Updates: Sacred Paths Center, James Arthur Ray, The Winnemem Wintu, and Harry Potter

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 10, 2011 — 24 Comments

This Sunday, I have updates on some previously reported stories.

Sacred Paths Center’s Fiscal Crisis: As I reported on FridaySacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), sent out a message that they were in dire fiscal straits and needed over 7000 dollars immediately if they were to avoid closure. Now one of the SPC’s board members, CJ Stone, has been interviewed by PNC-Minnesota about the situation.

“We were working from a membership model. A Pagan Community Center has been the dream of several Twin Cities groups, working for the past thirteen years. You would think if the idea of a Pagan Community Center, supported by members, was possible, it would have happened by now. Thirteen years is a long time. When Teisha (Center Executive Director) said , “We have a problem, we have to solve it”, we finally asked, “Are we even using the right model?”

The answer is NO. We have already gotten the members we are likely to get. Even with a tremendous response, say 500 members, it would be barely enough. We just can’t do it. We made the mistake thinking the members would support it. We learned you can’t support a Pagan Community Center just on membership, at least not without years of work to build it up. We just have a month. We need some big donations now, to get off the membership model as a primary source of income, and continue. Then we can get on to better retail, more targeted retail, better service to our teachers and students. Finding a community that needs what we have got, and then serving it clearly and directly.”

The SPC board has estimated that they have to raise $7,500 immediately, and $12,000 by the end of July to remain open and viable for the longer term. So far 20% of their goal has been raised, this includes matching funds from an anonymous donor. We’ll keep you posted on this story as it develops.

James Arthur Ray Aftermath: After the negligent homicide convictions for New Age guru James Arthur Ray, Mitch Horowitz, author of “Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation,” ponders whether we should regulate retreats and rituals. While Horowitz acknowledges that Ray-inspired regulations “could be valuable,” he ultimately opposes government intervention.

The public should be alert to such situations—but not at the expense of the free exercise of spiritual experiment that has long characterized our religious culture. When considering crackdowns on ersatz sweat lodges or extreme rites, Americans ought to take guidance from what Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote in 1944: “The price of freedom of religion . . . is that we must put up with, and even pay for, a good deal of rubbish.”

Horowitz endorses better education, something the new not-for-profit organization, SEEK, (Self-help Empowerment through Education and Knowledge), endeavors to do. Meanwhile, the story of Ray’s deadly sweat lodge ritual doesn’t seem to be going away, the Guardian just did a lengthy write-up about Ray, anti-Ray activists (and cult observers) are not letting him slip out of the spotlight, and you can bet there will be appeals once he’s been sentenced.

Winnemem Wintu Postpone Coming of Age Ceremony: Back in April I mentioned that the Winnemem Wintu Tribe in Northern California was coordinating a petition drive to close a small section of the McCloud River so they can hold their coming-of-age ceremony in peace. In previous years a “voluntary closure” was ignored by local power-boaters who shouted racist and threatening epithets at the Tribe. Now, the Winnemem Wintu have decided to postpone this year’s coming of age ceremony because the US Forest Service refuses to enforce a mandatory closure.

“For more than five years, we’ve asked the Forest Service to enforce a mandatory river closure for the ceremony’s four days in order to give us the peace and privacy we need for a good ceremony. They have continually refused to honor this request, even though it is within their power to close the river. Because Marisa is the young woman training to be the next leader, our Chief decided the risk was too great and the indignity of holding a ceremony without complete privacy could no longer be tolerated.”

The Winnemem are planning to try again for a mandatory closure next year, and are considering filing a complaint with the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. You can keep up with this story by following the tribe’s Facebook page, and their blog dedicated to this issue.

Harry Potter and Witchcraft: Over the years I’ve looked at conservative Christian responses to the ever-popular Harry Potter books and movies. How they “glamorize the power of evil,” inspiring opposition that bordered on parody. Even the Bush administration worried over the demonic powers of Harry. But it looks like the great battles over Harry Potter seducing children into the practice of Witchcraft have finally burnt out, with former critics starting to admit they might have overreacted a bit.

“William Brown, president of Cedarville University, an evangelical college east of Dayton in Greene County, agreed that Christians’ opinions of Harry Potter have changed. “The world did not come apart and children did not immediately become witches and warlocks because of Harry Potter,” he said.”

