Report on Standing Rock


by Andras Corban-Arthen

This is a report on the trip which my son Donovan and I recently took to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to visit the camps of the people who, as Water Protectors, are trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was a very intense and full experience, and I cannot possibly do it justice within the limits of a blog post. The photos which accompany this article were taken by one of the camp’s official photographers, and are published here with permission.


In October, we received a copy of a call by Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Lakota nation, asking religious leaders of all traditions to join the people who had gathered at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. He wrote:

“We are asking the religious leaders to come and support them, to stand side-by-side with them, because they are standing in prayer…If you can find it in your heart, to pray with them, and stand beside them…because the Police Department and the National Guard, they would listen to each and every one of you.”

I have a great deal of respect for Chief Looking Horse. I’ve met him several times over the years, and participated with him in a couple of panels and other events at interfaith gatherings. He was one of the main speakers at the Indigenous Plenary of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City last October. Though I don’t know him well, I have always been impressed by his wisdom, his commitment, and his willingness to reach out to all peoples on behalf of the Earth. I had already been thinking for several weeks about going to Standing Rock, and his message fueled that urge even more.


Grandmother Mary Lyons

Then I received a more personal message from Grandmother Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe elder from Minnesota who was also one of the speakers at last year’s Indigenous Plenary, asking if anyone from the Parliament was planning to go to Standing Rock in response to Chief Looking Horse’s call. She thought it was important for the Parliament to make an official statement regarding the situation. I took that as a very definite sign, and asked the EarthSpirit board of directors if it would be possible to send me there. They agreed that I should go but, out of concern for my health, suggested that someone else should accompany me. I asked my son Donovan, and he immediately changed his schedule so he could come along.

My next step was to approach the Parliament’s Board to tell them of my plans to go to Standing Rock. The Indigenous Task Force, of which I am a member, set out to write a statement, along with our Executive Director and staff, that I could take to North Dakota. Lewis Cardinal, the chair of the task force, also began contacting people at the camps to let them know we were sending a statement.

Grandmother Lyons invited us to stay at her campsite, and also to take part in a water ceremony she was going to lead. Some of my other Indigenous friends helped me to find local contacts, to get a better idea of what to expect. A Sioux man from Standing Rock was particularly helpful, even as he painted a fairly grim scenario. The police, he said, had blocked off the main highway to prevent access to the camps, so the only way to get there from the Bismarck airport was to make a long detour that added about 45 minutes to the trip. He also said that we should be prepared to be stopped randomly and harassed by the authorities, and stressed that we shouldn’t lose our cool no matter how much they might try to provoke us. He asked me if I had any connection to the United Nations. I told him that I was one of the Parliament’s U.N. delegates, and that I had an access photo badge. He suggested that I take it with me and wear it at all times, because the police tended to respect the U.N. Needless to say, this was not particularly encouraging.

After flying to Bismarck, North Dakota, and renting a car, Donovan and I had an early introduction to the level of police presence at Standing Rock. We had stopped at a traffic light in the town of Mandan, where we were supposed to turn onto a road that would take us down to the camps, when we noticed several police vehicles approaching the intersection, coming from the direction toward which we were supposed to go. It quickly became evident that those vehicles were merely the head of a long caravan: cruisers, armored cars, police vans, ambulances, sheriffs’ trucks, and one empty school bus – over forty vehicles went by while we waited.

A bit later, we found out that there had been a nonviolent protest action near the pipeline, and that about two dozen water protectors had been arrested. The vehicles we had witnessed had been taking them to police headquarters, where they would be booked and placed inside large chain-link dog kennels which had been set up as temporary containment cells. Once the protesters had been bailed out, they would return to the camps in the school bus. Apparently, this scenario is enacted on a fairly regular basis.

Because the main road to the camp was blocked, we had to go down using the backroads, a route which required us to make two major turns. At each of those turns, there was an unmarked car parked just off the intersection. But for a couple of instances over the weekend when the cars were empty, each time we made those turns the person inside the car raised a camera to take a photo of our vehicle; the authorities, I was told later, were recording every license plate going to and from the camps. As we got closer to our destination we saw lots of law enforcement personnel, many wearing tactical gear, and more cruisers, police wagons and armored vehicles. The place felt very much like a militarized zone, grim and forbidding.


Oceti Sakowin Camp

In sharp contrast, our arrival at Camp Oceti Sakowin felt like we had come upon an oasis full of life in the midst of a barren desert: dozens of colorful banners on tall poles, voices singing, drums pounding, the smell of wood fires and of food cooking, young men riding bareback on gorgeous Appaloosas, and tents and tipis, cars and RVs as far as the eye could see. It looked like there had to be at least a couple of thousand people at the camp.

After finding Grandmother Mary Lyons and her family, and our friends Robin and Nsasi from Minnesota, we went around and explored a bit, then settled down for some good conversations with Mary and her folks. One of the people who came by to talk was Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Tom and I


Mary Lyons’ camp (Tom Goldtooth & Mary Lyons in center)

remembered each other from the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, and we chatted a little bit about his experiences there. Tom’s son is one of the camp’s organizers, though he was away that weekend, so Mary gave Tom a portable carport she had brought as a donation to the camp, to pass on to his son.


