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Letters of Support for Solstice Bonfires
Letters to the Park Service regarding Solstice Bonfire rights
As part of organizing around the beach bonfire issue, San Francisco Reclaiming called for letters of support to be emailed to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The response (forwarded to GGNRA in December 2006) was rich and incredibly varied.
We tried to collect each message sent to GGNRA and cc'd to us. If we missed yours, please send us a fresh copy. We removed last names on most letters for privacy reasons.
I am writing to add my support to the GGNRA people not disrupting our ritual which has been happening there for some 20 years. I've been one of the people who has been there many (most) of those years. Now, as a mother of 3, I am there with my children most years.
Specifically being at the ocean, as inhabitants of this region, so infused with the power and beauty of one of the world's wide oceans, this is the most appropriate place many of us can imagine making our ritual to the earth. We practice fire safety, and make sure that all know not to bring any painted or otherwise treated wood, just to be clear on that issue. In fact, probably BECAUSE of this, many people have learned about some common fire and environmental dangers which create a lot of pollution from home fires and beach and campfires.
I guess maybe the point which could be most important to emphasize here is that this is an important part of our religion. Why GGNRA appears to be targeting us is puzzling. I remember the first time a GGNRA person showed up many, many years ago. I got the feeling he was very embarassed and felt that he was sent out to intervene for no good reason. I would remind you of that. Trying to keep us from engaging in an important part of our once-a-year ritual is silly.
Go after the drunks who burn painted wood and leave bottle caps and trash all over, totally disrespecting the earth, and then go out driving drunk, some of them likely causing avoidable accidents once leaving the beach. Our rituals are expressly alcohol and drug-free.
I would encourage you to put GGNRA time into useful pursuits and remember this is a basic, funamental right of religious freedom, but mostly remember that we are not harming anyone!
Greetings of the Season to you all,
I am writing as a resident of the bay area (11 years in Oakland, graduate of Mills College) and frequent beach goer. I have been participating in the Ocean Beach burn with the Reclaiming for the past 5 years, both summer and winter.
These ceremonies are an act of cleansing and renewal. *Our community gathers together peacefully, soberly, and with a clear intention*. We take good care of our place on the beach and are very careful with fire safety. Our members are families and individuals who hold these times of year sacred. Reclaiming has been gathering for 20 years to practice this ancient rite: communing with fire and water.
Please reconsider the ban of fires on Ocean Beach. Our public spaces are shrinking. We all must work together to end the disregard a small minority of people seem to have about Ocean Beach. The problems of vandalism, liter and violence are endemic in society at large. The work of your organization and ours can help shift this behavior without restricting all of our civil rights and freedom.
Thank you for your time and attention,
I have been a member of Reclaiming for the last ten years. I very much look forward to going to the Ocean twice a year on the Summer and Winter Solstices for a cleansing ritual. It is very important to be able to have a bonfire at those times.
The Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice are very special times of the year. We gather to celebrate nature and the changing of the seasons. Our rituals are our spiritual practices. At other times of the year we gather in Golden Gate Park in the meadow and hold our gatherings. Beltane, Autumn Equinox, Spring Equinox. These times lend themselves to quieter more sylvian atmospheres.
But on the Solstices we need to embrace the elements of air, fire and water in a tangible way. I am hoping you will allow us to continue to do so. As you know we are very respectful of the land. Our events are without alcohol or drugs. We are a responsible Religious Group and we ask to continue our services in the way we have successfully done in the past 20 years.
Dear Mr. O'Neill,
I am writing to express my support of Reclaiming's Solstice beach bonfires. They are wonderful healing rituals that honor the sacred elements of our earth.
There are many things I love about this country -- including our right to religious freedom and our right to assemble -- and I know my home town of San Francisco to be exemplary in upholding these rights. I trust the park service will also recognize the importance of allowing Reclaiming -- a responsible, respectful community -- to continue with its 20 year history of celebration at this site.
Dear Brian and GGNRA,
I'm writing to ask you to repeal the bonfire ban on Ocean Beach south of Lincoln.
I am a longtime San Francisco resident. A couple of years ago, I attended three public hearings on this issue. Dozens of local residents spoke from a variety of perspectives. But we all agreed on this:
What is needed is education, signs, and enforcement of existing laws regarding safety, litter, alcohol, etc.
Hardly anyone at these hearings called for a bonfire ban. There is virtually no public support for this policy. Attempting to enforce it is going to alienate many people in San Francisco, and could affect support for other GGNRA programs.
In particular, I ask that you refrain from interfering in any way with Winter Solstice celebrations on Ocean Beach. These ceremonies are sacred gatherings involving the power of fire and ocean, and have been held on the southern part of Ocean Beach for many years. Any interference with these gatherings would be contrary to our first amendment rights and would involve GGNRA in public controversies.
