Dragon Ritual Drummers winter solstice event cancelled last minute

Cara Schulz —  December 20, 2016 — 15 Comments

ST. CATHERINES, Ont. — A Canadian Pagan group says their Winter Solstice celebration was cancelled for being “too overtly Pagan.” The Dragon Ritual Drummers, a musical troupe headed by Witchdoctor Utu, planned to host a solstice ritual and concert at the Niagara Cannabis Club, but says the club canceled the event just hours before it was to start.


The Winter Solstice Witches Mass and Concert is an annual Ontario event, during which the Dragon Ritual Drummers usually perform. This year the group decided to host it themselves, and they picked the town of St. Catharines as the host city, as that’s where most of the band lives. Then, they began looking for a venue.

Witchdoctor Utu chose the Niagara Cannabis Club as the celebration site after what he says was a positive meeting. “The [Niagara Cannabis Club] in St. Catharines had no initial issues and were fairly excited at the notion of a whole pile of Pagans ascending on their building.” He said the club understood it was a Pagan winter solstice celebration, and they even introduced him to a few Pagans who were at the club that day. He said he was also introduced to the manager, Kelly Kush.

The Niagara Cannabis Club is a licensed cannabis society, where persons can pay a membership fee and bring in cannabis for their own consumption on site. The club’s mission is to assist “medical cannabis patients, caregivers, advocates and non-medical supporters.”

Utu says the friendly atmosphere plus the inexpensive venue fee of $5 per person sold him on using the club for their ritual space and concert scheduled for Dec. 16.

Utu says everything appeared to be going well, and they expected in excess of 50 people to attend the event, which was listed on the Club’s schedule of events. Then he received a communication from the club manager that concerned him.

“The night before the concert the manager Kelly Kush posted on the Facebook event wall, saying ‘Never been or seen anything like this’ ” says Utu. She was reportedly reacting to posts describing ritual work on both the event’s Facebook page as well as on Utu’s personal page.

Utu says that a few club members did comment that the ritual seemed scary, but interesting. He responded that there was nothing to worry about and it would be a fun time with good people. Kush and the others ‘liked’ his comment so he thought all was well and went to bed.


Niagara Cannabis Club Event list

On Dec. 16, the day of the event itself, Utu says employee Abby Millar, who identifies as Wiccan, sent Utu a message. She said that Kush instructed her to make sure that there wasn’t “anything dark happening” at the ritual. Utu says she specifically asked about “freaky idols.”

“I decided to call and see what their issue was, but at this point I was surprised and starting to wonder what was actually going on, what was the sudden change,” says Utu. He says that he explained to Millar that the ritual was a simple winter solstice ritual, open and inclusive, and didn’t include anything dark or evil. He says the club responded that they hadn’t known anything Pagan was happening at the event.

Kush and Millar confirmed that they were, in fact, concerned about the ritual. According to their account, they originally thought that the event was going to be a concert only. They said that the ritual was a surprise, and they learned about it only through Facebook on the day prior to the event.

Millar said that, over the phone, Utu described the ritual as consisting “of individual dresses in black cloaks with daggers, they would sing and chant, and pass a ceremonial [goblet] filled with wine around to symbolize the orgy part. Then at the end they have a doll with horns or goat head and give thanks.”

According to both Millar and Kush, this ritual seemed a little “dark” for the club. They also were concerned that the working would focus on “revenge,” bringing unwanted negativity into their space. Kush says that they knew the group was Pagan or Wiccan, but, what they didn’t know was that Utu practiced Voodoo. As Kush explains, she learned this fact only after reviewing Utu’s personal Facebook page, and seeing photos from a private Voodoo ritual held earlier that week in his basement.

“I let him know that we simply weren’t comfortable with any of it, and also were a little upset that he never once let us know or asked about this prior,” says Millar.

Shortly after the Dec. 16 call ended, Kush posted the cancellation on Facebook, writing, “Well after checking more into this, we’ve decided we are not having goats heads and baby dolls …location will not be at this club.”

The Dragon Ritual Drummers haven’t encountered problems like this in the past, says Utu, and have performed at city run events, parades, and other community events.

Dragon Ritual Drummers performing at Drumming Festival [You Tube still]

Dragon Ritual Drummers performing at Drumming Festival [You Tube still]

Millar herself had seen the group play many times, and called their performances “amazing.” She adds that the festivals, where she saw them play, “were also […] Pagan events that [were] neither dark not negative. So I vouched for them a lot.” That made the situation more difficult.

“The Niagara Cannabis club and Kelly are all about promoting peace, positivity, and helping patients get the help they need,” says Millar. “Everyone there, myself included are more than open and love to experience new things. However spreading negativity and misleading people is not something that we would welcome.”

But Utu has a different view of the situation. He says that the Dragon Ritual Drummers never intended to have any goat-head related items in the ritual, nor was there going to be chanting or wine.

