Central House Blog

The Central House blog is now mirrored here!

February 14, 2011

I would like to apologize to all for not writing any blog entries for some time. This was not by accident. In recent months, Cathy’s blog entries have been used against us in this ongoing case. Although it is something we and our lawyer can deal with, I did not want to risk adding fuel to their fire and having my words used against us. I decided to continue not only because there have been a few exciting developments recently. A few days ago, the New York Times ran an article in the Our Towns column by Peter Applebome. Many thanks to Peter for a great interview and a great article! Also, many thanks to Colin DeVries of the Daily Mail and Julia Reischel of the Watershed Post and Jason Pitzl-Waters of the Wild Hunt for keeping our story out there.

It has been a very long, difficult journey for all of us, but especially for Cathryn and myself. Some well-meaning individuals have suggested that perhaps this is an indication that we are not supposed to be here. This is certainly not so. We have already long settled this with Mother that this is Her home as well as ours. She has also made it abundantly clear that there are certain issues that need to be worked out through this case, not the least of which is to temper us and make us stronger. We will never give up. Moreover, the more we discover about our situation taken in the context of the community, the clearer it becomes that this is just pure, blatant discrimination. We simply cannot walk away and let them win. No matter what the cost.

If you wish to help the Maetreum and lack the funds, here's something you can do. Start a letter writing campaign to Catskill Town Supervisor, 439 Main Street, Catskill, NY 12414 or email to supervisor@townofcatskillny.gov. Tell them what you think and spread the word far and wide please...

Here is the more mundane news of what has been happening around here: At the end of May, we went to the town Grievance hearing over our denial as we have for many years now. This time, we came with supporters AND our lawyer who read the law to them and cited case law on issues like ours. We even offered to give them a tour of the property (which they refused), but once again, we were still denied.

In June, we completed the columns that form the three gateways to the temple as well as several more benches. We acquired a cement mixer and can now build as many concrete structures as we want. This is very important to us as well, not simply because of the durability of concrete, but also because it was one of the great, technological achievements of the Roman Empire. Still, it’s not exactly easy to work with concrete, especially if you are a woman. The column sections weigh a good 150 pounds each. I regard building with concrete as a testament of faith. Ultimately, we hope to fill the temple with concrete benches as well as cast altars for the Pagan circle. We also hope to create colonnades and fountains for the grounds. (Note: what we are doing with the concrete work is legally nothing more than garden statuary and DOES NOT REQUIRE A BUILDING PERMIT)

During the past Eight months, we have provided charitable housing for a total of four individuals. The shortest stay was 48 hours and the longest has been with us for four months and is still here. She is a remarkable woman who has contributed much during her stay. She has been teaching us weaving and has introduced us to the production of kefir. Thanks to this, we will be able to make our own cheese, beer and bread in the ancient way and without commercial yeast, yet another step toward self-sufficiency which is what we have wanted for a long time.

Palenville Pagan Pride Day was held on August 28th and was a great success. We collected 30 pounds of food for our local food pantries and we had over a hundred participants. We held several rituals and workshops.

Inside the house, we are almost finished with fixing and painting the old plaster walls. We are also almost finished with putting new floor tiles in the upstairs hallway, since we have already removed the old carpet and linoleum that was underneath. We have installed some reproduction as well as reconditioned antique lights adding to the period feel. Ultimately, it’s little touches like this that we hope will truly bring the building back to it’s 1890’s look.

The telegraph office is now complete and is set up in such a way that there are two desks representing two companies, Western Union and Postal Telegraph. They can send messages to each other in demonstrations. We are still hoping to have a remote location set up elsewhere for sending and receiving messages. Our telegraph office may also appear in a documentary about telegraphy currently in production. I’ll keep all the details posted as they occur.

May 9 2010 – Our Case Update


We got our application back from the town for the 2010 property tax exemption.  Once again, despite everything, they STILL denied our exemption and STILL gave us a nonresponsive form letter for the denial with the reason that changes every year and that appears to be just pulled out of some bodily orifice. 


We will be still protesting our denial at the annual grievance hearing in Catskill on May 25th at 4:00pm.  We are looking for a bunch of pagans to join us in a peaceful demonstration there.  If you are interested in participating, please emailus.


The good news is, that our attorney is moving forward with the service.  Hopefully, this will be finished in our favor, soon.  Another bit of good news is that we’re now all over the local as well as the pagan news!  Jason of the Wild Hunt blog posted an update to our case once again.  Thank you Jason, and once again Mother’s blessings to you!  This week, we will also be on Pagans Tonight again.  Keep your eye out for us!


Cathy has been attending several local meetings.  A town meeting was held at the Palenville Fire Department with our Congressman, Scott Murphy on April 19th.  Not only did she bring our legal battle to his attention, she also weighed in on how little the residents of Palenville get for our tax dollars in terms of municipal services as well as letting our feelings known on the possibility of natural gas drilling happening in our part of the Catskills.  Naturally, we oppose it.  One of our priestesses in Western Pennsylvania had lost two wells on her property that were contaminated by the side products of hydro fracturing.  This one got on a local radio program.


She also dropped in on a town Assessment Board meeting and let her feelings about our situation be known.  She also attended a Town Council Meeting and had it out with Peter Markou, the Town Supervisor over the tax exemption issue.  This one made it to one of the local papers. 


We have also been detailed in two articles in a new online magazine called the Watershed Post.  One was just profiling us and another was about our battle with the Town of Catskill(We defy you not to harbor this kitten!).  Despite a gaffe made about Salem witches being burned at the stake, it was an excellent article.  Since the reporter also interviewed Nancy McCoy the Town Assessor and Daniel Vincelette the town attorney (the one who wrote that objectionable legal opinion about us), it is worth checking out to see just how arrogant and small-minded these people really are.  It’s also worth noting, that this is the first time we’ve been given any notion as to just what their objections actually are.  Also interesting that now it comes out when the eyes of public scrutiny are finally upon them.  Fancy that.

April 17th, 2010

We finally have some good news regarding our legal case!  Last week, Judge Pulver made a ruling in our favor.  The case itself is not over, but we did achieve what we feel is an important victory.  The town’s attorneys have focused their legal strategy on trying to get our case dismissed due to some errors we made in service.  Our original attorney had told us to only serve the Assessor’s office, which we did.  They countered that we needed to serve the county and the school board as well, and asked that our case be dismissed on that basis, as well as the fact that we basically started this case pro se, or basically we had to go it alone because our prior attorney took herself off the case.  Although we were upset at the time, she probably did us a favor in retrospect since she claimed she was not competent in this area of New York law. 


The decision was thus:  not only is Pulver refusing to drop the case, he is also allowing us to amend our filing to include the county and school district, as our attorney requested.  This is just in the nick of time, because we have already started to get threatening letters from the county about seizing our property by the end of the year if we are not paid up by then!  Although it’s not over until it’s over, we are pretty optimistic about how things will turn out.  Thus far, they have shown that they really have nothing against us other than the legal equivalent of clerical errors (which is how the judge put it).  If they try to defend themselves with the real reasons for this, they will open themselves up to pretty hefty damages from a civil rights or Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act case which we are completely prepared to file and pursue if they don’t just concede and give us our property tax exemption back.  Given that both the Town of Catskill and Greene County are going through a fiscal crisis of their own, it would be an incredibly foolish gamble for them to make. 


As for other news around the Maetreum, we held Season of the Tree on the last weekend in March.  We had hoped that by holding it the weekend following Ostara/Spring Solstice that we would have had more pagans coming.  I think it did help more pagans show up, but we had a low turnout – only 7 people came.  Ironically enough, the next weekend, 11 people came, including 5 people strangers who just turned up at random.  Go figure.  Nonetheless, it was a great Season of the Tree.  Some of our new friends participated and undertook the Mysteries. 


We have finished the painting work on the bulk of the 2nd floor hallway.  Now the only common areas that are left still paneled are the bathrooms and the immediate hallway surrounding them, the stairs and main entranceway.  We have found some nice, commercial tiles for the hallway as well, having also gotten rid of the carpet – finally!  We have also found just the perfect things to re-do the ceiling.  Armstrong makes these wonderful acoustic tiles just like the old ones we have – only they have been pressed into patterns matching old, tin-tile ceilings!  Since we already have the tracks laid, they’ll be a snap to install; it’s just a matter of getting the money for the things. 

