Parliament of World’s Religions 2018: A Personal Report

by Amanda Leigh-Hawkins

[Ed. note: Amanda Leigh-Hawkins is a longstanding member of the EarthSpirit Community, and she also serves as program coordinator of the International Relations & Exchange Program of The Troth, one of the most prominent heathen organizations in the U.S. We are happy to publish this report of her participation in the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto; her report will also be included in the January issue of Idunna, The Troth’s quarterly journal. A full account of EarthSpirit’s presence at the Toronto Parliament is in the works, and will soon be included in these pages.]

The Parliament of World’s Religions (PoWR) was held in Toronto, Canada November 1-7, 2018. The theme this year was “The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation and Change”. It gives me hope for humanity and the earth to have witnessed and participated in making a real difference. It was such a powerful experience to support and be part of this kind of shared interfaith, and international collaboration. The event was filled with high-magic, and deeply meaningful, intellectually inspiring, personal, educational, and transformational experiences. I was there formally representing The Troth as the Program Coordinator for The Troth’s International Relations and Exchange Program (IREP), and the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry. I was also there to support paganism in general, and my local pagan EarthSpirit Community. This was my first interfaith event. I hear there were 10,000 delegates from 80 countries, 1600 presenters, 200 religious and spiritual traditions, and at minimum 100 pagans and Heathens in attendance this year, and perhaps as many as 300. I am grateful that pagans and Heathens were represented so well. It was like our own mini event within the larger one. So much happened at the Parliament that I can only do my best to describe my personal 2-day experience.

I remember first hearing about the PoWR from EarthSpirit Community members when I first met them around the year 2002. If I’m not mistaken, Earth Spirit has been attending since 1993. I’ve always respected, appreciated, and been inspired by the efforts and support that “the pagan contingent” have put into the Parliament, pagan community, and other shared values such as human/civil rights and protection of the environment. I have been particularly inspired by Andras Corban-Arthen, and Deidre Pulgram Arthen. I was thrilled to finally be able to attend.

When I arrived, I stayed at a hotel with The Troth Steward for Eastern Canada, Camille Crawford. We dove right into deep and important conversations first thing in the morning, even before coffee! After a brief run through Toronto (I usually avoid Starbucks, but the Rose Blossom Café Late was a delicious taste of Toronto!), we made our way to our booth #411 at the Parliament where we met up with Diana Paxson, Robert L. Schreiwer, John Mainer, Lorrie Wood, Camille Crawford, Ethan Stark, Eric Thorpe-Moscon, Brian Weis, Angela Carlson, Lisa Cowley Morgenstern, and others. Our booth was co-sponsored by The Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry, and The Troth’s International Relations and Exchange Program. We also proudly hung the banner for Heathens Against Hate, an independent program/branch within The Troth. Which reminds me, we should make IREP pins. Oh, hey, are there Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry pins? I became a big fan of pins at PoWR (blush). I proudly wore The Troth pin, the HAH pin, and the EarthSpirit Community pin.

Amanda Voices 01-02

Amanda Voices 03

(Photos above by Amanda Leigh-Hawkins)

Our group members spoke at the following presentations & panels:

Saturday: 17:00-17:45: Room 201E:
Ancestor Sumbel: Come honor your Beloved Dead

Hosted by Diana Paxson, Robert Schreiwer, and Ethan Stark. Photos by Angie Buchanan.

Amanda Voices 04-05

This public Heathen Ancestor Sumbel was everything it should have been. Sumbel is an important way to connect, share, remember, and honor. Later that evening we had a private sumbel which was what I really needed. I’ve been so isolated at work full-time, and as a mom of a young child, that I don’t get to spend as much time as I need with my religious/spiritual communities. I look forward to hosting and attending local gatherings more often. Such quality time is so vitally restorative and healing. I think any psychologist would say that spending time with trusted friends helps keep depression away.

 

Sunday: 14:15-15:45: Room 104D:
Ancient Religious Rituals and Vows and their Relevance in Modern World

The Heathen representative on this panel was John Mainer. Heathenry is a world-accepting religion. Whereas many (most?) other religions are world-rejecting. Vows and oaths are handled differently in the various traditions which deeply affect how we as peoples interact with others, self, and the world.