I look forward to your support of our gatherings. Please feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this further.
Dear Superintendent O'Neil,
This is a letter of support of the Reclaiming Community beach ritual which includes bonfires. I have been a member of this community for over twenty years. This community is registered as a church and has a 501-c-3 US Treasury status.
This ritual is a significant religious observation of a legitimate church. This is a sacred ceremony involving the cleansing and transforming power of ocean and fire. Reclaiming has celebrated Winter and Summer Solstice for about 20 years at this site. The events are drug-and-alcohol-free. The beach is public and members of Reclaiming have both the religious freedom to assemble and practice.
Given the departments overall work load, budget constraints and projected cutbacks, I know that you are aware of how important it is to have local community support. If this ban continues the controversy has the potential for a resulting fallout which could impact future support for the GGNRA on other issues.
I am confident that the initial decision to ban bonfires overlooked the religious implications. Certainly a reexamination of this issue is appropriate. Obviously, supporting all people of all faiths is consistent with the mission of the park service.
Thank you for your consideration.
I had the pleasure of attending the solstice bonfire rite at Ocean beach - this is a sacred event that has been going on for a very long time in this location, and was put on (as usual) with the utmost respect for the safety of the environment and the participants. Please ensure that we continue to enjoy the peaceful and substance-free celebration of our religious and civil freedoms unmolested by Federal police, by protecting our First Amendment rights.
We have been celebrating our solstices' for more than 20 years and since this is a sacred ritual, we would greatly appreciate the opportunity to continue our tradition. We always clean the area we use and never create problems for future users.
Therefore we request the opportunity to continue creating our ritual as we have done for two decades.
Thank you for your attention
Please support the right of the Reclaiming community to have their annual Winter Solstice bonfire on the San Francisco beach.
As members of the community and as participants in many past rituals I cannot say enough about the importance of the fire to our rite. I assure you that the fire is treated with utmost care and responsibility. We are always respectful of the beach and neighbors as well. We are sure to clean up after our event, to be respectful of those in the area and to bring only good intent to the whole experience. Please help us to continue this meaningful and valuable tradition. Thank you.
Jamie and Amy
To whom it may concern:
I have been celebrating the summer and winter Solstice at Ocean Beach for over 10 years. It is a very sacred rite and the Solstice is a crucial time of year for us. Our ceremony marks the change of seasons, and is reminiscent of ancient ceremonies going back thousands of years.
Our events are always clean and sober, and we always clean up after ourselves. We are contributing greatly to the culture and community of San Francisco.
Please support us in continuing our ceremonies, and exercising our freedom of religion.
Dear Superintendent O'Neill,
A local religious organization has celebrated the winter and solstice ceremonies at San Francisco's Ocean Beach for about 20 years. This joyous, peaceful event is part of the diverse mosaic that is San Francisco, and part of the religious diversity that is one of America's great strengths.
I urge you to let this celebration proceed without interference.
I am writing to give my support to Reclaiming and all other community and religious groups who want to light bonfires at Ocean Beach. The Beach belongs to all San Franciscans. Many of us have been building community, praying, and celebrating around beach bonfires for our entire adult lives. In my case that is over 25 years.
Dealing with safety and legal issues - public disorderliness, alcohol and drugs, fire wrecklessness - is important to me but banning bonfires is unnecessary and disrespectful.
Thanks for reading this. Please take action to protect religious and cultural freedoms by allowing bonfires at Ocean Beach.
Professor and Artist, San Francisco
To All Concerned,
Please reconsider your policy concerning bonfires. It is a nice holiday tradition and the people who run the Solstice bonfire are careful and considerate. This tradition brings much joy and should be allowed to continue.
Dear Mr. O'Neill and Officials at GGNRA,
Greenwood Earth Alliance, with a network of over 2000 community organizers around the country, and Chalice Farm, a permaculture farm and sustainable living center north of San Francisco, encourage you to drop the ban on bonfires at Ocean Beach.
Bonfires are part of our collective heritage with roots that started in antiquity and span all cultures. Activities around bonfires build friendship, community, and spiritual connection among people and with nature. It seems very wrong to deny the public this basic practice on public land. We urge you as administrators of San Francisco's Ocean Beach to support this fundamental, healing activity and basic human rite.
In particular, with regard to the Reclaiming community's annual winter bonfire, please note that this is a spiritual ritual that has been conducted over the past 20 years. Participants are some of the most socially responsible people on earth, and the event is strictly clean and sober. In this instance, the issue also becomes one of civil rights, specifically freedom of religion, because the elements of earth, air, fire, and water are essential to Reclaiming's spiritual practice.
