Activist Archive

Tree-sitters under the Magnolia Tree
Tree-sitters, July 2008. Photo from Aperture Focus gallery, "Saving the Magnolia Tree."

The selection of photos, articles, commentaries, etc. on this page chronicles the Protest Rite we performed on Friday, Aug. 3, 2007 -- the Pagan holiday of Lammas, although the protest included concerned citizens of all faiths -- and the drama that unfolded over the following year.  

We didn't stop with casting just one spell. We backed up our ongoing magical work by pushing -- together with a growing crowd of other citizens -- against the flagrantly inappropriate Parkside development at every step of the way in Asheville's torturous but largely pre-ordained development-"approval" process. We made sure that our articulate and well-researched objections were shared with the media and the public, as well as with our increasingly sympathetic (and increasingly nervous) local government officials. 

The Internet was a critical tool. The Web, e-mail, and blogs made it possible for us and fellow activists to find key regulations and point them out at the proper times to the proper authorities; to spread important information to the public rapidly; and to communicate efficiently with the many other activists involved. Yet it also enabled a bizarre afterclap from the anti-Pagan far right ...

Wiccans’ ‘Barbarous Words’ meant to save a magnolia

Threatened magnolia tree
credit: Bill Sanders, [email protected]

Developer Stewart Coleman has offered to relocate the magnolia tree on a parcel of land he bought from the city of Asheville, but a group of Wiccans plans to encircle the tree, chant spells to protect it and offer “Barbarous Words of Power to thwart the developer.” A tree expert said relocating the tree could cost $20,000, and the move could cause the tree to die from shock.

Want to chant?
The chanting will begin at 7 p.m. Friday in front the magnolia tree near the Buncombe County Courthouse. For more information, call 251-0343.
Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Asheville Citizen-Times
by Leslie Boyd

Asheville – Reaction to the potential loss of a single magnolia tree has left developer Stewart Coleman baffled.

“It’s one tree,” he said Monday after hearing a group of Wiccans plan to cast spells to save it. “More than 40 trees — including six flowering cherries — have been destroyed for the park construction.”

The tree is on a parcel of city parkland downtown that was sold to developer Stewart Coleman. He plans to build retail space and 40 condominiums on the site.

But Wiccan priestess Dixie Deerman of Coven Oldenwilde in Asheville says the line has to be drawn somewhere, and this is it.

Deerman, also known as Lady Passion, has invited Pagans, Wiccans and others to encircle the tree Friday evening and chant spells to protect it, “and Barbarous Words of Power to thwart the developer.”

Wicca, also known as Paganism, is a faith that worships nature.

Nathan Ramsey, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners chairman, said Coleman has offered to move the tree to another place in the park.

Coleman said he also has offered to donate what it would cost to move the tree to Quality Forward so the nonprofit could plant trees in public spaces. That cost could amount to about $20,000, said Nicole Evans of All State Tree Movers in Gaithersburg, Md.

Even if it’s moved successfully, the tree could die from the shock, arborist Brian Henshaw said.

Henshaw’s company, Appalachian Arborists, doesn’t have the equipment to move such a large a tree, he said. It would take a tree spade that could pull up a root ball several yards wide and deep. Even nationally, few companies have the equipment and know-how.

After the move, the tree would need special attention for several years.

“You can’t just pull it up, replant it and give it a little water,” he said.

Coleman said he doesn’t understand why people are so upset when developments outside downtown are destroying many more trees.

“If I were to develop 40 homes … say, on a ridge top, how many trees would have to come down?” he said “And you would need to build roads and water lines. It would be a lot worse.”

Coleman's promised facade

Chanting to save magnolia

Participants in a Wiccan ceremony led by Coven Oldenwilde chant “barbarous words of power” intended to protect a large magnolia tree in front of City Hall from being cut down by a developer, last Friday evening. The tract of land the tree is planted on was sold by the county earlier this year to a developer who plans to build condominiums and retail space.

Wiccans use chant, drumming meant to protect magnolia 

Tuesday, 07 August 2007
Asheville Daily Planet
by Jim Genaro

About two dozen people gathered last Friday evening to chant Wiccan prayers of protection for a magnolia tree that is scheduled to be uprooted to make way for a condominium development downtown.

The tree, which stands in front of City Hall, is planted on a parcel of land that was bought earlier this year by developer Stewart Coleman. He plans to move or cut down the tree to make way for 40 condominiums and retail space.

