Tuesday, February 20, 2018

AAR Annual Meeting - II




Native Traditions in the Americas and North American Religions Units.

Standing Together at Standing Rock: Cross-Cultural Perspectives and Critiques: The #NoDAPL campaign at Standing Rock drew thousands of protesters representing tribal nations in the United States, indigenous peoples from around the world, as well as diverse religious groups and nonindegenous peoples.  The protesters were drawn by a common cause but participated in ways that both created unity and dissension.  The papers address these distinctions ranging from interrogating Standing Rock as a social or protest movement to address these distinctions ranging for interrogating Standing Rock as a social protest movement to examining the occupation as a milestone moment in modern inter-religious dialogue.  Papers give consideration to the complexities of the movement while drawing on indigenous cosmological understandings and global interests in human-earth relationships.

«    Margaret McMurtreyStanding Rock: Movement or Spiritual Call?  Confrontations Concerning Space- and Place-based Rhetoric.  Standing Rock: social movement or spiritual call?  To the non-native observer, it is a movement: a call to action on behalf of the environment and the people of Standing Rock.  For most Native and indigenous people, it calls forth a complex and nuanced relationship with the land.  This paper examines the current and historical legacies of native and non-native alliances around social and spiritual “movements” that help to interrogate Native and non-native responses to Standing Rock.  Native people are demanding that the “meaning” of Standing Rock be explained within a rhetorical context of space and place.  The challenge: how can the language of ”social movement” be illumined within the rhetoric of space– and place-based religiosity?  Can space- and place-based rhetoric be articulated to explain the nuances of Standing Rock from a Native and indigenous perspective while facilitating the understandings of and promoting the formation of large-scale community alliances? 

«    Peter HuffParliament of Religions on the Prairie: Standing Rock as Interreligious Event.  The 2016-17 Standing Rock phenomenon constitutes a turning point in the history of modern interreligious dialogue.  Oceti Sakowin and related encampments represent not only the greatest Native American tribal gathering since the nineteenth century but the most extraordinary open-air interfaith “camp meeting” in U.S. history.  Representatives from Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish Muslim, Sikh, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, Protestant, Catholic, and Quaker traditions assembled with Native American spiritual leaders and international indigenous leaders, forming not only a spontaneous parliament of religions on the prairie but the first mass modern interfaith event informed by indigenous values and practices.  Based on first-person participant observation and interviews with local actors, the paper traces the development of the Standing Rock interreligious experience from the spring of 2016 to the February 2017 camp evictions.  Drawing upon the critical literature on the history of modern interreligious dialogue, the paper identifies Standing Rock as a milestone in global interreligious dialogue.  

I came into this session after it had commenced; however, I think I experienced more than 90% of it.  Again, my post-stroke note-taking leaves much to be desired.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse
Peter Huff spoke of the leadership of Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle.[1]  White Buffalo Calf Woman (Ptesanwin) brought the Pipe to the Dakota People more than 300 years ago.  Chief Arvol Looking Horse said:

In our prophecy, the White Buffalo Calf Woman told us she would return and stand upon the earth when we are having a hard time.  In 1994, this began to happen with the birth of the white buffalo.  Not only their nation, but many animal nations began to show their sacred color, which is white.

Those gathered in protest performed and/or participated in an “Esseron”[2] interfaith ritual.  This turned out to be a much bigger deal than the organizers expected.  Karen Van Fossen, a minister at Bismarck-Mandan UU Congregation in North Dakota, and Father John Floberg of the Standing Rock Episcopal Churches, who were among the conveners, issued a notice to the interfaith communities, resulting in more than 500 clergy-people and/or representatives from religious communities coming, as opposed to the dozen they were expecting.  Some readers may be aware that Andras Corban Arthen and Patrick McCollum, both prominent Pagan interfaith activists, were present, as were Cornel West and others from around the country and beyond.


The ceremony was one of joyful community and rising concern.  They burned the Doctrine of Discovery,[3] then celebrated the easement with fireworks.  Among the participants were some teachers of interfaith for reconciliation from Belgium, as well as Veterans for Peace.

Unfortunately some leaders of this gathering were targeted with hate mail.

There was little access to the Internet, there being only one place on a certain hill for Internet access.



