Grab your torches

Gather the elders. Light the faggots. After a 300-year hiatus, witch-hunting is back!

Not since the days of the Massachusetts Bay colony has the prospect of barbecuing Satanists been so much the rage. And it's right next door in Arlington. Bless their hearts, those godless witches of Interstate 20, and pass the Kingsford.

Before we go any further, though, let's recap the chronology of this honest-to-goodness news story for you villagers who don't get the Arlington papers delivered to your huts.

Our clip file goes back to...let's see...
*1489--Midwives move in on the birthing business. Malleus Maleficarum, a handbook on witch-hunting, is published.

*1634--French witch-hunters burn curate Urbain Grandier, bewitcher of Ursuline nuns.

*1692--Witch trials begin in Salem. Over the next two years, 19 witches are hanged or pressed to death. Much of the testimony is provided by 12-year-old Annie Putnam.

*1693--Cotton Mather, a Boston Congregationalist minister, "scientifically" analyzes the work of devils among the Salem witches.

*1736--Britain repeals its laws against witchcraft.
*1987--Richard Greene elected mayor of Arlington.
*1996--Twenty ministers nail a letter on the door of the Arlington City Hall, so to speak, demanding "Please, no Witchcraft Park in Arlington!"

The park at issue in this most recent outbreak of witch hysteria involves a set of pink granite megaliths that sits, like a Texas Stonehenge, at the edge of Interstate 20, just east of the hideous sprawl known as The Parks at Arlington mall.

Called Caelum Moor, the five-acre environmental sculpture park was erected as part of a private real estate development that crashed in the bust of the mid-'80s. The site, with its pond and stone clusters, was meant to evoke the feel of the Scottish highlands--or at least that's what its designer, Californian Norm Hines, has said through the years.

Now, another developer, Dallas' Windstar Properties, thinks the field where Caelum Moor is located would look better with a couple of chain restaurants and some motels. So last month, Windstar cut a deal with Arlington officials to get the blasted stones out of progress' way.

(This is the same sort of thing that happened a few years ago and a few hundred yards away, when another developer agreed to move a massive oak tree to clear room for a grotesquely ugly discount store. To nobody's surprise, the tree croaked.)

Anyway, under the terms of a contract tentatively approved by city officials, Windstar is going to pay about $235,000 toward the cost of moving and re-erecting the Caelum Moor stones. The stones are to be moved to a new site about 1,400 feet north of their present location, a parcel of park land adjacent to a movie theater, behind the mall.

By now, everybody would have been patting each other on the back and talking about a successful "public-private partnership" had not Dena Smith, a minister at the Redeeming Love Covenant Church, come forth like a latter-day Annie Putnam.

"It's not a park, it's a religious site," she told the Arlington council last month. "Not only do I want to see the stones come down, I want to see them removed from our city."

What kind of religion merits wiping Caelum Moor from the face of Arlington? Witches, Satanists, the occult, of course, Smith told reporters. It seems celebrants in white robes are already performing religious rituals at the stones, she claims. Moving Caelum Moor to public park land would surely spawn more such behavior.

Two weeks ago, the pastors of 19 other Arlington churches joined Smith in her crusade and added animal sacrifices to the list of outrages supposedly being committed at Caelum Moor. Reporters began quoting folks talking about that old '80s shibboleth, Satanic ritual abuse.

The ministers sent a letter to city officials and the local papers decrying Arlington's surfeit of witchery. "Just last week we photographed an animal sacrifice sprawled out on one of the stones," the ministers wrote. "If this is already occurring on private property, what do we think is going to occur when the city dedicates a public park to these stones?"

In their letter, the ministers compared the stones to Stonehenge and quoted The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, page 329, about that wicked shrine.

"Until 1985, season festivals on the solstices and equinoxes were observed at Stonehenge by diverse groups including the modern Druids...Neo-Pagans, Witches, Morris dancers and other spiritual pilgrims, all of whom performed dancing and incantations," according to the good encyclopedia.

"The Druids' ceremony involved the playing of trumpets and harps, salutations to the stones, chanting and raising of oak leaves, and the burning of incense." The public festivals were banned in 1985 because of vandalism.

Determined not to let local witchery go unreported, the Arlington Star-Telegram interviewed a few self-described witches, pagans, and wiccans who practice forms of Earth-based religion tied to changes in seasons.

The witches told the paper they already rent space in local parks--including Arlington's Randol Mill Park and River Legacy Park--for major holidays, where they worship and picnic. The new Caelum Moor park would be ideal for future gatherings, they said.

The wiccans insisted they have as little use for Satan as do Baptists, but Mayor Richard Greene didn't seem to draw the distinction.

"It's one thing to have someone tell us they are concerned about the possibility" of witchcraft, he told the newspaper. "It's quite another thing to say those concerns have been confirmed by those who acknowledge the use of the area for pagan and Satanic practices."

Last Thursday, a committee overseeing Johnson Creek, the rivulet along which the new moor would sit, was scheduled to meet and discuss some rather technical issues surrounding the relocation project, wetlands regulations, and the like.

But the prospect of witches going toe-to-toe with steamed-up Texas fundamentalists promised to draw massive media coverage. Even CNN planned to be there.

Needless to say, the meeting was canceled. Some rather embarrassed Arlington officials began to look for ways to keep their city from becoming--on national television--the Salem of the late 20th century.

"I imagine it was some factor" in the cancellation, says Arlington assistant parks director Pete Jamieson.

The Arlington city council still must give Windstar final approval for the plan to relocate the stones, and a vote will come up in the next several weeks, Jamieson says.

"It's unfortunate the issue has generated so much concern," says Jamieson. "It's pretty well understood that this is a piece of environmental art. It wasn't commissioned or sculpted to have any religious meaning."

And Norm Hines, the sculptor, has been trying to convince the townsfolk of just that.

"I have no knowledge of, nor interest in, Satanism or witchcraft," he wrote in a recent open letter. "I am a confirmed Christian and in fact served as an altar boy when I was young."

As they say in Salem, "Tell it to the judge.

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec