Interview with Ivo Dominguez Jr. on The New Alexandrian Library Project

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 12, 2014 — 27 Comments

In recent months there have been many discussions and debates about infrastructure in the wider Pagan movement and our collective ability to see Pagan values manifested in the wider culture. In my many years covering our family of faiths I’ve seen many ambitious plans hatched regarding new institutions which have met with varying degrees of success and sustainability. It is easy, especially within a religious movement that often values decentralized grass-roots initiatives, to become skeptical about impressive-sounding plans and announcements. 

However, there’s one campaign I’m not skeptical about, that I think is a good idea. That project is the The New Alexandrian Library. It’s headed by a solid, stable, group of folks who know what they are doing, and are focused on a clear, definable, goal. I believe that initiatives like the New Alexandrian Library will be vital for preserving our past, as university and private collections won’t be sufficient to fully preserve or document our movement’s legacy. Wanting to explore what’s driving this project in a deeper fashion, I was lucky to conduct this interview with Ivo Dominguez Jr., an Elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and one of the driving forces behind this library project.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

For those who haven’t heard about this project, what is the New Alexandrian Library project, and why should Pagans care about its construction?

The New Alexandrian Library, located in southern Delaware, is in its final stages of construction. The physical structure itself is a highly durable concrete dome. It will serve as a research library, a lending library, a museum, an archive, and as a hub for the preservation and the evolution of pagan culture. Books, periodicals, newsletters, music, media, art works, artifacts, photographs, digital media, etc., will all be carefully cataloged and cross-referenced to ease the work of research and study. The Library will work to restore and to preserve rare and damaged documents. The history of our many interrelated spiritual communities will also be collected for the future.

The content of the library will also be made available via internet to the greatest extent possible (respecting copyrights, etc.) to be a resource for the entire esoteric community. The NAL will also serve as the library of record for formal esoteric religion studies at a variety of institutes of higher education including The Cherry Hill Seminary to assist them in meeting accreditation criteria. The New Alexandrian Library will be open to all, and will engage in inter-library loan with similar projects elsewhere. Some extremely rare materials will not leave the library, but will be scanned.

It is being built in a location that has the benefit of a beautiful woodland site while being a reasonable distance to many metropolitan population centers. It is about 2 1/2 hours away from Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. It is about 3 1/2 hours to New York City, 4 hours to Richmond, and 7 hours to Boston. There are also plans for on-site housing in the future.

Plans for the New Alexandrian Library

Why should Pagans care about the New Alexandrian Library? If you’re a student, a teacher, or researcher, then the NAL will be an amazing resource to further your efforts. If you want to be in the presence of art, ritual objects and books that belonged to notable figures in our history, then you will want to make a pilgrimage to the museum component of the NAL. If you care about trying to capture the memories of how our various emerging religions came into being over the last century, then you’ll be happy about all the ephemeral material that we are collecting and preserving. If you want some good news about the power of long-term commitment in our community, then the NAL could inspire you.

Can you talk a bit about the progress you’ve made so far, and how the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is managing to cover the costs of construction?

This project was announced at the Between The Worlds Conference of 2000. The 30 acres that the library sits upon was bought and paid for by members of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. There is no mortgage on the property. So far about 85% of the funds to date have been either donated by ASW members or raised through fundraising events such as workshops, conferences, the sale of chant CDs and books, etc. the rest has been through donations from individuals, organizations, and crowd-funding. We’re in phase one which is the building of the first part of the library which is a two-story concrete dome with about 3000 square feet of floor space. This is the first in a series of several buildings as it was more financially realistic to plan for adding buildings in the future rather than trying to collect enough money to build one huge structure from the outset.

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At the time of this interview the interior walls are being painted, and shortly the floors and the fixtures will be installed. Progress has been slower than we would have liked, but we have been paying as we go. Since there will be no debt to pay off, it will be easier for the project to continue in the future.

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is a Wiccan organization. Will NAL focus primarily on Wicca, or will it have a broader focus? Will it include material from other Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or Magickal groups?

We are building a library focused on the mystical and esoteric teachings of all religions with an emphasis on Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or Magickal paths in all their forms, but our mission is broader than that. We are also collecting the esoteric teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. Once the NAL is open and running we will also be creating an Advisory Board of people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests.

I know NAL recently received books and papers from Judy Harrow’s estate. What are some other notable elements in NAL’s collection at this stage? How can individuals reach out to NAL if they feel they have important papers or publications to share with your institution?

