Branches of the Pagan Tree
The History of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church
48631 River Park Drive
Post Office Box 409, Index, Washington 98256 U.S.A.
Telephone (360) 793-1945, Fax (360) 793-3537
Western Washington state’s oldest, friendliest open attendance Interfaith church of Wicca and Earth Religions. We are family friendly and welcome seekers on all Pagan paths and people of all orientations, ages and beliefs. Begun on Samh’ain of ’79, we’ve been here for over twenty seven years while others have come and gone. We must be doing something right! Come, worship with us, eat with us, meet new friends. Ask us about SpiralScouts, the ATC’s alternative to mainstream scouting programs that has become world-wide in just a few years.
The Aquarian Tabernacle Church, the “ATC,” or sometimes just “The Tab” is the creation of Pete Pathfinder Davis, who serves as Archpriest along with Belladonna Laveau, who is Archpriestess of the tradition worldwide. ATC is based on English Traditional Wicca, with a focus of serving the larger Pagan communities by providing open worship opportunities to the public, education, interfaith liaison, and in general, providing the infrastructure available to the followers of most faiths, but previously just not available to Wiccans and Pagans. Things like major Sabbat festivals, full and new moon worship, a place to gather, a lending library, and many other services associated with faith communities.
This all started on October 31 of 1979, when Pete and a few friends decided to form a formal church organization, and established the ATC. It was their intention to establish a quiet place in the countryside outside of Seattle where Wiccans and Pagans could gather for worship without being hassled by ignorant neighbors or suspicious authorities who did not understand their benevolent nature worship practices. The “Tab,” where the church facilities are located, is about 50 miles from downtown Seattle, in the Cascade mountains of Washington, on the banks of the Skykomish river, one of the nation’s last “wild rivers.” Less than a mile away, two twin peaks, Mt. Index and Mt. Persis rise 5,000 feet above the river valley floor. Bald eagles and ospreys nest nearby and soar in the rising wind currents from the nearby hills and mountains. It is truly a natural site in every sense. Out to the rear of the main church building that houses the library, office, kitchen and dining areas, is the MoonStone Circle, the actual place of worship.
The MoonStone Circle is a circle of tall standing menhirs or stones, on a small rise within a stand of old stately cedar trees. This circle was constructed by Seattle area Pagans over a period of two years, using slabs of local granite found along an 1,800 foot high cliff that defines the northern edge of the valley. The circle was dedicated in the evening of December 29th, 1984, in a blinding snow storm. The area was blanketed in new snowfall, and illuminated by literally hundreds of candle stubs, set in the snow. The boughs of the cedars were bending low in their white mantle. The circle dedication was performed by 29 Pagans from diverse traditions, some of whom had driven from as far away as eastern Washington, Oregon and Canada. Everyone there had a part in the ceremony. It was a memorable occasion on several counts (it was 2 days before the cars could be dug out of the snow and people could make their return trip home!)
With the participation of many like-minded Pagans, the ATC grew and flourished. Most noticeable was the absence of the customary frictions and infighting common to many Pagan enterprises, to the puzzlement of many observers. Later, we discovered it was due to the fact that we did not define ourselves by who we would not let join in. From the very beginning, ATC was an open attendance Pagan group, where anyone who wanted to attend could, without the usual need for someone to “vouch” for them. Everyone was given a chance to have their say, their ten minutes on the soap box to present their ideas. Certainly, not everyone agreed with everything said, but ATC soon became known as a “safe place” for everyone and their ideas, conventional or nonconventional. We believe it is that original concept of Pete’s that is the major force in building the resulting community that ATC has become.
The ATC is a hierarchic organization, though you’d seldom notice that from the way things are done. There is a large core group of about 40 people who are deeply immersed in the activities, outreaches and events of the church, and an overall membership in the Pacific Northwest of in excess of 300. The Archpriestess and Archpriest oversee the overall activities of the church, both locally and on an international basis, through Archpriestesses and Archpriests of the church in each foreign nation where ATC has an official presence (ATC has recognition as a legal church tradition from the governments of USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland and South Africa at the moment. France does not recognize any church.). The Archpriesthood works with an advisory group, the Black Cord Council (or just “the Board”) and virtually all decisions are arrived at through discussion and compromise in the best interests of the mission of the church, by consensus. Rarely, if ever, has a vote been taken on anything. The Archpriesthood, however, retains the right of veto if they believe an action is not in the long run going to be in the best interests of the church or Paganism in general.
