Pagans at the Parliament



My Response to the Hoopla

I’ll begin with this quoted directly from the press package widely distributed by Andras, Phyllis and myself to the media at the Parliament event.

“The following is a very brief introduction to the various practices that are collectively known as Paganism, based on some of the most common questions that we are often asked about them. Paganism encompasses quite a wide chronological, geographic and cultural scope, so it is important to bear in mind that this concise and generalized overview cannot do justice to the breadth and complexity of its various traditions.”

Let me first say that my work at the Parliament and in other Interfaith arenas is not to represent “The Pagan Community” in the way it is being inferred here on this thread because that “Community” by its own hand, does not exist. My role is to make room for the many voices Pagan and otherwise that will eventually come to participate in the dialogs on global, social issues.

I have been involved in the interfaith forums for most of my adult life and having been associated with the Parliament since 1992, I was elected to its Board of Trustees in 2002. I am there because I believe that as a Pagan, what I have to say in that forum has value to the larger issues of Peace on Earth, and a Sustainable Planet.

Those who know me or who have heard me speak about my position on Paganism, and its involvement in the Interfaith Movement, have supported my efforts and my voice with their time, their prayers and their money. What was said at the Parliament is no different than what has been said in their presence. If I am there to represent anyone it is them however; the message is already in place – and their support is one of response — not solicitation.

In my personal participation and my observation of what happened at the Parliament, there was no attempt to “legitimize” anything, nor was there an effort to ostracize anything. There were many very successful attempts to explain concepts, terms and belief structures in ways and using vocabulary understood by those either unfamiliar with or frightened by our practices — by providing them with a frame of reference.

If we wish to be able to continue to enjoy the rights, privileges and respect that we deserve as a world religion, that other religions take for granted, to be welcomed to participate in the dialogs and problem solving of issues that affect the whole of humanity and the planet, no matter how you worship, we have to find a way to communicate in those forums. That is what we have done for the communities and individuals who have given us their votes of confidence; we have found a way to communicate and the doors that have been slammed in our faces in the past are slowly opening to us now.

We cannot forget that many of the global issues up for discussion in the interfaith forums ARE our spiritual path — revering the Earth as sacred and protecting Her resources; clean water and air, fair food distribution. These concepts were once the object of scorn by governments and mainstream religions and now, suddenly they are vogue. Suddenly the Divine Feminine is rising within the patriarchal structures when for 2500 years She has been shoved into the closet, ignored, and attempts have been made to erase Her from religious texts as well as the history books.

We have been at this place before, where our practices are absorbed by more financially powerful paradigms and twisted into something almost unrecognizable. We must find a way to work with others on these important issues while still maintaining guardianship of them, or risk losing them again when perhaps they go out of style.

To reduce what happened at the Parliament event in Australia to an argument about defining Paganism is to miss the entire point of the Parliament itself, and the Interfaith Movement in general.

~Angie Buchanan
Office of Secretary
Executive Board
Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

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13 Comments for My Response to the Hoopla

Freeman in Alabama | December 20, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Y’all need to just take your lumps, or at least Andras does. If you still don’t get why the “Indigenous European” designation is offensive, then just accept that people who have a perfect right to be offended are, and come up with something different.

Mary H | December 20, 2009 at 9:17 pm

I know that this has been mentioned other places, but I find myself continually having to remind people. “Parliament” in the case of the “Parliament of World Religions” does not mean a governing body. This Parliament was not set up to decide things on behalf of everyone who practices a religion everywhere, but instead serves to facilitate discussion. The word “Parliament” originally held the meaning of “Discussion,” and that’s what they did. It is understood, as stated in their press kit that “Paganism encompasses quite a wide chronological, geographic and cultural scope, so it is important to bear in mind that this concise and generalized overview cannot do justice to the breadth and complexity of its various traditions.”

I think that the people who represented paganism at the Parliament did a great job representing to the best of their abilities. They made no claims to speak on behalf of all pagans everywhere, and in fact have stated the opposite a number of times. The discussions held were, I believe, more so held to get pagans visibility at all, and not to define the tradition and be the be all end all. Look what discussion they’ve stated here on this blog over one thing! That alone says to me that they have done their job by facilitating discussion at the Parliament and beyond.

I for one want to thank all of you who went, led discussions and panels, and have reported back to those of us who couldn’t be there. I hope to see you at a Parliament in the future!