In addition to Judy Harrow’s legacy, we have received donations from Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Macha Nightmare, Katherine Kurtz, Shakmah Winddrum, and many other notables in the broader esoteric community. We also received the entire library of the Theosophical Society of Washington DC when they closed down their library. Not all of the donations are books. We have received original artwork, ritual robes, magical tools, old photographs, correspondence, newsletters, ancient Egyptian artifacts with proven provenance, jewelry, and much more.

Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki with donated Dion Fortune paintings.

Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki with donated Dion Fortune paintings.

I am particularly delighted by Dolores & Michael Ashcroft-Nowicki’s donation of four paintings of the Archangels that were created by Dion Fortune, and that once hung in her temple space. We also have many other collections promised to us in people’s wills. In the case of a death, we will always take donations now, but we have so many things in storage right now that if you can hold off a bit longer we would be grateful. As soon as we are up and running we will be very interested in receiving further donations of books and materials. Please consider naming the new Alexandrian library in your will so that your collection can serve the community when you no longer need it. Also it is often hard to predict what will be important in the future, so the ephemera, newsletters, flyers, posters, photographs, and recordings from smaller groups or lesser known individuals also need to be preserved as all these things make up the culture of our many communities.

Many Pagans are skeptical about movement towards institutions and infrastructure, could you talk a little about why they shouldn’t be skeptical of NAL? What is it that makes NAL essential?

If you have no personal need for institutions and/or infrastructure, then don’t participate in their creation. If over time you find that you are deriving benefit from the resources provided by Pagan institutions and/or infrastructure, then consider giving to them to balance the exchange. If they have no appeal for you, live and let live.

You’ve probably seen some variation of the internet meme:

Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one. Don’t like abortions? Don’t get one. Don’t like drugs? Don’t do them. Don’t like sex? Don’t have it. Don’t like your rights taken away? Don’t take away anyone else’s.

I would add: Don’t want Pagan institutions and/or infrastructure? Don’t block the way of those that do.

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the sponsor of this project, celebrated its 30th year as an organization in February 2014. This is a good long run for any kind of organization, and is quite exceptional for a Pagan organization. Community service is an important part of our group’s culture, and we fully expect and intend to be continuing our work 100 years from now. Many similar projects have failed, not for a lack of vision or need, but from a lack of organization and practicality. We were in existence as a group for 15 years before we decided to take on this project. If the skepticism about the NAL project is about continuing the funding once it’s open, then I’ll point out that we intend to continue fundraising in perpetuity, and that several individuals have already named the NAL as the beneficiary of their life insurance or their entire estates in some cases.

10156015_10152359299887410_458860695135604823_nWhat is your long term vision for this project?

Like the original Great Library of Alexandria, the schools of Qabala in medieval Spain, and the flourishing of esotericism that occurred in renaissance Italy, the diverse confluence of minds and resources would result in great leaps forward in theory and practice. There will be many conversations between people of different traditions that will result in greater intellectual vitality and new awarenesses for all. No doubt people will gather in the meditation garden, go out to lunch together, etc. The benefits of these face to face encounters are incredible. In a way, it is like an esoteric conference that never ends. The NAL will be one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance. We hope that many other similar sorts of Pagan infrastructure will be created by various groups across the globe. The benefits of this growing network of resources for future generations is incalculable.

One of the great triumphs of the original Alexandrian Library was the creation of the first card catalog (actually clay and wood tablets). I hope that one of the New Alexandrian Library’s great triumphs will be a systematization of esoteric knowledge in a comparable manner. It is now a clichéd complaint that most of the esoteric books available are basic and aimed at the mass-market. That is the nature of the publishing industry, and we should expect little more. More advanced materials are usually published by university presses and by publishing houses owned by charitable or religious institutions where profit is not the primary motive. I hope that The New Alexandrian Library will in time either directly publish such works or facilitate the bringing together of the people and groups to engage in such activities.

Finally, in a broader sense, what is your vision for Pagan institutions and infrastructure? Obviously you’d like to see NAL thrive, but in what kind of Pagan community? What are your hopes?

Self-determination and self-reliance require having your own resources. I would like to see more ritual space, workshop space, performance space, schools, gardens, and woodlands, etc. that are owned by us. There many times when it is convenient and appropriate to rent or to borrow space from friends such as the Unitarians, but it is always on their terms and within their comfort zones. I’ve also seen Pagan businesses and organizations that are doing well suddenly find themselves homeless because the owner of a facility raises the rent or simply tells them to leave. There have also been pagan library projects that have closed because they were unable to keep up with the rent, and in some cases valuable materials were pitched into the dumpster by landlord.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL's foundation.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL’s foundation.

