Tag Archives: Reclaiming

Bullying, Caretaking and Community

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And there is no peace, no true release
No secret place to crawl
And there is no rest for the ones God blessed
And he blessed you best of all.
—”King of Bohemia,” by Richard Thompson

By happy coincidence, this song lyric allows me to continue from my last post on those among us who are many-skilled, while helping me frame an assortment of thoughts I have been tossing around for a few weeks now.

Last month I wrote, “As a society, we cope uneasily with the fact that gifts and talents are not evenly distributed among the population.” Seeing someone in action who is incredibly talented can be inspiring, and it can also make us feel acutely our comparative lack of that talent or skill.

Because they are so good at some stuff, we often build up as leaders those who are gifted—especially if what they are good at includes speaking, writing or performance. Sometimes they even become spokespeople for entire communities formed around their ideas and aspirations. This is especially true in spiritual communities, where all too often the emotional release of a great performance is mistaken for genuine enlightenment or transformation. In this game, the ones with the most charisma usually win.

And what do they win? Power. We listen to them, we defer to their opinions, we assume they are right until we are forced to disagree with them—often through painful experience. Meanwhile, we trust them to guide us and keep the community’s well-being foremost in their minds as they go about leading things.

But being comfortable with power has very little to do with being a good leader. And sometimes those who like the power we’ve given them feel the most trapped by the responsibilities of actual leadership. One could almost say victimized.

Hearing these Richard Thompson lyrics in the car the other day reminded me how those moments feel. You give it your all, and still you get criticized. Blamed when things go wrong, sneered at by those who used to hang on your every word. Every parent knows this feeling—and if you haven’t felt it yet, just wait. :)

So much depends on exactly how we rise from this spot. Our response at this precise moment determines whether we truly are leaders, or just despots. If we lash out because we are tired, or pissed, or had a bad day, or even if we truly feel that nobody should ever question us, we have set in motion a bullying/caretaking dynamic from which our community may never recover.

Here’s how the bullying/caretaking game goes: Someone realizes that the person at the top isn’t leading well, and says so. The leader retaliates by participating (or in some cases being the instigator) in trashing the person who speaks out. Policy issues are re-framed as personality clashes, with the whistle-blower now characterized as gunning for one of the leader’s favored deputies rather than voicing a legitimate concern. The pile-on continues until the person who originally spoke out is either bullied into silence or driven out.

This is old news to anyone who’s read my book on Reclaiming, a community where I have watched this dynamic play out more than once. I’m kind of tired of thinking about it, and I’m definitely tired of writing about it. But when I heard about the latest kerfuffle, what got me interested enough to write again was the other side of the bullying/caretaking equation: the caretakers.

Caretakers are the peacemakers in the group. They strive to help everyone get along, they tend to avoid conflict, and they are so aligned with the group’s ideals that they will put up with a significant amount of less-than-ideal behavior to get to the good parts again. Usually they do a lot of volunteer work to keep community events running smoothly. They often have great leadership skills but may be more comfortable in a secondary role, so are happy to cede the limelight to the natural performers.

Caretakers find support and friendship in the group, and this benefit usually trumps their periodic misgivings. But caretakers are not completely altruistic. So long as they stay peacekeepers while others get trashed, they do accrue some power without having ultimate responsibility to lead.

And the benefits of the role can be significant. If your livelihood is dependent on the clients or students you gain from the group, why would you risk that income source to speak out? What could possibly compel you to try to change the group dynamic, if failure meant financial struggle or open conflict with your friends?

It is quite possible to be a caretaker until you are financially stable enough, or have a strong enough support network outside the group, to leave. Or, if you live far enough away from the epicenter, it may require only occasional gymnastics to stay out of the fray while building your network at a safe distance.

Changing the DNA of an established community is a daunting task. Because each role is dependent on the other, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to reverse the cycle. Leaders who don’t see the harm in lashing out have to actually listen, and begin the hard inner work of changing their patterned responses. Caretakers have to step out of their comfort zones and use their power to stop the cycle in spite of the personal risks.

Or, nothing can change. Caretakers will keep things running, while a new crop of gifted people sees the model of leadership in place and figures their performance skills are up to the job. Sadly, no one is there to teach them otherwise.

Thoughts on Spirituality, Politics and Values

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This post is the happy intersection of something I already wanted to write, combined with this month’s annual Pagan Values blog-fest-o-rama. Joni Mitchell, one of my personal songwriting heroes, has refused more than once to be part of compilations and tours of “women artists” or “women singer-songwriters,” maintaining that she is an artist first, then a woman. I feel the same way about this event, though I understand the reasoning behind it.

