Beyond Tolerance: Peacemaking for Diversity, Understanding, and Religious Plurality

In nature, monocrops are extremely unhealthy ecosystems–they are in a perpetual state of damage and cannot support other life. A monocrop is where only one thing grows, and that thing is the same as far as the eye can see–acres and acres or corn, soybeans, or lawns are three such common examples. To create monocrops, humans strip what was likely a healthy, diverse ecosystem away and then replace it with a single thing–a lawn, a potato field, a monocrop forest. The opposite of this is a polyculture, where many things grow and live together in an intertwined, interdependent whole. A forest is where there are literally billions and billions of lives intertwined: a healthy soil web, a healthy overstory canopy, a healthy understory, insects, invertebrates, birds, plants, reptiles, and mammals–all living together. As a druid, I recognize that there is much value in looking to nature for guidance on how to live, and the message from the ecosystem is clear, diversity is beautiful and necessary for life to function. We can apply these same lessons in nature to human diversity and religious diversity.

Ramakrishna Temple in Dhaka
Ramakrishna Temple in Dhaka

I, like many others who take up a pagan path, have had my own share of religious intolerance.  It is particularly bad where I live, in a rural “red” area (to use the term in the US), which is predominantly a religiously conservative, fundamentalist, Christian area where those in the dominant majority are opposed to the existence of anyone who is not white, Christian, and heteronormative. This means that even though I’m a leader in the druid community and am open about my path in many areas of my life, I still feel the need to hide my spirituality from my neighbors because there are hate groups who live around here, and I don’t want trouble. But it also means that being a pagan for almost 18 years has, unfortunately, had a lot of direct experiences with intolerance. I can count the negative experiences on both my fingers and toes, and I run out of fingers and toes before I am done counting. How about the time when I was at a pagan gathering and some locals drove through the middle of our camp at 3 am with guns, hanging out the back of a pickup truck?  How about the time when I was accosted by some guy in the forest because I was meditating there alone?  Or the time when I felt I had to leave our family gathering and drive 8 hours back to where I was living because I was being attacked by family members for being a druid? Or the time I was confronted randomly when I was out shopping when I was wearing obviously pagan jewelry? Or when I was confronted by my colleagues for taking a personal day on my major holiday, which also happened to be the day of a big meeting? Or the harassment I get on this blog on a weekly basis (you don’t see those comments! I delete them!)? I can go on and on.

And I’m sure that what I just described is hardly anything new to anyone who has walked a pagan path. I don’t know about other countries, but being a pagan is not easy here in the US–especially if you live in a more conservative, Christian area of the country. When you are a leader in a tradition, you have an even bigger target, because you are dealing not only with your own personal challenges but also, any that are directed toward your organization. Thus, I find that I am usually in a place of being on the defensive, and if someone asks me a question about my religion (especially locally), I have to weigh carefully what to say, how much to say, how much to reveal and consider where it might go. Because, yes, there are real, tangible reasons to fear my neighbors, and because I grew up in this region, I’ve seen too much and know that the threats can be real.  It can be really exhausting, almost like I’m in a place of near-constant vigilance trying to read a situation and decide how much to reveal.

When I recall these experiences, I also ask: How many stories of the opposite nature are true? Stories where I felt fully loved, embraced, and welcomed? I think I can count those on only a few fingers, and they are mostly dealing with specific individuals who were my friends and later learned I was a pagan. So today, I want to share an incredible experience of welcoming that I had while recently visiting Dhaka, Bangladesh (for a work trip) and use that experience to talk about the work to embrace diversity, plurality, and freedom within our own tradition, and share those values more broadly.

A visit to Bangladesh and the Ramakrishna Temple

Maybe it’s because of the list above, but I don’t really make it a point to visit other people’s places of worship. In fact, I generally actively avoid it so that I can avoid the all-too-frequent conflict with my own faith. Where I live in the USA, nearly all of the local places of worship are Christian of some variety, and I would never be welcomed in a Christian church. So why go looking for trouble?

Close-up of the front of the temple
Close-up of the front of the temple

When I went to Dhaka, Bangladesh last month to offer a conference keynote and workshop, I was hosted by a former student of mine, who graduated with his Ph.D. from the program where I teach.  He’s originally from Bangladesh, and while he was here in the US for 4+ years, I got to know him really well and found him to be one of the most genuine, welcoming, dedicated, and all-around good human beings that I had ever met. We had had conversations about religion and philosophy over the years, specifically about Hindu philosophy and teachings, which is what he practices. When I went to Bangladesh, after my keynote he took me to a botanical garden, which was a great opportunity to have deep conversations about our respective religions (Hinduism and Druidry) and paths into our traditions, and this led to us deciding that the next day, we would visit his temple.

