Month: October 2015 (Page 1 of 2)
The Miscellaneous and Serendipitous
Indigenous grandmothers’ prayers at the opening of the Women’s Assembly. We live on Turtle Island (North America). The Salt Palace is built on the homeland of indigenous people. We are children of the stars.
Maeera Shreiber, my professor of Holocaust poetry and director of the Religious Studies program at the University of Utah presenting at “Women Reimagining Religious Traditions.” Exclusion is hurtful.
Annapurna Pandey, also presenting at “Women Reimagining Religious Traditions.” Anthropologist teaching at UC Santa Cruz. Religion is relative, religion is cultural.
Vandana Shiva. Ecological agriculturalist, political activist. To be human is to be of the earth. (By extension, we are all stardust).
Aisha H.L. Al-Adawiya. Women in Islam. We are all indigenous.
At the closing session of the Women’s Assembly a young Indian woman dressed all in white exquisitely sings a prayer. Sung prayers are common to many traditions. A Hindu prayer closes the meeting addressing the power in the moon.
In the hallway of the Grand Ballroom are hung 90 banners representing images of the goddess, from many cultures, throughout history. Created by Lydia Ruyle, they are a statement of the commonality of our human experience. I am sure most of them have celestial counterparts. A treasure I discovered and appreciated very early on Saturday morning before activities started. The banner of Isis is bordered with stars.
A reflection on what I experienced after the first day. Religion is a context of ideas, communication, works. Music and art. Certain kinds of behavior. Attitudes toward space. Interpersonal relationships.
I was particularly interested in a session exploring Gnosticism since I had done research on the subject last year at the University. It was presented by a couple from Colorado in kind of a New Age context. But they were consistent with the knowledge that I had acquired. The sun, the moon, and the stars follow seasonal cycles. There is a masculine/ feminine complementarity in creation. Myth provides a context to find meaning within the cosmos.
Rabbi Leah Novick states Shekhinah delivers the sun, moon, and stars. Divine Feminine. The Jewish feminine holy spirit.
Saturday morning in the main foyer. I was there to listen to a performance by Kairo by Night a Middle-Eastern inspired ensemble from the University of Utah. They cancelled. In their place Cecilia St. King performed solo accompanying herself on guitar. Troubadour for Peace. In front of her a circle of the flags of the nations of the world from a previous event. “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Above her on the second floor balcony appeared the Peace Angels, about 30 in all.
On my way to lunch on Saturday I passed Grandmother Rose Pere (Maori). I called to her, “Grandmother Rose you rock my world!” She beckoned me close and held me close to her face singing “Rock Me all Night Long.” We parted by rubbing noses, with gratitude and thankfulness.
Sunday morning I attended the Peruvian Shaman Circle led by Andrea Bernstein of SLC. It only seemed natural to participate. A group of peace Angels were among us. They are from Australia. I didn’t recognize them without their wings. I had a very personal profound encounter with Kali Bolo.
Andras Corban-Arthen was one of the panelists at Ancient Teacher: Earth as Spiritual Guide. He is a representative of indigenous European traditions though he lives in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. He spoke at length on Gaelic Scotland. Ancestors’ knowledge. Living with nature on her terms. Humans are not relevant to earth. We are the species at peril.
Later I attended Sons and Lovers of the Divine Feminine at which Corban-Arthen’s son Donovan was one of the panelists. Handsome, charismatic advocate of universalism. Patriarchy is hard on men. Ivo Dominguez was also present.
There were so many choices I had to make and sacrifice some important sessions to follow my priorities. Phyllis Curott was presenting at the Feminine Divine. Kelli Bickman showed images of her art inspired by the goddess and recounted the construction of the Peace Mural. Curott advised us to pay attention. Symbolic representations speak to our brain functions. Reciprocity exists between us and nature. A pleasant interaction with her followed the session.
Trudy Jones was conducting Tai-Chi sessions in the mornings. We met Saturday night at the TRAX station. She is from Thunder Bay Ontario. I have been through there. We met again Sunday outside the Women’s Sacred Space. She forewent attending another session to have a conversation with me. She is compiling a journal in which fellow attendees record their impressions. After describing my perspective on the celestial ecliptic she asked me to draw something on a page. Hamal.