I wanted to find one of the people that the Parliament had arranged for me to meet, so I could hand him the statement that the Indigenous Task Force had drafted. Mary suggested that we go to the central fire, where a lot of different activities were held, and see if he was there. Though we had no luck finding him, Mary talked to some people and came back to say that they would like me to read the statement at the fire, if I didn’t mind sitting there for a little bit and wait for my turn to come.

As I was waiting, the two-dozen or so people who had been arrested earlier that morning returned to the camp after having posted bail. They were brought to stand in a line by the fire, and then seemingly everyone in the camp came by to shake their hands or hug them, one by one, and thank them for their willingness to stand up for their convictions. The whole thing took maybe half an hour, but in that brief and deeply moving time, the purpose of the camps became very apparent to me: they are there to provide spiritual, emotional and physical support to the people who put themselves at grave risk every few days, engaging in acts of peaceful civil disobedience by standing in the way of the pipeline and getting arrested in the process. The camps provide the environment in which the actions are carefully planned; they provide encouragement and moral support to the protectors; they offer them backup during the actions, to insure their safety as much as possible; they follow the protectors to the police headquarters once they’ve been arrested, and arrange for them to make bail, and bring them back; and then the camps receive them upon their return with love, with gratitude, with food, with healing. It’s a perfect example of what real community is about.

Of those who’d been arrested that day, roughly half looked to be Indigenous. Most of the rest were white, including a couple of elderly people. Then there were four young African-Americans, all wearing hooded sweatshirts with BLACK LIVES MATTER boldly written in the front. Given the political and social climate in the U.S. today; given the widespread racism that has been crawling out of the ruins of our national denial, triggered by the election of the first black President in history; given the senseless acts of violence perpetrated against unarmed black people by civilians and by police officers unworthy of the title; given all that, the thought of those four young people taking the kind of risk they took, deliberately and openly approaching law enforcement personnel to commit acts of civil disobedience which they knew would land them in jail, took incredible courage. In so doing, they modeled for everyone what solidarity really means, the importance of all of us standing together for each other.


Reading the Parliament’s statement at central fire

A few minutes after the ceremony ended, someone came over and asked me to go up to the microphone to read the Parliament’s statement in support of Standing Rock, which I gladly did. I had also brought similar declarations from EarthSpirit and from the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, so after reading the one from the Parliament, someone else came and collected all three, saying that he would pass them on to the camp coordinators. Several people came over in the next little while to tell me they were grateful for the statements of support, and to ask that I pass their thanks to the respective organizations.

While I was sitting by the fire, I had a very interesting conversation with an Indigenous woman who was seated next to me. She was curious to know more about the Parliament, because she remembered hearing something about it a while ago. I gave her a brief description of it, and talked in particular about the Indigenous Assembly we had organized in Melbourne in 2009, and the large and very prominent Indigenous program we had at Salt Lake City last year. She asked me if there had been any friction between Indians and non-Indians at Salt Lake City, and explained that she has usually felt friction between both camps, even when they are together to work for a common purpose, so she wondered if there were any events, such as the Parliament, where that friction wasn’t present. I told her I was very familiar with what she was describing, and that there have occasionally been varying levels of friction and tension between Indians and non-Indians at the Parliament, though I had felt it much less at Salt Lake City, and hoped that meant that we were making progress in reaching greater understanding and respect. I said to her, in turn, that in the short time I had been at Camp Oceti Sakowin, it appeared to me that it was pretty free of that kind of tension, and asked her if that was her experience as well, and – if it was – why she thought that might be the case.

She replied that, for the most part, people were getting along together really well, which she ascribed to the fact that, when the camps started, the great majority of participants were Indigenous, so that even if they came from different areas and nations, they shared a very similar culture. By the time that a number of white people started arriving, the “Indian way” had been solidly established, and the newcomers had to adapt to it. She said that, while Indians are very used to functioning within white culture, the opposite is not at all true, so the newcomers were told, “you’re welcome here, we can use your help, but if you’re going to be here, you need to do things our way.”

In her opinion, that worked out fairly well for most of the summer, but she said there had been some friction lately, as more non-Indians arrived. “Some of them come because they think it’s a cool place to be, because they want to play at being Indians. But that’s all wrong, it’s not about making them feel special, it’s about working hard for the reason that we’re here, to stop the pipeline.” Other white people come “to save us,” she added: they bring an attitude that they know better, that they have fancy college degrees, all kinds of advanced skills, and that they’re going to step in and fix everything. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘I’m gonna make it all better for the poor savages, if they only get out of the way.’ Well, that’s just colonialist bullshit, we don’t need that. We have cultures that are as old as the Europeans, we know what we’re doing. People with that kind of attitude don’t last very long here.” According to her, several people have been asked to leave recently because of that.

Most white people, she said, tend to see what’s happening at Standing Rock just in terms of the pipeline, as an isolated incident. Indians, on the other hand, see it as the latest battle in a struggle they’ve been waging for hundreds of years, a struggle to preserve their lands, their cultures, their lives. She thought this was one of the most important things non-Indians needed to understand.


