Thursday, December 17, 2009

On the many definitions of paganism

Andras Corban-Arthen is extensively quoted in this post at The Wild Hunt blog, about statements made at the Parliament on representing, defining and (not) speaking for all pagans, on the distinction between “Indigenous Spirituality” and “New Religious Movements”, on the role of the Parliament of the World's Religions, and other topics. There are over one hundred comments, including some by Andras and other people you may know, discussing these topics further.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Tibetan Art of Impermanence --- a Photo Essay

by Andras Corban Arthen

The Gyuto monks of Tibet once again created an elaborate sand mandala during the course of the Parliament, to invoke peace and healing in the world and for the event. This is a visual account of that process.

The mandala is transferred from mind to canvas as a sketch.

Layers of fine colored sand are slowly applied over the sketch lines.

Gradually, with great care and breath control, the intricate details emerge.

The sand is applied through channeled metal rods, one rubbing against the other with precise control to release the exact amount of sand needed.

Painstakingly, grain upon grain, layer upon layer, over the span of a week the mandala is completed.

On the final day, the monks approach and circle the finished work, praying and chanting.

With a special metal tool, the mandala is scored and divided into eight segments.

Then, brushes in hand, the monks meticulously destroy what it took them so long to create…

…until nothing is left but a pile of colored sand.

The head monk carefully places the sand in a brass urn, in which it will be transported to the river to be released into the waters. Nothing lasts. Change is always. Change is all.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Parliament Baby

by Andras Corban Arthen

In 1993, my daughter Isobel attended her first Parliament of the World’s Religions. She was but a toddler, and I vividly remember watching her wide unblinking eyes devouring the exotic panoply of colors, movements and shapes that surrounded us at every turn — a circus of the spirit, a carnival of cultures.

It was my first Parliament, too, and although I had never seen anything quite like what I witnessed that week, I had been around similar landscapes long enough to be impressed, though not mystified. But as I tried to imagine watching that spectacle through my daughter’s wondering eyes, I could not really fathom what kind of effect such a remarkable event would have on so young a child. What did she make of it? Would she remember? How would it change her? Could this turn out to be one of those early childhood experiences that leave a lasting imprint on a person’s life?

This year marked the first time that Isobel was old enough to be actively involved in the Parliament’s Youth Program, and she dove into it with relish. The Parliament has always gone to great lengths to encourage the participation of young people, and this year’s program was particularly promising: workshops, panel discussions, films, sports events, a nightly coffeehouse. And, beyond all that, the unparalleled opportunity to make friends with people your age from all corners of the world, from all races, from all religions.

She mentioned to me that some of her new friends asked her if she’d been to this event before. When she told them about her first time, back in ’93, they reacted with great surprise. Some of them have started calling her “the Parliament Baby”; as she told me this, there was a certain pride in her voice.

Isobel was a speaker in a panel entitled “Mother Nature Doesn’t Do Bailouts,” in which the panelists spoke about how their spiritual traditions had motivated them to get involved in environmental activism. She also did a presentation on Peace Jam, the excellent program that she’s been involved with for several years, which connects high school students with Nobel Peace Prize laureates to offer the young people the very best role models to inspire them towards careers in social justice and community service.

A couple of days ago, she asked me for the e-mail address of Dirk Ficca, the Parliament’s Executive Director, so she could write to him about some ideas she has for the Youth Program at the next event, in 2014. This Parliament’s not over, and she’s already thinking of the next, I mused; that’s surely a good sign.

Isobel was invited to perform a song for the closing of the Youth Plenary on Monday night, so there we were, all of us here from her family, her community, waiting for her turn to come.

The announcer’s voice rang over the loudspeaker: “And now, welcome to the stage Isobel Arthen from the EarthSpirit Community, a pagan organization based in Massachusetts. She has been touring internationally, singing world music for the past six years, and she’s joined on-stage by guitarist Jose Gonzalez…”

And there she was, the little girl with the wide eyes taking in the whirling Sufi dervishes, the Tibetan monks with their saffron robes and guttural chants, the Yoruban priestess with her multi-colored robes and skin as dark as a moonless night.

Only now she’s eighteen years old, a smart, beautiful, self-assured young woman, with her lithe body and her long dark hair, striding purposefully up to the microphone along with her dreadlocked, guitar-playing young man.

“I’ve been coming to the Parliament since I was two years old,” she tells us, “and I’ve kept coming because I truly, truly believe that one person, one voice, can make a difference. But I think we all know that one voice joined by hundreds, thousands of other voices, can become a force that can really change the world.”

Then she launches into the song, Ruth Pelham’s “The Turning of the World,” backed up by the members of the Youth Committee who have worked so hard to create a welcoming environment for their international peers who’ve come to Melbourne:

“Let us sing this song for the turning of the world,

That we may turn as one.