I am a big believer in just being good at what you do, whether it is parenting or writing, art or politics. Thinking of the greater good, being able to sacrifice for others but also knowing when to put yourself first—all are valuable and necessary. I value education, clarity, decency, aspiration. To me these are fundamentally human attributes, identifiable (and also lacking) in people of every creed and religion.

But I am not here to quibble. Instead, I want to post the thoughts I shared last month at the Pagan Alliance Festival in Berkeley. The Alliance kindly asked me to speak on the topic of “paradigm shift,” so I decided to talk about an idea I used to value, but don’t anymore. What follows is an edited version of that speech:

This year’s theme is “paradigm shift,” so I thought I would talk about my own recent paradigm shift around spirituality and politics. Reclaiming’s ideal of unifying spirituality and politics is something I lived and breathed starting in the early ’80s. But that has shifted over the past several years, and I want to explain why.

The best place to begin is with James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior from 1981 to 83. James Watt was awful, one of the worst cabinet members in U.S. history. He pursued terrible environmental policies, and he seethed with hatred toward environmentalists. Watt was also an evangelical Christian who believed in the “end times,” and only wanted to assure that the earth’s resources held out till Christ returned. To the end, he was engaged primarily in a religious war.

After his craziness got him kicked out of the Dept. of Interior, someone interviewed James Watt and asked what his biggest fear was about environmentalists. And he said, “that they’re all secretly pagan.” That comment was a huge in-joke for me and all my friends, because of course we WERE secretly (or not so secretly) pagan.

We were environmentalists for many sound economic and political reasons, but at the core we were horrified at the abuse of the earth’s resources, and wanted to restore the spirits of the wild to the land. We wanted to protect the earth, and to do that we had to overthrow the evangelical Christian worldview. James Watt provided an excellent target, and so we built our pagan identity around opposition to him and people like him.

But oppositional identities are tricky things to control once they get started, and recent events give us a timely opportunity to do some course correction of our own before things get out of hand. James Watt was a true believer, and in that sense he is the forerunner of everyone we see on the far right rising to political power in the states and nationally.

We’ve seen blatant efforts to roll back voting rights, women’s health care, fair wages, due process and the right to organize. The fight is on to destroy the separation of church and state in this country. This is horrifying. If we don’t vote and get involved politically, our country could very quickly revert to an oppressive theocracy, just like back in Salem in the 17th century.

But I am grateful that we can now see their goals so clearly, because it is this view down into the abyss that has caused me to change how I feel about mixing spirit and politics. In the religious right, we can see the shadow of what we might become if the shoe were on the other foot.

What do I mean by this? Zealotry begins with a deep sense of frustration at the slow pace of change. That urgency, combined with strong religious beliefs, means that we turn to a sympathetic deity or presiding force to intercede in human affairs. And of course, because our deity is sympathetic it seems to validate even our most extreme views. We have now created a closed loop of influence, within which we feel increasingly justified and self-righteous about our cause.

One thing I didn’t understand when I was young is that broad cultural change happens very, very slowly. Getting involved with charismatic traditions like Reclaiming and Feri felt like having the inside track to change, and a greater collective ability to affect things. But the closed loops I experienced encouraged emotionality and discouraged analysis and debate. The more radical and inspiring the leaders, and the more doe-eyed the sycophants or initiates, the more likely that the group’s tactics will be misguided at best, and at worst potentially destructive to the very people and causes they support.

It is easy to see the shadow of our own actions and beliefs magnified a hundred-fold in the religious right today. I am so very grateful that radical activist pagans have never (yet?) been bankrolled by eccentric billionaires and thus allowed to create more harm than good in a supposedly pluralistic society. It would be hard not to see all that money and influence as confirmation that God/dess was on our side, and that now was our time to strike out against the enemies of Gaia, or any other sympathetic deity of our choice.

Fighting a religious war is no way to maintain a democracy. It’s not even a great way to maintain a religion. The challenge for pagans, today and over the long haul, is to use our spiritual beliefs to galvanize us to action, but to stay focused on the goal: a country in which politics and spirituality are NOT unified. Where the separation of church and state is intact, and everyone’s basic civil rights are valued and protected.

In closing, here is what I now believe about spirit and politics:

Things that matter most require long fights. In those fights the air, fire, water, and earth will support us. Community will ground us. But we need to hold our own center. So check yourself. In your heart, do you carry the flame of the true believer? If so, is there also space there for others to believe differently?

