Archives For Sacred Paths Center

In part one of this series, The Wild Hunt looked at several successful infrastructure projects in order to see what they have in common. Today, in part two, we examine a Celtic temple and a Pagan community center to see what went wrong and what we can learn, along with a few other examples of infrastructure that appear to be doing well, but may face challenges in the future.

“I’ve been running a ‘pagan’ organization complete with a paid clergy and a permanent temple building for 15 years. Is it because I don’t identify as Pagan or go to this ‘pagan community’ for membership and support? Or is it something else?  I dunno.” – Rev. Tamara Siuda

Temple of the River
Temple of the River (TOR) was the first official temple of the Old Belief Society, a community intended to train Celtic priests by combining academic and spiritual teachings. Founded by Drew Jacob. the group originally occupied a space in Minneapolis before moving to Jacob’s home. In 2006 the group decided they wanted to build their own temple.

Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Constructed to look like a traditional Irish cottage, the temple was built in Jacob’s backyard. Contractors laid the foundation, roofing, and stucco of the temple, while members of the Old Belief Society pounded the earth floor, lime washed the exterior, and painted the trim. Funds to build the temple came from Jacob and from members of the group. Setbacks, ranging from inspections to funding, challenged the building process over the course of three years. The opening purification ritual was celebrated September 2010.

The temple was open to the public for monthly scheduled events, holiday feasts, and classes. The group appeared stable, as did its finances. In June 2011, Jacob wrote, “In less than six months we shifted from a small clique-like organization with no public presence to a bustling, dynamic community … It was because of this surge of enthusiasm and interest—from a primarily non-Pagan crowd—that we were able to finally realize a dream of seeing ancient Irish religion alive and practiced as closely as possible to its original form.”

Interior of the Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Interior of the Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Less than a week later after writing that, Jacob announced he was closing the Temple of the River, disbanding the Old Belief Society, and leaving on a spiritual quest. In a press release Jacob said, “We have a large community and terrific events, but the Temple isn’t making the [spiritual] impact I want to see it make.”

A lack of  improving enough lives and changing spiritual needs are the reasons Jacob gave for Temple of the River disbanding and the Temple closing its doors. He sold his home and the temple’s property in January of 2011 and was living in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Minneapolis at the time of the announcement.

The temple closed in June only nine months after opening. Members of the temple were surprised by the announcement and, as far as is known, have not formed another group.

Takeaways from the Temple of the River:

  • The building of the temple followed all local zoning and building codes. If you don’t, you run the risk of having your building shut down or incurring fines.
  • The group was formed around a capable and knowledgeable leader, but there was no succession plan in place to continue if he left, had a profound change of heart, or died.
  • While the group contributed to the creation of the temple, both financially and in sweat equity, the main financial burden were borne by Jacob, and the temple was located on his privately owned property. Therefore, the property and its temple were legally solely his. This meant Jacob was solely responsible for all costs and legal obligations, but it also meant he could sell it or close it at any time.

The Celtic Temple was beautiful sacred space to which members felt very connected and for which they were willing to contribute time and money. The Old Belief Society was an organized group with clear goals and regular meetings. Yet, when a shared piece of infrastructure is owned entirely by one person, the group can lose it at any moment. The person owning it can hit hard financial times, could die, there could be personality conflicts, or they could change their spirituality – which is what happened in this case.

It’s often difficult for group members, or any potential donors, to decide if a project such as this one, owned by one person, is something in which to get involved. On the other hand, that’s usually the only way projects, such as this one, get started. One person is willing to take the risk and has the resources to accomplish the task.

Tawy House Kemetic Temple
In 1994, Rev. Tamara Siuda filed paperwork to make her religious group, the Kemetic Orthodox House of Netjer, a legal non-profit in the state of Michigan. By 2000, the group had achieved federal 501(c)(3) status.

Also in 2000, the Tawy House,  Kemetic Orthodox retreat, was created out of the childhood home of the group’s founder, Rev. Siuda. The house sat on 2.5 acres of woods in Michigan and was mostly open during the summer months. That same year Suida began drawing a modest salary as the group’s spiritual leader.

By 2003 the group had grown larger and started looking for a larger space that they could use year round. In October of that year, they had raised enough funds to purchase a former convent in Illinois. The 100-year-old three-story brick building was converted for their use and now contains a full-size temple chapel, a library, a dedicated kitchen and dining area, the permanent residence and offices for Rev. Siuda, and short- and long-term guestrooms for visiting clergy and temple members.

