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The Saturday
before Thanksgiving the United Religions Initiative’s People of the Earth   gathering took place in San
Francisco’s Presidio.  This was the
third in a series of meetings seeking to build mutual awareness and respect
among the practitioners of many earth oriented religions, from the most traditional
indigenous peoples to the most technologically savvy NeoPagans. I would have
written about it earlier, but Thanksgiving travels and a general disinclination
to blog after returning from Utah have gotten in my way.  But People of the Earth is an important
event in the growth of a wider appreciation for Pagan spiritual traditions, and
I want to describe what happened there in hopes that other Pagan groups in
other parts of our country will attempt similar events.

Our third
meeting had representatives from a great many traditions.  Representatives of Romuva (a Baltic
Pagan tradition), Hinduism, Umbanda, Daoism, Shinto, Animism, as well as
various NeoPagan and Western esoteric traditions all participated.  In addition, Alejandrino Quispe Mejia,   a leader of traditional indigenous
people in Peru, was the guest speaker, talking about indigenous traditions in
the Andes.

Despite our diversity, our group was top-heavy with NeoPagans, I think because other
traditions tend to be in either largely immigrant communities or among our own
indigenous populations, both of who are not strongly oriented towards
outreach.  The first is focused on
serving their own communities, the second on that and also wary of getting too
involved with a larger society that has treated them so abominably.

The first part
of the meeting featured opening blessings in many of these traditions.  It began with a Romuva ritual of
passing a sacred belt around a group to create sacred space.  The belt had been woven with sacred
symbols, each added at an appropriate time throughout the year.  After the belt was passed around a
circle the space was consecrated.

Next a
representative of the Sahajayana Siddha Hindu tradition made a “Kolam” as an offering to the creatures of the earth.  In making a Kolam rice flour was sprinkled on the ground in
front of the doorway. The flour formed symmetrical designs honoring harmony,
and afterwards people walked through them in entering and leaving.  The rice provided food for other
creatures. While certain patterns were traditional in India, there was no hard
and fast rule, and others in our group made Kolams using symbolism from their
own traditions. 

Our final
outside blessing was from Brazil’s Umbanda  tradition.  Exu, the guardian of doorways and
facilitator of connecting with the Orixas (deities) was honored with song, rum,
and M&Ms.  I am fascinated with
how often many spirits like alcohol and sweets and in different contexts have
had contact with Exu myself.

We then entered
the interfaith chapel and continued the blessing ceremonies. Several involved
different NeoPagan traditions honoring the four elements and directions.  While details varied, they were all
quite similar to one another.  In
addition a Lesser Pentagram 
Banishing ritual
 was performed, rooted in Ceremonial Magic.  Some other NeoPagans used chants,
including a Christian Witch chant.

The final
opening blessings were from some of Asia’s earth based traditions.  A Daoist  showed us all how to do QiQong  movements which were focused on the body’s integration with the world.  Finally a Shinto  blessing honored the four directions plus a number of others.  Both of these are difficult to
impossible for me to describe, but were wonderful.  QiQong is powerful stuff, it was instrumental in my rapid recovery from a stroke in 2008.

By the time all
the opening blessings were concluded it was lunch time, and we gathered at
tables having been asked to eat with people and traditions we knew little
about.  I ate with Prudence Priest,
the representative from Romuva. Our conversation went from how it survived both
Christian and Communist persecution (Lithuania remained Pagan until the 14th
century, so less was lost, and the Communists suppressed the Christians, which
meant that they were less able to eliminate what remained after the fall of
Communist power.)  They have their
own equivalent to our Samhain, Velines,  which has been as long as two weeks,
and now focuses on Nov. 2.  The
dead are invited to eat, and when they are the table cloth is turned upside
down before the settings are made. Today many who practice largely do so for
cultural reasons, but for some it remains a strong Pagan tradition. Wild Hunt
has some good articles on Romuva.  The Gods willing I will eventually make it to Lithuania myself for I have a very soft spot for the Lithuanians I know, and I like what I’ve learned about Romuva.

After lunch we
gathered to hear Aejandrino’s talk, preceeded by Don Frew’s account of how
People of the Earth originated.  He
and other NeoPagans had encountered Alejandrino and other indigenous South
American Pagans while attending the Parliament of World Religions held in Rio
de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2002.  They
had gotten along well, and when he left, Alejandrino had told Frew “I will go
home and tell my children that the Wicca are people just like us.” 

The connections
American NeoPagans made at that Parliament and subsequent ones led to forming
People of the Earth for as we met one another we discovered that while our
traditions were different in many respects, at the most crucial we all felt at
home in one another’s ceremonies. 

Alejandrino’s
talk was fascinating to me primarily because he made it clear that the Andean
Quecha speaking community did not distinguish between spirits and physical
nature.  The earth is a living
being, and as such, so are mountains, rivers, and the rest of the world.  They are presences in themselves, not
symbols for disembodied entities. 

I think this is
a reference to the Presence some of us feel when in particularly powerful parts
of the natural world, and for the Quecha this presence seems more subtly
experienced and interacted with. 

Their
traditional ideal is to live in harmony with all this life, and to give back in
offerings, particularly in August, when “Nature is hungry and opens its gates
in sacred places.”  Giving offerings
enables life to continue, with good ultimately over coming evil.  As he spoke it was obvious that many
NeoPagans, including this one, would feel quite at home in their cosmology.

While religious
freedom now theoretically exists in Peru but the schools teach only
Catholicism.  They often have to do
their rituals at night in order to avoid being invaded by Christians,
apparently especially evangelicals. 
(It seems some things never change.) 

After questions
and answers, we had a final session where Don brought up the future of People
of the Earth.  All present wanted
to meet more than annually, but for this to happen more Pagans would need to
get involved in the planning of these sessions.  It seemed as if there was interest enough that this would
happen.  Finally we discussed how
to encourage Pagans in other parts of the country to create similar gatherings,
and it is to this end that I hope some reading of our sessions will be inspired
to organize one of their own.  

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