With every voice, with every song

We will move this world along,

And our lives will feel the echo of our turning…”

As I watch her I feel, of course, as proud of her as any father watching his only daughter achieve something notable. But there is more than that: I also feel a sense of fitness, of fulfillment, of completion. I think about the various turnings in my daughter’s life, and particularly those whose echoes have resonated most strongly within her, and realize that the Parliament is surely one of them. Something began to move within her as a little girl that first time sixteen years ago, something that has informed and inspired her life ever since, and that movement has now turned full circle within the radiant young woman singing upon that stage.

The Parliament is not just about weighty discussions of theological issues and other equally abstract themes. On a much more practical level, it is also about changing lives, about inspiring people, about helping to bring out the best in them. And my Parliament Baby is living proof of it.

Here is a video of Isobel's performance:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Parliament Days Six and Seven: Blessings

by Moira Ashleigh

I sit in the airport among strangers, tired and pleased at having met and exchanged ideas and energy with so many new people. I feel the awareness of the bigger place that Paganism is holding now at the World Religious table. I am feeling pleased at our solid presence at this event. I feel happy to have been among the contingent that came here to make new connections and renew old ones.

Yesterday was the last full day of the Parliament of the World's Religions and though it was raining outside the feeling inside the Parliament was that of the warmth of shared purpose. Deirdre Pulgram Arthen, with the support of MotherTongue and other EarthSpirit attendees, led the morning observance, the title of which was: Sing Praise for the Earth. We sang together of the fire, the water, the ancestors and All Beings of the Earth. People were very happy to sing with us, and several of the new "Weaving the Web of Life" chant CDs were sold later in the EarthSpirit exhibition booth.

In the afternoon Don Frew, Charlie Gibbs, and Yoland Treveno gave a presentation: The United Religious Initiative: A Global Network of Interfaith Effort. This organization was born out of the 1993 Chicago Parlianent. From that event there were a group of people that wanted to stay connected. They work with the model of cooperative circles, circles that have to have at least 7 people which need to represent at least 3 faiths. After the major speakers, different area leaders were invited to talk about the fruits of their work. Things like youth projects, women's circles, youth circles, and social action assemblies. The belief and the actual experience has been that cooperative circle coming together doing anything creates peace. A Korean monk spoke of his reason to be a part of URI. He said "URI means we take responsibility, duty for the future to think in peace, speak in peace and act in peace.

The Queensland Pagan took the EarthSpirit group to dinner that night at a local Italian place near the river. We were quite overwhelmed at the generosity of this small group of women. On our way out of the restaurant a fire show started. The casino sets off these flame bursts from tall columns on the river. This only happens for a few minutes and then is gone. It was a moment where I felt connected to all the fire work we do together at Rites of Spring and Twilight Covening. After the fire show some of us slowly walked back to the rooms enjoying the beautiful weather because several of us knew the trip back to Winter would happen all too soon.

Wednesday morning dawned warm and clear. Many of us were packing out of our rooms, some to go home to the states, some back to New Zealand, some out to the Austrailian Outback, and one off to the Orient. It is a short day at the Parliament culminating with a Plenary where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be addressing the Parliament attendees. Security is very tight.

One of the morning workshops "The Revival of the European Pagan Traditions" with Andras Corban Arthen and Jonas Trinkunas of the Lithuania Romuva tradition drew quite a large crowd. Andras will describe this in detail in an upcoming post.

I hope you have enjoyed the snippets of the Parliament. There are plans to do more in depth pieces after people return from their travels. And be sure to catch all of us at the upcoming events that are highlighted on We will have many stories to share.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Parliament: Australian Pagans Speak

by Chris LaFond

On Monday morning, panel of five pagans from Eastern Australia spoke individually on their own practice of paganism and the progress that they have made in engaging in interfaith work in Australia in recent years. She’ D’Montford spoke on dispelling the myths surrounding the word ‘witch’, and on the meaning of the pentagram. Glenys Livingstone presented her own work on what happens when European paganism is transplanted to the southern hemisphere. Her term for what she does is ‘PaGaian’, that is, pagan and gaian, which stresses the whole earth connection of all life. Glenys also spoke of her work in re-imagining deity using feminine motifs.

Gede Parma, a twenty-one year old energetic man defined witchcraft as an “ecstasy-driven, earth-based mystery tradition.” He presented his work in the Sydney area in founding a coven that has already hived off and is starting to spread to other parts of the world. Fabienne Morgana talked of growing up on an Australian farm the size of Rhode Island, and how she came to paganism when her parents’ spiritual traditions simply didn’t speak to her in the wilds of Australia.

Finally, Linda Ward spoke to us of her work in the interfaith movement in Australia, and how just a few short years ago, we (pagans) were blatantly refused a seat at the interfaith table. In the last three or four years, they have made tremendous progress and are now an important part of the dialogue here in Australia. She argued that a pagan ethical system is by its nature already interfaith, since it has to take into account all beings of the earth and diversity in all its forms.

It was very exciting to see the strides being made in such a short time!