A core group of around 50 members donate on a regular basis, and these donations add up to between $30,000 and $40,000 per year. Last fall, when the temple’s boiler broke and a ceiling, damaged by leaking water, needed to be repaired, a special appeal for funds was pitched to members. They were able to raise over $3000 for the repairs and also buy a new refrigerator.

The temple got its start by using property owned by its founder. However, it was able to grow past that point within a fairly short time and buy property specifically for use as a temple. The group is still formed around the founder, who lives in the Tawy House temple, and doesn’t appear to have a succession plan.

While it’s generally commonly known that groups are likely to collapse after the loss of the founder, its equally uncommon for groups or organizations to put a succession plan in place to not only preserve the group but also preserve whatever infrastructure they have built.

The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt (TWH), although different from a temple or community center, is one such organization with infrastructure that has survived (so far) intact.

Jason Pitzl-Waters started The Wild Hunt back in 2004. He had been looking for a reliable blog that would link to news stories that were either about modern Paganism or would be of interest to Pagans. He noticed there wasn’t much out there. At first he didn’t post every day, but as the readership grew, so did the frequency of his posts.

In 2011, he held his first fundraiser for the site to gauge if readers valued his work enough to donate. In the summer of 2011, still looking for a modest funding model, The Wild Hunt moved to Patheos. The popular religion site was attracted to The Wild Hunt due to its readership numbers and high quality of reliable, daily content. This continued for almost exactly one year. Then, in the summer of 2012, The Wild Hunt became an independent entity again.

Since that time, TWH has used a yearly Fall Funding Drive hosted on Indiegogo as a way to finance its operating costs, which include robust hosting, an editor, and modestly paid contributors. In the 2012 funding drive, 161 people donated for a total of $9,483. In 2013, 305 people donated to TWH for a total of $12,984. In 2014, the number of people donating dropped to 285, but the total amount raised rose to just over $15,000. In each of the funding drives, TWH clearly lays out its proposed budget for the next year.

None of this happened overnight. Jason Pitzl-Waters wrote almost daily articles for seven years before he engaged in his first funding effort. He slowly added other writers to prevent burnout and then created a succession plan so he could pursue other interests. In spring 2014, Pitzl-Waters handed TWH over to its editor Heather Greene, demonstrating a successful succession plan.

Will TWH continue to survive and thrive without its founder? Will Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists continue to find value in and support the content TWH puts out each day? Only time will tell.

“I wonder if the data shows that Pagans really only fund projects with a clear deliverable they can consume?” Dr. Kimberly Kirner, Department of Anthropology, California State University, Northridge

Dr. Kirner notes that The Wild Hunt has a clear, consistent deliverable which contrasts with organizations that need regular funding to operate programs. “Everyone loves funding something new with a clear timeline. It is much harder to get people to fund things that happen more or less the same, month after month, year after year. People tend to take this for granted and not find it very exciting. I think many Western religious organizations get around this through a concept of tithing, which then integrates this not-so-exciting ongoing giving with spiritual values,” says Dr. Kirner. She wonders if, in the absence of an acceptance of tithing as a concept, if Pagans are only going to support projects with a short-term deliverable that they can use.

In the case of a community center in Minneapolis, the answer was yes, Pagans were willing to contribute regular funding to a longer term operation. Yet it still failed.

 “In Paganistan we need meeting space. It was easier when the Eye [of Horus store] had a room but now groups are meeting at the library or a members house or renting occasional church space. Only one group I know has a permanent rented dedicated space and they do that by charging membership dues.”  – Larissa Bedazzler

Sacred Paths Center
After three rocky years, in May 2012, the Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in Minnesota, announced it was closing. Shortly after the announcement, I spoke with past and present Sacred Paths Center (SPC) board members, volunteers, and their last financial auditor.  I looked over financial records and minutes of board meetings, and interviewed Director Teisha Magee to find out what happened.

Sacred Paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

Sacred Paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

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, from two years of road construction right outside their door, didn’t help matters. Despite all of that, they were are united in saying that the center almost made it due to the efforts of the Director, Board, volunteers and the most importantly, community support.

To find out why the center closed, you have to examine how the center was created. In January 2009, after a few weeks discussing the idea of a community center with family and friends, Teisha Magee signed the lease for what would be the Sacred Paths Center. The $1500 raised in a personal Paypal account allowed her to cover moving expenses and open the doors February 13.