May our hearts be large enough to hold multiple possibilities of connection to Spirit, and let there also be space to listen and speak clearly; to learn from others; to be decent neighbors, citizens, parents, and friends; and through the long struggle, to hold fast to our aspirations of a more just society for all.

Small Brown Seed

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What a Spring it has been! I welcomed in May Day along with many old friends at a lovely handfasting in Tilden Park this past weekend. I’ve known Amie Miller since she was about 13, when I used to go to her parents’ home in San Francisco to work on the Reclaiming Newsletter. Amie was my kids’ first babysitter, and Bowen’s loud proclamations during her coming of age ritual are the stuff of community legend. Seeing Amie and Juliana looking so poised and lovely in their 30s was a real treat, as was singing with Evelie again and enjoying the gorgeous Berkeley hills.

I’ve been playing more music lately—not a lot, but my guitar is now out of its case and I’m starting to get callouses back on my fingers. Along with playing I’ve been thinking about finishing lots of half-written songs, and maybe putting out another album of my own music.

Music just seems to be in the air lately, because this morning George sent me an email asking whether I still had the recording of “Small Brown Seed” I’d made several years ago, for one of the Reclaiming CDs. I did not write “Small Brown Seed,” but contacted its author Maggie Shollenberger several years ago and got her permission to record it.

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I first heard this chant at Pantheacon, when I learned it in order to teach it and lead the singing during a ritual. The song was easy for everyone to learn, and built up a beautiful, harmonious energy during the spiral dance. Thanks again to Maggie for her song. It seems the perfect season to share it more widely.

An eBook Rises from the Bathwater

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When I started the Blog o’ Gnosis in 2005, I considered it a way to attract a publisher for my post-Circle Round books, the first part of building my “author platform.” Luckily for me this move coincided with the complete downfall of the publishing industry, and none of the three books I pitched over the next three years were picked up by any publisher, large or small.

If I had been able to sell a book proposal in 2005, 2006, or even 2007, chances are that I never would have written the long series of posts about Reclaiming that make up my latest ebook, The Baby and the Bathwater: What I learned about spirituality, magic, community, ecstasy and power from 25 years in Reclaiming. It was from commenters on this blog that I realized that there was a story in these posts that went beyond my efforts to make sense of personal experiences, and that writing about it might help more people than just myself. The ebook is made up of several posts I wrote here about Reclaiming over a period of four years, updated and with a new introduction that gives some backstory and puts them all into context.

If I had gotten a publishing contract for one of those early books, I also would not have followed so closely the rise of ebooks and self-publishing, and most importantly the shift in what is considered publishable material. Back in 2005, no publisher would consider printing anything that had been previously posted on a blog. Blogs were considered okay for marketing, but never for writing actual book content. This month, comedian Steve Martin is publishing a book of his previously tweeted tweets. Or rather, I should say that Steve Martin’s huge publisher Grand Central is releasing his book of tweets, which are no less funny for having been published first on Twitter. It’s a whole new world.

My professional life has become much more focused on publishing, with the new Authors Go Public meetups that my friend Suzanna and I are conjuring up in the Bay Area. On April 10, I will be speaking about my self-publishing journey, and how blogging has changed the power dynamics in Reclaiming and other organizations more than meetings or gatherings ever could.

Meanwhile, The Baby and the Bathwater is available here in pdf format. If you like the book, please help spread the word by telling your friends to buy it, and posting reviews on Amazon, the iBookstore, or the Nook store. (It will be available on Kobo soon.) If you are a blogger or podcaster yourself and would like to interview me about the book, I would be delighted.

Now that this book is launched, I will continue to use the Blog o’ Gnosis to develop material for future books. I definitely want to keep working with the California Cosmology idea, and will be writing more humorous memoir pieces as well. Meanwhile, you can read more of my thoughts on publishing, marketing and social media for authors here, and see all my stuff for sale at the newly revamped Serpentine Music & Media.

One thing that hasn’t changed since 2005 is the amount of effort it takes for authors to sell books. I have been doing this for a while, and I’m still learning how to navigate the landscape, how to engage with readers and sell the old stuff while writing the new stuff and making a living meanwhile. I am more excited than ever about what is possible, and know now from my own experience that it really can work. Here’s to all of us taking our empowered, writing selves, and going public with what we know, and the wisdom we have to share.

An Eye in the Storm: Victor Anderson’s Memorial

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I wrote this piece shortly after Victor Anderson’s death, in October 2001. I am reprinting it here because Victor’s name came up in conversation with a friend this morning, and I realized that I want the story of my experience at his memorial to be available to readers here as well.

