A Blog by and about the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater

The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater is a neo-pagan, goddess oriented congregation and religious charity headquartered in Palenville, New York. Our home is a 150 year-old inn called Central House. The photo above is a vintage postcard which was mailed in 1917. This blog is all about our current events and what is going on at Central House.

Monday, September 29, 2008

September 29th, 2008

We’ve been hard at work trying to get the house prepared for winter. Cathy and Helen have been rerouting the gas lines to service the relocated gas heaters. Cathy also fixed the burst pipes from the downstairs bathroom, which had rendered it virtually unusable and had been weighing on her. During the first winter that Cathy was not in the house, the idiots who occupied the Phrygianum completely ignored her suggestions and let the pipes freeze. Since the kiln room is going to be behind this bathroom, let’s hope that it’s never going to be an issue again!

Cathy has moved the propane heater out of the mock fireplace in the living room and replaced it with my cat mantel shield. My mother is an antique dealer and when she left the area for Charleston after my father died, I wound up inheriting a lot of her unsold merchandise, including this folk art cat mantel shield. Mom fell in love with it, but none of her customers did. My husband never liked it either, and now Central House is its new home. I have a number of other antiques that have just been collecting dust at home in my attic and cellar that I think will be great additions to the house. I’ve already brought down some paintings and other artwork. I’ve got some Victorian chairs and a whatnot shelf that I have been wanting to fix up at home but never got around to that will make a fine addition to the house. We’ve got several old chairs at Central House that need to be stripped and refinished, too. Looks like I’m going to have my work cut out for me!

One of the latest acquisitions is a previously unknown postcard of Central House from 1911 that I acquired on eBay. We were all thrilled to get it! Helen has already blown it up.

We had a surprise visit from members of the Lombardi family. Here’s a bit of Central House history: the elderly man whom we purchased the house from in 2002 was a member of the Genetelli/Lombardi clan, several members of which owned the house from just prior to WWII until we purchased it from them. It was great to see them and show off what we’ve been doing and to hear old stories about the place and the people who stayed there in days past. It’s always good to have a visit from them, and they are always welcome.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

September 24th, 2008

We held our Mabon/Fall Equinox celebration this weekend at the temple. Sue and Amanda came from Toronto to join us. It was so good to see them again! I hope we’ll see more of them in the future.

We now have a kiln! Cathy found it on eBay for a song. It came used from a college in Poughkeepsie and was never apparently fired up to its full capacity, therefore, it should still be in good shape. Thanks to Randi and Felicia for helping us get it over! Now of course comes the fun part – getting the kiln room ready. We chose an attached tool shed that was in really bad shape. We’ll have to fix and reinforce the floor as well as fire-proof the room. We also found an old, concrete utility sink. Much as I hate to see old components destroyed, this one had to go because it was too heavy for Helen and I to move. Helen broke it up with a hammer. At lease we can use it as fill in any future concrete projects.

I found a bunch of reproduced, vintage articles and plans from old farm magazines on eBay for various projects. These include, building your own kiln (not that we need it now, but it’s a great thing to have on hand), how to build greenhouses, how to dig your own well, how to build a henhouse, beehives and my personal favorite, a windmill electric generator! One of our dreams is getting the Phrygianum off the grid, and our own wind generator would be a great start! It should also take a big bite out of our electric bills.

We’ve also gotten some fertilizer for the veggie garden bed. We’ve had some of the locals chide us for not using the wonderful garden bed when the former owners used to grow such wonderful tomatoes in it. Well, unfortunately, that bed is now used up and needs some major replenishing. Hopefully what we got along with a few years worth of compost will do the trick.

The next fall project is insulating the house. We’ve gotten pink stuff and are next looking at blow-in insulation. We’ve already insulated two rooms in the back of the ground floor. This should save us a fortune on heating this winter!

We’ve gotten tax bills from the Town of Catskill. Now they have gotten serious in threatening to foreclose if we don’t pay by November. However, there is hope on the horizon. I’ll be keeping you all up on these developments.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

August 2008

Harvest Meadows was great! I came down a day early with my friend, Marge to help set up. We had a lot of fun doing so with Cathy and Helen.