Thank you for your considerate attention to this proposal.
Mary Bull, Co-director
Greenwood Earth Alliance, Save the Redwoods - Boycott the Gap Campaign
I am writing to request that permits be allowed along Ocean Beach for groups. I am part of the Reclaiming spiritual tradition that has had a bonfire on Ocean Beach near Taraval for our Summer and Winter Solstice rituals for many years. We are responsible and considerate and wish the freedom to participate in our ritual lawfully. Please consider our case, and allow us to apply for a permit so that we may celebrate the Solstices in peace and in compliance with the law.
My name is Mimi DeGennaro and I am a long time Sunset District homeowner. I am writing in support of allowing a bonfire to occur on Ocean beach at future Winter Solstice rituals. As a member of the pagan community, I'd like to share that the elements of both fire and water play instrumental roles in this sacred ritual, and to ban our religious group from partaking in this traditional ritual seriously compromises our religious freedom to practice our faith.
Our rituals are always "clean and sober" events, and our planning group provides for responsible supervision to assure for the safety and respect of the environment as well as all participants and neighborhood folks.
Please assure for the support of religious diversity in our beautiful City. Thank you.
As a long-time participant in the celebration of winter solstice that is offered by Reclaiming on Ocean Beach, I write to express my appreciation for the discretion shown last year by the officers who refrained from interrupting the gathering until well after the service was over. This is an alcohol and drug free religious service that has been going on at this site for many years. While the traditional gathering at this particular site is dear to my heart, the issues of conservation that are being addressed by the new restrictions are also important to many of us who participate in earth-based spiritual practices. Finding the balance between the two is a challenge.
I write with regard to fire policy on Ocean Beach.
I am a Sunset resident and a former volunteer in the snowy plover watch(early 1990s).
I am in favor of an exception to the ban on beach fires south of Linclon Blvd.
A 20+-year-old religious group gathers and has a bonfire on the beach as part of ritual to honor the turn of the seasons. The Nature-centered rituals are very environmentally conscious: participants are explicitly told to only bring clean firewood, the services are explicitly alcohol-free, and we always clean up scrupulously afterward.
Stonehenge in England, an ancient and somewhat fragile site due to heavy tourist traffic, has made exception to its fenced-off area to allow Druids to perform their ancient rites there.
In San Francisco, I would urge the GGNRA to allow responsible pagan practioners to perform a ritual with a bonfire a few times per year.
Is there a way this should be formalized, or does it make more sense, once informed of their nature, to simply let the religious gatherings go on?
Dear Superintendent O'Neil,
I have been part of Reclaiming for 12 years. During that time, the Summer and Winter Solstice bonfires have been an important part of my religious practice. This ritual is a sacred ceremony involving the cleansing and transforming power of ocean and fire. It has been performed responsibly for the past 20 years, as drugs and alcohol are banned from the ritual.
Any ban on these bonfires will erode further two crucial freedoms we have enjoyed in this country: religious freedom and freedom to assemble.
In addition to a further erosion of civil liberties, the ban itself is unpopular and will cost the GGNRA crucial support on other issues from an environmentally savvy group. I'm sure there are many other issues the GGNRA faces and could use public support on.
I hope you reconsider your decision.
Please allow us to continue our long traditon of having a bonfire at Taraval. Its one of my favorite times of the year!
As a pagan who has participated in Reclaiming's Solstice rituals for the last 20 years, I am urging you to allow us to continue to have our bonfires in accordance with our religious tradition. If your department and the rangers in the field knew the details about how responsible we are with our fires (no drugs or alcohol allowed, only untreated wood is burned, the fires are put out without covering them with sand, etc.), I am sure you would be comfortable to allow us to continue. I hope you can work out a compromise for our group.
I'm writing to offer my support for the right for Reclaiming to continue its religious tradition of beach bonfires on Winter and Summer Solstices.
Reclaiming has celebrated Winter and Summer Solstice at the same site for more than 20 years. I, myself, have participated in this religious ceremony every year with one exception for 19 years.
Fire is an integral part of our ceremony. To deprive us of it would be like refusing a Baptist the right to immerse in water during baptism. Reclaiming is a legally recognized church, afforded the same protections and we will, I assure you, assert our rights. We have among our association many high profile lawyers whose cases make national news.
I'm not threatening you; I just want you to understand that this is serious to us, sacred to us, and we must continue our tradition. The one year I didn't do the solstice rite, I felt "off" for several months. That's when I realized it was a necessity for me -- like water to the Baptist, like 5-times a day prayer for the Muslim, like meditation for the Buddhist.
I recognize that you have your issues and concerns. Let me assure you we police ourselves. We make sure the fire is safely out; and the events are always drug-and-alcohol-free.