But Coven Oldenwilde, the Wiccan group that sponsored the public prayer circle, hopes to halt the tree’s destruction.

Wicca is a nature-based religion rooted in the ancient witchcraft traditions of Europe.

The group circled the tree for about half an hour chanting “barbarous words of power” — prayers “so ancient that no one knows, no scholar knows, what language they were originallly written in,” Dixie “Lady Passion” Deerman, the coven’s high priestess, said.

Specifically, the words were meant to “imbue the tree with masculine energy,” she  explained.

Deerman said this was intended to counter destructive masculine energy, adding that while the exact meanings of the chant’s words are unknown, “we know what it does,” and that the prayer had been handed down for untold generations.

Before starting the chant, she discussed the greater context of the tree’s fate.

“This tree is symbolic,” Deerman told the assembly. “It’s indicative of what is going on throughout our region.”

She noted that while Coleman has offered to uproot the tree and move it, such an effort would cost as much as $20,000 and the tree might not survive.

Furthermore, Deerman said, there is no company in the region that has the equipment to move it.
“It’s not practical — it’s not doable,” she concluded.

Deerman also questioned the legitimacy of the land sale. Coleman bought the land from the county for roughly half its assessed tax value at the time. The tax office then raised the assessed value to be closer to what he paid for it one day before a story about the sale was printed in the Asheeville Citizen-Times.

Meanwhile, Coleman has offered to donate $20,000 to Quality Forward, an environmental group that plants trees, in lieu of moving the tree. Cuttings from the magnolia will be taken to grow new trees.

Wiccans pray for tree’s preservation

Clare Hanrahan, Lady Passion, *Diuvei
creditJohn Coutlakis

Dixie “Lady Passion” Deerman, of Asheville, leads a Wiccan Coven Oldenwilde protest rite Friday to protect a stately old Magnolia from being removed by developer Stewart Coleman. There are plans to build retail space and condominiums on the site near City-County Plaza.

Photo Gallery
Wiccan Coven Oldenwilde protest
Saturday, 04 August 2007

Asheville Citizen-Times
by Adam Behsudi

ASHEVILLE — Only in Asheville.

That’s how some would describe the scene Friday evening as about 30 people circled an old magnolia tree, chanting a Wiccan prayer to protect it from development near City-County Plaza.

“We’re going to empower the tree through Barbarous Words of Power,” said Dixie Deerman, a Wiccan priestess of Coven Oldenwilde.

Deerman, also known as Lady Passion, said the prayer would strengthen the tree against chain saws, poison and any other effort to remove it as part of a plan to redevelop a part of city parkland sold to developer Stewart Coleman.

He plans to build retail space and 40 condominiums on the site. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2008.

The group Friday night spent nearly a half-hour chanting and beating drums, ending their spiritual exercise with a spontaneous hugging of the tree.

Wicca, also known as Paganism, is a faith that worships nature.

Coleman said he will donate $20,000 to environmental group Quality Forward in lieu of trying to move the tree, which would cost just as much and could potentially kill it. Cuttings will be taken to grow new trees.

Rachel Goss, who is studying to become part of the Wiccan clergy, said the issue “speaks to a much larger problem in Asheville.”

“It’s still at its core an environmental issue,” she said.

Standing among a group of curious onlookers, Steve Bledsoe said he wasn’t sure whether the chanting would work but sympathized with the effort to save the tree.

“Maybe they know something others don’t know,” he said. “Maybe they’ll bring attention to the issue.”

Contact Adam Behsudi at 828-232-5962, via e-mail at [email protected]

[This article sparked a very lively -- nay, fiery discussion between Pagans and Christians on the Asheville Citizen-Times Forum.
Read over 500 comments]

Fighting overdevelopment requires citizen involvement

Lady Passioby Lady Passion

published Wednesday, 31 October 2007
Asheville Citizen-Times op-ed page

This summer I led a downtown protest ritual to save intertwined magnolia trees from death by a developer’s chain saw and express the outrage citizens feel about officials’ secret sale of our public parkland to this developer, who wants a concrete condo in their place. Since then, his ill-conceived plan has received needful scrutiny — but my rite was twisted into political propaganda.

Although Wiccans organized the rite, citizens of every faith and background participated. They included a landscape architect, folks who’d been married beneath the magnolias, and Elaine Lite, a leading City Council candidate concerned about overdevelopment.

