Fire reveals religious intolerance and community strength

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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Last week a fire at Laughingbrook Spellcrafting & Ancestral Arts (LBSCAA) that was the result of faulty wiring and poor maintenance allegedly on the part the building’s owner and management has brought to light some religious intolerance within the Huntersville, North Carolina community.

The fire started in the space of above the ceiling of LBSCAA and did little damage to the structure. Unfortunately, the contents of the store were affected by water damage when the fire was doused by firefighters.

[courtesy LBSCAA]

Gabriella Laughingbrook, founder and owner of LBSCAA, opened the business in the Fall of 2014 and has enjoyed the support of former Mayor, Jill Swain. Laughingbrook said Swain often brought officials visiting from other towns to see the variety of local art showcased at the shop and to experience the hospitality and the strength of diversity it represented.

Laughingbrook Spellcrafting & Ancestral Arts also maintained a good relationship with the Huntersville Police Department, and other town officials. According to Laughingbrook, “The local papers and news networks have been tremendously supportive and positive in their presentations of the pagan community.”

The community that has grown up around LBSCAA that Laughingbrook refers to as a” Village” or “Village Laughingbrook”. I asked her clarify how she defined “Village”.

“My style of Craft is VERY New England, Salem Village, Colonial hedgecraft type stuff, (easy when you’re born there). So, when I use the word ‘Village’, I’m referring to this sacred image in my head; an idealized collective of people, fraught with struggle, who each lend value to our experience of life. More concretely it’s the group of folk who want a family type sense of belonging whether they come into the shop in person, or simply participate in our discussions online, I counsel them all. I love them all. We are accountable to each other and grapple with our existences however they play out. That’s the Village—much, much more than calling them just “regular customers.” The community helped Village Laughingbrook thrive even while many other businesses were struggling.

While terrible, the fire showed the strength of the community   “The support for LBSCAA has been overwhelming. It comes from both within Village Laughingbrook and just outside it. We are a community gifted with many connections and peopled with many skilled tradespeople,” Laughingbrook said.

Within hours of being notified of the fire, Laughingbrook said, “A GoFundMe account was created before the smoke had cleared from the rooftop of our building. Volunteers have declared themselves on every social media account we have. Donations of art pieces to repopulate the shop’s inventory have flowed into my home here in Huntersville since Wednesday.”

The support did not end there.  Since LBSCAA is going to have to relocate, Laughingbrook began receiving offers of all kinds of help. “We have had lawyers and realtors jump to the occasion of assisting in our representation and relocation.”

She said, “I post updates to our status regularly on the shop FB page so volunteers can anticipate asking time off from work to assist in the move, when it is finally possible. The new location will absolutely remain in Huntersville but this time, will be structurally sound. This is an opportunity for huge growth, both educationally for both communities and structurally for what has truly become a healthy and vibrant pagan Village.”

Not all of the responses have been kind, however. One comment posted to one of LBSCAA’s public pages raised concerns.

[screenshot of public post]

Laughingbrook wrote a powerful response to the comment and captured the screenshot above.

Laughingbrook told TWH, “What Mr. Kraft painfully underestimated in his moment of underwhelming affront, was the carbon fiber of strength and resilience that has been intentionally grafted to the bindwood of our green and growing Village. What Kraft and others like him hoped was true was that we a small, diffuse, leaderless gaggle of basement-dwelling, delusional cosplayers. I’m sensing he and many others have learned that we are far from that. I am an outspoken advocate for Pagan/Witch rights. The shop caught the attention of the community and local media the day our door opened. What came to the fore was the jurrassically outdated rhetoric of xtian supremacy. I make an easy target because I do not shrink from difficult conversations.”

With BA’s in Hispanic Linguistics and Cultural Anthropology, and a Master of Education degree in Social Justice Education, plus having been a professional educator and advocate for over 25 years, Laughingbrook was well equipped to handle the adversity. She went on to say, “I trust Mr. Kraft now knows that I welcome every teachable moment and emphatically promote public awareness of injustice.”

