Archives For Phoenix Goddess Temple

5980505.28As we reported in February, the trial had begun in the Phoenix Goddess Temple prostitution case. At the time, temple leader Tracy Elise told The Wild Hunt that she believed that she would be found innocent because she was “confident that the jurors recognize that the Phoenix Goddess Temple was never the brothel that prosecutors claimed.” However, on Mar 2, the jury disagreed and handed down a guilty verdict on all 22 counts.

Among those charges were the “conspiracy to commit illegal enterprise, illegal control of an enterprise, operating or maintaining a house of prostitution, multiple counts of money laundering and multiple counts of pandering.”

During the trial, Elise maintained that the temple was not a house of prostitution but a space offering spiritual services. In defense of that position, Elise’s son, Ben Wade, told local reporters, “We have the freedom of religion, […] The statute said, ‘No, you cannot touch genitals.’ To us, our religion and our belief, the body is the temple. The body is sacred. That may include the genitals. In fact, I’m pretty sure it does.”

However, the jury did not see it that way. After the verdict was read, Elise was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom. Elise’s sentencing date is set for Apr. 8.

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bucklandAuthor Raymond Buckland has been a public figure on the international Pagan scene for many decades. He is author of the popular book Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft and the founder of Seax-Wicca, among other things. However, over the past decade, Buckland has been dabbling in crafts that are external to his past work, including writing the fiction series The Bram Stoker’s Mysteries.

More recently, Buckland has been spotted doing standup comedy periodically at a local hotel in Millersburg, Ohio. At each recorded event, Buckland stands comfortably at the microphone with a brick wall behind him. He wears a black bowler hat and vest, which give him a distinguished and stylized appearance. The crowd can be heard laughing in the background as he delivers his jokes.

Buckland has uploaded several of his routines to YouTube, including the latest which he performed March 5.

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[Courtesy Doreen Valiente Foundation]

Coming this fall to Brighton will be a new play called Doreen: an English Witch. Written by Archie Caine and Roman Withers, and produced by Normal People Productions, the new play is scheduled to run around the same time as the two Brighton Witchcraft exhibitions sponsored by the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) and the Centre for Pagan Studies (CPS).

As quoted in Pagan Dawn, Withers said, “The play will be a talking head style play, featuring a single set throughout, and will see Doreen tell stories of her life, ranging from meeting Gerald Gardner all the way to her last partner Ron, with the help of a training postulate.” The magazine also reports that “well-known local actress Peta Taylor” has accepted the title role of Doreen.

DVF has reportedly offered its full support in the writing and staging of the play, and will be receiving all production profits. Currently, Normal People Productions is advertising the play’s run dates as Nov 21-25 at the Emporium. However, Pagan Dawn has reported that this information is not accurate. The location and run time have apparently changed, and will be announced in the coming months.

In Other News:

  • The Sacred Space Conference begins Thursday in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Sacred Space is an “annual esoteric conference on the East Coast for intermediate to advanced practitioners.” As noted on the website, each year featured guests and a “host of highly qualified regional teachers offer a wide variety of workshops and rituals developed for a more advanced audience.” This year’s feature presenters include: Ian Corrigan, Ivo Dominguez Jr. and Ellen Lorenzi-Prince. The conference will run through Sunday and is held at the Hunt Valley Inn. For up to the minute information on changes and announcements, attendees can follow Sacred Space on Facebook.
  • Speaking of conferences, the Pagan Federation International is getting ready for its 16th annual conference held in the Netherlands April 16. The day-long event will be hosted at “Lunteren in the national park ‘de Hoge Veluwe.’ ” The guest speaker is Julian Vayne who will offer talks on both ‘Chaos Magic and Witchcraft’ and ‘The Medicine Path – psychedelics and spirituality.’ And, in the evening, the Irish & American folk band Tobermore will perform. Registration and tickets are available through the PFI-Netherlands website.
  • Members of Hearthstone Grove, ADF have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help purchase land for future use as a “shared meeting, camping, and ritual space.” The campaign reads, “Our vision is for our grove to own and steward a public space specifically for Austin paganism to be practiced and for groups to host their Things.” Organizers have already chosen a 10-acre, fully-wooded property that will reportedly meet all organizational needs. Their future plans are fully explained on the campaign site. Hearthstone Grove, ADF is an Austin-based congregation “devoted to practicing the religion of our Celtic Ancestors.”
  • Published today, the Temple of Witchcraft’s podcast, Voices of the Temple, featured an interview with Tim Titus. In this episode, host Adam Sartwell speaks with Titus about “his work with Virgo ministry’s healing case study group and beginning to teach for the Mystery School in California.” The podcast lasts for 20 minutes and can be downloaded or streamed directly from the Temple’s website.
  • The second issue of A Beautiful Resistance will be available May 1. It has been “edited by Lancashire poet and awenydd Lorna Smithers” with a foreword by “UK animist, mystic, and anarchist Emma Restall Orr.” Editors have posted information about pre-sales, and the full list of contributors will be shared Apr. 1.
  • As a reminder, for those attending Paganicon, please join The Wild Hunt writers and editors for an evening social on Friday, March 18 at 9 p.m. in Suite 217. Paganicon is an annual conference held at the Doubletree Park Place in Minneapolis Minnesota. It runs from Mar. 18-20.

