The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
December 2015 – Vol. 18 Issue 9
Theosophy opens us up to the universe. It reminds us that we all share a common origin in boundless infinity, and a common destiny to express our limitless possibilities ever more fully and universally. It teaches us that we share the same universal life and all learn and grow together. Hence we are not just fashioned by our own actions, but are also responsible to each other.
These themes are very much at the heart of the recently concluded Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City. People from all around the world gathered together to share their understanding of how we are all related to, and responsible for, each other and the planet. Presenters from a wide range of faith traditions explained how their beliefs teach us to respect the basic dignity of the exploited or oppressed, whether they be women or children, racial, ethnic or religious minorities, or the earth itself. We were encouraged to expand the scope of our sympathy and strive for social justice for everyone, so that all can have a fair opportunity to improve ourselves and protect the world in which we live. The Indigenous peoples particularly reminded us that we are not separate from our home, the earth; that our spiritual as well as our physical lives are intimately attuned to our planet. If we exploit and abuse our home, we will also exploit and abuse each other. Doing so is contrary to our spiritual selves, and so weakens and divides us. Living in harmony and balance with our environment creates harmony and balance within ourselves, and hence improves the lives of all.
Diversity within unity was a major theme as well: one divine origin, one universe, one world, one humanity, all filled with infinitely varied expressions of the one eternal life. We must remember that difference is an expression of uniqueness, not inferiority. Respecting the basic human rights of minorities protects the humanity of the entire human race. The need to listen to the deep, and often ignored, understanding of women in both human and spiritual affairs was widely discussed. Women often find themselves on the outside looking in, especially in many religious traditions. Presenters representing pre-Christian religions of Europe and New Zealand pointed out that the feminine principle is regarded as fundamental and co-equal with the masculine in their world view, that nature always achieves a harmonious balance of the two in order to produce life. Domination of one by the other leads to a weakened culture, suffering and a less productive environment.
Social justice was also emphasized as essential for a truly spiritual life. All the faith traditions represented attested that the oneness of humanity required that we extend, not just minimum legal equality to all, but also equality of opportunity and hope to all members of our societies. Freedom of religion may well provide choice and help feed the soul, but access to a good education for all can free our minds from the straight jacket of a closely confined understanding of ourselves and the world. It is the universal passkey to a spiritually richer and fuller life, not to mention economic opportunity in most societies. Of course, a fine education will lead to little social advancement if barriers of custom and privilege bar opportunity due to racial, religious, ethnic, economic or gender factors. Over and again the call was made for continuous progress in promoting a just and equitable society, where character and ability are valued and promoted rather than mere wealth and inherited advantage.
The Parliament of the World's Religions represents an ongoing effort to bring together people of all traditions to better understand our shared humanity and the intimate bonds of interdependence that link us to each other, our home planet and the universe. It was a truly heartening and uplifting experience that gives me renewed hope for our shared future. – Bill Dougherty
An old, hard-bitten sea captain once said, “I had this idea, you know, that the stars were thinking. And the sea was thinking. And so was I thinking. Why, I said to myself, there’s certainly something going on and we’re all in it. Or, put it another way. Somebody was thinking. And we are all no more than somebody’s thoughts. Very surprised I was. It quite took me out of myself.”
Thought is the substance of the worlds, and the type of thought and feeling which we foster draws us to the position in the universe where we receive the discipline necessary to our own particular case. Like as not there are universes more material than ours, and worlds far more spiritual than our own. Part of our job in evolution is helping to build our own universe to take its place among the best, by allying ourselves with our own spiritual nature, and thus fulfilling our proper function on this living planet Earth.