The pond that we put in is now home to several frogs! When Marge and I went to visit it, we saw eight frogs in or around it. Wow! And there were at least two different species. Even though frogs are supposed to be endangered, they certainly aren’t around here. One of them even looked up at us and started croaking. Awwwwwww…..

We had 10 people altogether at Harvest Meadows. Helen put on a two- part workshop on the basics of pottery. She covered the different types of clay, some basic techniques for throwing pots and bowls as well as making mugs, beads and tiles. We also did some work on some of the tiles she is creating for the new kitchen. I think I may paint bees on some, since they are hex-shaped and make a honeycomb effect. ;-)

A local high priestess came to put on a plant meditation. Cailean’s daughter, Chessie, taught a workshop on candle making/candle magick and Randi and Felicia led us all in drumming on the full moon. They taught us some basic rhythms as well. Cathy once again gave her talk on the goddess in antiquity and we showed The Goddess Remembered trilogy. This is a feminist/pagan three-part documentary that covers ancient goddess spirituality through the Burning Times to today’s goddess revival.

We also got to enjoy some wonderful food. Helen made her sushi. And we enjoyed roasted veggies and barbecue. I made some pizzas and we enjoyed Cathy’s yummy scones for breakfast.

Tomorrow, we are having a group of paranormal investigators come to investigate Central House. I can’t wait to see what happens…..

July 2008

Helen is now living in the Maetreum full-time. It’s so good to have someone there again! Cailean stayed for a week, and brainstormed with Cathy and Helen on some new ideas for winterizing the place. One of those includes putting in a winter kitchen.

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with old houses, let me bring you up to snuff. 19th century (and earlier) houses often had two kitchens, one that was used in the winter, and one in the summer. The winter one was inside of the house proper, just like the kind of kitchens we are familiar with, where the rising heat could help heat the house. The summer kitchen was built as its own wing or as an outbuilding. The idea there was that the heat would go out through the roof when it rose, and not make the house any hotter. A necessity back in the days when there was no air-conditioning – or even fans!

Central House was built strictly as a summer place, and not had any significant updates in its history, save for the installation of electricity and the bathrooms during the early years of the 20th century. It has no furnace and no central heating. It blew me away just how tiny the basement is for a building that big. And there’s nothing in it, not even an old coal hopper! Its only kitchen is a summer kitchen, and therefore we lose an awful lot of heat and energy during the winter, thereby contributing to the high cost of heating an 18-bedroom, 4500 square foot house. It’s going to be interesting to see how it works out….

We’ve been prepping the house for Harvest Meadows and other events. Helen did a great job of cleaning up the front porch and the coffee house area looks great! Helen has cleaned and organized it and Cathy has put up curtains.

I have been working at putting up stencils in the coffee house as well. We’ve been going for a “country kitchen” feel, and I am putting up bumble-bees and butterflies. This is a motif that I am hoping other Cybellines will adopt. In ancient days, the non-gallae women priestesses were called “mellissae”, meaning “little bees”. This goes along with a bee motif that pervaded the ancient faith of the Magna Mater. Her temples were often shaped like beehives and the goddess in the Minoan civilization is seen with a beehive on her head. (The original beehive hairdo? Just kidding! ;) So, bees represent the natural-born women priestesses. Now, the ancient gallae never used the butterfly as their symbol (that we know of), but modern transsexual women do. Both of these beautiful insects together makes, to my mind, a wonderful symbol of sisterhood.

We still have some spaces open for participants in Harvest Meadows. If you are interested, please email centralhouse@gallae.com

June 24th, 2008

This weekend, we had a wonderful summer solstice celebration. A few of the sisters, sadly, could not make it, but we still had a great time and a great solstice ritual and picnic Thankfully, Yogi and Boo-Boo did not pay us any visits!

Tim Lake helped us with the last of the doorway and hall project. The last, stubborn bit was a heavy beam that supported the door which had been nailed to the wall with 8-inch long barn nails. Thanks to Tim for helping remove something that had been stumping us!