Forming the circleLite was surreptitiously filmed by an extremist Republican group, The Carolina Stompers, and then mocked by a bigoted, embarrassingly misspelled attack ad they made. The ad seemed designed to dictate to political candidates what diverse citizen groups they deem acceptable — and to vilify any candidate who acts on their conscience and associates with Asheville’s large pagan constituency.

Despite The Stompers’ attempt to malign us, ever since the rite I’ve heard from countless supportive citizens angered that, with no public input, our county manager and commissioners sold the greenspace the trees call home (deeded in perpetuity to the public more than a century ago by philanthropist George Willis Pack) to developer Stewart Coleman, who intends to sacrifice the living beings and erect a condo to shelter rich people.

Development agenda

I’ve attended Coleman’s presentations to the Pack Square Conservancy’s design-review committee. I’ve seen him and his crew of lawyers and consultants display immense arrogance — including their assertion that the Conservancy has no say over the project. Indeed, Coleman’s choice of name for the condo, “Parkside,” seems a daily burn to remind citizens of the park we lost (his plans show a street to front his building).

The Coleman crew’s main rationale for privatizing the public space seems to be that City/County Plaza needs “eyes on the park” to prevent crime. This is specious, as the park is in full view of City Hall, the County Courthouse and Asheville Police Department headquarters. Apparently we’re to believe that the public’s and police’s eyes are dimmer at ground level than wealthy ones staring down from Coleman’s lofty legacy.

County commissioners have publicly expressed regret over their legally questionable sale. Pack’s heirs are suing Coleman, contending that the deal breached their ancestor’s deed. Many who have reviewed his preliminary specs have identified serious problems with its size, design, location and legal compliance. Coleman doesn’t yet own all the land he wants to complete the project (the county still owns a small triangle in front of City Hall).

Photo of Asheville City Hall with parcel at right
Developer's artist rendering of condo project
credit: Mark Fishero for Coleman's Black Dog Realty

Left: Protestors gather around the magnolia tree on the parcel sold to Coleman (boundary stake is visible at left of traffic cone), in front of Asheville's famous symbol, its art-deco City Hall.

: Coleman's artist rendering of his proposed condo/retail building.

Compare: Note how Coleman's artist has flagrantly distorted the foreground perspective in the rendering to make the 11-story building seem deceptively smaller than City Hall. Another deceit is the setback shown -- in reality the condo's front would jut partially in front of City Hall.
Coleman’s condo would be in front of our beautiful City Hall that the world sees in Asheville’s tourism ads. It would violate Conservancy guidelines by obscuring City Hall’s left base corner and obliterate the mountain view beside it. It would project far into remaining parkland, and because it would be positioned southwest, the monolith would cast a cold shadow over public events held at City/County Plaza. (Coleman’s computerized shadow models were deceptively calculated, many featuring summer solstice, the day when the sun casts the shortest shadows.)

Many public concerns

Similar concerns explain why many have poor confidence in Coleman’s plans. Many people are concerned that whatever slick design Coleman presents now for Parkside, the visually clunky front he put on his Battery Park building bore minimal resemblance to the attractive design he’d presented to the city when seeking project approval.

Developers and their political allies who insist on the inevitability of “progress” try to pave over all land with the audacity to grow grass. These well-funded forces try to intimidate citizens into accepting inappropriate projects as fait accompli. However, reasoned, detailed opposition — fueled by faith in a higher power than human greed — counts.

Save the magnolias Coleman wants to kill for his condo. Hold elected officials accountable for violating a sacred public trust. And maintain an equally sacred right – the freedom of anyone to peaceably assemble with whomever they choose — even a circle of witches.

Lady Passion is the High Priestess of Coven Oldenwilde in Asheville and co-author of The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells for Modern Problems. She can be reached via

Pax Baheb lights incense

Pack descendents sue in an effort to stop sale of county land

Tuesday, 02 October 2007
Asheville Daily Planet
From Staff Reports

Three people claiming to be descendents of George Willis Pack have sued Buncombe County over the sale of land their ancestor donated to the county in 1901.

The lawsuit filed in Buncombe County Superior Court last Friday aims to block plans for a 10-story condominium building in front of City Hall.

The suit says the sale last November of a parcel of land adjacent to City-County Plaza violates the terms of Pack’s donation to the county.

Pack, a timber baron who retired in Asheville, donated the land to the county for the courthouse and for public purposes, the lawsuit argues. That land includes the property county commissioners sold to developer Stewart Coleman’s Black Dog Realty.

Read more ...