March 7th, 2010

Cathy, Caillean and I have been doing research into the origins and history of Central House.  Our research is still ongoing and we may well fill in more blanks in the future.  Eventually, I would like to create a whole webpage dedicated to the history of the house but I still wanted to report on what we have thus far. 


We had been told by the prior owners that Central House was built in the 1850’s and originally was a tavern.  We have not found anything thus far that either proves or disproves this.  It’s still a very real possibility that this was so. 


In order to research a house, you not only have to look at the history of the house but also of the people associated with it as well as the history of the community it is a part of.  Doing a deed search as only brought limited success, so we had to go about it through indirect means. 


The hamlet of Palenville did not get its name any kind of recognition as a real community until 1859.  Even then, it had a decidedly poor reputation.  It was described in an 1860’s publication as a “primitive wayside”.  As of 1859, it had 18 dwellings, 2 taverns, a tannery and not much else.  Even though the renowned Catskill Mountain House had already been there for a number of years and Palenville had a gorgeous view of it, its glory days were yet to come. 


On an 1856 map of Greene County that showed the current landmarks and property owners, nothing was noted on the spot where Central House lies.  On an 1867 map, the property owner listed in this spot was a farmer named John Harford.  This does not rule out that Central House once was (or grew out of) an 1850’s wayside tavern.  It was not uncommon then for farmers to make their own beer and sell it, thus letting their homes evolve into taverns.


By 1879, the property owner listed was Calvin Goodwin (1839-1917).  Goodwin was a Civil War veteran (5th Heavy Artillery) and a teamster by trade.  At the time there were many Goodwins living in Palenville, and to this day the local cemetery is known by their name.  In the 1880 census, his occupation was still listed as “teamster” rather than boarding housekeeper, although he was living at this location.  From this, we have inferred that Central House had not yet become Central House.  The earliest mention yet found of Central House in Palenville is 1888.  Therefore, we are making the assumption that the little farmhouse/tavern had mushroomed into Central House during this time. The last part of Central House to be added on was the rear wing, in which I am sitting and writing these words.  It’s not much younger than the main part of the house.  It probably all came together within a 10 year period. 


By the turn of the last century, Central House was a very busy and popular place in Palenville.  This is likely because the Goodwins made every effort to keep the place up-to-date, comfortable and yet reasonably-priced.  At that time, the rooms cost $7-$10 per week as opposed to the Pine Grove, in which they cost $10-$12 per week.  The Palenville Zephyr – a local paper published at the time – would list weekly arrivals to all the local inns as well as deliver some tasty gossip.


Goodwin died in 1917.  Central house continued on as a successful boarding house during this time.  Curiously enough, during the mid 20th century, the house passed through the hands of a number of women owners.  One of these owners was the mother of our old neighbor, the late, great Kitty Garrison.  Sadly, she passed away a year after Cathy and company moved in at the age of 89. 


Cesare Genetelli, the patriarch of the family from Cathy and her partners purchased the property in 2002, purchased the property in 1955 and owned it until his death in 1988.  The Genetelli family had run it as a boarding house and restaurant until the late 1960’s and afterward kept it for private use.  After Cesare died, the property had fallen into disrepair.  Cesare’s son Olindo eventually put the property on the market.  He was extremely particular about it, looking for just the right buyer.  After it was on the market for 10 years, he finally sold it to Cathy and the original partnership on the condition that we agree to restore the building.  Apparently, he had turned down other offers – no doubt for considerably more money – from others who had wanted to tear down Central House or turn it into slum housing.  


We have since made good on our promise.  We have been truly *restoring* Central House rather than renovating it as all to many “restoration” jobs actually are.  The original turn-of the last century linoleum floorcloths still adorn the floors of all but 3 of the bedrooms.  Most of them still have the original light fixtures, although they have been rewired.  The entire original footprint of the rooms remains.  The original bathrooms with original beadboard stalls (complete with 1930’s graffiti!) remain.  The original wooden, Victorian “fancy chairs” still adorn the porch and coffee bar areas and the original beds are still slept in.  Much of the work that we had to do – barring certain updates needed for safety – was strictly cosmetic and/or finish work.  After all those years the house was still structurally sound.  For all the bizarre and nonsensical features on the inside which confuse even Cathy herself, the builders clearly knew what they were doing.  The floors do not bounce and the stairs don’t even creak!  The house was built quickly with the intent of cashing in on the Catskills tourist trade, but yet somehow the house endured.

February 19, 2010


We are holding our own through this winter and I am finding that living here and commuting to Albany is not as bad as I had feared.


As of this writing, our court case has not yet been resolved, but the judge has now rejected the oral arguments.  What this means for us is that there will be no trial – the judge will issue a verdict based on the evidence submitted.  Our attorney is optimistic – we’ve submitted some pretty strong evidence! Among that evidence are copies of those pagan-oriented books mentioned in the first October 20th entry.  Right now, we are still playing the Waiting Game.  In the meantime, we carry on with our work.


We are preparing for Season of the Tree and Cathy and I have begun to work on a new body of ritual for the other three major Cybelline holidays.  We are quite excited about this, since we are branching out into other goddess traditions for these, and not just sticking to the Roman Cybelline period.  This religion spanned several aeons and cultures, and our rituals should reflect this.


We are also moving forward on our historical projects.  I am pleased to report that Chessie has been mentioned in Cambridge Who’s Who for her work on the Women in Technology project for her work on our telegraph office.  Congratulations, Chessie!  Caillean is also looking to collaborate with the Mountaintop Historical Society on this project.


We have found more historic postcard images of Central Hous e.  This brings the total up to five.  Unfortunately, one of them was from an image of a postcard of Central House from 1906 on Worthpoint that we didn’t get.  However, we did acquire a black and white postcard image that we think dates from 1890-1900 as well as the crowning pride:  an A.S. Landis birdseye view of Central House and the grounds that was postmarked in 1930.  This one in particular solved a few mysteries, one of which was the purpose of those tiny sheds behind Cathy’s house.  We thought that they were outhouses, but they were actually icehouses!  We have had Helen blow them up and we now have them framed and hanging in the downstairs hallway, which is starting to become our gallery of historic images.  We have also put up some other historic images of Palenville landmarks there. 


Helen’s kiln is now operational and she has done her first firings.  In the near future, she plans to hold pottery classes as she prepares her studio.  If you are interested in taking a pottery class, please email firstchurch@gallae.com for details.


As for other events, we are having the first organizational meeting for Palenville Pagan Pride Day 2010 on February 28th at 2:00pm.  We are also starting up a new bisexual brunch here at Central House that will be held on the second and fourth Sundays of the month from 11:00am to 1:00pm.  We hold it through Meetup.com.  If you are interested, check out this link:  http://www.meetup.com/Hudson-Valley-Catskills-Bisexual-Meetup

December 20th, 2009


A Blessed Yule and Saturnalia to you all!  Here’s an update on our legal situation.  Thanks to our October missive to the larger pagan community, we now have a lawyer and the means to continue our legal battle.  Once again, I would like to offer thanks to Jason Pitzl-Waters, author of the Wild Hunt Blog for helping to spread awareness of our plight.  I would also like to offer thanks to my old friend, Ed Hubbard of Witchschool and the Pagan Newswire Collective for allowing Cathy and I to call in to the internet radio show Pagans Tonight to tell the whole story to the community.  We would also very much like to thank the mother and daughter who each gave us an incredibly generous donation that made it all possible! Our situation as it stands is this:  right now the judge is reviewing our case and deciding whether or not to issue a summary judgment restoring our exemption, or whether the town has a strong enough case to take it to trial.  As of now, it's all in the judge's hands and we are playing the Waiting Game - and hoping that this all ends soon. 

We also have a special request to anyone and everyone who ever participated in an event at the Maetreum.  Our lawyer has requested that we obtain as many affidavits from people who have attended events here as possible.  Yes, I know, it's kind of ridiculous and insulting that we should have to do this, but just remember, we have been placed in a ridiculous sitiuation of having to actually prove that we are a religion, and that means proving that we have engaged in religious activities here that people have actually participated in.


As for the more mundane goings-on at the Phrygianum, this past fall we re-decked half of the front porch and will continue with the other half in the spring.  We also reinforced the underdecking, because a lot of it came loose over the years, although the only real rot that we found was at the edge, where rain and snow came into contact with it.  We used Southern Yellow Pine wood for the new decking and with weather treatment it has the look of amber shellac over pine.  Not only is it harder than regular pine, it's also much more rot resistant.  This new porch should last another hundred years!


