Folklore, History & the Study of Myth

The Writings of Gary R. Varner

Healing Relationships with Indigenous Persons

Learning From the Past, Living Into The Act of Repentance

 NEW YORK, N.Y. – Is an act of repentance by United Methodists for the treatment of  indigenous people a waste of time?

 That question was posed early on by Bishop Melvin G. Talbert as an advisory group began to plan for a mandated act of “Healing Relationships with Indigenous Persons” at the 2012 General Conference.  The denomination’s top-legislative body of nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world will meet in Tampa, Fla., in April. The Act of Repentance is scheduled for April 27.

 At the earliest meetings of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns General Secretary’s Advisory Council on the 2012 General Conference Act of Repentance Talbert expressed concern that an Act of Repentance might be an unproductive use of time, based on past experiences.

 “I participated in Acts of Repentance in 2000 and 2004 dealing with African Americans and racism,” said Talbert.  “I felt like the experience was just a show.  When the General Conferences were over the issue was put on the shelf and it was business as usual.”

 However, as plans have progressed, Talbert has concluded that such an event for indigenous peoples, including Native Americans, should not be delayed.  “I came to the realization that maybe this is the right time,” he said.  “We can’t simply wait until we are all ready.  We could be waiting a long time.  Our Native brothers and sisters deserve better.”

 The Rev. Stephen Sidorak, staff executive for the GCCUIC, agrees that now is the time for the healing process to begin.  “The United Methodist Church is being called to confession.  We need to own up to our part in history and work toward a demonstrable denominational contrition for our collective responsibility.  It’s the only way to move forward.”

Sidorak points to denominational support of the Sand Creek Massacre National Site Research and Learning Center in Colorado as one example of how an Act of Repentance can move from words to action.  “The United Methodist Church has a shocking connection to Sand Creek,” Sidorak explains.  On November 29, 1864, Colonel John Chivington, a Methodist clergyman, led the attack on a Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment along the banks of Sand Creek.  At least 165 were killed, mostly women, children and the elderly.

 The United Methodist Church has committed $125,000 to the center which will be matched, thereby providing a quarter-million dollars in seed money.  The donation will go towards research materials as well as tools needed to set up "virtual" connections between the Center and other institutions, including United Methodist-related Iliff School of Theology, tribal colleges in Oklahoma, Montana and Wyoming, and the extensive archives, libraries, and museums that house the Sand Creek Massacre research materials.

 With Talbert’s concern at the forefront of the planning process, the GCCUIC governing board and staff are taking a resolution to the 2012 General Conference titled, “Trail of Repentance and Healing.”  The resolution includes a request for $325,000 to ensure credible church-wide follow-up. The Council of Bishops will be asked to direct the implementation of the resolution.  One provision in the proposal asks that land and property be transferred to “an indigenous community,” as described in Paragraph 2547.2 of the church’s Book of Discipline.  The paragraph currently gives guidance to deeding church property to other denominations represented in the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union or to another evangelical denomination. 

 “The goal of the proposed resolution is to make sure the Act of Repentance will be followed with tangible results,” said Sidorak. 

 Talbert says he hopes that when the Tampa conference concludes the bishops of the church will be committed to giving visible leadership to the Act of Repentance in their respective areas.  “I also hope the delegates will carry that commitment with them and begin the process of healing in their own communities.”

 In preparation for Act of Repentance event in Tampa, the GCCUIC has held nearly two dozen listening sessions with indigenous people in the United States and two in regional conferences outside the United States.

 To help prepare United Methodists for the Act of Repentance the GCCUIC will be publishing commentaries and stories in the months leading up to the General Conference.  A study resource will also be made available.  For  more information about the Act of Repentance, visit .

The General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Affairs is a general agency of The United Methodist Church that “engages and works with other Christian denominations toward greater visibility of our essential unity in Jesus Christ; it also works toward better interreligious relationships with all of God’s children.”




Statement on Murder of Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, January 4, 2011

CONTACT: Brenda Bowser Soder, 202-370-3323,

Statement on Murder of Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer

Washington, DC - Today, following news that Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, Pakistan and a member of the nation's ruling Pakistan People's Party, was allegedly murdered by a member of his security team as a result of his opposition to blasphemy laws, Human Rights First's Tad Stahnke issued the following statement:

"The murder of Governor Salman Taseer is the most recent illustration of how deadly the debate over blasphemy laws has become. After speaking out against the proposed death sentence of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, Taseer was allegedly killed by one of his guards.

Despite the demands of religious extremists, Pakistan's government should make clear their commitment to amend laws that promote religious intolerance and perpetuate prejudice. Officials should also punish the person responsible for this disturbing crime to send a clear signal that such acts will not be tolerated.