Architect touts Pack condosParticipants learn the chant

Proposal faces legal hurdles, opposition

Thursday, 04 October 2007

Asheville Citizen-Times
by Mark Barrett

ASHEVILLE — An 11-story condominium building proposed for land to the southwest of City Hall would enhance the park space being renovated in front of the site, the project architect said Wednesday.

“Putting that housing in that location brings life to the park,” Charlotte architect Mark Fishero told the board of Pack Square Conservancy at the beginning of the board’s review of the proposed Parkside Condominiums project.

He called housing an “ideal” use for the space because it would generate activity in the park after business hours and residents would be “eyes on the park,” making the space safer because any criminal activity is more likely to be seen.

“In a big public space like this, as much as we hate to admit it, safety is an issue,” Fishero said. Public buildings that are deserted after hours wouldn’t provide as much of a benefit, he said.

The board members didn’t take public comment on the proposal Wednesday or offer any feedback to Fishero or developer Stewart Coleman. That will come later at a public meeting of a smaller group of board members, after which the full board will vote on the plans, said the conservancy’s Marilyn Geiselman.

The conservancy is a nonprofit in charge of park renovations and has design review over new buildings in the park area. The project is also subject to city government’s review process.

CenteringLady Passion (at left) explains the riteThe condo proposal is controversial because of its proximity to City Hall and because its site includes a small area of park land around a magnolia tree that Buncombe County sold to a Coleman company last November. A lawsuit filed last week seeks to invalidate the sale, saying the property must be used for a public purpose.

Coleman’s proposal calls for a land swap in which another of his companies would give up 3,256 square feet now occupied by the portion of the Hayes-Hopson Building in return for 171 square feet of land adjoining a small plaza in front of City Hall. The plans call for construction of a road that would run in front of the building, from Spruce Street to the plaza.

Plans show a building with light-colored stone at the top and bottom and red brick in between in a style Fishero said is similar to Italianate. Retail space would be on the first floor, and three parking levels would be below.

Fishero says the building “fits comfortably into Asheville’s fiber and its skyline.”

Two people among the handful of members of the public at Wednesday’s meeting were divided in their reactions.

“The façade of the building is pretty nice, but the height of it and the location of it are completely unacceptable,” Asheville resident Steve Rasmussen said.

Dorothy Hamill, of Biltmore Forest, said she likes the looks of the building and thinks it would improve the park to have people living around it.

Contact Mark Barrett at 828-232-5833, via e-mail at [email protected]

Read all 49 comments

Protecting the trees

Pack Square board gets presentation on controversial project

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Mountain Xpress
by Cecil Bothwell

Developer Stewart Coleman, together with five of his business associates, presented plans for his proposed ParkSide building to the Pack Square Conservancy Board at its regular meeting on Oct. 3. Charlotte architect Mark Fishero, lead designer of the high-rise, narrated a PowerPoint presentation of the design. The Conservancy must approve all new construction or renovation of properties that front on Roger McGuire Green (formerly known as City/County Plaza) or Pack Square.

Read more (including scrutiny of ParkSide plans by Barry Summers of People Advocating Real Conservancy) ...

Encircling the stately trees

Land swap for ParkSide development?

Friday, 19 October 2007

Mountain Xpress
by Cecil Bothwell

Xpress has obtained an e-mail (see below) from J. Patrick Whalen, chair of the Asheville Downtown Commission, to commission members that includes a proposal that the city swap land with developer Stewart Coleman, to relocate his proposed ParkSide building. According to the e-mail, commission members feel that the city “should be encouraged to swap property with the developer to move this building back away from the park.”

Read more (including Whalen's e-mail, and scrutiny of ParkSide plans by Barry Summers of PARC) ...

Pack Conservancy opposes condo plan

Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Asheville Daily Planet
From Staff Reports

The nonprofit in charge of renovating Pack Square in downtown Asheville says a proposed condominium building planned for land adjoining the park would be too tall and in the wrong place.
The Pack Square Conservancy’s board voted unanimously that developer Stewart Coleman’s plans violate the group’s design guidelines because of the proposed building’s height and because it would block some of the view of City Hall and nearby mountains.

After the vote, Coleman said he is redesigning the project, but did not specify whether he would satisfy the board’s objections.

The conservancy board also expressed support for the idea of swapping city-owned property with Coleman to allow the building to be moved south of where it is currently planned.

Read more of this article ...

