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.
(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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
(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,