The blockade

The next day, Donovan and I joined Mary Lyons and a group of her family and friends to walk down to the blockaded road to participate in the water ceremony. The police had placed two large, rusted trucks across Rte. 1806 to prevent access to the camp, and there were several cruisers and security vehicles parked just on the other side of the blockade. We had been asked to only go so far down the road; getting any closer to the trucks would trigger the police into action, and the camp organizers didn’t want anyone provoking them outside of the planned protests.

Grandmother Mary had asked us to bring water from places that were important or sacred to us. We brought water from the Munlochy Clootie Well – an ancient healing spring in Scotland – and from Glenwood, from a point where the waters of four streams converge. The ceremony itself was very simple: Mary spoke for a bit about why we were there and


Water ceremony

about how Water is Life, then asked those of us who brought water to say something about where it came from, and then to pour it onto the ground to bring blessings and healing to the land.

Before heading back to Bismarck and the airport, Donovan and I stopped by to see Devorah Rosenberg, an old friend from Western Mass. who was working in the main kitchen. It was heartwarming to see someone else from home at the camp. Soon after we returned, my niece Ember Arthen-Cheyne, who is a former Army medic, drove out to Standing Rock to offer her services at the medic tent, and was planning to remain there until the end of December.

I am very grateful for the support of our community in enabling us to make the trip out to North Dakota, and I encourage everyone to lend any help you can to the people who remain in the camps and are now preparing for the harsh winter months ahead.

 Addendum: Just today, it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had turned down the permit for the pipeline company to continue excavations on what are legally held to be federally-owned lands (the Sioux claim otherwise). Though this is being widely trumpeted throughout social media as a decisive victory for the Water Protectors, it is likely too early to tell what it actually means. There’s no question that this decision is a very important development, and that there is much cause for celebration in the moment. How long the moment will last, however, nobody really knows. It’s important to not lose sight of the fact that, in barely a month-and-a-half, there will likely be a dramatic change in Washington, and today’s decision could be reversed. Friends at Standing Rock inform me that the camps are continuing to prepare for the winter, and that they could still use our support.

Monday, Indigenous Plenary and spirituality that does not back away at the last day of 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Choir of Parliament participants perform

Choir of Parliament participants perform “Songs of the Earth” cantata, Monday at 2015 Parliament (by Kate Richardson)

I actually slept a little later this last morning of the Parliament (10/19), and stayed in to write up my notes over coffee at the big table in the house that became the ‘study hall’ while we were there.

Though there were still more fascinating workshops available all morning and into the afternoon, many of us went to the Indigenous Plenary at 10:30. I am sorry that I did not get the names of the all the speakers. The messages they brought were powerful and moving, and cut straight to the heart of what the Pagans I know are reaching toward in their spiritual awareness and practice.

  • Te’Kaiya Blaney sang beautifully, and later spoke about growing up struggling with her identity as indigenous. At first it seemed painful, but she embraced it, and it has become a source of strength and hope.
  • Chief Arvol Looking Horse called to stop fracking and the KXL pipeline, and spoke of World Peace and Prayer Day.
  • Wande Abimbola, Yoruban Ifa leader, said “it is stupid to divide the world into living and non-living things. All things are living.” He also said it’s time for the world to shed itself of the bigotry of color and faiths.
  • Arnold Thomas, native of the Great Salt Lake basin reminded us that the earth is not in trouble, it is humans that are in trouble. He asked everyone to stand, and ordained the entire audience to go “convert people to love Mother Earth.”
  • Rangimarie Turuki Rose Pere, a Maori grandmother sent a call to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership trade alliance. She spoke of how we are universally connected and can not be separated even if think otherwise. She said, surround the people who hurt you with love, only attack the bad energy behind them. And if you cannot do that, move into neutral! She sang a song wishing peace, Love, Joy and Truth to the universe. Then she turned to her grown grandson that she walked onstage with, and said that this work must be done in partnership between genders. He performed a short haka, and she joined in.
  • Our own friend and travel companion Inija Trinkuniene came on with Andras‘s introduction, and told of how the ancient sacred oak groves in Lithuania were cut down in an effort to convert the indigenous people there to Christianity. But oaks have acorns, which sprouted again, and are growing new sacred groves. She offered a blessing by casting grains of wheat.
  • Steve Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute, said that it would be a grave mistake to work on climate change without working on paradigm change. He called for the revocation of the centuries old “Doctrine of Discovery”, which still impacts indigenous Americans when dealing with legal and government issues.
  • Angaangag Angakkorsuaq, an Eskimo-Kalaallit elder from the far north of Greenland said it is too late to stop climate change. In his 68 year lifespan he has seen the ice go from 5km to 2km thick. Animals, plants, earth – they will be fine. It’s humans who will suffer. Millions will perish and there’s nothing you can do about it. And yet, his message was of hope.

There were more speakers, and I was glad that they each took their time on the stage to say their piece, even though it made the plenary last far beyond its allotted time. I was glad that I had already heard some of these messages in other forums and plenaries; they weren’t quarantined in some special forum but permeated the whole gathering. [Watch the whole video of the Indigenous Plenary and part 2.]