Monday morning ceremony of the Temple of Isis. The officiants are dressed as Egyptians. Two of the women have wings.
Yoga Circle. Brief chat again with Trudy beforehand. 30 women and just 3 men. A good workout. Doing things I don’t normally do. Using parts of my body in new ways. Partnering with Pam. Absolute respect and trust. Being part of a group is a valuable experience. I have to remember this.
Langar. The Sikh community prepared and served a free lunch each mid-day to all who entered their hall. Many thousands partook, seated on the floor, shoeless and with heads covered our plates filled as many times as we wished. A very tasty dal recipe on Monday. A real act of organized meaningful service.
The challenge at the close of the conference was to carry back to our communities the work of changing the world. Action. I came into this Parliament of World Religions as a student of religions prepared to observe and record. I very quickly became a participant and became emotionally involved in the presentations and some of the serendipitous occurrences. I was also presented with a personal challenge to do some meaningful work on myself, that will enable my progress on the projects I am commencing and increase the quality of my interactions with others. I hope that I will maintain some contact with some of the people that I met over those five days. And I am already making efforts to connect with some things that are going on here in Salt Lake City. First action to join the Salt lake Interfaith Roundtable and second to join a yoga class.
She Who Gives Life, She Who Gives Form: Ancient/ Modern Earth-Based Paradigms
Luciana Percovich. Our human prehistory of over 100,000 years contains ample evidence for the recognition of the female principle in the creation of the cosmos. Cave art and carved stone figures represent the woman as a source of wisdom, ordering, differentiation and our dependence on nature.
Joan Marler. A student of Marija Gimbutas carries on her tradition of investigating the neolithic cultures of Eastern Europe. She finds visual metaphors representing culturally-formed complex ideas that provide meaning to members of the community. The iconography of fertilization, gestation, and birth was established 40,000 years ago. The reciprocity between plant life, animals, and the human female was ritualized.
Barbara Alice Mann. A Seneca living in Ohio presented an overview of the American Indigenous cosmos, using examples from her local landscapes. A twinship exists in the mind that differentiates Earth and Sky, Air and Water, the North-South axis (female), and the East-West (male). She stated “Two directions make one. You can’t have One-ness until you understand the Two.” The mounds constructed on the land by Native Americans were created in pairs and reflect the patterns of stars in the nighttime sky.
Woman Stands Shining. She is Dine, residing in Taos. She underscores the interconnectedness of being. She outlines the ceremony of first menses as a re-enactment of the First Creation. Not only is the young women experiencing the cultural history of her own people (grandmothers) and an interdependent relationship with the Earth, but she is simultaneously connecting with all the (life-giving) women in humanity and all the life-giving forces in Nature. She stressed the relationship between inner earth and the sky above. The cosmos is circular, cyclical, and spiral in opposition to the linear perspective of our dominant culture.
Genevieve Vaughn. Her main focus is on the human trait of gifting. She would classify our species as Homo donans. She says this is particularly characteristic of mothers. This she contrasts with the patriarchical orientation to a market economy, exchange, and profit.
Phyllis Curott was listed as a presenter but remained an attentive attendee in the rear of the room.
This whole session covered a lot of ground that I have experienced as a student in my anthropology classes. I was particularly impressed with Woman Stands Shining’s profound connections, and the workings of the human mind. I like the way she thinks.
One of my main objectives going into this conference was to meet Phyllis Curott. I had become aware of her at the preliminary session held last April at the Salt Palace. She was quite different from the other presenters at that meeting and a little research provided her identity and a bit of her background. To discover that she is a Wiccan High Priestess and a high-ranking figure in the Parliament was surprising and intriguing. I purchased two of her books on witch-crafting and read them over the summer in preparation for October. I am not a believer and will remain skeptical forever. Her own story is a good read and her approach to her craft has refined my own thinking towards my own experiences. She was very busy over those five days, but she always had time to chat with attendees, with a warm, personable manner and sense of humor. Her accomplishment of the Inaugural Women’s Assembly will be remembered for a long time to come.
