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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 20th, 2009, continued.

Once again, so much has been going on around here, I’ve barely had the time to update this blog.

First, the most recent and one of the most important things that has happened to us recently is that we sent out a missive to the larger pagan community which I reprinted in the post prior to this one. To our great and happy surprise, we sent a copy to Jason Pitzl-Waters, the author of the Wild Hunt Blog – one of the largest and most widely-read of the pagan blogs – and he immediately published it! Many, many thanks to you, Jason for getting the word out to the community about us and our legal situation. We’ve been ignored and shoved aside for so long, and you can’t possibly know how much this means to us. Mother’s Blessings to you and yours!

To anyone who may be looking at us for the first time, thank you for taking the time to read our post and for taking a closer look at us and our situation. This blog is for updates on what we’ve been doing at the Maetreum, and as such it covers various things, both major and minor. I made a few mentions of the ongoing issues with the denial of our property tax exemption here and there, but until now have remained largely silent on the issue. This is because not only was I trying to keep a more upbeat focus for this blog, we had figured that it was best to keep quiet about it. We are now in a situation where not only have we been ordered by the judge to use every option at our disposal to find a lawyer and we feel that it is long past time to get the word out to the larger pagan community about what has been going on here.

In some ways, our situation is not an uncommon one, in that you frequently do see minority religions having to deal with municipalities illegally denying their property tax exemption using whatever excuse as a way to obtain more revenue. In the case of the Catskill Mountains, as you may or may not be aware, they were a very popular vacation destination from the mid 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. Many resorts that catered to specific immigrant groups flourished until the 1960’s-1970’s. The trend since then was for the old resorts to be either demolished (like the Catskill Mountain House, The Laurel House, etc) or abandoned and left to rot (like Grossinger’s). Of the ones left, some still survive in their intended function and others, like ours, have been purchased by largely minority religious groups who enjoy tax exemption. This has caused a loss of revenue to the municipalities that they try to stem by engaging in this sort of thing. Invariably, when the case finally makes it before a judge, the denial is thrown out and the property tax exemption restored, but it’s such a waste in the long run. It’s a waste for the municipality to fight a legal battle they can’t possibly win and it’s a waste of time, energy and resources for the religious group to fight it, especially if they can’t find an attorney to represent them in court pro bono. In our case, however, we feel that there IS actual, bona fide religious discrimination going on that goes beyond a simple attempt to regain lost revenue. As I described in the June 3rd entry (We Harbor Kittens), we have reason to believe that the driving force behind all of this is one or more local businessmen who want our property and have been trying to acquire it since before we purchased it in 2002.

Here’s some more positive news. We held Palenville Pagan Pride Day on October 3rd, and it was a success. A modest one, but that’s okay with us. Since this was our first one, we wanted to keep things small and manageable until we got more of a feel for the intricacies of putting on Pagan Pride. We had seven vendors, held five workshops plus a Harry Potter ritual, put on by our good friends of the Order of the Phoenix Rising. Our friend Gretchen, the Senior Druid for the Tear of the Cloud druid Grove, held workshops on navigating the mainstream for pagans as well as an introduction to her tradition, the ADF. We had the opportunity to educate some open-minded Christians who were in attendance and we raised food donations for Greene County Community Action. We certainly hope to work more with them in the future, since Greene County is a poor, rural county to begin with and things have only gotten worse with the economic downturn. Frankly, we would like to be able to offer housing to women in need (which was our original purpose and reason for purchasing Central House) or form a food pantry.
To all the Pagan Community:

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.

What we need from the Pagan Community is this:

We need a lawyer, NOW! We've been turned away by over 30 lawyers at
this point even though we feel we have an ironclad case with a Judge
predisposed in our favour. We've done all the heavy lifting already,
researched relevant law and prepared all the arguments.

If you or someone you has had a similar problem with the Town of
Catkill, New York, we would very much like to hear from you.

We need you to help spread the word about this. Please forward this
letter widely. This issue is one that potentially effects all minority
religions, especially Pagans.

We would like you to come and visit if you are in the area. We open our
property to all compatible Pagan groups for rituals and other events as
well.

We can always use monetary help. We are a poor order and maintain our
property and do our charitable outreach on a shoestring budget that is
being pushed to the limit fighting this battle. You can paypal a
donation from the button at gallae.com

We are also requesting that you send us some positive energy, even if
you can do nothing else. We really need it to prevail, we need all we
can get right now.

You can learn more about us at our websites at http://gallae.com ,
http://centralhouse.gallae.com and updates are at
http://gallaecentralhouse.blogspot.com To contact us email
firstchurch@gallae.com

We feel we have much to offer the Pagan community and suspect that our
case can potentially have far-reaching effects for Pagans as a whole,
especially those who hope to one day own real property and operate their
own temples, monasteries and convents. We ask that you please help us
in whatever way you can. Thank you for your time and attention.

Mother's Blessings,

Rev. Cathryn Platine, First Battakes

Rev. Viktoria Whittaker, Battakes-in-Waiting