«    Lily OsterDecolonizing Earth-based Spiritualities: Negotiating Earth-awakening without Appropriation.   This paper explores the ethical complexity of white engagement with earth-based spiritual traditions, addressing patterns of cultural appropriation of indigenous traditions while also recognizing the potential benefit of more widespread human orientation toward the earth as sacred.  In a moment when humanity urgently needs to cultivate ecological consciousness, many indigenous traditions contain teachings of planetary connectedness and worldviews that undermine extractivist framings of human-earth relationship.  However – as was recently highlighted by the migration of many white visitors to the pipeline resistance camps on Standing Rock Sioux land – indigenous traditions are not necessarily open to converts, and white seekers are not necessarily attuned to the protocols of non-appropriation.  This paper makes a case study of white encounter with native religion at Standing Rock, considering the decolonial possibilities and pitfalls of Eurowestern spiritual engagement with traditions, practices, and philosophies grounded in the sacredness of the earth.

Many Native activists have made it clear that they want no white leaders.  Nor are non-natives able to participate in the Sun Dance.  I understand this exclusion of non-natives in an eco-cultural context.

 
However, with the growth in numbers of people practicing one or another Pagan spirituality with their commonly (not universally) espoused emphasis on the holiness of Nature and our interdependence, and considering that Neo-Pagans are mostly white and urban, I wonder where we can respectfully fit in.  As an urban white, associated with colonization and appropriation, I can certainly appreciate Natives’ insistence on exclusion of non-natives.  Nonetheless, in broader interfaith activities I, as an ecologically concerned Pagan Witch, think that our “greenness” is an asset and can inform others who hold a more “dominionist” (the attitude, not the Christian right) perspectives on the world, its assets, and its inhabitants.  I wish to contribute to the fortification of everyone’s efforts to address climate change, regardless of religion or ethnicity or any other difference.

The basic underlying tenet of these Native people is that everyone looks out for each other.  That’s behavior I try to cultivate and that I wish were more common among non-Natives.

«    David WalshCeremony in Historical Perspective at Standing Rock.   The #NoDAPL movement and the protests at Standing Rock have attracted media attention for the direct action with police.  However, this focus has obscured the historical context of protest through ceremony.  In this presentation, I discuss cosmological understandings of the indigenous participants.  Their actions such as individual ceremonies, the camps as ceremony, and direct action with police as ceremony, suggest that the #NoDAPL movement is primarily a spiritual ecology movement.  To properly understand this movement, then, it must be put into historical context with other spiritual movements of resistance, such as the Ghost Dance movement and Idle No More.  Only then can we understand how water protectors are protecting the source of life, water, from the forces of destruction, the black snake, as they continue their cosmological battle to cut off the head of the snake before it spills its poisonous venom – oil across the land.

Mr. Walsh claims that the protests against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock are pan-indigenous spiritual movements of resistance.  One practice is to bring water to pour into the river. 

He likened this to a “mini Mokami,” which is a reference either to (1) a river trail in present-day Labrador used by the three indigenous peoples of that land: the Innu (Innu Nation), the Inuit (Nunatsiavut), and the NunatuKavut (Southern Inuit); (2) a place in central Missouri; or (3) a place in Santa Clara County in California.  The phrase he credited to “mini Mokami” is “Water Is Life.”  Regardless of the source, this statement applies universally.

This mixture of waters is similar to a ritual honoring the Waters of the World that is widely practiced in the interfaith movement, both national and international.  Participants from many places bring water from a spring, creek, lake, river, or ocean near where they live to ritually comingle with the waters brought from far and wide.  I’ve been told that this rite of mingling waters of the world (not pouring them into a river) began as a UU practice.  In any case, the practice has been taken up within the Pagan movement, where it is not uncommon.

Nonetheless, It is important to remember that indigenous rituals, whether environmental or otherwise, are focused on the local rather than the universal, even when they have been displaced.

Mandans hold wisdom of the sky is covered and erased by dams.  The Native peoples at DAPL liken oil to the “black snake that destroys the land.”  That is an image I can easily envision.  Protests opposing extraction from tar sands in Alberta began in 1967, and amped up in the 2000s.

One of the activities mentioned concerned approaching and standing upon a sacred mountain on the DAPL encampment.  Humans who seek to go there must put cedar bark in their shoes as a sign of humility and respect for the sacredness of this mountain.  Beyond respecting this practice, I think such practices can be consciousness raisers for non-indigenous people.