Annually at the Hekatee’s Sickle Festival held each Samh’ain, the efforts of the members of the church are recognized by the awarding of beads for their cords, each bead having a particular significance. While every member is considered a priestess or priest, to be considered actual ATC Clergy and able to minister to the public, unlike other traditions, one must attend a 4 year seminary program culminating in the award of a Bachelor of Ministry degree from our own Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, with recognized college level religious education status by the Higher Education Coordinating Board of State of Washington. The Seminary also has Masters and Doctorate programs available. ATC does not intend to try to tell anyone how they should conduct their own clergy training, but we are fully committed to the professionalization of the clergy of our own tradition if they are to undertake matters as serious and delicate as pastoral counseling in the areas of life strategies, marital problems, and psychological and childhood trauma.
Since religion should never be something that is “hoarded” or kept from true seekers, rather than being a traditionally “exclusive” organization, ATC was intended from the outset to be open and accessible to all sincere seekers, and proudly proclaims its complete independence from any other tradition. While craft “lineage” may be important to some and rightfully so for them, it is really of little consequence to us at ATC, where we feel our long history of beneficial accomplishments for the religion is of far more tangible value and significance. As with any successful organization, there are always a few who would try to try to downplay our accomplishments and stable longevity, in favor of pedigree.
The Aquarian Tabernacle Church was founded by Pierre C. Davis (aka Pete Pathfinder Davis) on Nov. 1, 1979 in Index, Washington as a new, home-grown tradition of American Wicca focused on serving the larger Wiccan and Pagan communities, and based on his traditional English Wicca training but also not limited to it, and is eclectic in nature.
A Chronological History of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (as of March, 2002)
Davis, born in Jersey City, N.J. on March 22nd, 1937, the second son of Joseph A. Davis, a Catholic, and Adele Claveloux Davis, a self-proclaimed Pagan at a time when there was not yet a Pagan movement (1940s) visible in the United States. While “Pete” was and remains the major moving force behind the church, the ATC is not about him personally, but has become something much larger, standing on its own as a leading force in Paganism today. The ATC continues to be based in Index, Washington where ATC erected the MoonStone Circle, an outdoor circle of tall standing stones in a grove of tall old cedar trees behind the church buildings. This worship site was dedicated and consecrated on Dec. 29, 1984 by 29 Wiccans who arrived there for the ceremony from three states, during a blinding blizzard-strength snowstorm.
Davis had received his first initiation into the craft on the 14th. of August, 1974, in Patterson, New Jersey, into a small, closed and very secretive tradition known as the Dorpat tradition. After relocating to Seattle, Washington, he was subsequently initiated on the 21st. of September, 1983, into the Coven of the Stone and Staff of the New Wiccan Church (The current NWC member traditions are: Kingstone, Silver Crescent, Daoine Coire, Majestic, Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Mohsian and related traditions.) Although it was Pete’s intention only to establish a small Wiccan retreat in the mountains near Seattle for local area Pagans to worship unmolested, it quickly became his objective to establish a Wiccan church with the recognition of the federal government through tax exempt status to gain tolerance if not acceptance by the local mainstream religious bodies. The Goddess, however, had a much larger view and the ATC received governmental recognition in the USA on November 12, 1988 and subsequently gained IRS Group Exemption umbrella recognition as a Wiccan tradition on Dec. 30th., 1991. Any congregation that ATC accepts as an affiliated group in the U.S. receives automatic recognition as a tax exempt church through this Group Exemption.
The ATC went on to receive recognition in Canada Nov. 15th., 1993, and was registered and recognized in 1994 in the country of Australia through its’ affiliate there (which received its original recognition in 1984). The church was established in Ireland by Janet and Stewart Farrar on Feb. 24th., 1999, and subsequently received governmental recognition there as the first (and only) officially Wiccan/Pagan church in Ireland through the efforts of Rev Barbara Lauderdale, presiding elder, in October of 2001. The ATC has also been recognized by the government of South Africa in August of 1998. The ATC maintains a presence in France since April 24, 1999, but France does not officially recognize any church organizations and recently has enacted restrictive laws against all minority religions. Recognition is in process in New Zealand at this writing.
