Camp for Nude Witches Fights Closing

03 Dec 2001

Camp for Nude Witches Fights Closing

Wed, Nov 28, 2001

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Reuters) - A Kansas retreat that caters to witches and pagan rituals is fighting for survival amid community talk that naked witches may be weaving magical spells in the moonlight.

The owners of the Gaea Retreat Center, a 168-acre camp west of Kansas City that is home to such annual events as the Gaea Goddess Gathering and a "Heartland Pagan Spiritual event" filed suit on Monday in Leavenworth County District Court after county commissioners effectively put the retreat out of business by denying it a renewal of its land use permit.

"They say they're afraid of us, what we do here, the sound of drums. ... They don't know how lucky they are to have us as their neighbors," caretaker Wanda Roths said. "We're very quiet, very peaceful. There has never been any trouble out here."

The Leavenworth County commissioners denied the renewal for the permit, issued six years ago, in late October after a community petition raised accusations that the retreat fostered public nudity, pedophilia, and illegal drug and alcohol use. Neighbors also expressed concern about devil worship.

The suit claims the commissioners' denial is illegal and unconstitutional, as well as violating laws protecting freedom of religious expression and practice.

Lawyers for the county declined to comment.

The retreat denies any illegal activity, and county officials say there is no evidence of any.

Roths said there are "clothing optional" locations on the retreat grounds, and witches, Wiccans and other pagans do sometimes hold nighttime meetings around bonfires. But the retreat at times also attracts more traditional religious followers, she said.

Gaea, which means "Mother Earth," offers sanctuary to a variety of alternative religions and lifestyles, according to Roths. "We accept anybody," she said.

Before its current incarnation, the sprawling site was a church camp.



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