I just started listening to a new podcast that I highly recommend. Witnessed: Mystic Mother presents the story of the Phoenix Goddess Temple, which was, depending on whose version of reality you adopt, either a spiritual sanctuary or an alleged brothel. It was started by "Mystic Mother" Tracy Elise, in Phoenix, Arizona, and operated between 2008 and 2011, when it was shut down following a Phoenix Police Department investigation. The Witnessed: Mystic Mother website describes the podcast like this:
Hosted by sisters Leah and Katie Henoch, Witnessed: Mystic Mother follows the rise and fall of the Phoenix Goddess Temple, and tells the story of a community still reckoning with the fall out a decade later. The series raises fundamental questions around the criminalization of sex work and the boundaries of religious freedom in America.
"This complicated story has captivated us for years. Mystic Mother explores the larger questions around religious freedom, control of women's bodies and the law's complicated role in both," said Leah and Katie Henoch. "This series offers a unique perspective on the story of the Phoenix Goddess Temple, allowing listeners to draw their own conclusions about what happens when your beliefs might be against the laws."
The podcast provides perspectives on the Phoenix Goddess Temple from folks who hold different and often opposing viewpoints on the events and their aftermath—including police officers involved in the case, prosecutors and defense lawyers, former employees at the temple, and Tracy Elise herself (she wasn't interviewed for the podcast, but the producers use other interviews she's done over the years). The podcast dives into questions around religious freedom, sex work, and the privileges or disadvantages accompanying one's positionality in the sex work industry.
One terrific source of information about the case is the Phoenix New Times, which has published several stories about the Phoenix Goddess Temple over the past decade, including Niki D'Andrea's first piece on the temple in February 2011 entitled, "Phoenix Goddess Temple's "Sacred Sexuality" Is More Like New Age Prostitution." This was the article that alerted the Phoenix Police Department and that eventually led to a search warrant, criminal charges, and jail time for Tracy Elise. Miriam Wasser, writing for the Phoenix New Times, explains:
At the center of the case were two big questions. First, was the temple a church offering sacred sexual healing or a brothel selling sex acts? And second, was Elise "a priestess under attack," as she maintained, or was she, as the state charged, the mastermind and leader of a prostitution ring?
Earlier this year, after a colorful and at times humorous four-month trial, a jury found Elise guilty on 22 criminal counts of prostitution, maintaining a house of prostitution, illegal control of an enterprise, money laundering, pandering, racketeering, and conspiracy.
I highly recommend listening to the podcast, and if you want to know more about the Phoenix Goddess Temple, I recommend reading the articles about the case, the trial, and the aftermath from the Phoenix New Times, which include: Phoenix Goddess Temple's "Sacred Sexuality" Is More Like New Age Prostitution (Niki D'Andrea, February 17, 2011); Phoenix Goddess Temple Raided; 16 People Detained (Niki D'Andrea, September 8, 2011); HBO Star and Bunny Ranch Owner Dennis Hof Testifies In Phoenix Goddess Temple Trial (Miriam Wasser, February 4, 2016); Phoenix Goddess Temple Head Priestess Found Guilty of All 22 Criminal Counts (Miriam Wasser, March 2, 2016); The Trouble With Sex: Why Phoenix Goddess Temple Founder Insists She's a Priestess, Not a Prostitute (Miriam Wasser, April 13, 2016); Phoenix Goddess Temple Priestess Tracy Elise Heads to Prison (Ray Stern, May 20, 2016); and From Prison, Phoenix Goddess Temple Founder Vows to Keep Fighting for Religious Freedom (Miriam Wasser, September 19, 2016).
I've searched around the internet to find current information on what Tracy Elise is doing now. She's out of jail and is continuing to lead her religious practices—she describes herself on her Instagram as "Mystic Mother Tracy Elise, Religious School, Sacred Feminine Activist, Teacher of Tantric Temple Arts; Priestess for the Mother; Magnetic Tantra & Ladder of Light Guide." And on her Twitter as "Mystic Mother of Mother Medicine Wheel, & Phoenix Goddess Temple; Radical Tantrist, Priestess, Whole Body Healer, Magnetic Touch Teacher." She also seems to post occasionally on her Facebook account.