We spent almost two hours getting to the temple. In Bangladesh, the roads are packed full and quite chaotic. The roads don’t really have any rules; it is basically self-governing anarchy on the roads with no stop signs, crosswalks, lights, lanes, speed limits, or anything else.  If you aren’t from there, it is extremely overwhelming and you constantly feel like you are going to get seriously harmed or killed on the roads. So by the time we got there, even though we had a car and driver, I was feeling quite overwhelmed. We entered through a secure gate and parked in the temple’s parking lot. As soon as I put my feet on the soil, I felt all of the stress of the drive release from me and instead, I was filled with peace–grounded, serene, and welcomed. Other people were already coming in, many of them to go to the medical and dental facilities available on the temple grounds. My student and I walked around the temple and met many people–including the three temple geese that the monks regularly converse with. After taking off our shoes, we went into the temple, and my student showed me how to properly signal respect and pray. We prayed at the temple and observed the monks decorating the shrines of with fresh beautiful flowers. As we left the temple, my student pointed out the different world religions that were up on the top of the temple–six different symbols from major world religions, recognizing the plurality of the quest for the divine.

After that, the monk was done tending the temple and came to meet with us. From the moment we sat down to meet with the monk, I felt so welcome. He offered me fresh fruit and my student translated for me since I did not speak Bengali and the monk did not speak English.  From the moment I met him, I felt welcomed by his smile and kind eyes. It was a fascinating conversation, ranging from how to address religious intolerance and hatred, to exchanging prayers and sayings and discovering many similarities in our paths.  I learned more about the Ramakrishna tradition and teachings of the holy trinity that were a part of this specific branch of Hinduism, and he learned about druidry. But the resounding message that I took from that was that we are all climbing the same mountain. The routes may look completely different, but we are all seeking the divine (what they would call God) in our own way.  Thus, we are all the same. Peace is the only way.

Dana and Swapan Maharaj, one of the temple monks
Dana and Swapan Maharaj, one of the temple monks

After we finished conversing, we took some photos and visited the temple bookstore. Then, my student and I went back into the temple and shrines to the holy trinity to say our farewells and pray. I went to the women’s side and he went to the men’s side, as is customary in the culture. And there, I went on my knees and brought my hands up in prayer. As soon as I did this, I felt an overwhelming sense of welcome, love, and peace. The deities there spoke to me, telling me I was welcome, that I had come such a long way to see them, and that they were delighted that I was visiting. I began to weep because I had never felt any such welcome from anyone else’s tradition. Between the visit with the monk and this experience, it healed a wound deep within me that I didn’t even realize that I had. And of course, the fact that I had had both an inner and outer experience really spoke to the importance and magnitude of that moment.

We left the temple and got back into the car for our long drive back.  At that point, I shared the experience with my student, openly weeping again. I was so grateful to him, and he held space and listened and was amazed by the experience. I realized that so many years of religious intolerance in my own country, in my own home community, and in my own family had weighed on me tremendously.  And I had never had an opportunity to feel such love and welcome from another tradition that was not my own. And that this experience had given me such deep healing, healing I didn’t even know I needed. I have such gratitude for this experience on so many levels. And since then, I’ve been meditating on tolerance, diversity, and religious freedom.

Peacemaking: Towards Embracing Religious Diversity and Understanding

Tolerance is a term I’ve always had trouble with. Tolerance implies that we “tolerate” something, in that we deal with the fact that it is there, but not the fact that we might like it. If I tolerate someone or something, it means that I’m actively not working against them or driving them off, but I’m also maybe not embracing them. When we seek religious tolerance, I see that that’s the very first minimal step. This means there are no open hostilities. Tolerance in and of itself doesn’t seek to build bridges or embrace diversity, it just prevents harassment, discrimination, and war. Tolerance also perhaps implies that there is a person in a stronger position of power (in religious terms, a person from a dominant religion) who can make a choice of tolerance. Thus, while it is a good first step, it seems there is much more work to do. I’d like to suggest that really, this broader work beyond tolerance is about peace and peacemaking.

A group of us at the temple--many of these are young men who stay in the hostel and who help with the temple grounds, some are university students and others are considering monastic life
A group of us at the temple–many of these are young men who stay in the hostel and who help with the temple grounds, some are university students and others are considering monastic life

I think that what sometimes happens in druidry and neopaganism is that so many of us have experienced such religious intolerance (often from people we know, including our own families or consistently from Christians here in the US) that we become on the defensive as a whole when it comes to non-pagans. And while there are reasons to be on the defensive, it also affirmed the need to move “beyond tolerance” sets of peace-making practices to do good in the world. What this experience taught me is that I need to do work beyond tolerance and into fully embracing and understanding other faiths, being open-minded, and welcoming, realizing that different religious traditions all have their sacredness and inherent truth, and recognizing that people have the right and privilege of choosing their own path. And maybe I need to be a little less defensive and take more risks, even in a risky place, like where I live.

These kinds of ideals are already embedded into many neopagan traditions, certainly, into druidry.  In AODA druidry, for example, we are really committed to helping each person find their own unique path, tied to their own ecosystem and cultural history….and that means that no two druidries are alike. It means that we honor and respect the choices of each individual to find their path, to weave in other traditions as they see fit, and to pretty much do whatever they want as long as they are abiding by our ethical standards. It means honoring that whole person as they are–regardless of body, gender identity, sexuality, ability, or anything else that a person brings. Within our tradition, I think we do that really well and many organizations, gatherings, groves, etc, have been formalizing policies to ensure that all peoples and paths are honored. But what kind of outreach are we doing to those outside of our traditions? Is this work to do now and into the future?  Why might we do it? How can we do it collectively?