Randi and Felicia from Woodstock joined us for our barbecue and ritual. They are both very skilled drummers who are fixtures at Woodstock’s weekly public drum circle. Later that evening, Randi entertained us with stories of her days as a micro-broadcaster in New York City during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Right now she is working on getting a micro-broadcasting license for herself in Woodstock. Stay tuned……

Cooking and Food at Central House

I started this section as part of the entry for May, but it seemed to take on a life of its own, so I gave this little tangent its own, separate section.

Some old friends came down to visit us on Saturday for the yard sale, and I was cooking dinner. I wish I could have offered them a better dinner than the Mac ’n’ cheese that I had planned, but they seemed happy with that. I really love to cook and bake (I have a few professional bakers in my family tree), but my husband has some very set ideas about what he will and won’t eat and I don’t have much room for culinary experimentation with him (But since he’s stayed slim and trim most of his life, unlike me, I can’t talk!). I’m very grateful that I have a receptive audience at Central House for my culinary adventures. I’ve made lasagna, pizza, homemade pesto and various casseroles for Saturday night dinner before class. One of these days, I will have to try eggplant parmesan and maybe some calzones. But while I’m tooting my own horn, I would like to add a nod to Helen’s bean stew, sushi (She learned how to do it from the Japanese monks at the Grafton Peace Pagoda!) and her mouthwatering cole slaw. Maybe we should compile a Cybelline cook book?

The Central House kitchen is great for cooking for large numbers of people. Cathy, having spent the bulk of her working life in her own business designing and building kitchens, has her issues with it. I do have the utmost respect for her expertise, but I will say that it’s great to be cooking with at least 2 other people and have plenty of room!

Apart from a counter that’s at least 10 feet long, it has 3 stoves – a great, big old, commercial gas range; a home gas range and reproduction cast-iron, wood-burning stove. We also have 3 refrigerators: two modern, residential ones and this great, big old commercial one which appears to date from the 1930’s. It actually worked when the gallae moved in, and I’m told that all it needs is to be recharged and it’ll work great once more. The place was clearly designed to cook large amounts of food at any given time. This is because in its heyday, Central House not only provided a place for people to sleep during their stay, but also fed them breakfast, lunch and dinner. We found an old, meal schedule card for the place that’s at least 50 years old, that gives specific times when meals were served. Anything other than these times was a la carte and was subject to an additional charge. One of these days, I’ll have to scan and post it.

Despite all of this, I’m kind of amused and a little nonplussed that the Town Attorney of Catskill stated in his report that the property included a 1500 square foot restaurant. Okay, with the bar and all of that, I can see the *potential* for a restaurant. However, we just don’t have the kind of resources needed to turn what we have into a functioning business. In this day and age of increasing costs of everything, I don’t think that it would turn a profit, anyway. But more to the point, we are a religious convent home. We’re not in the food service business. Besides, a Cybelline restaurant is just too hilarious to think about: We’d be wearing tie-dyed stolae, beating our drums and subjecting our poor customers to castration humor. They’d run away screaming! ;-)

Seriously, though, this does bring up some interesting issues with being what is basically a pagan reconstructionist faith. Just how devoted are you going to be to historical accounts of your faith? Do you become another SCA or Nova Roma? Personally, I look at it this way: it’s been 1600 years, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. It’s good to know what our ancestors did, how and with what. We need to honor them, but to slavishly imitate them, to my mind, misses the point. Our religion lasted for 8,000-plus years. How does a religion survive changing times and cultures? It adapts. The Cybelline faith as it was practiced in prehistoric Anatolia no doubt was quite different from the faith as it was practiced during our last days in Rome.