 

Sunday: 15:15-16:00: Room 703:
Heathens Against Hate: Striving to Save a Religious Identity from Extremists (video is linked)

Presented by Ethan Stark, Robert Schreiwer, Eric Thorpe-Moscon, and Brian Weis.      (Left photo, back row, l-r: Ethan & Brian; front row, l-r: Rob & Eric. Right photo, l-r: Ethan & Rob. Photos by Amanda Leigh-Hawkins.)

Amanda Voices 06-07

This was a very good presentation and overview of the issues Heathenry faces on a daily basis. I am very appreciative of the work HAH does to combat prejudice in Heathenry directly. Please take the time to watch the whole video (linked above). I would more actively participate in HAH itself if I wasn’t already spearheading IREP, which is similar to HAH but its focus is frith building and connecting inclusive peoples. Sometimes the work of these two Troth programs overlap. HAH at PoWR is an example of that overlap.

 

Tuesday: 15:15-16:00: Room 605:
“Heathen” is a Belief System, not a Put-down

Presented by Lisa Morgenstern, Angela Carlson, Diana Paxson, John Mainer, Lorrie Wood (from left to right in the picture below). Photo by Yvonne C. Conway-Williams.

Amanda Voices 08

Description: “Around the world, ‘Heathen’ has been linked to the idea of ‘godless,’ ‘uncivilized,’ etc. Pagans have reclaimed their root word ‘Paganus’ meaning country dweller who worshipped the Old Gods. ‘Heathen’ evolved into a Middle English root word meaning something similar to ‘Paganus’ rather than ‘a person having no religion.’ As we stand up to the white supremacists/racists who would steal our ancient symbols for their own purposes, we must also stand up to the prejudice of language within the World Community.”

This reminds me of the taxi ride I had back to my hotel. I was lucky enough to get a semi-famous taxi driver renowned for having memorized the North American map. We had a trivia session, starting with locations, and then sciences, and then he gave me to option of picking my own questions for him. After having failed or nearly failed most of my trivia questions, I was relieved that I had something to offer him. I asked him something to the effect of “What is paganism?”. He said, “pagans don’t have religion”. I replied that many of us do have religion. He was surprised and asked me more about mine. I tried to describe it simply, “Germanic pagan. Asatru to be specific. We honor many Gods and Goddesses. Such as Freya, the Goddess of love. I am inclusive and wish the best for everyone.” Maybe I wish I just said “Asatru, meaning having faith in the Aesir”. Instead of saying Germanic pagan. But that would require explaining the Aesir and Vanir, which would bring me back to Germanic Heathenry anyway. Ugh, labels, and identity and beliefs can be so complicated. I am uncomfortable associating ethnicity with my religion/spirituality. Why? Well, for example my ancestors have not been pagan or Heathen (or European) in hundreds of years. As far as I’m aware, ethnicity does not bind you to a faith, your choices and relationships do. Asatru-Witch is even more precise way I self-identify. Circling back to the taxi ride again…after reflecting on how little I know about the subjects he was quizzing me on, instead of just feeling like my college degrees and 40 years of thoughtful life failed me, I felt like I at least had something important to offer the world. He and I were both humbled and had some new things to think about. My primary interfaith interaction back at the booth, was also in support of the Goddesses. “Don’t’ forget the Goddesses!” I said to Lisa, as she masterfully explained Heathenry/Asatru to a young lady who seemed to be eagerly waiting to hear about the Goddesses and beamed when we made that connection. Hail Freya! Freya has been following me around the world in my efforts to build alliances between Heathens and pagans internationally. I felt Her influence strongly in Toronto. Among all the God-religions at the Parliament, it was very important to advocate for and with the Goddesses.

Which brings me to the EarthSpirit Community booth #911:

(From left to right: Amanda Leigh-Hawkins, Moira Ashleigh, Jennifer B., Will Thomas Rowan. Photo by Isobel Arthen.)