The Ancient Druids were peacemakers, and much of our focus in our tradition is on peace–calling peace in the quarters, saying the prayer for peace, and seeking peace broadly within the world. I think each of us can benefit from thinking about the work of peace and how it may be present in our own lives. Some druids participate in things like the Parliament of World Religions or engage in extensive peacemaking in online spaces, while others do work closer to home, showing up at Pagan Pride days, doing local classes, and sharing about druidry. Still, others teach people how to make peace with their local ecosystems (which is what I do with my wild food foraging classes, for example). It is a good time to remember this work of peace and even–in a world that seems to grow ever more divided–work to make it happen in our own way.

Because ultimately, that’s what this experience was for me. It affirmed what I already knew as a druid–the path of peace is a crucial part of the druid path, particularly to honor our ancient druid ancestors on the path of peace, but also, to build a more peaceful and just world today.  What the experience did was shared with me the “other side” of being a recipient of those works of peace, and how deeply that can impact a person. I’ll never forget what it was like to be so welcomed and loved–both by religious leaders in the outer world and by the deities in the inner world. It is an experience that affirmed to me the importance of this work in the world and the profound impact that peacemaking beyond our tradition can have on others.

Dear readers, I’d love to hear from you.  Have you had experiences like this you want to share?  How do you help engage in peacemaking and bring tolerance and understanding in terms of different faiths? What are the conditions like for you where you are in terms of religious freedom and tolerance?

 

PS:  My new book – the Sacred Actions Journal — is now available for preorder!  Here it is on Amazon.com :).

 

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for over 15 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice, and is a writing professor with extensive journaling experience. Dana is a certified permaculture designer and permaculture teacher who teaches sustainable living courses and wild food foraging. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart.

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39 Comments

  1. As always, your views on this subject are thoughtful and generous. I’ve been pagan my entire life, but most decidedly “in the broom closet” because I just cannot / will not cope with defending my religion, or trying to explain to Christians why the earth is important. And I live in Massachusetts! My shyness comes from a history of being a bullied child – which taught me that you can be singled out for absolutely no reason at all. I have been solitary for many decades out of self-defense. Thankfully I have recently found a community of other pagans online through a twist of fate when interacting on Instagram. I am lucky enough to be involved in this amazing group of women who live all over the country. We have started having a yearly retreat which is a great gift, to see each other in person. But in my own neighborhood I am still speaking in code.

    I don’t really have experiences I can share because I’ve never been brave enough to reveal my beliefs to strangers – even though I am firmly committed to a nature-based religion. I only reveal my true feelings when I know I am in safe company. I am deeply invested in keeping my own life peaceful and happy, so “rocking the boat” and exposing myself to attack is out of the question for me.

    I wish I could find somebody local to support me so I could be braver in some situations. I actually signed up for the AODA, but have yet to find any kind of community.

    1. Hi Brock, I think that feeling that you aren’t in a position to share due to past trauma is ok. Each of us has to figure out this coming out thing slowly. Its been 18 years for me, and for about the first 10 I felt very much as you do, and I still hide around my neighbors. So this whole thing is very much a process and each of us has to honor where we are on the journey. So happy to hear you joined AODA! Blessings :).

  2. This was really a thought provoking article for me. I have always thought of myself as tolerant to others but never thought deeply about the meaning of the word ‘tolerant’.
    Now find my self doing a deep dive into its meaning and is it conveying my true intent….thanks Dana, for sharing your story and giving me lots to ponder on this cold wintery day.

    1. Blessings to you, Jenna. Thanks for your comment and in reading. If you decide to share, I’d love to hear what those meditations and ponderings lead to!

  3. “What the experience did was shared with me the “other side” of being a recipient of those works of peace, and how deeply that can impact a person.”

    These kind of experiences are a gift, and I’m so glad to hear this discussion of how you’re wanting to respond to the gift with positive action. Tolerance is a low bar, indeed. Yet, most of us have little practice in actually having conversations that make us feel uncomfortable or afraid. Exercising that psychic muscle in the outer world can make a big difference. I think a lot about the “People Care” aspect of permaculture ethics and how it often seems neglected outside of our narrow personal circles. Just like with the non-human Beings, we need to care for both what is near to us and the wider circles, too.

    I’m so glad you had this moving, healing experience!

    1. Hi Talisspinning, thanks so much for sharing :). The experience was such a gift. It’s also really left an impact on me, especially that I need to stop hiding because I’m a pagan, but instead, share a bit more, be a bit more vulnerable, and find others who maybe are also vulnerable to share with. For example, here in my community, my family has recently befriended a Afgani refugee family, they are now joining us for the holidays and we are trying to make them feel welcome here after such a challenging escape. Part of that peacemaking work is trying to help my Christian family members (who are well-intentioned and open, but not experienced with Muslim people) understand some of the differences in culture. Me, the pagan, negotiating between Christianity and Islam! (I have a lot of exposure to Muslim people as part of my work, so I can help them take the first steps and learn about what questions to ask, conversations to have, etc). It has been a wonderful experience, and I feel much more prepared and willing to do it after this experience in Dhaka.