Shortly after the plenary ended, Mary Lou Prince and Patty Willis’s piece finally, Songs of the Earth cantata, was performed, to much appreciation. A choir of 144 voices, 30 or more different faiths, joined with the piano and string quartet to bring the words and music to life. Singing in this really made a lovely capstone for my Parliament experience.

Then it was all over but the Closing plenary. Blessings and appreciations, and the welcome news that the next Parliament will be in 2017! When there is so much going on in the world, and such great need for people of faith to work together, why wait 5 years between gatherings.

During the following evening, there was packing, leave-taking, divvying up of expenses, and such. A carload of us went to watch the sun set over the lake, but I was not among them. I was sorry that I didn’t get to connect directly with the land lying under the city pavement, but at least in each direction between and beyond the walls of buildings I had glimpses of the mountains, I smelled the breeze and the rain, I added a buckeye picked up from the sidewalk to EarthSpirit’s ancestor altar on the booth table. I touched some lovely old sycamores that grow beside some of the city streets. And one morning Isobel and I saw a quail cross the street just as if it were an odd looking pigeon.

I’m writing this post after several days full of catching up with the tasks of the life I left behind when I entered the world of the Parliament. This morning at last I have time to sit and reflect, and try to think consciously and carefully about how to weave some of the threads I grasped there more fully into my regular life. There’s no doubt that this experience has shifted my energy, and given a substantial, pragmatic boost to my native determined optimism. The question now is, how best to put that determination to good use?

For one thing, I’m more than ever convinced that some kind of regular spiritual practice that connects me with the mystery of the whole of existence is a great source of strength and guidance. It was inspiring to be among so many people who have found that connection by so many pathways. There are great problems in the world, and the spirituality I witnessed does not back away, but faces them with courage and love. I wish the same for you and us all as we travel this path between birth and death.

It was inspiring to be among so many people who have found that connection by so many pathways. There are great problems in the world, and the spirituality I witnessed does not back away, but faces them with courage and love.

Grain blessing by Inija Trinkuniene at Indigenous Plenary, Monday at 2015 Parliament by Eric Arthen

Grain blessing by Inija Trinkuniene at the Indigenous Plenary, Monday at 2015 Parliament (by Eric Arthen)

Women’s Rites – Honoring and Celebrating the Cycles of our Lives on Friday at the 2015 Parliament

By Jennifer Bennett

“Women’s Rites” panel with Ruth Barrett, Angie Buchanan, Deirdre Arthen, and Isobel Arthen on Friday at the 2015 Parliament, by Andras Corban Arthen

“Women’s Rites” panel with Ruth Barrett, Angie Buchanan, Deirdre Arthen, and Isobel Arthen on Friday at the 2015 Parliament, by Andras Corban Arthen

In the Women’s Sacred Space at the Salt Place Conference Center in Salt Lake City, UT on Friday midday there is a circle of about 20 women. The room certainly doesn’t feel like it’s in a conference center. It’s dimly lit and all four walls are covered, floor to ceiling, in deep maroon red velvet drapes that are differing sections of embroidery, tassels, mirror work and fringe. There is a corner covered in red cushions and thick, soft pieces of fabric under them on the floor. There is a muffled sort of peace and serenity pervading the room — a timelessness.

Sitting together in one curve of the circle are (from the right) Isobel Arthen, Deirdre Arthen, Angie Buchanan and Ruth Barrett; the rest of the circle is filled in (and some fringe around the back) with women of all ages and styles of dress. There are even one or two men. Some take notes, one is spinning wool, everyone is focused on the four women, who take turns speaking.

Isobel Arthen begins telling the story of the Coming of Age rites done by EarthSpirit Community for young women (and men). Having been through it herself she is very careful to hold it sacredly and only describe those parts of it that are for “public consumption”, so to speak. The gathering of the girls for each Rite, each year, from within a larger gathering of the Community…so the community can see them go and wish them well and hold them in community for this important passage. Then their coming to a circle of women who will welcome them to womanhood with special ritual prayers, activities, blessings and stories. Then, the welcoming of these girls — now passed on into young womanhood — back into the Community. Eloquent and self-assured, Isobel is a sparkling spokesperson for the importance of this Rite for all girls.

Deirdre Arthen then speaks about the Rite of passage of birth — the rites and rituals that have become part of the EarthSpirit Community and have grown over the years around the women who have given birth and chosen to do so within Community. “Whatever the hospital will let us do…!” from incense and candles to dancing (apparently great for laboring women!) and chanting. Deirdre then lead the group through a chant about the sea and waves, which she has used many times (and herself) to help women “ride the waves” of labor pains. She also spoke about a necklace that has “made the rounds” for about 30 years from one pregnant woman to the next — handed from new mother to pregnant mother — among many EarthSpirit Community women.

