Friday, August 31, 2012

Stirring the Cauldron

I think the stirrer of the cauldron performs an important, even vital, role.  Someone, preferably more than one, in every community should step up to the cauldron and stir it now and then, especially when the fire beneath the cauldron gets too hot.

Cauldron-stirring is different from shit-disturbing.  The latter aerates stinky stuff and releases noxious odors.  No one wants that.  The former, however, is a necessary part of the brewing process.  Ask any cook or brewer how things turn out if neglected and just left to simmer (or even boil) unstirred.  I am neither cook nor brewer, but I don't need to be to see that this is true. 

Without stirring, stuff gets stuck on the bottom of the pot, where it accumulates, blackens, and becomes solid and resistant to being cleaned up.  Not stirring the cauldron leaves this icky stuff that needs to be chipped out with a hard, sharp tool in order to have a clean cauldron from other brews.

At the second Dandelion Gathering1 in Western Massachusetts, a crew prepared a brew for bio-remediation of something on the property, if I recall correctly.  Or perhaps it was to be taken elsewhere to be used.  In any case, the brew needed regular stirring.  I loved stepping up to it and taking some turns at swirling it into something rich and different from its individual components.  I found it a wonderful addition to some of the ritual done there.  It was there in the big meeting room for most of the gathering.

That's what I see happening now.  I am a chief stirrer.  Some others are noticing the changes in aroma coming from the cauldron.  Others are stepping up to take a turn at stirring. Others are angry that anything is being disturbed.  It's been my hope that this stirring might loosen the gunk on the bottom of the cauldron.  Because, after all, if the brew isn't "healthy" and transforming the contents of the cauldron into something nourishing, then what's the point of making it?

1Biennial all-Reclaiming gathering, instituted in Texas in 2004.  Although I am no longer affiliated with Reclaiming as any kind of entity (a slippery one to pin down), I have been for more than 30 years and I did attend all Dandelion Gatherings.  I will not be attending any more of them.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Accountability, or Lack Thereof

I'm going to relate two concrete examples of issues of accountability, tangible issues, that have been brought to my attention by the people who were wronged.  These two examples concern financial matters.  The magico-spiritual and/or social issues may be articulated in a subsequent post.  For now...

* * * * *

A Reclaiming community on the East Coast decides to have a teachers' retreat.  (Hereinafter I'll refer to this particular community as "SH.")  The venue they choose is in a state where none of them lives.  This venue must be rented by a resident of that state.  They ask a prominent Pagan who lives there to reserve the venue for their retreat.  (Again, for clarity I'll assign this person the appellation of "PP.")  PP does as SH requests and reserves the venue.  He is required to pay a sizable deposit ($400, I seem to recall) which he does.

In the meantime there is a dust-up within SH.  Some members seem to think it's elitist to allow the teachers to go off by themselves to work on the things they think are important for them to work on.  (Please allow for some distortion of this story due to its second-hand nature.  I think the facts essentially boil down to the same thing.)  As a result, SH cancels the retreat.  Period.  That's it.  End of story.  Well, no, not really.

Other local Pagans who have loose affiliations with Reclaiming and this particular community decide to collect money from amongst themselves to repay PP.  PP, although he appreciates the effort, does not feel this is okay.  He declines their offer.  He insists, rightly in my opinion, that the repayment is owed by the people who asked for him to do this, not from others loosely connected with the trad or group.

How do I know about this if I live on the West Coast and am not involved with this local Reclaiming group in any way?  Well, I've made it my business over the past 30+ years to expose myself to different Witches and Pagans around the country whenever I'm given an opportunity.  PP, who is a good friend, told me.  Since I have formally withdrawn from Reclaiming, I have spoken with PP and learned, no surprise, that no effort has been made to repay him.

What can I do about it?  Not much, except to say it here.  There is no central authority.  I'm fine with that.  In fact, I think it's healthy.  Still, where is the personal or group (SH, not all of Reclaiming) accountability for having made this request of someone not a member of the group, caused them expense, and then changing their minds and leaving PP holding the bag?

* * * * *
Example Number Two:  A local SF Bay Area Reclaiming person moves to a city in the San Joaquin Valley.  I will refer to this person as "Mover."  I have friends there, have presented workshops there, and now have been invited to present at the first Pagan Pride event in this region.  I do so and I enjoy the day.  Mover is there and is cordial.

A month or so later I get a call from one of my Pagan pals who lives in the area.  I'll call her S.  S tells me that Mover had announced that she was teaching a Reclaiming class.  Several local folks, being excited at this prospect, paid deposits to be in this class.  Mover disappeared.  Simply disappeared. She left no word and no one seems to know where she's gone. 