PHOENIX, Ariz. –When the Phoenix Goddess Temple was raided for prostitution in September 2011, the ensuing perp walk made headlines. The idea of a religion embracing sacred sexuality in this heavily Catholic area was too much to resist. After more than four years, the case against the temple’s leader, Tracy Elise, has finally reached trial. She agreed to speak with The Wild Hunt about the case as it has progressed thus far. An unexpected hiatus — due to a medical problem faced by the judge — gave her the opportunity.

Phoenix Goddess Temple members. [Jamie Peachey.]

“I’m facing 70 years in prison,” Elise said during a wide-ranging phone interview, “but I think I will be found innocent.” That’s because she is confident that the jurors recognize that the Phoenix Goddess Temple was never the brothel that prosecutors claimed. Instead, it is simply a place where a religion is practiced, albeit one that is quite different from what is generally considered sacred in this heavily Catholic city.

Jason Pitzl-Waters covered the case when it first broke in 2011, making international newswires:

It is now revealed that charges include prostitution, pandering, and conspiracy. Most reports I’ve read seem pretty confident that this was nothing but a brothel with a veneer of spirituality painted on as a legal smokescreen. I’ve never seen so many scare quotes being used in a mainstream newswire report before.

Those quotes included some from county attorney Bill Montgomery, who said at a press conference, “This was no more a church than Cuba was Fantasy Island.” It also included a statement from police spokesman Sergeant Steve Martos, who framed the temple operations as only semantically different than a brothel: “Instead of johns, they were called seekers. Instead of sexual intercourse, it was called sacred union. The women were not called prostitutes, they were called goddesses.” Over 30 people were arrested in the raids.

What Elise has come to believe in the years since is that the case against her temple was driven by a distinctly Roman Catholic bias, as personified by county attorney Montgomery. He wasn’t appointed to that position until November 2010. Prior to that, while there had been concerns raised by neighbors, city officials seemed satisfied that the temple practices were protected by the first amendment to the Constitution. While some of the prosecution witnesses, including Montgomery, were asked if they were Catholic, Elise said that the line of questioning was halted by the judge.

As to what exactly was going on in there, Elise does not shy away from the concept of sacred sexuality and its healing powers. “If someone is sincere in their beliefs, has a doctrine, and follows it consistently, then the state has the burden of proof,” she explained. That doctrine wove together goddess-focused Pagan rituals, tantric sexual practices, and Native American ceremonies overseen by the temple’s sponsoring organization, the Okleveuha Native American Church.

“I can’t do a seven-chakra rebalancing and ignore the red ray,” Elise said, using one of the terms she has for the root chakra, where the genitals are located. “If a man is starved for affection for whatever reason,” a woman in the temple’s sacred precincts might “receive him and unburden him” in a ritual as sacred as that conducted within a confessional booth, she said, and it’s no one’s business exactly what occurs between them, emotionally or physically. “He may love his wife completely, but they are not sexual. We’re not interested in stealing him away from her.”

Among the core tenets in the temple, Elise said, are self-sovereignty and “unconditional loving witness.”