Most of the flaws in SPC were formed at its birth, and contributed to its cycle of funding crises.

It was set up as a private business, and the financial accounts of Magee, the owner, and the center were mingled. Magee was unskilled in bookkeeping, and there was little to no documentation of the center’s finances. According to the person who audited SPC in 2011, this was routine and it caused difficulties that plagued the center for the course of its existence.

The center never converted to a 501c3 and was instead registered as a corporate non-profit in the state of Minnesota.  This meant Magee owned the center and the center’s board was more of an advisory council rather than a governing board with fiduciary authority.

The start-up funding of SPC consisted of the private funds from Magee and $1500 raised from supporters after a few weeks. With fixed expenses coming in at around $4000 a month, that was insufficient cash reserves. Small business experts suggest a new business have between six months to two years operating expenses saved and in the bank before they open their doors. SPC started out, almost from the beginning, behind in its bills and without a cash reserve built up. The center experienced repeated financial crises.

Ancestor shrine inside the Sacred paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

Ancestor shrine inside the Sacred paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

In summer 2009, just six months after SPC opened, the community was told that SPC was holding an emergency fundraiser to help pay its outstanding bills. The funds were raised. During the next year, the center was barely financially stable, and ans August 2010 fund raiser was held to build up cash reserves. But only a modest $3000 was raised.

To make matters worse, a two-year construction project began on the road leading to SPC.  As a result, revenue from the front store dropped. In July 2011, the center said it needed $12,000 within a month to pay past due bills or the center would close. Pagans from across the country donated and the amount was raised. But the center could not get ahead of the bills or create the needed reserve.

In July 2011, when the center had its second financial crisis, the SPC underwent an independent audit. The auditor recommended education on financial best practices for Magee and the board, stronger financial oversight by the board, and that two persons approve all expenses. The director and the board didn’t act on the audit’s recommendations. The auditor believes a lack of financial knowledge and skills prevented them from implementing the recommendation.

Volunteers are one of the reasons the center stayed viable for as long as it did. Every person who staffed the center was a volunteer, even the owner and Executive Director Teisha Magee, who worked all day, on most days without drawing a salary. This is a considerable savings as the average community center director in Minneapolis brings home $78,000 a year.

The location seemed like the ideal place for a Pagan shop and community center, but it wasn’t sustainable from the start and would only grow worse. The neighborhood was welcoming and eclectic, and the landlord was friendly. It was on a bus line, had ample parking, and was very spacious. It was also expensive and only grew more expensive. The rent, set at $1500 when Magee signed the lease, rose to just over $2000 in 2011, and was negotiated back down to $1500 for 2012. Utilities averaged barely under $1000 a month.

The center adjusted to the expenses during the last part of 2009 and seemed to hit a stride in 2010. The store was bringing in the lion’s share of income, but memberships and room rentals were also up. They learned the business cycle and knew how to plan for slower summers and busier winters.

Then construction for a light rail track started. It was a very large straw that broke the camel’s back. Getting to the center became increasingly difficult. Parking was harder to find. In 2011 memberships started to drop as did store revenues. What little cash reserves they built up in 2010 were quickly used. Other businesses around the center struggled and a few of them failed.

By late 2011, the center considered moving and, in early 2012, it became more of a priority. Which brings us to May 2012, with three months unpaid rent,  the phones shut off, and Magee facing up to $25,000 in debt when all accounts were finally settled. SPC had to close, so it did.

Takeaways from Sacred Paths Center:

  • The community gave significant monetary and volunteer support to the center. In 2011 the center brought in approximately $50,000 in revenue. In February 2012 they generated $4000 in revenue and in March, the center received $440 in membership dues alone. 
  • The center was heavily and consistently used, hosting between 45-50 scheduled events per month. There were weekly gatherings, such as the Monday night potluck and the Thursday night Mentoring Elders program. Witch wars were laid to rest at SPC; the most notable being the rift healed between the Minnesota Church of Wicca and the Wiccan Church of Minnesota. Photos and ashes rest on the memorial ancestor shrine. Fundraisers were held for community members facing costly illnesses. 
  • The center diversified revenue streams. The store brought in the lion’s share of income, but there were also memberships with perks and room rental income. 
  • Almost every person involved, from the Director/Owner down to many of the board members didn’t have basic business skills. And didn’t take classes to learn basic business skills. 
  • The center was launched quickly, without enough start up funds. SPC was behind on its bills from almost the very first day. 
  • The center’s expenses were too high. 
  • It depended too heavily on volunteers, which lead to burnout and mistakes. 
  • It hoped for the best, but was unprepared for obstacles, such as the road leading to the center being torn up.

