This morning I received a letter from Rev. Cathryn Platine and Rev. Viktoria Whittaker, First Battakes and Battakes-in-Waiting of the Maetreum of Cybele located in upstate New York. It is usually not in my habit to re-print letters that I’m sent, but I think in this case it may be warranted.
“We are a Pagan congregation that is encountering entrenched discrimination in upstate New York and currently in court fighting for our rights as a minority religion. The Maetreum of Cybele is a Goddess-centred, reconstructionist religion. Although we are not Wiccan, many of us come from Wiccan backgrounds and still practice as such. We have been noted in Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon, Pat Telesco’s “Which Witch is Which” and Raven Kaldera’s “Hermaphrodeities”. Our founder has been active in the Pagan Community since the 60’s.
We own real property and run a brick-and-mortar establishment in the Town of Catskill in Greene County, New York. Our property consists of a historic former Catskill Inn called Central House and approximately 3+ acres of land with an outdoor Temple/Grove in the hamlet of Palenville. We purchased the property 2002 and turned it into a Pagan Temple and Convent. A Pagan Convent you ask? No, it’s not a contradiction in terms. What we do is provide both temporary and permanent housing for Pagan priestess who wish to dedicate themselves more fully to serving their community as well as for purposes of spiritual retreat, safety and growth.
Not long after we purchased the property a local slumlord addressed a town meeting calling for us to be run out of town by way of zoning and building inspection harassment. While most of the people in town rejected his call and welcomed us, nevertheless over the course of the next several years we weathered continued harassment, vandalism, threats to “burn us out” followed by harassing and illegal inspections.
We incorporated in 2005, put the property in the name of the religious corporation and applied for property tax exemption which was granted in 2006. The following year the renewal of the exemption was denied without given reason ironically enough within weeks of our Federal 501 (C)3 status being approved. The Town of Catskill has continued to deny our exemption to this day in open violation of New York tax law which mandates the property tax exemption for religious and charitable organizations.
Today our situation is that we are considered behind on these illegal taxes and thus in potential danger of having our property taken away which is probably the motive here. Our case is currently in court however we were forced at the last minute to go “pro se” (represent ourselves) because the attorney we were working with would not represent us in court. Under New York law we must have a lawyer represent us because we are incorporated and we have been ordered by the court to hire a lawyer. We were actually ordered to use all our connections and networking so this letter is actually by court order
– believe it or not.
We have also contacted the Department of Justice. Because, after three years of refusing to give a reason for the denial, we were told this year it was because of a zoning violation which is actually prohibited by Federal law under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. We are hoping, as provided by the law, that the DOJ will pursue criminal charges.”
The Matreum is requesting the Pagan community’s help in finding a sympathetic lawyer. It seems they have been turned down by over 30 lawyers already. If you know a Pagan or Pagan-friendly lawyer in New York who might be willing to talk to them and look into their case, I’m sure it would be appreciated (contact e-mail). They are also soliciting donations towards their cause, asking for people to forward this message, do energy work on their behalf, and inviting people to visit their Maetreum in upstate New York. I should also note that if you are a journalist who reads my blog, this could make a great religion-news story that deserves looking into. Oh, and it seems they have a Facebook fan-page, though it doesn’t mention their current crisis.
Finally, a word of caution. While I’m certainly sympathetic to the case here, I should also note that anyone wanting to donate should do their own investigations into the organization first. I do not know, and am not familiar with, this organization or Cathryn Platine. So please do look things over, contact them, and decide for yourself if this all seems legitimate. I’m reprinting this here, now, because it seems urgent and, on its face, a legitimate case of a Pagan group being screwed over.