Author comment by thorn | December 20, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Freeman, as you likely know from some of my posts, I am one who does not care for the term and finds it very problematic, but the tone of your remark seems uncharitable to me. Civil discourse and disagreement is helpful discourse and disagreement. Uncivil discourse ends up being alienating.

Angie and others did a huge amount of work before and during the Parliament to ensure a Pagan presence. Whether we disagree with each other or not, I’m grateful to have been part of Pagans at the Parliament, and acknowledge that one of the reasons we had such a strong showing, and were able to give so many presentations, is because of the work of people such as Angie and Andras.

blessings – Thorn

Glenys Livingstone | December 21, 2009 at 8:39 am

Oh excellent Angie, thank you!

Freeman in Alabama | December 21, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Thorn, I have sometimes responded to “the hoopla” by quoting your excellent (and charitable) posts, but my problem now is the lack of acknowledgement. I am either highly qualified, or disqualified by subjectivity, on this topic, as I am a combination of indigenous heritage (specifically, a tribal Cherokee), European ancestry (Anglo-Celtic mutt), and non-European Pagan religion (Mesopotamian deities).

Whichever way I turn, I do not find the term “European Indigenous” merely problematic, I find it offensive. It is especially bothersome that it is a white-supremacist codeword as well. We have enough of that coming up on the fringes of some Pagan revival movements without embracing its terminology.

So there it is; I am civilly but firmly asking that people stop talking around this and acknowledge the very negative implications of the Euro-indigene claim.

Author comment by thorn | December 21, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Freeman, have you written anything on the topic from your unique point of view? Sounds like it might be worthwhile.

Kathryn NicDhàna | December 22, 2009 at 12:42 am

Have to agree with Freeman, here. The attempt of American, non-Native, Neopagans to call their Neopagan traditions “Indigenous” is disingenuous at best. To me, it feels like an attempt of non-Indigenous people to somehow ride the coattails of Indigenous peoples and the hard work they’ve done for their communities. This is not the way to build alliances, it is the way to piss people off.

I also think non-Native Americans calling themselves members of “Indigenous European” traditions, even if it weren’t associated with some seriously racist groups, is still offensive to the actual European communities that have living traditions. Even those of us who have some folkloric survivals in our diasporic families… we would never claim to be Indigenous to Europe or America.

Calling an American Neopagan tradition “Indigenous” or “Traditional” may feel romantic and more dignified than calling it as it is, but we are all better served by simple honesty, and by an awareness of how other cultures are using these words.

Angie Buchanan | December 23, 2009 at 2:21 am

The title of the panel was – People Call Us Pagans – The European Indigenous Traditions. The qualifier of that title could have been any number of things but, that’s what I called it and that’s what we talked about. I do not consider it to be problematic now anymore than it was when it was used 30 years ago and I certainly take issue with the declaration that it is a “white supremest code word.”

If I were to have a panel called, “People Call Us Dog Trainers – The Irish Setter,” would that confine all Dog Trainers to one specific method of training and negate the names, titles, value or existence of all other dogs? No, it would not. And I probably wouldn’t be talking about French Poodles on that panel either. Should the Poodles be insulted or feel excluded or offended?

Would the fact that some people refer to Irish Setters as Irish Pointers, mean that they are wrong and should cease using that name? No, not anymore than someone being offended by the term Indigenous European sets a requirement upon me to change it or to submit to some sort of punitive “lump” in order to be accommodating.

As for the term Neo-Pagan; my personal opinion is that it’s an oxymoron and offensive so, I don’t use it in the places I speak, or in the work I do; it does not define my practice. I don’t expect anyone else to stop using it though, if it in fact describes what they are doing in their own practice.

Thanks to Mary for re-stating those points and to Glenys, too short a pleasure as always.

Glenys Livingstone | December 23, 2009 at 10:00 am

I belong to this Planet – I am indigenous to Her. Every being can claim that … some people identify as “Pagan” to establish that belonging, some don’t it seems: some using the term without much thought even.

I am interested that “Pagan” may be understood to refer particularly to Old European heritage, since it is a European word after all: in the past before PWR I have used the term very broadly to encompass Indigeneity in general … “having to do with Place, and Earth-based religious practice of any kind” as I have put it.

In my presentation to PWR, I said: “Pagan” as I understand it means a person “of the country”. It is related to Place and it is a place that is Native … and we are all Native. “Place” these days could and perhaps should, mean/ at least include Gaian/Planetary and extend not just to the Planet but to Cosmos as well.