It’s clear that the community center quickly became the center of the Pagan community in the Twin Cities area and that it was heavily utilized and supported by the community. With better management, upfront cash reserves, and more modest expenses a community center could once again open in the Twin cities because local Pagans saw a need. The question now is, will area Pagans be willing to support another community center after the ups and downs of Sacred Paths Center?

 My area DESPERATELY needs meeting space. My group is always at the mercy of library spaces. And now that we’ve gotten so big recently, 200+ active members, we are the largest pagan org in DC, it’s getting harder and harder to find spaces that can accommodate all of us. Now we can only rent out one library’s auditorium because its the only space we know of indoors that can fit more than 50 people at a time. – David Salisbury

Star and Stone Druid Fellowship
Many groups are experiencing similar growing pains as David Salisbury’s group. One such group is Star and Stone Druid Fellowship, an OBOD Seed Group. They are still too small to build much infrastructure, but too large to keep operating in a casual, pass-the-hat way. Too big for the living room, but too small to regularly rent a venue.

Dr. Kimberly Kirner, who’s part of the grove, says that the group funds its operations in three ways. The 12 initiates pay annual dues of $40 per person, passing the hat at each gathering brings in another $10 to $20 per person per gathering, and a few members routinely pay out of pocket to host rituals or provide the necessary supplies. The funds go to pay website hosting, reservations or the annual Lughnasadh camping trip, and food for regular gatherings.

The group is growing. In addition to their twelve members, they also have two other persons who regularly attend festivals plus friends and family of initiates. With 20 or more persons now attending events, they need a regular space to meet.

They’d also like to host larger public rituals and rent cabins or park space more than one time a year, but they are limited by money. They’re also limited by time. Most members work full time jobs, which means the time they can devote to volunteering for the group or for the wider Pagan community is in short supply. 

Often, I see Pagan communities having to compromise, and to center themselves around who has a resource, like a large plot of land, that they are willing to share, whether the person with the land and resources is good at being in community or not. With time, hopefully we’ll be in a position where stronger, more cohesive Pagan communities will begin to attract some of the resources to themselves, rather than having to center around a few folks with the money or land to be able to subsidize us–because even though such people can be great, that does get in the way of that feeling like our communities belong equally to us all.”–  Cat Chapin-Bishop

Mt. Toby Meeting House
Better known as Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends has infrastructure lessons that emerging Pagan communities and groups can learn from. Yet there are challenges Pagans face that Quakers do not. Quakers place great value in coming together for regular, mostly silent, worship. Pagans may come together in worship, but the differences in types of Pagans means most Pagans only come together in very small groups and do so fewer times a year.

The 120 acres of land and the meeting house Cat Chapin-Bishop attends was donated as a gift, as was the financing to build the actual structure back 1964. Additional gifts over the years helped expand the meeting house and maintain a burial ground. The fact that Quakers have been around for over 500 years makes gifts of these sorts more likely than a religion that has been actively practiced for only a few decades.

There are around 60 to 70 Friends who attend meetings each week at Mt. Toby and this particular meeting house has about 200 to 300 people who regularly support it. They donate about $58,000 per year. Funds are not raised by passing a collection plate, attendees are simply reminded what an average family contributes and what the financial needs are.

Every member or attender of the meeting is responsible for a week of cleaning during the year. While some volunteer up to 20 hours a week to help out, others primarily just attend the meetings. Everything that can be done by volunteers, is done by volunteers.

The major expenses are maintaining the meeting house, utilities, and monetary support for members to attend workshops and conferences. There is no paid clergy among the Friends.

Members have a feeling of ownership toward the meeting house; a feeling that the Society of Friends encourages through their actions. Once you volunteer to clean the meeting house, you have access to the building’s keys. Members care for the property. There is no leader in charge, no one person owns anything. And since worship is held each week, a feeling of community develops. The meeting house starts to feel like a second home.

