SEATTLE, Wash. – For the first time in five years, the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) will have an Arch Priest. Dusty Dionne will be elevated to that position at The Spring Mysteries in late April. That post has been vacant since the death of Pete “Pathfinder” Davis on Samhain 2014. Davis had founded the ATC in 1979. The Spring Mysteries will take place in Nordland, Washington from April 18 through April 21.
The Aquarian Tabernacle Church has organized the Spring Mysteries for the last 34 years. At 36 years old, Dusty Dionne will be just two years older than the festival where he will become Arch Priest.
The Wild Hunt recently spoke with Belladonna LaVeau, Matriarch of the Mother Church of the ATC. She has held that position since 2012. She described the ATC as a British traditional religious hierarchy. A single Matriarch or Patriarch heads the ATC. Each Matriarch or Patriarch appoints their successor. These are lifetime appointments. LaVeau has chosen Dionne as her successor.
LaVeau said that Dionne was there at her side when she was being trained to be the matriarch. She continued, “He has been my confidant and partner for 14 years now, and together we have looked for an Arch Priest to serve with me. We have quietly considered many High Priests, both ATC and from other magical houses.” She said that Dionne stood out for his work in consciousness raising and in defending Pagan civil rights.
Looking to the future, LaVeau stated, “I’ll still be the Matriarch of the church, and we’ll have a strong, brilliant, young Arch Priest to step into the role of Patriarch and keep the wisdom going many years after I pass.”
As the prospective third head of the ATC, Dionne mirrors changes in the 40 year old organization. LaVeau reported that some current members of the ATC community are third and fourth generation Pagans. Fewer people need introductory courses. LaVeau said, “We are more focused on Earth Stewardship and navigating our community through the Earth Changes. The Climate Crisis is upon us, and the Goddess has asked us to turn our attention to saving our food supply and replanting Her Earth.”
The ancient mysteries
The Eleusinian Mysteries formed a central part of ancient Greco-Roman Pagan history. A highly effective vow of silence bounded what happened inside those mysteries. Still some knowledge did pass down through the centuries. What is known about the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries forms the basis of the Spring Mysteries.
The Kore-Demeter-Persephone myth formed the basis of this Pagan ritual. The mysteries had two sequential parts: The Lesser Mysteries and the Greater Mysteries. Initiates of the Lesser Mysteries became the “Mystai.” Only the Mystai were eligible to take part in the Greater Mysteries. Initiates of the Greater Mysteries become “Epoptes.” The Lesser Mysteries took place in the Spring. The Greater Mysteries took place in the Fall.
The ancient mysteries were open to all, even enslaved people. Prospective initiates, however, had to bring a pig to sacrifice, which would have excluded those without a certain amount of wealth.
No one is sure when these mysteries began. They may have begun as early as the Mycenean period (1600 to 1100 BCE). It is known that they ended with the imposition of Christianity. In 392 CE, the Emperor Theodosius I ordered the closing of all Pagan sanctuaries. Four years later, Christianized Goths, led by Alaric, sacked the temple site. Thus ended the major pilgrimage of the ancient Mediterranean. It can be viewed as the end of ancient, public Greco-Roman Pagan Religion.
The town of Eleusis is now a major industrial center. It has the largest oil refinery in Greece, as well as the ruins of the sacred site.
The Spring Mysteries
The ATC has based the Spring Mysteries on that which has survived. About 200 people attended the Spring Mysteries last year. In keeping with the Eleusinian tradition, LaVeau called attendees “pilgrims.” Not all pilgrims were members of ATC.
As no permanent temple exists, each year the ATC transforms Fort Flagler in Nordland, Washington (state) into the Holy City of Eleusis. Pilgrims come from all over the world to “honor the Great Mother and commune with the Gods of Olympus.” LaVeau described the Mysteries as “an oath bound initiatory rite into the mysteries of the Goddess of Grain and Abundance, Mother Demeter.”
More will happen at The Spring Mysteries than the elevation of the Arch Priest. Pilgrims will process to the sea. They will be able to commune with the Olympians. They will be able to become initiates of the Lesser Mysteries. Those who are initiates of the Lesser Mysteries will be able to become initiates of the Greater Mysteries.
After the procession to the sea, participants can visit shrines to each of the Olympian Gods. Each shrine has a votary and wisdom keeper as well as a vessel, a second degree initiate who hosts the god of that shrine. ATC refers to this possession as a Full Embodiment. According to LaVeau, a vessel must audition for this role. Once selected, that vessel goes through an extensive training.
LaVeau said, “Each vessel is holding the gods within themselves and allows that deity to use their body to speak and interact with the pilgrims of Eleusis.” Pilgrims can make offerings and talk with the Pagan gods through the vessel. LaVeau said that frequently the vessels will have no memory of any conversation. According to LaVeau, “The priests and priestesses of the ATC are known for their skills at invocation. It can be very similar to possession.”
One pilgrim, Natalie Zaman, wrote about her experiences at the Spring Mysteries for “Witches and Pagans” and remains available on the Spring Mysteries website.
This year, musician Wendy Rule will debut her new album in the U.S. at the Spring Mysteries. Titled “Persephone” it contains 22 songs which weave throughout the Spring Mysteries. LaVeau said “Wendy’s music allows us to ride a wave through the second part of the Lesser Mysteries that make me feel like I’m getting to experience the rites for the first time.”
The 2019 Pagan Festival Season Starts March 20
The spring equinox marks the beginning of the Pagan Festival circuit. At least six festivals will occur between March 20 and April 1. A forthcoming Wild Hunt article will discuss them.