Things just hadn’t been smooth ever since September 11th. Schedules were thrown into a whirlwind, individual intentions and goals suddenly disappeared into an abyss as larger issues came into sharp focus. So I wasn’t really surprised when, just as I thought I had a free Monday to start picking up the scattered threads of my work, I got Max’s email announcing plans for Victor’s memorial on my first unencumbered work day.

Though I had only met Victor twice, I knew it was important to pay my respects on his passing. When my circle had gone down to spend afternoons with Victor and Cora I had been captivated by his enigmatic presence, and understood the stature he had achieved as a teacher and a shaman. At the same time, he rubbed me the wrong way, and eventually I found myself getting up to help Cora in the kitchen as Victor went on weaving his sorcerer’s threads of world history, comparative religion, past lives, and magic in the living room. Still, he was too important a figure in the Feri tradition of the Bay Area, and also in the Reclaiming community, which had been my community for nearly 20 years, for me not to go if I was able.

I drove down from Sebastopol, worrying about traffic and whether I’d make it to Hayward on time. Then I reminded myself that the whole day was given over to ritual time, and the only thing to do was relax and let things happen. Macha and Anna Korn helped by coming along for the ride, so I could catch up with friends during the drive. We pulled into the Chapel of the Chimes in good time, as a light rain spattered the windshield.

There is something very magical, and primal, about memorial services. More than anything else the memorial helps us make the transition between thinking of a person as living and thinking of them as dead. But to me the distinction is not as clear cut: there is death in being alive, and a life after death that is longed for like a release from an arduous task. At the same time, the presence of a once living body that is now disintegrating is an unassailable fact that demands from each of us a transformation of our relationship to the person who is no longer there.

Memorials also help the departing soul orient to the spirit world, and make the final break from its body. My experience that day was that Victor was completely conscious and aware of everything that went on at his memorial. I felt a deep sense of rightness when his son bowed before the casket, acknowledging the living presence of his father. Perhaps Victor was so strongly present in the room because even as a man he dwelled in the spirit world more often than not. My heart went out to Cora, who looked so frail and grief-stricken, and for whom the occasion was clearly far more than a time to philosophize.

Victor’s spirit was so powerful, and palpable, that I wondered whether the memorial would actually help him depart in any way. Then Sean Folsom began playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, and anyone in the room who was not yet in tears soon got there. The energy in the room shifted, as the sound of the pipes seemed to infuse every molecule with a more intense vibration. Riding the waves of power being generated as the piper walked to the altar and back, Victor’s spirit washed over us as he began to separate from all the material objects in the room—his body, the flowers, the candles, the people—and fly out the open door, into the world beyond.

There is no easy transition between being witness to such an event and finding oneself in a parking lot in Hayward, amongst probably the largest crowd of Feri folk ever peaceably assembled. There were people there I knew and loved, many I didn’t know, and some people I’d only known through email. Conscious of the long ride home through the gathering rush hour, and partly because of the awkwardness of the occasion, I didn’t want to stay long.

It was on the drive north that the storm really got started. An occasional sprinkling gave way to darker clouds and distant rumblings. Heading across the bridge to San Rafael, it was raining steadily, and bolts of lightning crackled from the clouds to the dry earth. In California, the first rain of the season is always an important event, but this was no ordinary storm. We don’t get thunderstorms that often, particularly ones that cover as vast an area as this one did. The clouds were high and dark, and the sky for miles around looked like a giant blackboard. The sun was sinking behind the hills, but here and there it shone through and bathed us in light as the rain came down and lightning struck all around. The bolts were clearly visible streaks like hieroglyphs against the sky, sometimes in rapid succession in the exact same shape, sometimes dancing all across the horizon.

I remembered someone that day mentioning that Victor had been born in a storm. As I drove through Petaluma, thinking about his teachings and my conflicted feelings over them, the setting sun came through under the edge of the clouds, right on the horizon. Sandwiched between dark hills and dark sky, it looked for all the world like an eye in the storm. I thought it was Victor, sight returned on a greater scale, checking to see who was paying attention. Since I apparently was, I started talking to him, acknowledging his prowess in leaving in so strong a storm.

I wished him well on his journey, and also prayed that the days of vengeance and vendetta in the name of religion were passing away just like his life, just like the storm. That is the place where I have to part company with Victor’s teachings, and I told him so. Many at his memorial said that he chose this time to cross over in order to work his influence on the other side. Given the opportunity to speak to him in that final moment, it was important for me to put in a plug for non-violence, which I believe to be the highest spiritual calling. I have no idea how his power will be felt now that he has passed on, but that day I prayed it would be for the greatest good.

