Tag Archives: interfaith

Peace & Planet

1619533_514155038726222_5438626920744010539_nDid you know there are over 16,000 nuclear weapons ready to be used today? This is the legacy left to us by our parents and grandparents, the ones embroiled in the Cold War. And now it’s up to us to undo the damage our forebears have done to Earth.

April 24-26, 2015 is the weekend to be in New York City to join us to end nuclear weapon proliferation. There’s a conference as well as a march and rally. From Peace & Planet Facebook page

The fight to abolish nuclear weapons is inextricably linked with movements for economic, social, and environmental justice and peace. Over 50 peace, environmental, religious, and justice organizations from around the world serve on the Coordinating and Advisory Committees for this project. The cause is multi-generational and transcends borders, in order to use the 2015 NPT as an opportunity to build pressure on the nuclear powers, to draw attention to the terrifying threats that nuclear technologies pose to people, peace, and the planet, and to achieve a nuclear-free world. Partners from around the country join together to say: No Nukes! Take Action!

The peace and environmental movements dovetail nicely. For example, the US Military is the biggest consumer of fossil fuels. And the US Military is more likely to intervene in a civil war if oil is abundant. Soon water will replace oil for the reason for conflict, and interference, since the world is drying.

The organizers of Peace & Planet are seeking people of faith for an interfaith contingency to the weekend long events. This is the perfect avenue for Pagans to get involved with the peace and environmental movements. As Soli asked We all have a starting point. Where is yours?

Follow Peace & Planet on Twitter

Inter-Traditional Cooperation

roundtableI’ve been pondering how to write about this topic for quite sometime. Actually ever since Shauna first suggested I write for PaganActivist.com. It is a broad topic, but that’s not what makes it so difficult to write about. I keep thinking about my own experiences and how they are possibly outside of the norm – that is, they are relatively good experiences. Not to assume that every other person’s experience with working within a diverse community winds up in the realm of negative.

My first real attempt at working with multiple traditions and paths was back in 1997. My friend Sarah and I had this wonderful idea of trying to get the local Pagan community to work together on a single project, something like adopting a park or a stretch of high way. I really don’t remember.  What I do remember is the overwhelming number of local community leaders who showed up at the table. We put the call out over a local radio show – Murphy’s Magic Mess – on the local community radio station. We decided to meet at a local restaurant and see what we could accomplish. Unfortunately, even with over 20 local leaders at the table we couldn’t even agree on the term “Pagan” let alone what project to do together as a community. (Note: I am purposefully leaving their names out of this.)

In 2009, I sat down to coffee with one of those same leaders. We discussed what had happened over the years to change how our two groups had changed. Both groups have grown, matured, and branched out into new and better projects. We’ve still not reached the point of adopting a park or stretch of high way, but in some regards both groups have gone much further than that. What was the result of that conversation? We planned and executed a large group ritual for Beltaine that Spring.

I did learn a few things from that original meeting back in 1997. Namely, when you get that  many community leaders together for a “round table” discussion you are bound to run into egos and power struggles. It is part of human nature. As I often say (and I know someone famous said this), “wherever two or more people are gathered there will be politics.”

  • Sarah and I were 19
  • The average age of the other participants was 38
  • Sarah and I were “new” to the scene
  • Everyone else at the table was a known element

Those are just a few examples of why we didn’t feel like we had been taken seriously.

There were a few surprises along the way, as well. More than half of the people sitting at that table had never even met before. Here we had over 20 leaders of the local Pagan community and most of them had never even met! Can you believe that?! They all knew of each other, some had even stood circle together, but they had not spent any real time together. The biggest surprise was that everyone else at the table knew that one of the people at that table was a registered sex offender and a pedophile. Yes, a matter of public record – but not something that two 19 year olds were thinking about. (And yes, I did just admit that at 19 I didn’t know everything.) Some time after the round table we were finally informed of his crimes.

Fast forward to the present. Sarah and I are still friends, we still work together on community projects and try our best to work within the Pagan community. One of those projects is our podcast (shameless plug!). We’ve had a variety of guests on our show over the nearly five years of our series. Well known Pagan names like Oberon and Morning Glory, Wendy Rule and others. New comers to the scene like Faith Hamilton and Crystal Blanton (when she was very new on the scene). Musicians, authors, visual artists, etc. Why do I even mention this? It is safe to say that the majority of our guests are from different traditions and paths than we.