Angie Buchanan then began talking about her upbringing as one of the Traveling People and how, no matter what the situation, women were the anchors of the home. She spoke of how many women and siblings made up her household and how normal and supportive that women-centered world seemed to her. Later in her life, when she had grown up and moved out on her own, she found herself really missing…longing…for that sisterhood. So, she created Gaia’s Womb. She spoke of the connections made by many women, over the years and about how sisterhood is for all women of any age. All ages can learn from each other just by being together.

Ruth Barrett then stood (“I need to move and talk with my hands.”) and talked about the aging and Crone-ing time of women’s lives. Having done crone-ing rituals for many years (“…on women much older than myself, before my time came.”), she had, for herself, come up with two very definite “definitions” of who is a Crone. Fifty-eight years old, at least, and through a second Saturn return. Elder and Crone are not necessarily the same thing. Ruth repeatedly pointed out that a Crone-ing ceremony ushers a woman into an entire other part of her life — one to be anticipated with joy and excitement for the creativity and promise it holds.

If all women were blessed enough to go through these ritual times with a supportive community, the world would be a much different place. Blessings on these women and their work in creating these places and rituals!

Sunday, Community in action at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Priestesses Panel, Sunday at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

Priestesses Panel, Sunday at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

Sunday is the last full day of the Parliament. Again, it started early, though I missed the 7am morning observances in favor of an extra bit of sleep. I’m not alone in feeling that some of the best stuff is in the early hours, when there are rituals and practices shared. You get to experience the flavor of things rather than just hearing about them. But it does make for shorter nights!

This morning at 8:15 I attended a panel discussion about what it means to serve as a priestess, and how to embody and sustain that role. The panel had incredible wealth of experience: along with Deirdre there were seven other women, including Vivienne Crowley, Angie Buchanan, Selena Fox, Phyllis Curott, and Starhawk. The discussion was filled with wisdom and humor, centering around taking care of community and of self, maintaining a personal practice, and connecting with the web of existence.

After this I had some time to help get the booth up and running for the day. It’s wonderful to be in a place where people with questions and interest stop by to learn something about Paganism in general and EarthSpirit in particular. We get to practice and fine-tune our ‘elevator speeches’ that carefully pack much information in a small space of time, giving people ways to connect and learn more if they wish. But the booth is a steady hub of activity, so eventually I had to leave to write up my notes from the day before!

Rehearsal for the cantata was at 1pm, and let out just in time for me to get to the Langar before it closed up at 2:30. The crowd had thinned by that time and I was seated near the ‘kitchen’ where buckets and dishes were being filled with food for the servers to take around. I was close enough to hear that a couple of the Sikhs in the kitchen were maintaining a steady chant the entire time they worked, interrupting it to issue instructions to servers or children. The menu had the same format but different dishes: rice, naan (bread), salad, fresh fruit (bananas and apple slices), and two hot dishes – today, saag paneer (greens with cheese) and kidney beans. Nourishing, and delicious.

I took a few pictures of some activities and installations in the hallways on my way to the plenary at 3:45. As at the Parliament in Melbourne there were Buddhist monks making a sand mandala, but this one was on a smaller scale, with amazingly delicate detail. Nearby a table invited people to write messages on ribbons to be taken to the upcoming climate summit in Paris. I made a ribbon for myself; today I plan to add one on behalf of the EarthSpirit Community because I know that many of you would resonate with this action.

The Climate Change Plenary had plenty of substance but I also thought it left plenty of questions unspoken (link to video). Speakers all agreed on the urgency and the complexity of the problem, and mostly spoke to the fact that it underlies so many of the other pressing issues facing us all. Al Gore’s daughter Karenna moderated the session and presented a videotaped address from her father. Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist and author, who pointed out that addressing climate change is not a question of conserving resources, but of not using resources that are available. Jonathan Granoff, a lawyer with focus on nuclear proliferation called on us to ask all our political leaders 3 questions: What are you doing to protect the climate? What are you doing to eliminate poverty? What are you doing to eliminate nuclear weapons? Chief Arvol Looking Horse urged us to remember that the Earth is the source of life, not a resource. Francois Paulette from First Nations in Canada talked about the environmental devastation already being experienced in the northlands, and said “your way of life is destroying our way of life.” The final speaker was Dr. Saleh Abdullah M. Bin Himeid, imam of the great mosque in Mecca. He spoke through a translator, about the need to address climate change, poverty and extremism, and called for people of all faiths to work together.

Burundi drummers at Morman Tabernacle at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

Burundi drummers at Morman Tabernacle at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

I dashed out of the plenary to save a few seats at the Mormon Tabernacle for the evening concert of sacred music. Many of us managed to attend despite the overflow crowd turned away at the door once it filled. It was a lovely way to end another full day, with prayer, dance and music from many cultures and traditions (including some rocking Burundi drummers, and the Lion drummers we’d seen at the Emerging Leaders plenary) After it ended, though I had meant to get to bed early, I ended up going out to a nearby pub for supper and a beer, and conversations about the day’s events with EarthSpirit friends.

It’s really great to see how this group has been working together to take care of each other and make sure we can all get the most out of this experience. Wren has served as chauffeur for this whole event, making it possible for those less able to walk to get from place to place. Cerillion has been provisioning the kitchen in the house. A team of us has made sure that there’s always somebody, and usually two people, at the booth. And everyone is checking in to make sure that people are getting to go to the sessions and events they most want to. This is our community in action!

