Interfaith, Intrafaith, Multifaith–All in the Cornfields of Illinois

Last week, I spent some hot days and some rainy days at one of the longest running, largest pan-Pagan festivals in the country. It’s called Pagan Spirit Gathering and I was invited to attend and do some teaching and speaking.

The Earth religions community, as you probably know by now, is diverse in belief and practice. Any gathering of Pagans and Heathens will have lush variations in spiritual experience, in political opinion and in standards of dress. PSG is no exception there and, in addition, gathers a group of friendly and welcoming people from all walks of life who come together to create a Pagan village for a week.

That’s rare for us–to be surrounded by people who basically believe and practice as we do. We are a set of minority religions throughout the US and a gathering of any sort (unless it is specifically Pagan) will see us in the minority.

And sometimes being in the minority is not merely an inconvenience, it is a matter of being outnumbered by people hostile to us, simply because we aren’t part of the majority religion. It can lead to a kind of siege mentality, which is hardly conducive to a deeply felt understanding of the promises of the First Amendment.

Since there are so many variations in the belief systems we call home, we sometimes find ourselves doing intrafaith work with the people most like us. In a gathering like PSG, this work is done around a fire or in Q&A following a good workshop. We talk about the Divines and holy days and daily practice–compare and contrast. We share ritual techniques and we look askance at the things we would do differently but we’re pretty good-natured about it.

All of this is in contrast to the “Real World”–the world where we have to keep a weather-eye on the local public school to determine whether they are in violation of their own religions policy. The world where a Wiccan priest in Alabama is asked to do the invocation before a city council meeting and is uninvited when the community learns that a -gasp!–Wiccan is trying to have the same civil rights as the dominant religion. This is the world where people like me try hard not to parse every phrase we utter so that we are understood, but don’t compromise who we are and what we believe.

Interfaith is good work, hard work, and in my opinion, necessary work. But it feels good to gather with people who may not believe and practice exactly as I do but who still afford me the courtesy of hospitality and listening ears. For ten days, I could set aside my flight-or-fight siege mentality and enjoy the fireside with others who are more-or-less like-minded.

I encourage all of you who do interfaith work to also spend time with people who ostensibly practice a similar spiritual system to yours but with variations. It helps you to clarify your own thoughts and affords you a gentleness and ease as you return to the world where things are not so kindly, sometimes.

About Byron Ballard

H. Byron Ballard, BA, MFA, is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has served as a featured speaker and teacher at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference and other gatherings. Earlier this year, she presented “Gnarly Roots: Exploring the British Sources of Appalachian Folk Magic” at the Appalachian Studies Association Conference and will facilitate a workshop on Deep Grounding at the Glastonbury Goddess Conference in August. Her writings have appeared in print and electronic media. Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press). She blogs as “Asheville’s Village Witch” (myvillagewitch.wordpress.com) and as The Village Witch for Witches and Pagans Magazine (witchesandpagans.com/The-Village-Witch). Her pamphlet “Back to the Garden: a Handbook for New Pagans“ has been widely distributed and her first book “Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo” (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on “Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet”. She facilitates the Mountain Area Interfaith Forum in Asheville, NC and was active for many years in the United Religions Initiative.


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