Coven Oldenwilde logoCarolina Stompers logo

Coven Oldenwilde
Carolina Stompers

The Carolina Stompers are a kind of kamikaze effort by local extreme-right Republicans to regain lost ground in the culture wars. Their stock in trade is vicious redneck-targeted ridicule of liberals. In 2007, they were on a roll after exposing some incidents of corruption and hypocrisy in our state Democratic party, and they seemed on their way to becoming a force for turning back the political clock in local, state and perhaps even national elections.

Then, they made the critical mistake of attacking us. They took a video of the Magnolia protest rite and turned it into a mock American Express commercial ridiculing a City Council candidate, who had participated in the protest, for dancing with "Wickens" and tree-huggers. She lost the election, and they loudly took credit (though, in reality, what defeated her was a record-large infusion of campaign cash to her opponents from developers afraid of her stance on controlling environmentally destructive development). 

We don't so much mind hatemonger types attacking us -- we're used to it. But don't you dare attack someone for being a guest at one of our events!

Here's how we turned the Stompers' own shtick against them:, and whupped 'em soundly enough that no one -- not even the Republican Party -- paid them any heed in 2008:

Let’s have a good ol’ stomp-and-chant

by Lady Passion, Diuvei & Coven Oldenwilde in Mountain Xpress, Vol. 14 / Iss. 22 on 12/26/2007

"Liberals Hugging a Tree: $0.00"

Chad Nesbitt and the Carolina Stompers ["Fighting Mad: Carolina Stompers Grab Headlines, Make Enemies,” Dec. 5] are a pansy bunch of pachyderms. They’ve repeatedly tried to ride our Witches’ cape-tails to fame—most recently by skulking around and surreptitiously filming the protest ritual we led to save a magnolia tree from a greedy developer. We know their type well. Secretly attracted to Witchcraft but having too big a stick up their chakras to admit it, they bash us in the media while ogling us every chance they get.

So far, these Stompers have talked big smack about us behind our backs, but haven’t had the guts to face us directly. Well, we’ve had it with their WWF-style posturing on the one hand and their wimpy ways on the other.

It’s time for a Spiritual Smackdown. We triple-dog-dare Chad and Nancy Nesbitt to debate us in public, couple on couple, fair and square.

We’re talking timed rounds, a neutral referee, mandatory cameras and a monster venue—we bet many good-hearted folk fed up with the loud-mouthed hatemongering the Nesbitts and their ilk peddle will pack the house to see us mop the floor with their hypocritical “Christian values.”

If the Nesbitts really believe in their own hype, they will rise to this opportunity to debate questions like these:
• Was the United States founded on Christian or Pagan principles?
• Is it better to worship one God, no God, or many Gods?
• Should children and teens be allowed to study Witchcraft?
• Should Man have dominion over Nature (as the Bible exhorts), or should humans treat animals, rocks and trees as equals (as Pagans believe)?

If the Nesbitts refuse our challenge, the world will forever know that their rhetoric is empty and their claims are false: They do not aggressively pursue Republican and Christian ideals.

We—and thousands of others, no doubt—will watch this “Letters” section, awaiting the Nesbitts’ agreement that they’re ready to dance.

– Lady Passion (Dixie Deerman)
*Diuvei (Steve Rasmussen)
Coven Oldenwilde

Responses to our challenge:

  • Good ol’ stomp-and-chant
    by Jason Korol in Mountain Xpress, Vol. 14 / Iss. 23 on 01/02/2008
    (a fairly reasonable Christian reply to the questions we posed)
  • Take this, you posturing Stompers!
    by Tim Peck in Vol. 14 / Iss. 25 on 01/16/2008 
    (a libertarian backs our call for an organized debate between Christians and Pagans, and criticizes Parkside)
  • The liberal smackdown expands
    by Chad Nesbitt in Mountain Xpress, Vol. 14 / Iss. 25 on 01/16/2008 
    (the founder of the Carolina Stompers ducks our challenge, then calls us "Mr. and Mrs. Voldamort")

Who’s afraid of the big, bad Witch?

Coven Oldenwilde responds to the Carolina Stompers

by Lady Passion and *Diuvei in Mountain Xpress, Vol. 14 / Iss. 28 on 02/06/2008

Ever since we led a protest rite against Buncombe County officials’ sale of public parkland graced by a pair of magestic old magnolia trees to developer Stewart Coleman, the über-Republican Carolina Stompers have aimed religiously bigoted attacks at our Coven Oldenwilde—first through a video ridiculing City Council candidate Elaine Lite for participating in the protest, and more recently in Mountain Xpress ("Fighting Mad,” Dec. 5, 2007).