    2. Hi Talisspinning, thanks so much for sharing :). The experience was such a gift. It’s also really left an impact on me, especially that I need to stop hiding because I’m a pagan, but instead, share a bit more, be a bit more vulnerable, and find others who maybe are also vulnerable to share with. For example, here in my community, my family has recently befriended an Afgani refugee family, they are now joining us for the holidays and we are trying to make them feel welcome here after such a challenging escape. Part of that peacemaking work is trying to help my Christian family members (who are well-intentioned and open, but not experienced with Muslim people) understand some of the differences in culture. Me, the pagan, negotiating between Christianity and Islam! (I have a lot of exposure to Muslim people as part of my work, so I can help them take the first steps and learn about what questions to ask, conversations to have, etc). It has been a wonderful experience, and I feel much more prepared and willing to do it after this experience in Dhaka.

  4. From the relative safety of New York city I can say I deeply appreciate this column and your sharing. Of course having been born Jewish myself and my family remember the terrible consequences of being from a different religion. Still there are many incidents here of persecution for being of a difdferent religion, not to mention gender orientation. So for each of us to carry peace in our heart is a lovely special thing we can practice

    1. Hi Francine,
      Thanks so much for sharing and raising the issue of gender identity. It is such a critical point. When we start talking about intersectional identities (for example, pagan + transgender) the need for tolerance becomes much greater! Blessings to you and thank you for reading.

  5. I was gutted by the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand a few years ago, and for two days afterward, I couldn’t stop thinking about people being shot while praying. I was in a tea shop at the mall thinking about it when I remembered there was a mosque about two miles down the road. I’d never been there, and I didn’t know anyone there, and I can be a serious introvert. But I wanted whoever worshipped at that mosque to know they had a friend in me. So I bought a gift box of assorted teas and drove there.

    At first, nobody answered. But just as I was about to leave, a young man poked his head out of the residence. I stammered something like “I’m here because of Christchurch, and I brought you tea.” He told me to hold on, went in to get his prayer cap, and came back out to invite me next door into the mosque. I learned his wife and baby daughter were stuck in Namibia waiting on their visas, and he learned I was a Heathen academic and fiction writer. We talked for three hours; about Islam, and extremism, and being part of a faith that people want to associate with extremism. I told him I was a folklorist and was building a character for a novel who was herself the atheist daughter of a devout Muslim man, and I found out he was a huge nerd. He invited me back to talk to him for help with the nuances of her character.

    It was Ramadan when I came back, and we split our time talking about my novel and about food. He found out my husband makes amazing lemon scones and wanted to taste them, so I brought Sean back during Eid with a batch of scones for a third visit. Then his wife and daughter arrived, and I sent them gifts, and they came to dinner. When COVID found us in Toronto for my doctoral research, he was the first person to write and make sure we made it home to Cape Breton safely. The next summer, we navigated COVID while his wife was pregnant with her second child so that he and his brother could come help us build a much-needed garden fence and fence off the chestnut trees we’d planted years ago that the deer had been eating (They were the only people in our bubble for a while). It turned out she was a reader, so I lent her books from my library, and as people began to gather again, she brought a huge meal of Pakistani street food to the house for dinner one evening. Last fall, I broke my foot in two places, and he brought me soup.

    At one point during the last few years, I attended an interfaith gathering for women organized by his denomination, and the following year, I participated in an interfaith discussion at his invitation, to discuss Paganism. You can watch that discussion here if you like: https://youtu.be/9st7QJyzTBU?t=50

    He was re-posted to Toronto this year, and she cried on my shoulder before they left, saying that I was the best auntie to her daughters. Yesterday, he was back in the province with 15 men and a trailer with a sign on it that read “I’m Muslim! Ask me anything.” They pulled into my driveway at 5:30 so I could hand him three jars of homemade pickles for his wife in Toronto (she loves my pickles), and we all chatted for a few minutes. I would have invited them in for tea, but I’m only a week out from a positive COVID test. Still, it was great to see him. I’ve missed the whole family so much since they moved.

    I won’t say that anything good came out of Christchurch. I can’t say that, because innocent people lost their lives. But something good did come out of my grief for them and his willingness to be the imam his faith instructed him to be. I tell him, and I tell everyone else that while he was here, even though I’m not Muslim, I had an imam. I think I probably still do.

    1. Hi Caellaigh, that is such a beautiful story. I love that you reached out to help, and through it, made a wonderful friend. This is exactly the kind of peacemaking and bridgebuilding I am talking about–how we reach out to others, how we are willing to come out and take a risk to connect, even when it can be terrifying. And look what a beautiful outcome you had. What a powerful and moving story to share. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Dana, This is a profound and touching post. Thank you
    I grew up indoctrinated-brain-washed- by very fundamentalist Christians in West Central Texas. We listened to bible readings each morning in the public school. A Southern Baptist father felt it his right to sexually abused his daughter Early on I first feared Christianity then started seeing the BS, patriarchal control and capitalism within the system. I left the area to teach in the upper Midwest where Catholicism was rampant as was mass dishonesty and alcoholism.
    I didn’t identify with any religious sect but I was drawn to any nature loving group. After retirement we returned to the family farm in Texas. Old friendships were renewed— for awhile—until they sensed I was different then I wasn’t invited to social gatherings. I was ignored- totally. Within the past year a new neighbor moved into the rural area and attempted to be friends—even after they found out I was ‘different’. I share my pagan cards with him and he responds positively even though he is a part of the most bigoted Church of Christ and a religions professor??