We open ourselves to new experiences. And that is one of the reasons why inter-traditional cooperation is important. Opening yourself to new experiences is not just broadening your horizons.  It is allowing yourself to experience something that may be out of your comfort zone.

Last December at your Yule time, I participated in a blot hosted by Nebraska Heathens United, a new group in my area. This wasn’t the first time I had attended a blot. I’d attended one 20 some years ago and again a few years back when visiting my mother coven in Colorado. I don’t remember much from that first blot. The one in Colorado was definitely interesting – meeting Hel at Samhain is a very interesting experience. The blot at Yule was a lot different from Hel. Somewhere around 50 people were gathered in the common room at the local Unitarian Church, passing the horn and toasting the Gods. Only about ten of them were Heathen, the rest were some flavor or another of Wiccan. We were all having a good time and I do think that some in the room truly had a spiritual experience.

Flashback time. My mother coven is a construct of many different paths. Twenty-three years ago we started out as an off-shoot of the Georgian Tradition. That said, we were not your typical Wiccan coven. Faerie and Native American influences abounded – and still do. Our trad’s founding HPS was influenced by the Eastern Star and her life partner is Druid. Our trad’s founding HP is where the Faerie and NA influences came in. We also had a heavy dose of activism at the beginning – still do. At our founding, we could count the number of straight members on just a few fingers. As Lady Rhiannon quips, she walked into a group of Dianic gay men waiting for a high priestess. Here we are today, a progressive and (we like to think) unique group of individuals with a vastly differing collection of back grounds. Everything from Native American to Ceremonialist, Wiccan to Druid, Egyptian to Celtic and just about anything else you can imagine.

But if you think about, the modern Pagan movement started out as a construct of many different paths. I know there are those who will argue that Gardner received his lessons from a long line of witches, some will argue that today’s Druids come from an unbroken line. To be honest with ourselves, the only “unbroken” traditions are those that have been passed down through the native peoples of certain lands (the Aborigines of Australia, the surviving traditions of Native Americans and First Nations Peoples, small pocket communities in the Middle East and the Basque region of Spain, just name a few). To hear Janet Farrar tell it, as she did at a workshop at Heartland 2013, Gerald Gardner basically made it up from bits and pieces of folklore and teachings of the Masons and other “secret societies.” That doesn’t make it any less valid.

That said, sometime after the advent of Alexandrians there began to be decent within in the Wiccan world. The Gardnarians claimed their way was the only way, the Alexandrians that theirs was the only way. Other traditions began cropping up, each claiming they were the true recipients of Gardner’s Book of Shadows. In recent years, though, there has been a bridging of the gap between the many of the various Wiccan traditions. a sense of cooperation is developing.

And that sense of cooperation is not limited to just the Wiccans. As I said above, in my area I have seen Wiccans work with Heathens, I have seen groups formerly at odds with each other reaching out to work together. I’m hearing about that elsewhere in the United States (and I can only speak for what I see here, not being familiar enough with Pagans elsewhere around the globe). I’ve seen it first hand in Denver, I’ve heard of it in Seattle and Chicago. It is happening.

The importance of cooperation. We are approaching a point in the history of the modern Pagan movement where it is important that we present a unified front to the rest of the world. Not something where we are all the same, one leader, that sort of thing. No. We need to show the public that we have the ability to police our own, handle issues within our communities, grow and share with others who do not follow Pagan paths.

In late March we saw the arrest of a prominent Pagan elder. In April we saw a man claiming to be Heathen attack another religion’s practitioners with gun fire and violence. Within a few weeks certain segments of the community reached out to each other and formed the Council of the Phoenix to address issues of abuse (all forms) within the Pagan community. Other areas of the Pagan world saw the banding together of diverse traditions and paths to form an Elders’ Council to address other issues within the community – particularly in the Denver area with the idea to grow and expand the concept. These are but to example of how inter-traditional cooperation can happen.

It is unfortunate that it took such drastic events to begin to unify the Pagan world. The outreach and cooperation have been needed for quite sometime. The internet is a key player in how this cooperation is beginning to take place. Through social media networks, through the blogosphere, and through the shrinking perceived distances between individuals and groups across the United States and around the globe.

Now it is your turn. It is your turn to talk about inter-traditional cooperation. What have you seen, heard of, that demonstrate such work? What are you doing to make it happen?