Please allow us to continue our right to practice our faith the way we have for more than 20 years -- and the similar way that our forebears have for thousands of years.
I'm writing as a member of the Reclaiming community and would like to address the bonfire ban on Ocean Beach. We have been using the Taraval site for 2 decades and have deeply connected with that place as part of our spiritual and religious tradition. We are conscientous people who respect the land and are commited to having drug and alcohol-free ceremonies. It is crucial for us to have the freedom to practice our religion and assemble on this sacred beach that supports us in our twice yearly cleansing and transformative work. Please consider granting us permission to continue this practice on this site.
I understand that there is a proposed ban on fires at Ocean Beach which will affect Reclaiming's ability to hold its 20 year tradition of Solstice ritual with the fire that is an integral part of the sacred ritual.
Reclaiming events are drug and alcohol free, and Reclaiming has a 20 year history of problem-free rituals on the beach. We are dedicated to the preservation and stewardship of nature; it is one of the tenets of our belief to take good care of the earth. Thus we would never leave the fire in a dangerous condition or do anything to diminish the beach.
I hope you will consider this position, which has such a negative affect on the First Amendment right of Wiccans to assemble and to worship on what, for us, is one of themost sacred days of the year, in the way that is timehonored and respectful of traditions and of ritual.
I am writing to include my voice in support of the bonfire that Reclaiming has at Ocean Beach twice a year.
I would like to remind you that these rituals are always drug and alcohol free. The beach is left free from any debris, and the fires are put out before the last attendee's leave the beach.
While I appreciate the park service's concerns with groups of folks on the beach, we are a group who is completely conscious of the safety aspects of having a fire, as well as the issues of keeping the beach spotless after we are there. We are Not the people you need to be worried about. Use your limited resources to stop the irresponsible use of the beachs, those who are drinking and driving afterwards, and those who are leaving litter on the beach.
The solstice events are sacred ceremonys involving the cleansing and transforming power of ocean and fire. These rituals have been happening at Ocean Beach for Twenty Years without incident. Do not let this unpopular ban cause you to lose the support of those who use the beaches and recreational areas responsibly.
Thank you for your help.
I am writing to express my support for the Reclaiming Community to continue to be allowed to have bonfires at Ocean Beach during their Winter Solstice ritual.
This is a matter of religious and spiritual freedom, as this bonfire is for a spiritual gathering. There is no drug or alcohol used at the event.
Thank you for gathering opinions on this matter!
Our solstice bonfire are an essential religious observation. The Reclaiming community has been observing this tradition for over 20 years.
We are absolutely responsible, leaving the beach just as we found it. Responsibility and stewardship of nature is a tenet of our faith.
Please do not block our religious freedom!
Dear Supervisor O'Neill and GGNRA members,
Though relatively new to the Reclaiming community, I have been a practitioner of earth-based spirituality all of my life. As such, I hold in highest regard nature and consider it a personal and spiritual responsibility to act in service of the Earth.
I have attended the Reclaiming solstice rituals at Ocean Beach for the past two years. An essential part of our solstice tradition involves the cleansing power of water (through the Ocean) and fire (through a bonfire on the beach). I am asking that our tradition of worship continue undisturbed. Our events are always clean and sober. We are respectful of our neighbors both sharing the beach and in the near by communities. As such practice only safe burning techniques (burn only clean wood with no hazardous materials, proper fire management, etc) and engage in careful cleanup. We consider ourselves stewards of the Earth and environmentalists and our rituals reflect this belief from planning through clean up.
I look forward to your support of our fundamental rights of assemble and spiritual practice.
Thank you in advance for your time,
Dear Brian and other officials at GGNRA,
the Reclaiming community has provided safe, drug and alcohol-free and sacred solstice rituals for over 2 decades at Ocean Beach. These rituals include a clean and controled bonfire, with the greatest respect for animals and humans alike that we share this beach with. As you know, we always clean up after ourselves and show great concern for our environment that is sacred to us.
Over the years we have established a deep connection with this particular piece of land. It is not only crucial for us to continue our tradition honoring earth, fire and ocean at this location - I believe it is also crucial to this piece of land to have us return for our solstices twice a year. Please honor our rights to assemble and practice our religious freedom. You, and all, who commit to partake in a safe and respectful way are always welcome. Please do not interfere with this ceremony.
Wishing you all a wonderful solstice.
I am writing in support of the Reclaiming community's solstice beach bonfire rights. The solstice events which the GGNRA has targeted in years past are well-established as being safe and drug-and-alcohol-free, and they are a very important aspect of our religious tradition. Please help to protect our religious freedoms and our first amendment rights by ceasing to interfere with our sacred ritual.