Parliament Day Five: Towards religious freedom

by Moira Ashleigh

A lovely sunny day dawned and with it always much to do at the Parliament of the World's Religions. Today there was a panel by the Austrailian Pagans who have been established in the state of Victoria, where Melbourne (pronounced Melbun) is located, for around 30 years. EarthSpirit has found the pagans here to be wonderful people, energetic and enthusiastic about their practices and their continued work to become more accepted in this country.

Later in the day a panel on "Pagans and Religious Freedom" included Patrick McCollum, Grove Harris and special guest David Garland (from PAN the Pagan Awareness Network here in Australia). Patrick spoke of how Paganism has been discriminated against by every religion even other religions that are discriminated against. He told of how 40 years ago his house was fire bombed by some Christian neighbors trying to convert him to Christianity. And of his continued struggles with the misconception of paganism in the California prisons where he is a Pagan chaplain. He also spoke of the 9 year Pentacle Quest and that at one time the government's suggested solution to the problem was to sand all religious symbols off all veterans grave markers rather than to just approve the pentacle for the few who requested it.

Grove Harris spoke of the challenges facing Pagans as they move into town councils to try to offer the beginning blessings, and being told they could not because they were not monotheistic. She also warned us to pick our battles carefully and to not just jump in because we want to be heard if there is a working dialogue happening between the "major" religions. She spoke of how in prisons pagans cannot practice if there is not an outside spiritual leader to facilitate the ceremonies.

David Garland told the participants of how he lost everything when he came out as a Pagan and a Witch, his wife, house, family. He also explained the differences in the Australian Constitution which does not guarantee religious freedom to the citizens but which does have ways to "work" the system. He spoke of having blanket drives and how the gifts were rejected by the aid organizations because they came from pagans. David spoke on the ways they are growing to reach the critical percent of the census that will gain them more freedoms in this country.

The questions and answers after the panel varied from the Hindu leader who identified his tradition as Pagan and has been a great support to several Pagan efforts in the prisons, to the Australian Christian prison chaplain who wanted to know the fruits of our religion. Moira spoke to him after the session pointing out our food drives, clothing drives, environmental initiatives, peace rituals and most of all that Pagans in holding the Earth as sacred have helped to bring the Ecological Crisis we are in to the forefront of people's minds and hearts.

There were also several interviews that day. Deirdre was interviewed by Ed Hubbard and Chris, Mark and Day were interviewed for Iran TV. Chris waxed eloquent about EarthSpirit Community, and the Pagan practices and beliefs. Monday evening's plenary was the Youth Initiative performance, which will be covered in another posting.

And then off to sleep since we had an early morning presentation of Songs of the Earth.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Parliament Sacred Music Concert and coffee

by Moira Ashleigh

The Sacred music concert is often a high point of the Parliament of the World's Religions. Many accomplished musicians and performing artists from different religions present a sample of their music for participants in the Parliament. This year the concert was close to 5 hours long, on Sunday night, and felt like a marathon after a long day of networking and workshop attendance.

There were several performers from Austrilia, including some indigenous performance (Wurundjeri People, Yolgnu Clan), as well as Hindu, Bahai, Muslim, Vedic, Gyuoto, Jewish, Ainu, Sephardic Tradition, New Thought Christian, Christian, Zoroastrian, Nasheed, Sikh, Indian Classical, Native American, and Sufi performers. The concert started with Didgeridoo song of welcome and ended with a traditional Aboriginal song and dance. Interesting thing to note, almost every performance or large group session in Australia begins with a thank you to the original inhabitants of this land. In the Botanical Gardens of Melbourne there is an area, Long Island, which speaks of how the river was once the home of the original inhabitants and describes how they lived on and with the land before the colonization of this country.

Earlier that day Michael York was on a panel, In Search of a Sustainable Pathway, where he spoke of Paganism turning back again to older practices with newness to reclaim, reshape and revaluate. He also stressed how we hold the sacred as imminent, tangible and pluralistic; while also accepting magic or enchantment as intrinsic to our corporal existence. Michael sees Paganisn as polytheistic and an example of toleration, pluralism and cooperation. He questions if non-polytheistic religions can reciprocate, but feels there needs to be a place for every voice at the table.

The EarthSpirit group has only managed to have one dinner together, out on the patio of a restaurant with overhead heaters that are lit to ward off the chill. Many of us find the costs here high in the city and are often eating in the rooms we share. Right now the Asutralian dollar almost equals the American dollar. The average meal near the conference center is $30 for dinner, sandwiches are often $10, and coffee between $4 and $5. Coffee choices are either Long Dark (tall espresso), Flat White (small amount of espresso with lots of steamed cream) and Capuchino (with chocolate shaken on the top), quite delicious. They call their low fat milk "Skinny" here versus New Zealand which uses "Trim". They also call their cheddar cheese Tasty and Extra Tasty. But despite the name differences, it is very much easier getting around in a country that speaks English. Plus the food here has been delicious and nutritious, and we have not seen very many American chains at all.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Parliament Day Four: The Halls

by Moira Ashleigh

Both the Exhibition hall, where we have our booth, the actual convention center, and the sidewalk outside halls are full of people speaking of and demonstrating their traditions. The traditional dress is colorful and there is a lot to pay attention to so as not to offend other beliefs.