Finally, as I climbed out of the Petaluma valley and the horizon receded from my sight, I found myself reciting the Buddhist prayer over and over: may all beings be happy, may all beings be happy. I feel privileged to have known him and Cora, however briefly, and am very glad to have made it to his memorial. I won’t soon forget how that bagpipe gathered Victor’s spirit and all our prayers and hurled them out beyond the veil, nor will I forget meeting him eye to eye, and heart to heart, as he left on the rays of the setting sun.

The Problem With Loving Nature

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I always appreciate a chance to refine my thinking in areas where I have a lot of strong opinions, and the confluence of spirituality, nature, and politics is one such place. Reading Bron Taylor’s excellent new book, Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future, has given me that chance.

I read most of this book while in British Columbia, teaching a group of 90+ people at a Reclaiming camp, the theme of which included “listening to the land, to sense the coming shift.” In spite of my misgivings about the theme, I thoroughly enjoyed the camp and the friends I was teaching with, and in our planning process we had several lively discussions that helped me refine even further my thoughts on the issues raised in Dark Green Religion.

As soon as I got back from all that travel I interviewed Bron on Dream Talk Radio, so I pretty much unloaded onto him all the thoughts I’d had throughout the previous week. Whether you have read the book or not, I would love to hear your comments about our discussion, so without further ado here is the podcast.

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Toward a New Pagan Ethics

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I’ve got to hand it to Jason over at the Wild Hunt Blog, he does not shy away from the tough issues. In response to this horrific story, Jason raises a concern many of us share about the decentralized nature of nature-based spirituality:

A vast percentage of modern Pagans aren’t part of any established group, or are members of groups and traditions so small they hardly count as “established” on any national or even regional scale. This creates a culture where we tend to ascribe a certain amount of legitimacy to any individual practitioner as a common courtesy, which creates fertile grounds for those who want to abuse that trust. I’m not saying we should stop trusting, or that everyone should join a national organization if they want to be taken seriously, only that our decentralized nature makes us uniquely vulnerable to con-men and monsters.

It also makes our organizations susceptible to undue influence by the attention-seekers, power-mongers and loosely-tethered personalities among us. This has been an issue in Reclaiming for decades, and also to some degree in organizations such as COG and Cherry Hill Seminary. If you are a small group trying to do a big thing, you need all the helpers and volunteers you can find. The common courtesy that Jason describes goes a long way toward explaining why we give difficult people the benefit of the doubt, instead of questioning their motives and making sure they don’t wield undue influence in the group.

I have seen many a well-intentioned group grind to an absolute halt by the dissention and ill-will caused by a single individual. In response to the current case, Jason is putting out the call:

What can we do about it? Along with a culture of love and trust, we also need to create a culture of responsibility and frankness about what will and will not be tolerated within our communities, and make in known to the wider world.

Having been through this in recent years, trying through our local teacher’s guild to establish standards for ethics and transparency in the international Reclaiming camp network, I wish him well. One thing that process taught me is that no matter how long the process takes, it is a very good thing to have ethics and standards on the front burner in our various subcultures. The longer it is up for debate, the more reasonable people will come to realize that holding ourselves accountable to an ethical code is not a loss of freedom, it is a gain of maturity, and insurance that our group’s vision and goals may actually come to pass.

One From the Archives

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It seems like one of those years when everyone is having babies. The net effect of this on me is having more opportunities to smile at cute little babies, after which I get to walk away. With my youngest now approaching the ripe old age of 16, I have the luxury of viewing from a comfortable distance a completely new generation of parents and children. In case you can’t tell, I very much like my new position on the sidelines of the childraising Olympics.

It was when I had very little children that I first noticed how much I needed to write. It was an urge I simply could not ignore, and when I felt it coming on I knew that no matter what else was happening, I needed to create an hour or two alone with my notebook or journal. In retrospect, it all makes sense and I am extremely grateful that I continued to practice the craft of writing, even when I didn’t have time to write.

Some of these pieces ended up being published in the old Reclaiming Newsletter, but most are not available in the Reclaiming web archives. That is a shame, because I am genuinely fond of some of them, even now. So just for fun I decided to reprint one of them here, which I wrote back in 1988. This was when I had a 2-year-old and an infant and still lived in San Francisco, at the center of my community. That made for some great parties, and at my 26th birthday party I received a copy of Luisah Teish’s book Jambalaya, then just out in paperback.

