Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Five Dandelion Gatherings

As part of the process of explaining my recent painful decision to leave my religious community of 30+ years, I offer my experiences of the five Dandelion Gatherings[1] I attended over the past ten years.  The first four are here; the most recent DG, held near Portland, OR, deserves a post of its own.

I don’t know who first proposed doing an all-Reclaiming convocation (perhaps too formal a term for a more casual event).  I suspect it arose from within the WitchCamp[2] or teacher discussion lists.  Dandelion Gathering[3] is an all-Reclaiming gathering especially for the far-flung folks who identify with Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft but open to all.  Regardless of whose idea it was, it was the intrepid Witches of Tejas Web who convened the first one in Texas hill country 2004.

Prior to the institution of Dandelion Gatherings, I had found a comfortable place for myself on the periphery of Reclaiming.  I actively worked in the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG), the oldest and largest organization of Witches of many denominations in the U.S., founded in California in 1975, for many years.[4]  I had been involved, off and on (more on than off) with the Reclaiming Collective in San Francisco, from whence sprang the tradition, from its inception until its dissolution in 1997.  During those years I had taught classes and participated in the production of public sabbat rituals.  I didn’t make a career of it; I had a family and a job.  I taught only when teachers were needed.  After I moved from San Francisco to the other side of the Golden Gate in 1983, I continued to participate in most productions of the annual Spiral Dance Samhain ritual.  I remained connected with most of my old colleagues, and participated in all of the Collective retreats that resulted in the issuance of Reclaiming’s Principles of Unity[5] and subsequent dissolution of the Collective, per se.

I did, however, continue to work in some of the “cells,” as small working committees are called, such as the e-cell that maintains the traditions’ Web presence and lists.  I did not participate in regular face-to-face meetings on task-specific matters such as teaching or public rituals.  The most recent basic series of classes I taught (co-taught with another teacher, per Reclaiming tradition) took place in Marin County where I live in the early 1990s.  I also participated in the Marin Ritual Cell that presented local public sabbats; that cell dissolved sometime in the mid-90s.  Some of the students in those classes have grown to be local and WitchCamp teachers.

I also applied to teach at three WitchCamps at one point (to be detailed in a future blog), because that was the venue in which I observed the tradition evolving and it felt only right that if I were going to be seen as speaking on behalf of the tradition to other Pagans and the general public, it behooved me to learn how it was changing, and to participate in its shaping, as I had done since before Reclaiming had emerged as a distinctly recognizable tradition in its own right.  I did not teach at any WitchCamp.  I will explore this topic in a future blog.

So when the announcement about the first ever all-Reclaiming gathering arrived, my curiosity was piqued.  I contemplated whether to go.  I talked with friends.  Between their encouragement and my curiosity, I decided to register.

Dandelion Gathering, Texas Hill Country, 2004

When I arrived at the site, I found a bed in a cabin had been reserved for me.  As an older woman with severe lumbar arthritis, I was really glad to have a bed in a cabin, with accompanying bathroom and shower.  I shared the room with Ann Flowers and Ursula, two Reclaimers from England.  Since then, Ursula has passed through the veil.

Opening Ritual:  At least one of the planners of the opening ritual and I had been in dialogue about it.  They (ritual planners) wished to begin by having the three of us who had been in the original Reclaiming Collective recite together the Principles of Unity.  This seemed to me like a good place to start, so of course I agreed.  We three were Starhawk, Rose May Dance, and myself.

Now I have to say that one of the things that really bugs me about Reclaiming public rituals is the general casualness and slapped-togetherness of them.  Only very rarely are they rehearsed, regardless of whether they contain new and/or unfamiliar parts or personnel.  (More about ritual in a future blog.)  I think that the gods we honor deserve the best we can provide, and that rehearsing a ritual offers the most assurance that it will be smooth and clean and beautiful.  In any case, we were rushed at the last minute and had no time.  Besides, we all knew them, we had a script, there was no extemporaneousness.
Macha and Holley

I had assumed, mistakenly as it turned out, that we would be reading the words with some inflection, some conviction, some grace, some √©lan.  I was mistaken.  I tried to do this, while the other two just spoke the words flatly.  That meant that we were not speaking in unison.  I was way behind.  This should have been a clue to me about the disconnect that I couldn’t recognize at the point in time.

We concluded with a spiral dance, which I had agreed to help a newer person to lead.  I like to milk a spiral dance, to continue spiraling the line in and out a few times to build up the energy.  After a single coil in an out, some people began to drop hands and drum.  The spiral became fragmented and dissolved.  Both the leader and I were bewildered, and I think she was annoyed that I had urged her to continue beyond the first cycle.  In any case, I later figured out that in the WitchCamps, they evidently only do a single cycle.  I had just assumed we would dance as long as we could.  My mistake.  One that offers more evidence of disconnect on my part.

