About the EarthSpirit Community:
EarthSpirit --- of which I am a director --- is an organization dedicated to the preservation and development of Earth-centered spirituality, culture and community, with a particular focus on the indigenous, pre-Christian pagan traditions of Europe. Founded in the late 1970s, with its base in the state of Massachusetts, EarthSpirit was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1980, and its membership now extends throughout the U.S. and to 46 other countries. For more information about the EarthSpirit Community, go to
About a Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions:
The Parliament of the World's Religions is the oldest and largest interreligious body, dating back to 1893. The Parliament's mission is to cultivate harmony among all the various religious and spiritual communities and to foster their engagement with the world and its other guiding institutions in order to achieve peace, justice, and sustainability. The Parliament is convened approximately every five years in different cities around the world, and brings together some 10,000 people from every continent of the planet. I serve as one of two pagan members on its Board of Trustees. To learn more about the Parliament, go to
PLEASE NOTE: Since this is (at least as of right now) a travel blog, the entries below are in chronological order. If you're used to seeing the latest post in a blog at the very top, that's not how this one is organized. To view the most recent postings, please scroll down.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesday, 26 September 2007 --- Adiós, Monterrey – Hola, Mexico City!

These last two days of meetings, besides providing the setting for some stimulating and productive discussions about the interreligious movement among the presenters at the Encuentro, also afforded us the opportunity to get to know each other better and a bit more casually.

I was glad, for instance, to be able to spend some time this morning talking with Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, who lives in Birmingham (in the U.K.) and is one of the worldwide leaders of the Sikh religion. We had ‘officially’ met a little over three years ago, at the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, and he remembered me when we first ran into each other here and greeted me very warmly. I, of course, remembered him perfectly and with great fondness, as he was the driving force behind one of the most memorable and meaningful events of the Barcelona Parliament – the langar, a free vegetarian ritual meal which the Sikhs most generously provided during lunchtime every day over the course of the Parliament as a gift to the interfaith community, and in honor of the 400th anniversary of the compilation of the Adi Granth, the first part of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred Sikh scripture. (The photo on the left shows Selena Fox and Dennis Carpenter of Circle Sanctuary, and me, along with several members of the Barcelona pagan community at the Sikh langar.)

Indeed, the Sikhs’ generosity extended beyond the walls of the Barcelona Forum, where the Parliament was held. One of the more troubling issues surrounding that event was the eviction and displacement of several thousand people – mostly poor, tenement-dwelling immigrants and squatters – and the razing of their homes to pave the way for the various commercial buildings (hotels, convention center, concert hall, etc.) to be used by the Forum. Police barricades were deployed in an attempt to keep the remaining 'riff-raff' out of sight of Forum attendees and tourists, and when word about the langar spread throughout the city, and some of Barcelona’s poor went to the event to partake of the free meal, they were denied access by the Forum authorities. Nevertheless, the Sikhs dutifully took vats of food out beyond the Forum walls and fed them too.

I also had a conversation this morning with Jorge Manzano, a Jesuit priest who teaches philosophy at the University of Guadalajara and, from what several people here have told me, a liberal Catholic theologian who is very well-known and respected throughout México. Jorge was on one of the ‘Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred’ panels with me, and among his remarks he'd made several intriguing references to magic and mysticism which had left me curious to explore the subject a little more in depth with him. Today we had a spirited discussion that ranged from the writings of Carlos Castaneda, to the New Age movement as evidence of a hunger for the mystical experience that has not been sated by either science or materialism, to the growing diversity within Mexican society, and the complex plight of indigenous peoples in this country. I took the opportunity to tell him of very disturbing reports I’ve received from pagan friends in Guadalajara who’ve complained of religious discrimination and harassment by the authorities, to the extent of being blacklisted as members of ‘dangerous cults’ and risking random imprisonment or worse. Jorge listened very intently, and suggested that such extreme reactions are surely a symptom of the resistance that some Mexicans are experiencing toward becoming part of a more pluralistic society; he said he’d be glad to talk to my friends and see if he could be of any help.