I have the utmost respect for Teish, and have worked with her some but not enough over the years, but I still worry that she found my article unfunny. On the other hand I certainly enjoyed writing it, and I think it might still have something to offer all those new mothers out there, even twenty years later.

Life Among the Little People

(c) 1988, Anne Hill

Some friends of mine who must think I have time to read gave me Luisah Teish’s book Jambalaya for my birthday.  I have tried to uphold their opinion of me by reading the book in my occasional spare moments, and what I have read so far has been quite thought-provoking.

I am particularly moved by Teish’s work with ancestors, and the many rituals she describes for becoming more closely attuned to the spirit world.  As a mother, these practices seem especially relevant to me, because my responsibility lies in raising the next generation and working for a decent world for them to live in.  My kids will need all the help their ancestors can give them.

The problem that always strikes me, however, when I read beautiful descriptions of feasting the dead, of water gazing at your altar, or treating yourself to herbal baths, is WHEN?  It is all I can do some days to find time to feed myself, let alone make something my ancestors won’t feel offended by. (Hey Nana, how about boxed macaroni and cheese today?  With or without canned tomato soup?)  And if I had time to water gaze I’d also have time to go visit my one surviving grandmother who is very ill.  When it comes down to choosing between caring for the living or communicating with the dead, my choice is clear.

Still, as I say, I was inspired by Teish’s words and struck by the importance of her work, so I have devised six simple rituals that can be incorporated into even the busiest of schedules.  These may be especially useful to women with small children hanging all over them.

1. Diaper Meditation.  When changing a particularly messy diaper, mutter under your breath a word of thanks that your child has inherited a healthy digestive system.  Try to recall which relative it was that grew up on a farm and whose genes have blessed your child with such prodigious poops.  Finally, take a moment to consider that in those days, women washed diapers like these by hand, so thank the spirits that today there are washing machines for such chores.

2. Juice and Cracker Feast.  Familiar to every mother are the times throughout the day when you seat your progeny at the table for a snack.  Such times are valuable not only nutritionally, but strategically, since most fights will be forgotten when food is suggested.  Set out an extra plate of crackers, cheese, carrot slices or whatever you are serving, along with something to drink, and put it on top of the fridge.  (Refrigerator tops are typically utilized as altars for this type of thing, since the kids can’t reach that high.)

Other things you can add to this altar are flowers your children pick for you, toys they were fighting with (to cleanse them of combative energy), and broken things that maybe the ancestors know how to fix.

3. Dishwater gazing.  When I am sick of reading books to kids, arbitrating disputes and tying shoelaces, I retreat to the safe haven of the kitchen sink.  Regardless of my mood or degree of receptivity, I always feel a link here to generations of women before me who kept a home and raised children.  Also, regardless of the time of day, there are always dishes to wash.  On filling the sink, I try to give silent thanks to the Hetch Hetchy Valley, and hope that one day it will return to its former state of beauty and wildness.

If your mother had a set washing routine like mine did—flatware, followed by glasses, dishes, and cookware—follow it, otherwise, you can borrow from any tradition that feels right to you.  Gaze into the suds, relax, and open up to the wisdom of Those Who Have Washed Before.

4. The 2am Feeding.  This is by far the most challenging of all the rituals included here, simply because there is NOTHING fun about having your sleep cycle interrupted every night. What I manage to do here is to fix my attention on keeping my jaws unclenched.

Remember that even your wisest, most right-on ancestor was once a small person who infuriated her/his mother by demanding to be fed at all hours of the night.  Try to send yourself back to sleep peacefully, perhaps by repeating something my foremothers always tell me at this hour: “Your child will not be a baby forever. Treasure this opportunity to receive instant commiseration and sympathy from everyone who hears about your child’s sleep habits.”

5.  The Ancestral Bubblebath.  Of course this does not mean a bath for you; you will be lucky to sneak in a shower every now and then when the kids are napping.  This is an opportunity to slip a bit of ‘Church’ into your unsuspecting child’s consciousness during bathtime.

On preparation, spend a bit of time at the store choosing an appropriate bubble medium.  Ideal would be one that smells like a flower native to your ancestral homeland, but be practical.  If bathtime is a problem in your household, go for what works, and that means packaging.  My son is satisfied with some stuff that comes in a blue plastic elephant-shaped jug.

During the bath, your ancestors will have some ideas on where and how vigorously this kid needs to be scrubbed.  In fact, many women experience spiritual ‘possession’ during this ritual, and become like their foremothers, who got their children mercilessly clean every Saturday.  If you are uncomfortable with this type of thing, consult your local priestess for counseling, or better yet, entrust your partner with the sacred responsibility of keeping the kids clean.

