Mountain Temple Center offers something for everyone

pagan worship
KEEPING FAITH: High Magus Michael J. Crowley leads a pagan ritual before the fall equinox at Mountain Temple Center in Phoenix.

“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:”—2 Tessalonians 2:11

Greased steel swords burst into flame, then were thrust skyward by Malkuth and Yesod and eight others as they took turns proclaiming their virtues and place in the Tree of Life.

Wearing 10 colors of robes, they represented 10 energies that, it said, formed the ancient tree of 22 branches mentioned in the Bible and in the writings of the mystics.

pagan fire
LIGHTING THE WAY: Pagans hold lighted swords during a ritual.
Thomas Boggan, Tribune

“For it is the blueprint of the universe, and only the divine knows of it completely,” shouted Kether, the ceremonial leader.

On the ritual grounds of the Mountain Temple Center, on a craggy butte in Phoenix’s Sunnyslope, the autumn equinox was just hours away, and 15 people turned out in the darkness on Sept. 22 for the Tree of Life Equinox Ritual, one of eight public ceremonies held there each year, under the direction of founder Michael Crowley, 58, whose many titles include Third Degree Lord High Priest and Magus of Garnerian Wicca.

The retired postal worker calls his center of eclectic religions, 1533 E. Lupine Ave., a place “where the old gods are alive.” The Web site ( touts his New Age center as an “informal, secluded, open-minded and intellectually adventurous place” for such esoteric pursuits as ceremonial magick, Wicca, tantra, Celtic, Norse and mystic beliefs. Indian petroglyphs on neighboring rocks, he said, add to the sacred place.

“The only thing we don’t tolerate is intolerance,” said Crowley, who says his goal has been to help anyone find their own spiritual path. “Each individual has to find God through themselves, so I can’t dictate what somebody is doing.”

He and his wife, Shari, began the metaphysical center in 1983. A product of a “very formal Catholic background” and parochial school, he was beset with drug and alcohol abuse. When Crowley began recovery 29 years ago, he took heed of the 12-step program’s third point, to turn over the care of one’s life to the “God of your own understanding.”

“Crowley is one of the strangest, most scary New Agers in Phoenix,” Robert Tilford writes in the September issue of The Omega Directory, the Valley New Age newspaper. “… Some say Crowley can control demonic entities, appear and disappear at will, levitate and move objects with his mind, predict the future … ”

“I like to call myself a Gnostic,” Crowley said, referring to the Christian heretics of the first to third centuries who claimed deep knowledge of spiritual mysteries. Saying he believes in inclusion of all religious traditions, Crowley has developed a 3,000-book library in the three-story home that they enlarged from their 1/11th share of a $3.3 million lottery payout. The library contains a mix of metaphysics, spirituality, the occult and more traditional religions.

Rob Williams of Phoenix has been going to the center for four years, engaging in people of contrasting beliefs, including those of Celtic and Druidic spirituality, as well as Asian teachings.

“A lot of people in the past have thought anything this far outside of Christian tradition was devil worship, but most people who are actually involved in this don’t even believe in the existence of the devil,” he said.

Several regular participants said they are guarded in their workplaces about being involved in alternative religions, including Wicca, and they declined to give their full names. Greg, a Phoenix resident who calls himself a Christian pagan, said he has been visiting the center for 20 years.

“I don’t share a lot of beliefs that Michael has, but they are his beliefs, and I am willing to learn, sit and watch.” Greg considered himself a “weather magician — I am known to control the weather.” He told how last February, his family was trying to pack up from a camping trip, and rain moved in quickly.

“I held it there while we finished packing,” he said.

Carol, 47, of Tempe said she follows an Italian Wicca tradition called Strega. “We have our angelic beings, our particular way of doing our altars — it’s basically old Italian spirituality.” A one-time Catholic, she started using tarot cards and “hanging around with people” with New Age interests, then to Strega from her Italian heritage.

John Keys of Tempe, a self-described “eclectic New Age pagan,” focuses his interests in the Order of the Golden Dawn, where Crowley has “master” credentials. “This is about the only place in the Valley where there is anybody who knows anything about it,” he said.

During Saturday’s 25-minute ceremony, the characters passed through each other’s stations of energy, sprinkling salt or sulphur, waving a jar of mercury or incense, sprinkling dirt and splashing water, all to “purify, consecrate and empower the space and those within.” They ended the rite by facing the four directions, as Kether (Crowley) shouted Hebrew in the traditional “lesser banishing of the ritual of the pentagram.”

Before Crowley’s 21-foot, reticulated python died, the critter named “Dragon Monster” was used in such ceremonies at the Temple Center. Now his immense skin is rolled up in a room where Crowley stores his swords and keeps shelves with dozens of herbs and elixirs. Cloth snakes were used in the Tree of Life rites.

Rarely do more than 50 people come to the rituals, which include Candlemas in February, vernal equinox in March, Beltane in April, midsummer solstice in June, Samhain (Halloween) in October and yule in December.

The summer solstice ritual beckons monsoon rain, Shari Crowley said. “We have water fights at the end of it,” she said. “So we tell people, either wear clothes you don’t care to get wet, or come nude.”

“We believe that the human body is sacred and should not be of shame,” Michael Crowley said. “So some of our rituals will be open with no clothes on, but that also follows traditions of eastern Indians, western Indians, Wicca and witchcraft.”

“Someone who comes up here needs to be tolerant of others’ beliefs,” Crowley said.

“If God is anything, God is everything,” he added. “So where am I to criticize somebody else’s faith, and, better yet, where is somebody else to have the right to criticize mine?”

  1. Linda, 29 September, 2007

    Now we know who can lead the next prayer in the senate.

    This article really sums it all up…mystics, pagans, wicca, nudity…
    sulphur & mercury…G-D is anything?

    But, by all means, be sure to stay away from the loving grace & tender mercy of the one & only true G-D of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, who created us, saved us, paid for us, cleansed us, provides for us, keeps us,
    loves us, forgives us….all this while we were still ugly in sin.

    “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

  2. jen-o, 01 October, 2007

    what’s up with the “east valley tribune”?… first the “sexy church” and now this (the mountain temple center)… why is this newspaper giving a platform for these oddball groups to express their strange doctrines?… it’s like free advertising… cuz you know there is some unstable soul out there that will want to check it out… the result being that they will become entangled in something that they shouldn’t…

    and the “east valley tribune” always seems to paint these strange groups in a positive way…

    hey linda,
    at least we can be thankful that only 15 people showed up for this pagan ritual… to those of us who have read the Word, this sounds like so much mumbo jumbo… a bunch of folks running around (sometimes naked) with flaming swords and cloth snakes, waving incense, and sprinkling salt, sulfur, and dirt… now, who thinks THIS is the way to God???

    well, now we know what happens when you follow the “god of your own understanding” (lean not to your own understanding)… now we know what it looks like when you invent your own “god” and follow the “god” of your own imagination…

    they are all living in a fantasy world… whether they “believe” in the devil or not is beside the point… they worship the devil and serve him by following his ways (and worshipping the creation)…

    as for crowley whining about others not having the right to criticize his “faith”, the Word of God is the critic and judge…

  3. Remnant, 01 October, 2007

    Rom. 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
    Rom. 1:19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
    Rom. 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
    Rom. 1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
    Rom. 1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
    Rom. 1:23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
    Rom. 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    Rom. 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    In Messiah

  4. Peregrina, 01 October, 2007

    Hmmm…a “Christian pagan” (?) Methinks someone (actually, a few someones) is confused!

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