Amanda Voices 09

It was such a pleasure to stand together with the EarthSpirit Community in support of our shared values, community, and desire to make a positive difference in the world. Jennifer brought me to my first Sikh Langar lunch. Which was very different than our usual lunches together at work. Langar is the term used in Sikhism for the community kitchen where a vegetarian meal is served to all visitors, without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity. When I sat down to eat this lunch, I felt connected to and equal to all the people who struggle to have access to food in the world. I was very appreciative of the food offered, especially that it was at no cost. I reflected on how perhaps I would not have had lunch today without this hospitality. Will wrote about the Transforming Masculinity workshop he co-presented at PoWR. Moira, I have known since I was a “wee pagan” at my first Rites of Spring EarthSpirit event in 2002. She’s always been a strong and wise woman to look up to that I respect very much. Though he was not in this picture, Andras Corban-Arthen is the spiritual Director of EarthSpirit. He was very busy at Parliament, being Vice Chair of PoWR, and President of ECER [European Congress of Ethnic Religions]. I appreciate all he has done for community, pagans, the world interfaith dialogues, and me personally as a young Witch.

Which brings me to the pagan presentation:

Reclaiming the Indigenous Ethnic Religions of Europe (video is linked)

“A panel discussion / presentation by Andras Corban-Arthen, Inija Trinkūnienė and Vlassis G. Rassias, board members of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions – from Spain, Lithuania and Greece – concerning the survival and preservation of pre-Christian, indigenous and ethnic spiritual traditions among European peoples, at 2018 PARLIAMENT OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS in Toronto Canada, on Sat, November 3rd, 2018.”

This presentation is the one that has stood out to me the most, and is most thought provoking, and the most challenging to reply to as an inclusive Heathen. The Heathens Against Hate presentation is an important one to consider at the same time as this one. These two presentations are two primary reasons for my attendance. If you know me, you know what Frith Forge meant to me, you will see it discussed in the HAH presentation. If you know me or don’t know me, imagine how one might help take the right next steps from here for inclusive Heathenry/Asatru, and much broader/shared concerns with PoWR. I invite my friends from Frith Forge in particular to listen to this video thoughtfully, especially Andras’ comments during the Q&A at the end. I look forward to continuing our discussions about what inclusive Heathenry/Asatru means to us throughout the world.

I think Andras is doing a very good job leading the ECER in the right direction, far away from its racist past. I appreciate Andras’ statement: “Ethnocentrism becomes a problem when it becomes a way to shut anyone else who is different out of that.”  There is good bridging language used in this presentation. I see good interreligious harmony building in this as well. Andras quotes someone from Denmark who said “If the Gods of my people want to accept this person (a black person), it is not my place to say no. If this person wants to worship the Gods of my people, it is not my place to say no. However, the religion of my people is totally centered on this land that I was born and grew up in. So, this person would need to live here to practice my religion because it is connected totally to the land. The ceremonies are all, all take place in the Danish language. So, they would need to speak Danish. They are rooted in a culture that still exists in Denmark, so they would need to be in some way assimilated into the culture or be willing to be assimilated into the culture. If a black person, say from the United States or from Africa or whatever, wanted to do all of that, we would welcome them.” Then Andras said “What really struck me about that, is that is the same kind of answer I would expect from a Lakota, or a Wurundjeri, or a Yoruba in their native land. It’s really not that different. We’re not, perhaps used to thinking of Europeans in this same context. And I think in some ways that’s part of what looking at the survivals of these very ancient traditions in many places can give us a different perspective on European culture and therefore western culture.” I respect that, especially in the context of trying to protect “endangered” traditions and peoples. However, after sitting on this for a couple weeks, I am starting to be able to articulate my remaining concerns. For example, one thing that one should not forget is that (it seems to me) that the Aesir and Vanir Gods and Godesses are not restricted by the boundaries of a country or ethnicity or sometimes even species when choosing where and with whom to connect to. (Dwarves, giants, and elves oh my!). Also, what happens when this guy from Denmark goes on vacation outside his country? Is he no longer able to practice his religion? I would think he would still be able to honor the Gods, Goddesses, ancestors, community. I find that land spirits can be different and are different even at your neighbors house compared to your own. Bit you can still practice honoring friendly land-spirits wherever you go. (Andras, I know you know all about that. I look forward to chatting more with you about all this). On a slightly different train if thought… One thing that I am learning over and over on deeper levels is how harmony, inclusion, and frith/peace building also requires equally strong boundaries. I am an inclusive Heathen, however, like the The Gods and Goddess may connect with anyone, as do humans. I think each person’s religion is unique to them. Religion is very personal. Yet like at PoWR people were finding commonalities between seemingly totally different religions constantly, all week long. So maybe it’s communities, not as much religion, that need the stronger boundaries? Communities, especially spiritual communities have boundaries and require mutual acceptance and trust. For example, I’ve been attending EarthSpirit events for 16 years, yet it took until this PoWR for me to feel (for personal reasons) that it was fully appropriate for me to wear the Earth Spirit Community pin. (Andras, thank you for that hug. It meant so much to me. The elaborate web weaving was not lost on me.)