We have also finally completed the kiln room, which has consisted of rebuilding the floor in that shed (the old floor was rotted and had termite damage) as well as putting on a new roof using salvaged timbers from the porch.  We fire-proofed the inside of the room with corrugated metal and put the kiln into place.  All that’s left is to hook up the kiln at its ready to go!

Thanksgiving was lovely, with Caillean and her daughter Chessie attending as well as Marina and Laura.  It had been Laura's first time up here in many years and it was good to see her at last. She took a lot of wonderful pictures, including my cat, Shadow, helping himself to leftover turkey.  Unforunately, even though she submitted it to icanhascheezburger.com, Shadow did not get enough votes to become an LOL cat. :(

October 20, 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 Dayon 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.

October 20, 2009 – An Urgent Appeal to the Pagan Community:


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



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 apparantly 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 Catskill, 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

August 22, 2009

I have big news to report!  I have moved into Central House and am now living here fulltime with my four cats.  My husband and I are doing a trial separation and this move may or may not be permanent.  In the meantime, I’m glad that I’m doing it, since there is much to be done, and Cathy and Helen really need a few more pairs of hands.

Our new friend, Jenna, is now running a local social and support group for Trans people called KTGA, or Kaaterskill Transgender Association at Central House.  This is a support group for local trans people who may otherwise be isolated.  It’s great to be able to now offer another program that is in keeping with our spiritual mission.  For further information on times and dates, email us.

Another recent big development for us is that now we have purchased a shortbus!  It is a 1998 International school bus with a Thomas body that was meant for Special Needs children and has a wheelchair elevator!  It was a bit of an adventure getting back as well as getting it registered/insured, but we have solved that problem.  We are currently adapting it for use as an RV and still batting around some ideas for how to “hippify” it.  Helen has already cleaned it and started painting a base coat on the outside.  We have found that pink works very well for covering up school bus yellow in order to prepare it for another color of paint.  It has already proved its usefulness in being able to carry all of my furniture in one trip.  It is also useful for picking up antique furniture purchased on eBay and elsewhere.  That is one of the upsides of the bad economy (for us, anyway) is that the prices of antiques are depressed and it’s a buyer’s market.  I was able to purchase some beautiful, Victorian parlor furniture for our living room at a fraction of its true value. 

Helen’s friend John and his girlfriend, Brittany have been staying with us.  We handfasted them at the most recent full moon celebration.  Congratulations and best wishes to them both!

John is helping Helen build the kiln room for her pottery (which is simply the conversion of a decrepit, attached tool shed).  Brittany has been painting some Minoan lilies on the bar in the café, something that Cathy has wanted here for a long time.  I’ve put my grandmother’s Sammeltassen (that’s little Bavarian china teacups with saucers) on display behind the bar.  This is to not only help make the place seem more of a café and less of a bar, it’s also paying homage to the German tradition of women gathering for coffee and cake in the mid afternoon, which is much like the English tradition of High Tea.  This is something we have been trying to revive at Central House.

Our telegraph office is now complete and functional!  Not only that, there are 3 organizations that are interested in our work:  Edinburgh University , The National Organization for Women and a bunch of Confederate Civil War re-enactors!

June 3, 2009, Continued

Okay, now, here is the more positive news of the goings-on at Central House.  First of all: yes, we really do harbor kittens!  The newest residents of the Phrygianum are a couple of adorable little boys who have been named Gandalf and Frodo.  Gandalf is all grey and Frodo is mostly black with some white patches.  I’ll have to get some pictures of them for posterity.  They are both adorable but still shy.  We’re working on getting them properly socialized.

We have now cast enough concrete  column sections to complete the first temple gate.  The foundation has been poured and all we need to do is mortar it together.  Once that is done, we are looking at some concrete paint to paint them.  Yes, I know most folks think that classical ruins and columns are bleached white.  It’s a little-known fact that back in classical times that when they were new, classical structures were actually brightly, even gaudily painted.  What we look at from our perspective is an ancient ruin when all of the color has worn away and they have been bleached white by time and the elements.  Certainly the Cybellines of old were known to be very colorful in their dress and accoutrements.

Work continues on the hallways.  The first floor is now almost done.   I had spend a week off from work and at Central House with the hopes that we could get some serious work done on them while I was able to give them several days of my undivided attention.  Unfortunately, not only was the work a lot harder than I had anticipated, with some very stubborn bad spots in the wall as well as some wallpaper that simply would not come off no matter what I did with it. 

Plans for Palenville PPD are moving forward.  We now have some new committee members who are from another local goddess group for women.  We made some new friends and hope to see a lot more of them in the future.  Hopefully, we will be seeing more pagan groups come to use our facilities and fellowship with us.  One of our other new projects is preparing one of our fields in the back to be used by other guest pagan groups for ritual.  We had a donated fireplace for the garage sale that did not sell that we hope to make into a chimnea to serve as the South Gate for pagan rituals.

This year’s garage sale was not as successful as last year’s in terms of monetary gain, but our annual sale has many purposes.  The most important one is having a chance to interact with the local community, not to mention eliminate the junk that seems to breed in the house.  And this year, we managed to finally get rid of some enormous, utterly useless (for us) dance mirrors that had been left behind by a former resident.  They never made it past the first floor hallway, since they were just too big to put anywhere.  They were also one of the reasons why we were unable to complete the first floor hallway – they were in the way!  Cathy had been hoping to also get rid of the “Transy House” dining room set as well.  This was an otherwise very nice circa 1930’s dining room set including a china closet, server, buffet and table and chairs that had originally come from the brownstone in Brooklyn that had become Transy House which had eventually made it’s way up here.  The set did not sell, and once more, it remains part of our living/dining room. 

But of course, I myself will soon be contributing to the problem – but at least my junk is antique junk that will look good in Central House!

June 3, 2009:  We Harbor Kittens

The header is a reference to something that happened during the first year that we were in Palenville.  We laugh about it, but the humor is bittersweet.

In 2002, the first Catskill town meeting was held for the first time in many years in Palenville.  The principal item on the agenda was “that bunch of weirdoes” that moved into Central House.  The local slumlord (who shall remain nameless) had been trying to purchase Central House from the elderly man who owned it for years before we bought it.  However, the old man continually refused because he loved the house very much and did not want to see it torn down or turned into slum housing.  Once we bought it, the slumlord tried to drive us out of town by playing the bigotry card so that he could finally acquire the property.  And please take note – virtually every genocide or organized campaign of hatred and murder against an unpopular minority from the witch-craze of medieval, reformation and colonial American periods to the lynching of black people in the south to the Holocaust and beyond had property theft as the underlying motive.  It’s just simply good ol’ fashioned greed dressed up in racist/misogynist/homophobic clothing.

What happened was that he addressed the assembly trying to turn the townspeople against us by telling a bunch of lies:  that we were supposedly Satanists, child molesters, criminals, etc.  But the worst of it all was…….wait for it………we HARBOR KITTENS!!!!!!!!!!!  Yes, he concluded his ominous rant with “…and they harbor kittens”, and that was it.  By doing so, he shot himself in the foot and instantly went from being someone universally feared and respected in town to being the local laughingstock.  At the level of the people, it was an utter disaster for the slumlord’s cause, and the townspeople all came up and introduced themselves.  To make things even funnier, Cathy then went on to make several hundred buttons saying, “Welcome to Paganville” and “I harbor kittens”, and brought them to Earl, the then proprietor of the Green Cow to sell.  He was sold out in a couple of days!  Clearly, the good people of Palenville have much more intelligence, savvy, moral backbone, not to mention sense of humor than Mr. Slumlord ever gave them credit for. 

However, at the level of town government, the bigot slumlord’s clarion call did appear to have been taken up.  At the meeting, he called for the town to try and drive us out by bombarding us with fire safety and zoning inspections.  Sure enough, over the years, they’ve been trying to get in for inspections.  Every time, Cathy has always managed to respond by refusing them entrance, and throwing the law back at them to show that the section they were quoting was totally irrelevant to us and our situation.  And now, I kid you not, the town Board of Assessment is citing this as the “real reason” we’ve been denied these past two years!

