JEMEZ SPRINGS, N.M. — Ten years ago, a group of Pagans in northern New Mexico created a Pagan school and retreat center called Ardantane. Since that time, students have enrolled in 1,275 of Ardantane’s classes. To learn more about the success and operations of this unique place, The Wild Hunt spoke with two members of Ardantane’s staff: Rowan and Amber K. Rowan serves as dean of the School of Magick and Witchcraft. Amber K, who is also a prolific Pagan author, serves as executive director of Ardantane. Both Amber K and Rowan follow the Our Lady of the Woods tradition.According to Rowan, the name Ardantane means “light of the fire.” Amber K placed the name in historical context, saying “Our ancestors gathered around bonfires, campfires, and hearth fires to share the stories, history, and lore of their people. We aim to do the same, in a modern context.”
Pagan land management
The group of New Mexico Pagans owns the land on which the school stands. According to the interviewees, when Pagans own land, they have to manage it within the constraints of Pagan values and often on limited funds. Rowan explained, “doing things ‘the right way’ generally costs more than doing things the easy way.” Amber K said that they will switch to solar energy and rainwater harvesting once funds become available.
While only an hour from Albuquerque, Ardantane borders the Santa Fe National Forest on two sides. The school lies in the liminal space at the border of human culture and nature. According to Rowan, they “see coyotes, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and other critters occasionally.” When Covenant of the Goddess held a leadership workshop at Ardantane in 2012, attendees were first schooled on handling possible animal encounters. Most of these animals will leave humans alone, unless provoked. Amber K said no problems with animal-human contact have occurred.
Since the school first started, volunteers and staff have transformed the land. At purchase, it had no structures, electricity, or water. They have since added all those “human” elements, but only on one acre out of the full 27. This has minimized the potential of negative human impact on the land.
Grass no longer grows on Ardantane’s land. Erosion happens. When Ardantane staff noticed the instability of the hillside behind one of the buildings, they began looking for solutions. A volunteer designed a serpentine wall to stabilize the hillside, as shown in the photo above. They used donated clay roofing tiles, bales of hay, and mushroom straw to build the wall and its associated terraces.
Cultural appropriation issues
Native American religious traditions have survived and evolved in northern New Mexico, but assimilation still threatens many of those traditions. Those people still practicing the old ways continue to work with the established relationships built with the spirits of the land – ones that have existed for over millennia.
Many Pagans in the area also work to create and maintain relationships with those same land spirits. Modern Pagans have frequently seen trhese ancient Native cultures as being Pagan-adjacent. The perception has led some Pagans to assume a familial relationship with Native traditions. However, many people from those traditions do not share that assumption of familiarity. Given history, they remain wary.
According to Amber K, Ardantane has positive connections with some members of Jemez Pueblo, whose population is 99.13 percent Native American. She stressed that many “pueblo folk are careful of their privacy, and that has to be respected.”
Amber K described Ardantane’s relationship with Native Peoples as one of respect. She said, “We are careful to respect the traditional religions of our neighbors and focus more on Celtic and European indigenous spirituality.” She felt that seeking out Native Spirits bordered on cultural appropriation.
Ardantane does not seek out Native American spirits, but those spirits may still manifest themselves. Rowan reported that “Spider Woman came through pretty forcefully in one ritual to say we were ‘throwing a party in her house’ and we hadn’t invited her! Needless to say, she has since become one of our patron (matron, if you prefer) Goddesses.”
Amber K told the story of the Hidden Goddess. On their first visit to the land that became Ardantane, they saw some boulders that looked like the Willendorf Venus. Some people might have labeled it a stone snowman. Amber K and others saw it as an incarnate Earth goddess.
On their next visit, they couldn’t find that Willendorf Venus of New Mexico. Amber K said, “It seemed unlikely that someone would stroll away with several hundred pounds of solid rock, so we kept looking.” On their next few visits, they couldn’t find this New Mexican Willendorf Venus. And then they did find her, only to have her disappear again. Then she reappeared. Amber K reported that sometimes she’s visible and other time she’s not. “Does she leave or fade to invisibility at times, or are we just not capable of seeing her some days? It’s a mystery.”
They now call her, “The Hidden Goddess.”Ardantane staff thanks the local land spirits regularly. They ask those spirits for their help in relating to the land. They also have a shrine to the Ancients both human and other.
Schools and Training
Ardantane consists of five schools. The two most popular are the School of Magic and Witchcraft, and the School of Pagan Spirituality. Ardantane offers certificate programs in these two schools. The three other schools are the school of Pagan Leadership, the School of Sacred Living, and the School of Shamanic Studies.
Besides its own programs, Ardantane also provides training for the Order of the Paladins. Amber K described the Order of the Paladins as a Wiccan Order of Knighthood. The order was founded by Wiccan author Kerr CuhulainRowan said that Paladin training amounted to less than 30 percent of Ardantane’s classes.
Most of these classes and training sessions are done online. Rowan estimated that, in the first half of 2018, Ardantane offered 80 percent of its classes over the internet. But not all are online, Ardantane offers workshops at local events such as the recent Mabon festival, and at local Pagan Pride days. In November, Ardantane will host the Torch and Key Retreat, an event dedicated to Hekate.
Besides its course work, Ardantane also hosts retreats and is available for other organization’s private retreats. Ardantane members, including Amber K, often frequent other national Pagan events and are ready to talk to people about the unique Pagan project that has become Ardantane.