Created by people of Canada’s sovereign First Nations, Idle No More soon grew into one of the largest Indigenous mass movements in Canadian history.  “Idle No More calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution, to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water.”  INM began demonstrations in 2012 to resist extraction and assimiliation.

In addition to the Ghost Dance in South Dakota and actions at Wounded Knee, Native Americans and First Nations people have conducted Round Dances at shopping malls.  They hold Sitting Bull as an honored ancestor.

By Mother Nature, Mother Earth and other names, I join all peoples in respecting, preserving, conserving, and celebrating Earth, our beautiful and sacred home.


[1]           See Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers.  Don’t be fooled by the English names.

[2]           The word I heard as esseron, thought it may have been asseron.  In any case, I don’t know its meaning and have been unable to find any useful information about it.

[3]                The Covenant of the Goddess issued a Resolution To Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and Implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2012.

Friday, January 05, 2018

AAR 2017 Annual Meeting - I

Once again, with help from the Covenant of the Goddess, I attended the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, this year in Boston.


As in most years, some Pagans planned a field trip to a local site or sites of interest to Pagans.  This year the place was obvious:  Salem, Massachusetts.  Under the guidance of Gwendolyn Reece, three of us (Gwendolyn, Jeffrey Albaugh, and me) lunched at the Tavern on the Green in the historic Hawthorne Hotel in Salem to plan our day.  I’d dined there before so I knew we’d like it.  The rest of our party (Caroline Tully, Chas Clifton, Sabina Magliocco, Kim Kirner) who had missed the train we took rendezvoused with us and we proceeded from there.

Our first stop after lunch was Nu Aeon, a store owned by a local companion, Gypsy Ravish.  She invited us into the Temple of Stars, a beautiful private sanctuary, where we immersed ourselves in the ambiance and viewed a video.  Unfortunately, the time taken in doing these things curtailed most of our touring.

Salem has a plethora of tourist attractions from which to choose, as you might imagine.  However, we were short on time.  We missed seeing the House of the Seven Gables, although we did visit some local witchy stores and we ducked into the Salem Witchcraft Museum near closing time, where we only browsed the gift shop.  I wasn’t too concerned because back in 1999, before the new displays (dioramas) were made public, Jerrie Hildebrand (who lives in a darling little house repurposed from a seaport warehouse right near the docks) arranged with the then-director for a private, pre-opening tour for Jerrie, Orion Foxwood, and myself.

Salem Graveyard in Autumn

Salem Graveyard

The heart of our visit was the graveyard wherein are buried the twenty condemned to death for practicing “witchcraft” in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93.  The cemetery has been made into a memorial garden for those victims of the hysteria, with a plaques/bench for each victim that visitors can sit upon or make a rubbing of the inscription.  There we spent the quiet twilight time.

* * * * *

Contemporary Pagan Studies and Western Esotericism Units.

The Pagan-Esoteric Complex: Mapping Intersecting Milieus: Contemporary paganism and esotericism share a common genealogy in 19th and early-20th century occultism.  While ‘pagans’ and ‘occultists’ have undergone some degree of differentiation since the mid-20th century, there is still a considerable overlap between milieus.  Despite these well-known facts, scholarship on esotericism and paganism has tended to reproduce the diverging identity discourses that have been created over the past century.  This panel will explore historical and contemporary cases that highlight the intersection of paganism and esotericism, from the fusion of Egyptomania and Celticism in the tradition springing from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, to the role of contemporary occultural festivals as a meeting place of pagans, magicians, and occultists.

«    Vivianne Crowley -- Ancient Egypt in an Irish Castle: How an Irish Goddess Spirituality Movement Bridges the Esoteric and Exoteric, Pagan, and Christian Worlds.  The Fellowship of Isis is one of the largest Goddess-worshipping organizations to emerge in the 1970s.  Founded by the Anglo-Irish Durdin-Robertson family, it claims tens of thousands of members and has multicultural appeal, particularly in the United States, where African American interest in Ancient Egypt is high.  The fellowship is based on esoteric interpretations of the Egyptian goddess Isis, but positions itself as a universal multifaith movement that honors the Divine feminine in all her forms.  Unlike many of the new religious movements born in the 1970s, it cannot be defined as a cult in the usual sense.  The movement has no membership fees, free resources, and great latitude in spiritual practice.  This paper examines the evolution of this contemporary Goddess movement and how it has sought to bridge the esoteric, exoteric, and Pagan and Christian worlds.