Macha and Andy
Pagan Cluster:  I don’t remember what particular street protests had been taking place around the country at that time.  I think they were around matters in the Middle East, and certainly the illegal war in Iraq was up.  In any case, among the attendees at Dandelion Gathering were several folks from what is known as the Pagan Cluster (“Earth-based Magical Activism”) 

I am not and have never been part of the Pagan Cluster.  According to its website, the Pagan Cluster is in some way affiliated with, or perhaps grew from or was inspired by, Reclaiming Tradition Craft.  Reclaiming does work to change things in the mundane world to make them more in accord with our values.  We do believe that we can help make the world a better place with our magic, and that religion and spirituality are not a refuge from “real life,” but rather an enhancement and enrichment of life.
Macha and Grove

That said, there is no requirement that one must work for change in any particular way.  I am not a street activist, except in some extreme situations like the massive demonstrations in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2002.  I find my involvement in such things as the interfaith movement, advancing Pagan studies within academia, and working to establish the first Pagan seminary to be a more effective form of magical activism for me to be doing.  Others within the large, amorphous collective of Reclaiming communities are active in their many unique and different ways.
Mareena and Mac

I felt the general meetings went well.  I felt included.  I felt that everyone who wanted to be heard was heard.  I did feel that the presence of the Pagan Cluster sought to dominate, in the sense that they assumed that everyone should be doing the kind of activism they were doing.  I also found most of them, whom I had never encountered before, to be more focused on the political and less “witchy.”  For me, this was a gathering of Witches.  So again, I’m experiencing a bit of a disconnect, or perhaps an incompatibility.  I have no objection to the Pagan Cluster’s forms of activism; I just don’t share it.  I would hope for mutual respect for the efforts of those of us who do not choose that route.
Closing Circle on Overcast Day

Someone found a dead deer on the way there, so we had venison meatballs for those of us who eat game.  Someone built a compost toilet.  Someone created a bio-brew to remediate a place on the property where lots of oil had accumulated from vehicles and farm equipment.

Thistle and Macha
In the main, I did not attend the nightly rituals.  I was not alone in this.  I take great pleasure in one-to-one and small group conversations, and that’s what I indulged in at times when other things were happening.  Sometimes I took some down time.

The food was fine.  There were a few kids there.  I really liked having them there.  I got to visit with old friends like Thistle from Florida, and to meet with a CoG colleague who lived not to far from the campground and drove out for a visit.

One afternoon we danced a beautiful spiral in a meadow.

All in all, I had a pretty good time.  I left feeling a bit out of the mainstream of Reclaiming happenings, but overall retaining a sense of belonging. This was my trad and my community.

Dandelion Gathering, Western Massachusetts, 2006

The second DG was the one I liked best.  My old pal Penny Novack picked me up at the airport and drove me to the site, affording us the first of several opportunities to enjoy one another’s company.

People had created a beautiful altar in the center of the dining hall/main meeting room.  There were lots of kids, including some who mischievously got into the coffee and got jacked up one day.  We sang a blessing of the food and our work when we lined up for meals.  I visited many old East Coast friends.  I made some new friends like Jason.  Lisa Fithian and her partner gave us a report and showed a video about the work they’d been doing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  I gave a brief talk about the interfaith work I’d been doing.  For the most part, we had interesting mealtime table discussions, although, to make the most of the brief time we had together, we talked mainly about prescribed topic.  Some of us met together to write each morning.

Like a witch’s cauldron, the bioremediation brew mentioned here sat at one side of the dining hall where it was stirred off and on throughout the weekend; the tub sometimes served as a tool in ritual.

This was the DG at which BIRCH (Broad Intra-Reclaiming Council of Hubs – a forced, awkward acronym, I must say) was formed.  I volunteered to serve on the “Identity” cell and to coordinate “History & Lore-Keeping.”  I was so encouraged by Reclaiming’s arrival at this attempt at creation cohesion, expectations, and accountability that when I got home I sent out an announcement to all the reporters, religion journalists, and Pagan studies scholars I knew.

At this DG was my first exposure to a “healing ritual” that apparently is commonly performed at larger Reclaiming gatherings.  Confidentiality forbids me from describing it in any detail, but suffice it to say that my reactions were twofold and in opposition.  On the one paw, I found some of what I consider to be extreme gullibility, too much emoting on the part of both healers and healees for my sensibility, while on the other I found the chanting, drumming, and the amazing circle dance powerful and compelling.  I closely watched the ritual-- from the periphery, from a walkway above the main room, from among the dancers when I danced, and from within the center when I entered to attend to someone I felt called to give healing touch.

Dandelion Gathering, Northern California, 2008

Attending the third Dandelion Gathering was easy, since the venue was less than an hour’s drive from my home.  And since several of my pals were among the planners, of course I wanted to go, both to support them in their efforts and to see what was going on.