    1. Hi Priscilla, Thank you so much for sharing your story. Its unfortunate that many rural folks are so close minded. I wish it weren’t that way, and it makes it difficult to be different. Blessings to you.

  7. As a follower of Jesus, I am saddened to hear that the Christians you meet are so mean spirited. When Jesus spoke the 2 greatest commandments (love God, love others) the people then had difficulty following. Sadly, the churches that claim to follow him still today fall way short. I live 2 counties west of you. Just know that true Christians would never denegrade, argue, or even eye roll. We may not agree 100%, but let’s go beyond tolerance and move towards embracing. If someday we meet, I promise not to beat you over the head with my Bible. 😁

    1. Hi Joanne, thank you so much for sharing. It is so nice to know that there are Christians in the region that are interested in building tolerance and understanding! This is such good news to hear. Blessings to you.

  8. Every Sunday I look forward to reading your posts. This one touched my heart for so many reasons.

    I, too, live among often intolerant people. Central Illinois can be like that, unfortunately. Yesterday I met with other aspiring writers at a monthly gathering and encountered an older man with very conservative ideas. He seemed more interested in finding out if he was with MAGA supporters or with people whom he called “woke” than he was in talking about his writing. Many of us were quietly offended by his comments, but somehow peace prevailed. My only response to one of his statements was to say that I thought we had enough divisions in the country and needed to find ways to talk with each other, perhaps in gentle ways. The meeting coordinator then deftly steered us toward a free-write. The man’s further attempts to intimidate never got a chance to escalate.

    A solitary pagan practitioner who has been reading more and more lately within the AODA posts and articles, I have your book and am making Winter Solstice preparations this year based on what I am finding there. But even in my own backyard I have to be careful about what I do. I am surrounded by both politically right-wing adherents and conservative religious folk. How to practice ritual openly outside is tricky, I have to sadly admit. And yet I feel the energy and depth of working outside and look for ways that practice can happen even if the unexpected witness happens by.

    How powerful for you that you had the welcoming afternoon in India, and with a former student, too! Thank you for bringing back to the US the story of how welcomed and healed you were by the experience. Reading your post made me feel that the quiet success most of us had at the library to steer our meeting toward peace connects with efforts like yours to bring healing to another part of our very troubled and divided country. As I read your post, I felt the web of life singing.

    1. Dear Dana.. I was asked to go to Sunday School until I was 7.. After that all 4 of us bucked, and our parents, fortunately, were religion-free spirits themselves. I’m grateful that I was able to make my own decisions about what I would come to believe in.. I haven’t been cowered by other people’s rules, or made to feel shame or fear.. I have been very blessed. That has offered me a lifelong opportunity at being a ‘seeker’. I’ve only recently arrived at druidry, in terms of knowing what that term means and in terms of realising that it fits my long and winding path like a glove, and I now feel at ‘home’ with knowing that others follow the same path, at least in many shared interests and experiences. I’m sorry for the challenges Life has thrown at you simply for believing what you believe and choosing to live your own path. That is so very wrong and how I wish it would be acknowledged and addressed.

      That is the saddest thing about religion..

      This is NOT directed at all who follow a religion.. There are beautiful gente, compassionate, interested, loving, open-minded people in all of the religions that I’ve met along my way. Some are dear, dear friends. There are others, though, who seem blinded by the rules of what they call their religion.They don’t have a relationship wth Spirit, but with a book of rules that is misread when desired. I see too often how religion creates huge rifts in humanity.. People who believe that their own is the one god, that people must live according to their religion’s rules.. No wonder I asked to be released from any such dictates as an innocent young person. I’m a spiritual seeker and always have been.. Spirit is immensely important in my life, but religion is the bane of it, sadly.. So much time and energy attending protests that could instead be time spent singing or herb gathering or basketweaving or planting trees must be attended to keep whatever rights people still have, and return rights to those who have lost them. This is not an anti-Christian or anti-Buddhist or anti-Muslim or anti-New-Age or anti-anything post. It is simply an ‘anti-anybody telling other people how to live, love, and die their lives’. No-one, NO-ONE, has the right to do that, and being a member of a religion does not give people the right to do so.. This is a problem I face with Peace-making. How does one make Peace with people who willingly take people’s rights from them? It is a HUGE challenge for me, that I have no vested interest in beyond my undying belief that we are all equal and we all have the same rights – or would, if religion didn’t impose it’s will over others.

      In recent years a dear friend of mine began a Peace group with another few women, all determined to help people see the good in all of us by offering a space where people of all spiritual communities and persuasions gather. Each year, on a set date, members of Muslim, Christian (various churches), Buddhist, First Nations, Ba’hai, Quakers, and many, many religions or philosophies come together and offer prayer, dance, song, share food, and generally get to know and better understand each other, and become friends! That is how Peace is worked towards, and I attend those days with respect and with hope in my heart, and have been blessed with beautiful friendships, yet my antagonism towards “Religion” can’t be persuaded to leave me so easily.

