non-Pagans and made a safe and welcoming place for those who would like to learn about Paganism in its vastness or just relax and enjoy each other’s company. The tables were festooned with pamphlets and giveaways from our diverse community. Over seven days, there were many experiences that took place at the Meet and Greet Space, some heartwarming, others relaxing, and the rest festive. I wish I could fill this article with all that occurred, but instead I will endeavour to exhibit some of the highlights. Upon reaching the space to set up, I was struck by all the drapes dividing the different Meet and Greet groups, and the drapes blocking these spaces from the conference goers. How could this area be inclusive when barriers were set in place? After speaking with delegates from the United Religions Initiative (URI), whose space neighboured ours, it was decided to take down these walls and open the spaces to everyone. In that first act, the tone was set in accordance to the Parliament’s theme. What came next surprised me.
After setting the blackboard to welcome Pagans to the PWR, members or many different international and local Pagan groups came by, all happy to discover our space. It was more thrilling to see their expressions as they were not only warmly welcomed, but their happy surprise when asked for their group’s literature to alight the two eight foot tables. Literature from the Wiccan Church of Canada, Covenant of the Goddess, Ar nDraiocht Fein, Toronto Pagan Pub Moot, Pagan Federation International, Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Circle Sanctuary, Earth Spirit, The Troth, Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry, Church of All Worlds, and others provided a wealth of information for many to take and read.Having the chalkboard listing daily Pagan events and what our space entailed attracted many people from many faiths. Quite a few were Sikhs, Jews, Christians, Mormons and Muslims, as well as Indigenous Peoples and Buddhists. We even had the head of the Hate Crimes Division for York Regional Police (York Region is north-west of Toronto) come down to learn more about Paganism and other marginalised religions.
The Meet and Greet Space became a refuge for Pagans and non-Pagans to sit and speak freely, which allowed greater connections and the building of new friendships. In this spirit, at least two magical occurrences happened. The first was when a High Priestess from California, USA, realised she had lost the amber and jet necklace given to her by her High Priestess. To help alleviate her suffering, two High Priestesses—one from Massachusetts, USA and one from Toronto, Canada, who had never met each other nor the Californian HPS before the PWR, came together to purchase an amber necklace (there was no jet to purchase there), and gave it to the Californian HPS with a blessing. The Meet and Greet Space and all those there witnessed this selfless generosity.
The second and most impactful event that came from the Meet and Greet Space was the spiral dance led by Catherine Starr. On the Saturday, after it became clear that the Goddess in all Her manifestations were being forgotten at the plenaries, Catherine decided to have as many pagans as possible for a flash-mob spiral dance on Sunday. From the Meet and Greet Space word was disseminated that we would meet on Sunday at 4:30pm.
On Sunday, Pagans of many Paths, Traditions, Cultures and Countries met at the Meet and Greet Space, joined by a number of Indigenous Peoples. There, on the mosaic of a turtle on the world, Catherine led around seventy-five people in a spiral dance to the Isis, Astarte, Diana chant. She led us up one set of escalators, then another, across the rainbow bridge from the South Building to the North Building, collecting more people in our dance along the way. Down one escalator and then another, until we finished the spiral dance in the North Building. We had collected not only more Pagans and Indigenous people, but Sikhs, Buddhists and others from different faiths. All of us chanted the names of the Goddess. Still charged with exuberance, a giant hug-huddle ensued. Love and joy in everyone’s hearts.
The Meet and Greet Space at the Parliament of World Religions became the heart where Pagans and non-Pagans interacted in peace and friendship. No barriers limited individuals. Only inclusivity, the dismantling of misconceptions, and new friendships remained. I wish I could relay all the amazing experiences, but it would take seven days to read it all.
There is a thing called Fest-head that occurs after leaving a Pagan festival and dissipates a few days after, but Parliament-brain lasts forever because the amazing experiences there will never occur again—truly life changing.
Karen Dales is an award winning, bestselling author of The Chosen Chronicles. She is a Gardnerian High Priestess who co-runs a coven with her husband, as well as co-founded and co-host of the Toronto Pagan Pub Moot (c. Feb. 1996). Karen, her husband, and son are servants to six cats in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.