Maetreum of Cybele Win Tax Fight

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 23, 2013 — 27 Comments

The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, which has been in an ongoing battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, over religious property tax exemptions, was today vindicated in their multi-year struggle when a State Supreme Court ruling against them on this issue was overturned on appeal. The decision, which was issued on Thursday by the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Divsion, says the religious organization “satisfied the legal requirements in order to receive a real property tax exemption.”

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“The testimony established that the Cybeline Revival stresses communal living among its adherents, as well as providing hospitality and charity to those in need, and the members consider this property the home of their faith […] They also conduct religious and charitable activities throughout the property on a regular basis. Accordingly, petitioner has satisfied the legal requirements in order to receive a real property tax exemption for 2009, 2010 and 2011 […] Lahtinen, J.P., Spain and Egan Jr., JJ., concur. ORDERED that the order is reversed, on the law, with costs, petitions granted, and determinations of the Board of Assessment Review for the Town of Catskill denying petitioner’s applications for real property tax exemptions for 2009, 2010 and 2011 annulled.”

This is a huge reversal of fortune for the Maetreum, which has been fought relentlessly by the Town of Catskill on this issue. By the Maetreum’s estimate, the town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, and when the initial Supreme Court victory was handed down to them last year, their lawyer crowed to local press that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” Even some Pagans were skeptical of the Maetreum’s chances after that decision, but the Maetreum of Cybele were determined to fight on, and with some fiscal help from the larger Pagan community, they moved forward with their appeal. Now that the appeal has been won, Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine from the Maetreum of Cybele issued the following statement:

Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine from the Maetreum of Cybele.

Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine

“The Maetreum would like to thank the greater Pagan community for the spiritual and financial help to win this case. It is truly a win for all minority religions setting forth the standard that we Pagans are to be treated in law the same as the so called mainstream religions.

Throughout this battle we at the Maetreum of Cybele have kept doing our charitable works and recently have applied for a low power FM radio license to further serve our community with true community radio. If we recover our costs that money will go towards further green projects at the Maetreum, continued charitable housing, funding the community radio station and setting up a local food pantry.

The lessons from this battle are keep true to your beliefs and values and never give up even when it looks rocky.”

Rev. Platine, speaking with Terence P Ward at Witches & Pagans Magazine, elaborated on her formal statement, saying that the most important aspect of this win is the ability to, quote, “just go back to our religious work.” 

“If they were trying to erase us, they did exactly the opposite.  Cybele is back in Neopaganism now, as well as ancient paganism.  It will be hard to write about Paganism now, and not include us.  That was part of the larger purpose.”

This property tax win, as Rev. Platine intimates, is not only a win for the Maetreum, but for all religious minorities, especially Pagan organizations making their first forays into building a lasting infrastructure of buildings and services. Whatever our tradition or beliefs, our interconnected community owes the Maetreum our thanks for fighting this battle. May they now be able to truly get back to their religious work, unmolested by a local government that thought a small Pagan groups would be easy pickings. Congratulations!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Is the MoC still in the hole from legal debts? If they need the help, I’m sure at least a few of us (including myself) would be glad to send them some financial support.

    • kenofken

      A paypal link or something would be in order. I think I threw them a few bucks early on, but I had to admit I thought they were pretty well toast more recently, and I’m glad to be proven wrong. This should teach us all something of the power of cooperation. When fights like this come up, we should have a tradition of pouring resources into local battles with the expectation that the same would come to us in a time of true need.

  • Dana Eilers

    Thank you for linking my well researched and skeptical legal article and legal analysis here, Jason. I remain skeptical.

    • If you please, of what are you skeptical? (I did read your article, but still I ask, especially in light of the positive Appellate decision.)

  • Genexs

    Congrats! What extreme good news.

  • Viktoria Whittaker

    Jason, thank you so much for your support over the years. Right now, I am having difficulty putting my feelings into words what finally achieving this victory feels like after all the years of hard work, anxiety and sleepless nights. All I can say is thank you to you and all of the other people who supported us and believed in us over the years. As Cathryn said, right now we all look forward to just doing our work and carrying forward with continuing our mission as well as planned future projects of a food pantry and community low power radio station.