Forgive me. Internet. if I messed up and said something wrong. I usually am not one to write a lot, because I can talk myself out of saying pretty much anything. Haha. However, I’m trying to learn and share, and not be a stereotypical “one-dimensional” American. I’m trying to make a positive difference. I am hoping this personal report reaches an audience who can continue to engage in compassionate and educational dialogue like at PoWR. Instead of the flame wars that could start over such a complicated topic regardless of weather I say the right or wrong thing. I have SO drawn my line in the sand between me and the hate groups. So please don’t put words in my mouth and say I am not firmly inclusive. For I most certainly am. I’m warily considering how faiths centered on “regional” practices may be okay and when it’s not. Instead of just writing off anyone who resembles prejudiced people whom I want nowhere near my personal boundary.

Moving on. After this presentation we had a group dinner together for the Heathens and Inija joined us. What a good dinner with friends and acquaintances! At which point suddenly, I “oathed-in” to another Troth role, International Steward. There is much I wish to continue helping with. The official title just helps me do what I’ve been doing even better. I’m just trying to do my part to at least learn and grow and help others connect.

Amanda Voices 10-11

(Left photo, l-r: Rob Schreiwer, Camille Crawford, Amanda Leigh-Hawkins. Photo by John Mainer. The picture of The Troth banner was taken by Amanda Leigh-Hawkins at Trothmoot 2018.)

There are so many other presentations, performances, and spaces I wish I had the chance to see. Such as the women’s space room, the Red Tent, the LGBTQIA+ safe space room, the art salon, spend more time at booths and presentations for other faiths, plenaries, performances, and so much more. On my way back to my car I had an incredibly important personal conversation about ‘wolf medicine’ with one of my new Heathen friends. Then I stopped by the native American 24-hour fire and made an offering. I really appreciated feeling welcome there. I found myself returning home, more comfortable with my place in the world, myself, and how to interact with both. I highly recommend going if you get the chance. It is well worth it. And…don’t forget the Goddesses. Hail Freya! Hail Frigga!




In frith and service,

Amanda Leigh-Hawkins

Advertisements

Transforming Masculinity

by Will Rowan

My name is William, and I am a man. I am a man who struggles with how to be me in a culture that has strict definitions of what a man should and shouldn’t be. I am a man who had to relearn to cry as an adult. I am a man who struggles with rage and who needs to remind myself that I can ask for help when life is overwhelming. I am a man who is getting better at admitting and apologizing when I am wrong or when I have made a mistake. I am a man who listens to and believes women. I am a man who is in service to my community, which includes all beings of the Earth. I am a man who seeks the mystery.

When I was 25, I came to a gathering called Rites of Spring. Within half a day, every man (and a few women) who I had met came up to me at lunch and told me that I should go to the beach and meet the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf. How could I say no to that?