6.  The Family Dinner.  This is perhaps the most formidable of all rituals of ancestor reverence.  Whether you realize it or not, your forebears are checking you out now to see just how good you are at disciplining their descendants.  Some spirits are less tactful than others, however, so you must take precautions to both hear what they are saying, and divest yourself of any guilt that they send your way.

My ancestors can be quite opinionated about how my children act at the table, so I have devised the following procedure which works quite nicely.  Prepare a generous serving of the dinner you cooked and place it on your refrigerator top altar.  Light a candle before the meal and courteously invite all those great aunts and grandmothers in to partake of your offering.  Seat your kids at the kitchen table with their food, and give them strict instructions as to how you expect them to behave.  Then take your dinner out of the kitchen and don’t look back!  Sit down to eat in another room and relax, knowing your children’s upbringing is in good hands.  After the meal, reenter the kitchen, thank the spirits, snuff out the candle, and tell your partner it is time for the kids to take a bath.

These are only a few of the many ways in which you, a busy mother, can live your spiritual beliefs and not feel overwhelmed by the task.  Be creative in your application of the principles of ancestor reverence, and don’t be discouraged if your experiments backfire at first.  Have patience with yourself, your children, and your oftentimes finicky ancestors.

Above all, if you do get fed up with the whole process, please do not send your ancestors over to my house.  I have enough to deal with.

A Very Good Thing

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Yesterday afternoon I was preparing for my first class on Children in Contemporary Paganism, to be held online that evening through Cherry Hill Seminary, by reading some of the articles assigned to my students. The first piece was a lovely essay by my old friend Mary Klein, and as I read it I remembered the time I met her (now teenage) son Robbie. Mary and Dave had come to one of our first May Day parties, and Robbie had all the enthusiasm of an almost-toddler eager to walk, but not yet able to walk alone. I have never seen a child take so many trips across a lawn and back, gripping tightly to the fingers of one or the other of his hunched-over parents. Mary and Dave were patient and good-humored, in spite of having aching backs by the end of the afternoon.

I read four articles in all, written by friends of mine and published in the Reclaiming Quarterly over the past decade. They reminded me of earlier articles that I had published about Pagan parenting, back when the Quarterly was the humble Reclaiming Newsletter. And because my mind loves nothing better than a juicy tangent, I decided I must then and there dig up my old back-issues and see if I could find those articles.

Hours later, the class was about to begin, I had a desk full of stapled copies of some old pieces, and my scanner was busy making a final PDF of a long-forgotten poem I’d written about my daughter’s birth. I was not as prepared for the class as I had hoped to be, but taking the winding trip through my closets to unearth the box and sift through old newsletters had done me a world of good.

When I first got involved with Reclaiming, in the mid-80s, I read every newsletter I could get my hands on. I craved the backstory on all these people I had just met, and wanted to understand both the personal and the political dimensions behind every topic.

In the pages of the newsletter there were arguments about how much to charge for classes (Cerridwen Fallingstar against just about everyone else, as I recall), humor pieces from the fictional housecleaner Hannah Clancy, rants from Rose Dance and Moher Downing, poetry by Francesca Dubie (before she became DeGrandis), and hilarious send-ups of favorite liturgy, like the one at right. I inhaled it all. These were myFashion is the Healer chant people, my new tribe, and I loved hearing about their conflicts just as much as their inspirations. It made them all the more human to me, and therefore more authentic, which allowed me to both trust them and not put them (or the tradition) on a pedestal.

As the Newsletter morphed into the Quarterly, I gradually lost interest in its content. It became more of a platform for a particular subset of our thoughts and ideals, and seemed to lose its earlier focus of intense, engaged discussion. This is not in any way a criticism of the dedicated people who kept the quarterly in print throughout that time. Having worked on the newsletter for many years myself, I know how much hard work is involved, and how difficult it is to keep up that kind of commitment over the long term.

The change was due to a number of factors, not the least of which was the decentralization of Reclaiming and its growth both nationally and internationally. With the rising popularity of blogging over the last five years or so, many of us loosely (or not so loosely) connected to Reclaiming have developed our own forums for thinking about, and talking about, the topics of the day. It has been thrilling to re-connect with old friends like Robin Weaver, Kevin Roddy, Pandora, and Sharon Jackson through the blogosphere, even as I become acquainted with many newer people through their own blogs.

Now, it appears that the Reclaiming website will be supporting this constellation of conversations, by listing prominently all the blogs hosted by Reclaiming-affiliated folks. I look forward to this major change, and not because I think it will drive more traffic to my blog. If anything, the Reclaiming site will see increased traffic from all our blogs being linked to it.