Lady Olivia in her late years
As of 2012, the worldwide membership of FOI had increased to 21 thousand from five thousand in 1985.  Its teaching material, rituals, and liturgy can be downloaded free from the main FOI site.  FOI is ahistorical and universal and requires no vows of secrecy.  Membership is open to all religions races, traditions, and children.  FOI Iseums (temples) and Lyceums (learning centers) have been established throughout the world.  FOI subscribes to Hermetic maxim “As above, so below,” from The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus

In addition, in 1993 FOI sent a colorful delegation led by founder Olivia Durdin-Robinson to the centennial Parliament of World Religions in Chicago.
 
Lady Olivia at Parliament of World Religions
I am familiar with two FOI groups here in California.  One is the Fellowship of Isis, Los Angeles, founded primarily by the late Laura Janesdaughter.  The other FOI group with which I am most familiar and is nearest to me, is Isis Oasis.[1]

Established by the late Lady Loreon Vigné in 1978, only two years after the founding of the mother fellowship at Clonegal Castle in Ireland, Isis Oasis is a beautiful
Egyptian-themed retreat and animal sanctuary in Geyserville, California.  Each guest room in the lodge is dedicated to a different Egyptian goddess, and Loreon’s stained glass art appears in all the structures.  Isis Oasis is also an animal sanctuary begun by Loreon because she is one of very few who successfully breeds the threatened ocelot in captivity.  It now shelters peacocks, swans, and other exotic birds, alpacas, iguanas and other lizards, and several species of wildcats.

«    Caroline TullyIsis of the North: The Celtic Priests of the Lineage of Scota.  Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, the primary creative genius behind the famous British occult group, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and his wife Moina Mathers established a mystery religion of Isis in fin de siècle Paris.  Lawrence Durdin-Robinson, his wife Pamela, and his sister Olivia created the Fellowship of Isis in Ireland in the mid-1970s.  Although separated by over half a century and not directly associated with each other, both groups have several characteristics in common.  Each combined their worship of an ancient Egyptian goddess with an interest in the Celtic Revival; both claimed that their priestly lineages derived directly from the Egyptian princess Scota, foundress of Ireland and Scotland according to Irish and Scottish mythology and pseudohistory; and both groups used dramatic ritual and theatrical events as avenues for the promulgation of their Isis religions.

Egyptian culture and religion have long fascinated people of many societies.  Kemeticism, a term for contemporary revivals of Ancient Egyptian religion, as currently practiced, ranges from strict reconstructionism to creative contemporary adaptations, as well as being a source for African pride and identity.   
Isis/Scota sailing from Egypt to Ireland
The same is true of what are generally considered to be “Celtic” (from Latin Celtae, “a name for the Gauls, the ancient Celtic tribes of France” and beyond) religions.  MacGregor is among those who consider the Celtic Scota to be a more northerly manifestation of Egyptian Isis.  They trace their lineage from 4th Dynasty pharaonic Egypt of two thousand years BCE to Roman mysteries circa 90 BCE.   

«    Diana Brown“Eastern Methods and Western Bodies”: Dion Fortune’s Assessment of Yoga for a Western Audience.  Occultists of the 19th and early 20th centuries both contributed to the popularization of thought and practices identified as yoga in British and American contexts and attempted to situate their own practices in relation to yoga.  In her writings of the 1920s and ‘30s, the British occultist Dion Fortune, who famously called ‘Qabalah’ the ‘Yoga of the West,’ reveals her changing assessment of the nature of yoga, its relationship to “Western” magical practices, and its appropriateness for Western practitioners.  A member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and founder of her own magical order, the Fraternity of the Inner Light, Fortune is a significant and understudied figure in the landscape of 20th century “Western Esotericism,” whose novels and nonfiction works such as The Sea Priestess and The Mystical Qabalah remain important for practitioners of ritual magic and Paganism, both of whom at times have self-consciously thought of themselves as alternately “Western” or European indigenous traditions.

