I went to Reclaiming Witchcamp in Northern California from July 2 – 10. I just got back yesterday. Witchcamp was challenging, but awesome and wondrous. I got a lot from it, and some of the growth was not comfortable. Still, I look on that experience as excellent.
I don’t know if I can explain to you the deep pull the land in Northern California has on my body. I’m so weepy when I have to leave there. Compounding this for me was a case of PMS creeping in… Here’s a bit from what I wrote in my journal the day we got to SF:
I came outside this morning and walked around our hotel complex in the lightly misty and overcast morning. When I breathe in, I can smell the mossy, rich earth and it squeezes my soul like a sponge till I weep. I miss this terribly. Perhaps I left my emotions — my Water — in this City when I left.
The drive to camp was a bit hectic because we were running late due to a combination of holiday traffic (4th of July weekend) and not knowing exactly where we were going. The road in was very windy, and we had to stop because we were all feeling nauseous. We finally got there — late for our newcomer orientation. We were directed to our parking space and registration by a very jolly man named Otter, who we soon came to refer to as our laughing alarm clock, as we awoke to the sound of his laughter ringing through the camp every morning we were there. I’m still amazed at his apparent lack of need for sleep.
We frantically searched the mostly full (somewhere in the area of 100 campers) camp for a place to pitch our tent, ate dinner and made it to the opening ritual just in the nick of time. The first ritual… man, all the rituals really, but the first and last were especially moving for me. When we set off for camp, we’d been reading “The Spiral Dance” and I was concerned that the God was relegated to a truly secondary status in the Reclaiming Tradition. That’s important to me, so I was really wondering how it was going to be in practice. Boy, my worries were blown out of the water immediately. The invocation to the God was so moving… so powerful, and his presence was so apparent and so welcomed… I was put at ease right away. The opening ritual was basically to cast the entire camp into sacred space — no small feat. There was also a very moving reading of “The Charge of the Goddess”… more powerful than any I’ve ever experienced. So much of it became real… not just a bunch of pretty words. We danced the spiral dance, which I loved, and went back to our tent very amped on the whole thing.
During the first night’s dinner, we chose the path we were going to follow for the week. The path was intended to be in the way of our “class” for the week. It was there that we would learn about various different aspects of the Reclaiming Tradition. My circle sisters and I chose the beginner’s path — Passion, Body, Breath. We would learn about the basics of creating sacred space, what that space could be used for, and how to feel the elements in our bodies, either through yoga or through elemental movement. Reclaiming is really about ecstatic states: drumming, dancing, chanting, breathing… whatever it takes to get you into trance. Chanting works well for me, and I expect dancing will, once I’m in better shape for it. I ended up very sore by Wednesday!! We would learn about using these techniques in our path as well.
The choice was difficult, but I don’t think any of us have regrets about the one we chose. It quickly became apparent to us that the daily path work was about our personal practice and the working side of magick, while the nightly rituals were more celebratory — sabbat-like. So the next day was our first in path… here’s an excerpt from my journal:
We created sacred space — made a circle and it was holy. The elements actually came during our quarter calls! When we invoked Air, the wind rushed down the hillside, rustling the ferns, and then it was still. When we invoked Fire, our circle — which was admittedly chilly — warmed as the sun came out to touch our faces. When we turned to Water, the babbling of the creek to our west, which I had not noticed hitherto, suddenly increased, and I felt mist touch my cheeks. When we called Earth, the ground swelled beneath our feet and I was compelled to reach down and touch it. Reclaiming also calls Spirit, and one of the members of our path danced it in, swirling as the Spirit swirls full of the other elements. I’ve never been so moved. My skeptical self falls away hour by hour.
Every day was focused on a different element, starting with Air and progressing clockwise, as you would cast a circle. In our sacred space on this day, we created wish birds and sent them into the sky, carrying our wishes.
We met with our affinity group for the first time on this day. We were part of the “Owns Barbies and Legos” group. I, with my apparently staid lifestyle, missed out on the “Group Sex” group and the “Sky-diving” group. I became so grateful for the group of women I gathered with though. They became my anchor as the week went on… and I can’t express my gratitude to them enough. The first day, however, was just spent sort of getting to know each other. There was one woman in our group, who also was in our path, who’d lost a circle sister three days before, unexpectedly, to a brain aneurysm. It was so moving for me, my heart really went out to her, and I admired her resolve to see camp through, despite the very tragic thing that had happened.
