by Deborah Ann Light
On August 28, 1993, I flew to Chicago to attend the second Parliament of the World's Religions. The first occurred in 1893! I hurried to the historic Palmer House Hotel, for Selena had asked me to be one of Circle's representatives in the Grand Procession of the Parliament's Opening Plenary. Receiving this honor put me in a quandary for several days as I wrestled with that perpetual question: What shall I wear? The chaplet of stars or the white pique, pointed hat with ribbons, flowers and veil? (The stars won out!)
The procession participants were requested to wait in specified rooms. Signs were on the walls to indicate to each tradition where to gather. Probably for the first time in the history of interfaith experience the label ROMAN CATHOLIC was four feet away from that of WICCAN. There stood the Cardinal, bishops, priests, Vatican prelates right next to the folk of Circle, EarthSpirit Community, the Covenant of the Goddess, the Fellowship of Isis and the Lyceum of Venus of Healing. Many wore robes in similar colors, even similar cut in some cases; many were the covert looks and careful steps around each other.
Finally, to a flourish of trumpets, Selena led Don and Alice, Nicholas and myself into the Grand Ballroom where we joined all the Parliament Co-sponsoring organizations, other dignitaries and a large audience. Ten invocations to assorted deities preceded the opening speech by Dr. David Ramage, the president of the Council of Trustees, the body that birthed this century's great gathering. Then traditional elders representing the Onondaga, Hopi, Navajo, Crow, and Potawatomi nations invoked the Four Directions and the Center with pipe and smoke. The blessing by Lady Olivia Robertson of the Fellowship of Isis, who called upon Great Isis while vigorously shaking her sistrum, was a comfort to the Wiccans and a contrast to the generally monotheistically focused supplications. Thus the 1993 Parliament began!
The Council of Trustees had invited an Assembly of Religious and Spiritual Leaders of those religions co-sponsoring the Parliament to meet together. I was selected by my peers and Elders to represent the Wiccan Neo-Pagan organizations of Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess, and EarthSpirit Community. The word Neo-Pagan was used by the Council in the published list of Assembly members to define the religious tradition of Baroness Cara-Marguerite Drusilla of the Lyceum of Venus of Healing, Lady Olivia Robertson of the Fellowship of Isis, and myself. The other polytheistic faiths were listed as Hindu, Indigenous, or Native American.
The Assembly was convened for the purpose of discussing ways which could support future collaboration and action together for peace, the relief of suffering, and the preservation of the planet. The document Towards a Global Ethic (An Initial Declaration), prepared by the Council, was presented for discussion and possible endorsement.
We sat at alphabetically designated round tables. At table "Z" there were three Christians (two from Chicago, one from India), two Muslims (one from Uganda, one from Chicago), a Vedantic Hindu (San Francisco), and a Wiccan Neo-Pagan (Sag Harbor, New York)! We attempted to find and share common values and discuss the principles presented in the Ethic. We concluded that it was imperative to practice TOLERANCE which leads to respect for others; this to be achieved by education. When you have learned from the practitioners themselves what occurs in their religious behavior and belief systems, you don't have to "approve" what they do, you don't have to adapt their customs for yourself, but you do have "to leave them alone" and you should be able to expect them to do the same for you.
Our next task was to come up with ideas for projects, actions or programs for the Trustees' work in the future. It was not possible for the Assembly members, being from all over the world and having very divergent viewpoints, to fulfill this directive in any detail in only three afternoons.
At the conclusion of the final meeting, many members supported the concept of the Ethic by signing an illuminated copy of the Declaration. I felt that I could support the tenets of the Declaration as a Wiccan Priestess, so I wrote my name and then listed the three organizations I represented. I followed those names with "So mote it be!" and a pentacle.
Our time together as an Assembly was too brief, but friendships were formed and dialogue begun. The Council continues to communicate with the participants and is providing ongoing opportunities for input. This last is particularly important from a Pagan point of view. During the whole Parliament, as well as the Assembly, people saw each other; we sat next to each other; we shook hands, some hugged; we perceived each other's essences. "They" learned a lot about us; we realized that many of "them" are ignorant of or not comfortable with what we do and are cautious, not hostile. It is possible to work together and we must do so if we are going to save the Earth and Her inhabitants which we hold holy!
The Towards A Global Ethic, part of a longer work in progress, is a tool which provides much material for thought, discussions and action by Pagans. A copy is published on this page. Additional copies can be obtained by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to me: Deborah Ann Light, PO Box 2669, Sag Harbor, NY 11963, USA.