Young Dion Fortune
I suspect most American (and other) Pagans are familiar with Dion Fortune (Violet Firth) and her writings.  Her ability to deftly synthesize ideas “derives largely from her ability to bring difficult esoteric concepts into a lucid and readily accessible prose."[2]  That legacy echoes throughout much, if not most, on contemporary Paganism.  This is especially the case today because we have so much more exposure to each other’s cultures than ever before.

«    Jason WinsladeFaeries, Bards, and Magicians: Fantasy Worlds of the Pagan Music Festival.  At contemporary Pagan festivals, solo musicians and musical groups that cultivate a Pagan or occult persona are able to fully embody that aspect for audiences already living in those alternative realities within the festival scene.  The narratives, performances and live experiences offered by these artists not only are a part of the fantasy landscape of the Pagan festival, they are often the primary methods, other than the public rituals, these festivals use to frame the event’s meaning, tone and atmosphere for its participants.  This paper examines the interaction between these artists and their audiences at several current festivals in the Midwest and eastern U.S., focusing on the methods of mythmaking, storytelling and sense experience provided by live performance.  As well as the artists’ creation of magical personae.  The paper will further contextualize these experiences within an occultural history of live musical performance and performative Pagan identity formation.

I agree with Jason’s assertion that music and its performance “are often the primary methods, other than the public rituals, these festivals use to frame the event’s meaning, tone and atmosphere for its participants.”  To quote poet and scholar Steven Posch,  “The old ways weren't just handed down informally by granny at the kitchen table. The prime mode of lore transmission in oral cultures has always been through the passing down of songs and poetry.”  How fortunate we are to have the venue of festivals where this happens.  I appreciate this study of our movement, how it has arisen, how it has been nourished, how it has evolved, all shaped in large part by the sounds of its music.  However, the study’s reliance on midwestern and eastern U.S. festivals, while limited due to geography, seems to me to ignore or overlook lots of other fine Pagan musicians with whom I’m familiar who evidently don’t necessarily make it to the more easterly festivals.

My next post will report on the Native Traditions in the Americas and North American Religions Units about Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline Protest.



[1]             When the AAR Annual Meeting was last held in San Francisco, in 2011, our pre-conference Pagan field trip included Isis Oasis.
[2]             Historian Claire Fanger
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Becoming a Sanctuary Congregation: How Faith Communities Can Support Immigrants


Marin Interfaith Council sponsored a gathering of religious leaders to learn about the sanctuary movement.  A total of 62 attendees came out on August 29th for the gathering focused on sanctuary congregations.  The speakers addressed:

What does it mean to provide sanctuary?  What are the levels of sanctuary?  What is the process to become a sanctuary congregation, and what are the challenges/risks?

The Rev. Deborah Lee, Program Director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, and Rabbi Elana Rosen-Brown of Congregation Rodef Sholom, spoke in both practical and moral terms about how faith communities can utilize their resources to serve the immigrant community in this time of need.  Different examples of sanctuary congregations were provided to help attendees understand the range of ways to offer sanctuary.  Both leaders also echoed the importance of defining mentally, spiritually, and emotionally what sanctuary means for your faith community so that you can create and implement an appropriate response.  [Emphasis intentional]

Rev. Deborah Lee
Deborah first spoke to the overall problems about the impact of undocumented immigrants in practical terms.  She asserts that there has been a coordinated attack on the word “sanctuary.”

The U.S. is a destination for migrants; many immigrants come to the U.S. to escape danger.  California and the San Francisco Bay Area more so.  It behooves us to demonstrate compassion and mercy, and to consider the underlying causes of their migration.  After all, but for a small population of Native Peoples that we -- all of us whose families came here as immigrants at some point – have decimated.  All of us Euros, Africans, Asians, and blends are immigrants, regardless of how far back our ancestors.  Latinos, on the other hand, are native to the Americas.

Further, homo sapiens is a migratory species.  We arose in East Africa and have migrated to every continent and subcontinent the planet and most islands in Earth’s oceans. [Emphasis intentional]

There are more than 200 detention facilities for people seeking citizenship in this country; only two of them are for women and children.  All are overcrowded and the conditions in those facilities are worse than those in state prisons.[1] 

Additionally, recent news reports that many detained women are miscarrying, and the nutrition children and all other detainees leaves a lot to be desired.  Not to mention the lack of educational opportunities for young detainees.