I also think we have to get over the connotations that words like institution and infrastructure have developed in the Pagan community. A food co-op is an institution. A community garden is an institution. A campground for festivals and gatherings is infrastructure. Institutions and infrastructure need not call forth images of huge battleship gray buildings with people scurrying about like drones in a hive.

An institution is a resource designed to survive past the life or the commitment of a handful of people. When we speak of infrastructure, what we’re really talking about is solid, tangible, resources that enable and facilitate our dreams and endeavors. If fear of what something might become is reason enough to prevent its coming into being, then we might as well settle our affairs and exit planet. From my perspective, the challenge we have right now is to decide that we will take the challenge of becoming truly present in the world. Will there be corruption, abuses, errors, and failures? Yes, there will be, and that is part of the cost of the work of mending and evolving. Will there be reforms, progress, and new horizons? Yes, and we will get those by also cleaning out the inevitable muck that arises by doing the work.

Recently there were a flurry of blog posts and discussions about how successful or unsuccessful Pagans have been in having an impact on environmentalism. What I’d like to add to those discussions, is that our impact on the matters of the world are reduced if we do not have power that is grounded in tangible resources. Ideas, will, and passion can fuel individual activism, and this is a good thing. However if we do not have the resources to buy land to preserve it, to pay lobbyists, to have staffed organizations that monitor legislation, public opinion, etc., then we are missing part of what is needed to have power and presence in the world.

Let me give you another example. I was extremely involved with AIDS/HIV work in the 80s and 90s. I started as an activist, helped found an organization, and served for several years as the executive director of Delaware’s primary AIDS organization. Institutions and infrastructure were necessary to make progress, and to push back against circumstances that would take away the steps forward that had been made. There are probably a hundred and one worthy tasks and goals that can never progress past a certain point without our own institutions and infrastructure.

I hope the New Alexandrian Library will be one of the many solid institutions that encourage others to dream big and to work hard.

Contact and donation information for the New Alexandrian Library project can be found here. 

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    “If the skepticism about the NAL project is about continuing the funding once it’s open, then I’ll point out that we intend to continue fundraising in perpetuity, and that several individuals have already named the NAL as the beneficiary of their life insurance or their entire estates in some cases. ”

    This, in addition to being debt-free, is, in my humble opinion, the most important part. Getting something built is only half the battle. A clear business plan that demonstrates how operations will be funded can make the difference between building something and seeing it fold in a few years and building something and seeing it last.

    I’ll add that such a plan can also make a big difference in getting donors to open their purses. Before people commit lots of money, they want to know the project has a chance of lasting.

  • http://faoladh.blogspot.com/ C. Lee Vermeers

    I love everything about this project except one thing: the choice to build a dome as the initial building housing the collection. There are a lot of seams in such a structure which can develop leaks, requiring a lot of maintenance to keep the environment secure and the materials undamaged, which seems a waste of resources. To my way of thinking, tried and true structures would have been the way to go.

    That said, I definitely think that this project is both worthwhile and essential to the various spiritualities being served.

    • Ivo Dominguez Jr.

      This is a concrete dome so there are no seams and no shingles. Also the eye of Hurricane Sandy passed only miles away from the dome and all was well. This is a very sturdy structure and cannot be compared to the wood and shingle construction of most domes or for that matter conventional buildings.

    • Northern_Light_27

      Look up the dome-plan maker noted on the above plans– I did and came away really impressed with these structures. I’d expected energy efficiency, but hadn’t expected such remarkable anti-extreme weather qualities. It’s a smart choice for a project like this!

  • ELNIGMA

    always love hearing about their work!! Wonderful.

  • Holli Emore

    Bravo! Bravo! Well said, Ivo, about institutions. Thank you and ASW for your longrange vision and willingness to give beyond your own lifetimes. I’m so proud that NAL and you are part of my world.

  • Macha NightMare

    Excellent interview, Ivo! Thanks! I’m touched that NAL wanted my archives, and proud and happy to provide them. I’ve kept way too much stuff over the years, believing that some time down the line a future researcher would find much of it informative and useful. Now I can rest assured it will be made available. Of course, I have much more to plow through. I have two boxes nearly ready to ship.