I am writing on behalf of those in the Reclaiming community who want to hold an Ocean Beach ritual that includes a bonfire.
I believe that the organizers and the rest of the Reclaiming folks who have done this ritual for the past twenty years or so have always acted responsibly at them. Public instructions for this ritual (and all Reclaiming rituals) emphasize that it is to be drug-and-alcohol free to encourage responsible behavior, among other things. Surely your experience with Reclaiming over the years bears this out.
Additionally, I believe Reclaiming's wish to hold the ritual constitutes an expression of the freedoms of religion and assembly.
Lastly, I think it is worth noting that the Reclaiming folks and GGNRA share this value: that the beach and the ocean need to be treated respectfully.
I hope that you will consider my thoughts and those of others and allow the ritual bonfire.
Please allow the traditional Reclaiming Bonfire to occur on Ocean Beach. Fire is an important element of our ritual. Thank you for your consideration!
I support the Solstice bonfires. Please allow them to continue this beautiful tradition!
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I strongly support Reclaiming's Solstice bonfire on the beach in San Francisco. They have been using the same site for many years. Because Reclaiming is an Earth-based tradition, ties to the land are very important, and through using the same site, it has acquired a spiritual significance that would be lost if they were compelled to move to a different site.
Very truly yours,
I urge you to reconsider the ban on bonfires at the southern end of Ocean Beach, and to allow Reclaiming to continue its 20-year tradition of Winter and Summer Solstice fires. These spiritual ceremonies are purposefully held where the vast continent meets the great ocean so that all four of the elemental energies -- earth, air, fire, and water -- can be present in our rituals. This site has become sacred to us over these many years. Our events are free of drugs, free of alcohol, and based on respect for safety and the environment. We believe that our ceremonies help to turn the wheel of the year and foster the continuity of life on this planet.
San Francisco has always been in the vanguard of protecting America's freedoms. I hope you will choose to honor our city's glorious history by affirming our freedom of religion and our right to peacefully assemble.
I am writing this quick note as a Bay Area resident and attendee of the sacred ceremonies that Reclaiming has celebrated at this site for over 20 years, to ask that GGNRA repeal the ban on bonfires on Ocean Beach. The winter and summer solstice are sacred ceremonies involving the cleansing and transforming power of ocean and fire Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Reclaiming is a responsible, green, park-supporting organization. They have held their annual bonfire for many years, clean up after themselves, run a drug and alcohol free event, and are generally good reliable citizens. They have explained to you their need to retain their accustomed site. pleaser honor their request and maintain the tradition. Thank you.
I would appreciate it if you would allow Reclaiming to hold its annual Winter ritual with a bonfire. This is something that's taken place for many years without deleterious effects to the environment or the community aside. Our community is open to hearing the needs of others so let's work this out in a way that meets our collective needs.
We of course have the right to assemble and practice our religion. To boot, there is a lot precedence for our activity. Our classes and events are drug and alcohol free and family-friendly. Please allow this event to procede without interference and with a nice bonfire.
Dear Sir or Madame,
I am writing this email to show my support for Reclaiming's Winter Solstice Festival. At this time of year when peace and goodwill are everywhere, please join me in supporting our own way of celebrating our peaceful yuletide holiday.
The Winter Solstice is as sacred to us as Christmas is to Christians, and it is very important for all of us to have a peaceful celebration.
As you already know, Reclaiming is upholds the highest standards of ethics and social/environmental responsibility. Please allow us to celebrate our holiday in peace.
Thank you for your understanding.
C. M. W.
Dear Brian O'Neil and GGRNA Staff,
Please reconsider your ban on beach bonfires for the Reclaiming Community's solstice events.
Performing our rituals on Ocean Beach for the past twenty years, it is clear that we are a group who cares about the beach and its eco-systems. Please invest some time and energy into working with us on your concerns so that we may continue, unhindered, to practice our religion and exercise our First Amendment rights.
I have been a member of Reclaiming for 4 years. I very much look forward to celebrations that we particpate in with my 9year old son. It is very important to be able to have a bonfire at those times. And my son loves participating and I feel safe with this very responsible group. Reclaiming has helped teach him about the environment and our relationship to it and taught him so much about how to be respectful of the world we live in and the plant, animals and humans we share it with.
The Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice are very special times of the year. We gather to celebrate nature and the changing of the seasons. Our rituals are our spiritual practices. At other times of the year we gather in Golden Gate Park in the meadow and hold our gatherings. Beltane, Autumn Equinox, Spring Equinox. These times lend themselves to quieter more sylvian atmospheres.
Please allow the bonfires to continue.