On top of that, immigration costs more than $18 billion a year, more than any other federal program.  One of the largest detention facilities is West County Detention Facility in Richmond, CA, about four miles across a bridge from where I sit typing.  West County gets big bucks of our tax money from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  On the first Saturday of each month an interfaith prayer group meets from 11:00 a.m. till noon outside the gates.

Conversely, there has also be an increased in sanctuary communities locally from five to twenty-seven.

Since the current administration in Washington took over the federal government, ICE has instituted fast deportations with no judges or hearings.  Concomitantly, the number of deportees has increased.  ICE also seeks to have any immigrant who is arrested, no matter the crime or transgression, turned over to ICE by the jail or prison authorities. 

I have witnessed this policy in action where I volunteer at San Quentin.  One of our regular circle members, when he was up for parole, disappeared.  This man, an immigrant from Mexico, had a questing mind and took every advantage during his incarceration to better himself (working towards a college degree, for instance).  I viewed him as someone who was motivated and who would become a contributing member of society after his release.  Alas, when I asked about his whereabouts, assuming he’d have been assigned to some kind of halfway house as he had expected, I learned that he’d been deported.

There has been resistance to this policy by some law enforcement authorities who decline to comply, but this resistance has been inconsistent.  My county and several nearby counties and cities are sanctuary cities.  And now, thanks to Governor Jerry Brown, our state is a sanctuary state.  I sit now in a library where several signs are posted welcoming immigrants specifically, and everyone (ages, races, gender, abilities, languages, et al.).  Deborah claims that deportees are returned to slave-owners.

As mentioned above, we (the San Francisco Bay Area and the wider State of California) are a destination for migrants.  We have legal resources, whereas no counsel is offered to deportees.  Our progressive legislature assures that undocumented children can go to school.  Immigrants don’t qualify for rent subsidies, but they do have tenant rights of which most are unaware.

Deborah cautions us to expect pushback for our efforts.  We see that now that Governor Brown has designated California as a sanctuary state, the current administration has ordered ICE to amp up their raiding here.

While guides suggest speaking with an attorney who is knowledgeable about immigration law, the fact is that there is almost no legal risk.  See ACLU’s Sanctuary Congregations and Harboring FAQ.  Familiarize yourself with harboring laws, stay open, announce that fact, and report on incidents of reprieve.  ICE can enter your sanctuary to apprehend undocumented immigrants, but they are under witness of community.

She urges us to resist untruths about immigrants with those who hold them.  She offers three “R” principles:  Right thing to do; Relationship to immigrants; and Risk to share with immigrants and to take a chance.

The motto of the organization for which Deborah works, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, is “Every human person is sacred across all borders.”  Here is what IM4HI tells us about how sanctuary looks today.

“A public, corporate commitment to walk alongside immigrants, mixed-status families, refugees, and other targeted communities to uphold the dignity, due process, and full acceptance and participation of all people in our society through protection, support, and advocacy.  Congregations can write their own statement of sanctuary to reflect what they specifically will do.”




IM4HI suggests four ways that congregations are demonstrating their commitment to sanctuary.  Some of them are things that we -- as individuals, as covens, as a covenant – can do even though we generally don’t have physical facilities.

Advocacy:

«    Advocate at the local, state, and national levels for policies that protect the due process of immigrants and promote their full dignity and integration into our local communities.
«    Advocate for policies that help to prevent mass deportation and fear by creating clear separation between ICE  and local law enforcement and civic institutions, for example, strong sanctuary city and county policies.
«    Engage in local public actions and activities to shift public discourse towards immigrants, Muslims, and refugees, and bring attention to our responsibility

Accompaniment of Immigrant Families or Youth:

Individuals and congregations can immediately help accompany immigrants in urgent situations and need of accompaniment.  This can include newly arrived migrant families, unaccompanied minors, people facing deportation crisis, those just released from detention centers.  Trained volunteers can help to provide courtroom accompaniment, access to services, and concrete and emotional support and/or transitional housing to help those in a period of crisis.

There are 13 teams in the East Bay doing accompaniment.  They claim that this issue warrants “God’s special attention.”