“God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Following the thought to its ultimate, is it not reasonable to conjecture that the responsibility for spinning and developing the universes is shared in degree by every human and animal, every angel and insect, every planet and star? That eternity is their playground, matter and spirit equally their home? That, in sober fact, there is indeed something going on, and we’re all in it? – Marjorie Hall
Indigenous religions are finally getting respect. After being barred from the Parliament of Religions in 1893, they were included at the 1993 centenary and featured since 2009. Only since 2009 have indigenous European religions been recognized there, a move is not without controversy. Andras Corban-Arthen, president of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions and board member of the Parliament, has had conservative Christians object that “the inclusion of paganism in the Indigenous category could give it the credibility to raise serious accusations against Christianity (and particularly the Roman Catholic Church) for its wanton slaughter and extermination of the European pagan peoples.”
An indigenous religion is firmly rooted in a particular people, place and language. It is not a synthesis of various spiritual or occult traditions, as are neo-pagan and New Age groups. Underlying all pagan traditions, say Mr. Corban, “is a fundamental sense of experiencing the Sacred, the Great Mystery, through communion with the natural world. …Through [this], we experience ourselves as enmeshed in a vast, living web of interdependent relationships, where we are part of everything, and everything is part of us. This leads us to an understanding that all our actions matter, that all our actions have consequences which affect everything else. It also instills in us a sense … that the rest of the natural world deserves our respect and consideration.”
Pagan comes from the Latin word for rural. Imperial religions were centered on the cities, while country people practiced ancestral beliefs and rituals. In 380 Christianity became the sole religion of the Roman Empire, on pain of deportation or execution, and those who kept their old ways were derided as pagans. Christianity spread slowly outside the Empire, often by the sword. Charlemagne is renowned for his bloody religious wars against Germanic peoples in the 700s, and in 1193, during the Crusades against the Muslims, the Pope declared a Crusade against the northern pagans. Lithuania was the last country whose nobles were forced to convert, in 1387, though it was several centuries before Christianity made headway among the common people.
Could pagan traditions survive to our times? Mr. Corban has found a dozen such survivals and suspects there are many more. They are in small, isolated, rural communities that can still speak their ancestral tongue, have preserved a strong ethnic identity, and maintain a deep connection to their land. In his experience, paganism meant “cultural traditions that had spiritual practices and beliefs deeply integrated within them…. The culture served as the vehicle through which the spiritual principle and values were incorporated into the everyday lives of the people.” These groups have much in common with indigenous religions around the world – one Hopi elder told him, after hearing the pagan traditions, “I didn’t know there were Indians in Europe!” Yet each group is distinct. The practices of his own teachers, Gaelic Scots, “were essentially animistic – they involved no belief in or worship of deities. At the core of their teachings was the experience of Mystery, of engaging the unknown directly, without attempting to explain it or shape it. Rituals…were very simple and mostly wordless affairs…”
The Lithuanian Romuva is an indigenous European religion featured at the Salt Lake Parliament, represented by priestess Inija Trinkuniene. Because Lithuania converted so late and so slowly, it retained many pre-Christian practices, myths, and songs, which nationalist scholars began collecting in the 19th century. Native religion began to recover, especially between the world wars, but then was outlawed under the Soviet occupation (1940-1992). In 1967 students in the cities, such as Ms. Trinkuniene, began investigating their heritage and Romuva was re-founded, despite active persecution from 1971 until Lithuanian independence in 1992.
Ms. Trinkuniene presented Romuva as an unbroken spiritual tradition going back to prehistory. It rests on about 700,000 traditional songs, as well as myths, folklore and healing practices. Now 5,000 Lithuanians list Romuva as their religion and it is growing quickly. Central Romuva beliefs include the sacredness of nature, which includes the worlds of the living and the dead, and worship of one supreme reality through its manifestations as many gods and goddesses. Morality means living in accord with the Universal Law of Harmony, through love, kindness, inspiration, and positive actions. The sacred fire as purifier and sustainer is the chief symbol. There are family rituals, festivals centered on the cycle of the year and celebrations of the major events in human life, such as birth, marriage and death. Although the ancestors stay near their descendents for a period, eventually they reincarnate. As with other pagan traditions, Romuva is being reborn in a new generation seeking to reconnect with their native spirituality.