With respect and gratitude,
Dear Friends at the GGNRA,
I hope you will decide to let the Reclaiming Community have their semi-annual event carry on unimpeded by any enforcement against bonfires at Ocean Beach.
Reclaiming does clean up after itself. The gathering is healing for the people who come and the combination of fire and the ocean are powerful parts of the work done that evening. The event is drug and alcohol free, which is at least part of the problem you have with many other fires and gatherings in the GGNRA. Bonfires shouldn't be banned. People want to be able to have a fire on the beach. C'mon!
Sincerely yours, and not ignorant of some of the complications presented by bonfires.
I am writing to ask your support in a crucial situation. I have been attending rituals at Ocean Beach for years, the last of which was disrupted by police presence. The ritual is a gathering of people who are all deeply committed to honoring the earth and therefore are incredible responsible about cleaning up after the event and monitoring the bonfire, which is sacred to the ritual.
As a minister, I ask for your support in allowing this seasonal celebration to occur undisturbed as part of our right to practice whatever religion we choose. Thank you for your attention.
I'm writing to ask you to repeal the bonfire ban on Ocean Beach south of Lincoln and in particular that you refrain from interfering in any way with Winter Solstice celebrations on Ocean Beach.
I am a member of the Reclaiming community and have had the pleasure of enjoying these Solstice celebrations have been located on this site for almost 20 years. These events are drug and alcohol free and given that they are focused on revering the earth in general and the beauty of Ocean Beach in particular, pose no threat to existing laws regarding litter, safety, alcohol etc...
Any interference with these gatherings would be contrary to our first amendment rights and would involve GGNRA in public controversies. I look forward to your support of our gatherings.
Dear Golden Gate administrators and personnel,
I am writing to ask you not to disrupt the annual solstic ceremony that has taken place in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for the past two decades. This ceremony is a sacred tradition for many people, invoking the cleansing and generative powers of fire and the ocean. This particular fire gathering is not just a "bonfire party on the beach," but a clean and sober (drug and alcohol-free, like all Reclaiming events) religious service that has been occurring at this particular spot for many, many years. Several of our older members would be heartbroken to lose access to a place that holds warm memories for them.
I plan to attend this year's ceremony, and I sincerely hope I will have only good memories to take with me when I return home.
While I understand some of the reasons behind instituting a ban on beach fires, I believe this and other religious gatherings do not deserve to pay the price for others' wrongdoing. This gathering is drug and alcohol-free, does not constitute a danger to anyone, and does not harm the park in any way.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Dear Mr. O'Neill and GGNRA Staff,
As someone who has joined in sacred circle with my co-religionists at Ocean Beach for over 20 years, I was disappointed to learn that the Park Service is attempting to restrict them.
We have always used clean fuel and taken great care to extinguish the fire and clean up when we're done. It's important for us to be able to do this in the less populous Taraval Street end of the beach.
Author Erik Davis considers this annual rite to be significant enough to have written about it in his recent book, A Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape. http://www.visionarystate.com/
Reclaiming and other local Witchcraft traditions have celebrated our eight years sabbats in public parks in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Marin County (Ring Mountain, Miwok Meadows, Hawk Hill). We have never been refused. We have never had any trouble. And we have always left the spaces looking as though no one had been there when we leave.
Some of us are members of the United Religions Initiative (uri.org), an interfaith organization based at the Presidio Chapel, the North American Interfaith Network (nain.org), the Parliament of World Religions (pwr.org) and the Marin Interfaith Council (http://marinifc.org/), where we are active and well regarded. All of us treasure our right as Americans to celebrate our religion with no restrictions.
Most importantly, as practitioners of a Nature religion we Pagans consider the beaches, the forests, the meadows to be our temples.
Thank you in anticipation of your ensuring our freedoms.
M. Macha NightMare, P&W
Chair, Public Ministry Department
Cherry Hill Seminary: Professional Pagan Ministry Education
My Name is Keith Heltsley. I am an Educator and Community College instructor in the East Bay and am shocked that Your agency would attempt to limit bonfires on a public beach, in any way shape or form. In particular i am astonished you would attempt to prevent pagans from exercising their spirituality, there is a reason that the state is separate from religion.
Bonfires on the beach are an American tradition. In a nation losing its traditions faster than it looses its rights this is a major error in judgement on your parts, so stop it now.
Greetings. I am writing in support of Reclaiming bonfires at Ocean Beach.
I'm a member of Reclaiming, a pagan religious community. The Reclaiming community has been celebrating the winter and summer solstices at Ocean Beach for twenty years. Our rituals include a sacred bonfire. As pagans we hold the elements of the earth, including fire and water, to be sacred. If we were prevented from having a bonfire, that would be as profound an act of discrimination against our religion as it would be to prevent Catholics from using bread and wine in their religious celebrations.
