Newly elected (Feb.2012) SPC board members Nikki, Lola, Carol, Mary, Heather, and Emily. Not pictured, Teisha Magee
“At 6:25 pm (April 25th) the Executive Director dissolved the board of directors,” reads the last entry in the minutes of the final board meeting of Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in Minnesota. A few days later, on Beltane, Executive Director Teisha Magee sent out an email saying the center closes May 31st.
“Why is Sacred Paths Center closing?” is a question asked by Twin Cities Pagans after reading the announcement. That question is quickly followed by, “What can we learn from their experience?” by Pagan organizations such as Solar Cross Temple in San Francisco and the Open Hearth Foundation community center in Washington DC. PNC-Minnesota spoke with past and present Sacred Paths Center (SPC) board members, volunteers, and their last financial auditor, looked over financial records and minutes of board meetings, and interviewed Teisha Magee to answer those questions.
In short, most everyone interviewed says the center’s Director and Board were not functional, the finances were in disarray, the building was too expensive, and the resulting drop in income after two years of road construction right outside their door didn’t help matters.
The Sacred Paths Center opened for business Friday February 13th, 2009 and celebrated its grand opening Friday March 13, 2009. Within weeks, on Saturday April 4, 2009, the SPC began fulfilling its commitment to the community by hosting a fundraiser for local Elder Ken Ra who was facing financial crisis after a kidney failure, with a significant mass of the community coming together to support one of its own. It has since hosted countless rituals and community gatherings.
Although the SPC was not the first Pagan community center in the nation, or even locally, it’s closing leaves The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC as having the only Pagan community center in the nation.
The previous local community center was The New Alexandria Library. The New Alexandria Library opened in September of 2000 as a subscription library. It was a subsidiary of the Wiccan Church of Minnesota. Its stated purpose was “to create an archive that preserves our Pagan history, culture, and heritage, to ensure community access to hard-to-find and out-of-print materials, to provide access to a wide range of information and training materials, and to serve as a center of studies and research for scholars of Neo-Paganism.” The library quickly became a center for Paganistani activity. For financial reasons, the library closed its doors in July 2004.
The SPC was a direct successor of Evenstar Books, opened in 1979 by Loui Piper, which was a center of Pagan activity for almost 30 years. In 1991 Loui Pieper founded the Evenstar School of Sacred Paths and in October 1992 it received federal recognition as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization. After Piper’s retirement, Magee continued running the shop. Within a month of Evenstar closing, January 24, 2009, the SPC was opened around the corner, in its 5000 square foot facility after soliciting enough memberships and donations to be able to sign a lease, in the middle of a recession.
Considering how few Pagan community centers there currently are, the closing of Sacred Paths Center is an event that reverberates far wider than Minnesota. It is my hope that this closure will provide both inspiration and education to others looking to start similar initiatives where they live. With most Pagans rejecting a congregational model of worship, and due to the broad theological diversity under the umbrella of “modern Paganism,” multi-faith/tradition community centers may be one of the few viable communal physical spaces we can work towards. With the recent opening of The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC (which recently debuted its own library), and with several other groups looking into creating a permanent or semi-permanent physical meeting space, the “community center” experiment is still ongoing.
Happy May Day everyone! Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!
“After much heartache, soul-searching and tears, it has become clear that Sacred Paths Center cannot continue. Our expenses are too high in this location and we are just not getting enough money coming through the door. All of our resources are tapped, and our volunteers are worn out.”
“Despite the fact that the Town of Catskill offered no credible theory in court for their continued denial of exemption, I was just informed that the Maetreum of Cybele has been denied property tax exemption for 2012 meaning another entire round in this ongoing drama. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in Greene County, New York. The actual trial was split between two days last November and December but the final arguments in our court case still have not been submitted at this time. They are supposed to be due in about two weeks and then we will have to await the Judge’s actual decision after that. In the meantime we will once again have to go to the Board of Review hearing later in May and almost certainly be denied again and have to file yet another lawsuit against Catskill. Despite claims to the press for several years that Catskill did not question our legitimacy as a religion, the entirety of their case was exactly that we were not a legitimate religion under the IRS guidelines. Again despite the IRS recognition we are. We proved in court we met every one of the IRS “fourteen points” for determining what is or isn’t a church.”
“Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has repeatedly appealed to all Commissions for Human Rights internationally to encourage all governments to: a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches, b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally, c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft, d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority, e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practising witchcraft, f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused, g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.”