Some defendants interviewed after being arrested maintained that they were not engaged in prostitution, and that intercourse did not even occur.  Elise did not say anything to contradict those assertions. Instead, she pointed to the various traditions of sacred sexuality that temple doctrine stems from, and maintains that the raids and ensuing charges should be characterized as a “hate crime” for its impact on the religious and healing work which was being done at the temple.

During the trial, Elise has brought in expert witnesses to show that the temple was in fact a place of legitimate religious practice, not the thinly-veiled prostitution ring it was described as in media accounts at the time. It is a position that was first brought up publicly in an article published in the Phoenix New Times; Elise referred to that report as an “attack.”  She maintains that none of the people arrested — who were mostly, but not exclusively, women — were coerced in any way, which she believes is a key difference between temple practices and prostitution.

The trial is expected to conclude this week.  Despite the heavy interest in 2011, news coverage this time around is decidedly lacking, fueling Elise’s belief that there is an orchestrated media blackout of the trial.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Moonhenge in Cambridgeshire was recently dedicated and blessed by local Pagans. Quote: “For Jo-Ann Childs, a druid from ­Huntingdon, the experience was ­particularly spiritual because she said she had dreamed about the henge during a trance three weeks before the artist Derek Massey’s design appeared in The Hunts Post. She said: ‘It was exactly what I saw in my dream – tonight is a dream come true.’ Ms Childs, 72, a retired anaesthetic technician, has been a druid for many years. She explained that by blessing the site, druids hope it will be a sacred place for everybody, no matter what their religion.” Moonhenge is a wooden replica of Stonehenge built in honor of the land owner’s late wife, and featuring 19 outer trees representing a lunar cycle. BBC News notes that there’s a bit of bother over planning permissions, though nothing too dire it seems.
  • The Christian obsession with witchcraft continues unabated, with spiritual warfare peddler Landon “The Rev” Schott‘s new book entitled “Jezebel: The Witch Is Back” that will “equip and empower you to wage spiritual warfare aggressively” against “Jezebel’s diabolical characteristics and behaviors.” Quote: “Her assault will continue until all of God’s people are dead or defeated. Jezebel’s bloodlust for death and destruction will only be stopped when met with spiritual violence.” This is hardly the first book about the “Jezebel spirit,” she’s practically a household name among certain Christians (see here, here, here, and here). So what happens when you explain away everything from depression to simple illness to witchcraft? Do you start looking for scapegoats when your “spiritual violence” isn’t enough anymore to keep things as Christian and stable as you would like? Make no mistake, we’re considered a “symptom” of Jezebel’s reign.
  • For some time now I’ve been covering the Phoenix Goddess Temple saga. Were the practitioners devout tantric healers, or was it merely a front for a prostitution ring? Now, two years after the temple was raided and shut down by police, founder Tracy Elise will be headed to trial in October, and will be representing herself. Quote: “According to court paperwork, Tracy Elise has fired her attorney and has chosen to represent herself in court. Two years ago, police raided Elise’s church, known as the Phoenix Goddess Temple. Investigators claimed it was a house of prostitution, but parishioners said they were just practicing their religion.” For the curious, Elise has a Youtube channel where she outlines some of her beliefs. We will be covering this story as it continues to develop.
  • The trial of psychic matriarch Rose Marks continues, with gripping testimony back and forth over how successful her services were, and whether she was merely conning people for lucrative pay-outs. Quote: “Walker said she became unhappy, though the psychics felt they’d had successes: Walker’s husband had returned to live with her before he died; no child had been born; and Walker’s legal team had negotiated an initial payment from the estate to Walker.” My previous reporting on this story can be found here, and here.
  • Bloomberg,, and Discovery all write about the deteriorating water supply in Caracas, Venezuela. While Bloomberg largely focuses on the political and structural failures that are causing the unsafe water, the others seem to focus in on Santeria practitioners dumping dead animals into local reservoirs (which the processing plants are unable to filter toxins from). Quote: “Witch doctors regularly dump animal sacrifices into the reservoir meant to quench the thirst, clean the dishes and wash the clothes of 750,000 Venezuelans, reported Bloomberg. As a result, citizens of one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden cities in the world, Caracas, Venezuela, can’t even take a drink of water from the tap safely. The 60-year old water treatment plant at the reservoir lacks the ability to filter out the toxins from the putrefying carcasses.” None of these articles seem very balanced to me. The problem isn’t the dumping per-se, if it is indeed as pervasive as claimed, the problem is a decaying infrastructure, law enforcement, and a political system in turmoil. The bad water is a symptom of a problem far larger than dead animals.