That’s a big admission from an evangelical heavyweight. It really shows how the oxygen has gone out of this issue (author JK Rowling essentially admitting it’s a Christian allegory probably helped). Not that there won’t continue to be those who find it evil, but the Harry Potter culture war may finally be ending.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Good gods, is it that expensive to live in Paganistan? Twelve large is more than my mortgage and electric for a year on a large farmstead. Would surely like to take a peek at the Pagan community center’s books.

    • Checking their Web site and Google maps, they appear to be running out of a storefront in the downtown St. Paul area, a few miles east of the U of Minnesota campus. If those rents are anything like the ones in Ann Arbor ($16.74 per sq. ft. per year for retail space: http://www.loopnet.com/Ann-Arbor_Michigan_Market-Trends ) then they can burn through $12000 pretty quickly. Rule of thumb: farmland costs less than busy downtown retail space. >8)

      • Then they should re-locate to a farm.

        • But then the people who don’t pay the bills would whine about how far away it is and how it’s not accessible via public transit and the organizers will treat this like it is a deal-breaking issue.

          I’ve seen it happen with PPDs around the country, very annoying that the idea of having Pagan stuff in a somewhat natural surrounding is such a bad idea for many who identify as Wiccan. I could understand it if it was a Hellenic or some other faith path that does not have nature worship woven throughout it, but yeah – this makes my head explode, figuratively speaking of course.

          • But realistically, being both in an urban area and near a college campus, isn’t it likely that many of the people they’ve been serving don’t have cars? I know I just spent four years not being able to attend any event that wasn’t on a bus line. Granted, this doesn’t mean their current location can be made viable, but moving to cheaper climes may be harder still.

          • Good idea, college students usually have disposable income but are often lacking in 4-wheel transportation.

            Not sure what things are like in Paganistan, but in small towns, Colleges will often run their own bus lines that go to the outskirts of town, allowing for some strategic planning of location. The downfall would be that those bus lines often quit running around 8pm.

          • Keep in mind that this is also Minnesota we’re talking about. Being in the city means that the roads get clear of snow in a reasonable time. Being out in the country would mean that the center could be inaccessible a significant portion of the year, which would significantly hamper year-round usability. 😉

          • Cleirach

            I know and frequent the area. It’s off the main street and it’s not in the “Prime” retail area. Saying that, the rents there are not what I’d call inexpensive. We’ve had several Pagan stores close down because they couldn’t take in the money to pay all the bills – and non of these were in prime spots either.

            UofM (The main college here) does not have it’s own bus service, in fact, the bus service to outlying areas (which are cheaper to rent space) is pretty much horrendous – with more cuts expected in the service.

            For all the talk about the community of ‘Paganistan’ (a reference I use only when I have to) we seem to not be able to support the Pagan stores in the long term

            Cleirach in Minneapolis/St Paul

          • I thought we were talking about Minnesota, not Pennsylvania – jk.

            Would a place along a main artery on the outskirts of town be practical? Or is that also like Pennsylvania where basically nothing gets plowed.

  • The story about the tribe wanting to use the river in privacy really gets to me. Not only do I know just what it’s like to have my sacred rituals intruded upon by ignorant outsiders (since I do most of them outdoors, and have no private land of my own), but it’s much worse in this case since the land should rightfully be theirs to begin with. Certainly we could at least let them have four measly days of privacy, and let the motorboaters have the other 361 days of the year for their noisy, polluting recreational habits.

    • Grimmorrigan

      “Come on buy into the myth of Progress. Take off your headdress and zoom around a river in a speed boat. Who cares if you can see where your going so long as your reading one of Barton’s books.
      History things keep getting better!”

      Whew got that out of my system. Going to take a shower and use some “crying Game” mouth wash to get that taste out.

    • The man in the iron mask

      I’d agree on first view it seems reasonable. The problem is that if those four days are the only days you have vacation time and can be there, you’d be pretty annoyed that it was closed down.

      From watching the video it seems that local law enforcement did in fact close down the river when the girl was actually swimming across the river.

      That tells me that perhaps they’re expecting too much and the powers that be gave them what they needed as opposed to what they wanted.

  • Elnigma

    So wait, is it 20K they need to raise?

    • No, 12 total. 7.5 now, 12 by the end of the month.

      • Elnigma

        Okay, thanks

  • T

    I honestly find it amazing that a place like the Sacred Path Center can remain open. Asking for that kind of money on a regular basis is really putting a burden on a small community…and if the Center needs to rely on donations from outside of the community maybe the Center needs to rethink it’s intention.

