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Article ID: 12763

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Pagan Festivals and Civil Authorities

Author: Cindy Wilson (aka Olympias)
Posted: August 4th. 2008
Times Viewed: 3,682

I am concerned over the apparent increase of civil authority inspections of festivals, people, and personal property at Pagan festivals and gatherings. It goes without saying that folks who attend these events should remain well within the law and rules of the sites. We have no right to break laws (spiritually or otherwise). There is no valid excuse to breach them. Laws are what they are…period. This however does not mean that we should be treated any differently from or less than other groups who also hold events or festivals especially when indentified within a religious context.

I have read and heard of festivals in NM (where I live), and around the US disrupted by civil authorities, which included tent searches, harassment of and threats to participants, and exit searches of persons and vehicle without any statement of probable cause. I also heard some of these incidences resulted in the malicious destruction of personal property such as drums, religious items and artwork. There were usually no formal charges or arrests as the end result. I am not an attorney, but I would wager other religious groups’ events do not and are receiving the same treatment.

Authorities visited us, the Temple of Hekate’s Torch, at our 3-day Gathering at the Crossroads last June. The excuse to inspect was that they had received an anonymous call saying we were smoking outside of the vehicles in violation of the park rules due to drought conditions. These authorities (state park officers of one sort or another) waited in 3 vehicles at the site entrance for a long time, talking amongst themselves before they drove up to our site and again, parked at the very edge of our camp site and waited for more than 20 minutes before a staff member noticed and approached them.

I walked 2 of the 3 officers around our campsite, and talked to them about who we are and our event. Only one officer spoke with me and relaxed after observing people (and especially the children) at the site. The other officer appeared so nervous, anxious, and expectant of something about to happen that there was no discussion possible and he went to great lengths to always be physically behind me.

As the more outgoing officer noted, “You have nothing to hide.” The originally stated mission of finding out if we were breaking a smoking rule was never mentioned again and I highly doubt that was the real reason for their visit.

I cannot say, “Thank you” enough to our friend Russ who was also in attendance and works for a fire department as an EMT. He stepped forward and talked with the officers. Prior to camp, Russ took it upon himself to make phone calls to the local fire authorities, introduce himself and let them know he would be at the gathering. He also stopped on his way to camp to make in person introductions. All of this was for the benefit of our event and to ease any tensions or worries of the authorities. For what must seem the umpteen-time...thank you my friend. The officer and I ended up swapping camp recipes and ideas for children’s activities since he would be at the same site later in the summer with his church group. They left without incident.

With our experience, there were no searches or other harassment issues as I have heard from another NM event and from others around the US. This speaks to the character and level of professionalism of the authorities we dealt with at our event. Yet, all of this sets off warning bells as to the overall environment we, as Pagans, need to pay attention to and be prepared to act/react when such situations happen.

This is not to say I advise we slink back into the shadows by not reserving sites or publicizing events under our group/organizational names, nor stop holding festivals and events at public parks/sites. THAT would be the worst thing we could do. This is also not to say I advise advertising intentions to be at a site to all the locals, every regional organization, the media, city councils, park and recreational committee meetings (unless you want that kind of exposure and attention for outreach or other reasons).

I do recommend that event coordinators and staff educate themselves and be prepared for such ‘visits’. As some safeguards, I recommend the following:

•Contact the local authorities well in advance of your event and talk to them about who you are and what kind of festival or event you are sponsoring.

•Ask for a copy of any applicable laws, rules related to site usage or inform then that you have a copy and will comply with the set standards.

•Offer a contact name and phone number (s) for questions.

•Where possible, make the effort to meet with them in person prior to the event and discuss the site rules, site conditions and other rules in effect that may effect a change or adaptation of your event plans, or concerns (yours and/or theirs) ...unless you have a Russ who will do this for you. This is best-accomplished onsite at the beginning of your event.

•Be open and honest about your schedules and planned activities. If you have planned rituals, let them know and ‘ask’ (without asking) that they not interrupt during this time. They would not storm a church, mosque or synagogue during a service, and they shouldn’t invade your sacred space if they are comfortable in knowing that you will not be conducting a drug laced or drunken orgy, molesting or killing animals and children.

•Conduct a follow-up conversation with the site authorities. Discuss the usage of the site, any problems and/or suggestions for future usage, and thank them for the usage of the site. Good manners are always in vogue.

Additionally, event coordinators and staff must be educated about local and federal laws. Be up front about your event rules in correspondences with those planning to attend and enforce them. We hold a Gathering meeting the first day and go over the rules as well as the consequences for breaking them. And for the Gods’ sake - know your rights! If you get a surprise visit, remember that these instances can result in open dialogue with a greater understanding, tolerance, and lessening of fears between authorities and us as well as on a personal level of the officer/ranger/etc…

Lastly, tell others of your festival/gathering experience. We all need to be in contact and know what is happening since we could experience it as well. Knowledge is power and in networking, there is strength for change.

May all festivals and gatherings be wonderful experiences without outside harassment.



Cindy Wilson (aka Olympias)

Location: Roswell, New Mexico


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