1999 Parliament of the Worlds’ Religions

EarthSpirit LogoParliament of the Worlds Religions
December 1 – 8, 1999
Capetown South Africa
*A New Day Dawning*

In 1993 the second Parliament was held, again in Chicago. This time it was the Earth-centered spirituality which was introduced and welcomed with acknowledgment and respect for what these traditions had to offer. The week long event included workshops, services, prayer and meditation with almost every faith tradition presently in existence, concerts, cultural events, presentations from some of the world’s most respected religious leaders, notably the Dalai Lama and an assembly of religious and spiritual leaders whose members signed “Towards a Global Ethic” a document outlining principles and directives for peace, social justice and sustainability of life. EarthSpirit, along with several other organizations and tribal groups represented the Earth Religions at the Parliament and in the Assembly and signed that document.

This December a third Parliament will be held to follow through on the themes of The Global Ethic with a “Call to the Guiding Institutions” of the world’s government, religion, commerce, media and education, to join in the work of ensuring our future. This meeting will happen in South Africa, a country which knows only to well about the struggle for equality and freedom. The African location will also make it possible for more people from tribal, earth-centered traditions to attend and we are looking forward to making connections with these kindred souls.

EarthSpirit has been involved in the planning of this year’s agenda, and will again participate as a supporting organization with representation on the Assembly of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, the presentation of programs and by hosting an information table. We will be able to reach out to all of the people attending the Parliament- to learn from them, and to share an Earth-centered perspective in a way that we hope will improve communication over the years to come.

Deirdre and Susan Arthen have left for South Africa to represent EarthSpirit at this historic event. They will join thousands of representatives from spiritual traditions all over the world in an effort to further the causes of ecological sustainability and social justice throughout the world.

By offering presentations, participating in discussions and hosting an information booth, EarthSpirit will reach out to members of many different religions both mainstream and minority. We also look forward to making and deepening our connections with those engaged in earth-centered practices in South Africa — whether European Paganism or traditional tribal ways.

In addition to Deirdre and Susan Arthen, Deborah Ann Light will attend and represent EarthSpirit at the Assembly of Religious and Spiritual Leaders. Melissa Grant, a student at the University of Massachusetts will represent EarthSpirit at “The Next Generation: Youth Initiatives” sessions. Other US Pagan attendees include Selena Fox and Dennis Carpenter from Circle Sanctuary and Rowan Fairgrove and Don Frew from Covenant of the Goddess.

While in South Africa, Susan and Deirdre will be sending updates of their experiences and EarthSpirit’s activities at the Parliament which will be posted on this site between December 1 and 8.

We invite you to go to the CPWR web site to look at all of the events planned for the week in South Africa

Many thanks to the generous donors who contributed to this project and made it possible.

Preview of Day 1:

The ceremonial Opening of the International AIDS Quilt will be the first event of the morning including a stirring commemoration of International AIDS Day.

The 1999 Parliament Opening Procession comes next – moving through the streets of Capetown from the Company’s Gardens to District Six – “colorful costumes, banners and wonderful cultural variety will make for a moving experience…” culminating in an interreligious ceremony blessing the land in District Six – an area symbolic of the worst aspects of apartheid.

At The Opening Plenery Session, each participant will receive his or her own 1999 Parliament drum and will all be led in a “thrilling drumming exercise” to open the Plenery. (We are in Africa after all!)

Gifts of Service to the World:

At the Parliament, the assembly will issue a “Call to our Guiding Institutions”; inviting governments, religions, educational institutions and the like to make changes and contributions to the world. “The Call to Our Guiding Institutions will provide inspiration and direction for those wishing to offer gifts of service to the world. To give such a gift is an expression of a fundamental spiritual inclination towards generosity, caring, hospitality, compassion, and good will. The extent to which goodness has existed in the world has always been directly related to the giving of such gifts and the spirit in which they are given. In spite of the progress made through ambitious endeavors and noble institutions, the fate of the world continues to rest on such gifts — and now, more than ever.” (From the CPWR site)

Possible gifts might range from: resolving conflicts within one’s own family to working for reconciliation in a troubled community; from a local community’s outreach to women, children, and the poor to a personal offering of regular prayer or meditation; from the fostering of spiritual renewal to the promotion of structural social justice; and so on.

