I knew Alia as the co-leader of Hearthstone Community Church, which she founded about 25 years ago. Hearthstone most prominently hosts Open Full Moon events in Denver, providing an important venue for folks curious about Paganism and Pagans, often new to town, who are seeking to connect with the community. As organizer, Alia got a diverse cast of characters to take their turn leading a ritual and sharing their approach to Paganism. Open Full Moon provided the venue for many folks to organize and lead their first ritual. Since neo-Pagans tend to be solitary practitioners or gather in small private groups, Alia's nurturing guidance and commitment to community and diversity of practice was a great asset to countless Pagans. She helped us find each other, helped us find our path, and gave us the space and encouragement to grow as leaders. Alia also performed a lot of ministerial services, from weddings to personal counseling.
I really admire the demonstration of courage and commitment to openness that Alia displayed when I hosted an Open Full Moon ritual about Jesus (my journal post, her friends-locked post). I knew it would be a very controversial ritual in the group; a week in advance the church leaders almost cancelled the event, but Alia stood by the principle of diversity of view. I didn't realize how big of a trigger issue it would be for her. But to her great credit, despite being emotionally and visually upset, she stayed in the circle and extended her energy to help support others in the group who were taken aback. At the end of the night she told me "Never again," and I think OFM has stayed a long way from Jesus in the last dozen years. Yet I continue to give her respect for giving me the opportunity to give it a try, and I think a lot of folks got a lot of value from the experience. It would've been easy for the group to say no, but Alia had the great strength to see through the fear and worry and say yes. In a comment thread on her post, she wrote
When principles and preferences battle, I try to go with principles.That was definitely her character.
Alia had a lot of strengths in addition to her skills as a religious leader. She was on the on the Board of Directors of Dragonfest when I first attended and continued to advocate her ideas in the community for a few years after the traditional BoD burnout. She was politically active; she fought for feminist ideals, disability rights and more. At least once she ran for office, garnering 37% of the votes for Arapahoe County Commissioner as a Libertarian. She was a mother; although I haven't seen Alyria in over a decade, she was a fantastic tween. She was a techno-acolyte, communicating through computers years before the Internet was a big thing and working in software for more than a decade before the dot com crash put a major kink in her employment trajectory. She was crafty; crocheting up a storm and more. She had a geeky sense of humor that I quickly grokked. She also had an immense drive: her body faced a lot of challenges, but she wasn't one to give up—she made things happen, kept commitments, and raised energy through force of will.
Not long after the Jesus ritual, I stopped going to OFM—not because of any conflict but because life happened and other community attractions grabbed my Friday nights. Around the same time, Alia stopped going to Dragonfest, so our circles have drifted apart. I hope I have a chance to go to a memorial, or at least this Friday's Open Full Moon.