Yes, that’s right!  Now they are basically admitting that yes, we are indeed a convent, but that we supposedly failed to complete the appropriate paperwork to change use and submit to an inspection, since it had operated commercially as an inn since the late 60’s.  Now, the place is zoned Commercial (which is one of the reasons why we had purchased it), and this means that the Commercial designation is supposed to umbrella all other uses, which is why you always see “Zoned Commercial” on billboards offering land for sale.  Supposedly, this designation means you can do just about anything with the land within reason, thus making it very attractive to potential buyers.

We just don’t buy it that we need to apply for a permit for change of use.  This is for two reasons:  first of all, our exemption was thrown out for 2007 and 2008 after being initially granted in 2006.  They did this based on the opinion of the town attorney, who had been specifically requested to give it (the identity of this individual who made the initial request is one of the biggest mysteries in all of this).  The opinions for both years were filled with distortions, deliberately fudged timelines plus lots and lots of transphobia, misogyny and religious bigotry directed at us – but that’s beside the point.  I happen to work for a taxing agency myself, and I know for a fact that you DON’T pay good money to a lawyer for a legal opinion if the only issue is a simple failure to file for a permit!  Nope, you get a legal opinion when you need clarification of some complex legal point or – as the antics of the prior President and his staff have shown us – if you are looking for legalistic justifications to do something that you know is illegal, immoral and just plain wrong.  Second, as I have mentioned previously, we were initially granted our exemption in 2006 when we applied for it without a peep.  We didn’t hear about the missing paperwork then and were only informed about it at the May 26th grievance hearing.  If it was such an issue, wouldn’t it have held up our initial approval?  And moreover, shouldn’t it be taken as a sign that the Change of Use permit was never required in the first place? 

To be blunt, yes, we do ascribe sinister motives to this sudden change in plan.  We see it as proof that the town Board’s true motivation here was indeed to abuse their authority to make us give up our property and drive us out of town just as Mr. Bigot Slumlord had wanted in the first place.  Why?  This year, I had located an advisory opinion from the New York State Office of Real Property Services that stated that convents ARE in the Mandatory Exempt class and why.  All we needed to do was prove that we are indeed a convent, despite the fabrications of the Judge Bybee of Catskill.  We did this, we had beaten them at their own game and rather than admit defeat and restore our exemption, they pulled this nonsense about how we never applied for a permit.  Their motive with this move was clearly to pull a fast one on us.  They were trying to trick us into filling out this useless piece of paper, but more importantly, they wanted us to give consent for them to enter the property for an inspection.  All sounds easy and benign, right?  WRONG!  In a prior lifetime, Cathy had been a building inspector herself and knows all the tricks that localities pull.  Even if the property was immaculate and flawless they would have found *something* that would have justified condemning the property and preventing us from using it while the case was tied up in court for years.  Remember, we are dealing with people who have previously shown that they have no qualms about lying on the official record to get their way.

They can’t win.  With this latest change in strategy, they have violated federal law.  We can now sue them for actual monetary damages at this point above and beyond demanding that they refund the taxes with interest.  We can even send the Justice Department after them.  We were led to Central House by the Goddess to do Her work.  Federal law recognizes and supports our fundamental right to do so, irregardless of what some greedy, small-minded local officials want.

Special Announcement:  Palenville Pagan Pride Day!

I am very excited to announce that I have been made the Local Coordinatorfor Pagan Pride Dayfor theHudson Valley area.  The Maetreum of Cybele will be hostessing this event.  We will hold the organizational meeting to form the committee on Saturday, April 11th at 2pm at Central House.   The date of the event is one of the primary items on the agenda.

Pagan Pride Day is a combination of charitable activity and community outreach, committed to creating a positive face of paganism for the larger community. We are looking for volunteers for the Palenville Pagan Pride Day committee to help with the following areas:

* Fundraising
* Public relations and advertising
* Acquiring pagan vendors
* Workshop/speaker booking
* Charitable outreach
* Booking musicians

We welcome pagans from all paths and all groups. Being a member of our Pagan Pride Day committee would require making a commitment to be present for at least most of the meetings, which will at first be held every two weeks and as the event draws closer, they will be held as necessary. Volunteering on the Pagan Pride committee can be highly valuable and rewarding experience. You'll make new friends, learn new skills and take away many wonderful memories. Most of all, you will be part of an important effort to draw our local community together. Sounds good? Then drop us a line at
firstchurch@gallae.com   If you can't make the commitment to be on the committee, but would like to be involved in some other way, such as by vending, presenting a workshop or just helping with setup and cleanup, drop us a line, anyway!

Come and help us make Palenville Pagan Pride day happen!

April 5, 2009

Season of the Tree was a success again this year.  We had twelve people in attendance altogether.  We would have had more, but two of our priestesses had family emergencies involving parents just before the weekend.  Four people underwent the Mysteries this year, and we played “Milk” in the theater for the others.  I assisted with conducting the mysteries.  We elevated two priestesses:  Helen Farrell and Caillean’s daughter, Francesca Tronetti.  Congratulations to them both!

Marina also came back to visit us for the first time in a number of years.  It was great to have her back and for me, to finally meet her in person.  She brought along her new girlfriend, Norma and a cooler full of exotic fruits.  There was some delicious mangoes and papayas along with something far more exotic:  a durianfruit.  These fruits are native to Southeast Asia and are quite popular there, but for westerners, they are an acquired taste that most of us don’t acquire.  They have a delicate, creamy texture, but an indescribable flavor that has been compared to almonds, onions, garlic, asafetida or less charitably to lighter fluid.  I can’t say that Marina won me over to the wonderful world of durian fruit, but I am glad to have had the opportunity to try one!

We have finally gotten started on redoing the walls in the ground and second floor hallways.  As of this writing, most of the 70’s era wood paneling is now off!  We found, to our pleasant surprise, that much the old plaster was still in decent shape.  There were only a few places where large chunks had come off.  What we mostly have to deal with are numerous, small nail holes and dents.  It looks like all they are going to need is just some patching and sanding with drywall compound.  Given that the walls were in such good shape, relatively speaking, I’m kind of baffled as to why the wood paneling was put up in the first place.  It didn’t do a thing for the ambiance of the place, and frankly made it feel like a cave or dungeon.  Underneath the paneling, we found old wallpaper in a rather attractive, circa 1930’s (we think) art deco pattern that looked like stylized feathers.  It was beige and gold with a few red highlights.  We liked the look it gave, but unfortunately since it was ripped and moldy in too many places, we could not save it.  Ultimately, we are going to paint the walls white, and strategically place pictures and stencils to hide any flaws.  ;)

March 2nd, 2009

Howdy, folks!  It’s been such a lovely winter, hasn’t it?  (Yes, I am employing a generous dollop of sarcasm here!)

We now have some new sofas, thanks to Randi and Felicia.  Now those of you who have been to visit the Phrygianum will no doubt be asking what we need new couches for, since we already have a whole theater-full of them.  Well, there was that old, plaid loveseat in the living room that was (putting it nicely) better suited to a 70’s era suburban rec-room than to the Pagan-Goddess-flavored-Country-Victorian look we are going for.  Unfortunately, while they were in good shape and clean, they just weren’t the right look for our living room.  What we wound up doing was swapping them with Cathy’s blue loveseat and matching wing chairs.  Those are now in the living room and the new sofas are in her living room.  While not quite to her taste, either, they fit, and the long sofa is perfect for lying down on.  Helen’s production potter, John, came to help us out with these.

We had some problems with the well, but these have been fixed.  A part just needed to be replaced.  Cathy wants to put the other well into service along with one of her other dreams:  an old-style, hand pump.  It would be a very handy thing for those times when we lose power or for providing water for the gardens and temple.  Not to mention it would be so much fun!       

Cathy has also obtained some more concrete molds.  In addition to molds for columns, we now have molds for benches (to add more benches to the temple) as well as for interlocking stepping stones.  The plan is to ultimately put a stepping-stone path leading from the main house out to the temple, which will have more benches and be surrounded by columns.  Eventually, it’s going to have the look of a classical ruin.  Our biggest dream, though, is to erect a life-size statue of Cybele, herself.  That’s going to take some doing….

