Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bringing Reclaiming Back into the Circle

Since I'm having trouble posting comments to The Wild Hunt, I've decided to just take the discussion over here.

Regarding Reclaiming's flaws, Andy sez:

There are too many sheep, too many shepherds for an organisation which (a) shouldn't be an organisation and (b) repeats ad nauseum that it is non-hierarchical when it clearly is and to anyone who falls outside the walls is visibly dependent on those who look up and those who are looked up to.

I don't quite get the "too many sheep, too many shepherds" analogy, since presumably we teach, among other things, self-empowerment, and sheep just follow. Further, I don't see any organization "which shouldn't be an organisation"; rather, I see us as a collective identity rather than a specific group. No one can ever accuse us, or most other Pagan groups, or being organized. >smile< is a hierarchy within Reclaiming, and there always has been. Unacknowledged hierarchy is toxic.

There seem a million and one issues to be looked at and hopefully addressed but for me the problem is that those doing the examination are those who fall within the walls and so all you'll get is a core group of people making changes which others will have to choose to either accept or move on. You will still have 'them and 'us' with some acknowledging that and others pretending otherwise.

Many, if not most, of those of us "within the walls," as Andy puts it - I'm assuming he's counting me among the insiders, although I'm not; I've just stuck around all along -- have always been open to the involvement and opinions of others. I've noticed changes having been made -- I could name a few -- but I've only accepted the ones I like and I've ignored the ones I don't like. I know I'm not alone in this attitude.

Again, I realize Andy is talking about British Reclaiming (and by extension presumably Avalon WitchCamp), about which I know next to nothing. I do know that the lovely Ann Flowers has also felt frozen out, so maybe there's something to look a there. I'm only speaking about the larger, and vaguer, Reclaiming identity, not about the health or dysfunction of any particular Reclaiming-identified entity.

For my own part, I now consider myself a solitary Reclaimer - not that I work in isolation, as I find I now work with a wonderfully eclectic group within which are people following different traditions but working together, what a shocker! - and I feel somewhat resentful, I must admit, towards the tight ball of beliefs which make up Reclaiming today, many of which are bolted onto its original values.

Again, differences in perception, I guess. I have always worked with Witches of different traditions. In fact, there have often been Witches of different trads, and even non-Witches >gasp!<, involved in the annual Spiral Dance Samhain ritual in San Francisco. In my observation, magical working groups form more around friendships and interpersonal compatability than around a given tradition.

British Reclaiming, certainly, is making little if any difference to wider society. I believe it makes no difference whatsoever and if it grows, it grows so slowly as to make demands for it to be reappraised worthy of being listened to and acted upon. But they aren't. There is no stomach for change. It's too cosy, too much of a club.

First, I don't see growth as an important goal. If the Craft grows, it does. If it doesn't, it doesn't. What I would like to see expand, however, is an attitude of respect towards the world and its inhabitants and workings, an awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence, honor and love for Earth. It doesn't matter to me whether people are Witches or not. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, anyone, as long as they can appreciate this interdependence.

It seems a natural human phenomenon to fear change. I don't think it's a healthy attitude, and I share it myself at times, but I do think it's part of the human condition. The only thing we can be sure of is change. I remind myself that, "She changes everthing She touches, and everything She touches changes."

Ask most British pagans and witches, do you know what Reclaiming is? The answer is invariably, what? And, who? After so long a history, it is telling that Reclaiming - with so much to offer on paper, as it were - remains practically invisible here. There are more people involved in strange cults centred around science-fiction novels. Why is that?

Does it matter? We Pagans are fringe religions. So what? There's something to be said for moving in the shadows and along the borders. We are, after all, edgewalkers, are we not? Treading the liminal realms. If there are more people involved in scifi cults, that's because scifi is an industry, a commercial venture to sell books, movies, cartoons and gear. They are powered by profit motive and underwritten by corporations with their marketing strategies.

M Macha Nightmare is quite right in that damning line about Reclaiming being 'great for ravers and other energy junkies' - and the question is, can a religious/spiritual collective so dense, so compacted, so self-deluded into thinking it is non-hierarchical when it clearly has become so if it wasn't always, ever stand a chance of renewing and refreshing itself?

As I've mentioned above, I admit that there is (unacknowledged) hierarchy within the larger complex of Reclaiming as well as within individual Reclaiming groups, and that that isn't good or healthy. But Reclaiming is anything but monolithic. Otherwise these discussions wouldn't be taking place.

Reclaiming has become a starched monolithic organisation closer to a corporation in its outworkings than a vibrant spiritual tradition.

I see no evidence of a corporate structure, in spite of some Reclaiming groups having incorporated and written bylaws, designated (not elected) officers, and acquired 501(c)(3) tax status with the Internal Revenue Service (in the US). I have to laugh because I see no evidence of starchiness anywhere. Maybe a bit of scorching here and there, but everything's pretty loosey-goosey from my perspective.