We responded by challenging Stompers co-founders Chad and Nancy Nesbitt to a public debate. The Nesbitts refused and called us more bigoted names, and attempted to divert attention by stealing our idea for a debate and applying it to the Democratic Party. (As a religious nonprofit, Coven Oldenwilde complies with federal law in not affiliating with any political party.)

Since then, a Stompers supporter has made online comments claiming that our offer was some sort of “setup.” This supporter also tried to counter our proposal for a simple debate with timed rounds and a neutral moderator by floating a vague, complex demand for one featuring a “panel of judges” dispensing “points for form”—as if this were some high-school gymnastics competition rather than a golden opportunity for public dialogue between opposite sides in the culture war.

But no amount of bluff and bluster will erase locals’ memories that these chest-pounding crusaders crumpled when intelligent Pagans pushed back against their bullying.

Many people who would welcome the opportunity to see folks with wildly differing views debate perennially fascinating, controversial issues have expressed support for our proposed “Spiritual Smackdown.” So here’s how we would have answered the four questions raised in our proposal:

Was the United States founded on Christian or Pagan principles?
It was the Pagan Greeks who invented democracy. The Pagan Roman Republic was a pioneering experiment in representative rule. And to underscore the specifically nonbiblical origins of America’s form of government, her founders intentionally modeled the architecture of our government buildings and shrines—from the Capitol Rotunda to the U.S. Supreme Court building and the Lincoln Memorial—on Pagan temples, not Christian churches.

Even our nation’s original motto is a quote drawn from the Pagan poet Virgil: “E Pluribus Unum” ("out of many, one") and not the modern, McCarthy-era “In God We Trust.”

Is it better to worship one God, no God, or many Gods?
Monotheism, the belief in only one God, leads to enforcement of conformity and the insistence that there’s only one way to the truth. When monomaniacs monopolize spirituality, the world suffers from inquisitions and jihads.

Atheism, the denial of deity, leads to denial of all spirituality and to the insistence that only matter exists. When nothing is sacred, everything’s up for utilitarian grabs.

Polytheism, the worship of many Gods and Goddesses, reflects Nature’s diversity and leads to pluralism, creativity and tolerance. When divinity manifests in infinite forms, all beings’ spirituality is recognized and respected.

Most folks of whatever “ism” can agree that the unethical sale of public parkland by county officials to a money-driven developer was a violation of a sacred public trust.

Unfortunately, far too many people—regardless of the creeds they claim to follow—actually worship only the ultimate human-made idol: money. And the greed this cult inflames in its devotees leads them to pervert everything.

We’re forced to wonder which God the “Christian” Stompers truly worship, when they’ve refused to express any moral outrage about the sale of park property while attacking and ridiculing the sincere citizens of every faith who joined our protest.

Should children and teens be allowed to study Witchcraft?
The magic Witches practice is a sophisticated art based on the ancient understanding that everything in the universe is interconnected in patterns called correspondences.

As we wrote in The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells For Modern Problems, “If you’re a student in school, studying many different subjects, you are especially fortunate to be learning the Art of Correspondences now—it will help you find the connections between such seemingly diverse disciplines as math and music, history and poetry, and geology and dance.”

Kids who study Witchcraft discover the magic hidden in mundane subjects. For example, herbalism can enliven home ec; smithcraft can animate shop class; numerology gives meaning to math.

Sadly, the Craft of the Wise has for so long been persecuted by monotheists and derided by atheists that students are often bullied and punished by teachers, peers and parents when they openly express interest in it. (We receive hundreds of complaints from teens whose books are burned by their parents, and whose teachers refuse to let them write reports about Wicca while allowing other students to write about Christianity.)

Despite their constitutional mandate to treat all religions as equal, public schools routinely block Pagan and Wiccan Web sites on classroom and library computers. Yet with many young people feeling the call to spirituality at an early age, and Wicca growing so fast that it’s projected to be America’s third-largest religion by 2012, parents and school officials are doomed to fail if they continue trying to repress kids’ natural desire to explore magic.

Should humans have dominion over nature (as the Bible exhorts), or should we treat animals, rocks and trees as equals (as Pagans believe)?
The monotheistic doctrine that humans are superior to all other forms of existence—which is shared by materialist science—encourages debasement of the earth and its inhabitants as mere things to be exploited as resources.