Season of the Tree is only 3 weeks away.  We have a few new activities planned as well as some authentic “period” touches that we have never used before.  I also plan on doing some Reiki attunements for whoever is interested.   Just contact me first!  J

Our Latest Women’s History Project

This one is so special it warranted its own blog entry.  Our latest project represents yet another Great Leap Backward in women’s history.  We normally deal with ancient women’s history, but this one will deal with more recent history.  Not too long ago, when Sister Caillean was visiting us, it occurred to her that Central House had likely at one point in its history had a telegraph office, given that it had a number of patrons and was a prominent building in the town.  Naturally, it’s no longer there. 

Telegraphy was the primary method of long-distance communication for a long time.  It is the forerunner of the internet and email technology.  The primary telegraph operators were women.  Telegraph technology would never have been so successful had it not been for the thousands of women operators.  This is an overlooked, but important nonetheless, facet of women’s history. Were it not for telegraphy and the women who did it, we would not have internet and email today.

We are now in the process of converting room 12 into a telegraph office and a small living history museum.  It will still be usable as guest room.  We are setting up the equipment and covering the walls with authentic Women’s Suffrage memorabilia as well.  Cai’s daughter Chessie is now working on furthering the project as part of her Master’s thesis.  Her school, Edinburgh University is interested in our project as is Seneca Falls.  We are hoping to put on a recreation of telegraph usage by sending them a message from the Maetreum for their convocation next year. 

Caillean and Cathy have acquired some vintage keys and sounders and cloth-covered wire.  Many of these items were still in their original boxes and never before used!  In this economy, we were able to acquire them at some amazing prices as well.  We are even looking to acquire some historical costumes for the demonstration.

January 10th 2009

Happy New Year, everyone!  Today I am home, snowed in, instead of going down to the Maetreum, so I figured I would take good advantage of the opportunity and finish up my latest blog entries.

This year looks to be an exciting and productive one for the Maetreum.  We’ve planned a bunch of new events in addition to the usual ones and we have a lot of restoration projects planned for the Phrygianum.  Cathy just acquired a set of concrete molds to make classical-style columns to adorn the gateways and mark the border of the temple.  And none too soon, for one of the recent windstorms blew down all three of the wooden trellis gateways.  We plan on casting them during the winter, and let’s hope that they will be all ready by Season of the Tree.

This year we hope to make Season of the Tree bigger and better than ever.  We’ve got some new ideas and intend to publicize it more broadly.

For this year’s annual Memorial Day garage sale, we are hoping to invite other area pagan vendors to come and sell their wares, thus making it into a pagan bazaar.  Our garage sale is always popular with the locals and folks driving up route 23A to get to the mountains.  Frankly, I’d be curious about just what kinds of goodies a big, old house like Central House would disgorge, too.  We’ve even had people drop by who wanted to buy furniture off the porch!

On June 27th-28th, we are going to hold a Pagan Summit meeting.  This is for a purpose that is near and dear to our hearts – trying to solve conflicts within the pagan community.  This comes none too soon, either.  I just went through a recent drama of my own, and am now no longer the Assistant Pastor of the Schenectady Pagan Cluster.  In fact, the cluster no longer exists by that name.  I am the owner of the Yahoo list that the group was using, but rather than succumb to the drama, I have decided to make an honest attempt to rise above it by remaking the list for the purpose of conflict resolution in the pagan community.  I’ve renamed it Pagan Peacemakers.  Thus far I’ve had a positive response from folks in the community, and people are still pouring on to it. 

On July 10-12th we will be going back to our roots and holding a Gender and Spirituality weekend.  We will be holding rituals, workshops and more.  We’re still working on the roster of speakers, but I will be among them this time, and will be putting on a talk based on the spiritual lessons of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.  For the unenlightened, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, is a fairly common hormonal disorder among women.  5-10% of the general female population has it and it was recently discovered that 38% of lesbians have it.  I would not be surprised if that figure is comparable for bisexual women as well.  It’s basically an androgen excess issue that causes irregular or absent periods, infertility, voice-deepening, hair growing where you don’t want it to, female-pattern baldness and even increased upper-body strength.  Basically, it’s like your whole body is in open rebellion against its femaleness.  Now if you happen to be a transsexual man, it’s all well and good.  If your gender happens to be female, you’re in for a world of hurt.  Is caused by an intersex condition?  Who knows?  In my experience, women who have never had to deal with it just don’t seem to get it.  Indeed the only group of women whose experience comes anywhere close is – you guessed it – transsexual women.  Only transsexuals seem to understand just what it feels like to know the horror of  becoming male when you are female (Not that I have anything against men.  They can be very nice, but I just don’t want to be one, thank you very much!).  In fact, my endocrinologist once told me that the treatment I receive as a PCOS patient is virtually the same as that which is given to a MTF transsexual in order to change from male to female.

On August 14th-16th, we will be holding the third annual Harvest Meadows women’s festival.  This year we will be opening it up to the general public for the first time.  As always, we welcome transsexual and intersexed women.  This year, since it will fall during the waning moon, we will be honoring the Crone.


December 21st, 2008

Blessed Winter Solstice to you all!

Cathy’s cast iron cook-stove is now in place and working.  She and Helen set and grouted the tiles that Helen made which forms the base that the stove sits on and it’s just beautiful!  We still have yet to mount the tiles to the back and side of it, but there is cement board surrounding it to shield the walls from heat and sparks.  The stove also works wonderfully to heat the area, just as we’d hoped.  We’ll be shutting off most of the house during the winter, and concentrating the heat on those main areas that people will be using as well as where the water pipes are.  That means the third floor as well as most of the second will be closed off unless we have people staying with us.

Any readers who live in Palenville will no doubt be pleased to hear that we have started to scrape and paint the building at long last!  Due to the sheer size of it we will be working in sections and are starting in the back.  It’s definitely not something we plan on having done in the near future, and it will probably be next summer’s big project.  Any of you good folks out there care to help us out?  We can use donations of labor, paint or cash toward this project. ;-)


We finally heard back from the paranormal investigators, our good friends at Astral Light Paranormal Investigations with the results of their investigation of Central House.  Over the years several people have reported having unexplainable events happen to them at Central House.  This includes all kinds of things ranging from cold spots to people being locked in rooms to disembodied voices being heard to full-blown apparitions being spotted.

After a thorough investigation, several EVP’s were recorded.  One of them sounded like an ominous threat against Cathy, but it turned out to be a restligeist, or residual haunting.  This particular EVP came not from the dead, but from the living.  It was left behind by a priestess who has since left us and it has since been dealt with.  Unfortunately, no ghost photos were taken, nor did any of the investigators have any direct ghost experiences while they were there.  For this reason, their determination was “Likely Paranormal Activity”, but they stopped short of actually certifying it haunted.  Who us, haunted?  Naaaaaaaah. ;-)

We have begun holding the goddess Meetups and we have had a few new people come.  We also are now holding open houses on Saturday afternoons for anyone who wants to come.

On a less positive note, we had something of an emergency regarding the property tax bill.  We were advised by our attorney to raise the money and pay the Town ofCatskill under protest immediately.  It seems that the town is NOT required to inform us by certified mail if they are going to foreclose on the property.  Since it’s become clear to us that we are not dealing with ethical people, we needed to assume the worst and prepare for it.  Basically, the town could have sold it right out from under us and our appeals have been exhausted for 2008 and we missed the deadline for an alternate form of judicial review that could have helped us.  A few priestesses helped us out but I myself wound up taking on the principal burden of making sure that these illegal taxes were paid and that we did not lose the property.  Now that the taxes are paid, the gloves are off:  I DONATED EVERYTHING THAT I HAD AND EVEN TOOK OUT A LOAN OF $4000 TO MAKE SURE THAT WE DID NOT LOSE THE HOUSE AGAIN.  Although there is certainly nothing I wouldn’t do to help out, I am very, very upset at having to take out a personal loan in this economy.  I had been hoping to get rid of the very last little bit of debt that I had and save up some money but then this came along.  Of course, being the optimist that I am, I do look for the silver lining in each gray cloud.  In this case, it may just be the much-needed opportunity for the Maetreum to build up a credit rating by piggy-backing it onto mine.  We’re definitely going to need it in the future! 

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank those of you who donated to us to help us save the property.  I would especially like to thank my mother for helping us out.   Mom, if more Christians were like you, the world would be a much happier place.  I love you so much.

