Culture In Capitaland: The Little Pagan Community That Could
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Article ID: 10496
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Rev. Viktoria Whittaker
Posted: February 5th. 2006
Times Viewed: 3,645
In the years before the Stonewall uprising, the gay community on the northern part of the eastern seaboard found the unlikeliest of havens. It was a small, nondescript city not bordering on any coasts. Indeed, other than being located at the confluence of two rivers, it had no bodies of water to speak of. It sported no beaches, resorts or anything that would have drawn them in as tourists. It was and still is a very middle-class, middle-American area. Indeed, it is such an unglamorous place that it has been not-so-lovingly referred to as “The Armpit of America”.
And yet, it was said that during the 1950’s it had more gay bars (which was the center of queer community at the time) than Boston, Montreal and New York City combined. Indeed, I have heard many old-timers recollect how gay men would come in by the busload looking for a good time, or just to be with others like themselves. This community even had its own Transgender organization during that era - the Transvestite Independence Club - that is still thriving to this day as the Transgender Independence Club.
It was this foundation that built a community in this city and carried it strongly through the 60’s. During this time, it established a Gay and Lesbian community center, which is now the oldest one in the country that is still up and running. Gays are now a fixture in this city and host an enormous Pride festival every June.
So which city is this?
It’s Albany, the capital of New York State.
Sounds exciting and thrilling, doesn’t it? It’s definitely not San Francisco, and even though it’s but a 45 minute drive away from Massachusetts and Vermont, they’re still just not the same. Although it’s no bastion of liberalism, it’s definitely not the Bible Belt either: you see just as many Bush bumper stickers as anti-Bush bumper stickers. It’s as middle-of-the-road as you get.
This is an example of an alternative community which is feared and loathed by the Christian Right establishing itself in a center of mainstream Americana. Through years of hard work and organizing, gay people are finding their place in American culture. To be sure, it can still be dangerous to be gay in certain parts of the country, but no doubt many gay people will tell you that it’s a lot easier and safer to be openly gay than it was in times past. And it all happened in Albany, first.
So what does all of this have to do with Pagan culture, you may ask?
My answer: everything.
Other than the obvious overlap between the two communities – that there are many queer Pagans out there – I would argue that this same “great experiment” can be repeated with the Pagans, and already we are seeing signs of it.
Among other things, the Albany area is home to the Tarot Certification Board of America, which certifies Tarot professionals worldwide (www.tarotcertification.org).
We are also home to the Trinity Temple (www.trinitytemple.net). It is a building that has served many purposes during its existence. It was built in the early 20th century as an Episcopal Chapel and then became a Spiritualist church in 1965. For nearly forty years, the Spiritualist/Christian Metaphysical congregation held séances, healing services and psychic fairs, developing a reputation for being the site of miraculous healings as well as developing into a potent energy vortex. In the spring of 2004, it was acquired from the aging and dwindling Spiritualist congregation by the Correllian Nativist Wiccan congregation known as the Temple of Astral Light. It thus became the very first Pagan group in the area to have its own church building; one of so very few in the country.
The Trinity Temple also serves as the home for the Correllian Directorate, the administrative branch of the Correllian Nativist Church which is the largest and fastest-growing Wiccan tradition in the country. It also hosts the East Coast campus of Witch School, which is now more than 156,000 students strong. In these roles, it holds regular open rituals, classes, hosts local Meetups and this past September hosted the Witch School Conference on Leadership and Education/Correllian Lustration – the very first one ever to be held outside of Illinois!
The Schenectady Pagan Cluster of the neighboring city of Schenectady is another Pagan group which holds regular open rituals ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/schenectady_pagan_cluster/). It meets at the site of the former Spring Eagle Magick Shoppe in Schenectady (soon to re-open as the Phoenix Rising Magick Shoppe!). The Cluster formed in 1998 as an eclectic, multicultural group of street Pagans that found its home at the Spring Eagle. Today, it is an affiliated shrine of Astral Light and along with holding regular rituals it holds classes, hosts an AA meeting, participates in the local Interfaith community and ministers to Schenectady’s inner-city poor.
Do not think, though, that because we have such organizations that we have been free from the bickering, politicking, character assassinations and Witch Wars that have plagued the Pagan community in the past and still do. On the contrary, we have seen some truly fierce and nasty ones here. There was one where a good friend and colleague of mine was falsely accused of being a child molester, but that was one of many. A year ago, there was a particularly vicious one involving the local Pagan Pride Day planning committee. The end result of that one was that Albany lost its Pagan Pride Day event. Not to be stopped, some local folks organized their own, alternative festival called E.R.I.S., for Earth Religions In Service (www.erisny.org).
My point here is this: you can’t please everyone in your local community. As a friend of mine from the Albany PPD committee (who was also a veteran of Massachusetts PPDs) once very wisely said, “Trying to keep every Pagan happy is like trying to keep 200 five-year-olds with ADHD happy”. It just can’t be done. But this has not stopped those individuals who had a vision from making Albany, the Armpit of America, a noteworthy place in the Pagan universe.
Witch Wars and Pagan Politics are much like death and taxes in our community; something that is just simply a part of life. Those of us who made these things happen in the Albany area have seen more than our share. The main difference is, we never give up and we never let the bastards get us down.
If you have a vision of what you want your community and your culture to be, follow it and don’t let anything stop you, not politics nor anything else. Don’t let the fact that you live in a square, boring middle-American community stop you either – Albany is as square as you get! If you do, there is no reason why you can’t do what we did, and that is the greatest magick of all!
Rev. Viktoria Whittaker
Location: Palenville, New York
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