My own take is that Reclaiming values and principles are sound enough and work for me as an individual. They resonate with truth. It is (some) people I have been disillusioned by. I doubt in the UK whether Reclaiming will ever become anything other than a marginal, near-invisible tradition within the pagan community here. The flaws with its structure are too apparent and sadly detract from the core values when presented to those who might otherwise be drawn towards it but find themselves running in the opposite direction.

It seems as though Andy has taken the best of what Reclaiming has to offer and applied it in his life. That's what it's all about. Huzzah!

What's the solution? Well, can any one person say? What I do know is that dissenting, arguing voices are stamped upon more often than not, often treated appallingly unjustly and inexcusably maligned, and while that climate of repression and bullying is condoned and promoted, there seems little hope of seeing an end to the navel-gazing which goes no deeper than the surface.

Well, I certainly have observed, and even been victim of, this dismissal of unpopular or unwelcome opinions. That said, I don't agree that it has been universally condoned or promoted. I've spent many hours in meetings while such differences are worked out -- or not. But more often than not the effort is made. Sometimes the 'fit' just isn't right and one or more people come to realize that they might find a better fit elsewhere.

I've experienced some of the disillusion and hurt that Andy seems to be experiencing now. In defense, I can only say, from my longer-range vantage point, that we're human. I, for one, am sticking around.


steward said...

I take Andy's comment that

"too many sheep, too many shepherds for an organisation which (a) shouldn't be an organisation and (b) repeats ad nauseum that it is non-hierarchical when it clearly is"

as being functionally equivalent to your statement "that there is a hierarchy within Reclaiming, and there always has been. Unacknowledged hierarchy is toxic."

There are way too many sheep in Reclaiming (tradition), IMNSHO. I think that this may be an unavoidable long-term result of the nature of Reclaiming. For people like yourself, and Oak, and others who have been around since the group was named after a Nabisco snack cracker or something like that, it seems to me that Reclaiming is a continuation - albeit often confusing and sometimes disappointing - of something that you've been involved with for a long time.

If, on the other hand, you look at newer folks - like myself (I first went to a WitchCamp in 2001, and aside from hearing Star speak twice at Pebble Hill Church in Doylestown, PA, that was my first association with Reclaiming) - you find people who have absorbed that self-empowerment; some of us feel like people who are banging our heads up against a wall, trying to pry the cover off of that toxic unacknowledged hierarchy. (You may have noticed the dearth of people who are willing to disagree with Starhawk on the Spider list to even the smallest degree.)

So now, for instance, Reclaiming has BIRCH. Whoopee. As far as I could determine, there were three separate subcommittees that had jurisdiction over getting pictures from Dandelion 2006 posted; and after some time trying to figure out who was who (because part of the idea with BIRCH is to move centralized functions out of Bay Area control and into joint control of the many communities, but like many other ideas, implementation is lacking), I simply posted the pictures I took to my own webspace and sent out some links. (They're at )

*So*, you have self-empowered people, acknowledging the existence of an undealt-with and unacknowledged hierarchy; and every time anything is brought up about it on a Tradition basis, it seems like every personal disagreement, annoyance, fight, or whatever that resides in Bay Area history is dragged up to avoid dealing with the actual problem. So what do us self-empowered people do?

We go elsewhere, that's what.

There's only so much personal energy that I am personally willing to spend on 20-year-old Bay Area issues that have become Tradition issues.

And this may not be a bad thing. Consider the idea of the Tradition dissolving; the knowledge is still there. We know that, just like there's as many ways of teaching Feri as there are Feri Initiates, there's as many ways of teaching Elements of Magic as there are pairs of people teaching Elements of Magic.

Disunifying may actually be the way to get rid of the older issues, or at least confining them to the communities where they really are of import.

And, with individual, more local communities, that meet more often on a face-to-face basis, those communities could more easily see what in the Principles are of most importance locally and act on them alone - and maybe even add or subtract as local opinion consenses.

ann f said...

yep obviously i am still hanging
around as well.

i work in a lovely multi cultural office. I actually like the people here and respect their religions. 70% of my clients are muslims.

I work for a local council and managed to get paganism on the mass produced faith calendar.

small chips of the block, but none the less - movement.

glad you are around.....xann

Reya Mellicker said...

Reclaiming is very small. When you're inside it, it seems vast. I salute you, Macha, for sticking with it. You, and others, are truly elders, holding the anchor of this energy body in place. I'm proud to think I was associated with you. You are so loyal! Wow.

Anne Hill said...

Macha writes:

"I've spent many hours in meetings while such differences are worked out -- or not. But more often than not the effort is made."

I have been at those meetings too--sometimes on a local level (not just in SF but other places too), sometimes at a spokes-level. We do work things out *in the moment*, and hash out important things like mission statements and PoU, etc. People leave feeling better about the process.

Yet time and again, for whatever reason, we decide that nothing worthwhile is enforceable. We can't ever truly grant any person or group the power to make sure our own standards are being upheld. We err (fatally) on the side of relativism, of communities choosing their own mechanisms to blah blah blah. In the end, the great irony is that the champions of self-empowerment cannot trust anyone so empowered.