September 29th, 2008

We’ve been hard at work trying to get the house prepared for winter.  Cathy and Helen have been rerouting the gas lines to service the relocated gas heaters.  Cathy also fixed the burst pipes from the downstairs bathroom, which had rendered it virtually unusable and had been weighing on her.  During the first winter that Cathy was not in the house, the idiots who occupied the Phrygianum completely ignored her suggestions and let the pipes freeze.  Since the kiln room is going to be behind this bathroom, let’s hope that it’s never going to be an issue again! 

Cathy has moved the propane heater out of the mock fireplace in the living room and replaced it with my cat mantel shield.  My mother is an antique dealer and when she left the area for Charleston after my father died, I wound up inheriting a lot of her unsold merchandise, including this folk art cat mantel shield.  Mom fell in love with it, but none of her customers did.   My husband never liked it either, and now Central House is its new home.  I have a number of other antiques that have just been collecting dust at home in my attic and cellar that I think will be great additions to the house.  I’ve already brought down some paintings and other artwork.  I’ve got some Victorian chairs and a whatnot shelf that I have been wanting to fix up at home but never got around to that will make a fine addition to the house.  We’ve got several old chairs at Central House that need to be stripped and refinished, too.  Looks like I’m going to have my work cut out for me!

One of the latest acquisitions is a previously unknown postcard of Central House from 1911 that I acquired on eBay.  We were all thrilled to get it!  Helen has already blown it up.

Central House 1911

We had a surprise visit from members of the Lombardi family.  Here’s a bit of Central House history:  the elderly man whom we purchased the house from in 2002 was a member of the Genetelli/Lombardi clan, several members of which owned the house from just prior to WWII until we purchased it from them.  It was great to see them and show off what we’ve been doing and to hear old stories about the place and the people who stayed there in days past.  It’s always good to have a visit from them, and they are always welcome.


September 24th, 2008

We held our Mabon/Fall Equinox celebration this weekend at the temple.  Sue and Amanda came fromToronto to join us.  It was so good to see them again!  I hope we’ll see more of them in the future.

We now have a kiln!  Cathy found it on eBay for a song.  It came used from a college in Poughkeepsie and was never apparently fired up to its full capacity, therefore, it should still be in good shape.  Thanks to Randi and Felicia for helping us get it over!  Now of course comes the fun part – getting the kiln room ready.  We chose an attached tool shed that was in really bad shape.  We’ll have to fix and reinforce the floor as well as fire-proof the room.  We also found an old, concrete utility sink.  Much as I hate to see old components destroyed, this one had to go because it was too heavy for Helen and I to move.  Helen broke it up with a hammer.  At lease we can use it as fill in any future concrete projects.

I found a bunch of reproduced, vintage articles and plans from old farm magazines on eBay for various projects.  These include, building your own kiln (not that we need it now, but it’s a great thing to have on hand), how to build greenhouses, how to dig your own well, how to build a henhouse, beehives and my personal favorite, a windmill electric generator!  One of our dreams is getting the Phrygianum off the grid, and our own wind generator would be a great start!  It should also take a big bite out of our electric bills.  

We’ve also gotten some fertilizer for the veggie garden bed.   We’ve had some of the locals chide us for not using the wonderful garden bed when the former owners used to grow such wonderful tomatoes in it.  Well, unfortunately, that bed is now used up and needs some major replenishing.  Hopefully what we got along with a few years worth of compost will do the trick.

The next fall project is insulating the house.  We’ve gotten pink stuff and are next looking at blow-in insulation.  We’ve already insulated two rooms in the back of the ground floor.  This should save us a fortune on heating this winter!

We’ve gotten tax bills from the Town of Catskill.  Now they have gotten serious in threatening to foreclose if we don’t pay by November.  However, there is hope on the horizon.  I’ll be keeping you all up on these developments.

August 22, 2008

Harvest Meadows was great!  I came down a day early with my friend, Marge to help set up.  We had a lot of fun doing so with Cathy and Helen.

The pond that we put in is now home to several frogs!  When Marge and I went to visit it, we saw eight frogs in or around it.  Wow!  And there were at least two different species.  Even though frogs are supposed to be endangered, they certainly aren’t around here.  One of them even looked up at us and started croaking.  Awwwwwww…..

We had 10 people altogether at Harvest Meadows.  Helen put on a two- part workshop on the basics of pottery.  She covered the different types of clay, some basic techniques for throwing pots and bowls as well as making mugs, beads and tiles.  We also did some work on some of the tiles she is creating for the new kitchen.  I think I may paint bees on some, since they are hex-shaped and make a honeycomb effect. ;-)

A local high priestess came to put on a plant meditation.  Cailean’s daughter, Chessie, taught a workshop on candle making/candle magick and Randi and Felicia led us all in drumming on the full moon.  They taught us some basic rhythms as well.  Cathy once again gave her talk on the goddess in antiquity and we showed The Goddess Remembered trilogy.  This is a feminist/pagan three-part documentary that covers ancient goddess spirituality through the Burning Times to today’s goddess revival. 

We also got to enjoy some wonderful food.  Helen made her sushi.  And we enjoyed roasted veggies and barbecue.  I made some pizzas and we enjoyed Cathy’s yummy scones for breakfast.  

Tomorrow evening we are having a group of paranormal investigators come to investigate Central House.  I can’t wait to see what happens…..

July 2008

Helen is now living in the Maetreum full-time.  It’s so good to have someone there again!  Cailean stayed for a week, and brainstormed with Cathy and Helen on some new ideas for winterizing the place.  One of those includes putting in a winter kitchen.

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with old houses, let me bring you up to snuff.  19th century (and earlier) houses often had two kitchens, one that was used in the winter, and one in the summer.  The winter one was inside of the house proper, just like the kind of kitchens we are familiar with, where the rising heat could help heat the house.  The summer kitchen was built as its own wing or as an outbuilding.  The idea there was that the heat would go out through the roof when it rose, and not make the house any hotter.  A necessity back in the days when there was no air-conditioning – or even fans! 

Central House was built strictly as a summer place, and not had any significant updates in its history, save for the installation of electricity and the bathrooms during the early years of the 20th century.  It has no furnace and no central heating.  It blew me away just how tiny the basement is for a building that big.  And there’s nothing in it, not even an old coal hopper!  Its only kitchen is a summer kitchen, and therefore we lose an awful lot of heat and energy during the winter, thereby contributing to the high cost of heating an 18-bedroom, 4500 square foot house.  It’s going to be interesting to see how it works out…. 

We’ve been prepping the house for Harvest Meadows and other events.  Helen did a great job of cleaning up the front porch and the coffee house area looks great!  Helen has cleaned and organized it and Cathy has put up curtains. 

I have been working at putting up stencils in the coffee house as well.  We’ve been going for a “country kitchen” feel, and I am putting up stencils of bumble-bees and butterflies.  This is a motif that I hope other Cybellines will adopt.  In ancient days, the non-gallae women priestesses were called “mellissae”, meaning “little bees”.  This goes along with a bee motif that pervaded the ancient faith of the Magna Mater.  Her temples were often shaped like beehives and the goddess in the Minoan civilization is seen with a beehive on her head. (The original beehive hairdo?  Just kidding!  ;)  So bees represent the natural-born women priestesses.  Now, the ancient gallae never used the butterfly as their symbol (that we know of), but modern transsexual women do.  Both of these beautiful insects together makes, to my mind, a wonderful symbol of sisterhood.

And speaking of sisterhood, we still have some spaces open for participants in Harvest Meadows.  If you are interested, please email centralhouse@gallae.com.

June 24, 2008

This weekend, we had a wonderful summer solstice celebration.  A few of the sisters, sadly, could not make it, but we still had a great time and a great solstice ritual and picnic Thankfully, Yogi and Boo-Boo did not pay us any visits!

Tim Lake helped us with the last of the doorway and hall project.  The last, stubborn bit was a heavy beam that supported the door which had been nailed to the wall with 8-inch long barn nails.  Thanks to Tim for helping remove something that had been stumping us!

Randi and Felicia from Woodstock joined us for our barbecue and ritual.  They are both very skilled drummers who are fixtures at Woodstock’s weekly public drum circle.  Later that evening, Randi entertained us with stories of her days as a micro-broadcaster in New York City during the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Right now she is working on getting a micro-broadcasting license for herself in Woodstock.  Stay tuned……


May 2008

For the first, two weekends, I was unable to come down, both for Beltane as well as troubles with my car.  I went through some serious Central House withdrawal!