He also says that he has a very clear idea on why the venue cancelled the event, “Despite a 7th generation Wiccan in their midst, an event so overtly Pagan was just too much for them, with remarks like goat heads and baby dolls, there is a clear bias there and an evocative assumption of what was going to happen.

“As much as I was upset I offered to just drop the ritual part, and just about everyone attending would have been equally disappointed, but it was now two hours before the event was to begin and folks were driving in from half an hour to an hour to three hours away.”

Tyler Coleman, a Canadian attorney living in Minnesota, says situations where a venue is alleged to discriminate against a religious group are rare in Canada, and there are many variables to determine if discrimination took place. “Do religious groups have a right to not be discriminated against. Yes. But it depends on the property rights of the club, if they’ve allowed other religious groups to use their facilities, and what their cancellation policy is.”

Mr. Coleman said individuals or groups who feel they have been discriminated against can petition the Human Rights Tribunal. The process is similar to mediation, but more casual and parties are encouraged to talk through the situation and arrive at a mutual solution.

Since the cancellation, the club says that they have received no backlash, nobody showed up that night waiting for the show, and they would not have any problem with other Pagan events. “It is too bad. We were looking forward to meeting new people and having a winter celebration, just not wanting the Voodoo part. We are really about peace and helping others.”

As for Utu and the Dragon Ritual Drummers, they will move on and continue to perform around Canada and the U.S. Their schedule is posted on their website.

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Sophonisba

    Business 101: Have a contract.

    • Tauri1

      That statement needs to be modified. It’s “Business 101: have a WRITTEN contract.

  • kenofken

    “The Niagara Cannabis club and Kelly are all about promoting peace, positivity, and helping patients get the help they need,” says Millar. “Everyone there, myself included are more than open and love to experience new things…”

    THIS is why I hate smarmy New Agers with every fiber of my being. They’re all about peace and love and tolerance and diversity…as long as the diversity is white and suburban and doesn’t require them to exercise any critical thought or stretch their comfort zones half a micron.

    • Bal

      You nailed it.

  • kittylu

    Cannabis has been used in pagan rituals for thousands of years to mark the solstices in particular. Those herb worshippers need to learn their history and respect the sacredness of that plant they pretend to care so much about.

  • Yeshe Rabbit

    The sudden backtracking at the mention of Voodoo smacks of racism.

    • Tauri1

      Ya think?

      • Baruch Dreamstalker


    • Franklin_Evans

      “He said the club understood it was a Pagan winter solstice celebration, and they even introduced him to a few Pagans who were at the club that day. He said he was also introduced to the manager, Kelly Kush.”

      So, even after the manager, who cancelled the event later, clearly saw with whom they were dealing and didn’t show racist attitudes, it must necessarily be racist?

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        The venue owners were, by their own words, cool with Wicca and Paganism, but not Voodoo. That is, they accepted white Paganism but not black Paganism. Racism is certainly a reasonable proposition.

        • Franklin_Evans

          Witchdoctor Utu is black, according to the pictures shown. Utu himself is quoted by Cara. I can accept that racism was involved if there’s actual evidence for it, but so far all I see is confirmation bias.

          Actually, with due respect to you Baruch, I’m inclined to be 100% dismissive of this tangent absent actual words from Utu himself. No one here was there with him. Everything so far is assumption and emotional investment. I’ve witnessed actual racism in many situations, and every single damn one of them I followed the lead of the actual targets of racism, because every story I’ve heard but not witnessed myself was at least half confirmation bias.

          BTW, with the many discussion I’ve seen concerning racist tendencies in “white” Paganism, I’d back up any person of color taking offense at your logic. We have plenty to clean up in our own House.

          • Christian Day

            Witchdoctor Utu is not black.

          • Franklin_Evans

            Thank you. I first looked at the picture on my phone, and made a bad assumption about what I could see.

            All the more reason, I would add, to question the claim that the cancellation was racially motivated.

      • Sylv Taylor

        You don’t need to be waving confederate flags around to be racist.

  • Franklin_Evans

    Maybe it’s a sad commentary, but the reality of society-at-large is that it is still largely populated by people who are ignorant of our general belief system and settle without asking or thinking on the stereotypes and negative propaganda against some of our cousins in faith. Voodoo is right at the top of that list.

    I don’t want to seem unsympathetic, but the integrity of any production requires attention to those details. I produced for 10 years (and intend to come back to it) A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual (by Julie Forest Middleton & Stasa Morgan-Appel, Emerald Earth Publishing), and when investigating a new venue and especially if that venue was already a worship space (even if UU), the conversation always started out like this:

    This is a Pagan ritual performance, rooted in Pagan beliefs both ancient and modern. It also involves a ritual altar with open flames, as well as lit candles held by the audience for a few minutes. I never let a passive “okay, sounds good” go by without asking if the person actually understood what that meant.

    I should add that the most frequent disconnect was not on the Pagan part, but on the person’s ignorance of their insurance and the local fire codes.