That night’s ritual was very moving for me. We had a ritual with Cerridwen wherein we visited the Cauldron of Death and Rebirth. I met my grandfather there and he had some messages for me… and I said good-bye. The particulars of the ritual are a blur for me, except for a vivid moment at the end. We were standing, holding our hands cupped to our hearts to hold Her love, and Willow — a woman who truly came to embody the maternal face of the Goddess for me — came to me and said, “Drink of my love,” and motioned to my hands. I lowered them from my chest, and she poured warmed water from her pitcher into my hands. The warmth, both literal and figurative, that consumed my body at that point was truly incredible. We walked around the circle then, hugging anyone who looked into our eyes, and I was looking for my circle sisters. When I finally found one of them, we had a great moment of hugging each other where I really felt that our hearts were open to each other. I was looking around all the while for our other sister, but I couldn’t find her. When the ritual was over, we went back to our tent and talked about it, about how our experiences had been different and how they’d been the same.
The next day in path we worked with Fire, which was simply amazing for me. I’ve had such a strong connection with it ever since the ritual where Brighid came, and camp just strengthened this. We burned things in a cauldron that we’d like to rid ourselves of. I spent a great deal of time at camp overcoming loathing of my own body. I’m at a hugely different place now, and in that respect, as in many others; camp was really transformative for me. We chanted this great chant as we burned our burdens:
We can burn with the fire of freedom
Truth is the fire that will burn our chains
And we can stop the fire of destruction
Healing is the fire running through our veins
And the night’s ritual was with our affinity group. I thought it was going to be weird, since we’d only just gotten to know these women, and only on a superficial level, but it was truly amazing. (Are you tired of me using that phrase yet? <g>) Each member of our group — there were 7 of us — got to be the object of a group body massage, and it really started to feel like we were anointing and loving our Goddess, and therefore, ourselves. It brought us all so much closer together.
The next day (Wednesday) we didn’t have path because we were preparing for a healing ritual. I had a moment in affinity group where I broke… I really wanted to be healed of the damage done to me due to sexual abuse and rape, but I didn’t feel like it was a legitimate thing to be healed. After all, I didn’t have a back ache, or arthritis, or AIDS, or anything like that. The members of my group helped me to see that my ill was just as legitimate as anyone else’s… and they all wanted to help in the healing. I went from wanting to just sleep through the ritual to participating.
The ritual was over three hours long, and it was intense. There were elemental stations where you could go to rest and enjoy certain healing things, such as warm blankets in the South, water in the West, food in the North and auric brushdowns in the East. There were other things at each station as well. In the center, around the fire, were mats and blankets for people to lay on while they were being worked on and an altar upon which to place items to be charged with healing energy. I put my wedding band and a crystal for Jasmine there. The drummers were in the center too. In between the stations and the center, there was a constantly moving circle of people, chanting, sending waves of energy in to the healers in the center. I circled and chanted for a time, then I stepped out to get a drink. I’d been in for almost an hour, and I was thirsty. I sat out for awhile, and then some of the members of my circle and my affinity group joined me. We headed over to a massage table, one of those nice ones where you can have your face pointing down in the padded loop and still breathe. I was initially conscious of who was where, I was feeling healed by Briarstitch’s cool hands on my face and head, but then I lost track. I was expecting to break down and cry, something I rarely let myself do, but it didn’t happen. It was more like layers being peeled away, like an onion, till the heart of the pain was exposed. I don’t think it’s totally gone, but I do think that bits of it are. It’s not quite as sharp and edgy. I need to work on it more. After my healing, I rested for a few moments in the North, eating and trying to get my eyes back into focus, and I noticed that the circle was a bit thin — people’s arms were stretched almost to the breaking point — so I rejoined the energy circle. I really felt that I was contributing there.
The next day in path we worked with Water and had a great trance thing going on where we journey to our place of power. My place of power had people in it, namely, my husband and my children, though they were sleeping in a warm bed in the South. My circle sisters didn’t have that experience of having other people in their place and thought perhaps it was unusual, but I talked to a few other people who weren’t solitary in their place either, so maybe I’m not alone. I didn’t expect to find them (my family) there, but was pleased that they were. In retrospect, this should have been my first clue of how much my family means to me. I was not prepared for that revelation, but I’m so grateful for it.
