RW recently attended a workshop during the Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR) in Barcelona (July 7-13) and found that Neo-Paganism is emerging in countries, such as Spain and South Africa, from which it was absent until a few years ago.
The PWR, first initiated in Chicago in 1893, attracted some 8,000 participants this year, offering a rich program of 400 lectures, workshops, and performances. By its very nature, the PWR is comprised primarily of liberal believers rather than representing all religious preferences.
Besides well-established traditions, faiths less well-known or emergent groups also find an opportunity to gain acceptance and acknowledgment at such events. Sikhs, who have been little-known in Spain, were massively present and received very positive coverage for providing a total of 30,000 free meals to participants during the Parliament. A number of new religious movements were also present, some of them attempting to spread their beliefs, other ones hoping to gain legitimacy, to improve their image and also to interact with like-minded groups.
Pagan participants had come from 11 different countries, according to Selena Fox (Circle Sanctuary), one of the conveners of the workshop. Interestingly, some of those countries had little Pagan presence only 10 years ago. In South Africa, Neo-Paganism (with Wicca as its main expression) has only emerged over the past 8 years; many practitioners are isolated, and the Internet is reported to play a major role in creating a sense of community. Similarly, the Internet is playing an important role in bringing together various Pagan groups in Spain.
The Pagan Federation was formed in the United Kingdom 33 years ago in the United Kingdom and has been attempting for the past 12 years to get the legal status of a British “charity.” Other countries, however, stand only at the threshold of coordinating Pagan activities and representing Paganism in public life, despite the reluctance of some Pagans toward anything smelling of institution and organization.
In Spain, an Iberian Pagan Union has been created for that purpose. American Pagans have the feeling that their faith is increasingly becoming mainstream. It is now often accepted as a participant into local interreligious assemblies. Having a Pagan chaplain in the armed forces is soon likely to become a reality. Pagans in other parts of the world are still feeling much more on the fringe. However, a British participant conceded that Pagan participation to an event such as the PWR may be one more small step toward Paganism gaining recognition as a legitimate religious option.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW contributing editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)