As we reach the close of 2011, it is time to stop for a moment and take stock of the previous year. When you look at (and for) news stories regarding modern Paganism (and related topics) every day of the year, you can sometimes lose focus on the larger picture. So it can be a helpful thing to look at the broad strokes, the bigger themes, the events and developments that will have lasting impact on the modern Pagan movement. What follows are my picks for the top ten stories from this past year involving or affecting modern Pagans.
10. New Christian Missionary Code of Conduct: In June of this year a coalition that claims to represent around 90% of the world’s Christians released joint recommendations for the conduct of Christian missionaries. This document, while toothless in regards to enforcement, it does represent a core shift in fighting “arrogance, condescension and disparagement” among Christian missionaries toward non-Christian faiths and building a new ethos of mutual respect and cooperation between Christians and non-Christians.
“Christians are called to reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness. They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts. [...] Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions. [...] Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions.“
09. Pagan Fundraising on the Internet Goes Big: Within our interconnected communities there’s often been the notion that we lack the commitment or cohesion to raise significant funds for causes or projects that matter. That a “poverty consciousness” reigns when it comes to anything outside our immediate wants or desires. This criticism lost a lot of weight in 2011 as a growing number of Pagan projects and fund-drives managed to raise impressive figures for a community as demographically small and philosophically diverse as ours. This year we saw Peter Dybing lead an initiative that raised $30,000 dollars for Japan earthquake assistance, while Starhawk, along with producers Paradox Pollack and Philip ‘Mouse’ Wood, raised over $75,000 for a planned movie adaptation of Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing”.
In addition, a fundraising drive to produce a memorial documentary project in honor Merlin Stone (author of the seminal book “When God Was A Woman”) raised over $10,000. These may not seem like huge numbers to the larger, more institutionalized, religions in the West, but these efforts, and several smaller ones also held this year, are somewhat groundbreaking for us. It proves that Pagans will support projects they believe in, and that Internet services like Kickstarter have provided an essential tool in tapping that support. As modern Pagans build their own unique infrastructure (more on that next) I predict we’ll continue to see this crowd-funded model evolve into something that can really build (and do) great things.
“After working through unexpected delays, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (ASW) has obtained the building permit to begin construction of the New Alexandrian Library (NAL) and the contractor is preparing to lay the foundation. “We are very excited to finally be able to break ground,” said Jim Dickinson, the NAL Project Manager, “It is ‘a dream whose time has come’!”“This project is about preserving our past and building our future. It is a dream becoming manifest that will inspire scholarship and a deepening of magickal culture. It is proof that our community is maturing,” said Ivo Dominguez, Jr., founding member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and one of the driving forces behind the NAL.”
joi wolfwomyn and Vicki Noble. Photo by Greg Harder.
“In her introductory remarks, joi wolfwomyn asked folks to treat eachother with respect and really listen to the different perspectives brought out in the day and that energy of respect really carried forward into the entire day of programming and events. Vicki Noble’s keynote integrated both her personal experience as a feminist separatist as well as her acknowledgement of the multitude of genders that exist and our need to respect the diversity of gender. Her statement on separatism was that it can be through having separate spaces that members of marginalized groups can become stronger and return to the larger community with the confidence and commitment to make real and positive change.”
We are at a crossroads now with this discussion, and despite a few sour notes, most of the exchanges have been reasoned, open, empathetic, passionate, and willing to create a dialog that is inclusive and productive. I have few illusions that all problems will be “solved,” but I do think what we are witnessing here is historic, and will change us in ways we can’t envision now. The collective maturity and willingness we’ve displayed so far in these discussions is a credit to our family of faiths, and when future historians look back at this time they will say “this is when transgendered Pagans began to receive the full embrace and respect of their coreligionists.”
“I’m aware that this conclusion may seem controversial. Many pagans like to believe that there is no such thing as a universal moral truth, and many recoil at the use of the word ‘should’. James Ray’s sweatlodge puts that kind of relativism to a life-and-death test. As a final remark, my friends, may I say that you do not need to undergo a heat endurance test to the death in order to know that you are strong in spirit.” – Brendan Myers
Ray’s trial and conviction was certainly big news this year, but what, ultimately, does it say to modern Pagans? I think it calls into focus issues of cultural appropriation, of acquiring spiritual technologies outsider your context without proper oversight or training, and is a stark warning about the corrupting influence of power unchecked. James Arthur Ray was part of the “New Age” movement, but many elements he incorporated can be easily found among modern Pagans, and this should be a lasting wake-up call to make sure we don’t fall into the excesses and pitfalls of Ray and his ilk.
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.