Helen has continued moving in and Cathy has been digging a pond by the side of her house with the help of Roo, the daughter of one of our priestesses.  Roo did a great job (and most of the digging, I am told).  She deserves Kudos for that.  Yaay Roo!  I helped Cathy finish it off, not an easy job, since the soil itself is very rocky, as you might expect for being located at the foot of an old mountain!  The soil is also pure clay.  I do hope Helen can use it for her projects.  One day she hopes to hold pottery classes at the Maetreum.

We lined the pond and anchored the lining with some of the many, many rocks unearthed during the process.  They’ll make a nice, rock garden.  We got the fountain going, added some water plants and – voila!  We’ve got pond!!!!!!!!!

We've got pond!!!!!!!

Helen also had a pond liner and some solar panels for it that she has donated to the Maetreum.  By the end of the summer, we’ll likely have another pond by the temple grove, too!

The other big project for the month was getting the tons of junk (and occasional antique treasure) that the honorable opposition left behind when they abandoned the property unearthed and outside for our Memorial Day yard sale.  If you’ve ever worked as a janitor or custodian for an institution of higher learning (or even just walked or drove by the dorms) when the academic year is over, you know what I mean!  This year, we also held a bake sale, selling Cathy’s delicious scones (Made the ol’ fashion way with real cream!), Jamie’s brownies and my bread.  We also offered free coffee.  That was certainly a hit.  Free coffee and cheap goods.  What a deal!  But more to the point, it was a great opportunity to repair our reputation in the community.  A few neighbor women stopped by and chatted with us for awhile.  It was wonderful that at last they felt safe enough to do so.In the end, the yard sale was a great success.  We got rid of a lot of stuff - especially the $^%&! Pool table, dog house and a few of the computers - and made several hundred dollars!  This, along with several donations from several sister priestesses, will go a long way to getting us back on our feet financially.  There was a serious, financial mess that was left behind by the takeover.  We are now well on our way to solving it.  Thanks to everyone who gave contributions, who helped out with the sale and everything else! 

On the 27th, the day after Memorial Day, I accompanied Cathy to a hearing at the Catskill town hall regarding our “disagreement” with their stance on our tax-exempt status.  Fortunately, there were only a few other people there contesting their taxes, and we didn’t have to wait until late at night for our turn like I had feared.  The two other people who went ahead of us basically gave sob stories about how their increased property taxes were hurting them financially and were begging for a break on them. 

When our turn came, Cathy gave them hell as only she could.  And why not?  As far as I’m concerned, she was perfectly justified in doing so, after what we saw in the Town Attorney’s opinion - it was pretty outrageous.  She reiterated the points that she made on the main Central House page.  We were not given this material, even though we were entitled to it.  I had to do a FOIL request to get it (since they didn’t know who I was, I figured that I would be the best one to do it).  In a situation where a locality disagrees with the federal government regarding the tax exempt status of an organization, the burden of proof is on them.  The legal opinion that they based their ruling on is full of distortions, events taken out of sequence and complete ignorance of our religious symbols.  

For us, something as prosaic as a pine branch could be a religious symbol, or a table linen with embroidered bee motifs, or a vase full of violets, or even (well, especially) that stuffed toy lion in the living room!  When I went into the hearing with Cathy, I was wearing no less than 53 religious symbols on my body.  I don’t think that the town officers could have picked them all out.  Heck, unless you had a familiarity with the Cybelline faith as well as other goddess traditions and even the writings of Z. Budapest, you would likely miss a few!

I sincerely hope that they will restore our tax exempt status after all that.  None of us want to drag them into court, but we may have to.  We’ve just come out of a nasty fight with some mentally ill antagonists in our own ranks and right now we need another fight like we need a hole in the head.  We really just want to be left alone to practice our faith and carry out our mission in peace.

Cooking and Food at Central House

I started this section as part of the entry for May, but it seemed to take on a life of its own, so I gave this little tangent its own, separate section.

Some old friends came down to visit us on Saturday for the yard sale, and I was cooking dinner.  I wish I could have offered them a better dinner than the Mac ’n’ cheese that I had planned, but they seemed happy with that.  I really love to cook and bake (I have a few professional bakers in my family tree), but my husband has some very set ideas about what he will and won’t eat and I don’t have much room for culinary experimentation with him (But since he’s stayed slim and trim most of his life, unlike me, I can’t talk!).  I’m very grateful that I have a receptive audience at Central House for my culinary adventures.  I’ve made lasagna, pizza, homemade pesto and various casseroles for Saturday night dinner before class.  One of these days, I will have to try eggplant parmesan and maybe some calzones.  But while I’m tooting my own horn, I would like to add a nod to Helen’s bean stew, sushi (She learned how to do it from the Japanese monks at the Grafton Peace Pagoda!) and her mouthwatering cole slaw.  Maybe we should compile a Cybelline cook book?

The Central House kitchen is great for cooking for large numbers of people.  Cathy, having spent the bulk of her working life in her own business designing and building kitchens, has her issues with it.  I do have the utmost respect for her expertise, but I will say that it’s great to be cooking with at least 2 other people and have plenty of room!

Apart from a counter that’s at least 10 feet long,  it has 3 stoves – a great, big old, commercial gas range; a home gas range and reproduction cast-iron, wood-burning stove.  We also have 3 refrigerators:  two modern, residential ones and this great, big old commercial one which appears to date from the 1930’s.  It actually worked when the gallae moved in, and I’m told that all it needs is to be recharged and it’ll work great once more.  The place was clearly designed to cook large amounts of food at any given time.  This is because in its heyday, Central House not only provided a place for people to sleep during their stay, but also fed them breakfast, lunch and dinner.  We found an old, meal schedule card for the place that’s at least 50 years old, that gives specific times when meals were served.  Anything other than these times was a la carte and was subject to an additional charge.  One of these days, I’ll have to scan and post it.

Despite all of this, I’m kind of amused and a little nonplussed that the Town Attorney of Catskill stated in his report that the property included a 1500 square foot restaurant.  Okay, with the bar and all of that, I can see the *potential* for a restaurant.  However, we just don’t have the kind of resources needed to turn what we have into a functioning business.  In this day and age of increasing costs of everything, I don’t think that it would turn a profit, anyway.  But more to the point, we are a religious convent home.  We’re not in the food service business.  Besides, a Cybelline restaurant is just too hilarious to think about:  We’d be wearing tie-dyed stolae, beating our drums and subjecting our poor  customers to castration humor.  They’d run away screaming! ;-)

Seriously, though, this does bring up some interesting issues with being what is basically a pagan reconstructionist faith.  Just how devoted are you going to be to historical accounts of your faith?  Do you become another SCA or Nova Roma?  Personally, I look at it this way:  it’s been 1600 years, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  It’s good to know what our ancestors did, how and with what.  We need to honor them, but to slavishly imitate them, to my mind, misses the point.  Our religion lasted for 8,000-plus years.  How does a religion survive changing times and cultures?  It adapts.  The Cybelline faith as it was practiced in prehistoric Anatolia no doubt was quite different from the faith as it was practiced during our last days inRome.

That being said, though, the practices of the past do have a logic and meaning to them. One of the elements of the Season of the Tree festival that I enjoyed the most was the moretum. In Rome, this food was prepared by the gallae priestesses and became our sacred food.  It was historically made with an herb called rue, which is not used in cooking much anymore, even though it was common in Roman cuisine.  Keeping in mind that it has high phytoestrogen content, its sacredness and significance to the gallae become clear:  in order to become gallae, the new priestesses in the ancient world didn’t just emasculate themselves, they used plant estrogens to feminize their bodies as well!  The gallae weren’t mere eunuchs – they were transsexuals who transitioned in a way that has all the basic elements of modern transition!  Sure, that one is probably a no-brainer to modern gallae, but that realization floored me.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The nesteia fast that you have the option of practicing before the festival also has a clear purpose – preparing you for receiving the mysteries.  With this fast, you refrain from root vegetables, especially garlic, as a way of showing respect for Attis, who at this time is dead in the ground and awaiting resurrection.  After having done it, and being someone with years of pagan ritual and energy-working experience, the reasoning behind it was very clear.  Root vegetables, especially garlic, have a grounding effect on you.  According to the book The Healing Power of Garlic, certain Buddhist monasteries will not allow it in the food that they cook.  This is because it’s actually counter-productive for the heavy-duty meditation based spiritual work that they do.  You want to eat garlic and other grounding foods after you are done with your energy or spiritual work as a way of getting rid of excess energy and returning to the mundane world.