That being said, though, the practices of the past do have a logic and meaning to them. One of the elements of the Season of the Tree festival that I enjoyed the most was the moretum. In Rome, this food was prepared by the gallae priestesses and became our sacred food. It was historically made with an herb called rue, which is not used in cooking much anymore, even though it was common in Roman cuisine. Keeping in mind that it has high phytoestrogen content, its sacredness and significance to the gallae become clear: in order to become gallae, the new priestesses in the ancient world didn’t just emasculate themselves, they used plant estrogens to feminize their bodies as well! The gallae weren’t mere eunuchs – they were transsexuals who transitioned in a way that has all the basic elements of modern transition! Sure, that one is probably a no-brainer to modern gallae, but that realization floored me. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The nesteia fast that you have the option of practicing before the festival also has a clear purpose – preparing you for receiving the mysteries. With this fast, you refrain from root vegetables, especially garlic, as a way of showing respect for Attis, who at this time is dead in the ground and awaiting resurrection. After having done it, and being someone with years of pagan ritual and energy-working experience, the reasoning behind it was very clear. Root vegetables, especially garlic, have a grounding effect on you. According to the book The Healing Power of Garlic, certain Buddhist monasteries will not allow it in the food that they cook. This is because it’s actually counter-productive for the heavy-duty meditation based spiritual work that they do. You want to eat garlic and other grounding foods after you are done with your energy or spiritual work as a way of getting rid of excess energy and returning to the mundane world.

Bread also plays an important role in the Cybelline Mysteries. Since baking bread is one of my hobbies, I was a natural for providing it this year. Next time, I am hoping to get my hands on some emmer wheat flour for the bread, since that type of wheat was used almost exclusively in the ancient world. What role does bread play in the Mysteries? Can’t tell ya – it’s a Mystery! ;-)

May 2008

For the first, two weekends, I was unable to come down, both for Beltane as well as troubles with my car. I went through some serious Central House withdrawal!

Helen has continued moving in and Cathy has been digging a pond by the side of her house with the help of Roo, the daughter of one of our priestesses. Roo did a great job (and most of the digging, I am told). She deserves Kudos for that. Yaay Roo!
I helped Cathy finish it off, not an easy job, since the soil itself is very rocky, as you might expect for being located at the foot of an old mountain! The soil is also pure clay. I do hope Helen can use it for her projects. One day she hopes to hold pottery classes at the Maetreum.

We lined the pond and anchored the lining with some of the many, many rocks unearthed during the process. They’ll make a nice, rock garden. We got the fountain going, added some water plants and – voila! We’ve got pond!!!!!!!!!

Helen also had a pond liner and some solar panels for it that she has donated to the Maetreum. By the end of the summer, we’ll likely have another pond by the temple grove, too!

The other big project for the month was getting the tons of junk (and occasional antique treasure) that the honorable opposition left behind when they abandoned the property unearthed and outside for our Memorial Day yard sale. If you’ve ever worked as a janitor or custodian for an institution of higher learning (or even just walked or drove by the dorms) when the academic year is over, you know what I mean!

This year, we also held a bake sale, selling Cathy’s delicious scones (Made the ol’ fashion way with real cream!), Jamie’s brownies and my bread. We also offered free coffee. That was certainly a hit. Free coffee and cheap goods. What a deal! But more to the point, it was a great opportunity to repair our reputation in the community. A few neighbor women stopped by and chatted with us for awhile. It was wonderful that at last they felt safe enough to do so.
In the end, the yard sale was a great success. We got rid of a lot of stuff - especially the $^%&! Pool table, dog house and a few of the computers - and made several hundred dollars! This, along with several donations from several sister priestesses, will go a long way to getting us back on our feet financially. There was a serious, financial mess that was left behind by the takeover. We are now well on our way to solving it. Thanks to everyone who gave contributions, who helped out with the sale and everything else!

On the 27th, the day after Memorial Day, I accompanied Cathy to a hearing at the Catskill town hall regarding our “disagreement” with their stance on our tax-exempt status. Fortunately, there were only a few other people there contesting their taxes, and we didn’t have to wait until late at night for our turn like I had feared. The two other people who went ahead of us basically gave sob stories about how their increased property taxes were hurting them financially and were begging for a break on them.

When our turn came, Cathy gave them hell as only she could. And why not? As far as I’m concerned, she was perfectly justified in doing so, after what we saw in the Town Attorney’s opinion. She reiterated the points that she made on the main Central House page. We were not given this material, even though we were entitled to it – I had to do a FOIL request to get it (since they didn’t know who I was, I figured that I would be the best one to do it). In a situation where a locality disagrees with the federal government regarding the tax exempt status of an organization, the burden of proof is on them. The legal opinion that they based their ruling on is full of distortions, events taken out of sequence and complete ignorance of our religious symbols.