Please be assured that we have always been careful to burn only clean, unpainted, untreated wood without nails, and that we have always doused our fires completely with plenty of water and buried the ashes deeply. We have always left the beach cleaner than we found it, and we will continue to do so. In twenty years we have never had any problems with or complaints from other beach users or neighbors.
I understand that the National Park Service is mandated to protect our precious natural resources, including Ocean Beach, for the enjoyment of this and future generations. The Reclaiming community is deeply committed to sustaining our beloved mother earth. We believe that by gathering in nature and worshipping directly with her sacred elements we are deepening and sustaining our relationship with the earth. We do not ask that others share our beliefs and practices, but we do expect to be free to practice our religion without interference.
Thank you for your time and consideration, and thank you for everything you do to protect the abundant natural beauty with which we here in the bay area have been blessed. I hope you all are having a blessed and meaningful holiday season, however you celebrate this sacred time of the year.
peace, best wishes,
San Francisco, CA
Mr. O'Neil and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Staff,
I just got familiar with Reclaiming Organization about a year ago and everything that I've learned from them so far, involves care and respect for nature, love for music and arts and non violence. All of their rituals are family friendly and drug and alcohol free. They educated their members about fire safety and are very strict about the materials allowed for burning. The location where they being meeting over twenty years is consider safe and away from folks who are not interested in participating on the celebrations. Many spiritual traditions have temples but Pagans worship nature and its elements it would make no sense to have walls between what we consider to be sacred, the beach is the gathering place for this tradition and for people who longs this connection. I hope you have a chance to read the letters and get more educated about what this celebration is about before you make any judgments and decisions.
Please come and celebrate this amazing time of the year with us, when the longest nights of the year stay behind and we get prepared to accept more light into our lives. (Remember to bring a non alcohol drink to share, warm clothes, and (optional) clean wood to burn.)
Happiness to all your family members on the light of the new year that is arriving.
Hello, I have heard with great concern that it might not be possible to have our annual winter solstice celebration at ocean beach this year. This religious holiday includes having a bonfire to honor and celebrate that the sun will shine longer again starting the next day. This bonfire is therefore a major element of this celebration.
The Reclaiming comunity is specially oriented around environmental conciousness. These traditional bonfires had allways been savely guarded, composed out of fully resolvable material and cleaned up thoroughly. The religous gatherings of Reclaiming are family friendly, sober and drug free and of no annoiance for other parties who wish to use the area.
Please consider our need for a space in which we can celebrate our religious believes in an appropriate way.
This solstice will be my 24th year attending Reclaiming's rituals, including a bonfire, on Ocean beach. I'll never forget my first in 1983 - a collection of wonderful people celebrating the Winter Solstice in a warm circle surounding a cheery fire next to the beautiful Pacific Ocean.
Like the Mt. Davidson Cross and many other symbols of our culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Solstice ritual has become part of the traditional fabric of this wonderful area in which we live. Many stop by as they walk the beach to enjoy the ritual, sometimes joining us. We, the citizens of this area, pride ourselves on a tolerant environment here - and so it is, with each religion given space to practice as it sees fit as long as we all leave sufficient space for the others. Ocean Beach is a place of worship for Reclaiming.
And, it's not just 10 people concerned. I have personally attended rituals on Ocean Beach that have topped 300 participants. This is most certainly a part of the Bay Area's greater shared culture.
The bonfire is a central part of the experience, providing light and heat and a central shared experience for the participants. Especially in the Winter, when weather can be rather inclement, the fire certainly helps.
But more importantly - one of our sacred things is the fire itself. It is a part of the religious expression, just as much as wine, candles, incense, or bread may be to others' religious experiences. Asking us to carry on without our fire is akin to barring us from worship, locking us outside our church doors.
Please understand that Reclaiming has done much in order to ensure that the Solstice fires are safe. They have been very consistently conscious so that the bonfire will harm nothing. The event gets cleaned up carefully. Whenever they have dialoged with GGNR about the issue, whatever has been asked as been done.
We have been celebrating our solstices' for more than 20 years and since this is a sacred ritual, we would greatly appreciate the opportunity to continue our tradition. Our events are clean and sober. We always clean the area we use and never create problems for future users. Therefore we request the opportunity to continue creating our ritual as we have done for two decades. Thank you,
Dear Mr. O'Neill and GGNRA Directors,
I am writing to add my voice to those calling for you to not ban or interfere Reclaiming's traditional Winter Solstice celebration at Ocean Beach. I am one of the founders of Reclaiming and of this ritual tradition, which has been continuous for more than twenty years. This is a sacred ceremony of deep importance to us, and the use of the beach is a key part of our worship. We are happy to work with the GGNRA on any concerns you might have, and believe it is in all of our best interests to resolve this matter amicably and privately, without bringing in the media or other agencies. For us, this is an issue of religious freedom and assembly. Te GGNRA holds the land in public trust-and we are part of that public. Thank you for working with us on this issue,
This is a letter of support for the Reclaiming Community beach ritual and a plea to repeal the bonfire ban on ocean beach.