On Dialog, Interfaith and Otherwise

DialogThe online Pagan and Polytheist blogs have been discussing interfaith involvement and how and if we should speak for and about our various communities.  Amid the outcries of privilege, denials of the same, and various stories from Pagan and Polytheist alike of good and bad experiences while engaging in interfaith efforts, I think something was lost:

A way forward.

Ruadhán J. McElroy presented four standards for relations between Pagan and Polytheist communities.  These four standards are presented about two-thirds of the way down the post.  While I may not agree with everything therein–for example, I find the standards as written to be too demanding of one party without recognizing that sometimes concessions must be made by both–I do think that these standards can be made valuable for us in situations outside the wider Pagan community.  They’re especially so when we are called upon to represent the views of another.

In order to make these standards more generalizable, though, I think we need to consider how they could be reconsidered to include those outside our communities.

1. Extend Hospitality

I’ve heard it said that hospitality is perhaps the closest thing to a universal ideal that our various interrelated communities may share.  Hospitality isn’t simply being polite to others, though that’s certainly a good start, it also means that we provide them with what they need in that moment whether it be a willing ear, a strong-arm, or a loud voice.  Hospitality is the action of treating others as they wish to be treated.  This is greater than the Golden Rule; treating others as you wish to be treated.  The latter makes assumptions; the former requires that we engage with the other in order to provide for them.

McElroy’s first rule focused specifically on the actions that a Pagan should take when inviting a Polytheist to present a ritual or ceremony at a pan-Pagan event.  The crux of the standard, however, was a request that Pagans offer hospitality to Polytheists in their midst.  For my tastes, that’s too one-sided.  Hospitality, like friendship, is a two-way street.  One should both extend hospitality to the other, but also act in with the expectation that this hospitality will be extended to you in return.  In this way, the relationship becomes reciprocal; we learn about and from the other as they learn about and from us.

2. Treasure Difference

Things are not always what you expect.  Or, perhaps more importantly, the labels we use to describe each other and define our world are imperfect and far less generalizable that we think.  Underneath those labels lie a treasure trove of diversity and difference, quite often to a surprising degree.

My partner and her family are Catholic.  In America, at least, Catholics are largely considered to be fairly conservative, politically and socially speaking, and many of the Catholics operating on the national stage (e.g. the Conference of Catholic Bishops) fight the advancement of LGBTQ rights, access to contraceptives, and the availability of abortion services all in the name of traditional families and the specifics of church doctrine.  But, my partner is married to a solitary eclectic Polytheist and Witch and her family knows it.  My sister-in-law is married to another woman, and they’ve adopted a mixed racial young daughter.  I’ve sat in Mass with them and they all attended and supported my wedding outside the walls of the Church.

The point of view described by the Catholic political leadership in America does not, obviously, define the only way to be Catholic just as I don’t define the only way to be a polytheist.  Rather than expect others to conform to our expectations, we should, instead, seek to alter those expectations or–even better–work to avoid them entirely.

3. Avoid Assumptions

McElroy’s third standard was written as an absolute; that one party “shall make no attempt” to speak for another.  On the one hand, I agree.  We should avoid the assumption that we can adequately explain the point of view of another.  We cannot.  I can no more correctly describe the fulfillment that my partner finds in Mass than she can probably explain to others why I devote myself to my gods.

But, on the other hand, I also think that operating from a standard of absolutes leaves us unprepared for the inevitability that we’ll find ourselves in a situation that doesn’t quite line up with that expectation.  For example, I find myself being asked to compare and contrast my own point of view with that of another.  Especially in interfaith settings, when I’m asked to try to share with another the nuance within the Pagan community, to simply refrain from even attempting to do so would likely shut down the dialog.

Instead, when we are called upon to speak for another, we must not allow others to assume that we speak with authority.  In other words, it must be made crystal clear to others when you’re not speaking from your own experience.  Even better, we should do our best to connect those we’re working with to those who can best answer their questions in the moment, but if that’s not possible, be sure that you offer the opportunity to do so at a later date.

4. Trust Others

One of the things most appalling to me during the online conversations around Pagan interfaith involvement has been the situations in which one person denies the experience of the other.  Even if all parties were present at the same event, it’s naïve to expect that everyone experiences that event in the same way.  In reality, every experience is a blind-men-and-the-elephant situation; everyone takes away something different.

