In 2007 I left the Reclaiming Tradition, in as much as a person can do so in a tradition with very fluid boundaries. I retain friendships with many Witches who still practice the tradition, and I’m not interested in blowing something down, especially when it’s been so pivotal in my own spiritual growth. I learned so much about myself, particularly though my involvement with the now-defunct Diana’s Grove Mystery School. (Diana’s Grove, it should be noted, was not directly affiliated with ANY particular tradition, but I found that many of their ritual practices and underlying teachings about power, community and personal growth were similar.)
That said, I haven’t dug very deeply into the reasons why I left, not in a conversation, not in writing and not even in therapy (there mostly because there’s just too much back story to give and I get exhausted just thinking about it). The question of my status as a participating member of that tradition comes up from time to time when people ask if I can help them find a Reclaiming person in suchandsuch a place, or if I’m planning to attend a Reclaiming event.
Given how involved I was between 2000 and 2007, I understand why people ask, though I’m frankly often annoyed that no one seems to remember that I’ve stated several times that I no longer consider myself part of that tradition. It’s been 8 years, fer crissakes, and I’ve been out longer than I was in.
Moreover, no one ever asks why, which is interesting to me. This lack of curiosity takes me in two directions. On one hand, I imagine that it might seem manipulative for me to offer (as I often do) rather than to just lay it out. Perhaps people feel like they are allowing me to be private, and that if I want to tell, I will. On the other, it seems … odd… that no one would ask why a person who worked very actively to organize events, who taught classes and regularly attended week-long intensives suddenly walked away from a community of which she’d been a part. The reason I don’t just lay it out is that it’s complex, it’s long-winded and it’s challenging.
Nearly 10 years later, I am trying to find my way back into feeling safe and supported in community. I haven’t healed the deeper wounds that happened as I was leaving Reclaiming, or the ones that happened after I exited. That’s the larger reason I’m writing this. My experiences are my own, as are my reasons.
The Reclaiming Tradition mostly grew out of a community in Northern California that still exists, albeit in an evolved form. The CA Witchcamp was the first I ever attended, and the last. Both times my life blew up. Both times I was challenged in good ways and in bad ways. Both times I went home and had no support to deal with the fallout. Both times I learned a helluva lot about who I am, who my friends are and what I need in a community. The last time, though, I really figured out that Reclaiming just isn’t the place for me. I’m not going to head into details because it involves other people, and their story is not mine to tell. I will say that the experience helped me face the things that were flagging me that Reclaiming wasn’t a good fit, and these are some of the reasons why:
Cult of Personality – When I left Reclaiming, I had definitely experienced something like a Cult of Personality. Certain “types” were shoe-ins to the cult. If you were…
- A Dancer
- A Singer
- A Drummer
- A Performing Artist (i.e. theater, acrobatics, spoken word, etc.)
- A Visual Artist
… you could pretty much expect an easy admittance, especially if you lived some kind of alternative lifestyle, eschewing the mainstream in as many ways as possible.
If you were engaged in some alternative form of healing, such as reiki, massage, “energy” work, sexual healing, etc. you could also count on some kind of immediate “in”.
If you were skilled with organizing and willing to put up with the lack of reliability in many of the artists and healers, even better, if you could HERD them, you were in, though relegated to the background of most things and most of the time the only way your work would be acknowledged is if the artists and healers made a point of thanking you.
If you were willing to be in service to any of the above, sort of acolyte-like, you could at least hang around the fringe. But for most others, it was an exercise in watching from the outside.
The inner circle is pretty set, and those folks are the voices that get heard. I kind of got tired of hearing the same voices, of the same message, and of the disconnect I often felt from what was called “The Work” to my own life. The people in power, the people with voices? Many were not living a life remotely like my own, and my sense of disconnection grew and grew.
Lack of Sexual Safety – In the mad rush to be sex positive, the experiences of people who had been abused were sometimes minimized or plain ignored. There was a lot of talk about boundaries, but a lot of unspoken pressure to live in a certain way, to define love in a certain way, to set up a certain kind of relationship dynamic… and to move in a different direction was often viewed as “less evolved” or “prudish.” I am a survivor and I can honestly say that at the CA camp, at least, I rarely felt safe or valued or heard (or even asked).
Lack of Training – While I was in Reclaiming, you could teach a course as long as you had taken the class twice. There was no formal training, nor really much of a cohesive pedagogy to take to students. There was no screening process that addressed issues of power dynamics or sexual predation. You might be able to argue that these things were inherent in the subject matter of the classes, except that it wasn’t. If a person already has some shaky ethics around power and sexuality, it will almost certainly filter its way into their classes, often with a sly wink and a nod. The community was too disconnected to police this issue. I hope that in light of recent problems (i.e. Kenny Klein) that this is changing.
(Over)Activism – People are often drawn to Reclaiming because of the strong connection to social justice and activism. Undoubtedly, I was one of those people. But after a time, I found it to be tiresome. Partially it was tiresome because it was insincere. For some people, a cause was more a way to identify themselves than a heartfelt commitment. I got tired of keeping track of what to say and to whom, and more over, that there were some causes that were sacred cows… and to question them was to be shut out of a group. I felt like there was no real dialogue in some ways, and worse, that some people were standing on some pretty shaky foundations when it came to backing up claims. Which leads me to…
Lack of Scholarship/Theism – I like for my spiritual practice to have a link to scholarship of a culture and of a culture’s religion – even if that link is a nod to a divergence from the (documented) Old Ways. I like for my gods to be real (polytheist here) and not just psychological constructs or archetypes. I can’t tell you how many times someone told me they “followed” or “worshipped” or “dedicated to” a particular deity, but who knew next to nothing about said deity, had no interest in pursuing knowledge and relied on others (or shady internet resources) to tell them about their patron/matron. What the hell? I just can’t. I got tired, and I went back to traditions that have a healthy relationship to what it means when we say we follow the Old Ways. I think it’s perfectly ok for gods to be psychological constructs and for ritual to be therapeutic. It’s just not where I want to be, and it always left me feeling disconnected.
I’m also finding a strong connection with the concept of reciprocity (ADF). Reciprocity is part of true relationship building with the gods. I spent a lot of time thinking about myths as ways to connect to my own life, and to learn lessons – and they ARE this. But when I worshipped my gods, I wasn’t really practicing reciprocity, or exchange. Adding reciprocity to my practice has brought a rich sense of loving exchange and respect with my gods. I wasn’t finding this connection with Reclaiming.
And pretty much, that’s it. Reclaiming hasn’t been my home for some time. When I left it, I did it in the way that many people do – I went back from time to time seeking comfort, but ultimately, I’ve made my home elsewhere. I have mad respect for the tradition, for the changes it made in my life. I am grateful for the many, many life lessons. But again, back to that leaving home analogy, it was time for me to go a different way, and that is what I have done.