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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Nov 4 1998
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Just Another Halloween
"There will be no cameras of any kind allowed within the sacred space," says Madrone, coordinator of this year's Spiral Dance held at Herbst Pavilion. Madrone's silvery accent softens the tone but not the consequence of the dictum, as a growing group of fawns, warlocks, skeletons, nymphs, and ghouls gathers outside in the moist sea air with bundles of blankets and food under their arms.

"No pictures," she says again as her rose-colored third eye flashes in the overhead light and a green woodland creature with tree branches growing out of its ears offers his ticket at the door. "A lot of our people aren't out yet." Madrone's people are modern-day witches, neo-pagans, and adherents of Wicca. All are devotees of the Earth and the "Old Religion of the Goddess." "The Community is very, very large around here," says Madrone, a practitioner of 11 years. "You might be surprised how many witches are in the Bay Area." A quick head-count estimates the crowd to be an easy thousand. "But you must understand," continues Madrone between hugs and greetings from Community members, "witchcraft is still misunderstood and considered blasphemous by some. We have to respect those still working in secret."

In the Bay Area, individual "Circles" meet continually -- Reclaiming, a highly organized group that attempts to unify spirit and politics, coordinates witch camps, classes, lectures, pilgrimages, and political actions -- but the greater Community usually gathers only for winter and summer solstice and spring and fall equinox. The rituals of Bridgid, Lammas, and Beltaine are said to be effusive but pale next to the Feast of Samhain (pronounced SAH-win). According to Reclaiming, which hosts the Spiral Dance, Samhain, or the Witches' New Year, is a rare period of time when the curtain between the living world and the unseen mysteries is most threadbare.

Once inside the Herbst Pavilion, attendees ranging in age from 5 to 80 journey through a maze of white silk painted with black skulls, finally passing from the world into the "sacred space" through two white-clad witches who wave mugwort branches over each body, intoning: "May you be purified; may you be blessed." Altars line the walls, glimmering with candles and smelling of strong herbs and harvest vegetables. "The Burning Times" lists thousands of witches destroyed for their practices -- Anne Martyn hanged in 1652, Ursula Fray burned in 1587, Ms. Lebler beheaded in 1628, Andrea and Eduardo Maquxtle killed in 1996, 36 Knights Templar tortured to death in 1307. The "Headwaters Altar" is dedicated to environmental activist David "Gypsy" Chain, who was killed recently by a falling tree. "The Fairy Altar" is a tree tied with hundreds of ribbons representing wishes. "The Ancestors' Altar" is covered with prayers, photographs, feathers, roots, mirrors, candles, and pine cones alongside a huge board adorned with skulls and the names of recently deceased Community members.

The crowd settles in, people greeting each other and spreading their blankets in a circle while the chorus sings blessings. Inspired by the moment, a group of squealing children plunge into the center circle and begin spinning. The crowd erupts with elated trills. Starhawk, a major force behind Reclaiming, explains the intricacies of the Spiral Dance: With so many people, we must form a double-strand, like a DNA molecule, the strands of the galaxy weaving in and out of each other. You must be patient. You must meditate. You must not forget to look into the eyes of each person you pass. You will never need drugs again. An energy circle is cast around the building by a witch evoking the four elements: "By the earth that is her body. By the air that is her breath. By the fire that is her spirit. By the waters of the living womb." A stilt-walker clad in white wings spins through the circle. Trapeze artists climb into the air. A group of belly dancers undulates beneath the light of a fire-spinner. A mound of moss on a low cart is dragged into the circle by a stilt-walker in a black cloak and an animal head. Two nearly nude bodies erupt from the earth, twining through each other. The drums pound and the Community raises its arms, palms upward. "You can feel the power," says Shayla Norse, a 22-year-old witch with green eyes and white-blond hair. "Just wait until everyone's flying. It's amazing."

"Who needs deviltry when you've got the Spiral Dance?" agrees Norse's mate, Justin Bowe. "It's transcendent. And grounding. It's better than alcohol. Better than drugs. Better than sex."

"This is what happens when you bring a camera inside," growls a mountain of a man as he snaps off the lens and tosses the transgressing item in the trash. "Some of us like pictures," suggests a young woman standing outside the Power Exchange Halloween Ball -- an explicit sex party held in San Francisco's four-level adult play-space -- wearing showgirl butt-floss and a crown of white feathers. "We're all in costume anyway."

"No fucking cameras!" barks the man before disappearing into the club. Inside the Power Exchange, Halloween costumes serve a dual purpose: Veterans get to take their fantasies to a new level and newcomers have something to hide behind.

In the Medieval Banquet Hall, a buxom serving wench is getting heartily fingered by a man in a Zorro mask. The woman's moans echo throughout the room, drawing a crowd from the Elvis-style pool lounge across the hall. Two silver aliens slide onto a four-poster bed and begin making out amid loud bleeping noises emanating from their control packs. In the Dungeon -- a maze of chain-link fence and archaic torture devices -- a large-breasted woman is stripped nude and tied to a wheel while a young man whips her. Next door, a nurse ties a strange cowboy to a stockade and spanks his balls lightly. A transvestite is strapped to a chair while a mad professor hooks clamps to her nipples. In the Jailhouse, three women lick and tease a cop who has been handcuffed to his own cell. Folks without costumes or inspiration sit in sprawling video-porn rooms masturbating until someone offers to take over.

"I didn't realize it would be so elaborate," says a demure nun. "I mean, I imagined it would be, but I didn't think it would actually be. I don't know what to do now that I'm here." A masked man with tiger-striped shorts offers some pointers.

Upstairs, in the Enchanted Forest, Little Bo Peep sits in a sling while a wolf mounts her from behind. Moans and heavy panting come from tents scattered throughout the campgrounds. Voyeurs wander between the rows, peeking in the net windows. Sitting around a fountain, three construction workers stroke a nearly naked belly dancer while other men try their luck in the Glory Hole Maze, shoving their erect penises through holes with the hopes of something warm and wet waiting on the other side.

"You see, nothing is as important to man as sex," says Danny D., a philosopher-cum-mechanic in a mummy outfit. "Good sex empowers people. Every fucked-up thing in the world happens because of sexual tension -- murder, rape, theft, war. Who would want to buy a gun if they just got laid? No one."

Dane and Sasha are handpicked from the crowd by Marie Powers, the lady behind the lay-out, to be in the Power Exchange costume contest. Although they lose $500 to a Pan-like creature, they seem happy with the chance to show off their wares -- matching devil outfits made out of very little.

"My lady likes to tease," says Dane with a flick of his tail.
During the Slave Auction, Powers and a riotous queen named Climactica sell off a dominatrix for $5,000 slave dollars (equivalent to $40 U.S.), followed by a male submissive for $2,000, a lesbian submissive for $3,000, and a first-time slave girl for $6,000 (massage only). The crowd begins to dwindle as folks start to pair off, trick-or-treating for condoms from a giant human pinata.

"They told me Halloween in San Francisco was wild," says a leather angel from Philadelphia. "Little something for every-one, that's what they told me." Guess they were right.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor

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Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
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