As an Australian European transplant I have identified with the long journey to a sense of belonging Here (in my Habitat), and to my roots – a child of a conquered people who came to this Land, already lost. I have written a lot about that. I have done the work of re-creating Earth-based religious practice very seriously: of what I understand as “Gaian Poetic Practice”… named as “PaGaian Cosmology” (I understand that Gaia is a European name for Earth, and that She is named in many other ways globally – but this is my cultural heritage). My practice of seasonal ritual (eight a year for almost 2 decades) has been for me “geo-therapy”, a method of situating myself. For myself I have come to represent my practice and heritage with the Triple Spiral of Bru-na-Boinne in Ireland – which has impressed itself upon me though I have never been there. I feel that the motif l has deep Cosmic significance beyond its locale, and I feel it as Home, and/but also that it does represent my particular heritage in large part, but my roots extend to Eastern Europe too, and to ancient Mesopatamia and lots of other places (and perhaps in the past our forebears were not so precious about cultural exchange and mingling of deities and metaphors – they actually got about quite a bit and apparently shared deep understandings) .

One comment here from another Australian woman (bloodlines are Celtic, Romany and Anglo-Saxon (mostly Irish Celt) on an Australian Pagan list – she was attending a session at PWR, and she said: “I asked a question about how folks like myself, who come from a tradition where we were dispossessed of our lands, moved to a radically different country where the old ways didn’t fit in the same way, and had our language destroyed, (even while we can try to reconstruct that culture), who are trying to find a new way to connect with our spirituality and experiment with what other cultures can teach us to see what can fit, and how we might do that with respect.”

I would like also to refer to the work of Eimear O’Neill … who has been dojng work of “Rekindling Indigenous Spirit” within her context, with which some may identify.

It is a very complex subject … and I find it difficult to do it any justice here, but I suppose the discussion is very good, as at least we get alerted to the subjectivity and sensitivities involved. I think Thorn’s suggestion to Freeman is a good one: to write “from your unique point of view” and contribute to the pot – one major feature of Earth is Her infinite diversity, and the expression of one’s unique perspective is a primary urge I think.


The Wild Hunt » A Few Quick Notes | December 27, 2009 at 6:16 pm

[...] blog, and we have had several post-Parliament missives from attendees, including a statement from Angie Buchanan, one of the Pagan Executive Board members of the Council for a Parliament of the Worl…. Buchanan addresses the recent flurry of discussion and controversy regarding definitions, and what [...]

Freeman in Alabama | December 27, 2009 at 6:52 pm

@Thorn — I have something written, but it needs a bit more editing.

@Angie re “I certainly take issue with the declaration that it is a “white supremest code word.”

I don’t think you really want to make a stand on this disingenuous statement. If white supremacist groups use the term, that makes it one of their code words. You might as well be trying to rescue the swastika from its recent associations.

There are also legitimate European Indigenous peoples (Basque, Saami, etc.) who most likely do not want to have their self-determination struggle identified with Paganism.

Freeman in Alabama | December 27, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Here’s the little essay I mentioned; I was trying to edit it to be soooo very non-confrontational, and then I just stopped, unwilling to polish away any truth: .

Joe Max | December 28, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Ms. Buchanan:

I came over here from Wild Hunt blog to see what the hoopla was about.

I afraid Freeman has a point about the “indigenous European” designation – it really is a “dog whistle” phrase used by white supremacist groups to denote “racial purity”, generally by right-wing racists decrying the number of Muslim immigrants in Europe. A simple Google search will show this to be the case.

You can complain about how unfair it is for such a phrase to be co-opted by racist bigots, but you may as well complain that no one can use the Fylfot Cross anymore without it immediately conjuring connections to the Nazi Swastika. Yes, it sucks, but that’s the way it is. Even Heathens realize it’s a futile effort to try to reclaim the Fylfot as a simple, innocuous Solar symbol. (Spanish Catholics have a hard time using white robes with pointed hoods also, even though they used them for centuries before the Ku Klux Klan did.)

Simply changing the phrase to “traditional” or “ancient” or “pre-Christian” European religion would eliminate the unintended connotation. But unfair or not, if you try to hold workshops or gatherings under the banner of “indigenous European”, you might not like some of the people who show up.

And they won’t like you either.

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