Sons and Lovers of the Sacred Feminine at the 2015 Parliament

by Rowan Morrigan

Sons Lovers panel with Drake Spaeth, Donovan Arthen, Claudiney Prieto, River Higginbotham, and Ivo Dominguez Jr at 2015 Parliament by Rowan Morrigan

Sons Lovers panel with Drake Spaeth, Donovan Arthen, Claudiney Prieto, River Higginbotham, and Ivo Dominguez Jr at 2015 Parliament by Rowan Morrigan

EarthSpirit Community’s Donovan Arthen spoke on Sunday in an all-male panel titled “Sons and Lovers of the Sacred Feminine” at the Parliament today. Drake Spaeth was the moderator and the other panelists were River Higginbotham, Ivo Dominguez Jr, and Claudiney Prieto.

Donovan talked about how he didn’t worship the goddess but experienced the feminine archetype through his relationships with the women in his life. I found his from-the-heart recounting of watching his sister being born at the beginning of her life and now serving and supporting Isobel today as she facilitates the emergence of young people here at the Parliament, so moving, so touching, and ultimately, so humbling. All the men talked about how to ‘show up’ in the face of many aspects of contemporary feminism and vision of goddess spirituality. Donovan talked in particular about being confronted as a male and the subsequent confusion as the culture searches for life-giving images of being The Feminine today. What drives Donovan to show up in the midst of this? Humility and surrender … to allow ourselves to sit down.

Saturday, Another full and rich day at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Mayan dancers at the 2015 Parliament

Mayan dancers at the 2015 Parliament

As I sit at a table in the “Gathering Place” to write this Sunday morning, I can see a couple of tables of buddhist monks in saffron robes, several Mayan performers are walking by with ankle shakers of seed pods, and it looks like some kind of chorus is taking the stage in the far corner. I’ve had to make my peace with how many things I would really like to hear, see and experience I’m simply going to miss. Luckily, with so many EarthSpirit friends along for this journey, it’s likely I’ll get to experience many things vicariously.

Saturday was another full and rich day at the Parliament. It started early, as I sat in Deirdre’s morning observance at 7am, entitled “Devotional Chanting for the Earth”. About 40 people showed up to join singing some off our favorite chants, starting with “We Are One With the Soul of the Earth” and ending with “Peace in My Heart”. People really came to sing, and stayed with each chant long enough to really sink into it. I felt grounded and centered as I went off to start my day.

From there I went to the second of a two part workshop called “Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee”. There I learned from Chief Arvol Looking Horse of an annual observance that is a 9 day ride following the trail taken by Chief Big Foot to the massacre at Wounded Knee. This year the arduous ride is being done in prayer that war and genocide should end. The organizers dream of a world wide ceremony to take place Dec. 29th at noon in every time zone, to honor and hold this intention of peace. They ask people to gather in wounded places that need healing. I signed up for their email list, and hope to pass on details as I learn them.

There was rehearsal for the cantata at noon, and from there I passed through the smudge gate to the sacred fire to make an offering, on my way to the Sikh’s Langar. This is a free lunch offered to all the 10,000 people attending the Parliament, and it’s an astonishing and moving demonstration of the power of service and generosity of spirit. You take off your shoes, and receive a scarf to cover your head, then get seated on the ground in long rows. Sikhs move up and down giving out plates then filling them with delicious vegetarian food until you are satisfied. You’re then invited to move to tables for tea and sweets if you wish. It really makes you wonder how hard could it be to feed every hungry person on the earth.

Langar, free meals served by the Sikhs at 2015 Parliament

Langar, free meals served by the Sikhs at 2015 Parliament

I was tired and filled with contentment and gratitude after my meal. After checking to make sure the booth was covered, I spent the rest of the afternoon watching performances by various groups. I saw Mayan dancer in full regalia, a Navajo hoop dancer, a Canadian Mohawk flute player, Cambodian classical dancers and Devotional dancers from India.

Then it was time for the evening plenary. The topic this time was Focus on War, Violence and Hate Speech. The speakers were hugely inspiring. Many spoke with great passion, calling out the institutions that promote and perpetuate violence, and asking us to search our souls for the commitment to active defiance of these evils. I had heard of some of the presenters – Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Jane Goodall. Others were equally impressive: among them, Allan Boesak from South Africa, Karen Armstrong who was presented an award for her work, Dr. Tariq Ramadan who asked us not to give emotional applause, but to think.

The evening ended up with a little party at the spacious and somewhat swanky house where some of us are staying. Cerillian had put together a tableful of festive nourishment, and many of us had the chance to meet or catch up with a couple of Parliament board members as well as each other. Honey and the Sting did a little impromptu performance of a few songs before the evening ended and we all went off in search of a good night of sleep.

We are always thinking of our dear friends and family back home; with these posts I can at least imagine I’ve got you in my pockets as I go through the day!

People of the Earth at the 2015 Parliament

by Rowan Morrigan

Inija Trinkuniene speaking about the survival of the Romuva religion in Lithuania.

