Pangeryia magazine is doing a series of ongoing feature articles to spotlight all of the ATC affiliates and share with the world the work they are doing for the cities they live in and for Wicca and Paganism as a whole. The first in this series featured is the Alexandria Temple of Universal Metaphysics http://www.zyworld.com/atum/ located in Colorado. We hope this series of articles will inspire you to get involved in the work of Legal Wiccan organizations all over the country, and make us all aware of how large a movement we really are a part of.
Rev. Carridwen Brennan, President, and Rev. Martin Anthony, VP and CFO of the Alexandria Temple of Universal Metaphysics-ATC are our featured interviews and we are so pleased and honored that they have agreed to give us just a little bit of the “gift of their time.”
Hello, Rev. Carridwen Brennan and Rev. Martin Anthony, first I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to answer a few questions about the work of your Temple and your ministry so that others can know about the work that you do.
1. Where are you located in Colorado?
The Metro Denver area.
2. How long have you been a Legal Wiccan Temple?
We were incorporated on May 17, 2001
3. Why did you choose to become a Legal Wiccan Temple?
(Martin) We had been involved in prison ministry in a minor way since 1997, visiting one offender in the Federal prison in Littleton CO. and facilitating a program for the women’s prison in Denver for the Colorado Department of Corrections. But the demand for Wicca programs in prisons was expanding, and our commitment to the ministry increasing. Back in 2000, when we became volunteers for CDOC, there were 275 Wiccans incarcerated in CDOC, and there was only one other Wiccan volunteer. Because of specific CDOC regulations regarding “program providers”, it was easier to fulfill their requirements through incorporation as a church, so that we could increase the scope and number of programs we offered.
(Carri) This also led to our being able to become actual (volunteer) Chaplains. We are currently the only Wiccan/Pagan Prison Chaplains in this country.
4. What does it mean to you as a Pagan to be part of a legal Wiccan organization (the Aquarian Tabernacle Church), and how has it affected you and your congregation?
(Martin) We don’t really have a congregation. The focus of the Temple is in the prison ministry and the programs we provide. We do have volunteers associated with the Temple, but they are all fully trained, fully qualified Wiccan priestesses and priests. Being a legally recognized church gives us credibility and authority when dealing the various correctional departments and bureaucracies that we interact with. They are more likely to take us seriously, and respect our opinions because of it. Also, it has been helpful in our fundraising. The ministry is expensive, and support from the community is essential. Several community members make regular donations to us through payroll deductions through the Mile High United Way. Because we are a recognized non-profit, it makes it possible to do that. We also qualify to submit grant applications to the United Way and other organizations, which we have done. Even so, maintaining the level of service we offer is difficult at times, and cash flow is always a concern.
(Carri) In 2002 we were invited by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide an in-service training on Wicca/Paganism for all Federal Chaplains, largely due to our Church status.
5. Can you tell us a little about your path?
(Martin) Both Carridwen and I were trained as Gardnerians, third degree, but we practice an eclectic Wicca, writing our own stuff and using ideas that we like. We encourage groups in prison to be eclectic. Because of various restrictions, strict Gardnerian practice won’t happen in prisons, and a mix of Gardnerian-type practices is most convenient. Spiritual experimentation can be an important part of spiritual seeking, finding what builds connections.
6. Does your Temple have a particular path it practices or is it eclectic?
7. Where do you worship, and how often?
(Martin) lol; I worship every day.
(Carri) [me too!] We are regularly invited to be guest officiants at several of the Open Circles in the metro Denver area, for the full and dark moons. When our prison programs coincide with a Holy Day, we will worship with an inmate group. When we first became volunteers for CDOC we did that more often, as the groups were only permitted to meet and worship if a volunteer was present. Now, inmate groups in Colorado are allowed to gather and worship on all the Full Moons and the Sabbats, so there is less of a need for us to do that.
8. How many members do you have in your Temple?
(Martin) That depends on what you mean. We serve dozens of inmates personally in Colorado, and dozens, perhaps hundreds, more around the nation, through the mail, and through book donations to prison libraries and inmate groups. There are currently 510 North West European Pagans (Wiccans and Druids) incarcerated in the CDOC, and we have met Wiccans on staff at every facility that we have visited. Carri answers about 10 letters every week that we receive from interested inmates and staff all around the country. Carri & I and other volunteers offer regular Wiccan programs in 12 prisons in Colorado, both state and Federal, and I answer requests for Wiccan clergy regularly in 2 county jails. We are available to answer requests from any prison or jail in Colorado, and we, or our volunteers, have been to every prison, and to jails in 8 counties, in Colorado. But as far as having “members,” when people ask if they can join our coven, we tell them first, you have to commit a felony.
9. How many Clergy do you have working in and for your Temple?
(Martin) Including Carridwen and myself, we have three priestesses and two priests that facilitate Wiccan programs in prisons. We have two associates that correspond with inmates as spiritual mentors, helping to guide them on the path. We have 6 volunteers who facilitate a Healing From Rape program in the women’s prison. CDOC Mental Health professionals have told us that as many as 90% of incarcerated women have been molested or raped, yet they offer no specialized program to help them heal and recover from that violation and abuse. It has a horrible effect on their lives, and contributes to the addictions and other dysfunctional behaviors that got them incarcerated. Most women in prison have been victimized numerous times. Rehabilitation and successful re-entry depends on those needs and issues being addressed.