“As a result of an internal audit during the Change & Grow program, the Sacred Paths Center board has directed the closing of the center and called for a full inventory of the center’s assets and an external audit of the corporation’s finances. The board has also empowered an internal audit of the corporation’s organizational documents, governance and administrative procedures, and policies. This affects all operation at the Sacred Paths Center’s current facility. The gift shop, all class rooms and the healing center will all be closed indefinitely. All classes and events are suspended indefinitely. Normal office hours have been suspended. The staff have been directed to focus on preparing materials necessary for the external audit and will not be available to answer questions about the closure. Rather than stopping by the center or attempting to reach us by phone, please contact the center at ClosingQuestions@SacredPathsCenter.com if you have any questions or concerns about the audit, and SacredPathsCenter@gmail.com if you have any questions about upcoming classes and availability of healers, readers, teachers and other services.”
“SPC is NOT out of business. They are doing due diligence with donors’ monies. They spotted problems with what’s going on, and they are moving to fix it NOW instead of “Oh, you know, in a couple weeks or so. What’s the difference?” The alternative is for them to pretend nothing is happening, have the money and the SPC go down the drain, not come clean in public about it, and prove there’s no way to do a Pagan community center.”
“It’s temporary until we can get the audit done. “Indefinitely” was probably a poor word choice at the moment. Thanks for your patience.”
PNC-Minnesota tells me that it’s unlikely further official statements will be made until after the center’s next board meeting on August 10th. Hopefully at that time we will learn more about SPC’s future, what triggered the audit, and why that necessitated a closure. While this is a local matter, it has generated interest far beyond the Twin Cities as other Pagan communities explore opening their own community centers. I’ll keep you posted on any further updates.
To learn more about the history of Sacred Paths Center, check out the special video series produced earlier this year (part 1, part 2) by PNC reporter Cara Schultz.
You can read all of my coverage on this story, here.
“We sincerely apologize for the confusion caused by our sudden closing. We want to thank Keys of Paradise for making their space available for the events that we inconvenienced this week. We are reaching out to the coordinators for all events scheduled at the center between now and the reopening on Monday to assure them that the space they reserved will be available to them as promised previously. If you have something scheduled at the center this weekend you will have space.
The reason for closing this week is simply to catch up on some neglected organizational items. We need to do a physical inventory of the store, clean up our book keeping and filing systems, and we are restructuring our organizational tools to better serve our members and the community. These projects become very difficult when being done amongst the hustle and bustle of the normal Center functions.”
On Monday they promise to publish “a breakdown of the success of our Change and Grow campaign.” As always, we’ll keep you posted.
Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!
Top Story: Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has recently returned from the first International Conference on Transforming Conflict in Amman, Jordan. The event centered on dialogues with youth and adults from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and other countries, for which McCollum served as a speaker and facilitator. “It is clear to me that the younger generation in particular, has a clearer vision of what it means to be a global citizen, and it is this shift, in my opinion, that gives us hope for a better future” said McCollum, praising the Arab and Israeli youth who attended the conference. During the conference McCollum also met and spoke with Sharif Zeid Bin Hussein, the cousin of King Hussein the II, and former Jordanian Prime Minster Taher Nashat al-Masri.
Patrick McCollum with Taher al-Masri
“His Excellency was very gracious in his invitation to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed our discussions. Over the course of the evening, we touched on US-Arab relations, the Palestinian–Israeli conflict, the part youth has played in the Arab Spring revolutions and beyond, and new ways to move forward toward peace.”
In addition to his work at the conference, McCollum also met with local Bedouins, and visited the famous sacred sites Petra, Mt. Nebo, and one of the possible sites of Jesus’s baptism by John. In summing up his trip and experiences, McCollum said that “it is clear to me that I will return once again to the Middle East, not only to Jordan, but also to visit Palestine and Israel. And I look forward to once again to be present in the company of the many new friends I’ve made in each of these countries. I firmly believe that drawing on the touchstone of our common humanity, rather than focusing on the age-old narrative of our geographical and cultural differences, is the key to world peace.” The Patrick McCollum Foundation blog is now posting his daily thoughts from the trip if you’d like to know more about his experiences in Jordan, and the work of the conference.
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.
The BBC presents “The Ancestors are Calling,” a radio documentary of a South African woman weighing the decision of whether to become a traditional healer and provide “a channel for the power of the ancestral spirits,” or “get on with her life as a young African woman in the 21st Century.”
“I’m happy to say we’ve received more than $7000 in donations. We’re close to our minimum $7,500, and I”m hopeful about getting up to the $12,000 that will let us grow and change into the community center everyone needs. Please ask your Pagan confrers near and far to consider a donation or a matching grant. We are doing some local fundraisers, but for folks farther away, there’s a “raffle” of some Paganistani homebrew, $10/ticket. We’ll announce that officially soon, so please keep an eye peeled. I’ll be back here to announce it, too. There’s also an auction of a lovely wedding/handfasting cup set. This is a personal item from my wife’s estate that I donated for the benefit of SPC. I thank very kindly everyone who has worked to help us stay open and continue, to change and grow. Please be sure to check for donation and action updates at our website, www.SacredPathsCenter.com.”