S, on behalf of those who paid deposits, herself included, phones me in distress.  She understandably wants to know where Mover and the deposit money is.

I call two local Reclaiming people whom I know to be mentors of Mover.  They don't know where Mover has gone, either.  That's the end of it.  This happened maybe ten years ago.

Several years later I encounter Mover at a wedding, so obviously she is no longer "disappeared."

After my resignation, S contacted me to offer support and sympathy.  She recognizes similar patterns from groups she's been a part of.  Just to be sure I'm current on my facts, I ask her if she's ever heard from Mover and/or been refunded her deposit.  She has not.

Oddly, Mover shares a cabin with me at Dandelion 5.  We do talk briefly about Mover's short residence in this Valley city, but no mention is made, either by her or by me, of the missing money.  I decide, because so much time has elapsed and because of the reasons she gives for having left that city, not to bring up the matter of the money.

Now, however, the landscape has changed.  I have resigned, and one of the reasons I've given is lack of accountability.  I mean this accountability in many ways, not just financial.  I offer these two examples because, being cold facts, they can be assessed objectively rather than subjectively.  Other less objective lapses in accountability are more difficult to articulate -- and to judge.  Perhaps readers may have had similar experiences.  If so, I invite you to write of them here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Another Piece of Evidence

Among the many and complex reasons for my departure from Reclaiming is this one articulated by Anne Hill five years ago!

"How to Diss an Elder, the Dead, and Everyone Else"

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gods and Mysterious Ones: A Poet’s-Eye View

A guest post by Steven Posch.

* * * * *

As a poet, I’ve got strong feelings about language.  In my experience, good language is specific, denotative, and impacting.  Bad language, by contrast, is vague, connotative, and ‘squishy.’

What, Then, Should We Call the Gods?

Some contemporary pagans are loath to call the gods ‘gods,’ primarily because they see the term as too gender-specific and hence exclusionary.  ‘Deities’ and ‘divinities’ are, of course, non-gender-specific alternatives in English, but these are ‘upscale’ words that lack the intimacy and forcefulness of the good old Anglo-Saxon monosyllable.  Their connotations are all wrong: they sound academic, if not downright pretentious (especially, in my opinion, when ‘deities’ become ‘day-ities’).  Outside of a comedy sketch, no one would talk about a ‘Deity of Deities’ or ‘Divinity of Divinities.’  ‘Penis’ is a fine old English word of Latin origin, but it’s not the word I’m going to use when I'm in bed with my boyfriend.

Is ‘God’ Sexist?

Contemporary speakers of English generally think of the word ‘god’ as masculine; this is especially true of English-speaking pagans, who tend to have an implicit contrast with ‘goddess’ in their heads.  Historically speaking, though, this is incorrect. 1000 years ago, ‘god’ was a gender-neutral word.

Unlike Modern English, Old English was a gendered language: every noun and adjective had its own inherent gender.  (The loss of grammatical gender, incidentally, is one of the characteristics that marks the shift from Old into Middle English.)

Like Modern German, Old English god (‘god’) was, in fact, grammatically neuter, not masculine: it could denote a deity of either sex.  A word for ‘goddess,’ gyden, existed, if one wished to specify a female deity: so all gydene are gods, but not all gods are gydene.  In the same way, ‘witch’ is a gender-neutral term, but one may, if one wishes, specify ‘male witch.’  (‘Female witch,’ on the other hand, just sounds redundant.)

If the word gyden had survived into modern times, we would today call the Goddess ‘Gidden.’  (Some of us still do.)  But in fact the word died out after the Christianization of England, and the word ‘goddess’—an Anglo-Saxon root with a Norman French suffix—had to be coined in the 14th century.  This, of course, is pretty clear proof that there has been no ongoing tradition of goddess-worship among English-speakers, for those who might still care to make such a claim.

Gods, Elves, Ents, and Oses

The religious vocabulary of the ancestors included a number of very specific terms for very specific beings.  To say that a particular being was a ‘god’ (or a 'gidden') tells you a great deal about that being’s power, status, and nature, among other things.  To denominate something an ‘elf’ likewise tells you some very specific things about who and what that being is; likewise an etin (giant; the source of Tolkien’s ‘ent’) or an ōs, the Old English equivalent of the Old Norse word áss (singular of æsir).  Like gyden, ōs—perhaps because it specified a particular kind of pagan god—also did not survive into Modern English, except as a compound in names.  Osbert, Oswald, and Oscar are all named for æsir (their -brightness, -power, and -spear respectively)

Those Mysterious ‘Mysterious Ones

One term that has gained a certain currency in some circles as a non-gendered alternative to ‘gods’ is ‘mysterious ones.’  Alternative, yes, but is this a worthy alternative?

