As a cornerstone of the Queen West arts scene, the Great Hall has played host to an eclectic assortment of gatherings over the last decade. It's easy to forget that the turn-of-the-century fixture is actually a Baptist church. Until recently, that is, when church leaders caught wind that the facility was about to play host to A Fair With The Goddess, an event billed by organizers as "a unique full-day celebration of creativity centred around the increasingly popular notion of "The Goddess' as an embodiment of the feminine life-force in our culture."
Let's just say that the notion of woman diety as ruler of the universe did not sit well with the clerics who run the church. They ordered the plug pulled on the event.
Fair organizers, a trio of women calling themselves the Sirens, say they cleared the details of A Fair With The Goddess with the hall's event coordinator when they first booked the space last August.
"We were told that they waere eclectic and alternative and inclusive, and that they would be excited to have something different and new and family-oriented," says Siren Deirdre Norman.
Sacrilege. The event coordinator herself did not return calls from NOW requesting clarification. Church leaders claim the group would not have been given clearance if they'd known earlier about the pagan particulars the organizers had in store.
Was it the reference to "festival and dance" in the contract signed between the two that freaked church leaders? Was the scheduled belly dancing perhaps too much for the church's conservative views on outward expression?
Apparently not. According to church leaders, it was the oracle readings and astrology workshops, topped by an evening of goddess celebration with a procession and an interview with the earthly deity, that caused worry.
Oracles and astrology, says hall manager David Julien, are all part of the same satanic branch of pre-Christian pagan ritual as tarot, which the Great Hall has banned.
Consulting other realms and asking for guidance from the stars violates everything the devout Jehovah-worshippers believe, Julien explains.
"The two don't mix -- you have to believe in one or the other."
The planned goddess procession and staged interview with the goddess, he added, "are rituals that honour, celebrate and even worship a deity we don't believe in. Those were the three deal-breakers for us. They're the kinds of things that Christians view as occult."
Church minister Bryan Hagerman says all this bowing to the spirit of the female deity is strictly heretical.
"The Bible specifically forbids the rituals, practices or worship of any other deities or gods other than Jehovah in a temple, synagogue or church that has been dedicated to the worship of Jehovah God."
Siren Norman says the Great Hall is violating its own self-proclaimed status as an eclectic, inclusive and alternative church, and giving Christians a bad name in the process. She says the whole event was intended to be a non-religious family affair.
"I've been to church fairs where they had Gypsy fortune tellers and horoscope machines. Churches hold casinos and bingo. None of this has any spiritual connotations except to those who wish to see it."
She says other churches have since offered space for the fair. The Great Hall has returned their deposit and is reimbursing the Sirens for publicity expenses.
Still, not including what vendors are apt to lose, the women say their losses from the last-minute cancellation run into the thousands.
Minister Hagerman is unfazed. "We are a church who must honour God first, no matter what the consequences."