Networks of Protection & Rapid Response:

«    Join a rapid response Network to respond to ICE workplace raids, home raids, or other enforcement activity.
«    Connect with targeted communities to help develop relationships and networks of protection.

Housing Hospitality:

«    There are various kinds of needs for housing hospitality:  (1) short-term respite housing for someone released from detention; (2) housing for newly arrived immigrant family seeking asylum; (3) protective housing for someone with a final order of deportation; and (4) hosts needed in order for the government to release individuals from immigration detention,
«    Depending on the case, housing hospitality could be in a private home of a member, or on congregational property.

I know that some Pagan nonprofits shy away from civic involvement out of concern for their nonprofit status.  I can state with certainty that religious organizations with nonprofit status can indeed offer opinions, suggestions, recommendations, and urging to their congregations about secular issues such as immigration without jeopardizing their nonprofit status.

Many years ago when the Reclaiming Collective was young, we -- I was active in the collective in those years and I was instrumental in acquiring these classifications -- applied for and received incorporation as a nonprofit religious organization from the Secretary of State of California as well as 501(c)3 tax status from the Internal Revenue Service.  One of the things we wanted to accomplish was to provide sponsorship of an immigrant couple (one from Senegal and the other from England) so that they could remain in this country and acquire permanent residence status.  This occurred with no effect on Reclaiming’s legal status.

Some years ago when ICE was regularly doing predawn raids in the Canal District, a predominantly Latino neighborhood of our city, our local Marin Interfaith Council’s Justice Advocacy Team organized predawn vigils, both to demonstrate our concern and solidarity and to assist victims of raids and their families.  Immigrants do have tenants rights, among other rights, of which they may be either unaware or reluctant to use for fear of deportation.

A couple of months ago, an immigrant construction worker who had entered nearby Travis Air Force Base to work on a job was held for deportation by ICE.  This man had been a contributing member of our community for more than 17 years, had married and had children who were American citizens.  He and his family were known to be law-abiding members of our city, but for the father’s immigration status.  A call went out from MIC to its members, asking them to write letters of support to representatives, government entities, and the press.  MIC is also a 501(c)3 nonprofit.


* * * * *

Rabbi Elana Rosen-Brown
Rabbi Elana Rosen-Brown told of the ways in which the members of her Congregation Rodef Sholom committed to create a sanctuary for immigrants.  She spoke of Rodof Shalom’s process of becoming a community network.  She cited T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, which has published Mikdash: A Quickstart Guide for Sanctuary Synagogues, a step-by-step, easy-to-access pdf.  In addition to providing us with a copy of this document, she gave us copies of the “Resolution of the Board of Directors of Congregation Rodof Shalom Affirming Congregational Solidarity with Undocumented Immigrants.”  To demonstrate its commitment to this resolution of its Board, they created a Source Sheet, a useful document she also shared with us.

The first thing to do is to change hearts and minds. Becoming a sanctuary community begins with networking.  Concurrently, reach out to local immigrants rights group to understand local needs and partners.  It’s good as well to have immigrant folk speak to the congregation so that the members can better understand and appreciate their urgent needs.

Elana recommends Sanctuary Not Deportation (SND), which has a list of local coalitions.  Sanctuary groups are already well established in such places as Denver, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Austin, Chicago, Southern Arizona, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Phoenix, Washington, South Florida, Colorado Springs, and New Mexico.  Our neighboring state of Oregon’s Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice is another resource for learning to become a sanctuary community.

SND offers instructions on becoming a sanctuary community, including strategy and tactics.  Different religious traditions have published denominational statements as well as liturgical materials; however, all are Christian except for one issued by Reformed Judaism.  SND appears to be a useful site, but it could certainly benefit from having a more diverse coalition.

Now we Pagans don’t usually have buildings to use and to maintain; even so, there are plenty of ways we can help.  Several ways are suggested above.

After the presentations of our two guests, I got an idea of how we – me, anyway – might help.  I propose providing immigrants with prepaid cell phones.  With cell phones, immigrants can receive announcements pertinent to their situations. They can access information and resources in their own languages.  And if circumstances result in their relocating, they can remain connected with friends, allies, and supportive groups.  My idea was to contact CREDO Mobile or other cell phone services to enlist their cooperation by providing the phones, perhaps new but discontinued models that are harder to sell.  CREDO is a social change network of 5 million activists organizing and mobilizing for progressive change; each month CREDO donates all profits to various nonprofits, voted on by subscribers.  I haven’t followed through on this yet.  What do you think?