  • Freeman

    I’m glad I saw Dana Eilers’s analysis of the case as it stood before the appeal. This will help others in the same position, even in other jurisdictions, to know what to do and what to document to stay out of multi-year battles like this.

    That said, congratulations to the Maetreum, and *what a relief*!

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    A stunning and well-deserved victory for Paganism and for religious freedom in general! I have no idea what motivated the town to put such resources into squashing an independent religious community, but I hope they have learned a long-lasting lesson.

  • Crystal Hope Kendrick

    I am very happy and relieved. Congratulations to the Maetreum of Cybele.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    Even I had thought they had a lost cause. Thank goodness they did not feel the same and they put up one hell of fight. This has got to be one of the hardest fights that any Pagan group has had in recent years and I give them full credit for sticking with it to they won.

    • Viktoria Whittaker

      Thanks, Christopher. It was a very long and hard fight.

      • ChristopherBlackwell

        I know it was a long fight. Many would have given up a long time ago. So it took guts to continue after so many disappointments.

  • Raksha38

    What fantastic news! I wish they’d never had to have this fight in the first place, but hopefully after such a costly loss for their opponents (seriously, hundreds of thousands spent to deny citizens their rights under the law? You really had nothing better to spend that on?) maybe other counties will think twice before trying to repeat this idiocy.

  • mamiel

    So glad they won this! That said, I have strong feelings about letting non-polytheists see us polytheists dressed in elaborate robes and such. Her photo makes it look like the Maetreum is a RPG (which I know it isn’t!). Can we work on the way we present ourselves as a religious minority to majority culture in a more dignified way to gain the respect we deserve?

    • Nobody tells the Catholics to stop dressing their priests in robes….so I likewise think it out of order to tell pagans not to show their ritual wear. And I am very relieved that they won; but getting the respect of the dominant paradigm should not involved hiding who we are any more than it should involved any other kind of “closeting” to be allowed to live out loud.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Whilst I agree with the principle, you will find that Christian priests (notably Cathoic and CofE, that I am aware of) have two ‘uniforms’. They have their daily uniform – shirt and dog collar. Then they have their cassocks, stoles, etcetera for ritual services.

        Mind you, they have the benefits of organisation on their side.

        • That they do, lol. But then, as I’ve often noted with the press? IF they can find a photo that makes a person look peculiar, they WILL preferentially use that one; one can only self-censor one’s dress and action so much therefore, without ending up back in a closet of some kind.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            They only look peculiar because they are seldom seen.

          • Good point!

      • mamiel

        I don’t care if people want to wear robes, can we please keep photos of ourselves in robes away from the mainstream press? Did you see the way the NY press used photos of Dan Halloran in ritual gear? It set back the public image of Heathenry by making it look like some kind of Ren Faire activity instead of religion. Yes, we should have the right to wear robes as Catholic priests do. And yes, we look silly to the general public when we do. These are both truths.

        • Crystal Hope Kendrick

          And you don’t think the Catholic robes look ridiculous? We’re just accustomed to them. If we had never seen a priest or a cardinal before we’d be laughing our socks off, not to mention the klannish looking high regalia they don for celebrations.

        • And just, precisely, how does one keep the free press from taking pictures we might not like? As long as we worry more about looking “silly” to the general public than worrying about living authentically to our beliefs, we will BE silly.

    • Genexs

      I’m only guessing, but having visited the Maetreum a couple of times, my feeling is this pic was taken during an event or ritual. And besides, the Supreme court of the State of NY just stated what the Maetreum is. As far as “the respect we deserve” is concerned, I think our community just gained a great deal of that.

      • Viktoria Whittaker

        It was actually taken at a local pagan festival called Harvest Moot that happened last August. Cath had a role in a ritual drama.

  • Cathryn Platine

    I was just told that our victory is on the front page of the New York Law Journal this morning.