Takeaways from the Mt Toby Meeting House:

  • This type of self-sustaining infrastructure takes generations to build up, but a gift of land or money for land happens first. The group is able to keep expenses low through the devotion of its members.
  • The Society of Friends is known for having a culture of openness and trust. If you show up, you’ll be welcomed in. If you clean the meeting house, you’re given a key. Want to see the finances? Attend a business meeting.
  • No one is pressured to donate. They list out their needs and trust that people who can afford it will donate funds to take care of one another. Cat Chapin-Bishop says it simply feels natural to give.

Mt. Toby is luckier than many Quaker meeting houses. For instance, they have a larger membership. Some older meeting houses can no longer afford to maintain the space, and the property is becoming more of a liability than an asset. It’s important to constantly evaluate if your infrastructure is helping you or hurting you.

Every group and community has to decide if an potential infrastructure, of any kind, addresses an actual need, or is just something they want. They need to plan carefully, have a detailed business plan in place, and have competent and trustworthy people in charge.

Having the physical assets owned by the entire group or a whole community can protect not just the organization, but the founder, as well.  And none of this happens quickly. It takes years, decades, and generations to build something that will last well-past the original founders.

Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), recently announced their imminent closure, a decision that came in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. PNC-Minnesota reporter Cara Schulz has just posted a lengthy and informative exploration of exactly what happened, talking with several individuals involved in running the center.

Newly elected (Feb.2012) SPC board members Nikki, Lola, Carol, Mary, Heather, and Emily. Not pictured, Teisha Magee

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 entire article is essential reading for anyone curious as to how this closure came about, and a lesson for anyone thinking of opening their own community center. You may also want to read JRob Zetelumen’s obituary for the center, which looks at its accomplishments and historical importance.

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!

Sacred Paths Center Announces Closure: Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), sent out an email today announcing their imminent closure. Executive Director Teisha Magee cited a lack of money, resources, and volunteers as reasons for this decision.

“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.”

This decision comes in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. It seems that Sacred Paths Center wasn’t able to overcome the many obstacles towards long-term sustainability, and it raises serious questions for other communities looking to follow in their footsteps. Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for further follow-ups on this story.

Maetreum of Cybele Denied Tax Exemption for 2012: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, has been denied religious property tax exemption yet again, even though they meet all federal and state qualifications. In a public statement, Rev Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele noted that the town has spent an estimated quarter of a million dollars to deny their exemptions.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

“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.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the law in this case seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first. Acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh stated in 2011 that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” We’ll keep you updated on further developments. For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation to their $10,000+ legal bill, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

SAPRA’s Annual Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts Comes to a Close: With the issue of witch-hunts, witch-killings, and dangerous exorcisms very much in the news lately, I thought it appropriate to mention the work of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), under the banner of ‘Touchstone Advocacy,’ has been doing since 2008 to raise awareness with their “30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts” campaign, this year held from March 29th – April 27th. In 2011, the campaign won support from a government commission, and they continue to work to protect victims of witch-hunts while combating laws that seek to criminalize “witchcraft” as a solution.

“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.”

You can receive year-round updates on their campaign at their Facebook group page.

In other community news:

At Lewelllyn, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig (“Modern Magick”“The Resurrection Murders”) has announced that he’s writing a book about his long friendship with Scott Cunningham, the seminal Wiccan writer who authored the paradigm-shifting “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.” Quote: “I hope you get an idea of who Scott Cunningham was. Many of the anecdotes and stories have never been published before. The stories and his magical methods pepper chapters on his theories and methods of performing natural magic, his approach to The Goddess and Wicca, and his love for the land, people and magic of Hawaii.”

San Jose State University will be running a Pagan Studies conference semi-concurrently with the 2013 PantheaCon. Organized by Lee Gilmore (SJSU), author “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man,” and Amy Hale (St. Petersburg College), “Pagans in Dialogue with the Wider World: A Pagan Studies Symposium” seeks to, quote, “focus on Paganism’s contributions to and engagements with broader cultural and religious dialogues in an increasingly pluralist world.” You can read the full announcement and call for papers at Chas Clifton’s blog.

PNC-Washington DC covers the recently held 2012 Ecumenicon, an interfaith conference that was founded in 1987, and features significant Pagan and esoteric involvement. Quote: “The group that would ultimately found Ecumenicon realized that there was a hunger for actual religious education as it applied across all religions and particularly to alternative religions.  Ecumenicon comprises an ecumenical conference and ecumenical ministry, for those who seek such a path.”