As illustrated by the recent vote in the General Assembly, the world community is increasingly rejecting the concept of a global blasphemy law and will have an opportunity to vote against that concept once again in March when the Human Rights Council meets.

The Ancient Celebration of Norouz

Iranian-Peoples And The Persianate Societies Celebrate The Ancient Iranian Celebration of Norouz


20 March 2010



Noruz1389.PNG (861959 bytes)


LONDON, (CAIS) -- Today the Earth enters the spring equinox and Iranians all over the world, irrespective of their religious creed or ethnicity, celebrate Norouz which lasts thirteen days according to the millennia-old Iranian tradition. 


For Iranian peoples Norouz (also, Noruz, Nowruz, Nevruz, Newruz, Navruz) which literally (in Persian) means the 'dawn of a new day' is considered to be the most important celebration of the year; it is the greatest symbol of Iranian cultural and national identity, which has outlived all adversities and adversaries.[1][1]


Today Iranian celebration of Norouz is celebrated not only in Iran, but also in former Iranian territories, known as the Greater-Iran or the Persianate-Societies[2][2], including, Armenia, Arran (nowadays the Republic of Azerbaijan), Afghanistan, Bahrain, Dubai, Georgia, Iraq, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Norouz tradition has also been stretched beyond Iran’s cultural sphere and it is now celebrated by many non-Iranians in the Middle East, Crimea and the Balkan Peninsula.


“Iranian oral tradition takes Norouz as far back as 15,000 years ago, before the last ice age. Pre-historic and mythical Iranian King Jamshid (Avestan Yima) is said to be the person who introduced Norouz celebrations to symbolise the transition of the proto-Indo-Iranians from hunter gathering to pastoralism. The Historians however, believe the celebration began circa 3,700 years ago with the prophet Zarathushtra and his Divine revelation (daenā).[3][3]  


Some twelfth centuries later, in 487 BCE, Darius the Great of the second Iranian dynasty, the Achaemenids (550-330 BCE) celebrated Norouz at his newly built ceremonial capital, the Persepolis. Recent research shows that the Persepolis was built not only as the seat of government for the Achaemenid kings, but also as a center for receptions and ceremonial festivities especially Norouz,[4][4] since it was the place the Achaemenid emperors received gifts on Norouz from his subjects from all over the Persian Empire. The walls of the great royal palace depict scenes of the celebrations.”[5][5]


Iranians under the Parthian dynasty (248 BCE - 224 CE) continued celebrating Norouz but we do not know the details -- it should have, more or less, followed the Achaemenid pattern.  During the Sasanian dynasty (224-651 CE), preparations began at least twenty five days before Norouz.  Twelve pillars of mud-bricks, each dedicated to one month of the year were erected in the imperial court.  Various vegetable seeds--wheat, barley, lentils, beans, and others--were sown on top of the pillars, they grew into luxurious greens by the New Years Day. The pillars were removed on the 16th day and the festival came to a close.  The occasion was celebrated on a lower level by all peoples throughout the empire.”[6][6] Since then, the peoples of the Iranian culture, whether Zoroastrian, Jews, Christians, Muslims or other faiths have celebrated Norouz precisely at the time of vernal equinox, the first day of the first month of Farvardin (on about March 20/21).[7][7]


After the Arab conquest of Iran in 7th century a new ritual, a mixture of old and new traditions added to the New Year ritual known as Chahār Shanbeh Suri, which is celebrated on the Tuesday night (continues to Wednesday) of before Noruz. A bonfire is prepared to celebrate Chahār Shanbeh Suri, ‘Ember Wednesday’. People of all ages jump over the fire yelling, "Sorkhi-ye to az man; Zardi-ye man az to" (give me your red colour; and take back my sickly pallor), representing the bad fortune being left behind and destroyed by the fire, and prosperity and happiness for the New Year brought by the fire's light, warmth and cleansing power. However, holiday preparations began fifteen days ago with the planting of vegetable seeds in a shallow bowl so the there is several inches of green for the celebration. The family cleans the house wearing new clothes to symbolise purification and the dawning of a new life.[8][8]


On the night of Norouz the family gathers around Norouz table known as haft-seen, which "is prepared with seven objects with the letter 'S' from the Persian alphabet. Apart from seven ‘S’s, number of other items are placed on the spread including a holy scripture revered by the family, or Persian poetry such as Shāhnāmeh (the Book of Kings) and Divān-e Hāfez”[9][9], hard-boiled decorated eggs, a Mirror with lit candles as a symbol of fire and live gold fish in a fish bowl. In the old days they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them.[10][10] 