Let us look more closely at the ‘mysterious ones.’

First off, we should note that this is not a word, but a phrase.  This is a strike against it from the very start.  English-speakers—and especially American English-speakers—like terse.  Polysyllables have a tendency to become abbreviated in everyday use: ‘television’ becomes TV (or ‘telly’), ‘United States of America’ becomes ‘US.’  If the term ‘mysterious ones’ persists, my linguist's crystal ball foretells that it will devolve into something like ‘MOs’ toute suite.  Be warned.

To say that a being is a ‘god’ tells you specifics about that being in and of him (or her) self.  It is a denotative term.  ‘Mysterious one,’ on the other hand, denotes nothing; it is entirely connotative.  It tells you nothing whatsoever about the being itself, only what he, she, or it feels like to me.  In fact, the phrase tells you more about me than it does about the being I’m attempting to describe.  This may be all very well for egocentric neo-pagans, but in the long term it must be clear that the phrase is theologically, as well as poetically, empty.

‘Mysterious one’ is not only clunky, it is so vague as to be in effect meaningless.  It is useless as a synonym for ‘god,’ because it could denote virtually anything, so long as that something is unknown —and hence ‘mysterious’—to the speaker.

In the footrace of god-language, ‘mysterious ones’ comes in dead last.

What To Do?

The word ‘god’ has a lot going for it.  It’s short, sweet, and denotative; it’s got both the cachet of high antiquity and a continuous tradition of use.  Any speaker of English automatically understands its meaning.  It’s got grandeur, but there’s also an intimacy to it.  (It’s hard to imagine anyone shouting “Oh Mysterious Ones!” at the moment of orgasm.)  Yes, it’s come to have Christian and male connotations over the years, but by origin it’s as good a pagan word as any, and it’s gender-neutral to boot.

I propose that we set about reclaiming ‘god.’  Let’s redefine it in, and on, our own terms.  We moderns are still learning to ‘speak’ Pagan, and one of the ways in which we do this is by seizing our traditional vocabulary and redefining it in accordance with our own thought and experience.

Hey, it worked with ‘witch.’

Steven Posch is a poet and scholar. Fluent in numerous dialects of Pagan, he is widely acknowledged to be one of the foremost authorities on the history, vocabulary, and grammar of the language. He lives and speaks in Minneapolis.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Back Story, One of Several

Dandelion Gathering 4, in the forests of Missouri, 2010

I arrive to find a lower bunk in a cabin conveniently near an outhouse.  So far, so good.

There is an opening ritual to which we are asked to bring something.  I have nothing tangible with me so when the time comes for me to contribute, I step forward to the bonfire and declare, "I bring an open mind and an open heart."  I know this is a risky thing to do.

I don't feel especially safe, nor do I feel unsafe.  I simply feel something of a stranger, since there are very few people there I know.  I'm glad my old friend Grove Harris is sharing our cabin.  I know the big topic du jour is some kind of explicit mention of transgender people in the Principles of Unity.  I have no preconceived notions about how that would come about, but I am open to exploring the possibility.  I do not feel as well informed as I like to be when considering such changes.  I consider that one reason for my being there is to learn.  So -- I cast this spell by opening up my mind and heart at the opening ritual, hoping that my approach will serve me and everyone else well.

In the middle of my first night there I awake with a migraine.  I never in my life experienced migraines until I went through the change, and that was years ago.  I occasionally get one, maybe once or twice a year, for reasons I'm now beginning to consider being related to stress.  I know I'm going to heave so I stumble out of the cabin searching for the nearby privy.  It's wet and foggy and I cannot find my way.  My gorge is up and I can hold it no longer, so I hike up my nightgown to avoid soiling it and barf in the dewy meadow.  That affords some relief.  I stumble back into the cabin and flop on the bunk.

The next day those who are aware of my episode are kind to me.  A couple of people look in on me, offer me Reiki, and generally make me feel not neglected.  Besides, I'm in the First Aid cabin with two nurses.  Nevertheless, when these migraines happen I lose at least a day to recovery.  So I miss the first day of meetings, which isn't such a big deal because it's not the weekend yet, when more people are expected to arrive.

There are several people there who are obviously transgendered and reveling in their freedom to express their uniqueness in that setting.  They strut around in as little clothing as possible.  "Cool," says I to myself, even though I'm not exactly sure with each individual to which end of the gender spectrum they're headed and from which one they come.  I don't know which pronoun each prefers, since I can't really be certain which gender they wish to express.