On the beach, we met each other hand to hand, body to body. We pushed each other upwards, and we caught each other when we fell. And we held each other when we cried—we gave each other space to let out the pressure that had been building and building inside of us. But we let it out without fear of hurting anyone, because we held each other.

P1150485

Will and Donovan demonstrate during the workshop (photo by Moira Ashleigh)

And over the years, we built networks of trust with one another. We howled into the distance between us and our brothers called back, offering to us a witness of our struggles. And we grappled with what it means to be a good person in a world that tells us over and over that to be a real man we have to hurt our sisters, our brothers, and all others who dare to not bow at the altar of He-Man. We sacralized this work, built a temple, and took our place in the web of our community.

And now we’re sharing it with the world in the hopes that other men can learn from our stumbles and our successes and take up this important work themselves.

For the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Donovan Arthen and I spoke about our experiences with the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf, its founding, its development, and the effect it has had in our lives. The presentation was called Transforming Masculinity: Changing the Way that Men Engage with Communities. The response to the material from the fifty-some-odd people in the room was palpable and I hope we left them inspired to go out and do their own version of this important work. Unfortunately, Donovan and I spoke so passionately about the subject that we ran out of time to answer questions!

So here are some of the questions folks wrote down for us along with my answers. Please note, these are my answers, based on my experience, and I do not speak for Donovan or for the all members of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf.

What suggestions do you have for transferring this experience to young men living in an urban setting?

Donovan did answer this one at the Parliament. He suggested taking them out of the urban setting to begin with. I definitely second that. Even if that’s not possible, it’s important to bring this work away from environments associated the sort of heckling that often goes along with recreational and sporting culture among men. A good urban setting for this kind of work would be a martial arts dojo, and I would suggest respecting the customs of the dojo by bowing when entering or leaving the mats. Keeping whatever space this happens in sacred is important.

Say there is a young man who is struggling with toxic masculinity to the point of making others feel uncomfortable. However, this young man doesn’t see a need to change. How do you help him become aware of his actions?

This is a tough one. This kind of young man is habituated to discount the words of women and feminine folk, and he also is likely to ignore any criticism of his actions from any source — especially if it’s paternal. To accept criticism is to admit defeat and lose face, and this defensive mindset is a master shape-changer that can rationalize itself for days.  (I should know, I’ve lived it.)  He needs to be called on his behavior by people he respects and trusts who are willing to be patient with him refusing their criticism over and over again. And in order for that to happen, somebody has to gain his trust and respect first. That’s a lot of emotional labor, and it’s definitely not a burden to be put on the shoulders of the ones he’s making uncomfortable. This sort of emotional education is often the province of coaches, outdoor educators, and camp counselors. The trouble is, a lot of coaches—men specifically—are still operating within the constraints of the same model of masculinity and so need to break themselves out before they can do this work for others.

Do you share your vulnerabilities with each other? Also do you work on relationships with women?

In some of our work in the past five years, we’ve come together to share what we’re going through in our lives and how we’re doing. The network of howls (sending a simple coded email to a whole list and whoever is available can respond), has been another way for us to see each other in a supportive way at our most vulnerable. As to relationships with women, we’re all working on our own relationships and support each other on an individual level as requested by each other. However, some of the best work on that that I’ve seen in our community was when we hosted a series of discussions over several years entitled “I’m a Guy, Any Questions?” During those we dug into a lot of the pervasive societal gender dynamics we see around us and talked about ways that men can use their privilege to support women rather than marginalize them

What are the ways (if any) that a woman can assist a man to break the societal expectations of masculinity?

I have to say it’s really tough for me to suggest that women and feminine folk take on more emotional labor than is already loaded on them by default in our culture. This is our work, and we really can’t ask you to shoulder the burden for us. That being said, when you have the bandwidth, there are some things that in my experience help.