Traditionally the Norouz table was consisted of not seven 'S's, but essential items as the reflections of the pastoral and sedentary conditions of ancient Iranian peoples and their beliefs, especially with regard to the Zoroastrian Amesha Spentas. With the widespread of the Zoroastrian religion and the belief that the souls of the departed would come down to earth and partake in the table was behind the preparation for Norouz Table on the eve of celebration.[11][11] Therefore the essential items for Norouz spread were:[12][12]

Eggs (tokhm / Tokhm-e Morgh) symbolising people (mardom, from *martiya tauxman- 'mortal seed' (in the town of Khur va Biyabanak, in Isfahan province, eggs are placed under the bench prepared for the bride with the hope that she may bear children and point to the Creator);

Milk (Shīr) represents the cattle and Vohu Manah/Bahman (the Good-Mind). The mental capacity to comprehend Asha, to understand the nature of our actual world, and recognise the resulting disparity between the ideal and the real. It is thus the instrument of moral cognition.

Candles (Ātash) purifying fire and Asha Vahishtā/Ordibehesht (the Highest/Best Truth, also the Highest form of Righteousness). This Truth describes how the World ought to be in its ideal form. Consequently, the intention to actualise it is 'Righteous Intention', and action according to it the highest form of Righteousness.

Coins symbolise wealth, prosperity and Khshathra vairya/Shahrivar (the Ideal Dominion). It is the ideal social (and political) structure of the human world. In human terms, we may call it the ideal society. In theological terms, it is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Hyacinth (Sonbol) represents both Haurvatāt/Kordād and Ameretāt/(A)Mordād (the state of Immortal Blissas) as do the water.

Musk willow (Bīd Meshk/Moshk) represents Spenta Ārmaiti/Spandārmaz (the Holy Attitude), as does the Wild-Rue (Sepand/Esfand), which has kept part of her name -- theologically, it is the attitude of Piety toward the Source of Being and the Ultimate Truth; Ethically, it is the attitude of Benevolence, a concern for the Good. It is characterised as Right-Mindedness. Musk willow (Salix Aegyptica) is one of the first willows to come out of winter hibernation showing off its large yellow catkins.

Garlic (Sīr) according to Zoroastrian traditions it possesses one thousand remedies and even ten thousand remedies may be indicated. It was so esteemed by the Iranians as a medicine and a means of warding off the evil eye and demonic power, that the Persians named one of their months thāigarchi- 'Month of garlic'.

Samanu, which is mixed with rain-water is absolutely essential for the sofra and is considered so powerful an aphrodisiac that some call it "the strength of the patriarch", it must also be attributed to the deity Anâhid because it is generally prepared only by women, who while stirring the cooking mixture make wishes that they may get good husbands or fine children. Furthermore, since Safavid times and the rise of Shia Islam in Iran, the dish is prepared as an offering in the name of the Fâtema-ye Zahrā-ye ma´sūm "Fāteme the infallible Zahrā" (Zahrā is also the Planet Venus/Anāhid).

Fish (Māhī) in the vase, symbolises the Kara Mâhi, which swims in the Vourukasha sea and wards off harmful creatures.

Sprouts (Sabzeh and the Sabzi-Khordan) represents Haurvatat (the state of complete Well-being, physical and spiritual integrity). In its full form it is a state of perfection on earth.


Also, during vernal equinox the elder members of family were reciting from the Holy Avesta, which is communication from the Divinity and the acceptance of the Creator, and obedience (Saroshā)[13][13].

The essential objects of the Norouz table however are very ancient and meaningful, while the idea of the haft sin having seven items starting with 'S' is recent and the result of popular fancy tastefully developed into this pleasant ritual:[14][14] (the number of the items however can be higher than seven)

Serkeh (vinegar);

Somaq (sumac);

Sir (garlic);

Samanu (a sweetish paste);

Sib (apple);

Senjed (the dry fruit of the jujube-tree);

Sabzeh (sprouts);

Sekkeh (coins);

Sonbol (hyacinth);



The whole table which energises and involves all our senses symbolises all that is Good: truth, health, light, justice, reflection, warmth, life, love, happiness, production, prosperity, virtue, immortality, generosity, and nature.[15][15]


The Sabza (sprouts) are kept until Sizda-bedar, the 13th day of the New Year when families picnic out in the nature. It is on that day that the Sabza should be thrown in flowing water (symbolises Ābān) so that lethargy, lassitude and wariness are washed away.[16][16][17] 


"This day inaugurates a happy New Year. Friends and neighbors usually organize a picnic in the countryside at which noodle soup or dishes of rice in sauce are eaten. People go and see the streams and rivers swollen with melted snow. The young play traditional games and sports, and the girls weave together fresh herbs, singing as they do so in a low voice: "The  thirteenth day, next year, at my husband's, a baby in my armsl" (Sizdah bedar - sāle degar - khāne-ye shohar – bacheh baghal). No conflict should be initiated on that day."[18][17]