There have been a number of “firsts” in the history of the ATC. In March of 1985, as a result of Davis’ being retained by the Washington State Attorney General as an expert witness to enlighten the Federal Court in Tacoma, WA. about the tenets of the religion of Wicca in a lawsuit brought by a prisoner, Wicca became acknowledged by the Department of Corrections as a religion worthy of recognition for inmates to practice and was included in the department’s first edition of “Handbook of Religious Beliefs and Practices” published for institutional chaplains, a work now adopted at least in part by some 31 states.
In 1990, the ATC was accepted as the coordinating agency for the appointment of Wiccan delegates to the Interfaith Council of Washington (state), and in 1992, Rev. Pete Davis was unanimously elected as the president of the Interfaith Council of Washington. He served two terms, being unanimously reelected at the end of his first term. (So totally unheard of, this has to be a “first” for a Wiccan priest or priestess anywhere in the known universe!)
On April 7th of 1994, the ATC, through it’s in-house publishing effort then known as Pathfinder Press, issued the first of several mass-produced Pagan tracts (or, more correctly, anti-tracts) intended to educate as well as take some pokes at the narrowly fundamentalist tracts published by the Jack T. Chick Publishing Co. of Chino, CA. ATC’s tracts, “The Other People” and “Heathens Idolize School Prayer” were published as parodies of Chick tracts, in the exact same format and appearance as the parodied Chick comics, with the same purpose in mind.
In October of 2001, the first outdoor Circle of tall standing stones was erected within the confines of the Twin Rivers Correctional Facility as a place of Wiccan worship. To our knowledge, there exists no other state-sanctioned Wiccan outdoor standing stone circle intended for inmate worship anywhere in the world.
On April 2nd, 2001 ATC formally incorporated a young people’s nature lore and woodcraft program which had been begun in 1999 only as a local activity for the mother church. Because of the demand for some alternative to some of mainstream America’s gender biased, and in some areas, pervasively religious fundamentalist programs, “SpiralScouts” was launched as an international organization. SpiralScouts (note it is one word) was developed through an Internet on-line committee of slightly more than 500 participants, presaging its phenomenal acceptance and growth in the Pagan community worldwide. The program was created in such a fashion as to allow its use by groups of any minority faith (or no faith at all) as a vehicle to educate children in a particular tradition. The program is adaptable to any non-hostile religious or non-religious community. In the months since SpiralScouts “went public,” there are over 160 chartered SpiralScouts groups in the US and Canada. The program continues to grow rapidly. (see WWW.SpiralScouts.org)
Established in April of 1998, the ATC’s Woolston-Steen Wiccan Theological Seminary received authorization from the Washington State Dept. of Higher Education’s Degree Authorization Board to issue academic degrees in Wiccan Ministry in August of 2000 under the agency’s religious exemption regulations. This seminary appears to this writing to be the only Wiccan educational effort to be granted an Internet identifier ending in (dot) edu. (see www.WiccanSeminary.edu).
WebCrafter’s Note: The following chronology describes much of Pete’s life and accomplishments, and he expressed his concern over it looking like a “Pete Davis Dog and Pony Show”. It is my contention that without the energy and vision of this one man, the ATC might never have been started in the first place, and certainly would not have grown to the size it is now, nor have accomplished even half as much. The members and clergy of the ATC should look upon this chronology as an example of what a serious minded Pagan can accomplish if he or she puts aside his or her own self-imposed limitations, stops talking about it and just does what is right.
March 22, 1937- Pierre C. “Pete Pathfinder” Davis born in Jersey City, N.J..
August 14, 1974- Davis first initiated into Wicca in New Jersey.
August 1, 1976- Davis and his family relocate to Seattle area from New Jersey
November 1, 1979- Davis starts the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, WA.
September 21, 1983- Davis initiated into the New Wiccan Church (Kingstone) tradition of Wicca in Seattle, Wa.
Summer of 1984- Davis and friends build a circle of standing stones in a forest grove he purchased.
December 29, 1984- The Moonstone Circle is dedicated in Index, WA.
Summer, 1985- The ATC tradition liturgy is formalized and written down.
March, 1985- Davis hired by Washington Attorney General as an expert on Wicca in a federal civil rights court case brought by a prisoner. The prisoner prevails.
