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 http://www.earthspirit.com. We will have many stories to share.

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.

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, Bahá’í, 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 re-evaluate. He also stressed how we hold the sacred as immanent, tangible and pluralistic; while also accepting magic or enchantment as intrinsic to our corporal existence. Michael sees Paganism 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 Australian 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 Cappuccino (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.

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 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.

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.

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.