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Art vs. (Witch)Craft

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While the rest of the kids are busy slamming quadruple espressos and filling ashtrays to unnatural capacities at Fuel Cafe, some may want to escape to Riverwest’s newest addition Tree of Life. Located across the street from the Foundation at 2713 N. Bremen St., Tree of Life serves as a bookstore, artisan gallery and temple for Milwaukee’s Neo-Pagan/Wiccan community. In light of the recent formation of the non-profit networking alliance, Milwaukee Area Magickal Alliance (MAMA), Tree of Life will primarily function as a gathering place for the nature spiritual community. Interested groups may rent the space for events, activities and workshops. Discussion groups are planned to take place on a regular basis. About 15 people, for instance, recently attended a “Pagan philosophy” discussion held on the first day of Sagittarius. In addition to psychic faires and drum jams, Karin Lorenz, proprietor, also mentioned plans for seasonal rituals celebrating the eight major festivals (or Sabbats, as they are known in Witchcraft) on the Wheel of the Year. “Nothing brings people together like a party,” she said. “This would provide folks an opportunity to make new friends as well.” Upcoming festivals include Oimelc, or Candlemas (which later became known as Groundhog Day) and Beltane (May Day). A Mardi Gras parade through Riverwest and Earth Day activities are events that Tree of Life would like to sponsor as well. Furthermore, being members of a nature-based movement, local pagans are looking to “interact with urban ecology” through such community service projects as cleaning up and maintaining the bike trail in Riverside Park. They are also interested in exploring places outside of Milwaukee, with field trips to “power spots” such as Native American burial grounds and Chicago’s Field Museum exhibit on Incan artifacts. “The connection between art and magic,” Lorenz explained, “is deeply embedded in our pre-historic ancestral memory, going back to the caves of Lascaux. The beautiful images in the caves were originally used for hunting magic…Therefore, the first art was probably created for purposes of sympathetic magic rather than decoration or to make a statement, as we often view art today…Pagan artists and craftspeople continue to create beautiful art, from various intricately-designed Tarot decks, to the Witches’ and Astrology calendars, to sculptures of ancient earth goddesses, magickal jewelry and spirit bags.” In fact, Tree of Life recently hosted a two-day Yuletide Faire in December, where local artists displayed and sold their wares. Lorenz hopes to feature similar events throughout the year. There is also a rich musical component to the nature spiritual community. Pagan carols, such as “Joy to the Earth” and “Mother Bertha is Comin’ to Town” are often sung during the Yuletide season. A strong literary tradition has been maintained within the Neo-Pagan culture. Lorenz published a quarterly journal called The Serpent’s Tail from 1989 to 1997, which was largely inspired by the works of Joseph Campbell. It was voted Best Amateur Magazine by Green Egg, and she may start it up again online. Tree of Life also carries “a large selection of New Age books on topics such as astrology, tarot, yoga and natural medicine.” Furthermore, they are planning on hosting poetry readings to attract the poetic element in the neighborhood. In fact, a local poet, Chuck, stopped in, and before you could say “Blessed be,” broke into one of his original poems to mark the occasion. The problem with the Pagan community, according to Lorenz, is its long history of being persecuted and vilified. Pre-Christian religions became a scapegoat when the Church’s power was being threatened in the early beginnings of the Renaissance. Consequently, what became known as “Witchcraft” (i.e. the magical arts of tribal peoples) carried evil associations, which continues to this day, especially amongst the increasingly powerful religious right. Like any artistic tradition, Neo-Paganism needs to train young people in continuing its long-standing heritage. Tree of Life hopes to accomplish this by offering classes and workshops such as Introduction to Paganism, Wicca 101, Occult Sciences, Psychic Self-Defense, Magick 1, Breath, Movement, & Light, Ancient Music and Ritual Dance. Tree of Life welcomes any additional interests, ideas and/or inspirations. For more information, contact Karin Lorenz at 2713 N. Bremen, Hours: Sat. & Sun. 1-6 p.m., 372-8669 ~
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