Skip to comments.Camp for Nude Witches Fights Closing
Posted on 11/28/2001 5:56:58 AM PST by Cagey
LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Reuters) - A Kansas retreat that caters to witches and pagan rituals is fighting for survival amid community talk that naked witches may be weaving magical spells in the moonlight.
The owners of the Gaea Retreat Center, a 168-acre camp west of Kansas City that is home to such annual events as the Gaea Goddess Gathering and a "Heartland Pagan Spiritual event" filed suit on Monday in Leavenworth County District Court after county commissioners effectively put the retreat out of business by denying it a renewal of its land use permit.
"They say they're afraid of us, what we do here, the sound of drums. ... They don't know how lucky they are to have us as their neighbors," caretaker Wanda Roths said. "We're very quiet, very peaceful. There has never been any trouble out here."
The Leavenworth County commissioners denied the renewal for the permit, issued six years ago, in late October after a community petition raised accusations that the retreat fostered public nudity, pedophilia, and illegal drug and alcohol use. Neighbors also expressed concern about devil worship.
The suit claims the commissioners' denial is illegal and unconstitutional, as well as violating laws protecting freedom of religious expression and practice.
Lawyers for the county declined to comment.
The retreat denies any illegal activity, and county officials say there is no evidence of any.
Roths said there are "clothing optional" locations on the retreat grounds, and witches, Wiccans and other pagans do sometimes hold nighttime meetings around bonfires. But the retreat at times also attracts more traditional religious followers, she said.
Gaea, which means "Mother Earth," offers sanctuary to a variety of alternative religions and lifestyles, according to Roths. "We accept anybody," she said.
Before its current incarnation, the sprawling site was a church camp.
Trust me, they are most likely doing you a favor. Do you want to see a bunch of nude Hillarys?
Any second now the libertarians will log in, with something like, "First, they come for the naked witches. Then..."
By MIKE HENDRICKS Columnist
Date: 10/28/01 22:15
Live Nude Pagans!
I figured that might get your attention. It certainly did Leavenworth County, where the forces of righteousness have, for the moment, vanquished the tree worshippers, witches and faerie folk who traipse naked through the woods 10 miles north of Tonganoxie.
Last week the county board voted to shut down the 10-year-old Gaea Retreat Center.
If the order stands -- look out Leavenworth, here comes the American Civil Liberties Union -- that would mean no more Heartland Pagan Festival.
No more nude Sun Run. No more Gaea Goddess Gathering or Midwest Men's Naturists conclave. And it will be so long and farewell to Celtic dance and spirit drumming beneath the stars on a 180-acre spread that some say is "as close to heaven as you can find in the state of Kansas."
"I just can't imagine these rights being taken away from us," says Carrie "Moonstar," who's on the center board of directors and helps organize both the goddess gathering, held each September, and the big pagan fest every Memorial Day weekend.
Frankly, I think the nude pagans got a raw deal. And now that that's out of my system, let us review the bare facts:
Over the past half century, the land in question was first a nudist colony, then a Baptist church camp and, for the past 10 years, a clothing-optional spiritual retreat.
It's not farmland. Yet because it's zoned that way, a special-use permit was required when the current owners, Earth Rising Inc., bought the ground and opened it to a bunch of free spirits.
For most of that time, no one bothered the pagans, nudists or any combination thereof who spent time at Gaea. And neither did they, clothed or unclothed, go out of their way to bother anyone else.
Every now and then, the center draws above-normal traffic on the county roads. The Heartland Pagan Festival attracts 1,200 people, many of whom camp out during the four-day event.
But it's not exactly Woodstock every weekend. The goddess gathering -- "it's about the goddess within" -- draws only 200 women, some of whom go topless.
Most weekends, though, there's not much of a crowd and people keep their shirts on.
Yet, quietly, the center's very existence griped some. The occasional sighting of nude hikers upset a few neighbors. Others wondered if there wasn't some kinky stuff going on, not that the suspicions were based on anything but someone's dirty mind.
So, when the special use permit came up for renewal, Gaea Center officials were surprised to find their pagan playground in a whole heap of trouble.
First the planning commission voted this month to deny the permit. Then on Thursday the county board concurred, voting 2-1.
But the dispute is far from over. Gaea supporters allege their First Amendment rights have been violated and vow a court fight, perhaps with the aid of the ACLU.
Indeed, the county's legal advisers warned about possible infringement on the freedom of religion, as a legal ban on public nudity was aimed at nightclubs not leafy spiritual centers.
Still, it's possible we've seen the final gathering of the goddesses at Gaea. The weekend before Halloween is the last event of every year.
"We always have a big party," says "Moonstar," whose real last name is Miller. "Halloween is a day to honor the dead."
For now she's unwilling to count her slice of heaven among them.
To reach Mike Hendricks, call (816) 234-7708 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My kind of witch!
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