March, 1985- ATC’s first Spring Eleusinian Mysteries Festival is held.
December, 1985- Wicca is listed as an accepted religion by the Washington Dept. of Corrections’ publication, “Chaplains’ Handbook of Religious Beliefs and Practices (1985)” in an entry written by Davis.
November 12, 1988- ATC receives IRS Letter of Determination of tax exempt status.
March 1990- ATC appointed the coordinating Agency for Wiccan and Pagan religion members by the Interfaith Council of Washington State.
May, 1991- ATC decides to expand into a nationwide tradition.
December 30, 1991- ATC receives IRS Group Exemption as a Wiccan church tradition.
January, 1992- Davis is first Wiccan Priest ever to be listed in Marquis’ “Who’sWho in Religion.”
March, 1992- Davis unanimously elected president of the Interfaith Council Of Washington State.
November 15, 1993- ATC-Canada receives official registration in Canada.
January 31, 1994- Church Of Wicca of Australia-ATC receives tax exemption in Australia.
March 1994- Davis unanimously reelected president ICOW.
April 7, 1994- ATC published “The Other People,” the first Wiccan anti-tract.
September, 1995- ATC’s Spirit Series of publicly offered Wiccan classes begins.
September, 1996- “Heathens Idolize School Prayer,” the second anti-tract, is released.
April 23, 1997- MoonStone Circle at church is vandalized; attacker confesses but is never prosecuted.
August 27, 1997- ATC is the first Wiccan/Pagan organization to apply to Veterans Administration for approval of the Pentacle as a religious symbol for use on government supplied headstones and markers for deceased veterans, beginning what is to become a nine year long battle to have Wicca and Paganism recognized by the VA.
August, 1998- ATC-South Africa is established and recognized.
April, 1998- The Woolston-Steen Wiccan Theological Seminary established.
February 24, 1999- ATC-Eire established by Janet & Stewart Farrar in Ireland.
April 24, 1999- ATC established a presence in religiously hostile France.
February, 2001- Ray Snyder, ATC representative to The Interfaith Association of Snohomish County (WA) elected president of that organization.
June, 2000- Woolston-Steen Seminary recognized as a degree granting religious college level education institution by the State of Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board.
April 2, 2001- SpiralScouts International established as a Wiccan youth group.
October 1, 2001- ATC-Eire receives notice of official registration as the first tax exempt Wiccan church recognized by the Irish government.
October, 2001- ATC facilitates the construction by Wiccan inmates of the first worship ring of standing stones within the confines of the Washington Twin Rivers Correctional Center prison at Monroe, Washington.
October 31, 2004- the ATC celebrates its 25th anniversary as a public Wiccan church.
March 2005- ATC celebrates the 20th continuous presentation of ATC’s world renowned Spring Mysteries festival, the recreation of the Elusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece.
July 28, 2006 – Pete Pathfinder Davis and his working partner, E’bet Tennis were honored by being initiated to 3rd. degree in Alexandrian and British Traditional Wicca by Lady Zara, Coven of Akhelarre, Salem, MA., chartered by Temple of the Mother, of Wingham, Kent, England.
September 29th, 2006 – The ATC files suit against the U.S. Veterans’ Administration in Veterans Affairs Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. requesting of the court the unusual relief through the issuance a Writ of Mandamus to direct the VA to do its duty and approve, without further delay, the nine year old standing request made by ATC, allowing the Wiccan pentacle on government supplied veteran headstones, plaques and markers. The ATC is joined in this action by Scott Stearns, a retired Navy veteran and the survivors of deceased veterans Abraham Kooiman (W.W.II), and James W. Price (Afghanistan) together with the Correllian Nativist Church, another large Wiccan denomination based in Illinois.
AND the beat goes on …
In the words of Pete Pathfinder Davis, ATC founder & Archpriest:
“Never Forget that life’s a journey, not a destination. You’ll never build a reputation on what you are going to do, and unfortunately, it’s never too late to do nothing. Only those who can see the invisible can accomplish the impossible, so go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have, right now! If you can dream it, you can do it, so do the things you think you cannot do. Luck is nothing more than good planning, carefully executed. Wisdom is knowing what comes next, and knowing just when to jump off the swing. You are only young once, but if you don’t pay attention to life’s lessons, you will be immature forever.”