EarthSpirit will be making two initial gifts of service:

A Sacred Cairn for Harmony
To be built in the spring of 2000 at EarthSpirit’s home in western Massachusetts: an outdoor sacred site, surrounding a stone cairn, dedicated to harmony among all peoples and between humans and the other aspects of creation. All who come to the Center will be invited to add a stone with their own personal invocation for harmony.

Circle for Freedom
At the 22nd Rites of Spring in 2000, EarthSpirit will hold a special evening of music and sacred dances devoted to harmony and freedom for all beings on the Earth. We will sing and dance in celebration of diversity and with the hope that we can inspire acceptance and openness to grow in the world as it grows in our hearts.

We encourage EarthSpirit members and others to join us in making a gift of service to the world and to share the nature of that gift and to both with us and with the Parliament.

Day 1:
1999 Parliament of the Worlds’ Religions – a personal account

Sue and I arrived in Capetown on Tuesday evening around 4:00. As soon as we got off the plane we found a Parliament representative just inside the door, arranging transportation and helping us on our way to the hotel where we are staying.

EarthSpirit had planned a reception for all of the pagan delegates attending the Parliament, and luckily, Deborah Ann Light, EarthSpirit’s representative to the Assembly of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, had made the necessary arrangements, so all we had to do was appear with our beautiful banner and greet people as they arrived.

About 20 people came, including Selena Fox and Dennis Carpenter from Circle; Don Frew and Rowan Fairgrove from Covenant of the Goddess; Deborah Ann Light; Michael York from the UK; Shelly Dryden and Carol Nelson from Johannesburg; Melissa Grant, EarthSpirit’s student representative to The Next Generation Project here; Erin Wells, another EarthSpirit member whose paper for The Next Generation was just accepted to be read here tomorrow; Sarah Avery and several others. We took some great photos which we will post here at a later date. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect, find out about each other’s presentations and put names and faces together.

International Aids Day

On Wednesday, International Aids Day, the Parliament officially began with the opening of the International Memorial Aids Quilt at the Company Gardens in the middle of town. There were many speakers, including the mayor of Capetown, who spoke of the devastating crisis of AIDS in South Africa and called on the religious community to act and educate and stimulate the wealthier nations to offer resources to combat this “plague” that is afflicting third world countries so harshly.

The pagan contingent gathered in a corner of shade as the enormous group began to take shape for the opening procession. We positioned ourselves between some brilliantly orange-robed Muslims and a large group of Ba’hai and headed down the road. We carried an EarthSpirit banner with the beautiful graphic of the Earth Mother surrounded by plenty that Leona Stonebridge Arthen designed for the MotherTongue t-shirt. It read: “EarthSpirit: Honoring the Earth as Sacred”, and it drew lots of attention and appreciation as we walked the two mile route through the city.
Neo-Pagan Delegation party hosted byu Earthspirit

As we left the gardens, we were met with protesters who bore signs saying things like: “PWR has a secret agenda”, “PWR is a plot of the Free Masons”, “Why the Silence about East Timor?”, “The Q’ran has a cure for AIDS, not PWR”, and, my personal favorite – “Why are the Satanists here?” Most of the signs were in the same handwriting and, although there were probably 50 people holding them along the route, most of the people that we passed cheered us on and waved. We sang “Air I Am” and “We All Come From the Goddess” as we walked along. Many people asked about who we were and we passed out business cards as we could. Many, many reporters – both TV and photographic focused in on us — I wonder where we’ll turn up?