      1. Hello Shewhoflutesincaves,
        Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I agree with you–too many religions have too much rigidity. I have no problem with anyone believing anything they want to belive–great, if it works for you, I support you. But goodness, the amount of people who think they have the right to tell others how to live, how to love, what to believe, who and what to be. It isn’t just religion, its so many other aspects of life too….it is so sad to see that anyone has the hubris to tell someone else what they can and can’t do.

        Anyways, I love the peace group idea–wow, if we could have those all over the place, think of the impact. I’m seeing here with my own family how just a little bit of space to interact with someone different, recognize the humanity in that person, can begin to really turn the tide.

    2. Hello waterandsometimessteam,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences. It is so unfortunate that you’ve had to endure such experiences as a solitary pagan practitioner. It seems like you should just be able to do what you want to do on your own property, but we both know with close neighbors that isn’t always an option. But, I am heartened to hear of your recent experiences…take joy in small victories! Blessings, Dana

  9. Dear Dana. Your words deeply resonated with me and my life intentions. Your lived bravery in daily life is a beacon to others. Cheerfully Bridget

    1. Hi Bridget, thank you so much for your comment. Feel free to share more about your intentions if you feel led–would love to hear more.

  10. Hi Dana: I feel very bad reading about your terribly predjudiced experience as a pagan Druid. Christians are supposed to love others, but the type you live near are very judgmental. I am of Christian tradition but I study all different religions. All have great spiritual beauty. Loved your experience in Bangladesh. They are lovely people. May you be blessed. We are ALL ONE SPIRIT.🙏⛄🎄🎆💙

    1. Hi Deborah, there are many good Christians out there, and I appreciate you sharing! I think studying all religions, regardless of which one you belong to, is one of the ways to build more tolerance and peacemaking! Blessings to you.

  11. I wish to thank you for your story and, ‘May you live long and prosper’, in your truth.
    Similar experiences have made me feel isolated from entry into the world of metaphysics after meeting Dr.George King in 1958 who was Master of Yoga and founded The Aetherius Society.

    1. Hi Gratzite, thanks for sharing your story. I’m so sorry to hear of your own experiences–I hope you were able to find something else that filled your cup and spoke to your spirit. And I’ll return the sentiment, Live long and propser in your truth :). Blessings!

  12. I love reading what you put we need like minds it up lifts us and helps us to grow I am spiritual and reading about pagan and druid I say I am a part of that peace is number one I have had what you have had with other religions church people I do put them in their place I say what ever makes you real happy real connected go with it but do not tell me what I believe in its not right peace and love we all should be going for and lets leave it to that. I dont let people take my power we all must stand in our power keep going I wish you was my neighbour I from England East Sussex love and light peace and blessings sent your way. Pam

    1. Hello Pamela, thank you so much for sharing! I feel the same way–nobody has a right to tell others how to live, believe, love, be, pray, or anything else. The problem comes in with the narcissism…I am better than you, so I have a right to tell you what to do. No thanks! Thanks for your comments and for reading. Blessings.

  13. Strange. I was a member of AODA back in the JMG era and was thinking about it lately. Last couple of days I have been discussing the org with a small group on Discord. Thinking of taking it up again. And now this article pops up.

    Anyway, as per the subject, I remember decades ago thinking in terms of ‘tolerance’, but eventually settled on ‘acceptance’. It always seems to me that ‘tolerance’ applies a ‘but’ to everyone ‘else’, whether it’s earned or not.

    Acceptance doesn’t conjure the ‘but’ until it’s (if ever) needed.

    Having said that, there are some people I’ll always watch my back around. They get the ‘BIG BUT’. And they’re usually the conservative heteronormative etc types.

    1. Hi Darren,
      If you were a member back in the day you are likely still a member, so you can email AODA at info (at) aoda.org and inquire about your membership :). We’d love to see you back!

      And on the subject, “acceptance” is a good term. I think its definitely a few steps above tolerance and is really consistent with the experience I had at the temple! Blessings to you!

  14. Some years ago, working for a local authority in the UK where there was a high Islamic population, I was sent on ‘Islam Awareness Training’. It was an extremely interesting day, but internally divisive and dissonant for me. I was allowed to attend prayer in the mosque, an immense privilege. It was a viscerally powerful experience. As the men prayed, I could feel huge energy emanating within the room. I was very grateful and moved to experience that, to learn from it. Then there was a Q&A with our guide for day, where we were encouraged to ask any questions. I asked why women must cover their hair and was told it was because it’s the most beautiful part of a woman. (I’m aware there’s huge diversity in how Muslims would answer this question! But I present it because it was presented to me as ‘official’ training!) So this part of the learning left me angry, disillusioned. What dissonance in the level of respect I was able to feel for these two different lessons! I went there ‘tolerant’ and was hoping to move beyond that, just as you describe. I left unable to unite what I had learnt. What if it is much easier for the heart to engage deeply with the ‘faith’ of others, but the ‘religion’ (i.e. dogma/doctrine/conformity/power relationships) of others can sometimes only at best be coldly ‘tolerated’?

    I think herein is a vital difference between ‘religion’ and ‘faith’. Here I mean ‘faith’ as visceral, spiritual, ‘feeling’ experience, the connection with a higher power or the communing with forces beyond the self. I am starting to form the idea that the ‘faithful’ from any religion will likely be able to connect with other people’s sacred sites and deities just as you describe, and will be willing to connect and ‘feel with’ people outside their own belief system, just as I could feel the energy of the prayer in the mosque. But what makes a person sensitive to these things?