We gather for a big meeting.  It turns out to be a six-hour marathon on gender.

About two-thirds of the way through, when I feel the discussion has grown very confusing, I ask a question:  "Can you tell me, is there anyone here who is not here as the result of the union of an ovum and a sperm?"  Impertinent of me, I guess, because I am initially met with silence.  Then one of the transgender activists says to me, in an overtly condescending tone, "You do know there's a difference between sex and gender, don't you?"  This person's remarks are met with loud hissing.  I answer that yes, I do.

The meeting drones on.  Towards the end, the facilitator says, "Now, let's all close our eyes and take a deep breath.  Look inside and see what you're feeling." Well, this is not my style.  It's kind newageish and over-sharing for my taste.  I'm fine with doing this kind of thing with trusted intimates, but not with a bunch of people I barely know.  Nonetheless, this seems the time to express my feelings, and I'm there with serious intent to being involved in my community and trad as well as I can, so I say, "I'm feeling a lot of hostility."  A collective gasp arises.  "Oh, no, Macha!  We love you!" followed by an explanation of the cultural meaning of hissing at someone's comments.  I am told they come from the Radical Faerie community -- I have been told that many times by many people, most of whom are not connected with Reclaiming -- and that they mean approval, we love what you're saying.  Well, the people eliciting the hissing are those who were talking down to me!  There was no hissing at anything I said.  This proves my point: I was being treated with hostility.

During all this, not one person calls any hissers on their overt disrespect.  No one!  I would not allow such behavior to be directed towards anyone!  This is not a question of disrespecting an elder; it's one of rudeness.  It doesn't matter who's being dissed.  It's simply nasty.  And for a community that stresses good process, it's counterproductive.

The next day's meeting is more of same.  I dread going, but I do.  A couple people comment to me during non-meeting times about how brave I am and how well I hold my center.  But the fact remains that no one in the meetings criticizes the hissers or calls for them to cease.

This is bullying, folks!  (More about bullish behavior in Reclaiming culture in a future blog. For now, this is one blatant example.)  A less stubborn person than I would probably run away in tears.  I do not.  Besides, I am here for the duration whether I like it or not.  I have no way to leave and nowhere to go.  I have a plane ticket home on Sunday.

Not soon enough for me, the weekend is over and I can go home.  When I get home and begin reflecting on my experiences, I feel battered.  I truly do.  I don't really know how to process it.  During the following months I do tell some of my Reclaiming colleagues who weren't there about my experience.  I vow never to go again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I know other things happened in these meetings.  I know others will have experienced them differently.  This all happened two years ago, and in something of a haze.  And a trauma.  What I'm trying to relate is my own personal experience.

* Spider is supposedly Reclaiming teachers and organizers, although there seem to be others working in other capacities who are also subscribed.

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Co-Founder Withdraws from Reclaiming Tradition

I, M. Macha NightMare, Priestess & Witch, aka Aline O’Brien, withdraw from the organization known as Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft and hereby dissociate myself from further involvement with the tradition.  I make this statement formally and publicly because I am a public figure known to be connected to Reclaiming.

I do not make this decision lightly or without forethought and considerations for potential consequences.  It has been a long time coming.  I no longer feel that its principles and practices accord with my own.  I intend to remain as true as I can to original Principles of Unity released in 1997, and of which I am a co-creator.  Many may assume that the adoption of a revised Principles of Unity soon to be published is my reason for retiring.  However, my unwillingness to accept them is not my only reason.  I have long felt alienated, estranged, and out of sync with how I've seen the tradition devolving.  

The incompatibilities between Reclaiming and me also trace to loose, undefined standards; lack of accountability; uncivil personal conduct and rude, disrespectful behavior without any restraint or consequences; lack of coherent theology; lack of intellectual rigor; and carelessness in ritual and other aspects of religious practice.  

I do this in order to maintain my own standards of honor and integrity.  I need to love and respect the person I see in the mirror.  

I remain a Witch.  I am not renouncing my oath to protect and defend my sisters and brothers of the art.  I intend to remain true to my vows.   I hope to continue to enjoy the many loving relationships engendered in the context of Reclaiming.

It will take me some time to unpack and explore these many concerns on this Broomstick Chronicles blog.  I hope others will join me in this exploration and will contribute their thoughts and feelings as I begin to articulate mine.

I am full of love and gratitude for having had the opportunity to help midwife the birth and growth of Reclaiming in its earlier incarnations, and to have trod the path alongside so many loved ones.