Election Section

Pagans on Parade Cavort in Downtown Berkeley

Tuesday May 18, 2004

Bay Area tree-worshippers, Goddess-worshippers, gay and straight wiccans, Shinto devotees and their kindred—many of them clad in lavish costumes—gathered in Berkeley Saturday for the always colorful Pagan Pride Parade and Celebration. 

The day began with a parade through downtown city streets—where most of the spectators seemed to be equipped with digital cameras—before winding up in Civic Center Park. 

The city managed to keep traffic flowing in both directions along Shattuck Avenue as the parade passed by, with parking enforcement and police officers, aided by barricades and cones, confining celebrants to one southbound lane. 

Drivers hoping to use Milvia Street along the length of the Berkeley High School campus were less fortunate, finding traffic blocked in both directions. Allston Way adjacent to Civic Center Park was also closed, and traffic on several downtown side streets was restricted to a single lane.  

Though paganism was nowhere defined in event literature, a visitor to the affair could have walked away from the festivities with the notion many adherents were polytheist peddlers. 

The grassy area of Civic Center Park was encircled by a ring of booths offering crystals, dolls, drinking horns, clothing, jewelry, idols, drawings, prints, ointments, oils, incense, and palm and card readings. 

One clothing seller was decidedly perturbed to see a reporter’s camera aimed at his ware. “What’re you doing?” he asked. “Tryin’ to conduct an inventory?” 

The Internal Revenue Service, it seems, has taken to wandering various shows and taking before-and-after merchandise photos in search of vendors underreporting their sales. 

One notable exception to the commercialism was a group of five neatly groomed young adults standing next to a plastic barrel propping up a FREE WATER sign. Asking all comers, “free water?,” they dispensed their refreshing libations with a smile and no further comment. 

A curious reporter, pleased to have quenched his thirst after an hour shooting pictures under the bright, warm sun, asked one of the quintet, “Who are you, and why are you doing this?” 

“Oh, it’s Michael’s birthday, and he thought it would be nice to come down here today and pass out water,” one of them answered. 

Michael turned out to be Michael Duenes, a distinctly non-pagan teacher at Redwood Christian High School in San Lorenzo, and a little more coaxing revealed his story. 

“When we came down here, I didn’t even know that there’d be a pagan festival today, but I figured there’d be a lot of a thirsty people. We don’t mention who we are, because God’s love is free,” Duenes explained. 

He said he opted to pass out the bottled water on his birthday as a symbol of the living water of Christ.  

Duenes and his fellow water dispensers are members of The Berkeley Mosaic—“We think of ourselves as broken people united by Christ”—a congregation led by Pastor Dennis Tuma. 

“I’m glad to see the Daily Planet here,” Duenes said. “I got one of your t-shirts at the Solano Stroll, and I wear it to school sometimes on Fridays. The students seem surprised I’m from Berkeley, but I tell them I love it here.” 

The other dispensers of free things—recruiters for the Covenant of the Goddess and the Temple of the Hebrew Goddess and promoters of gay marriage, immigration rights for same-sex partners, and legalized prostitution (itself a fine old pagan tradition)—were restricted to the elevated plaza around the defunct fountain, an area that attracted few visitors. 

The paganisms on offer were distinctly New Age version of ancient traditions. No animals (or humans) were offered up as sacrifices, and the closest thing to ritual scarification on view were tattoos. 

There were no temple prostitutes and no orgies, though several costumed males wore the horns of satyrs and the ever-randy Pan, and the only bared female breasts appeared on modern-day replicas of ancient Minoan statues. 

And the only equivalent of the All-Seeing Eye was the tripod-mounted video camera run by a red-coated gentleman from atop the tower of old city hall building. ›