Inija Trinkuniene speaking about the survival of the Romuva religion in Lithuania.

To a packed room, the “People of the Earth: The Surviving Indigenous Spiritual Traditions of Europe” presentation was a wonderful description of the history of indigenous people in Europe by Andras Corban Arthen, and an example of keeping a living tradition intact through the Romuva religion in Lithuania by Inija Trinkuniene. I think many people did not realize that Christian Europeans were the conquerors of the pagani (the people of the land) long before they went on to conquer the Americas and other lands. Once Andras set the stage with that, Inija showed how her tradition survived, largely due to Lithuania being the last hold-out to Christian European colonization. The photo on the screen shows a core concept of Romuva: the living fire.

Andras Corban Arthen speaking of the history of indigenous people in Europe.

Andras Corban Arthen speaking of the history of indigenous people in Europe.

Friday, Hope and Determination at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Young Whirling Dervishes at the Emerging Leaders Plenary, Friday at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Young Whirling Dervishes at the Emerging Leaders Plenary, Friday at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Friday started early, with morning observances from 7-8am. I didn’t manage to get to the Peace Drum Initiative session with Buyondo Micheal from Uganda, who had stopped by the EarthSpirit table on Friday and stayed to chat about drumming, involving youth, and working for peace. Instead I stayed at the sacred fire tended by Native Americans at the main entrance. A Mayan elder from Guatemala was doing a blessing of the four roads, including explanations of colors, directions, and numerology involved in the Mayan calendar. He ended by invoking ancestors and involving everyone present in making offerings to the fire.

Mayan ceremony at dawn, Friday at 2015 Parliament

Mayan ceremony at dawn, Friday at 2015 Parliament

Back to the booth for the morning. I hoped to spend some time choosing programs to attend for the day. If you think choosing workshops at Rites is hard, you have not seen anything. Not only are multiple presenters speaking on topics at any given time, but there is a cultural hall, many displays, a labyrinth, and of course the exhibition hall filled with booths where people stand ready to speak and exchange with such open hearts and minds. As I write this, there has just been some spontaneous drumming and dancing by “sikhs being distractingly joyful”, as Tiffany put it. In their booths, Sikhs are wrapping turbans on anyone who wants to try it out. Around the hall people are shopping (lots of pretty shiny stuff, much is Tibetan and Native American) or having earnest conversations. You could have a whole weekend’s worth of stories even if you never left the exhibition hall!

I left the booth for a while for a rehearsal of a 10 song cantata that is being performed Monday by a pickup 150 voice chorus. Written by Mary Lou Prince with words by Patty Christiena Willis, the songs evoke seasons and ancestors. On the way back, I stopped a while to listen to some amazing Indian singing and tabla playing going on under an outside tent, with people spontaneously dancing to the infectuous beats. I found a long hallway lined with banners with colorful depictions of many deities, I could have spent a half hour just getting through it.

The main event today was the Emerging Leaders Plenary in the evening [video part 1 and part 2]. Isobel was very involved in planning the program, which was stirring and diverse. Music and dance alternated with rousing speakers, people under 35 talking about their work and calls to action in the world. There was a group of very young whirling dervishes, Honey and the Sting performed a couple of songs, and a phenomenal group of lion drummers with a singer and a sword dancer. The projects described include “Rebuild With Love”, a Muslim initiative to rebuild Black churches destroyed by arson, and AFL Peace Team, an Australian Football (“Footy”) team from Jerusalem that is half Palestinian and half Jewish. There were speakers whose family members have been recently killed by hate crimes, speaking out for spreading peace and love, and defying the hatred that is so commonly being sown. Toward the end, all audience members younger than 35 were asked to stand and pledge to go out and do the work to change the world for the better. Then those over 35 stood and pledged to support and respect and publicize the great work that these young leaders are doing.

I think we all left the hall tired but energized. Another rich and full day, spent full of friendly curiosity, being moved to tears by reports of pain and injustice, being lifted by hope and charged by the determination to take the needed actions to heal the world, in the company of so many different and diverse people working for the same ends.

Emerging Leaders take a bow at the end of the Friday Plenary at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Emerging Leaders take a bow at the end of the Friday Plenary at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Thursday, Opening day at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Richardson

EarthSpirit booth at the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions

EarthSpirit booth at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

I arrived at the Parliament just in time for the closing session of the Women’s Assembly on Thursday (10/14). Deirdre started it off, filling the large room with voices chanting “I am the Earth” while she sang the main melody counterpoint. Women of many faiths then offered songs, prayers and invocations with encouragement for activism on behalf of peace, justice and healing the planet.

I then connected with some more of the EarthSpirit contingent at our booth in the exhibition hall. The booth is a communication hub for our group. Passers by stop to chat as well, and exchange information and questions, and sometimes to leave information about their events and practices. It’s lively, sometimes a little chaotic, full of web-weavings and little openings.

Just walking in the hallways you come across many fascinating sights that you wonder what they are about, such as this circle dance on a floor of circles.

Circle dance on a floor of circles at the 2015 Parliament.

Circle dance on a floor of circles at the 2015 Parliament.