The procession culminated at District Six – a beautiful site with views of both the sea and Table Mountain, once inhabited by a large multi-racial community and destroyed, razed, by the government of apartheid. There is nothing there now but a vacant lot. The Parliament has built a stage there and we entered the area through an archway hung with “peace flags” made by the children of South Africa. We then crossed a wide bridge of salt, symbolic of the tears and sacrifice of those who once lived there, and entered a circle marked with four, 15-foot, wire and fabric sculptures representing fire, water, earth and air.

The opening ceremonies began with a beautiful call on a traditional wind instrument and the entrance onto the stage of four women and four children. The children were robed in elemental colors and bore wooden bowls of salt or water, it was hard to tell. The women and children moved in pairs to face the four directions. When they were in position a fifth pair came onto the stage. This woman was in safari dress and bore a torch with a flame that she spoke of as the “Flame of Hope”. She went to each direction and presented the woman there with the flame. The woman then addressed the direction she faced and invoked the element associated with it. I was blown away! It was SO beautiful.

Our own Deborah Ann Light was first, invoking fire in the North (we are in the southern hemisphere now). She was followed by an African woman in traditional dress addressing Water in the South, then Omi Baldwin, a Native American woman in the West, and an Indian woman in the East. The four then turned and, with their accompanying children, joined the woman with the torch in the center of the circle, lit candles from the torch, and then lit a central flame all together.
Deborah Ann Light in the opening ceremony

Watching all of this with the great mountain above and the glistening sea below brought me to tears. Thousands of people standing there in the hot sun, come together for the purpose of creating peace and understanding, honoring the Earth and each other. It was terribly moving.

Three original residents of District Six then addressed the group. One woman, a Muslim who was born in the area, said that she was eighty years old and that all she wanted was to die where she was born rather than in the township to which she had been relocated so many years ago. The other two men made moving statements as well.

Three religious leaders then addressed the crowd: Ma Jaya, a Hindu teacher from Florida, who was elemental in bringing the AIDS quilt to Capetown; The Supreme Master Ching Hai, who spoke of the need to find peace within and act from there for the good of all; and Rabbi Herman Schaalman from Chicago, who was most eloquent in talking about the great mystery which inspires us all, which has many names and for some has no name at all.

Mercifully for all of us, the ceremony was brief because it was 90 degrees and we were in the blazing sun. Several vendors sold frozen fruit pops at inflated prices around the edges of the circle, and space under the many umbrellas was in great demand.

When the ceremony ended, people wound their way down the hill to the Good Hope Center where the Opening Plenary Session was to begin. It was delayed, due partially to the slow security measures being taken at the door (there was a pipe bomb explosion in Capetown a few days ago). We went into the large hall and were greeted by drummers on the stage who encouraged us to join along by clapping different rhythms in various parts of the room. It was fun and when the talking finally began, I missed the drums.

Jim Kenny, the director of the Parliament, addressed us all first, and then we were welcomed by the local directors, Gordon Oliver and Afrika Msimang. The mayor of Capetown spoke as did religious leaders from the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Christian communities in the Capetown area. A children’s choir sang the South African national anthem and the meeting concluded with information about the operation of the Parliament and what to do when, etc. (the ever-present “few announcements”).

And so, we were off to a momentous beginning here. I will write more as the days go along. I feel privileged to represent EarthSpirit here and to help spread understanding of the Earth traditions among all of these good people.

Until later,
Deirdre Pulgram Arthen

Day 2:
1999 Parliament of the Worlds’ Religions – a personal account

On Thursday we set up our information booth at the Civic Center. We are sharing it with Covenant of the Goddess and Circle, and after a slow start, the printed information has just been flying off the table. We’re printing more today.

