It Looks A Lot Like Justice

By Andrew Watt

Written on November 8, 2018

The Parliament of the World’s Religions closed yesterday. We go home today. It’s curious and apropos that today the planet Jupiter enters into Sagittarius, astrologically:  wisdom and knowledge integrating with power and authority. When coherence and responsibility blend, the results look a lot like justice. The results look a lot like mercy and peace.

I heard from several aficionados of these Parliaments that “this time wasn’t as good as Salt Lake City (Utah, USA)” or “it wasn’t as intense as my experience in Melbourne (Australia).” For my part, as a first-timer, I was astonished by the range of diversity, nuance and complexity on display within the various theological and spiritual traditions — and the ways in which these vast and subtle traditions resolved to a few core principles again and again:

Develop a right relationship with the spirit world.
Develop a right relationship with nature.
Develop a right relationship with other human beings.
Develop a a right relationship with self.
Develop and iterate traditional practices that cultivate these relationships.

Now— it must be admitted, those relationships look VERY DIFFERENT based on whether your tradition began in a desert or a forest or a mountaintop or a city. Those

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Our EarthSpirit delegation (photo by Moira Ashleigh)

relationships look different when they’ve been cultivated for fifty years, five hundred years, five thousand years, fifty thousand years. Those relationships look different if you’ve always been persecuted, never been persecuted, or suffered both extremes. Those relationships look different based on the portability and replicability and practicality of your traditions and the ideas it carries.

But the successful religious systems still look like justice. The successful ones still look like mercy. The successful ones still look like mutual respect and kindness for all the realms of being.

It can’t possibly be an accident.

Every conference attendee I spoke with couldn’t deny how powerfully we were affected by the conversations, the presentations, the constant reminders embedded in both our own traditions and those of others, to practice hospitality and welcome, to share with strangers, to communicate in trust and in good faith, to hope for a better world.

It doesn’t mean we’re not ruled by fear at times. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have genuine conflict as individual people or as nations over resources, over access to necessary goods and services, or challenges with bad actors of various kinds. And, of course, we are all experiencing some of the most radical shifts in our relationships with nature, that our species has experienced in quite a long, long, long time.

But after talking with Buddhists, Indigenous elders, Sikhs, Jews, Christians, and other pagans and heathens — I end my own Parliament experience with recognition and insight and renewed sense of purpose that love, justice, and mercy live very close to the center of all of the Earth’s great wisdom traditions. and that love, justice, and mercy look a lot like long-term survival.

It can’t possibly be an accident.
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Let’s Do Lunch

by Jennifer Bennett

When you think of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, lunch is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. The thousands of people from all over the world; the hundreds of workshops; the spiritual and religious presentations; and, the many, many speakers and booths full of information—these probably are.  Yes, those are all important parts of the tapestry of this amazing gathering that happens once every three or so years somewhere on planet Earth. But, I’m here to tell you about the magic that is lunch at the Toronto Parliament.

The Sikh community, both local and partnering with communities from all over the world, offered langar every day of the 2018 Toronto Parliament. Langar–a free,

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Isobel Arthen, Deirdre Pulgram Arthen, and Sam Long attending langar (photo by Moira Ashleigh)

communal lunch–is cooked, served and cleaned up after all by the Sikh community. Thousands of people are fed, every day. Langar is offered in a space specifically created for it–you are requested to take your shoes off, cover your head, and wash your hands. There are spaces for shoes, stations where they will tie temporary head coverings for you—if you don’t already have your own—and sinks are set up for handwashing. The Sikh community members sincerely welcome you all along the way and have informational kiosks about the Sikh community and their religion’s requirement of service set up around the area.

As you stand in the initial food line, lunch is ladled in to Styrofoam trays (which are recycled). Every person who serves food or water or hands you utensils, looks you in the eye and welcomes you personally. The food is some of the best vegetarian, Indian-style food you’ve ever tasted. Chapattis, nan, rice, dahls, lentils—different combinations, every day–are ladled into your tray. You then make your way to sit on the floor—thus illustrating that everyone (regardless of caste, or any other “category”) is equal.  (A small number of tables with chairs are set up for those who require them.)  As you sit and eat, more volunteers are wandering up and down the aisles of floor seating, with stainless steel buckets and ladles, constantly offering you more of everything on your tray. But wait, there’s even more! After you bring your trays etc. to the recycling table, it’s time to visit the dessert and chai table on your way out.

As if all this was not the Divine in action in and of itself–all this generosity, true service and abundance–there are also the relationships that spring up with those you randomly end up sitting next to. This is where real holiness blossoms.