    One thing of which many are unaware when it comes to building and maintaining institutions concerns the accreditation that Cherry Hill Seminary of seeking. One requirement in gaining that accreditation is that the school have a bricks-and-mortar library of a certain size. Well, I can tell you that growing a seminary is work enough without also having to grow a library. The New Alexandrian Library is the bricks-and-mortar (or, more accurately, concrete dome) library for CHS. An example of institutions working together for the greater good.

    • Ivo Dominguez Jr.

      Thank you for your contributions Macha. We support the work of Cherry Hill Seminary and cooperation is a natural fit between these projects.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Libraries are always good things. In the age of the net, preservation of electronic documents is another priority that must be considered and I trust there will be ample provision for that.

    • Ivo Dominguez Jr.

      Yes! Digital information is ephemeral and offline backup and preservation is important. As an example, how many blogs and essays will vanish without a trace over the years?

  • welltemperedwriter

    Great interview! I have a professional as well as spiritual interest in the development of this library and look forward to visiting in the future.

  • dantes

    I am wandering one thing: Will this library focus on Esoteric traditions only or will it also gather works on paganism ina wider sense?

    • Ivo Dominguez Jr.

      Yes- “We are building a library focused on the mystical and esoteric teachings of all religions with an emphasis on Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or Magickal paths in all their forms, but our mission is broader than that. We are also collecting the esoteric teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. Once the NAL is open and running we will also be creating an Advisory Board of people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests. – See more at: http://wildhunt.org/2014/08/interview-with-ivo-dominguez-jr-on-the-new-alexandrian-library-project.html#sthash.fwndwDZM.dpuf

      • dantes

        Okay, I read correctly then, but I was wondering more about the “purely” pagan side of it. Will you gather works related to pre-christian magic? Seiðr for exemple? Will you be stocking both works written within a tradition or academic works as well?

        • Ivo Dominguez Jr.

          Yes and yes.

          • Dantes

            That is awesome! I will definitely come visit the place once it’s complete!

  • kenofken

    I think before we speak of skepticism about the project, we ought to differentiate skepticism from cynicism. I would argue one of the reasons we have so much of the latter about pagan institutions is that our past efforts have employed too little of the former.

    There is the overarching issue of whether pagans generally want or trust institutions, but I think that’s far from an “either/or” picture. My sense is that most of us want nothing to do with congregational worship, a separate caste of full-time clergy or orthodoxy, any more pan-pagan grand regional councils or generally aping Churchianity just to have what the Joneses have. At least that’s my bias. I, and I think many of us, see a real value to pagan institutions like Cherry Hill and NAL.

    I cannot commend you enough for the persistence and long-term vision you’ve shown in constructing this ownership model. My skepticism, or I would prefer, concern, is about continued funding after it opens. Building isn’t half the battle. It’s more like a 20th over the long haul. It goes almost without saying that you will continue fundraising in perpetuity and have some number of very committed individuals giving. The real question is, do you have a realistic handle on operating expenses and a realistic strategy for meeting them year after year? We’re skeptical on that count simply because the history of pagan brick and mortar entities is a vast bone yard of good intentions broken by unrealistic and unprofessional “build it and they will come” fiscal planning. After the grand opening, they subsisted on small donations, spotty event rentals, incense and CD sales, and (mostly), the organizer’s personal funds. Then came the succession of increasingly desperate “OMFG, we need umpteen thousand dollars by the end of the month or we close our doors appeals.”

    In wide focus, the question is do you have a constituency willing and able to pay for the top-flight institution you want to give them? How much of that commitment do you have in hard dollars vs written pledges vs “I’ll get you later, dude” categories? Are the funding sources diverse enough? Is there money and planning for the inevitable capital replacement/hideous unanticipated expenses so that you don’t have an existential threat every time a furnace dies or a sewer tile collapses?

    There’s the chicken-and-egg problem: It will take a lot of money to take this from an esoterica collection/reading room to a viable modern research-grade library. The wealthy individual, corporate and institutional funders won’t generally write checks until you reach that critical mass and viability. How do you fill that gap of writing big checks and receiving little ones? If the ramp-up takes twice as long as you’d hoped, do storage costs devour your seed money and donation stream?

    It’s a lot to throw out and I don’t expect answers to everything on this forum, but these are the sorts of questions many of us have and the grounds of our skepticism.

