My interest in interdisciplinarity doesn't stop at academia. It began with spirituality, as a small child - and it continues there today (as a small adult). Having been lucky enough to study the Philosophy of Religion, World Religions, Ecclesiastical History, Parapsychology and Religious Experience I have been blessed with a broad intellectual foundation; but the more I study, the more puzzled I have become regarding the assumed superiority some religious perspectives take over others - and science takes over psychism. What began as a sense of personal injustice when refused admission into the Brownies aged six, when I asked which 'god' I was to swear allegiance to, has now become an awareness of the political armoury that religion is employed in servitude to.
In 1994, shortly after the first British Pagan conference was held within academia (at Newcastle upon Tyne), I was well into my undergraduate stride. From there I was cajoled into founding one of the first University Pagan Societies, in what was then St.David's University College, in Lampeter. This came about due to the steady stream of foot traffic at my door asking questions about native religious practices and Neo-Paganism, many of which I was unable to answer (even then, folklore, archaeology and epistemology were loudly to the fore!). Thus the society began as a hub for discussion. Almost immediately this attracted attention from the Christian Union, who were a sensible and equally interested group of enquiring minds. Together we ran a series of Dual Faith Debates, chaired by Dr. Chris Arthur (whose literary influence I must also acknowledge). These packed our largest lecture hall at the time, with members of the local community along with professors, visiting academics, random hippies, members of the clergy and so on and so forth along with the usual rabble of (mostly mature) students. Over time, people left and the interest in such interfaith debate waned. Neo-Paganism grew in confidence and more students came year after year, making the society their own as they passed through on the way to adulthood.
I continued on my own personal path, which whilst informed extensively by Welsh traditions (namely, Gwyddon), has always been hugely eclectic. I don't pretend to be an expert, I'm not a 'god botherer', my jury is very much out regarding the machinations of metaphysics. However, I do take a firm stand regarding treating people of all faiths (which includes science...), equally. As a consequence, in 2002 I was asked to represent Earth Religions as part of an event at The Temple for Peace, in Cardiff. This event, was Peace Mala.
Peace Mala is a multi award winning project for peace that a then R.E. teacher, Pam Evans, began in Coedcae School, Llanelli, in 2001. It came about in response to the racial and religious bullying of pupils from the 9/11 aftermath. She says:
"A Peace Mala is a double rainbow symbolic bracelet that promotes friendship, respect and peace between the faiths and all people in our world. It cuts through all forms of prejudice and celebrates what makes us different from each other.
It is a vision for the future. Wearing the Peace Mala is a promise to help create a better world."
Photo Copyright: Peace Mala 2002
The launch of the mala was a large affair, with representatives from and for many religions in procession, accompanied by a pupil of the school who favoured that particular faith. A tall candle was lit for each bead, in every colour. Passing me the flame was Dr. Wendy Dosset, receiving the flame from me was Stephen Russell, otherwise known as The Barefoot Doctor .Leading the way was the newly elected Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams (another proficient poet, there seems to be a theme...) - this triad goes some way towards expressing the diversity of people present. Re-watching a low quality video of the day I am now delighted to realise that many of the other representatives are now people whom I can call friends, who were then strangers, unified by a desire for peace.
Since that day I haven't seen the need for Neo-Pagan dialogue to cease within the wider world. These paths are often feared, for even in the 21st Century many people are still afraid of what they see as being 'supernatural' - and of women, sex, birth and death. Neo-paganism honours all of these things. It recognises that life is reliant upon both the sun and the moon, that much of what we experience is hard to explain in tangible terms. It often personofies that which is commonly considered to be taboo, it steps into the dark with the light of faith. Those of us who carry these torches are not to be feared. How many times have you read that terrorism has occurred under this umbrella? Paedophilia? School shootings? Modern warfare? Anti-freedom policy, climate-denigration, pollution or fascism? Those who fear earth religions may need to look to themselves to see what shadows they are casting that cause them to displace their disquiet, for they are not cast by trees or standing stones. Alternative spiritual traditions are not to be confused with Medieval propaganda or Satanism. Nor are they to be blurred with historical accounts of ancient ritual or claims of extant ancestry.
As a consequence I have done many workshops and events for and with Peace Mala (for a recent example, see Changing Worlds), as the need for interfaith dialogue grows ever more urgent in our violent and unstable global community. It is imperative that we reclaim our names and our power as citizens of a shared land. Even though many people have berated me for holding science and stories, science and psychism, science and spirituality, in the same world view I continue to assert that they are all mythologies by which we frame our existence, no one being greater than another. The universal cry for education regarding cultures and sexuality, law and respect, seems to be ever increasing into a crescendo of fear. Whatever little I can do help people become a little less afraid of the dark, then that is where I will tread. This is no grand pilgrimage, it's just common decency. For a mala is only a bracelet, a few coloured balls of glass - but what it means, can change everything.
You can listen to a short interview with me about InterFaith here