Displays here are generally open positive statements. We do have one small group of protestors that stand outside, except on Sunday, with banners saying "Jesus is the only way to God" and "Don't trust religions trust Jesus Christ Only".

There is a second protestor in the entrance to the Exhibition Hall doing a one man growing art protest on oil consumption and devastation of the environment. Each day he comes and lays out his growing installation of cloths, speaking for the environment and for Peace and then dons a protest costume and a gas mask - then just stands all day. Several of our group have thanked him for his work.

In one hall there is a very long brown paper roll, where people are invited to write messages to be sent to the Copenhagen summit on the Environment. The creator of the initiative is Shekhar Kumat of Brahma Kumaris. He spoke to us of how hard he lobbied to be allowed to do this piece at the parliament and that only at the last minute did he get permission. He does not know how it will get to Copenhagen, but would be very willing to go with it. What is most lovely is to see the mix of languages and the growth of the piece. Most of us have added our words of encouragement and strong incentive to the paper.

A little further up the same hall are the Tantrayana Buddhist monks. Who stand still in meditation postures all day except for one demonstration of religious drumming and music with procession. This happens every afternoon and sounds like thunder rolling through the entire conference. Speaking to one of the monks, I learned that they hold themselves in meditation all of the time even when talking, they constantly connect upward through the top of their heads.

Upstairs in the actual meeting room halls there are two notable groups. First the Jainism art display and table. This is one of the three religions born in India. The art depicts their 24 Tirthankaras or great souls who "ferry you across" the ocean of life and death. They are giving away free coloring books of their art to all participants.

Finally in the back corner of this hallway are the Guyoto Monks of Tibet. They are the followers of his Holiness the Dalai Lama. They have a booth where one can buy scarves and beads plus a growing sand painting done by the monks in real time. It is fascinating to watch them work so close to this beautiful Mandala. The colors are bold and the detail precise as they work in meditation and cooperation.

Today is another less busy day where we will be working making connections in these halls. Tomorrow MotherTongue will be doing the Morning Observance. Many warm wishes to those of you at home preparing for Yule, from your community here at the Parliament of the World's Religions.

Parliament: Sacred Envy

by Chris LaFond

This morning, Sunday, I attended a panel discussion entitled "Sacred Envy: Exploring What We Love about Our Own Faith, What We Admire in Others and What Challenges Us in Both". The panelists were Rabbi Brad Hirschfield (who designed the presentation), Sr Joan Chittister, and Imam Feisal Rauf.

The format was simple: each of the panelists would address one of four questions, and then a few audience members would get to make comments on the same issue. In answering each for ourselves, we were asked to consider where we were right now in our own faith/spiritual landscape. 

1. What do you love about your own faith?
2. What do you envy or admire about the faith/religions/rituals/etc. of other traditions?
3. What would you most like to change about your own faith (or what embarrasses you most about it, what do you see as its greatest weakness, etc.) and
4. What would you like to see change in the traditions of others.

The panelists addressed all of these questions directly and candidly, even the more confessional questions of what they are most embarrassed about in their own traditions (almost universally, the repression of women was mentioned as one of those challenging issues). The final question of what you don't like about the faiths of others, or what you might challenge others of those faiths to change was handled deftly and delicately by the panelists.

Instead of rehashing the whole presentation here, I'd like to offer my answer to these questions, reminding the reader that we were asked to answer them based upon where we are right now in our own spiritual landscape (these answers may change with time).

What I most love about being pagan, and the approach of EarthSpirit to paganism, is the connection to the web of life, and not capitulating to the human temptation to believe that our own species is better or more important in the larger web than any other particular one.

What I envy most about certain other traditions (Catholic, Islam, Judaism, in particular) is the commitment to pursue the intellectual side of spirituality. While paganism stands high and above most other traditions in being experiential, sometimes what is needed is more thought and reflection on those experiences, and integration into the larger web.

What most bothers me about current paganism (and neo-paganism) is the superficiality with which many of us approach ethical issues. Life is not as simple as "And it harm none...", and many situations call for much deeper thought than that.

What bothers me about many other traditions is the widespread belief among many practitioners that their way is the only true way.

The panelists were, of course, some of the best representatives of the interfaith efforts of their own traditions. In finishing, Rabbi Hirschfield spoke about the "end of the story" of each of our traditions; that is, what it is that we believe should happen to achieve peace, salvation, etc. His closing statement was quite provocative, and challenged us all to think about what level of diversity we are willing to tolerate. He said "We have got to have an end of the story that has greater diversity than we are willing to participate in."

I leave you with this question: How much diversity are YOU willing to participate in?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Parliament Day Three: Towards Summer Solstice

by Moira Ashleigh

Day 2 ended late and Day 3 started early. Today Melbourne was also cool and windy but still no rain. Australia has been in a drought for 10 years, which makes the cost of living quite pricey. A few comparisons are coffees at $4.00, a six pack of beer at $17.00 and dinner meals starting at $30.

