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Pagans at the Parliament

by Selena Fox

Pagans from five continents and twelve countries were among the thousands taking part in the Parliament of the World's Religions held in Barcelona, Spain, July 7-13, 2004. Pagans deepened their connections with each other and also built bridges of understanding and collaboration with those of other religions. Pagans were from many paths and connected with a variety of organizations, including Circle Sanctuary, Circle Network International, Lady Liberty League, Gaia's Womb, EarthSpirit Community, Covenant of the Goddess, Pagan Federation International, Reclaiming, Union Pagana Iberica (Iberian Pagan Union), and others.

The Parliament of the World's Religions is one of the oldest, largest, and best known of the international interreligious gatherings on planet Earth. It brings together leaders, scholars, and practitioners of diverse religions and spiritualities the world over. The first Parliament of the World's Religions was held in 1893 in Chicago and it ushered in a new era of contact between religions of the "West" and "East." A centennial Parliament was held in 1993 in Chicago and its success led organizers to sponsor additional Parliaments on a more frequent basis. The next Parliament was held in December 1999 in Capetown, South Africa and was a call to action for religions to work together. The 2004 Parliament in Barcelona built on the momentum of previous Parliaments and had as its theme: "Pathways to Peace: the Wisdom of Listening, the Power of Commitment."

Circle Sanctuary is among the many international religious organizations that have supported the Parliament over the years. We have sent a delegation to the 1993, 1999, and 2004 Parliaments. At each of these, we have contributed to program activities as well as staffed and sponsored an information booth in the exposition area. I have been a speaker at all three of these Parliaments, and since 1999, have been a member of the Assembly of Religious and Spiritual Leaders that meets in conjunction with the Parliament. Over the years, Circle Sanctuary also has taken part in other Parliament associated activities and projects in the Chicago area and elsewhere.

Pagan participation in the Parliament has grown in visibility, acceptance, and influence over the years. In 2003, Circle Sanctuary priestess Angie Buchanan became the first Pagan elected to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Council for the Parliament of the World's Religions, which oversees all Parliament endeavors. At the 2004 Parliament, in addition to her other Board duties, she served as a liaison for Pagan delegates of many paths and places.

There was greater Pagan representation on the Parliament's Assembly of Religious and Spiritual Leaders than ever before. The Assembly met on the ancient sacred mountain of Montserrat in Spain from July 4-7, just prior to the start of the Parliament in nearby Barcelona. Pagans taking part in the 2004 Assembly included (alphabetical order): Andras Arthen, Deidre Arthen, Angie Buchanan, Dr. Dennis Carpenter, Phyllis Currot, Selena Fox, Donald Frew, and Dr. Drake Spaeth. In addition, Pagans had two representatives on the Parliament's Youth Assembly, which also met at Montserrat prior to the Parliament: Donovan Arthen and Michelle Mueller.

Most of the program activities of the Parliament were held at Barcelona's Forum site, an extensive convention and performing arts area by the Mediterranean Sea. Pagans were among the many presenters. Donovan Arthen was one of the speakers in the plenary that opened the Parliament on July 7, and Michelle Mueller was on stage as part of a Youth celebration during the closing plenary on July 13.

Some of the many Parliament program activities were specifically Pagan focused. On Friday morning, July 9, Angie Buchanan facilitated a panel, "Pagan Dialogue Inside and Outside the Circle," with Drake Spaeth, Jerrie Hildebrand, Phyllis Curott, and Patrick McCollum taking part. On Friday afternoon, the Pagan choir Mother Tongue performed a concert, "One with the Soul of the Earth," in a seaside outdoor amphitheater.

On Saturday morning, July 10, I facilitated an international Pagan panel, "Circles in the Greenwood: Pagan Religion Around the World." Dr. Michael York, Morgana, and I each gave an overview of Paganism as a world religion, followed by short presentations by Phyllis Curott (USA), Dale Wallace (South Africa), Mika Lassander (Finland), Fred Lamond (Austria), John Belham-Payne (England), and Werty (Spain) with translation assistance by Andras Arthen. Chris LaFond provided translation for the many Spanish speaking attendees during the rest of the panel.

On Tuesday morning, July 13, Juniper Talbot, assisted by Chris LaFond on harp, led a Dances with the Earth ritual around the Peace Tree which had been planted on the first day of the Parliament. Later that morning, Deirdre Arthen facilitated a panel: "Pagan Teachings about the Earth," with Andras Arthen, Grove Harris, and Dennis Carpenter sharing perspectives.

In addition to Pagans speaking about Paganism, there were Pagans doing interreligious presentations. Grove Harris spoke about her work with the Pluralism Project of Harvard University that examines religious diversity in America. Don Frew spoke about his work with the Lost and Endangered Religions Project, which he founded and also spoke about his work with the First International Interfaith Sacred Space Design Competition.

There were several Pagan events associated with the Parliament, but held at other venues. Circle Sanctuary helped sponsor a Welcome Pagans to the Parliament reception at a nearby AC Barcelona Hotel on Thursday night, July 8. On Friday evening, July 9, Barcelona Pagans hosted a Pagan evening of food, song, and dance. On Sunday night, July 11, the Barcelona Pagans and the EarthSpirit Community held a Pagan ritual for world peace in a forested area of Montjuic, an ancient sacred mountain in the city. Following the closing plenary on Tuesday night, July 13, some Pagans shared a farewell dinner together at the AC Barcelona Hotel restaurant.

Paganism also was visible in other ways at the 2004 Parliament. Circle Sanctuary, EarthSpirit Community, and Covenant of the Goddess sponsored and staffed a Pagans from the USA booth in the exposition hall. A wide range of media from around the world covered the Parliament. Many Pagan delegates were interviewed by press, radio, internet, and television reporters. In addition, there were Pagans in the press corps - both Dennis and I had press credentials and visited the Forum media center daily.

Paganism in its great diversity became more visible as well as better understood as a world religion at the 2004 Parliament. Thanks to everyone who sent donations and other support to Circle Sanctuary - you helped make our participation possible.

More information about Circle's participation in this and previous Parliaments is on-line.

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