Bread also plays an important role in the Cybelline Mysteries.  Since baking bread is one of my hobbies, I was a natural for providing it this year.  Next time, I am hoping to get my hands on some emmer wheat flour for the bread, since that type of wheat was used almost exclusively in the ancient world.  What role does bread play in the Mysteries?  Can’t tell ya – it’s a Mystery!  ;-)   


April 2008

Ah Spring!!!!!!  So many things to do here, but there is also such energy available to go towards them.  There is so much energy moving forward at Central House and so many projects begun. 

We’ve been getting an incredible amount of work done on weekends.  These days it’s just Cathy, Helen Farrell, Jamie Hunter and myself most of the time.  I’ve been making a weekly Saturday ritual of going down there for classes and worship, cooking dinner and helping out however I can.  I’m looking forward to having opportunities to learn new skills needed to fix the place like welding, glazing and electrical work. 

The first thing we did after the Season of the Tree was paint the bar/dining area white with tan trim and it looks GREAT!  You wouldn’t believe how much brighter it is in there.  We also removed the alcohol paraphernalia from the back of the bar and replaced it with goddess imagery.  The television set on the high shelf has been replaced with the kernos that Helen made.  One of these days I’m hoping to get some pictures up on the website. 

The south/front gateway to the temple grove had been blown down in a windstorm during the Season of the Tree, and it is now fixed and up again.  Nonetheless, we’re still taking it as a sign from Mother to replace the gates with concrete, neoclassical pillars like we have hoped for!  We also finally got the concrete benches repaired and solidly cemented. 

Helen has been working like crazy, clearing out and painting the bedrooms in the rear wing behind the theater to be her bedroom and workroom.  Soon she hopes to be here permanently and open up a pottery. 

Cathy has fixed her lawn tractor and has been having an absolute blast on it, keeping the grounds mowed.  (Who says grounds keeping can’t be fun?).  We have also been working very hard on clearing brush and planting flowers and herbs.  The grounds now look better than they have in a couple of years!

We’ve been opening up a lot of sealed doorways.  The refrigerator has been moved away from the door that goes between the living room and dining room by the basement stairs and it is now in use again!  The side door in the dining room that goes out to the side porch is now open, too.  Cathy and Helen have been working on opening up the long-sealed back door in the kitchen.  I do hope that the fire safety inspection people will appreciate our efforts in adding more fire exits! 

It’s interesting what you find in an old house when cleaning it out.  I have started working on clearing out room #4 to prepare it for drywalling and new wiring.  I wound up unearthing a framed photo of Stonewall veteran Marsha P. Johnson there.  Curious, since just the previous week, an older gay man who had been a close friend of hers had come up to visit us and reminisced quite a bit about her.  I’m told that Sylvia Rivera herself had hoped to come and live at Central House before her untimely death.  Sadly, though, that was not to be.

And that’s another, wonderful thing about Central House:  the myriad of connections to history that it has, and not always just the kind of Catskills history that you would expect!

March 2008

Even though I am starting this blog in May 2008, I really wanted to start recording events from when the occupation of the Phryrigianum finally ended on March 10th.  It seemed like an appropriate place to start.

My hope for this blog is to keep things positive, as they truly are, however much as I hate to I do feel that I need to reiterate some of the points that Cathy made, not just to corroborate her version of events, but to also set the stage so that the reader understands just what we were up against, and why our eventual success was so significant and meaningful.

When Cathy described the condition of the house when it was reclaimed (on her “What’s New” page), she was not exaggerating in the least.  Mess does not even begin to describe it!  She has described it as looking like a frat house.  In my opinion, the condition of the place had gone beyond that of frat house and had graduated to that of crack house!

To begin with, it did not look like there had been any serious attempt to clean the house during the entire time she had been gone.  We had a good –albeit bitter- laugh over the fact that the one thing that had not been stolen, broken, defaced or depleted (or even touched!) was a large bottle of Pine-Sol that Cathy bought for the house just before she was driven out!  We certainly used most of it up then, I can tell you!  There was a thick layer of grease and grime over EVERYTHING in the kitchen!  It took several scrubbings to get the cooking area back to some semblance of cleanliness. 

We had to clean every dish in the house, and I mean EVERY dish in the house!  With all of the dishes in that place, there was always someone at the sink washing and another one drying, all throughout the Season of the Tree.  While washing the dishes, we also had to contend with a clogged sink pipe. (Which, may I add, was brand new before Cathy was forced to leave.) Helen also had the washer and dryer running 24/7 to clean all of the bath and bed linens.  We just didn’t feel comfortable having people use them without it. 

Probably the worst of it was the odors.  Nearly the entire second floor reeked.  An incontinent individual had been previously housed in the ONE ROOM that had new carpeting!  Cathy went over it TWICE with a carpet shampooer, and the odor and stains were still not completely eradicated.  Looks like we’ll have to get rid of the carpet.  

Even worse than that room was the bedroom that was being used by Manny, the so-called caretaker.  The odor in there was so bad you literally could not stay in there for more than a minute or so without gagging!  It reeked of dirty bed linens, pet urine, testosterone and goddess-knows-what else!  Helen voluntarily went in there, scrubbed and aired it out.  She’s a truly brave woman!

The upside to all of this, though, is that despite this nightmare we were confronted with so soon before we had to put on the biggest event of the year for the Maetreum, we did it and we did it well!  Even though there are still major repairs yet to be done, the place is finally feeling like a home again.  Many times, Cathy broke down and cried because we all pitched in to help her, as opposed to times past when no one seemed to care.  For once, she didn’t have to cook or set up for meals, either, because we all did our bit.  Although cleaning and salvaging the place was hard and frustrating, not once did any of us succumb to frustration and negativity, as tempting as it was! 

Jamie put on a terrific workshop on the role of male deities in a goddess-based religion and yours truly put on a workshop about destructive conflict in groups featuring antagonists/trolls (which is what I believe offers an excellent explanation for happened to the Maetreum).  Tim Lake and Helen lead a spiritual/psychic cleansing of the energies of the place.

I wanted to give a resounding THANK YOU to everyone who helped out with cleaning  and other work during this time.  To Helen, Jamie, Sherry, Roo, Sue, Amanda, Carol, Tim Lake and anyone else who may have pitched in that I wasn’t aware of, THANK YOU!!!!!  You made such a difference!!!!


Salutations and may Mother’s blessings be upon you!  Allow me to introduce myself:  My name is Viktoria Whittaker and I am one of the newest priestesses of Cybele.  I’ll be your author and hostess on this blog where I will be providing updates on what’s happening at the Maetreum!

Here’s a bit about me.  I am a 37 year old bio-woman (For the uninformed: that’s a woman who is not trans.).  I live in Albany, New York, less than an hour away from the Maetreum and I visit often.  I am the daughter of German immigrants and have blonde hair and blue eyes.  For my day job, I work for the State of New York.  I am a deeply religious pagan woman and I identify as bisexual and polyamorous.  I am married to wonderful bi guy and my four kids have four feet, fur and say, “Meow!” >^..^<

My outside projects include running the Capital District Bisexual Network as well as the Albany Polyamory Meetup.  In my religious life, I am the Assistant Pastor of the Schenectady Pagan Cluster and I am studying for the Third Degree of the Correllian Tradition of Wicca through the New Aeon College and Seminary.  I also serve on the organizing committee for the Harvest Meadows Women’s Spirituality Festival, a new women’s festival that is inclusive and welcoming of transsexual women.  As you can see, I am a Woman Who Volunteers Too Much!  ;)

It was through Harvest Meadows that I first got to know Cathy and learned about the Maetreum.  I had also known Helen Farrell for many years.  I have been taking the instructional classes this year and was elevated at this year’s Season of the Tree.  I was also elected Treasurer of the Maetreum this Season.

In this blog, I will be relating my experiences with the Maetreum and my fellow priestesses.  But before I do, here is a standard disclaimer:  the opinions and views that I will be chronicling here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Cathryn Platine or the Maetreum of Cybele.

copyright 2002- 2008, Cathryn Platine.  Blog contents copyright 2008, Viktoria Whittaker.  All rights reserved.  This page may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any electronic or print media without the express written permission of the copyright holder.