Tampa Tribune Tuesday, June 19, 1990 Pages 1A, 7A GUNSHOTS HALT RITUAL BY WITCHES By Neil

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Tampa Tribune Tuesday, June 19, 1990 Pages 1A, 7A GUNSHOTS HALT RITUAL BY WITCHES By Neil King Jr. Tribune Staff Writer NEW PORT RICHEY -- A gathering of witches asking their war gods for protection ended abruptly Sunday night when the witches and nearby neighbors exchanged gunshots. Accounts vary as to who shot first and why, but the witches said the attack is the latest in acts of violence and vandalism against their group and its island shrine near Moon Lake northeast of New Port Richey. Five witches from the Coven Lothlorien said they had just completed their ritual seeking protection from previous threats when gunfire tore through the trees surrounding their ceremonial grounds at about 11 p.m. No one was wounded and no arrests were made, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said. Witches -- or wiccans -- are nature worshippers who hold regular rituals in honor of the celestial cycles and the seasons, said Ron Parshley, president of the National Association of Pantheists. Wiccans' ceremonies include torch-lit dancing, chanting and burning of incense, he said. "We heard the bullets ripping past and we all crouched down on the ground and started crawling back to my house on our hands and knees," said Kassie Cornwell, a witch and a registered nurse whose property includes the island. The small island sits in the middle of a pond at the end of a lush pathway behind Corwell's house. Only one other house stands within 200 yards of the pond, which backs up to a vast stretch of swamp. Members said Sunday's ritual was in response to threats they had received the day before. Cornwell said her house was pelted with eggs and a note was thrown in her front yard Saturday, warning the group to stop their "Satan worshiping or be prepared for worse. Next time we won't stop at eggs." "We are the ultimate enemy. We are out to kill!" read another note. Cornwell, 43, said between the gunfire she heard people cursing, calling them Satanists and other names. When the gunfire erupted, one coven member -- Curtis Niles of Spring Hill -- got a shotgun from the house and fired several rounds in the air, Cornwell said. One neighbor, Art Gray, 39, told a sheriff's deputy Sunday he heard shots coming from Cornwell's property and he fired back, also in the air, to warn the people away from his house. Several of Cornwell's neighbors said they believed the group practices Satanism and sacrifices animals. Cornwell said the group doesn't allow animals near their worshiping area. She said the group's credo is to "do what you will, but harm none." The coven has worshipped at the Cornwell property since she bought her home a year ago. She said the worship area has been desecrated six or seven times. Mary Niles, another member, said the coven in named for the tree that the elves inhabited in "The Hobbit," J.R. Tolkien's introductory book about an imaginary dwarflike people called hobbits. Detective Jerry Puig, a religion specialist for the Pasco Sheriff's Office who has interviewed coven members, says there is a big difference between Satanism and the group's religion. "Wicca is all nature worship -- worship of the sun, the wind, the moon," Puig said. "There is no blood and no devils involved." PHOTO CAPTION: Cassie Cornwell, left, and Mary Niles, priestesses of Wicca -- a religion worshiping nature -- say they were shot at Sunday night during ceremonies on a small island near New Port Richey. Story, A Section ______________________________________________________________________________ From a letter by Mary Niles to Jay Stewart of the Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions along with the clipping above: "Thank you so much for your group's efforts on our behalf and the financial support you sent us. ... "Our legal expenses are approaching $4,000 at this point. Our coven has been practicing for two years and we have been harrassed by the neighbors for a year of that time, culiminating in death-threat letters and the June 16th shooting. At that point, we decided to take a stand, not only for our coven but hopefully for other Wiccans and Pagans as well who have experienced religious prejudice, to possibly bring this urgent problem to the attention of the public. We called in the media and they have given us excellent coverage. We also incorporated our coven into a non-profit organization." She gives the address: Coven Lothlorien of Moon Lake, Inc. Box 5172


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