  • Self-help “Secret”-peddler James Arthur Ray, currently free on parole after serving two years for negligent homicide in three 2009 sweat-lodge ceremony deaths, has decided to drop his conviction appeal. According to the Associated Press, Ray “wants to avoid the possibility of a retrial and resentencing.” Quote: “I wish to ensure the prompt, complete and definitive termination of these criminal proceedings by dismissing this appeal and allowing the conviction and sentence to stand undisturbed.” In other words, the appeal to his not-that-harsh sentence considering 3 people died was generating a lot of criticism, and he feared that being sent back to prison was a real possibility if a new trial went forward. So perhaps this is the end of the James Arthur Ray saga? Let’s hope he sinks into a quiet and isolated retirement.
  • BBC News Scotland has the tragic story of how one abused girl’s testimony was manipulated into what would be known as the South Ronaldsay child abuse scandal in 1991. Quote: “The tiny Orkney island of South Ronaldsay became the centre of a worldwide media storm in 1991 when nine children were removed from four families following allegations of satanic sexual abuse. Two decades on, Esther, who was the child at the centre of the scandal, believes none of it would have happened if she had spoken out at the time.” Esther has published a new book entitled “If Only I Had Told.”
  • Interfaith activist Andrew Luisi says that Indian culture teaches us plurality. Quote: “India has taught me that there are endless paths to reach the same destination. Hindus believe in many deities, but ultimately and regardless of the deity they choose to worship, they believe that they will be lead to the same truth. To this point, Hindus believe that they are worshipping the manifestation of the deity in the specific image that they are performing the puja, or religious ritual, to. It is not as if each Hindu believes that the image is the deity because most understand that divine power is greater than any one physical figure; divinity is present anywhere in the world and at any time.”
  • The Revealer interviews Ronald L. Grimes, ritual theorist, and author of “Deeply into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage.” Quote: “His book “Deeply Into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage“ (University of California Press, 2000), for example, mixes personal accounts of the ways people have performed rites of “hatching, matching, and dispatching” with theoretical approaches to those rites. Through his detailed explanations, Grimes also makes arguments for why rites of passage matter, not just as an academic discipline, but for our lived lives. These passages are difficult, when fully comprehended, and it takes performance, imagination, and community to work through them. Crucially, they have to be updated, changed, and “re-invented” to continue to have impact.”
  • Paganism is resurgent, and thus, people are throwing away babies. Modern Catholic thought in action folks.
  • Matt Hedstrom at the Christian Century admits that a “come-one, come-all” open prayer policy would unfairly favor Christianity, but can’t bring himself to endorse either “ceremonial deism” or complete elimination of opening invocations. Quote: “As Stephen Prothero recently reminded me, many evangelicals and fundamentalists actually supported—for this very reason—the landmark 1962 Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale, which banned school-sponsored prayer. Fundamentalist leader Carl McIntire made this point clearly: ‘Prayer itself without the name of Jesus Christ’—whom the prayer in question did not name—’was not non-denominational prayer—it was simply a pagan prayer.’ McIntire continued: ‘No Government agency or power in the United States can be used to establish a religion.’ Prayer without Jesus represented a religious orientation, one McIntire found objectionable.” Again, this is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway is so important.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

  • Is the Chico Goddess Temple doomed? According to the Chico News and Review, noise complaints for an illegal festival held four years ago has led to a much larger struggle to survive and gain the permits needed to stay open. Owner Robert Seals thinks that hostility to Goddess religion might underlay the resistance he’s encountered in obtaining the permits he needs. Quote: “This is nothing new, worship of the Goddess, but it goes up against a lot of fundamental religions.” You can learn more about this struggle, and the upcoming appeal hearing, here.