I enjoyed the opening ritual, for which I had been asked to do one of the invocations.  The sense I had from that ritual was one of warmth and camaraderie.  I had no big expectations for the rest of the weekend, since, as I’ve said, I’d been operating from the periphery.  I chose to remain open to whatever arose.

I attended a couple of workshops that I found worth my while.  I especially enjoyed singing kirtans with Evelie. I joined in most of the mealtime table discussions, although we didn’t stick closely to the agenda provided.  We celebrated a handfasting.  Towards the end there was another one of the healing rituals I’d first encountered at the Western Massachusetts Dandelion Gathering.  I shared a cabin and lots of good talks with my friend, and later initiate, Vajra, and made a special new friend, William.

It was fun to spend more time with my local friends, more than we do when we’re home and distracted by all the many things we do.  I left feeling pretty good, except for not quite understanding the pressure for changes.  I don’t remember gender identification being much of an issue, although there were folks that whose gender wasn’t entirely evident to me but who seemed comfortable with who they were and seemed welcome.  I do remember more talk about involving minorities.

Dandelion Gathering, Diana’s Grove, Missouri, 2010

Not such a good experience, see blog on hissing.  Even so, I got to hang out with some wonderful folks, two of whom are here: 
Jason, Macha and Matt
DragonWing and Macha

Macha and Grove

Dandelion Gathering, Molalla, Oregon, 2012

My experience at this DG borders on the surreal.  I will return to this topic in a future blog.

[1]             There are several links to Dandelion Gatherings on the Web; none appears to be current.  This is the most recent.  I took some notes at the times I attended these events, but I don’t know where they might be so I’m writing this from memory.  It will necessarily be more impressionistic than specific.
[2]             WitchCamps are week-long retreats for teaching and learning Reclaiming Tradition Craft held around the U.S. and in other countries.  They began with a Summer Apprenticeship Intensive held in San Francisco around 1981, followed by a camping retreat at Jughandle Farm in Mendocino County, and from there camps spread to Michigan, British Columbia, and many other locations.  I have not been a part of WitchCamp culture, fodder for a future blog.
[3]             Point of Information:  All of the organizers of every Dandelion Gathering – Morgana, et al. in Texas; Beth, et al. in Western Massachusetts; my local community in Northern California; Jason, Matt, and Kris in Missouri; and Craig, Misha, Serenity, Otter, Topaz, Rosemary, Panther, horizon and Satya in Portland – have been courteous, professional, warm, accommodating, and pleasant to deal with.  Nothing that I write here is meant to be critical of any organizer.  They’ve all been wonderful.

[4]             I am only minimally active in CoG currently, being one of five National Interfaith Representatives.
[5]             I am not providing a link to the Principles of Unity because they have been changed as of Dandelion 5 and I made my decision to withdraw from the tradition prior to the adoption of the revised Principles of Unity.  However, the original PoU are included in the entry on Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft on The Witches’ Voice.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Remembering the Homeless

 Photo  © Ron Greene*
Lest we get bogged down in my personal disappointments with Reclaiming, I remind myself and readers that there are bigger issues in our worlds.

In late July the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy memorializes the homeless of our county with a gathering, march, and brief program.  If I am not away from home, I participate.  This year was a bit different, in that there was much less diversity among the interfaith participants.  After we are called together with drumming, often a Buddhist will light incense and offer a prayer to bless the endeavor.  There was no Buddhist there this year, although there are several Buddhist congregations and at least two prominent Buddhist retreats in the county.  Nor were there any representatives from any of the local Jewish synagogues, as there have been in the past.  Nor was there a contingent of Dominican Sisters like I'm used to seeing.  I'm guessing this is because the date conflicted with other important matters these folks needed to attend rather than being due to disinterest.  In any case, I was surprised that the only speakers from the religious community were about four Protestant ministers, including my colleague on the Justice Advocacy Team at Marin Interfaith Council, the Rev. Liza Klein of San Rafael First United Methodist Church; one priest from St. Raphael's; and one Pagan, yours truly.

We gathered in the plaza in front of St. Raphael's, near where a tree was planted by this same group about ten years ago.  I took the two photos below a few years ago; the tree has grown larger now.

My contribution was a prayer to the Mother of Justice, followed by singing of a beautiful round called "When We Are Gone," written by Anne Hill and Starhawk and published in The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (as is the prayer).  We have done this enough times now for some of the people to know the song, so the singing was fuller, richer, and sweeter than it's been in past years.

Sometimes people ask why I do this.  The answers are many, but the main one is that there are Pagans among our nation's homeless, and they have told me how much they appreciate seeing a Pagan face among the speakers.  They have also said they're glad to see acknowledgement of goddess worship.

 * * * * *

* Ron Greene has several entries on the homeless in Marin, accompanied by moving photos, on his blog site.  In this photo, I am in the left foreground wearing purple and a big pentacle.