The first Pagan program began at 8 AM with Patrick McCollum's Solstice ritual: "Solstice Sites and Celebrations". Where as folks at home are getting ready for Yule, here in the "down under" they are building toward the Summer Solstice. Another intriguing difference is are their elemental associations. East is still Air, moving on to Earth as South, then Water is West and Fire is in the North. In this ritual Patrick focused on the Solstice as honoring both celebrations, but of course the land made itself known as the sun raced in to shine brightly as North was honored. Guided by the advice of indigenous people here in Australia, Eucalyptus leaves were chosen to use as wish bearers for the ritual participants.

The panel for The Divine Feminine, was filled to overflowing with parliament attendees listening to the panelists: Mary-Faeth Chenery, Sr Joan Chittister, Mother Maya, Ven Karma Leshke Tsomo, and Phyllis Curott. Phyllis spoke first and addressed the topics of culture divorced from the feminine and the repercussions, naming things rather than listening to them, the courage of leaving the faith of the fathers, and bringing the goddess out of the underworld; all this from a pagan perspective.

Directly after the Divine Feminine was a Pagan Panel: Men Who Love The Goddess. These panelists were: Drake Spaeth, Patrick McCollum, Michael York, River Higginbotham and Don Lewis. Some of the ideas covered in this panel included; masculine and feminine within, needing to be in balance, divinity as imminent, the understanding of enchantment and of magic.

In the afternoon, Multifaith Perspectives and Interreligious Holiday and Celebrations seemed to be a panel where the participants had their own programs to promote. Though Deirdre made a valiant effort to bring the panel to a place of conversation, it appeared there was an impasse on ways to create Interfaith rituals that are inclusive. It is unfortunate that this was less productive that it could have been. But it is good to remember that in Chicago at the Parliament of the World's Religions 1993,  these religious leaders would not have sat at the same table.

The EarthSpirit booth continues to be a draw for participants and was even mentioned in the local paper. During the day our harpist and druid Chris LaFond and the Anglican harpist, Cath Connelly spent time creating beautiful music, including a new piece in progress by Cath celebrating the Winter Solstice.

Tomorrow is a light day, where many of us will attend the presentations of other groups and network in the halls building bridges of smiles and conversations.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Parliament Day Two: People Call Us Pagans, and more

by Moira Ashleigh

Day two dawned early and clear with all of us knowing it would be a long day. Our events started at 9:30 AM with a panel: People Call Us Pagans - The European Indigenous Tradition. The three panelists were: Andras Corban Arthen, Phyllis Curott, and Angie Buchanan. MotherTongue sung, "In the Circle of Earth and Sky", as an intro piece to the panel.

Topics the panel covered were: why we use the name Pagan, the similarity in the yearly holiday calendars, sacred geometry, the indigenous aspects of Paganism, Nature as teacher, and techniques to "remove the blindfold." The room was full to overflowing with 101 people attending in a room meant to hold 70.

Today there were 3 video interviews done in the EarthSpirit Booth. The Clinton Global Initiative, an independent film maker from Canada, and Vision Peace Now. People are very excited to talk to us. Hearing advice like: "Go outdoors and spend some time in Nature, find a tree and listen. Listen to the rocks and streams, until you can hear them."

Directly after the morning Pagan panel, Isobel Arthen was one of the speakers in the Daily Youth Session: Mother Nature Doesn't Do Bailouts. The young people were very motivational in their passion about caring for the Earth. There were youth speakers from Christian, Native American, Buddhist, Aboriginal and Pagan traditions.

Many connections at the Parliament of the World's Religions are made in the halls between workshops. There is a moment where one heart opens and another heart responds and a cross tradition and cross religion connection is made.

Later in the afternoon, Deirdre Pulgram Arthen, Andras Corban Arthen and Angie Buchanan co-facilitated a Peace Ritual for 75 People, titled "Peace at the Heart of the World." In the ritual many Pagan presenters offered a spoken piece including T Thorn Coyle, River Higginbotham, Drake Spaeth, Anna Korn, Don Frew, Patrick McCollum, Sue Curewitz Arthen, Kaye Hughes Kittredge, Chris LaFond, Moira Ashleigh and several of the Queensland Pagans. The sacred waters of the worlds were brought to bless everyone as well as the sacred symbolic rattles by Julee Higginbotham. MotherTongue led several chants and closed with a Gaelic Blessing.

Directly after the Peace Ritual, some of the Pagan attendees went with the indigenous group while the rest were guided across the city by tram and hosted by The Melbourne Reclaiming group for the Parliament Local Community Night. On the bus ride we were joined by several Christian Parliament participants, they came to learn of our ways first hand. We heard questions such as: "Do you have a worship day?", "What do you believe happens at death?", "How do you feel about and work with healing?", and "What do you do in your meetings?". Later during the ritual there was sharing by many participants including: Wendy Rule, T Thorn Coyle, River Higginbotham, and Angie Buchanan. MotherTongue sang two pieces: Traveler's Prayer and Old Woman. Moira Ashleigh danced the "Old Woman" solo. One very touching part of the night was when one of the Christians apologized to us for what had been done to our practice in the name of Christianity.