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
On Tuesday PNC-Minnesota reported that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), had unveiled a new national public ancestor shrine and sacred spirit altar. Open for just over two years, Sacred Paths has been seen as one possible model for creating Pagan-centered and dedicated space within a local community. Their journey was profiled by PNC reporter Cara Schultz in a special video series produced earlier this year (part 1, part 2).
“Sacred Paths Center, the Spiritual/Pagan Center, open to all, first of its kind in the United States, is broke. “What, AGAIN?” Yes. “Now why?” Simple: lack of YOUR support. This message will reach thousands and thousands, but how many of you will care enough to do anything? A physical banner has been put in the ground here, proclaiming this area as sacred to us; SPC is that banner. “Pagan Community”, “Paganistan”…it seems they are just words. There are thousands of us here in the Twin Cities metro, and among us all, we can’t give $3000 a month to keep that banner standing open. What does that say—really say—about “Pagan Community”? Less than a dollar each, and yet… Less than a dollar each, and yet… There will be no plea running pages and pages; no dog and pony show; no Benefit Event. If you can’t step up, Sacred Paths Center closes. We need $7500 now, right now for a reasonable chance at a future.”
That statement, posted by memebers of the SPC Board, bluntly highlights that this crisis comes from a lack of local fiscal support. As a member-supported, non-profit community center, recurring donations are vital to their long-term health and viability. Now, it looks like the “next chapter” of this community center’s story depends on the locals of Paganistan.
“We donated today when I saw it. It’s a valuable, necessary resource and the community needs to put forward the money so that we can keep it going.” - Shelly Tomtschik, Sacred Paths Center volunteer
“The Sacred Path Center has been funded by, and the center of activity for, a relatively small but active section of our community. Many wonderful events, services, and concerts, as well as the Ancestor Shrine have been hosted there. The Center appeared to be burdened with high overhead at this location from the start, and now may be also threatened by extended light rail construction and possible gentrification inflation after completion. It has rallied once already, but it remains to be seen if a much larger number of the thousands of area Pagans value it enough to support it on a monthly basis. Without grant funding, or a continual fundraising effort, consistent moderate donations seem the Center’s best hope.”
Elysia Gallo, an employee at Llewellyn Worldwide, the world’s oldest and largest independent publisher of metaphysical books, located in nearby Woodbury, Minnesota, wonders if they tried to do too much, too soon.
“It would really be a shame if Sacred Paths Center were to close down, because so many Pagans have held it up with pride as an example of what a strong and sustainable community we have here in the Twin Cities… but if people aren’t supporting it monetarily, then we’re all just kidding ourselves. We have metaphysical bookstores which also serve as community hubs and meeting spaces, but they’re not putting on concerts and things like that, they’re more constrained in their usages. I just wish Sacred Paths Center would finally figure out a sustainable model of growth, which would include them figuring out what the community values enough to pay for, and keeping their expenses trimmed to just sustain those things until they’re strong enough to deliver the whole enchilada. I think they tried to go for that far too soon.”
Both responses seem to boil down to what the local Pagan community in the Twin Cities is willing and able to support. The issue of money and funding for Pagan organizations, community centers, temples, and service-based initiatives within our interconnected communities is still largely unsettled. Jonathan Korman, Secretary of Solar Cross Temple, a non-profit religious organization based in California, thinks there are two roadblocks to creating a culture of fiscal support: That many modern Pagans are still “deeply anti-institutional, and regard the lack of institutions as a feature, not a bug” and that “Pagan institutions are below the critical mass where Pagans are able to see the benefit of the institutions and the need for their financial support.”
Can Sacred Paths Center, located within a large Pagan community, reach that critical mass? For now we are left with the question asked by the SPC Board in their appeal: “Does it end here? Or does SPC go forward with your help?” For those interested in giving some support to Sacred Paths Center, you can find donation information at their website. Or you can contact them via email.
“The immediate needs to keep the doors temporarily open were covered. The Center needs 7500 dollars to continue to operate through this month. The Board has decided that 12,000 was what we needed by midnight of July 30thor we will close the facility. If we can secure that 12k dollars, we can pay our bills to zero and have a positive balance to keep the center open and by able to steer the Center in a direction that will be financially viable.”
Read the whole thing for insight into what the center’s plans are, what they need, and why they got into trouble.