It has been hot and sunny here every day, which has its good and difficult aspects. Non-air conditioned buses are on the negative end of things….
Deirdre leading a ritual in the amphitheatre

EarthSpirit’s presence here is largely one of networking and information- sharing with the many other traditions represented here. We spend a lot of time connecting with other individuals and groups and sharing our perspectives at other people’s programs. I will be offering a total of three rituals at this Parliament. The first one, on Thursday, suffered a little in attendance due to a scheduling mix up by the Parliament staff, but we successfully wove a Web (not on a maypole) and blessed it. Friday morning I led one of the morning meditation sessions. We sang and danced together in the bright sunshine to welcome the day. Both these and the third ritual, which is scheduled for Monday, take place in a spot called the Amphitheater, with a view of Table Mountain and the Atlantic which is breathtaking. What a spot to circle in!

The program selection is quite varied this year, but logistics are difficult because of the use of many venues for programs. We are moving between the Capetown Civic Center, two university campuses and a large hall called The Good Hope Center. There have been some wonderful outdoor programs, also in the Amphitheater: Sacred Circle Dance with a very strong South African group; African gospel music; stunning Taiko drummers from Japan; and the Isandlwana Zulu Dancers — an incredible troupe of young boys who have never been out of their village until now, but who performed with amazing energy, enthusiasm and expertise, accompanied by teenaged and adult men on the drums. WOW!

The Earth traditions have been well represented here thus far: Selena Fox and Dennis Carpenter, from Circle, presented a workshop on Thursday called “Dreams and Spirituality”, and Selena offered a talk on Friday afternoon called “Brigid, Celtic Goddess, Celtic saint”. Don Frew of Covenant of the Goddess was invited to be on a panel called “Critical Issues: Question for Religions from the 1993 Parliament” with Dr. Gerald Barney, director of the Millienium Project, Jim Kenny, director of the Parliament, and representatives of several other traditions. Erin Wells, an EarthSpirit member from Bates College, presented a paper for The Next Generation project — the program for young people here — and tomorrow Rowan Fairgrove from C.O.G. is leading a morning meditation to Brigid.
Neo-Pagan Delegation party hosted by Earthspirit

There is an entire symposium on current Native American issues and struggles called “America’s Shadow Struggle” and many other earth-oriented workshops offered by anthropologists and scholars.

The coming Plenary sessions include an interreligious arts festival tonight, Nelson Mandela tomorrow, and the Dalai Lama on Wednesday — a very impressive and potent event so far.

Until later,
Deirdre Pulgram Arthen
EarthSpirit’s official “press representative”

Day 3:
1999 Parliament of the Worlds’ Religions – a personal account

This morning, at 6:30 am, ten pagans were among the 300 people who boarded two ferries and trekked out to Robben Island to plant a Peace Pole.

Currently there are about 200,000 Peace Poles around the world in 163 countries. They are simple wooden structures about 5 feet high which have written on them “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in English and in the languages indigenous to the locations in which they are placed.

Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 28 years —and which just the day before yesterday was named a “World Heritage Site”— seems a perfect place for such a symbol of peace.

The ritual began as we disembarked. People carried flags from the countries of the world as they processed into the yard in front of what was once the maximum security prison. There we sat in chairs and were addressed first by the organizers of the event and then by the director of the museum, a former inmate during the time when Mandela was also incarcerated, who gave us a little history of the place. Robben Island has been used for centuries as a prison or place of banishment. The Dutch used it to house banished leaders from Indonesia and the near east during its colonial days; then, during the 19th century, it was used as a leper colony; and finally, during the apartheid regime, it was used to house political prisoners.

The director spoke quite emotionally about how important it was to him that we were all there and about how important religion and spirituality, of any form, was to the inmates during those years. He talked of the way that they used to all go to Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu and any other services that were available, just to keep the hope alive. He asked that we remember Robben Island as a “commemoration to the victory of the human spirit” rather than as a memorial to the suffering that went on there.

The Isibana Youth Choir than sang for us “Africa unite today; we don’t need any killings any more; it’s been so long, killing each other; Africa unite today.” The beautiful and moving South African harmonies reached everyone attending.