Finally a tired, but well satisfied, EarthSpirit group wound their way back across the city to get a short sleep before another full day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

First official day at the Parliament of the World's Religions - Melbourne

by Moira Ashleigh

We are all here in Melbourne, a city with tall buildings on a river near the Tasman Sea. It is spring/summer here. Sometimes quite hot, but today half way through the day the wind picked up to cold and cloudy with a smattering of rain, now at suppertime it is cool and sunny.

To begin the week, we all held hands in a circle for a moment. We took time to remember why we are here and to reach back to those who have helped us come to do this work. MotherTongue rehearsed for short time, then Isobel went off to another rehearsal, while Andras went to a board meeting, and the rest of us registered and collected items for the booth EarthSpirit is offering in the exhibition hall. Sue and Deirdre collaborated to create the right presence in booth, which is in a prime location three spots from the entry door.

Chris LaFond met the harpist, Cath Connelly, who is lending him a purple harp for the event. She has just finished a tour of Ireland speaking on Saint Brigit and the Pagan Brigit goddess.

In the early afternoon Chris tuned and played the harp in the registration hall, Kaye and Kate sang and Moira danced to Old Woman. The group attracted the attention of a Parliament journalist who had them do a sound byte of music and some video where Moira announced the Tuesday morning observance by MotherTongue, all done on the journalist's iphone, which he called old technology.

Next we were off to the Pagan Meet and Greet sponsored by Angie Buchannan and Drake Spaeth. There we met some of the local pagans who are very excited that we are here. The new pagan board member Phyllis Curott was there as well as several other known pagans and wiccans; such as Patrick McCollum, Michael York, Rowan Fairgrove, T. Thorn Coyle, and many more. Picture a small warm room on the 18th floor with many Pagans all excited to be together at this event. :)

Angie spoke of the reasons why it is so important to do this work and to go to workshops and rituals other than our own. Four rattles made specifically for the event were passed through the group to be energized for gifting to the Parliament Board in Chicago, the Parliament Board in Melbourne, a hereditary Vodoun Priest who traces his heritage back to the 14th century and one to the Dalai Lama. These rattles were made by River Higgenbotham's sister, a well known potter, who combined pagan symbols with aboriginal symbols specifically for this event.

Andras came in later from the indigenous opening with Jonas Trinkunas, krivis (chief high priest) of Romuva, the pagan religion of Lithuania. Jonas has been to Rites of Spring in 1997, many of us remember him from then.

At the end of the Pagan Meet and Greet MotherTongue sang two songs for the group. They were in good voice and warmly received. the pieces they shared were: Unison in Harmony and Traveler's Prayer.

Tonight is the opening plenary.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pagans at the Parliament

by Andras Corban Arthen

This year’s EarthSpirit delegation to the Parliament of the World’s Religions include (in alphabetical order):

  • Andras Corban Arthen
  • Deirdre Pulgram Arthen
  • Isobel Arthen
  • Susan Curewitz Arthen
  • Moira Ashleigh
  • Mark Bonczek
  • Jose Gonzalez
  • Kaye Hughes-Kittredge
  • Chris LaFond
  • Kate Richardson
  • Day Walker

In addition to the following presentations by pagans at the Parliament, on the evening of December 2nd I will be participating in the Melbourne screening of the new film "This Sacred Earth: The 2012 Phenomenon," by Australian filmmakers Billie Dean and Andrew Einspruch, at Cinema Nova in Carlton. I was interviewed for this film when I was teaching in Wales last year, along with Philip Carr-Gomm, Chief Druid of OBOD from England, and Celtic scholar and ritualist Geo Athena Trevarthen from Scotland. When the filmmakers heard that I was going to be in Melbourne for the Parliament, they very kindly invited me to be their featured guest at the discussion that will follow the screening (go here to find out more about the film and view a trailer).



Pagan Observance:
Dancing the Seven Sacred Directions
T Thorn Coyle
Friday, 4 Dec 2009  8:00 - 9:00am

Pagan Panel:
People Call Us Pagan - The European Indigenous Traditions
Angie Buchanan, Andras Arthen, Phyllis Curott
Friday, 4 Dec 2009  9:30 - 11:00am

Youth Panel:
Mother Nature Doesn't Do Bailouts
Alana Smith, Miriam Pepper, Isobel Arthen, Stuart Hall, Tony Le-Nguyen, Josh Stanton
Friday, 4 Dec 2009 11:30am - 1:00pm

Indigenous Panel:
Protecting Religious Freedom & Sacred Sites: Examples from Indigenous Communities (Session 1) Christopher Peters, Karuk (USA), Moderator; Jonas Trinkunas, Romuva (Lithuania); Marcos Terena, Terena (Brazil)
Friday, 4 Dec 2009  4:30 - 6:00pm