Pagans, however, believe—along with many quantum physicists—that consciousness and sentience pervade the cosmos down to the subatomic level. This means that other species, plants and even minerals are animated with a spirit akin to humans’ own. Recognizing this leads us to treat animals, rocks—even magnolia trees—as we would fellow persons worthy of the same respect that we deserve.

[Lady Passion and *Diuvei are the high priestess and high priest of Coven Oldenwilde in Asheville (]

The Magnolia Watch:
Tree-Sitting, Asheville-style

Lady Passion by magnolia treeCommuniqué from the HPs & HP

"Words are cheap, but deeds are dear."
                                    -- The Goodly Spellbook

Right now (July, 2008), Lady Passion and *Diuvei are sitting 24/7 beneath the century-old magnolia tree in front of Asheville, N.C.'s City Hall, to save it from developer Stewart Coleman's chainsaws.  His "Parkside" condo project -- founded on an illegal sale of public parkland by Buncombe County commissioners -- would destroy both the beloved tree and downtown Asheville's oldest surviving building, the Hayes and Hopson, and cram a nine-story high-rise for the rich in front of the world-famous art-deco façade of our City Hall.

We and an ever-growing army of Asheville citizens fought Parkside every step of the way through our city's tortuous "development-approval" process, even winning our City Council to our side -- but at the last minute, Mr. Coleman took advantage of an arbitrary loophole in the city's development ordinance to avoid City Council altogether and receive rubber-stamp approval for Parkside on July 7.

We were left with no choice but to take direct action. We immediately joined the vigil around the magnolia tree begun earlier by our activist friend Clare Hanrahan, and turned it into a round-the-clock Magnolia Watch. The media flocked to cover it, and support for our cause spread so rapidly that Asheville's established movers-and-shakers are exclaiming privately and publicly that they have never seen this fractious city so united. Every day we talk to scores of passersby; every night we take turns sleeping on the earth beneath the tree and standing watch under the very eaves of City Hall.

The Magnolia Tree has become a modern-day Liberty Tree. Citizens of every description -- wealthy and homeless, developers and Earth Firsters, seniors and teens, Christians and Pagans, liberals and conservatives, even the mayor, several councilpersons and the police chief -- have stopped by to "sit a spell," share their troubles caused by corrupt government and a collapsing economy, and give us their heartfelt thanks for what we are doing. Many leave offerings for the tree, which seems to exert a magically peaceful aura -- partly because, as conservative councilman Carl Mumpower noted when he visited the tree, magnolia bark is known to have anti-depressant qualities. And they add their signatures to the thousands of others on a Stop Parkside! petition.

So if you want to feel a new sense of hope for democracy and see how citizens can "be" the government -- as well as participate in this Witchy adventure, which we'll soon recount in a book on how to win anything using ancient principles -- then follow our progress in these local blogs, and read the background on the protest rite that kicked all this off (below). (Photo of Lady Passion with magnolia tree courtesy of Aperture Focus Photography.)

DOWNLOAD our report to the Asheville Planning & Zoning Commission, "Parkside Proposal Violations & Solutions" PDFPDF, 2.4 MB

Asheville On the Ground Scrutiny Hooligans Stop
Clare Hanrahan's day-by-day account of our experiences at Asheville's Liberty Tree. Gordon Smith's investigative blog spotlights the corruption the Parkside fight has exposed. Byron Belzak chronicles Parkside's contentious meetings and colorful protests. Links to key information about Parkside and the citizens' movement to stop it.

Help us sustain our effort to save our "town square" -- and our democracy -- by donating to Coven Oldenwilde.

"Stop Parkside" Rally, July 15, 2008

Stop Parkside rally
View a photo gallery of these and more rally pictures by Jason Sandford, Mountain Xpress.

Witches to do anniversary ritual at Asheville magnolia tree today


Asheville, North Carolina 

Petition signer at Bele Chere Petition signer at Asheville's Bele Chere festival, July 25-27, 2008. (Photo from Daisy's Dead Air blog.)

At sunset today, August 2nd, in front of City Hall, Coven Oldenwilde will mark the anniversary of their first ritual to strengthen the town's 100-plus-year-old magnolia tree against developer Stewart Coleman's ax. Last year's protest rite on the Pagan holiday of Lammas followed the first news reports that Mr. Coleman, owner of Black Dog Realty, had purchased from the Buncombe County Commissioners the former public parkland the tree calls home -- which was donated to the "people forever" in 1901 by George Willis Pack, Jr.