10. How did you choose “Prison Ministry” as your “mission” for your Temple?
(Martin) The Goddess tapped us on the shoulder and said, “I need a couple of volunteers.” Back in 1997, Carri was working at a local metaphysical store. The store-owner got a call from the chaplain at the Federal prison in Littleton, FCI Englewood. The chaplain was looking for Wiccan clergy to come talk to an offender who was filing his third stage grievance (preparing to sue) to get Wiccan clergy. The chaplain called several stores. Carri was the only one who returned his call. From there, it just kind of snowballed.
(Carri) We had met Pete at Spring Mysteries in the early ‘90’s. He told us about his prison ministry. Who knew that was going to lead to this?
11. Could you give us a little idea of what a “typical day” would mean for you as Clergy in the Prison Ministry?
(Martin) There really isn’t a typical day, because our chaplain duties are so varied. As Wicca program providers, we have a regular schedule, visiting prisons, meeting with groups (in 7 prisons) of Wiccan inmates, teaching, talking about the faith, answering questions, offering suggestions about their group and personal practice. As staff chaplains at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility and the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, we are available for a much wider variety of duties. We answer requests for spiritual counsel for any inmate who requests. We actually get many requests from Christians and people with no preference wanting to speak to us. We do use some non-traditional methods for our counseling, like tarot, runes and astrology. We have done tarot readings for some staff members as well. We are on call to deliver Emergency Notifications to inmates, telling them about family deaths, serious illnesses, or other emergencies, and doing counseling with them around their grief about that. I’ve done dozens of E-Ns, averaging several each month, although I once did five death notifications in one day. On several occasions, maybe a dozen times, I’ve gone to the infirmary at DRDC to counsel inmates who were in a terminal condition with serious illnesses, and counseled or prayed about their end of life issues. We talk to inmates about the various programs we offer; Wicca; Meditation; and the Healing from Rape program. We schedule and facilitate those. I go to the segregation unit when requested and yell at people through their steel doors. I visit the “special needs” mental health unit. We have meetings every month with the other volunteer chaplains and our staff supervisors to touch base, share ideas, let everyone know what we’re doing and how things are going, and to stay apprised of changes in policy and scheduling. And every month we have to do reports and time sheets on everything we’ve done. I average about 50 hours each month in prisons, and another 20 or so traveling to prisons. Even though we are unpaid volunteers, the Department tracks our time for accounting purposes and to put a value on our work in reports to the state legislature. CDOC doesn’t pay any chaplains, but most of them get a salary from their church or denomination, and/or from fundamentalist organizations, like Prison Fellowship or Good News Jail and Prison Ministries.
12. Do you offer a training program to those that are interested in your “Temple path” or “Prison Ministry” there at your Temple?
(Carri) People who volunteer to help with our various programs must take CDOC training. Frequently Martin will attend with first timers, to help them be more comfortable.
(Martin) We suggest a couple of books to people who are interested in doing this. They are; Games Criminals Play by Bud Allan and Diane Bosta,; and A Society of Captives by Gresham Sykes. These will help people stay safe in a correctional environment, and give them a good understanding of the culture they are entering. It really is an alien environment, and going in with that understanding can help the adjustment. Also, when I say “stay safe”, I mean, not be manipulated by an inmate con game. I’ve been going into prisons for 17 years, and I have never, ever, felt physically threatened or intimidated. Inmates value the volunteers, and the programs we provide. There have been inmates who disagreed with what we were saying, and who walked out of the program, but they were always polite. They thanked us for being there on the way out the door. An inmate who threatened or hassled a volunteer, and got a program cancelled, would face a harsh and swift inmate justice.
13. Do you mind sharing what we the Pagans, and Wiccans, and other ATC affiliates could do to assist you in your ministry?
(Carri) In our ministry specifically, we need donated books for sending into prison libraries. Also, cash is always good. And more volunteers.
(Martin) No matter where you are, you are close to a prison or jail. They all have Wiccans in them, and the Wiccans need outside support, someone knowledgeable about the faith, to teach/guide them, and to help explain it to the administration. If there are people in your area already doing this work, they need money and help also.
14. Is there anything you would like to say or share to the rest of the ATC Pagans and Wiccans reading this article as a leader, elder, and Clergy in our community?
(Carri) Ex-felons are living in your community now. They are released every day. If they don’t come out better than when they went in, they come out worse. Please consider volunteering with them (in some fashion) in your locale.
(Martin) One of the things we have noticed; an important part of what we do is just being public Wiccans; people engaged and committed in helping others, and working to make society better. It helps to demystify the faith to those not familiar with it, and over time goes a long way in reducing antagonism and hostility. Our being open has given other Pagans the confidence to also be open about their faith. Society takes us seriously, and treats us as part of the team, when we take ourselves seriously, and work like a team member.