    • Northern_Light_27

      I was hoping you’d respond, I always appreciate your focused questions and hard realism about what it takes to build and sustain brick-and-mortar institutions. The thing I often notice about new projects is if you look at the resumes of the people involved, I see a lot of high priest, ritual leader, teacher at $gathering, etc. and precious little (if any) direct experience at the thing in question– if the institution does financial management, I’d like to see people with a financial career/training background; if it’s a nonprofit, someone on the board should have nonprofit management experience, and so on. My skepticism about large-scale Pagan projects in general is that I’m not convinced it’s that easy to transfer a priest/ritualist skillset to a specialized skillset for doing the specific thing involved– it’s great that someone has been a high priest for 20 years in $tradition, but does it qualify them to head up a nonprofit?

      I completely agree about the “build it and they will come” planning– it’s more like “build it and people will wait to see if it looks long-term viable before they commit” for many people. I really like this library concept and I hope it bucks this trend and stays around for the long haul.

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        It’s a complaint I’ve had about Heathenry and Paganism for a while – too many priests, not enough other, practical skills.

    • Ivo Dominguez Jr.

      While we certainly hope for wide ranging and growing support for the New Alexandrian Library project in the years after it opens, we are better prepared than most groups to manage if this wide ranging support doesn’t materialize. The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is currently 11 covens, with a 12th in the works and all the covens have and will continue to raise money for the NAL. Our group alone is more than a handful of people and many small mainstream churches have done as much with as many people as we have. We also have a high percentage of people with real life skills. We have members who own businesses, manage multi-million dollar budgets at work, have been executive directors of non-profits, and sit on the boards of *non-Pagan* nonprofits.

      Most of the failed projects that I am aware of were in rented space, and we will own the space and have no mortgage. Our construction expenses have ranged between $5000-$20,000 per month. Once open our monthly expenses will be in the $800-$1200 per month range. FYI, we are not renting storage space. We have some members with large houses and some that own businesses that are storing materials in climate controlled space free of charge. Barring a remarkable change of fortune, there will be no paid staff for several years. And yes, we have people who are librarians, information sciences folks, retired professionals, and IT people that have volunteered to help.

      Our organization has many people with real life skills and we will have no problem with recruiting competent people for the Advisory Board once we are open. This project is and will be inclusive of people from a wide range of backgrounds.

      For the long run, as of this time we have about 1 1/4 million dollars promised to us in estates. No, that is not enough, but we are not resting on any imagined laurels. It will take time to go from an esoterica collection/reading room to a viable modern research-grade library, and I can tell you is that we will work until it is accomplished.

      I hope that is enough of an answer for now.

      • kenofken

        It’s a very helpful answer, and thank you. It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on the issues. My only suggestion at this point would be to resist and rethink the idea of your coven/coalition carrying the costs until support widens at some future point. Renting was a factor in the failure of past pagan projects, but the bigger problem was a lack of serious ownership and personal investment among the client base they served. Pagans have developed a warped sense of money when it comes to goods, services and institutions, and people who aren’t invested in a thing in real dollars don’t value it. Building this wide base of donors, I would suggest, is every bit as crucial at this point as getting your occupancy permits and physical plant done. I would further suggest that a development/fundraising director is the first professional you will want to hire. You want to have lots of us giving monthly. Memberships with different levels of perks is one way to do it. You also want someone who can write for grants from as many sources as possible, corporate giving, planned giving, special events etc. There should be a lot of slices in that income pie, and your personal/coven fortunes should be a modest piece of it. As an aside, maybe sell naming rights or put your name on a tile or brick for a few hundred bucks etc.

        • Franklin_Evans

          My entirely personal and subjective point of view is that from personal acquaintance and a bit of collaboration on a couple of things over the years, I have complete trust and confidence in Ivo. His vision and dedication are very much wide-eyed and rational. If nothing else, I’ve participated (not alone, of course) in a local example of how not to do such things. I can see where he is making good on our mistakes, and that heartens me perhaps more than anything else. :D

      • Northern_Light_27

        Very good answer, thank you. I’m impressed with the level of thought and expertise going into this project, and I will donate as soon as I’m able.

  • Raksha38

    I’m really excited about this project! It seems like those in charge have put a lot of thought into how to proceed and I’m very optimistic about it having a long future ahead!

  • Hawthorne

    Do you accept books or periodicals in languages besides English?

    • Ivo Dominguez Jr.

      Yes, so long as they relate to the broadly stated purposes of the NAL described in the interview.

  • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

    Even though I may never visit the NAL, nor use its resources, I think it’s important to support.
    Thank you for this interview article, Jason & Ivo.