For us, something as prosaic as a pine branch could be a religious symbol, or a table linen with embroidered bee motifs, or a vase full of violets, or even (well, especially) that stuffed toy lion in the living room! When I went into the hearing with Cathy, I was wearing no less than 53 religious symbols on my body. I don’t think that the town officers could have picked them all out. Heck, unless you had a familiarity with the Cybelline faith as well as other goddess traditions and even the writings of Z. Budapest, you would likely miss a few!

I sincerely hope that they will restore our tax exempt status after all that. None of us want to drag them into court, but we may have to. We’ve just come out of a nasty fight with some mentally ill antagonists on our own ranks and right now we need another fight like we need a hole in the head. We really just want to be left alone to practice our faith and carry out our mission in peace.

April 2008

Ah Spring!!!!!! So many things to do here, but there is also such energy available to go towards them. There is so much energy moving forward at Central House and so many projects begun.

We’ve been getting an incredible amount of work done on weekends. These days it’s just Cathy, Helen Farrell, Jamie Hunter and myself most of the time. I’ve been making a weekly Saturday ritual of going down there for classes and rituals, cooking dinner and helping out however I can. I’m looking forward to having opportunities to learn new skills needed to fix the place like welding, glazing and electrical work.

The first thing we did after the Season of the Tree was paint the bar/dining area white with tan trim and it looks GREAT! You wouldn’t believe how much brighter it is in there. We also removed the alcohol paraphernalia from the back of the bar and replaced it with goddess imagery. The television set on the high shelf has been replaced with the kernos that Helen made. One of these days I’m hoping to get some pictures up on the website.

The south/front gateway to the temple grove had been blown down in a windstorm during the Season of the Tree, and it is now fixed and up again. Nonetheless, we’re still taking it as a sign from Mother to replace the gates with concrete, neoclassical pillars like we have hoped for!

Helen has been working like crazy, clearing out and painting the bedrooms in the rear wing behind the theater to be her bedroom and workroom. Soon she hopes to be here permanently and open up a pottery.

Cathy has fixed her lawn tractor and has been having an absolute blast on it, keeping the grounds mowed. (Who says grounds keeping can’t be fun?). We have also been working very hard on clearing brush and planting flowers and herbs. The grounds now look better than they have in a couple of years!

We’ve been opening up a lot of sealed doorways. The refrigerator has been moved away from the door that goes between the living room and dining room by the basement stairs and it is now in use again! The side door in the dining room that goes out to the side porch is now open, too. Cathy and Helen have been working on opening up the long-sealed back door in the kitchen. I do hope that the fire safety inspection people will appreciate our efforts in adding more fire exits!

It’s interesting what you find in an old house when cleaning it out. I have started working on clearing out room #4 to prepare it for drywalling and new wiring. I wound up unearthing a framed photo of Stonewall veteran Marsha P. Johnson there. Curious, since just the previous week, an older gay man who had been a close friend of hers had come up to visit us and reminisced quite a bit about her. I’m told that Sylvia Rivera herself had hoped to come and live at Central House before her untimely death. Sadly, though, that was not to be.

And that’s another, wonderful thing about Central House: the myriad of connections to history that it has, and not always just the kind of Catskills history that you would expect!

March 2008

Even though I am starting this blog in May 2008, I really wanted to start recording events from when the occupation of the Phryrigianum finally ended on March 8th. It seemed like an appropriate place to start.

My hope for this blog is to keep things positive, as they truly are, however much as I hate to I do feel that I need to reiterate some of the points that Cathy made, not just to corroborate her version of events, but to also set the stage so that the reader understands just what we were up against, and why our eventual success was so significant and meaningful.

When Cathy described the condition of the house when it was reclaimed (on her “What’s New” page), she was not exaggerating in the least. Mess does not even begin to describe it! She has described it as looking like a frat house. In my opinion, the condition of the place had gone beyond that of frat house and had graduated to that of crack house!