Many religious leaders had prepared blessings for the pole, but, due to time restraints, a bishop from Johannesburg gave the official blessing for all. He blessed the pole with incense and water and asked that everyone there go forward to the pole before they left, place their hand — or even better their two hands — on the pole and fill it with their light, to bring it to life, so that it would not be a dead piece of wood, but a living beacon of light, of hope and of peace for all who come to that place. It was a beautiful blessing and, even though he was strongly based in his own tradition, he was very inclusive in his language – not only blessing in the name of Jesus, but in the name of all of the “great ones” of every tradition.

He was followed by a traditional African priest who made an offering and blessed the pole in the name of his ancestors and in the name of all of those who suffered and died on the Island. The pole was then officially given to the Island by Africa Msimang, the South African director of the Parliament. At the end, before we returned to the boats, all of the pagans there went to the pole and made our own blessing together.

It was a beautiful ceremony and then a beautiful boat ride back toward the magical Table Mountain and the city.

Until later,
Deirdre Pulgram Arthen
EarthSpirit’s official “press representative”

Next Generation
1999 Parliament of the Worlds’ Religions – a personal account

Greetings from one of your Pagan Yutes (as dubbed by Deborah Ann Light). In addition to soaking up Cape Town, going to workshops and performances and plenaries, I’ve been attending sessions in the afternoons each day with the Next Generation. In a long hallway in the Enginering building of this University hung with Peace Flags, members of the Parliament ages 16 to 25 have been gathering to talk and learn from one another. The fruits of the Parliament will feed the great-grandchildren of the Next Generation, as we’ve been told. With that daunting vision in mind, we meet to establish bonds with one another that will give roots to this work.

The Next Generation folks run the gamut from members of interfaith service organizations, like the New York Interfaith Center, to global service groups (Play for Peace, Habitat for Humanity, and many others), to people my age who are leading focused religious and devotional lives under gurus and teachers, most exemplified by the Kashi Ashram.
Melissa Grant – EarthSpirit Next Generation Representative

The Kashi Ashram is a Hindu based, interfaith spiritual home in Florida, and for the youths there, a strong commitment to service is as much a part of their spiritual curriculum as is the teachings of their elders. Out of all the ‘yutes’ I’ve met, the Kashi kids have fit the closest to how Pagan youths may feel. Dressed in silk punjabis and prayer beads, they gifted us with a chant to Shiva at the Intergenerational session of NextGen, and I felt a strong kinship with them. How many times have I felt on the outside of my peers because of my religion? And how many times have I felt embarrassed about my ritual robes, my prayers, my rituals? Also, with the knowledge that their guru, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagvati, is Pagan positive, they’ve been a wonderful starting point for my interfaith dialogues here. One young woman in Kashi was the first person that I’ve ever heard say, “Oh, I know what that’s about– my mom is Pagan.”

As a Pagan, I’ve felt like I’ve had to juggle my little Educator Hat with my Next Generation hat and my Religious Person Mode hat this entire time.

It’s been very challenging to take part in youth dialogues that center on service when my own tradition has been lacking much of the adult leadership that intitiated these others youths into a committment to spiritual giving to others. It feels as if we’re working on so many arenas at once (public relations, organizational management, developing our traditions, oh, and some of that personal growth stuff, too from time to time) that to take on service is even more likely to burn us out. But it’s hard to express that difficulty to the NextGen folks when it basically means entering into some Pagan Movement Sociology 101 at the same time. Education, education, education.

There has also been some internal tension in our group. We were first told that we could all attend the Assembly meetings at the Parliament, where religious leaders will discuss the Call more deeply. On Tuesday, I learned that only 25 of us may go, and it is still unclear as to how they were chosen and if it was taken to heart that the group should be religiously diverse (Erin Wells is going, so we’ll have one Pagan at least). At the same time, this has drawn us together. It will be interesting to see how the rest our sessions go.

Melissa Grant
EarthSpirit Representative to the Next Generation