It is, therefore, imperative that we trust others or, at least, offer them the benefit of the doubt.  If the situation calls for it, trust and subsequently verify, but trust is key.  Even if someone’s experience contradicts our own or, maybe, especially so.  It’s probably nothing more than ego and arrogance to assume that our own perspective is correct while all others are flawed.

Trust is especially necessary in situations of harm.  It is all to easy to minimize or dismiss the harm dealt to another.  Worse is the tendency to blame the victim, claiming that no harm was intended, that the victim is overly sensitive, or that he or she was otherwise “asking for it.”  All of these responses represent a lack of trust for the other.

That said, trust can be misplaced and abused.  There’s no reason to let someone use our trust against us or to continue to extend that trust if the other has been proven a liar.  But, until such a time, we can very like avoid additional harm by offering to stand in solidarity with someone who has been harmed rather than dismissing that harm and, in so doing, dismissing them.

In the end, these are solid guidelines for more interactions than simple those involving different religious (or non-religious) points of view.  I’m going to have the opportunity to engage in an interfaith conversation with a Mormon on Tuesday when I join him on his podcast.  Considering that it’s likely that I may be asked about experiences and points of view of others within the community, I’ll be keeping these guidelines in mind.

I hope that they’re useful to you as well.

On Disagreement and Discrimination

I’m cheating a bit this month.  I also blog at the Wild Garden, the interfaith blog on the Pagan channel at Patheos.com and because I’m actually on vacation this weekend, I’ve decided to re-post my most recent article there on this site as well.  Here’s an excerpt:

I think we’ve begun to lose the distinction between disagreement and discrimination.  What I mean is this:  just because I disagree with a law neither makes that law discriminatory toward me nor toward people like me.  Noise ordinances, for example, are pretty commonly used in residential areas to help cut down on the decibels after a certain point in the evening.  If you’re throwing a party, you might disagree with your neighbors if they call the cops on you, but your neighbors aren’t discriminating against you by trying to get you to lower the volume a bit.

Sound intriguing?  Check out the full post here and we’ll be back with our normal, long-form articles next weekend!

Communicating within our Community

I live in the greater Boston area.  Following the shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin this past August, an interfaith group was formed here called SolidarityBoston.  Members of that group are now working to produce another event and I volunteered to help find Pagan participants.  This event will be focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts, and so I specifically sought out a practitioner working with the Canaanite pantheon.  When I did find such a person, I asked if she’d be willing to represent Paganism at the event.

And, she said no.

It wasn’t that she wasn’t willing to be a part of the event; in fact, I suspect she probably will.  The issue was that I asked her to represent Paganism and her feelings are that she cannot.  From her point of view, she is not a Pagan.  Instead, she practices a religion, called Natib Qadish, that is similar to Paganism in a variety of ways but one that is different enough that she feels it is separate.

Another project of mine is to create a Pagan chapter for the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy (FRD).   I’ve worked with a few other Pagans on this project and I encountered a similar voluntary separation from the term Paganism during that work, this time from Heathens rather than Qadishuma.

I have encountered that separation on a number of occasions over the last few months and every time I have found it to be jarring and personally worrisome.  Primarily, this is due to the fact that I think a vibrant, growing community is one that is diverse.  In such a community, the ideas of one person can be challenged by the ideas of others and by discussing and working through those challenges, everyone’s faith is made stronger and better.  It is for that reason, among others, that I involve myself in interfaith activism, but perhaps it’s time for a little intrafaith work.

I contend that there are two primary branches of modern Paganism:  the reconstruction or revival of ancient faiths in a modern context and newer faiths descending from ceremonial magic techniques, Jungian archetypes, the work of Joseph Campbell and a variety of other sources to create something that is very different from anything that we would have seen in the ancient world.  Does that mean that these two different branches can’t sprout from the same tree?  Of course not, but at times it seems that people of the former branch have distanced themselves from the latter.

I would love to see a pan-Pagan group form to begin to create a creedal document for Paganism.  The goals of this group would be to create a document that would be specific enough as to define Paganism for other communities that need a little bit of information about us but  general enough that a variety of different faith traditions and theologies could exist under its umbrella.