    I’ve recently learnt of ‘Sensory Processing Sensitivity’, affecting around 20% of people. This has made me wonder if some similar characteristic makes it easier for some people to learn to talk with trees, or to feel the energy of ‘faith’? To have those visceral, spiritual connections with stuff that lift us above the limits of cultural norms? What if ‘the faithful’ in a widespread religion are only 20%? A thought experiment, not meant as elitist – not implying that the 80% ‘can’t ever’ have these experiences- but what if they are much less disposed to? Could there be diversity in this as in all things? If something like this were true then I feel like it might affect decisions about peacemaking pathways in order to eventually get more than 20% of people on board… but I’m not sure how.

    This could also explain some of the dissonance between principle and behaviour in Christianity, say: if 80% of people ‘following a religion’ do so only because they are indoctrinated into the powerful norms and led by their interaction with these exploitative power relationships, then it becomes easier to see how so many people purporting to follow Jesus, to love thy neighbour etc, could carry out hateful acts such as you describe?

    When I was 15, a family member had a terrible accident, and was in hospital fighting for survival. Another family member, a ‘devout atheist’ who hated the church, spontaneously poured out their feelings to the hospital chaplain, a kind Christian soul who just listened, validated, and didn’t evangelise. Seeing this, in my raw, unmoored state, I had a sudden vision, a golden shape, I ‘saw’ something of humanity, spirit, goodness, love. I weep now thinking of it. If I was at all drawn to following the dogma of others, I’d believe I’d seen the Christian God, wouldn’t I? I’d have converted on the spot! But I didn’t, I can’t feel it or unite the dissonance, just as i couldn’t when learning about Islam. Instead, I wonder if I ‘saw’ something that unites us all, whoever we are, something that is beyond ‘tolerance’, beyond ‘religion’ and is the very essence of what you are asking us to reach for? Maybe?

    I am often angry with Christianity, as you are, but this experience made me keep looking for the good in it, in all faiths. Thank you for the work you do, the exhausting work of holding back the tide and making space for these conversations.

    1. Hi N, thanks for the really thoughtful response. I had to go look up Sensory Processing Sensitivity and, wow, what a fascinating concept. I believe that this definitely explains some of how people experience the world. There are those close to spirit, which may have everything to do with sets of past experience as well as spaces where that is supported (e.g. a family member who allows a child to share their experience with spirits, for example).

      I do think that the different religions are many paths up the same mountain. The goal being, in Jung’s terms, individuation of some sort. But some get bogged down in the narcissism, the “I am better than you so I need to tell you what to do.” Fundamentalism happens in all faiths…I always need to remind myself of that.

      Thanks so much for sharing such a powerful set of stories. Blessings to you.

  15. I personally find it hard to embrace tolerance for the amounts of experience I had growing up with intolerance. As a heterosexual male with a lesbian mother and a somewhat unconvinced attitude at an early age of Christianitys usual message of hellfire and damnation I chose the Road less traveled (M. Scott Peck).

    It’s a real unfortunate thing that so often lack of interest in manly things is often misinterpreted as gayness. With a father and mother who had split at an early age, both of who had had gay encounters early on, I was eventually left with a mother’s custody and only summer involvement with my father. A huge gap it was that I felt as I often sought more stereotypical masculine types as either big brothers or occasionally dads before my mother recognized her preference change.

    So in my questioning early teens I recognized many diversities and though I had started christian I quickly found my way into christian mysticism through the writings of Elizabeth Claire-Prophet and then into the new age movement with J.Z. Knight. I’ve now come full circle through the occult and then Buddhist, Islam, Hindi, and many works of philosophy. I eventually land here as an Atheist Druid. I recognize the feelings of magic and am completely open and fascinated by people’s experience of the extra-natural sort. I take a typical jungian archetype stance but recognize that we still don’t know everything. Our personal reflections and decisions and location often seem to influence the encounters we have.

    I have been fired from jobs for reading books on my break in rural areas in Oklahoma whose native population often has tales of magic of a sort but who have also converted to Christianity. I often wonder why, and know it too simple an answer to say that they were not really brought up in the real religion of their peoples. They often have hard lives as well. They speak of the two spirits people and it helped me to recognize the spectrum of masculine/ feminine qualities in a diverse culture and even early Christianity there were many of the type who were persecuted even though they most likely believed and were labeled with demonic possession. And all their pain as they resolved to do better and not give into temptations.

    A few years ago my stance on atheism and religious intolerance was involuntarily pulled out into the open as I rejected to an open prayer at the workplace calling out the obvious prejudice of the prayer. I had had another position too that I hadn’t been so bold and regret that now. I was accosted and harassed and outcast even though the human resource found my position correct but followed up with a statement that seemed to endorse that they too believed like the others. This was for a major city that I worked for. So yes its really hard not to fight the system for their intolerance but as John Michael Greer pointed out in an interview on Druidcast, America was founded and got the worst of the fanatics and religious intolerant. Thank goodness for some of the early pioneers that challenged the religious status quo, and for the enlightenment age.

