Sprague (CT) - Some folks on the library's board of trustees were just a little spooked. What's that? A real live witch was going to practice his craft at the library on Halloween? In front of children?
Yes, said Linda Puetz, president of the Friends of Sprague Public Library. And the witch, the Rev. Rapid Cabot Freeman, was going to charge admission and donate the proceeds to the library.
Freeman himself came to the trustees' meeting last Tuesday night to reassure them. ”We don't throw lightning bolts, we don't kill babies and we don't drink blood,” Freeman said. “It's not about that. It's about positive energy.”
Halloween, he explained, has its roots in Samhain (pronounced sawin), the Celtic new year and, for witches, the holiest day of the year, “like Memorial Day and New Year's Eve all rolled up into one.”
The witchcraft Freeman planned to perform was a ritual honoring the dead, for on Samhain, “the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead, our passed-on ancestors, is the thinnest, so we can talk to the dead.”
"By 'talk' I don't mean like I'm talking to you. I mean put out offerings and show respect for the people that we love.”
The board, Freeman said, seemed reassured.
"Some people had some concerns. All right, fine. The word 'witch.' I know about that. Roger Corman movies and 'Freddy Versus Jason' and all that... And I get that,” he said. “So to let people know, I went over there. I told them what was going down. Everybody was cool with it.”
But, in fact, everyone was not “cool with it.” Several members of the library board went to First Selectman Catherine Osten to complain that the Friends of the Library had presented the matter as a fait accompli.
"They had a library board meeting, and the library board was told that the first selectman had already approved the event, and the board had no say in it,” Osten said Monday. “So the library board came to me and said, 'Did you approve a pagan ritual?' And I said, 'No, I did not.' "
“In fact," Osten said, "because the event was to be held not in the library proper but in the town community room upstairs, those planning it had to get a permit from her office to use the room. Since no one had sought a permit, or paid the $50 rental fee and the $50 cleaning deposit, she said, there would be no witchcraft there on Halloween.
"This is about someone that doesn't want to follow process,” Osten said. “They've refused to apply for the room, and they want me to say OK. Have we denied it? No, because it hasn't been presented to us to deny.”
Freeman, who said he reserved the room four months ago with librarian Barbaranne Warner, and who has been advertising the party on his public access television show - “The Witching Hour” - for the past six weeks, said he believes it is a matter of religious discrimination. He said he'd been planning the appearance since he spoke at the library about witchcraft last year and members of the audience asked him to give a demonstration.
While the town has allowed everything there from Christmas parties to christenings, he said, they are banning him because he's a pagan.
"People have had Christmas parties there,” Freeman said. “If the birth of Christ isn't a religious holiday, I don't know what is.”
For her part, Puetz was furious. So furious that she put out a five-page statement excoriating the first selectman.
"Ms. Osten seems to think there is religion involved, and a town building cannot participate,” Puetz said. “If the selectman censors the Halloween event of Mr. Freeman because she feels religion is involved, then Halloween in Baltic must be canceled in Sprague.”
Baltic, of course, is the heart of Sprague, where the old grist mill housing the library sits across the street from Town Hall. On that same night, the fire department, she pointed out, is hosting a Halloween party, and the department is located in a building belonging to the town.
"If Mr. Freeman is not allowed to have his event on October 31, it may be a discrimination issue,” Puetz said.
But Osten insisted Monday that religion has nothing to do with it. In addition to Christmas parties, she said, “There have been weddings, christenings, birthday parties, that sort of thing. … In town we have four large churches or religious organizations, and we have a very large, very large Mormon population, but I don't care what their religions are.”
Meanwhile, Freeman said he was saddened and angered by the selectman's “Hitleresque decree” and her failure to return his calls. The library has had a special place in his heart ever since he was a boy growing up in Baltic, he said. For it was there he discovered witchcraft, by reading books by famous witches, and dreamed of someday meeting them.
And he has. In fact, he ended up studying at the knee of Laurie Cabot, the Witch of Salem, and “the people who were my heroes are now my friends.”
Freeman said he wanted to give the proceeds to the library because “I believe in that library so much.”
"That was my rocket ship to get where I needed to be. And I want everybody to have the same ride to wherever they need to go.
"And I wanted to be able to give that gift to these kids,” he said. “Give them a library that they really have books. Give them a library where if they want to be an astronaut they can find out how to do it. They can read about the guy who walked on the moon.”