That’s it for now! Happy Friday the 13th! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Happy 2012 everyone! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Top Story: Solar Cross, a non-profit religious organization dedicated to pan-magical practice, worship, education, research and outreach, co-founded by T. Thorn Coyle, Jonathan Korman, and Robert Russell, has announced the official launch of their organization’s e-publishing venture.

“Solar Cross is pleased to announce the official launch of our e-publishing venture with the release of the formerly out of print Magick of Qabalah. This is the first in a line of magickal, esoteric, and Pagan books to be issued from the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press imprints. We are committed to bringing forth both original and out of print books as well as shorter works on practice and craft.”

Their first release is “The Magick of Qabalah” by British author Kala Trobe and is currently available via Amazon, with more platforms to be rolled out shortly. Future releases from the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press e-publishing imprints include works by  T. Thorn Coyle, Diana Paxson, and Shen-tat. With the large number of Pagan and occult works that are out of print, this is an exciting and useful first step in using the power of digital publishing to rescue lost classics and important developmental works in the history of our communities. I’m hoping this is the start of a far larger trend.

In Other News:

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

I have some updates on recent stories covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Phoenix Goddess Temple Arrests: Since my report on Thursday, this story has hit the national and international newswires. It is now revealed that charges include prostitution, pandering, and conspiracy. Most reports I’ve read seem pretty confident that this was nothing but a brothel with a veneer of spirituality painted on as a legal smokescreen. I’ve never seen so many scare quotes being used in a mainstream newswire report before.

Phoenix Goddess Temple members. Photo by Jamie Peachey.

“During a Wednesday search of the Phoenix temple and two church-related sites in nearby Sedona, police seized evidence showing that “male and female ‘practitioners’ working at the Temple were performing sexual acts in exchange for monetary ‘donations,’ all on the pretense of providing ‘neo tantric’ healing therapies,” Phoenix police said.”

We’ve also learned more about the raids on the affiliated Sedona Temple, and the undercover operations that were underway for six months. In addition, some of those arrested have spoken with journalists, insisting that they are not engaged in prostitution.

During an interview with CBS 5 News, three of the women talked while in handcuffs. “I call myself a shaman. I believe in earth-based healing,” said Holly Alsop. After a six month investigation, Phoenix Police have 18 people behind bars accused of running a prostitution ring at the Phoenix Goddess Temple. When interviewed Friday, the women would not specifically say what the healing practices were, but when they were asked if any of them had sexual intercourse at the church, they had one very clear answer. “No, no. Absolutely not,” said Amanda Twitty. “Absolutely not. Everything we do is healing,” said Holly Alsop, and “No,” said Jamie Baker. “We’re not a brothel, we’re a church,” said Baker.

Whatever our suspicions in this matter, it’s now up to a judge or jury to decide if the evidence gathered by undercover officers is indeed enough to convict them of operating a prostitution ring. Whatever the truth of the matter, this should be an interesting test of how far religious protections can extend. We’ll keep you posted on further developments.

More on Santa Muerte: It seems I wasn’t the only one to have a problem with Tim Stanley’s vicious editorial in the Telegraph, George Conger at Get Religion dissects the assertions made about the Santa Muerte folk religion and finds them wanting.

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

“The Telegraph’s argument is: Some illegal aliens from Mexico are devotees of the Santa Muerte cult. Americans do not like illegal immigration from Mexico. Therefore, fears of Santa Muerte lie behind opposition to illegal Mexican immigration. Sorry.  This won’t do. The bottom line: Correlation does not imply causation. […] to support the claim that American perceptions of Mexican migration to the U.S. are influenced by fears of this cult needs evidence.”

Another UK paper, the Guardian, came out with a much more sympathetic and thoughtful piece on Santa Muerte just yesterday, in what can only be seen as a counter-point to Stanley’s hysteria.

“To one side of the shrine was a candle shop. We decided to buy a candle to put on the shrine as most of the people in the queue were holding candles. I had read earlier that each colour of candle carried with it a meaning: red for love, white for luck and black for protection. We bought a white candle each and went back to the end of the line. The man before us in the queue wore a black singlet, exposing his enlarged biceps which were covered in tattoos; his wrists and neck were draped in gold chains. We observed him carefully when he arrived at the shrine. First he lit a black candle and placed it down in front of him beneath the altar. Then he got down on his knees and crossed himself. With his eyes closed, he began to utter a prayer under his breath. Finally, he stood up and lit a cigarette. He took one puff and left the rest on the ashtray as an offering.”