To begin with, it did not look like there had been any serious attempt to clean the house during the entire time she had been gone. We had a good –albeit bitter- laugh over the fact that the one thing that had not been stolen, broken, defaced or depleted (or even touched!) was a large bottle of Pine-Sol that Cathy bought for the house just before she was driven out! We certainly used most of it up then, I can tell you! There was a thick layer of grease and grime over EVERYTHING in the kitchen! It took several scrubbings to get the cooking area back to some semblance of cleanliness.

We had to clean every dish in the house, and I mean EVERY dish in the house! With all of the dishes in that place, there was always someone at the sink washing and another one drying, all throughout the Season of the Tree. While washing the dishes, we also had to contend with a clogged sink pipe. (Which, may I add, was brand new before Cathy was forced to leave.) Helen also had the washer and dryer running 24/7 to clean all of the bath and bed linens. We just didn’t feel comfortable having people use them without it.

Probably the worst of it was the odors. Nearly the entire second floor reeked. An incontinent individual had been previously housed in the ONE ROOM that had new carpeting! Cathy went over it TWICE with a carpet shampooer, and the odor and stains were still not completely eradicated. Looks like we’ll have to get rid of the carpet. 

Even worse than that room was the bedroom that was being used by Manny, the so-called caretaker. The odor in there was so bad you literally could not stay in there for more than a minute or so without gagging! It reeked of dirty bed linens, pet urine, testosterone and goddess-knows-what else! Helen voluntarily went in there, scrubbed and aired it out. She’s a truly brave woman!

The upside to all of this, though, is that despite this nightmare we were confronted with so soon before we had to put on the biggest event of the year for the Maetreum, we did it and we did it well! Even though there are still major repairs yet to be done, the place is finally feeling like a home again. Many times, Cathy broke down and cried because we all pitched in to help her, as opposed to times past when no one seemed to care. For once, she didn’t have to cook or set up for meals, either, because we all did our bit. Although cleaning and salvaging the place was hard and frustrating, not once did any of us succumb to frustration and negativity, as tempting as it was!

Jamie put on a terrific workshop on the role of male deities in a goddess-based religion and yours truly put on a workshop about destructive conflict in groups featuring antagonists/trolls (which is what I believe offers an excellent explanation for happened to the Maetreum). Tim Lake and Helen lead a spiritual/psychic cleansing of the energies of the place.

I wanted to give a resounding THANK YOU to everyone who helped out with cleaning and other work during this time. To Helen, Jamie, Sherry, Roo, Sue, Amanda, Carol, Tim Lake and anyone else who may have pitched in that I wasn’t aware of, THANK YOU!!!!! You made such a difference!!!!

Introduction

Salutations and may Mother’s blessings be upon you! Allow me to introduce myself: My name is Viktoria Whittaker and I am one of the newest priestesses of Cybele. I’ll be your author and hostess on this blog where I will be providing updates on what’s happening at the Maetreum!

Here’s a bit about me. I am a 37 year old bio-woman (For the uninformed: that’s a woman who is not trans.). I live in Albany, New York, less than an hour away from the Maetreum and I visit often. I am the daughter of German immigrants and have blonde hair and blue eyes. For my day job, I work for the State of New York. I am a deeply religious pagan woman and I identify as bisexual and polyamorous. I am married to wonderful bi guy and my four kids have four feet, fur and say, “Meow!” >^..^<

My outside projects include running the Capital District Bisexual Network as well as the Albany Polyamory Meetup. In my religious life, I am the Assistant Pastor of the Schenectady Pagan Cluster and I am studying for the Third Degree of the Correllian Tradition of Wicca through the New Aeon College and Seminary. I also serve on the organizing committee for the Harvest Meadows Women’s Spirituality Festival, a new women’s festival that is inclusive and welcoming of transsexual women. As you can see, I am a Woman Who Volunteers Too Much! ;)

It was through Harvest Meadows that I first got to know Cathy and learned about the Maetreum. I had also known Helen Farrell for many years. I have been taking the instructional classes this year and was elevated at this year’s Season of the Tree. I was also elected Treasurer of the Maetreum this Season.

In this blog, I will be relating my experiences with the Maetreum and my fellow priestesses. But before I do, here is a standard disclaimer: the opinions and views that I will be chronicling here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Cathryn Platine or the Maetreum of Cybele.