Thursday night we had the love & pleasure ritual… it was all about loving ourselves and loving each other. I was getting drained by this point, and this ritual had the combined effect of making me sorely miss Jeff and making me uncomfortable. Here’s another excerpt from my journal:
I am so drained…. last night’s ritual really touched me in the sense of loving yourself. This whole camp has sort of been about that for me. But the sexuality of it… that I’m not fully comfortable with. For me, I’m more… safe? maybe with that kind of energy contained between myself and my husband. I know that there was serious non-sexual love there too, and I really enjoyed that. I’m glad for the blessings of my affinity group as well as my circle sisters. I need to explore this more, I think, and see how it relates to sexual abuse and just general societal conditioning.
The really good part of the ritual was a chant we did in the beginning:
My body is a living temple of love
My body is the body of the Goddess
It was a great connection with the sacredness and beauty of my own body, and it was an extremely powerful chant for me.
It was here that I really started missing Jeff in earnest. I’d called him Wednesday night and really missed him after hearing his voice. Plus, he was very depressed, missing us (the girls were at my mom’s) and dealing with the money problems that have plagued us these past few months. I was coming to some fantastic realizations about the beauty of my body and I wanted to share them with him, who has suffered through so much with me.
The next day’s path focused on Earth. We were supposed to do “mud people” but it was too cold and misty. Mud people consists of getting naked, being covered with mud and forming a primitive tribe with your fellow mud people. I really wanted to observe it the first year, and perhaps participate next year. Anyway, we put it off on that day because of the weather, and we did a cool spell working instead. I made a prosperity charm that is sitting on my mantle right now, and is truly working. I came home to full time hours for a temporary period of time, and a permanent increase from 20 to 30 hours per week after we hire someone to work the full time job I’m subbing for right now. We also sold a lot of soap and secured our first wholesale account in Northern California, and returned to find a vendor interested in a wholesale account here in the Valley too.
Friday night was the last of the “mystery rituals” and it was a fiasco for me. They didn’t tell us anything about it, and when we got there, there was a labyrinth to walk. The whole ritual was about how to take the things we’d gained at camp out into the real world, and I wasn’t really having any concerns about that. Maybe that’s why it didn’t click for me.
Saturday was our last day in path and we worked with Spirit. We did a great guided meditation looking at our books of “Why I Can’t” and “What I Am”. It was awesome, and a nice closing, without actually closing, which probably sounds weird, but was comforting nonetheless. This was the day they decided to do the mud people, and that was interesting to watch. I think I’ll do it next year, and I’m really hoping Jeff is there too. I went for a walk alone Saturday afternoon and audibly encountered a mountain lion. That was kind of exciting, and an honor at the same time. Saturday night was the talent show, which I didn’t attend in favor of doing some meditating and tarot reading. I heard it was awesome, both physically (since it was across the creek from me) and from my circle sisters, who did attend.
Sunday was clean up day for the whole camp. It was a golden day for me, literally and figuratively. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t too hot and despite the things I’d enjoyed, I was happy to be going home. We had the closing ritual and it was blessed by the presence of a doe and her baby. They came down to where there were about 100 of us gathered and just stood, watching us as we watched them. Finally, she meandered along, obviously not in fear, but just in the sense of moving on. It was a beautiful moment. In the circle, I actually felt the swirling mass of the cone of power for the first time. It was so amazing and such a great end to camp, where everything else had really become tangible for me, i.e. the elements, the gods, etc. Then my circle sisters and I went on a nature walk to gather some herbs and ended up skinny dipping in the creek. We left camp and spent several hours in Mendocino, a beautiful, picturesque little town right on the coast, connecting with the ocean and preparing ourselves for the long drive home.
When I got home, I was so happy to see Jeff and my girls. We’ve really crossed to a new place in our relationships. I’m feeling more relaxed and playful with the girls, and my relationship with Jeff is strength renewed. The girls and I have been doing the yoga and elemental movements I learned at camp, and singing and chanting together. I feel stronger than ever with Jeff… I never appreciated how much he knows and understands me till after this experience. After all the trouble we’ve been having these past few months, I feel like some of those rifts have been healed and made stronger.