Is Pagan Spirit Gathering’s current home in Illinois in danger? PNC-Minnesota reports that a group of local citizens are petitioning to have Stonehouse Park rezoned back to agricultural use only (more on this here), complaining of noise and drug-use (none of the complaints are about PSG, but to other, non-Pagan events). PSG/Circle organizer Sharon Stewart is working with local officials, and hopes to obtain a special permit if the worst should happen. We’ll keep you posted on this as news develops.

PNC culture blog The Juggler has an interview up with Pagan author Christopher Penczak (“The Inner Temple of Witchcraft”“The Outer Temple of Witchcraft”), talking to him about his career and teachings. Quote: “I think if you focus on your intention in the ritual, and then think which of these paths support that overall vision, you’ll be doing great. Avoid the “Everything but the kitchen sink mentality.” Every ritual doesn’t need every path. I think determining if it is inhibitory or exhibitory is the first step, then which paths will help in that method?”

That’s all I have for now, have a happy May Day!

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.

In addition, the document endorses providing “sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation” in regards to conversions.  Frowning on quickie conversions and urging Christians to “refrain from offering all forms of allurements.” All of which is encouraging on its face, though the document also has a political purpose, to help missionaries lobby against anti-conversion laws in places like India. Still, despite the document’s flaws, it does represent a vital shift as revelations of coercive conversion tactics in Haiti, and serious accusations that missionaries stirred up anti-Vodou violence, not to mention an emerging theory within evangelical circles that Christian missions may have helped trigger the witch-hunts in Africa are making more and more Christians questions how the “Great Commission” is enacted. The reverberations of these events and Christian response to it will have long-reaching effects on modern Pagans, indigenous religious practitioners, and ultimately all non-Christians.

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 forplanned 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.

08. The Growth (and Growing Pains) of Modern Pagan Infrastructure: In addition to fundraising, this has been a year of Community Centers, Temples, and Libraries in the Pagan news. As modern Pagan communities grow as do questions of what, if any, infrastructure we want. Do we want a congregational model? What about temples? This year, more so than I’ve seen for some time, we’ve publicly wrestled with the answers to these questions. This year the Minneapolis-St. Paul community (aka “Paganistan”) saw their Sacred Paths Center go through a number of fiscal problems, though it seems to have weathered its storms, meanwhile The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC prepares to launch its own community center . In Delaware, ground was broken for the ambitious New Alexandrian Library project, one that has already gotten some impressive donations to its collection.

“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.”

While there has been forward movement, there have also been setbacks and challenges. Temple of the River in Minnesota closed down, a Pagan temple in the Ukraine was vandalized, and in upper New York the  continues its long and drawn-out tax battle with the Town of Catskill, one that will hopefully be decided in 2012. Still, despite the challenges it seems clear that Pagan infrastructure is a growing issue, and that more groups are looking to plant permanent roots in their communities.

07. The Debate Over Gender in Modern Paganism: One of the most sustained and intense discussions within the modern Pagan community this year was over issues of gender, essentialism, and transgender inclusion. Sparked by a breakdown in communication and resulting transgender exclusion at a 2011 PantheaCon ritual, the conversation soon ballooned to all corners of the modern Pagan community. CAYA’s Amazon Priestess Tribe’s Rite of Lilith ended up acting as a catalyst for a long-overdue conversation about the role of gender and transgender individuals within modern Paganism, one that led to a groundbreaking conference in September centered on the question of gender within our communities.

joi wolfwomyn and Vicki Noble. Photo by Greg Harder.
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.”

06. James Arthur Ray Convicted and Sent to Prison: At the end of 2010 I listed the story of New Age guru and “Secret” peddler James Arthur Ray’s disastrous and deadly sweat lodge ceremony  as one of the most important of the year, noting that “the longterm ramifications of this event will be for Ray, Native Americans, the New Age market, and the modern Pagans who cross-pollinate with these affected communities remains to be seen.” Now, at the end of 2011 we’ve seen the trial, conviction for negligent homicide, and sentencing of Ray. In the end, Ray will only serve two years in prison, though he’s appealing, and has settled the civil lawsuits with the victim’s families for more than 3 million dollars. Shortly after the conviction, I rounded up reactions from Native Americans, the families of the victims, and the Pagan community, many seemed to agree that Ray’s seemingly boundless ego, narcissism, and god-complex led to a pattern of unsafe events.

“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.