"In all the rites of Norouz there is one constantly recurring feature: the conflict between light and darkness. It is no coincidence that legend should attribute the invention of this feast to Jamshid, the legendary king and divine heroe who triumphed over the forces of darkness."[19][18]


Vernal Equinox for Norouz 3748 ZRE (Zoroastrian Religious Era)[20][1[1]9] / 2569 Imperial / 1389 Khorshidi

Tehran Saturday, March 20, 2010  09:02:00 PM

London: Saturday, March 20, 2010  05:32:00 AM

Los Angeles Saturday, March 20, 2010  10:32:00 AM

Berlin, Paris & Rome Saturday, March 20, 2010 06:32:00 PM


A Very Happy Norouz to all & may the Norouz bring happiness & peace to people around the globe; as the saying in Persian goes: "har rūzetān norūz bād" (May your everyday be Norouz).

Religious Leaders Can Create Peace or Conflict


Middle East Peace Process Lagging

Expert Says There Will Be No Peace Accord Unless
Religious Leaders Are Part of the Process


If not now, when?


That was the question posed to President Barack Obama by Jordan ’s King Abdullah, who met with the President in Washington last week.


He warned that unless headway was achieved in the dormant peace process, the Middle East could be heading toward renewed open conflict. Speaking to a group of Washington diplomats, pundits, politicians and journalists, the Jordanian monarch said he was truly worried by the prevailing trend developing in his region.


"I do not want to talk about missed opportunities," King Abdullah said. "I want to focus on the urgency of not missing any more."


But the opportunity will surely be missed, according to one expert, if religious leaders are excluded from the dialogue.


“No peace accord will work, regardless of who signs it, if the religious leaders of the region aren’t included in the process,” said Arkady Povzikov, author of The Thirteenth Apostle, Langdon Street Press ( “Political leaders may make policy, but the religious leaders hold the hearts and minds of the people. Palestinian political leaders struggle to keep their more militant factions dormant during cease fires, because their religious leaders are busy stoking the fire.”


In regions so dramatically divided along religious lines, it logically follows that it’s religious leaders – not diplomats – would be the most effective brokers of peace, Povzikov added. However, those who practice other religions have their own lists of how the world would be a perfect place if the other religions would fall in line behind theirs. 


“The sad irony is that Christians tend to think that if only Islam would shed its more radical elements and gravitate to a more moderate position, perhaps the major problems of the world could be solved. In the meantime, the more radical elements of Islam won’t stop until the world sees their view. It becomes a game of ‘my God is better than your God,’ and no one wins.”


Povzikov said that the radical elements of each religion make up a relatively insignificant population, and these elements are not traditionally respected by the mainstream of each culture.


“Think of it like this: Islam is to Islamic extremists as Christianity is to the Ku Klux Klan,” Povzikov said. “No mainstream Christian family believes in lynchings and racism the same way that no mainstream Islamic family believes in terrorism and destruction. So, if we believe the same things in our own cultures, why can’t we work together to solve our global problems? Everybody thinks their religion is the One,” Povzikov said.  “But if the religions of the world would agree to tackle serious world problems together, you could bring millions of hearts, hands and minds together to find a solution.”


At the end of the day, Povzikov believes that any lasting peace must include the participation of religious leaders.


“Any true campaign for peace in many of the troubled regions of the world must include a seat at the table for religious leaders, but it cannot be a stage for them to spout the same old demagoguery and hatred,” Povzikov said. “We must remember that it is only the extremists who advocate violence, and that the millions of followers of Islam and other non-Christian religions favor peaceful coexistence to violence and chaos. If we can gather leaders from both the spiritual and political elements of these countries, we may have the first real chance for peace that these regions have seen in a thousand years.”


About Arkady Povzikov


Povzikov was born in Leningrad in the former Soviet Union .  After studying economics, he immigrated to Canada in 1973.  After graduating from high school and the Industrial College he served in the Soviet Army. In1987 Arkady began writing his first novel Goodbye to the Nevsky, a fiction based novel that told the story of his own unique experiences in life, and it was published in 1991. Arkady’s second novel The Purpose was published in 2005. His third and most recent novel The Thirteenth Apostle was published in May 2008 through Langdon Street Press.


To interview Arkady Povzikov, or request a review copy of “The Thirteenth Apostle “contact Rachel Friedman at (727) 443-7115 ext. 206 or email  Please include your name, publication, and mailing address with your request.


Rachel Friedman
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News and Experts
1127 Grove Street · Clearwater, Florida 33755
Phone: 727-443-7115 ext. 206