1) Don’t pull your punches, rhetorically speaking. Sparing our feelings only teaches us that our comfort in ourselves is more important than your emotional well-being and sovereignty.
2) Celebrate and encourage the ways that men around you are breaking societal expectations. Sometimes we’re putting a brave face on it, but we’re internally nervous as heck.
3) Please don’t participate in the casual shaming of “feminine” behavior in men, and call shamers out.
4) This is a silly one: call it a bun, not a man-bun.  It’s the same hairstyle. We don’t need to be insulated from the merest whiff of femininity by having it called “guy-liner.” Is our masculinity really so fragile we have to put “man-” in front of a purse in order to carry a moderate number of things around? #petpeeves

Ancestors at A Parliament of the World’s Religions

by Arianna Knapp

As I drove the last few hours toward Toronto, I realized that I was coming to my Grandmother’s childhood home, and the city where my ancestors had arrived from

Kay Malcom Knapp

Kay Malcom Knapp

Scotland at the turn of the last century. It has been remarkable to witness and participate in a variety of cultural rituals which have each venerated ancestors. Her presence has echoed in my mind and poked at my bones as a chalice is raised and I walk a Wiccan circle dance invoking her spirit at Sam Hain, I speak her name over a horn of mead at a Sumble witnessed by dozens of participants from a variety of cultures, and meditate on her journey to the drums and chants of Canada’s First People.

Added to the depth of connection is the discussion of women’s history, empowerment and agency. There was never a time to explore such things with her, she left this world before I was of an age to ask the questions. However, I have the distinct impression that she is witnessing the generations of her lineage and proud to know how we have carried her name, her strength, and her kindness into our world.

Kay Malcolm Knapp: you are carried by:
Alma Kay Alberghini
Kael Laurel Malcolm Alberghini
Arianna Knapp

Weaving a Fabric of Inclusion

by Andrew Watt

One of the items on display here at A Parliament of the World’s Religions is Esther Bryan’s Quilt of Belonging. Consisting of 263 hexagonal frames for 263 embroidered and textile blocks, the quilt is a kind of self-portrait of Canada at the dawning of the Christian Era’s second millennium: there is one block for each of Canada’s First Nations, and one block for each nation of the wider world whose immigrants have come to Canada. It took six and a half years to create. Members of each immigrant group and First Nation worked on the block representing their community, some only agreeing after long periods of negotiation and gradual or grudging trust-building. One nation, San Marino, is represented by only one person in all of Canada, while other blocks represent thousands of people and their descendants. One two-year-old sewed a couple of stitches, while a 92-year-old had to be helped to hold the embroidery needle between trembling fingers. Just outside the display area, several massive crates with giant foam rollers inside hold the Quilt on its travels around Canada — which have already taken it enough miles to go from Earth to the Moon five times. Listening to Ms. Bryan talk about the creation of the quilt left me with the impression that the Quilt of Belonging is not simply a quilt: it is a treasure-house of stories.

The Quilt is currently on display on the first floor of the North Building. It’s nearly impossible to take in all at once — the ribbon of color that forms the upper edge creates a rainbow of extraordinary intensity. Yet as one approaches, the appearance of continuum dissolves into a formula of precise strips of color all down the length of the hall. Beneath

IMG_20181104_191844144

Photo by Miriam Klamkin

these ribbons of hue in harmonious order are the Nations. The eye catches on San Marino, and then on the Tlinglit First Nation. One has to go and seek out countries of one’s own national origin: perhaps Great Britain, perhaps France. The Diné come into view, and then perhaps Thailand. Malayasia and Tonga and Cuba appear. The Labradorans and the Dakota and the Haida.

It’s the opposite of erasure.

And then something curious happens. You stop seeing the names of countries, and you start looking at the artistry, at the needlework, at the overarching structure of the quilt. You start to see the heavy tassels of yarn along the bottom. You start seeing how the fabric pulls against the stitch-work here and there. You begin to imagine women and men sitting with Esther Bryan in kitchens and living rooms, all across Canada, as she gently but deliberately earned their trust, came into their communities, and helped them stitch a quilt block. This pull here was a stab through the textile by an untrained hand; that one over there is a daughter guiding her mother’s hands that are starting to lose a battle with arthritis; these interwoven threads were stained by the tears of a refugee remembering their homeland. You start to see those big crates carrying the quilt on the back of a cargo skid pulled by a ski-doo across the ice for a display in the far north, or hauled onto a ferry for a showing on Prince Edward Island. You imagine careful hands unrolling it from its crate for the first time, and staring in wonder at a picture of their homeland for the first time.