Throughout the week of the Parliament, I shared langar encounters with a member of the The Troth’s Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry; a woman from Aumism–Universal Religion, who was from France (and spoke just about as much English as I did French—but we managed a bit of conversation anyway); a well-known Canadian grass roots organizer (who was asked by Prime Minister Trudeau to attend the G7 Advisory Council on Gender Equity) who ended up going to a crone-ing workshop because I mentioned it to her; the husband of one of the Parliament organizers; a family (whose faces lit up once they found out I was Pagan) who asked me if I knew a particular person from S. Carolina…and I did!; a lovely young couple—one of whom was running for office in his very conservative state district (as an out gay man) because no one else from his party was running; and another young man who was living in an intentionally-multi-faith household in New York City (Christian, Jewish, Muslim). When he found out I was Pagan, he actually apologized that they had no Pagans in their community…yet!

Talk about feeding your spirit! All these are folks I just randomly sat down next to, or they next to me, to enjoy our meals, became a huge part of the Parliament experience. The Divine works in many ways and through many voices. We should all, always, have such opportunities to “do lunch” and in such a Pagan-friendly, accepting and supportive atmosphere!

Spirit Soaring!

by Kate Richardson

The Spirit Soaring Art Salon and Gallery formed the core and bulk of my experience at the Parliament of 2018. In the weeks leading up to it, I had already been reaching out to and communicating with artists who might participate. When I arrived on Thursday, the first thing I did after checking in at the EarthSpirit booth was to start setting up the gallery space, located in a generous alcove right next to the Red Tent. Deirdre negotiated lighting as I unloaded my easels and tables (the overhead fluorescents were on one switch, and lit both gallery and Red Tent).

Deborah Koff-Chapin showed up early, and set up a table draped with a banner and decks of her Soul Cards. Deborah then spent every plenary and assembly making ‘touch paintings’ in response to the speakers and performers; keep an eye out for an online gallery of her Parliament work. Swami Matagiri Perkins dropped off two paintings by Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, and I set up a table with the drawing I had brought and some cards, just so it wouldn’t seem empty.

Over the next couple of days more work arrived and the space became full and lively. One evening an artists who became aware of the gallery while visiting the Red Tent

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Mosa’s altar and Carolyn’s mask (photo by Moira Ashleigh)

called me to ask if she could set up an altar. I enthusiastically invited her to do so; it was a thing I wished I had the energy and resources to plan and execute but had not been able to. So I met Mosa McNeilly, who set up a beautiful and deeply meaningful altar honoring Yemaya, and her ancestors brought from Africa to America. She gave permission to share the poem she posted alongside the altar, which I will do in a separate post.

Sunday morning I arrived to check on the gallery and found some striking drawings of stylized goddess faces right next to Carolyn Hawthorn’s paper sculpture of Medusa’s head, resonating with her fierce energy.  I did not get to meet the artist, Megha Venketasamy, until the actual Salon on Monday, just another example of the beautiful synergy of our location right next to the Red Tent.  I can’t speak enough gratitude for the way ALisa and the Red Tent holders shared the space and the flow of energy through our area. The Spirit Soaring gallery and the Red Tent experienced a flow of conversation, energy and experience between them that felt inviting and richly creative.

Finally Monday noon arrived, and the gallery filled with even more art, along with all the artists and others who came to attend the Salon. I patterned the presentation on our EarthSpirit Art Salons. Each of the artists briefly introduced herself and her work, then presented some statement or demonstration of how her creative process connects with or expresses her spirituality. With 17 artists presenting, we used the entire 90 minute time allotted, and many stayed later to engage or continue conversations.

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Dr. Suresh dancing (photo by Moira Ashleigh)

The offerings were wide-ranging. There were drawings, paintings and photography, weavings and tapestries, and books. Cheri Jamison sang an operatic aria, Mani Rao sang one of the Zoroastrian devotional songs she has composed, Dr. Padmaja Suresh along with her spoken presentation, demonstrated her training in Indian classical dance. Mosa read her poem and called on Yemaya with chant and rattle. The artists came from different disciplines and different spiritual backgrounds, and there was a joyful enthusiasm of sharing the wealth and range of expression.

Many of the artists expressed interest in keeping in touch with each other, and following each others’ work. I felt that the supportive, engaging experience I’ve had with our EarthSpirit Art Salon’s format translated very well to this setting. I received enthusiastic feedback encouraging us to repeat and expand upon it for the next Parliament.

I had thought this would be the end of my blog post, which I drafted after the Art Salon, but the experience continued! On Tuesday, the art started to leave the gallery, and I started to break down the easels and tables. In the late afternoon as the space was emptying out, Mosa came by with some friends, and began drumming on some drums she’d left there after a workshop. People began dancing, and joining in the drumming and chanting. The now mostly empty gallery space became an impromptu drum and dance, which seemed a most fitting closing for the joyful expressive energy that had inhabited that corner of the convention center. It delighted me as I was preparing to let go of a space I’d been holding all week, and seemed like a natural outgrowth of the kind of energy that EarthSpirit seems to join with and bring forth in the world.

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.

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(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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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(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

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.

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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

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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.