Pagan Ceremony:
Peace at the Heart of the World
Angela Buchanan, Deirdre Arthen, Andras Corban-Arthen
Friday, 4 Dec 2009  4:30 - 6:00pm


Pagan Observance:
Solstice Sites and Celebrations
Patrick McCollum
Saturday, 5 Dec 2009  8:00 - 9:00am

Interfaith Panel:
The Divine Feminine
Mary-Faeth Chenery, Moderator, Joan Chittister, Mother Maya, Phyllis Curott, Ven Karma, Lekshe Tsomo
Saturday, 5 Dec 2009  9:30 - 11:00am

Pagan Panel:
Men Who Love the Goddess
Drake Spaeth, Patrick McCollum, Michael York, River Higginbotham, Don Lewis
Saturday, 5 Dec 2009  11:30am - 1:00pm

Interfaith Panel:
Multifaith Perspectives on Interreligious Holidays and Celebrations
Deirdre Pulgram Arthen, Georg Ziselsberger, Norman Habel, Jorge Veiga e Castro
Saturday, 5 Dec 2009   4:30 - 6:00pm


Interfaith Panel:
The Lost & Endangered Religions Project: Preserving the World's Religious Diversity
Don Frew, Dr Layne Little, Dr Archana Venkatesan
Sunday, 6 Dec 2009  2:30 - 4:00pm


Pagan Panel:
Australian Pagans Speak: A Community Forum
Fabienne Morgana, Glenys Livingstone, She' D'Montford, Gede Parma, Linda Ward, Anthorr Nomchong
Monday, 7 Dec 2009  9:30 - 11:00am

Interfaith Panel:
Global & Interreligious Education through Peer-to-Peer & Online Learning in AU & US Schools
Richard Prideaux, Ed Hubbard
Monday, 7 Dec 2009  9:30 – 11:00am

Pagan Panel:
Pagans and Religious Freedom
Phyllis Curott, Patrick McCollum, Grove Harris
Monday, 7 Dec 2009  4:30 - 6:00pm


Pagan Observance:
Sing Praise for the Earth
Deirdre Pulgram Arthen & MotherTongue
Tuesday, 8 Dec 2009  8:00 - 9:00am

Indigenous Youth Panel:
Hearing the Concerns and Voices of Indigenous Youth
Triloki Pandey, Moderator; Leo Killsback, Northern Cheyenne (USA); Arturas Sinkevicius, Romuva (Lithuania); Mary Issaka Serwah, Akan (Ghana)
Tuesday, 8 Dec 2009  8:00 - 9:00am

Indigenous Youth Panel:
Sustaining Spiritual Practices in a Changing World
Minnie Lucy Naylor, Inupiaq Eskimo (USA), Moderator; Leo Killsback, Northern Cheyenne (USA); Arturas Sinkevicius, Romuva (Lithuania); Mary Issaku Serwah, Akan (Ghana)
Tuesday, 8 Dec 2009  11:30am - 1:00pm

Interfaith Panel:
The United Religions Initiative: A Global Network of Local Interfaith Efforts
Don Frew, Yoland Trevino, and Charles Gibbs
Tuesday, 8 Dec 2009  4:30 - 6:30pm


Indigenous Panel:
The Revival of the European Pagan Religions
Andras Corban-Arthen, Anamanta (Europe/USA); Jonas Trinkunas, Romuva (Lithuania)
Wednesday, 9 Dec 2009   9:30 - 11:00am

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Preparing for the Parliament

by Andras Corban Arthen

Jonas Trinkunas (with staff) leading a Romuva ceremony

A few months ago, Deirdre wrote a piece recounting a bit of the history of EarthSpirit’s work in the interfaith community, and in particular our involvement with the Parliament of the World’s Religions over the past sixteen years. In this article and the one that follows, I will describe more fully the work that I’ve been doing as one of three pagan members on the Parliament’s Board of Trustees (along with Angie Buchanan and the newly-elected Phyllis Curott), and give you some idea regarding the pagan presence at the upcoming Parliament in Melbourne, Australia, starting in just a few days.

The 35-member Board works with the Executive Director and his staff to organize the Parliament, which takes place every 5 years. Board members are selected not only in terms of their experience with the interfaith movement and the various resources they bring to the table, but also with the intention that the Board will reflect the religious pluralism that is central to the Parliament. Board members include Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, American Indians, Protestants, Sikhs, Jains, Bahá’ís, Zoroastrians, etc., and of course, three of us pagans. (Go here to see the Parliament’s Board members.)

Because most Board members tend to be very well connected in their respective spiritual communities, participation on the Board offers an invaluable opportunity for interacting and networking with other religions. Moreover, because we work closely with each other, we are able to develop the kind of meaningful personal relationships which generally can outweigh most religious differences. Once people get to know and appreciate you as a person, they will tend to view your religion through the filter of their personal knowledge of you. This can be particularly helpful to us, given the many misconceptions and prejudices that pagans constantly have to deal with.