  • The “membership model” may not work the way Pagans have done it, but it sure works for Christians. Churches are founded in storefronts all the time, and while many fail, many others succeed, and thrive. Passing the offering plate, or bucket, or whatever, may seem out of character for Paganism, just like membership itself, but these models DO WORK for creating religious communities, if the message is tight, clearly presented, and resonates powerfully with those who need to hear it.

    I have no knowledge of this group other than a brief visit just now to their website. But the concepts of “Vague” and “be all things to all people” doesn’t work in business or in religion, but Pagans seem to embrace Vagueness as an unwritten Creed.

  • Anonymous

    a.) Like Mitch Horowitz, I value chance-taking and intentional experimentation on one’s spiritual journey and paranormal poking around. More than express community or state regulation. Frankly, I think that, if spiritual police are present, the deities and guardians will just not show up.

    b.) All in all, I think that the U.S. Forest Service should close off that region of Lake Shasta to the benefit of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. No matter the difficulties on the Forest Service or other, probably recreational, lake users. Even if it establishes that tribe as especially privileged lake users. Because they represent the indigenous peoples, and we do not.

    I would not, however, support the closure of a lake region for the religious or devotional use of any lake users who do not represent indigenous peoples. No special baptism beaches or temporary aquatic zones or anything like that.

    (It’s not certain to me after a brief search whether Lake Shasta closes any areas or water for secular recreational uses, such as boat races or water skiing competitions. But I have dim recollections of such closings in the past.)

  • Due to the refusal of the Forest Service to close down that section of the water during the ceremony, last year’s Winnemem Wintu rite of passage was protected by Native activists going there and holding the line against any intruders.

    Due to the racist and misogynist aggression in past years, activists were prepared for possible ugliness. They set up a support camp and women and men formed a loose blockade to stop intruders. Friends of mine who were on-site holding the line say it actually went well. There were fewer attempted intrusions than they expected, and the outsiders who started to wander in were surprisingly open to engaging in a calm discussion about why they should stay away during the ceremony. There were no fights or violence. I am very proud of them for protecting the ceremony, the sacred site, and the young women undergoing their rite of passage.

    However, if there is to be the option of using the sacred site every year, the Forest Service must comply, and the courts will probably have to help. The small number of committed activists who have the time, energy, and physical ability to hold the line do not have the resources to organize an encampment every year. The land where the ceremony is held was originally lost in an agreement that said the tribe would always be able to return every year for their ceremonies; obviously this agreement has been routinely violated by the Forest Service and the courts.

    • Charles Cosimano

      Well, appealing to the UN is certainly not going to help them. That is red meat for their opponents and a certain kiss of death for the tribe’s efforts.

  • Anonymous

    Since leasing real estate isn’t financially in the cards for them. What I’d suggest is to purchase a large older motorhome and use that as their center.

    Find a place to park it near where they’re currently located to keep it. Insurance for a motorhome is fairly inexpensive especially when you’re not driving it.

    • Well that would solve the “where to put it” problem we’re discussing in a thread above – just move it around seasonally. Call it the Pagan-mobile or something snazzy, maybe get some local artists to paint ‘er up.

      Sure, the upfront cost could be high, but if you’re buying used, you may be able to get a decent deal – just use it creatively. Not exactly a place to hold ritual, but certainly a place classes or business could take place.

      Not sure that’s what they’re going for but it’s an idea for those of us considering making our own centers in the future to ponder over.

      • Anonymous

        Old RVs can be had quite cheaply. 30+ footer for under $5000 for a twenty plus year old model. Fall or early Winter the time to buy.

        I’d recommend NOT turning into a mural. Keep it very conservative. Don’t piss off the neighbors. A simple sign in no more than 12″ letters should suffice.

        See if it can be kept in the far end of a Home Dept or a Walmart parking lot. Offer to police the area of trash and garbage and to take care of the plantings for them if they have them.

  • Rua Lupa

    For the situation concerning the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, are they on public land or private? If they are on their own land (as is currently legally outlined), they could have their own police force enforce the peace. As it is, if they are making threats, the local police should be involved in charging those people.

    Does it have to be that very river or is there a more secluded river that would better serve their purpose? It maddens me that anyone one would be so rude, but through discussion it was brought to light that to have the Forest Service close it off it would in truth be special treatment that no other group would get if they had made a the same request. I just hope that their youth are able to have their ceremony without any more postponing or rude interruptions.