Partly, I want to see this because I encounter others through my interfaith work that are confused by what it is to be Pagan.  Usually, they desire some sort of statement about what a Pagan is and what they do, and I’ve been called upon on a variety of occasions to offer my point of view on panel discussions or the like.  Too often, others have remained confused about who we are because I have lacked the words to help define us to them.  I worry, though, that I actually lack the words to describe us to myself.

I want our family to be as large as possible.  Maybe that means that I just have to get used to people using different labels that aren’t the same as mine.  But, frankly, I spent a long time to find my labels and I’d like them to apply as broadly as possible.  I think that such a broad application is better for the community and it gives us the support of more people if we should ever need it.  It makes us a louder voice, and if we can articulate our similarities to others as we speak, it makes us a stronger part of the chorus.

The creation of such this pan-Pagan group would be a task in and of itself.  My aforementioned efforts to build a small team of people to work with the FRD has taught me that it’s hard to get us all moving in the same direction.  The individual nature of our faiths is part of the problem, but I think it’s also that we have too few members of our community that are empowered to be organizers and leaders without also having to be doctors, lawyers, librarians, teachers, parents, and sometimes even web application developers.  As a result, we have concerns of daily life that often are forced to supersede our spiritual interactions especially if those interactions are separate from our own spiritual practices.

That said, simply finding representatives to meet and discuss our similarities and differences seems so daunting as to make even me shy away from the idea — and it’s my own!  Assuming that these representatives could be found, I worry that the process of distilling our ideas to find the commonalities in an effort to produce the sort of creedal statement that I mentioned above would not bring us together, as I hope, but might even separate us further.

But maybe that’s just part of the risk inherent in growth.  Maybe my dreams of a large and better-defined Pagan family are just that: dreams.  But, if there’s nothing else I’ve learned from my Pagan brothers and sisters, elders and advisers, and even from those who remain Pagan-friendly, it’s that dreams can be come reality if we work at them long enough.

Perhaps it is time for this dream to become reality, or at least for us to attempt to make it so.  I’d enjoy the chance to speak with others about how this process might take place.  Even if it doesn’t happen now or if it never happens, these are the sort of processes that I think we as a community need to begin to think about.  I feel like we’ve been primarily concerned with our own practice but if we’re going to become a part of the larger, global spiritual community (and I believe that we should), then we need to figure out how best to do that together before we are pigeonholed in a way that we disagree with.

An Introduction to David Dashifen Kees

Hello!  My name is David Dashifen Kees, and I’ll be your blogger for the next few minutes.

Aside from my own sporadic writing on my own sites (something that I’m hoping to fix in the coming months), this is really the first time that I’ve tried to contribute my words to this sort of work.  I’m honored and pleased that Michelle offered me a chance to share my thoughts with you.

I’ve always been a writer.  Even during my early school years, I found myself writing short, fictional stories that exceeded the length expectations of my teachers.  Quantity does not necessarily equate to quality, but I’d like to think that my skills with the pen … err … keyboard are such that you won’t find my posts to onerous.  I’ve been Pagan for almost exactly 14 years as of this writing, and unlike many others in the community, I’ve found that my writing time has decreased during my time as a Pagan while the desire to write has increased.  I hope that here at Pagan Activist, I’ll reawaken my writer’s soul.

My contributions here will likely focus primarily on interfaith activism.  Professionally, I work for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and, there, I was exposed to a student organization, Interfaith in Action, and assisted in the creation of the University’s Pagan Students Association, though after a run of about seven or eight years, it looks like that specific group might be in hibernation until others pick it up again.  Between these two organizations, I’ve sat on a number of panels, shared my faith with others through Interfaith in Action’s “speed-faithing” events, and helped to organize the first Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration (ICIC) which took place in April 2012.

At ICIC, I was invited to explain why, as a Pagan, I was drawn to interfaith activism.  You can hear my remarks on YouTube.  I come in at about 14 minutes and 20 seconds; the link above should start you right when I come in. I wasn’t able to determine a way to begin an embedded video at a specific time (or start at any other time than on a specific minute) and I didn’t want to embed the video here and confuse people when I didn’t show up for 14+ minutes, otherwise I would have simply placed the video here.  Homework for next time!

While my involvement in the world of Pagan interfaith leaders pales in comparison to the work of others like M. Macha Nightmare or Patrick McCollum, I hope that my thoughts on interfaith activism will be of interest and value to you and I look forward to blogging on this and other matters as the spirit moves me.

See you next time!