There had been a few demonstrations of religious intolerance since the shop opened in 2014, and all of them occurred online. Laughingbrook cites a total of four incidents, “ I can count only 4 individuals to date who have commented their personal intolerance on the LBSCAA FB shop page, the Village Laughingbrook community page and one private message through the LBSCAA shop page.”

While there have been no actual physical encounters, Laughinbrook said there was the potential for one, “A mounted physical confrontation has been alluded to on a Huntersville Presbyterian Church chat thread back in 2015, but was shut down by then acting Mayor, Jill Swain. Musings of torches and pitchforks style protest have never been actualized.”

The only other issue arose when an adjacent business site that had been formerly occupied by Lupie’s Café was leased to a pizza vendor in earlier this year. While the property owner had touted the new business moving in as potentially boosting foot traffic for LBSCAA, they seemed to not be very friendly.

Laughingbrook explained how the interactions unfolded, “When the new restaurant was still in the build-out stage, my children and volunteers noticed immediately that their attempts at conversation and welcome were coldly ignored. My eldest daughter went so far to go over and try to chat up the owners who we had heard one of whom was also from a Sicilian background. My intention had been to offer them a pot of Nonna Santina’s tortellini soup as a hospitality, but after hearing back from her and my older son that they were being very coldly ignored, I realized that the property owner had deliberately misrepresented the open-mindedness of the new tenants.”

Things began to get a more tense over time. Laughingbrook stated, “The coldness became leering looks of disgust, whispering employees out back behind the restaurant, and finally, the visitation of a local Catholic Priest who rudely ignored our greetings, and openly made faces of disgust when we attempted to initiate dialogue.”

The tension continued to escalate after Laughingbrook was told by one her regular “Village” members of a conversation overheard, “It wasn’t soon after that a regular to LBSCAA came over after having a slice of pizza in their establishment to report that kitchen staff had openly reported that the owners had ‘planned to run them (us) off,’ and that ‘the owners [of the pizza restaurant] had gotten a priest to come over to ‘exorcise’ the witches from the building.’ Mind you, by this point, LBSCAA had been very successfully serving the community for 3.5 years.”

Laughingbrook said the series of events culminated in the arrival of a priest, “Indeed, the Catholic Priest did appear on the property and in my hallway which in no way is connected to the hallway entrance to the new restaurant. When asked if he could be helped or if he’d like a cup of coffee or tea, completely ignored my staff, exited the building and went straight to his car and refused to address my staffperson. From then on, the reports of slander came into the shop quite regularly from our Villagers who would grab a slice of pizza from the restaurant.”

She summarized the experience as a little more than disturbing, “To say we were upset was an understatement. Previous to their tenancy, we had created a beautiful working community between Lupie’s, LBSCAA, Cafe 100, and Video Game World. With the exception of pizza shop, that community bond is still intact—indeed it was Zach Kuklinski, Manager of Video Game World who called the Fire Department and me when the fire first broke out.”

[courtesy LBSCAA]

She does have some concerns. “My worry is that the damage of this fire, albeit faultless of LBSCAA, has provided the grumbling undercurrent of repressed intolerance a timely opportunity to throw a stone at our community.”

“Even while standing outside Tuesday night at 8pm watching the roofline over the shop billow smoke, frequenters to the pizza shop could be overheard saying, ‘the witches left a candle burning,’ or, ‘they probably left some incense burning.’ That is the sum total of the angst and vitriol the pizza shop has added to what was previously a beautiful retail support system.”

When asked what she might want the Pagan community to learn from her experience, she responded, “That resilience is the exact opposite of doubt. That as we are faced with a historically endless stream of atrocities against us, we are refined as survivors. We don’t just endure, we persist. We dig in. As long as we can witness the Earth’s perpetual magics, Her infinite and conspired collaborations with Her Sun and Her Moon, from whom all magic is descended, then humanity will never cease to swim in the  flow and miracle of Her Mysteries. One burnt roof does NOT an ending make. Village is Eternal.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly listed Laughingbrook Spellcrafting & Ancestral Arts as Laughingbrook Spellcasting & Ancestral Arts.