And then you, the viewer, start to cry.

You become one with the stories that you see, hear, and imagine in the great quilt before you. You, in a sudden moment, find yourself drawn into the story of Canada, even as a visitor, you find yourself wrapped in all the tales of wonder and heartbreak and hope and tragedy and dignity that are caught up in this quilt, tangled together in its threads and in its fabric.

You are in the presence of a relic. A medicine, in a sense. An object that has been made holy by the hands that have made it, and the stories that have been woven into it, and

IMG_20181104_191827909

Photo by Miriam Klamkin

the community that has chosen to honor it. An emblem of Canada — not its government, not its national presence on an international stage — but of its people and its common life.

So many rooms and spaces at the Parliament are barren and devoid of symbolism. It’s a conference center, of course — part of the very nature of the spaces within it is that they are non-descript and easily shifted from one purpose to another and another. At the same time, though, the Quilt of Belonging shows a portrait of grace: a nation of nations, a country of countries, at peace with itself and with its neighbors.

And simply by viewing the quilt with your other eyes, you feel the potential for welcome and trust, the gracious hospitality, and the growing strength, of this year’s host nation for the Parliament.

EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto!  You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.  

In the Circle of Earth and Sky: Four Directions Ceremony in conjunction with Four Elders

by Chris LaFond

SRC-Francois-Paulette-min_2.ios-3x.1538655410

Francois Paulette

Indigenous Elder Francois Paulette (Dene) led the sunrise observance on Monday, accompanied by elders Be’sha Blondin (of the Sahtu Region), Trina Moyan, and a Mayan Elder. I arrived at 6:45 for the scheduled 7 a.m. ceremony, but as I arrived, Bob Goulais (Anishanaabe), who is the co-chair of the Indigenous Working Group of the Parliament and was there as a fire tender, announced that the ceremony would begin around 7:30 a.m. because the elders wanted to wait until the Sun had actually risen. He explained that the Parliament insisted on scheduling all the morning observances at 7 a.m., despite the fact that most of the presenters wanted an actual sunrise ceremony. I was left wondering why, at an event like this, such a simple request could not be accommodated.

So I had forty-five minutes to wait. But as so often happens, the highlight of the moment happened outside of the scheduled event. Mr. Goulais said that while we waited, he would offer us a teaching about the fire. He then told us his people’s story of creation, which began with the thought of the Creator, and spiraled down through space, to the Earth, and primarily through the Fire. We learned about the “happy hunting grounds,” as

Bob_Goulais

Bob Goulais

he explained with a smile about that place from which our spirits come and to which they will go when it is their time. We heard several of his people’s teachings about the Earth, many of which have been confirmed by science today: the fire at the center of the Earth, the idea of action and reaction, and more. He finished with an explanation of the roles of men and women in his community, and how and why men have become the fire keepers.
At 7:30, the Elders had arrived, and Chief Paulette gave a brief instruction to all, after which we were given a small handful of tobacco to offer. As Mr. Goulais drummed and chanted (we joined him in raising our voices when he got to the “exciting parts” as he had invited us to do), we moved in a sun-wise circle, and one by one, facing the East, offered the tobacco into a small basket. When all the participants had completed their offerings, a Mayan elder took the basket of tobacco, while Elder Trina Moyan took a basket of food in her hands. Together they faced the East and offered prayers, then moved around the circle, stopping again for prayers to the South, West, and North. Finally, they emptied each basket onto the Fire, completing the offering.

The Mayan elder then explained how the teachings of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are strikingly similar to those of the Indigenous peoples of Australia because the Original Teachings had been given to all peoples. Ms. Moyan told us that her prayers at the directions had been for all people at their beginnings, their youth, their adulthood, and their elderhood, that we might live good lives and guide others in doing the same. Elder Be’sha Blondin then gave a final blessing, exhorting us to live a simple life, and to clean and heal the Earth.