Reclaiming has celebrated Winter and Summer Solstice for about 20 years at this site. The events are drug-and-alcohol-free. We are always respectful of the beach and also always clean up after our event.
I cannot say enough about the importance of the fire to our rite. I assure you that the fire is treated with utmost care and responsibility.
Please help us to continue this meaningful and valuable tradition.
Dear Supervisor O'Neill and GGNRA members,
I am writing as a cultural anthropologist in support of the Reclaiming community's tradition of holding a bonfire ritual on the Ocean Beach as a central part of their Winter Solstice celebration.
As researcher into pagan traditions and a current member of the local Reclaiming community, I can attest that the twice yearly Solstice celebrations on the Ocean Beach in San Francisco are a well-established practice of this community, recognised far beyond the boundaries of the community itself. I first learnt of this tradition of Bay area pagans many years ago when researching paganism in Australia.
Well beyond the particulars of the event and this community, this issue has ramifications for freedom of religious expression, and for the rights of pagans in other communities, who belong to one of the fastest growing religions in this and other Western countries. One of the most central precepts of paganism is about forging a connection to the land on which a person lives, and acting as custodians and caretakers of that land. For the Reclaiming community in particular, this carries a very strong commitment to ecological well-being and sustainability, ensuring the land is protected and taken care of. A good many Reclaiming members are educated in safe, clean bonfire management, and all are committed to looking after the ocean beach on which they have celebrated Solstices twice yearly for over 20 years.
The Ocean Beach ritual is a deeply meditative practice involving cleansing through water and the presence of fire. This relationship to nature and its forces is a very central thread of pagan practices.
I would like to urge the GGNRA to allow this important tradition to continue, and to support the members of a community who are committed to caring for the parks and natural places of this city.
I am writing on behalf of the Reclaiming Community that has been hosting harm-free bonfires for 20 years on Ocean Beach. I would like to make a few key points: First, this is a sacred ceremony involving the cleansing and transforming power of ocean and fire, and really, don't we need that to survive? We are peace-loving citizens who are exercising our freedom to assemble, as well as our religious freedom. Drugs and alcohol are forbidden, so there is never any threat of dangerous behavior. It should be noted that the ban is unpopular and will cost GGNRA support on other issues. Please, please, respect our rights as we gather. Our aim is merely to strengthen our community, not to harm anyone or anything. I think our track record over the past 20 years speaks for itself. Thanks for your time, and many blessings to you and yours.
Dear Brian and Rudy,
We are from Reclaiming and we are writing to share with you the importance of our bi-annual solstice ritual at Ocean Beach. We have been celebrating this ritual in the same spot for 20 years. This spot works really well because it is accessible by muni and yet it is less public then the area by Golden Gate Park to support our deeper, spiritual practices that involve fire and water.
After 20 years of spiritual ceremony in a place, something happens between people and that place. Our bodies become familiar with the shape of the land around the spot where we meet and the break of the surf. We have an unconscious sense of where the sun sets at the winter and summer solstices. Just arriving to that spot, our bodies know what season it is and what we need to do to move through it. Children grow up with this connection and experience. It is not the same for us to move down the beach to a different spot.
Likewise we tend that stretch of beach being careful to bring only good wood and cleaning up all the trash in the area. In respect of the Snowy Plover's wintering needs, we have educated our community about the park's Snowy Plover management plan recommendations. This will serve the plovers in between our rituals as well.
Lets work together to meet the needs of the park, the ecology and our spiritual community.
Warmly, April and Brian
Dear Mr. O'Neil,
I would like to express my support for the right of the Reclaiming organization to maintain our time-honored tradition of gathering around a bonfire on the beach during the Summer and Winter Solstices. In fact, I do not believe we--or anybody else--should be required to obtain a permit at any time to enjoy such a simple common pleasure. I don't doubt there are some people who behave badly by burning the wrong materials, drinking, littering, etc.-- but the same can be said of people who picnic on the beach, and I'd like to think SF will never require a permit to have a picnic!
Ms. L. Homet
Dear Brian and the GGNRA,
I have celebrated solstices at ocean beach with a bonfire for as long as I can remember. It is our right to keep celebrating solstice at ocean beach at Taraval street.
We always keep the beach clean and always make sure that we put water over the fire.
Julian, age 9
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