After our closing meeting, and lunch, I said my farewells all around and went back to my room to finish the last bit of packing before leaving for Mexico City. Originally, I had thought of making the trip by bus, so I could at least see some of the countryside up close. It’s a twelve-hour ride from Monterrey, but first-class buses are fairly inexpensive and quite luxurious, so I thought it might be worth it; but then I found out that all the buses made the trip overnight, starting around 8 pm and therefore ruling out much sightseeing, so I decided at the last minute to catch a plane instead. As I was waiting in the hotel lobby for my ride to the airport, one of the Encuentro staffers came over very excitedly waving a couple of copies of that day’s newspaper, which had a color photo of me offering the blessing at the closing plenary – it was very sweet of her to hunt me down to give me the papers.

As it turned out, because I’d changed my plans so late, there had been no room for me in the van taking other presenters to the airport, so instead the Encuentro furnished me with a private car (a brand-new BMW, no less) and driver, so I had a very comfortable and leisurely ride to catch my plane. At the airport, I ran into Joseph Prabhu, another of my colleagues on the Parliament’s board and a professor of philosophy and comparative religion at California State University in Los Angeles, who, it turned out, was also going to Mexico City to give a talk, and was on the same flight.

As we lifted over El Cerro de la Silla, I mused a little on the events and experiences of the previous days, and on the new friendships I’d made during my stay in Monterrey. I was sure the next leg of my trip was going to be substantially different, though it was hard to predict exactly how; I had not been in Mexico City for a very long time, so, if nothing else, I expected to find that the place had changed a great deal. My musings were cut short, however, by the surprising brevity of the trip – it was supposed to take a little over an hour, but it seemed that, not quite forty minutes after take-off, we were getting ready to land.

The approach to Mexico City – or, as most Mexicans tend to call it, El DF (English speakers roughly pronounce it ‘Ell Day Effay’), short for El Distrito Federal, or the Federal District – was breathtaking. I had never seen it from the air before, and though I knew that it is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, with some 25 million people spread over more than 11 thousand square kilometers (by comparison, greater New York City has about 18.5 million people and some 8600 km²), I was not prepared for how vast it seemed – even from the air, I couldn’t see where it ended.

I was met at the airport by Natris Branwen, a very friendly and solicitous Mexican pagan whom I’ve known for several years through the Internet. Natris is on the staff of CIDEHUM (the Circle for Humanistic Studies), a Gestalt therapy training institute, and when she heard that I was going to be in México, invited me to come to El DF to give a talk on paganism at their center. I helped Joseph to get a cab to the university where he was staying (getting on the right cab in Mexico City is quite important, not only to ensure that you arrive at your destination directly, but also safely…), and exchanged phone numbers and talked about possibly attending each other’s talks. Then Natris and her friend Raquel took me to my hotel, which was just a couple of blocks away from the Zócalo, the huge square at the very heart of the old part of the city.

The Hotel Catedral is small and modest, particularly in contrast to the place where I stayed in Monterrey. It’s on a fairly narrow one-way side street which was almost deserted when we arrived just after dark, though I was warned that during the day it would be so crowded with peddlers and passers-by that it would take a very long time to drive just a couple of blocks to the closest thoroughfare. I was also warned that it could be dangerous to walk in this area alone at night, though I did so several times and had no problem. But the hotel was very close to several of the places I wanted to visit, in addition to being clean, comfortable and serviceable, and – at a mere $50US a night – probably the best bargain in the center of town.

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, where we were joined by Sara and Carlos, the couple who founded and direct CIDEHUM. I had a very nice mole poblano de guajolote (guajolote is the common term for ‘turkey’ in México, and yes, it carries the same derogatory connotation here that the English word has in the States…), and we talked about plans for the next day. We decided that they’d pick me up fairly early for a trip to Tula, so after they left I resisted the temptation to wander a bit by myself, and went to bed instead.

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