    I often now try to educate, and feel out people’s boundaries. I plant seeds, I still stand out against bigotry while still finding my own and loosening its grip on me due to my own upbringing, but mostly in my social life and not so much in my work life where I just leave it alone unless it’s a blatant violation of my rights. I thank the people who stand against those who would push their beliefs on another and only communicate with those who are open to discussion. Druidry as an atheist is a real challenge because I have even found one statement in another order that was questioning the validity of the two seemingly differing positions but I suppose, as a gateway to a close, I find that druidry informs my disciplines and open-mindedness and romantic and open outlook of the possibilities in humankind while (positive) atheism reminds me to be keen and vigilant and swift in judgement, logical and precise in my dealings with intolerance and bigotry. We all have our wild growth ahead of us.

    1. Hi Mark, thanks so much for sharing. You aren’t the only druid atheist I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and some orders, like AODA welcome people of all beliefs. I know of several other druid atheists in AODA :). I appreciate your sharing your story and some of the intolerance and oppression you have experienced. It is terribly unfortunate that you have experienced such open hostilities, particularly in workplaces that are supposed to be neutral, but rarely are. I love the statement “we all have our wild growth ahead of us” — so true! Thank you for reading and for your insightful comments.

  16. Thank you for sharing this Dana! I sometimes marvel at my audacity as a young person, proudly wearing a pentacle through middle and high school in northern New Jersey, not drawing much attention at all. It wasn’t until my mid twenties, starting out on a “professional” path that I traded the pentacle for a locket, equally meaningful to me but signalling the kind of secrecy I have kept about my spiritual life for the past 20 years. Recently I’ve begun talking to friends a little more about my beliefs, mostly because I see so many struggling through personal mid-life transitions in the midst of our collective transition and I want to share the tools I’ve leaned on as a potential resource to help them reconnect and find north again. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find some genuine interest. I have a dear friend who is a Presbyterian minister and we’ve been finding common ground in surprising ways as I open up more. In my experience, the outright rejection, violence and hatred toward neopagans has come from evangelical Christians (in my extended family and at large in the US); their outsized sway on political life and media in this country creates the perception of threat that has kept me hiding my spiritual identity, even though I live in a fairly open-minded (albeit rural) part of Maine. I still fear stigmatization and stereotyping, but your eloquent call to consider peacemaking may be the nudge I needed to get over the potential for a bruised ego, and revel in the fact that where I live in 2022, my neighbors knowing I’m pagan is unlikely to provoke anything more harmful than a raised eyebrow. I may be getting myself a solstic gift of a pentacle to wear on my neck again. Thank you for inspiring me (every Sunday!). Bright blessings – Jenn

    1. Hi Jenn, thanks so much for sharing. I do think at some point, when we’ve built relationships and have some more safety if we aren’t open, we can never change these larger opinions about paganism. Lots of small conversations on an individual level can do so much good. Blessings to you–thank you for reading and your comments!

  17. Thank you for this article. I’ll never forget my 8th grade teacher asking the class: Does G_d exist? I had a great aunt serve my head to me on a platter for asking a question over a year earlier. A family member explained it as a religious response (different from ours), which made no sense to me. But that teacher asked a question I had never even considered! As I walked out of the school that day, the sun came out & I suddenly knew: there are no wrong answers to that question, nor right ones. The weight that lifted that day was amazing. I hold on to this while I keep my head down…even now. Thank you again.

    1. Hi Annette, thank you so much for sharing this. Keep your head down as long as you need to…but I hope sometime you can hold it high. Thanks for reading and your comment.

  18. I am thrilled to find your blog! As a Jewish woman, I have experienced a great deal of intolerance and anti-semitism in my lifetime. Even as a child, I was subjected to it. Many on my family tree were murdered in the Holocaust. My great-grandparents and grandparents fled the pogroms (violent, brutal attacks on Jews) in Europe. I’ve been with “friends,” co-workers and neighbors when suddenly someone will make an anti-semitic “joke” and everyone will laugh or stay silent. Like your experience as a pagan, I’m afraid to say I’m Jewish in certain environments and certain areas of our country. Others times, I’m just distinctly uncomfortable. I have to gauge the space, to gauge my comfort level.

    On my own inter-spiritual journey, I took introduction to Islam classes at a local Mosque, broke the fast in the Mosque on Ramadan, prayed with the Quakers and joined a Sufi mediation group. I explored Zen Buddhism, Druidism, Hinduism, Jainism and Paganism online. I attended interfaith events. I’m still Jewish culturally and religiously, but my spirituality tends to be eclectic, as is my vision of the Divine or Divinity. I’m glad our paths crossed. Thank you for the powerful post and for sharing your beautiful experience in the Ramakrishna Temple. It was very moving.

    1. Hi Avigail,
      Thank you for sharing your story. I have a number of Jewish colleagues, many of whom are members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was such an awful tragedy, and it is so horrible that anti-semitism continues to have such power. Like seeing the pain in the aftermath of that tragedy, seeing how my friends and colleagues had such trauma….these are wounds I’m not sure will ever hear. It remains such a heavy burden on the larger community. I’m very sorry to hear that you have had similar experiences. I’m glad to hear, though, that you have had great experiences with other faiths! These sound wonderful. Thanks again for sharing.

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