The ceremony concluded with the Elders beginning to move inside the circle, spiraling around to shake the hands of and greet each person there. The whole circle followed them in until it was whole again, where it began. As we all headed off to our next destinations, I couldn’t help humming to myself, “In the circle of Earth and sky, my heart flies to yours. We gather, we remember, and the pattern endures.”

EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto!  You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.  

The Zoroastrian Boi Ceremony

by Chris LaFond

imagefile.ios-3x

Tehemton Mirza, Mobed

On this chilly Sunday morning at 7 am, about 40 people gathered at a small park outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to join the Zoroastrian Fire Ceremony. Tehemton Mirza, the Mobed (Zoroastrian priest), greeted us as we gathered around the warmth of the fire just before the Sun rose. First he thanked the representative of the First Nations, who was present to help tend the fire, for hosting us on their land. Then he explained that he was going to do an abbreviated Boi Ceremony, a fire blessing. Each attendee had been given a dry piece of wood to offer the fire at the end of the ceremony. What followed would be familiar to any pagan today. He chanted a long blessing over the fire in Farsi, and at the point in the prayer where he intoned “Dushmata, Duzukhta, Duzvarshta,” (Bad thoughts, bad words, and bad deeds), he rang a bell nine times (three for each) to banish these.

During the ceremony, the Atash (Sacred Fire) asks in the prayer, “What did the walking friend (the devotee) bring for his sitting friend (the Sacred Fire)?” This was the invitation for the attendees to place their individual pieces of wood on the fire. At a certain point, sandalwood is offered to the fire, being particularly sacred to the rite. This morning, the First Nations attendee also offered cedar, sage, and tobacco, the sacred offerings for the particular land that we are on here. Toward the end of the chant, the Mobed asked the Fire to bless the devotees:

In thy family, may the flock of cattle increase!
Unto Thee may there be an increase of heroic men!
May thou have an active mind!
May thy life be active!
May thou live a joyous life, those nights that thou live!

The blessing is reminiscent of many of those from the Gaelic highlands.

After the prayers, and the final pieces of wood offerings were given to the Fire, each attendee was offered some ash that had been removed and cooled earlier, so that we could put a small bit on our foreheads in a sign of humility and respect for the Fire.

Having concluded the ritual part of the gathering, the Mobed drew attention to the very close parallels between the Zoroastrian ceremonies and those of our First Nations hosts. He spoke of the three different kinds of sacred fires, and he introduced a female Zoroastrian priest who was present, pointing out that there is equality among men and women, and this includes women’s participation in the priesthood.

We concluded as the Sun’s rays poured over the buildings around us on the first rainless day we’ve had since the Parliament began.

EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto!  You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.  

Holding Integrity: A Lesson from Chief Arvol Looking Horse

by Chris LaFond

Arvol Looking Horse

photo by Balkowitsch, used under a Creative Commons license

On Saturday, I attended a workshop titled “Pipe Ceremony,” presented by Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota. Mr. Looking Horse talked about becoming a sacred bundle keeper when his grandmother died in her eighties, which was young for a bundle keeper. As a consequence of becoming a sacred bundle keeper, he began to live in ceremony all the time. He was told that he could not ever use a gun or weapon, he could not use foul language, could not run for political office, and he could not raise his hand to swear an oath to the U.S. flag.

What I find impressive about his presentation and his life is his willingness to take on a responsibility for his community that defines how he will live for the rest of his life. His role in his community is not merely the person who keeps the bundle or offers the pipe. His entire life is now a ritual.

Most modern pagan communities don’t have such a rigid differentiation of roles.  In fact, we often have a difficult time staying in ritual for more than an hour or so, even when there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.  Few of us live in the kind of tight-knit or geographically-centered communities that would allow for such a lifetime dedication. But the model might serve even for those of us who take on temporary roles within our own groups. If you are responsible for holding a particular piece for your community, perhaps you might try letting that role infuse your whole life, at least until you pass that role to another.  Instead of looking at your responsibilities as something that you do, maybe try to think of them as who you are.

EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto!  You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.