Wednesday at the Parliament

Wednesday at the Parliament

by Chris & Katie LaFond

One Step Sideways: When the Divine is Feminine

The morning opened with a panel discussion featuring four pagan animist speakers moderated by Dr. Drake Spaeth of Earth Traditions. We addressed the current climate crisis and how we see it as a logical consequence of the patriarchal, hyper-masculinized environment we find ourselves in.

Rev. Angie Buchanan, also of Earth Traditions started with her focus on the connectedness of everything, offering the analogy and example of mycelium, which permeates much of the ground we walk on. She drew on her experience as a Death Midwife as she spoke on the pagan world view as a connected web.

Dr. Derrick Sebree, Jr., a psychologist at the Michigan School of Psychology and practitioner of Hoodoo, spoke as an animist and person of color, spoke about his work in the field of climate psychology, and the importance of the whole, not just the parts. His most salient point was probably pointing out that, from the perspective of race, we as humans don’t even see each other fully, which makes seeing other beings as fully alive even more challenging.

Rev. Byron Ballard addressed the interconnectedness of all beings and specifically some of her work in the interfaith movement, pointing out that with hard work, it is possible to work with spiritual communities that we might assume are so different as to be beyond reach. The second point she made was that while some of the “traditional” religions can claim to be 6,000 years old (or more), these hills (the Appalachians in her case) were far older and full of wisdom. Finally, she warned that nature will always seek balance. Because humans have become apex predators, nature will find ways to restore the balance, as long as we refuse to do it ourselves.

Finally, Chris LaFond took on the legacy of colonialism in the dismissal of the feminine in the conception of the divine. First, the religious and spiritual colonization of pre-Christian Europe, and then the European-Christian colonization of Africa, Asia, and eventually Australia and the Americas. The suppression of any hint of the divine feminine has wounded much of the world. He pointed out that the divine feminine is not equivalent with “woman,” and asked those present to keep in mind what the divine feminine might even mean or look like for feminine-and masculine-presenting people, because our society at large is currently lacking good models for this. He drew the connection that in most cultures, the Earth is considered “Mother” and feminine, and when we denigrate the feminine, then the Earth is profane. In a connected point, he addressed the idea that is often found in interfaith circles that we are all “on the same path,” or “going to the same place,” and how that is not true at all from a pagan animist perspective. But that it doesn’t have to be true to work together. He finished by quoting Andras Corban Arthen, that “the Earth is not our home, the Earth is what we are.”


A Parliament tradition since 2004 in Barcelona, the Sikh community once again is offering Langar this week. Langar is a free meal that is a part of the Sikhs’ service commitment to the larger community. All who come are fed a delicious vegetarian meal, prepared in large pots and served to those who come. Everyone sits on the ground and eats the same meal from the same pots, a ritual demonstration of the equality of all. The practice has been part of the Sikh tradition since the time of its founder, Guru Nanak. On the way in to the dining area, a display provided information and photos about the origins of Sikhism, of langar, and of kirtan, the practice of ritual chanting. Sharing a meal like this is also an excellent opportunity to meet others at the Parliament and break bread together.

Let’s Do Lunch

by Jennifer Bennett

When you think of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, lunch is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. The thousands of people from all over the world; the hundreds of workshops; the spiritual and religious presentations; and, the many, many speakers and booths full of information—these probably are.  Yes, those are all important parts of the tapestry of this amazing gathering that happens once every three or so years somewhere on planet Earth. But, I’m here to tell you about the magic that is lunch at the Toronto Parliament.

The Sikh community, both local and partnering with communities from all over the world, offered langar every day of the 2018 Toronto Parliament. Langar–a free,


Isobel Arthen, Deirdre Pulgram Arthen, and Sam Long attending langar (photo by Moira Ashleigh)

communal lunch–is cooked, served and cleaned up after all by the Sikh community. Thousands of people are fed, every day. Langar is offered in a space specifically created for it–you are requested to take your shoes off, cover your head, and wash your hands. There are spaces for shoes, stations where they will tie temporary head coverings for you—if you don’t already have your own—and sinks are set up for handwashing. The Sikh community members sincerely welcome you all along the way and have informational kiosks about the Sikh community and their religion’s requirement of service set up around the area.

As you stand in the initial food line, lunch is ladled in to Styrofoam trays (which are recycled). Every person who serves food or water or hands you utensils, looks you in the eye and welcomes you personally. The food is some of the best vegetarian, Indian-style food you’ve ever tasted. Chapattis, nan, rice, dahls, lentils—different combinations, every day–are ladled into your tray. You then make your way to sit on the floor—thus illustrating that everyone (regardless of caste, or any other “category”) is equal.  (A small number of tables with chairs are set up for those who require them.)  As you sit and eat, more volunteers are wandering up and down the aisles of floor seating, with stainless steel buckets and ladles, constantly offering you more of everything on your tray. But wait, there’s even more! After you bring your trays etc. to the recycling table, it’s time to visit the dessert and chai table on your way out.

As if all this was not the Divine in action in and of itself–all this generosity, true service and abundance–there are also the relationships that spring up with those you randomly end up sitting next to. This is where real holiness blossoms.

Throughout the week of the Parliament, I shared langar encounters with a member of the The Troth’s Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry; a woman from Aumism–Universal Religion, who was from France (and spoke just about as much English as I did French—but we managed a bit of conversation anyway); a well-known Canadian grass roots organizer (who was asked by Prime Minister Trudeau to attend the G7 Advisory Council on Gender Equity) who ended up going to a crone-ing workshop because I mentioned it to her; the husband of one of the Parliament organizers; a family (whose faces lit up once they found out I was Pagan) who asked me if I knew a particular person from S. Carolina…and I did!; a lovely young couple—one of whom was running for office in his very conservative state district (as an out gay man) because no one else from his party was running; and another young man who was living in an intentionally-multi-faith household in New York City (Christian, Jewish, Muslim). When he found out I was Pagan, he actually apologized that they had no Pagans in their community…yet!

Talk about feeding your spirit! All these are folks I just randomly sat down next to, or they next to me, to enjoy our meals, became a huge part of the Parliament experience. The Divine works in many ways and through many voices. We should all, always, have such opportunities to “do lunch” and in such a Pagan-friendly, accepting and supportive atmosphere!