My interest in Wicca coincides with my interest in cultural astronomy. Wicca has no orthodoxy or organizational hierarchy so emphasis on content and orientation varies from group to group. There does seem to be some consistency in following the phases of the moon and observing the seasonal solar cycle. There is a component of astrology that some utilize more than others. Much of the particulars of Wicca and paganism were not discussed. A greater emphasis was overall placed on the role of women in religion: as participants, officiants, and objects of worship. A complementary theme also addressed honoring the earth, particularly in its feminine aspect, and the manifestations of the feminine in the moon and Venus. Honoring the earth and nature extends to honoring the landscape of the sky.
One Wiccan practice is the creation of the ceremonial circle. The four cardinal directions are addressed and ritualized. The order proceeds around clock-wise (deosil), their direction of inclusion. Counter-clockwise (widdershins) desacralizes the circle in banishment. My perspective as a star-gazer faces the north celestial pole, around which the sky rotates in a counter-clockwise direction. Maybe this is why my life is so deficient!
Curott has given me a certain amount on validation for the pathway on which I am embarking. She was aware enough to realize the benefit I would derive from attending the Ancient/Modern Earth-Based Paradigms session and to follow up on Pat McCabe’s (Woman Stands Shining) presentation.
Hamal is the brightest star in the constellation Aries. It is 37.7 degrees east of the Vernal Equinox. Its midnight culmination occurs on October 31. Hamal is an orange star of 2.00 magnitude 63 light years away. Its name in Arabic means the ram.
We have just concluded the 2015 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City. It is a gathering of people from around the world representing many many traditions 0f faith-based practices, and those interested in studying them. They are primarily concerned with interfaith communication and action to address the most important issues of the times. Climate change got a lot of attention this year. There was a lot of energy surrounding women’s rights. The first ever Women’s Assembly was held and there were numerous workshops devoted to women in religion, including discussions about the Female Divine. Issues addressing indigenous beliefs and practices, history, and human and civil rights, and the relationships between dominant cultures, their governments and religions were also examined. Another subject of study and calls to action focused on war, violence, and hate crimes ranging from global nuclear disarmament to testimonies from survivors of the massacre of Sikhs in the temple in Wisconsin in 2012.
Having just received my degrees in Anthropology and Religious Studies it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to take my next step forward as a professional cultural astronomer. As the announcements for the programs unfolded earlier this summer, it became apparent to me that I would have to be very selective to make this event as meaningful for me as possible. There was just going to be too much to take it all in. What made sense to me as one who is studying why people have put their religious beliefs and practices into the sky? To try to find religions that have a relationship to the celestial sphere. It is apparent that most indigenous groups do. But many ancient civilizations did as well. It is through the study of the feminine divine that this material is accessed.
I signed up early for the Women’s Assembly. This was to be a historic event. Plus it early on looked like the list of women speakers was going to be far more interesting than the men. I approached the conference as a student of religions with a foundation in anthropology. I thought I would hang out on the sidelines, observing and taking notes, and take all this information and organize it into my files for future reference. Very early on I found myself invited to participate, and being moved emotionally by what I saw and heard. Unexpectedly, I have been challenged to make improvements in my personal life that will enable me to progress more easily and successfully, and which will improve my interaction with other people. The work has begun.
It is too early for me to provide an overall review and assessment of the conference. I am still recovering. Some of the most important occurrences were the serendipitous moments that randomly appeared throughout the five days. You just had to be in the right place and the right time for these experiences. It was a very special time for all of us. Within that space there was an exceptional feeling of warmth, kindness, respect, and trust. I think we all felt it. The volunteers and the Salt Palace employees as well.
I am going to try to highlight individuals who affected me the most strongly and provide links to their websites so their own representations can speak for themselves. This is going to take awhile. I am looking forward to continuing many of the conversations I began at this Parliament. I am grateful for this community that I have discovered. I believe that I myself have a contribution to make.