As is the case with most non-profits, the Board has several standing committees that are necessary to keep the organization going. On top of those, as a new Parliament nears, several additional committees are convened to specifically address the work involved in organizing the event. I am currently a member of the Board’s Human Resources standing committee, and have also served on its Executive Committee; and, for the Melbourne Parliament, I have also been serving on the Program Committee and the Indigenous Task Force.

The Program Committee develops the framework for how programs will be handled during the Parliament, then plays a central role in soliciting and processing the many program proposals that we are sent from all over the world. This year, for instance, we received more than 1,500 proposals to fill the 350 or so program slots we had available. Those of us on the Program Committee, along with the Parliament staff, had to sift through the proposals, analyze and review them, and make recommendations about which ones should be accepted or rejected, and which should be combined with other similar ones to create new programs. Needless to say, this required a great deal of work and time — several of us spent many hundreds of hours each over the span of many months.

The Indigenous Task Force was created in response to the Australian government’s recent and unprecedented actions toward the Aborigines of that land. At the beginning of last year, newly-elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia for the Stolen Generations — between the 1860s and the 1970s, over 100,000 children were taken away by force from their Aboriginal parents and mostly placed in institutions run by religious or “charitable” organizations. This was done “for their own good,” and a lot of those children wound up as servants in the homes of white Christian Australians.

When Melbourne was chosen as the site for the next Parliament, the Board felt it was important to acknowledge the Australian government’s apology and to encourage further steps of that sort, so we decided to create the Task Force in order to bring to Melbourne a sizable delegation of indigenous speakers and representatives from all over the world, to bear witness to the hopeful developments taking place in Australia, and to highlight the plight of indigenous peoples in other countries.

I was very glad when I was invited to serve on the Task Force, not only because its mission represents a cause that I’m very committed to, but also because I saw it as an opportunity to bring some light to bear on the indigenous pagan traditions of Europe.

In the interfaith movement, pagans are almost always placed within the category of “New Religious Movements,” which refers to spiritual practices that have developed since approximately 1850, and which are not direct offshoots from older religions such as Buddhism or Christianity. This category generally includes such groups as the Bahá’ís, the Rastafarians, the Brahma Kumaris, various New Age spiritual movements, the Church of Scientology, etc. While most pagan practices found today clearly fall within this category, there are those which don’t, particularly the traditional forms of ethnic paganism that have managed to survive in various parts of Europe.

The practices that my teachers passed on to me, which originated in the Gaelic-speaking regions of the Scottish Highlands, represent one such surviving tradition, and for the last forty years I have sought out other keepers of similar traditions in both Europe and the Unites States. This pursuit has been a great challenge, because practitioners of this sort are very scarce, generally live in remote rural locations, and most are extremely private about what they do. It is not surprising, therefore, that most people — including, it seems, the great majority of modern pagans — are not aware that such traditional practices still exist. Yet, the existence of these European survivals carries significant implications not only for pagans, but also for indigenous peoples throughout the world, a point which I have tried to make for many years at various pagan and interfaith events.

The Indigenous Task Force named me as one of the speakers for the European traditions, and gave me the task of finding others to bring to the Parliament. The first person I invited was Jonas Trinkunas, krivis (chief high priest) of Romuva, the pagan religion of Lithuania. I have known Jonas for a long time, and in 1997 he attended our annual Rites of Spring celebration. He is quite a remarkable man, who has maintained his ancestral tradition alive in spite of opposition not only from the Catholic church, but also from the Soviet Union during its occupation of his homeland. I am glad to report that Jonas readily accepted the invitation.

Unfortunately, of the other potential speakers whom I know personally, two had health problems which prevented them from attending, and several others simply could not imagine participating in an event like the Parliament and speaking openly about their practices. I pursued several leads of people who were referred to me by others, but none of them replied to my messages. I had really hoped to at least find a traditional speaker from among the Sami of northern Scandinavia, but it appears they have been so thoroughly Christianized that, while the Sami definitely qualify as an indigenous population, it is almost impossible to find actual practitioners of their indigenous religion. I even carried on a direct correspondence with the Sami vice-president of the Finnish Parliament, the dean of the University of Helsinki, and the rector of the Sami College of Norway, all of whom are reputed to be experts in Sami culture, but none could help me find me a suitable speaker.

In the end, the Task Force additionally decided to invite a young indigenous representative from each continent, so I asked Jonas to pick someone from his Romuva community and he chose Arturas Sinkevicius, a young leader and educator who is involved in the religious training of Romuvan children.

Jonas, Arturas and I will not only be engaging in a special track of panel discussions with the indigenous representatives from other cultures, but will also participate in a day-long Indigenous Assembly during which we will all have the opportunity to get to know each other more deeply and explore issues of common interest and concern.

Since its first modern convocation in 1993, many indigenous delegates from all over the world, as well as many practitioners of contemporary paganism, have participated actively in the Parliament. This will be the first time, however, that the Parliament of the World’s Religions will officially recognize the indigenous European pagan traditions as such. (Go here to view the invited indigenous delegates to the Melbourne Parliament.)