Also giving a far more balanced look into Santa Muerte is Texas newspaper The Monitor, who notes the rise of altars and spiritual aspects to the drug trade, but gain perspective from anthropologist Antonio Zavaleta. Zavaleta observes that this trend is less about an increase in believers and more about “a relocation of them.”

NAR’s Respect For Other Religions: New Apostolic Reformation guiding light C. Peter Wagner has been on something of a public relations blitz lately, ever since his movement has come under public scrutiny due to its ties with Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry. Most recently, Wagner was interviewed by Voice of America, where he insists that NAR has respect for other religions, and operates “within religious pluralism.”

C. Peter Wagner. Image courtesy of skywaymedia.

“We don’t believe in taking over a nation. But we believe in exerting as much influence in every one of the mountains to see the values of the Kingdom of God within a democratic society, within religious pluralism,”

Rachel Tabachnick at Talk To Action does a thorough debunking of Wagner’s claims that NAR isn’t seeking dominion, and values pluralism, and Right Wing Watch joins in as well. RWW points out that Wagner admits to his movement’s growing political influence in the VoA interview.

“I think they’re right that the influence is growing and the influence was very strong in The Response meeting. But what I see in the media is that critics of conservative candidates like Rick Perry are accusing him of doing something bad by his friendship with people in the NAR. I don’t know if Rick Perry would consider himself as a part of the NAR but he had some people on the platform and in the audience who were part of the NAR. But I don’t think there is anything worse about being part of the NAR then being part of the Southern Baptists or being part of the Catholic Church or being part of any other segment of Christianity.”

As I’ve pointed out again and again, my bottom line is how their growing influence will affect religious minorities in the United States. NAR leaders have, time and time again, expressed their hostility to Pagan and occult belief systems, and any politician who willingly associates with them should be questioned regarding how much of their agenda they support.

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

The Phoenix Goddess Temple in Arizona, a neo-tantric religious organization that defines itself as “a sacred place to know the secret inner wisdom of the Cosmic Mother,” was raided by police on Wednesday. Eleven women and five men were taken in for questioning, and made to do a “perp walk” for the cameras, but police would not say, exactly, what the raid was looking for.

“CBS 5 News has also learned this was part of a long term investigation that spanned from the Valley to Sedona. Police served three additional search warrants in the Sedona area and detained several more people for questioning at those locations. […] [Sgt. Steve] Martos would not confirm the nature of the investigation, saying investigators would be working well into the night and more details would be available tomorrow.”

It was revealed that police also raided Sedona Goddess Temple, an affiliate of the Phoenix Goddess Temple. It’s plainly obvious that this is a raid looking for proof of prostitution, though previous sting operations have turned up empty-handed. Why else do a highly publicized raid and perp-walk? So far, there are no reports of actual charges being made, and Phoenix Goddess Temple has released no statement regarding these events. If Phoenix Goddess Temple was simply a house of prostitution with a veneer of religion painted over it, wouldn’t they have been closed down by now? Earlier this year the Phoenix New Times called the temple’s activities “New Age prostitution,” though the men and women at the temple insist that they are engaged in a higher calling.

But despite the obvious eyebrow-raisers at the temple, [Temple founder Tracy] Elise says she’s doing nothing wrong. “The temple is really a church for us,” she says. “We open ourselves with love as an empty channel, and that’s the authority by which I heal. I don’t get my credentials on the ground level. I get my calling and I am under the jurisdiction of the most high.”

Even if no charges are brought from this current investigation, the writing is on the wall. It’s obvious the police are looking for any excuse to shut these temples down. The question now is, should they be able to? Even if some sessions end in “happy endings” aren’t their activities protected by law so long as they don’t directly charge money for sex? If they took this matter to court, would they be able win broader protections since they are religiously sincere in their activities? How should the broader Pagan community engage with sacred sexuality practitioners?