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The final panel I attended at Pantheacon was on international interfaith work. Its participants were an impressive group: Glen Turner, Starhawk, Don Frew, Selena Fox, Anastacia Nutt, Rachel Wachter, and EliSheva Nesher. While present at the Con, Rowan Fairgrove was unfortunately unable to make it, but even in her absence it was an outstanding collection of Pagans, all of whom have given immensely of their time and creativity to our community.
They reported on how their and other Pagans’ efforts abroad have begun bearing sweet fruit for the nature religions in the modern world. For one, South American tribal traditions have made use of the Interfaith network, and NeoPagan expertise in particular, to begin building their own network of connections. Along the way they have come to see us as spiritual brothers and sisters sharing a broadly similar spiritual outlook. Starhawk quoted an indigenous spiritual leader as saying “What does it mean to be indigenous? It’s about seeing yourselves as guardians of the land.”
The next step these South American groups are planning is to reach out globally to indigenous people with traditional practices. The next Parlient of World Religions will be in Australia, and will have a significant Aboriginal presence, which should speed this process along. This I find very exciting.
A second area where Pagans have played constructive roles (surprisingly so for me) is in the Middle east. In different but complementary ways, Starhawk, Anastacia Nutt, and EliSheva Nesher have worked with both Palestinian and Israeli women, even in the face of opposition by the Israeli military and politicians on both sides. While the mainstream media has done its usual execrable job of reporting any depth of understanding, these women were adamant in emphasizing that great many people on all sides are fed up with the violence, and interested in finding common cause to end it. Pagans can be honest brokers on both sides since we are not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.
Finally, one other surprising result of this project concerns Pagan relations with Muslims. While Muslims have serious problems with “hard polytheists” who argue that ultimate reality consists of numerous deities, Muslims interested in Interfaith do not have problems with Pagans such as us British Traditionalists, as well as many others who are monists or panentheists. The reason is interesting. There never was a “Fall” in Islamic theology, so the world is seen as exhibiting the signs of God, without debasement. Because we are monists who (from a Muslim perspective) worship the sacred through its earthly signs, we are spiritual brothers! Don Frew related as to how he was often welcomed by Muslims he met in Interfaith work, once they understood more about us. Obviously this acceptance would not hold for Muslim extremists, but most Muslims are not extremists, just as most Christians are not.
The panelists were unanimous in urging Pagans so inclined to get involved in local interfaith, for there was no hierarchy. It is rooted at the most local level, often needs volunteers, and can bear unanticipated fruit. We are no longer alone in an uncomprehending world, largely because of this work by our panelists and others. But so long as Christian absolutists have such a strong presence in our country, it is worth our while to keep ourselves open to sincere others. As for me, in doing so I find my own appreciation for my Pagan spirituality as enriched as is my appreciation for others’ approaches. This seems to be a common response among Pagans. We appreciate others’ traditions more – but we are also even more wedded to our own than before..