The big event Thursday night was the Opening Plenary [video]. A huge room held many of the nearly 10,000 Parliament participants. It started with a procession of flags of different nations, and groups of indigenous people in full regalia, while a group of men drummed and chanted from the stage. As with the Australian Parliament six years ago, the chair of the Parliament Council started by thanking the local indigenous people, as original caretakers and inhabitants of this place. Many of the following speakers did the same.
Addresses and blessings were given by dignitaries of many faiths- Islam, Baptist, Baha’i, Sikh, Ute, Judaism to name a few, as well as a representative of the United Nations, and the governor of Utah and local government officials.

The plenary ended after 9pm, and some of us went out in search of food. Most restaurants were closing, but we found some highly entertaining cycle cab drivers who whisked the sore of foot off to a good kebab joint that was willing to serve us before they locked the doors.

As we move through all this activity I’m struck by how every one of our group feels a connection to the people who helped us get here, in so many ways. I’m sure there will be many wonderful photos and stories to help us carry it home and share the inspiration we’re getting here.

All best from Salt Lake

EarthSpirit at the Salt Lake City Parliament

Indigenous women light the sacred fire at sunrise to start the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions

Indigenous women light the sacred fire at sunrise to start the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

by Eric Arthen

Many people from around the country and around the world have descended on Salt Lake City to attend the sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions [], being held here from October 15 – 19.

Sixteen members of EarthSpirit are taking part in the Parliament (PWR), presenting programs, helping to make events happen, or staffing an information booth to tell participants about EarthSpirit and about the pagan traditions.

This takes a great deal of time and effort from many more members of EarthSpirit than just those who are going on the trip. We are so grateful for the support our whole community has given to make this happen. In particular, the funds we’ve raised over the past couple of years has made it possible for us to participate and send our delegation to the Parliament. All of those who are going are volunteers, and are paying for the trip out their own pockets, but the donations we have received certainly help to defray some of the expenses. We couldn’t do it without you!

You can follow along with both general news about PWR and more specific news about the EarthSpirit delegation on social media outlets. Posts on Twitter will use hashtags #2015parliament and #earthspiritcommunity. On Facebook, check “The EarthSpirit Community” page,
There will also be posts here on the EarthSpirit Voices blog (, both during and after the PWR.

Here is the list of presentations in which EarthSpirit members are taking part. The overall number of pagan programs far surpasses anything that the PWR has included in the past:

Friday, 8:30 AM (Mountain time)
Shared Session: Diversity and Applied Theology in Contemporary Paganism
Moderator: Andras Corban-Arthen (EarthSpirit)
Subsession: Diversity in Contemporary Paganism
Panelists: Jeanine De Oya, Eblis Correllian
Subsession: Contemporary Paganism and Applied Theology
Presenter: Dr. Gwendolyn Reece
Panelists: Jim Dickinson, Ivo Dominguez, Jr, Drake Spaeth (Earth Traditions)

Friday, 12:15 PM
Women’s Rites – Honoring and Celebrating the Cycles of our Lives
Presenter: Deirdre Pulgram Arthen (EarthSpirit)
Panelists: Angie Buchanan (Earth Traditions), Isobel Arthen (EarthSpirit), Ruth Barrett (Temple of Diana, Inc.)

Friday, 12:15 PM
People of the Earth: The Surviving Indigenous Spiritual Traditions of Europe
Presenters: Andras Corban-Arthen (EarthSpirit). Inija Trinkūnienė (Romuva)

Friday, 7:00 PM
Plenary 2: Spotlight on Emerging Leaders
A number of speakers including: Isobel Arthen, Donovan Arthen (EarthSpirit)
Performers: Honey and the Sting, Taiko Drummers

Saturday, 7:00 AM
Devotional Chanting for the Earth
Speaker: Deirdre Pulgram Arthen (EarthSpirit)

Saturday, 3:30 PM
We Are the Earth: Pagans Respond to Pope Francis on the Environment
Moderator: Sylvia Hall Linton (Earth Traditions)
Panelists: Andras Corban-Arthen (EarthSpirit), John Halstead (Humanistic Paganism), Heather Greene (The Wild Hunt)

Sunday, 10:00 AM
Ancient Teacher: The Earth As Our Spiritual Guide
Moderator: Angie Buchanan (Earth Traditions)
Panelists: Andras Corban-Arthen (EarthSpirit), Ellen Bernstein (Rabbi, Hampshire College), Elizabeth Weigel, Ajisebo Ogunninhun Abimbola

Sunday, 1:45 PM
Sons and Lovers of the Sacred Feminine
Presenter: Drake Spaeth (Earth Traditions)
Panelists: River Higginbotham, Ivo Dominguez, Jr, Donovan Arthen (EarthSpirit) , Claudiney Prieto

Monday, 7:00 AM
Understanding Religious Traditions 101 – Paganism
Panelists: Andras Corban-Arthen (EarthSpirit), Angie Buchanan (Earth Traditions) , Donald Frew (Covenant of the Goddess), Ruth Barrett (Temple of Diana, Inc.), Starhawk (Earth Activist Training)