Atheists celebrate equinox at site of traditional Easter gatherings

By The Associated Press
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 8, 1996

SAN DIEGO - Witches, atheists and followers of the Roman goddess Diana brushed aside tradition yesterday morning, holding their own meeting at a city park where Christians have held services for decades.

''Our purpose is being supportive of a pluralistic society where the religion and the government are completely separate,'' said Eugene Patnode-Sturtevant, a Unitarian Universalist.

Some 300 people gathered at 6 a.m. yesterday near a 40-foot, white cross atop Mount Soledad, some jingling tambourines and beating drums while others burned incense or let the morning sun warm their faces.

Christian groups have held an annual Easter sunrise service since 1954 at the cross in the city's Soledad Natural Park.

This year, however, a group of atheists called The Park is for Everyone was the first in line to apply for a park permit.

A Christian group planned to hold its service, anyway, just an hour earlier, but scrapped the plan when the group's organizer said God told him to forgo a 5 a.m. gathering.

Among those at the atheists' celebration was Pele Crone, who described herself as a member of the Irachne Circles, which worships Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt.

She said she would like to see a giant egg take the place of the cross.

Several people said yesterday's gathering was not aimed at Christians, but was a celebration of the spring equinox.

But Jim Snyder, one of a small group of born-again Christians watching the celebration, said he was offended.

''The atheists are just here to taunt the Christians. It's an evil thing they do today,'' Snyder said.