[1]           She actually cited San Quentin, probably because it is local; however, I volunteer with the Wiccan circle there and so far I haven’t been exposed to deplorable conditions.  Bleak and institutional, yes.  Of course, I only see communal areas, not cellblocks.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reflections on Melek Taus



Last week I attended an Interfaith Gala Dessert Reception to help the Yezidis Facing Genocide, featuring a delegation of Yezidis in exile here in North America and hoping to regain their homelands.

Held at Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, California, the room featured peacock feathers on each table and walls adorned with Yezidi (Yazidi) flags.  The screen upon one wall featured a large image of Melek Taus, the Peacock God of the Yezidis.

I was especially intrigued to learn how Melek Taus is conceived in Yezedi (Yazidi) religion because this figure also appears as a deity in the Anderson Faery/Feri tradition of the Craft. 

Here is an account of a contemporary reference to Melek Taus

The contingent, named Malik al-Tawus or ‘King Peacock’ after the mythical figure worshipped by the ancient religious minority, clashed with IS [ISIL] in the area west of the rebel-held city of Mosul.

Malik al-Tawus, the self-defence group, was established in 2007 to protect the Yazidi community in Iraq against attacks by Islamists.

The Yazidi religion is a syncretic combination of Zoroastrianism with Sufi Islam, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. They believe that God and seven angels protect the world and one of these angels, named Malak Tawus and believed to be embodied by a peacock on Earth, was thrown out of paradise for refusing to bow to Adam.

I don’t know if the Yezidis who were honored at this recent reception would agree with the description of their religion as being syncretic, although most if not all religions are.  They struck me as being of a conservative bent.  This particular group represented a diaspora of Yezidis living in Canada. 

RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty reports on another Yezidi community in Armenia where Melek Taus is prominently revered and where the Yezidis recently constructed a new temple.  Perhaps their goal is not to reclaim their homeland in Northern Iraq that other diasporic communities seek.

In any case, Melek Taus, the headstrong Peacock Angel, is the central figure in the Yazidi faith.  Because he refused to bend to the will of God [the one called Allah, one would assume], conservative Muslims view the Yezidis as “devil worshippers.”  The Koran tells a similar story about Shaytan, the Devil, having been cast down into hell for defying God.

However, although Melek Taus is the most important deity to the Yezidis, they maintain that he belongs to the entire world.  About the Peacock Angel Yezidi Truth asserts that:

The Yezidis believe that they possess the oldest religion on Earth, the primeval faith that features Tawsi Melek, and that all other traditions are related to them through the Peacock Angel [although not always in the form of a peacock]. They contend that Tawsi Melek is the true creator and ruler of the universe, and therefore a part of all religious traditions.  Once he arrived on Earth he became its monarch and has since governed the world from an etheric dimension.

Melek Taus later changed his appearance and name and now has morphed and manifested in different religions around the globe.

Further, for Yazidis, Melek Taus “is above the concepts of good and evil -- comparable to fire, which can cook and warm but also burn and destroy.”  Therefore, is makes perfect sense to me that he would manifest in a religion that holds the concept of “the black heart of innocence.”  To quote the late Grand Master Victor Anderson:  “How beautiful is the black lascivious purity in the hearts of children and small animals.  This is the black heart of innocence and the root of all true rightness.”

My initial encounters with Melek Taus were in the context of Anderson Faery/Feri, although I have had very little exposure to him even within Faery.  When I first read about Melek Taus exclusive of the context of Faery, I thought his appearance there might have been the dreaded cultural appropriation.  After all, culturally speaking, Northern Iraq is a far cry from Northern California.  Now I’ve learned that he is claimed to be “a part of all religious traditions.”

My personal favorite, the image on the altar in my bedroom, is artist Paul Rucker’s interpretation. Judging by the plethora of images of Melek Taus on the Internet, it seems he’s become widely known, with many jpgs of Paul’s art and almost no attribution.

There’s a wealth of information and a wealth images of Melek Taus on the Internet for those who wish to pursue him intellectually.  Best, however, to encounter him by performing devotional acts; then see what happens.