Tomorrow I will post the top five Pagan stories for 2011. In the meantime, I invite you to check out the top religion stories from some different perspectives. Here are the BBC’s picks, the Religion Newswriters Association’s picks, Mother Jones’ top ignored religion stories, Religion Dispatches top religion stories that weren’t, top 11 of 2011 from HuffPo Religion, Time’s top religion picksand the Washington Post’s On Faith picks.

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.

In yesterday’s community roundup I noted that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), had been able to reach its fundraising goals, and would be staying open. This was the culmination of an emergency fundraising campaign started at the beginning of July to save the center, it was estimated that they needed to raise approximately $12,000 to remain open and have enough breathing room to restructure. However, just one day after announcing that they have successfully reached their fundraising goals, Sacred Paths Center sent out a statement saying the center was closed “indefinitely” pending internal and external financial audits.

“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.”

Shortly after the statement went out figures closely associated with SPC commented on the closing. At PNC-Minnesota, board member CJ Stone made the following comment:

“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.”

This was echoed by another board member, Carol Haselmann, on SPC’s Facebook group.

“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 1part 2) by PNC reporter Cara Schultz.

You can read all of my coverage on this story, here.

ADDENDUM: Sacred Paths Center announces they will reopen on August 8th.

“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.

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.

On July 8th I reported that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), was in danger of closing down unless they could raise $7,500 immediately. That was followed by an interview conducted by PNC-Minnesota with SPC board member CJ Stone, where it was estimated that the center needed to raise $12,000 total by the end of July to remain open and viable for the longer term. Today, CJ Stone left an update in our comments section, to say that they’ve almost raised their immediate goal, and are hopeful about reaching the $12,000 needed to restructure for long-term survival.

“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.”

You can find out more about the center’s fundraising initiatives at their website. Sacred Paths Center had recently unveiled a new national public ancestor shrine and sacred spirit altar.  Sacred Paths Center’s journey was also profiled by PNC reporter Cara Schultz  in a special video series produced earlier this year (part 1part 2).

We will continue to cover this story as it develops.

This Sunday, I have updates on some previously reported stories.

Sacred Paths Center’s Fiscal Crisis: As I reported on FridaySacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), sent out a message that they were in dire fiscal straits and needed over 7000 dollars immediately if they were to avoid closure. Now one of the SPC’s board members, CJ Stone, has been interviewed by PNC-Minnesota about the situation.

“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.

James Arthur Ray Aftermath: After the negligent homicide convictions for New Age guru James Arthur Ray, Mitch Horowitz, author of “Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation,” ponders whether we should regulate retreats and rituals. While Horowitz acknowledges that Ray-inspired regulations “could be valuable,” he ultimately opposes government intervention.

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.”

Horowitz endorses better education, something the new not-for-profit organization, SEEK, (Self-help Empowerment through Education and Knowledge), endeavors to do. Meanwhile, the story of Ray’s deadly sweat lodge ritual doesn’t seem to be going away, the Guardian just did a lengthy write-up about Ray, anti-Ray activists (and cult observers) are not letting him slip out of the spotlight, and you can bet there will be appeals once he’s been sentenced.

Winnemem Wintu Postpone Coming of Age Ceremony: Back in April I mentioned that the Winnemem Wintu Tribe in Northern California was coordinating a petition drive to close a small section of the McCloud River so they can hold their coming-of-age ceremony in peace. In previous years a “voluntary closure” was ignored by local power-boaters who shouted racist and threatening epithets at the Tribe. Now, the Winnemem Wintu have decided to postpone this year’s coming of age ceremony because the US Forest Service refuses to enforce a mandatory closure.

“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.”

The Winnemem are planning to try again for a mandatory closure next year, and are considering filing a complaint with the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. You can keep up with this story by following the tribe’s Facebook page, and their blog dedicated to this issue.

Harry Potter and Witchcraft: Over the years I’ve looked at conservative Christian responses to the ever-popular Harry Potter books and movies. How they “glamorize the power of evil,” inspiring opposition that bordered on parody. Even the Bush administration worried over the demonic powers of Harry. But it looks like the great battles over Harry Potter seducing children into the practice of Witchcraft have finally burnt out, with former critics starting to admit they might have overreacted a bit.

“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.”

That’s a big admission from an evangelical heavyweight. It really shows how the oxygen has gone out of this issue (author JK Rowling essentially admitting it’s a Christian allegory probably helped). Not that there won’t continue to be those who find it evil, but the Harry Potter culture war may finally be ending.

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