The sale sparked city-wide grassroots opposition to Coleman's plan to erect the nine-story Parkside Condomiums, which would house 35 people with a base entry price of $900,000 per unit. To date at least 7,000 citizens have signed an ongoing petition against the complex, asking city and/or county officials to use eminent domain to protect public property rights and return the parkland to the people and spare the tree. Meanwhile, Pack's descendants are suing both Coleman and the county; a preliminary hearing is scheduled for August 25th.

For the past 26 days Lady Passion, High Priestess  of the Coven, has maintained a 24-hour vigil to protect the rare twin tree from destruction by the developer. Hundreds help support Lady Passion with food, supplies, and eyes on the tree. Fellow tree watchers who come to "sit a spell" in the tree's cool, fragrant shade have dubbed the disputed property the "Temporary Autonomous Republic of Magnolia," and strive to promote democracy and free speech through open discussions of government and development -- as well as smiles and waves to passers-by, in true Southern genteel style.

Coven members plan once again to chant Barbarous Words of Power -- this time, an ancient Roman spell called the Enos Juvate, to prevent the felling of the beloved, famous magnolia tree.

#  #  #

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tree Watchers Reject Parkside Developer’s Threat

*Diuvei reads letter at Parkside press conferenceOn Tuesday, August 5, Parkside developer Stewart Coleman hand-delivered a letter addressed to Steve Rasmussen, Coven Oldenwilde’s High Priest, stating his plans to demolish the historic Hayes-Hopson Building and cut down the Pack Square magnolia tree “sometime after” 35 days from that date.

Following is the response of the Magnolia Tree Watchers (one of whom, Lady Passion, High Priestess of Coven Oldenwilde, has kept a 24/7 vigil to protect the tree for 33 days and nights thus far):

As citizens who have chosen to take a stand against the devastation of Asheville’s precious natural and historical heritage by rapacious developers and irresponsible politicians, we reject Stewart Coleman’s ultimatum, and vow to peacefully prevent the destruction of Pack Square’s beloved magnolia tree and the historic Hayes-Hopson Building.

Together with the nearly 7,000 people who have signed the petition to stop the Parkside condominium project, we demand that our County Commissioners and City Council members use their legal powers to invoke eminent domain to protect public property rights from private greed, and restore the parkland wrongly sold to Stewart Coleman. We also urge officials to take immediate steps to secure the preservation of downtown Asheville’s oldest surviving building, the adjacent Hayes-Hopson.

Coleman's 35-day warning letter

After more than a month of sitting and sleeping beneath the shade of the Magnolia Tree, and talking to citizens of every political, religious, and economic stripe – including many who are wealthy developers or condo residents themselves – we have repeatedly heard that the sale of public parkland for a private condo tower in front of our world-famous City Hall was wrong. The voters are far wiser than elected officials give them credit for. They can and do easily distinguish between “good” eminent domain and “bad” eminent domain — and all seem of one mind that in this case it is appropriate for either or both the city and the county to use eminent domain to reverse the county’s “screw-up” and restore the parkland George W. Pack deeded to the people.

Over and over and over they stand beneath what’s become Buncombe County’s Liberty Tree, and express their frustration with what they perceive as the County’s incompetence, corruption, and dismissal of their desires in this matter, and the City’s timidity and buck-passing. Use your powers for good, they continually rail at the officials, or you’ll soon be out of office for good. 

In response to the many petition-signers who want to help us stop Parkside and save the magnolia, we announce the following events immediately, with other various actions to follow.

• We encourage those who wish to help guard the endangered magnolia tree and peacefully prevent its destruction to attend one Tree Watch Orientation Session, conveniently held every evening at 7:00 pm at the magnolia tree in front of City Hall. The brief session will educate citizens about the issues at stake in the Parkside controversy, explain local political options, and reveal secrets of the old underground jail beneath the magnolia and more during a walking tour of City/County Plaza.

• Further, we will hold a Direct Action Workshop on peaceful, effective means to protect the Magnolia Tree and Hayes-Hopson building Saturday August 15, time to be announced on

We thank everyone for their continued support of our efforts, and encourage all to keep pressuring developer Coleman and elected officials to do the right thing and return this public parkland to the people in perpetuity.

#  #  # 

Return to Magnolia Tree Chronicle -- Main Page

Return to Coven Oldenwilde's home page.
Latest update: 24 Dec. 2012