As an old-timer, and somewhat tangential to the extended Reclaiming community, I will love having easier access to what people are saying in other regions. But as a newcomer to the clan, I would love it even more. The backstory! The drama! The differences! Ultimately, our blogs are testimony to how people can disagree and yet maintain common connections. I would be the last person to characterize Reclaiming as a utopian social experiment that succeeded, but it has somehow supported a culture of inquisitiveness and a great many people who are skilled at expressing themselves verbally and in writing. That is something any tradition should be proud of, and enthusiastically share with the world.

Same As It Ever Was

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On Friday I spent a few hours at the Dandelion Gathering, Reclaiming‘s occasional hoe-down, business meeting and reunion of sorts. It was just a couple of hours away, and though I had a very busy weekend I couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit with friends from all over the country in a work-free environment.

The setting was gorgeous: rolling hills of meadow and oak woodland with an occasional stand of second-growth redwood. Spring in the Valley of the Moon: new leaves glistening in the vineyards and pollen floating through the air. It was deliciously warm in the sun and almost too cool beneath the big trees. Right off the bat I saw several people I hadn’t seen in a long time, and settled in on the porch to visit.

One thing I noticed in the course of the afternoon is that the things which drove me away from Reclaiming continue to rub me the wrong way. A case in point is what happened over lunch. I was at a table with some people I have known for a long time, and a few that I had just met. I was enjoying catching up with an old friend, when our lunch was interrupted with a lengthy announcement explaining that every table was now going to have a discussion about the same subject. Each table would take notes, and the results would be somehow digested at the BIRCH meeting the following day. (Don’t ask me what BIRCH is—I may say something cynical.)

The topic we were to discuss was diversity. To wit: why isn’t Reclaiming more diverse, and what can be done about it? I was already banging my forehead against the table in pain, but the intro continued, first singling out my friend Evelie, who got to stand up and wave because she is diverse, I mean Filipina. Then a woman named Rosa got to stand and say her 2¢, to the effect that people like her could be helped by people like us if we only knew how to meet more people like her.

I kid you not. I am dead serious, and by this time it was through sheer force of will that I was not 1) bolting for the door, or 2) standing up and saying something confrontational in the middle of the dining hall. The only thing that kept me from shouting out was the knowledge that if I did so, I would be in the middle of an even worse discussion than the one I was apparently now going to have.

Where to start when deconstructing our assignment? First, the assumption that we were not diverse. That diversity has nothing to do with class, gender, religious background, ethics, age, or food preferences. That in fact it has nothing to do with ethnicity unless accompanied by differences in skin tone or surnames. If it had been me singled out as though I were helpfully filling a space on some diversity Bingo card, I would have been personally offended. As it was, I was offended for all of us.

Second, the obsession with proselytizing, I mean bringing in new blood—no, I mean reaching out to others who could be helped by people like us. As several people at my table mentioned, other religions are not diverse, and they seem to have no problem with it. Wasn’t the point of a spiritual community to give aid to its members? Why were we even discussing strategies for bringing different kinds of people in, when we were gathered for a rare opportunity to meet each other face to face?

It was at this point that I had to point out the essential backwardness of our discussion topic. Reclaiming is insular. Painfully so, embarrassingly so. We really needed to be asking the opposite question: why don’t we get out more? Why aren’t more of us involved in interfaith activities? There’s plenty of diversity there, but that would involve going to meet others rather than reeling them in to us. Why don’t more folks even make the trek to San Jose for Pantheacon each year? Isn’t there anything we can learn from other Pagans?

Third, and this is where I can get a good rant going, I have had it with red herring questions like this pre-empting conversations about the real issues that Reclaiming has avoided for years. I am speaking here mostly of Bay Area Reclaiming, but frankly the patterns that have been set here get exported regularly to other areas, and I have seen more than one community plagued with the same issues that we have been mired in here for a decade or more.

The final straw for me on this was when I was still in the Bay Area teacher’s cell, I believe it was in the late nineties, and the group was essentially split in two, with neither side trusting or speaking to the other. It had been months, the group was moribund, and though we had plenty to discuss we were not even able to come up with a date for a meeting, let alone assure that some representatives from either side would attend.

It was a horrible dynamic and finally Thorn and I, who had some credibility on both sides, were able after several weeks of intensive lobbying to set a date and get people to agree to come. With assurances that there would be neutral facilitation, we were going to actually talk about the issues that mattered, and hopefully come to some resolution or at least respectfully agree to disagree.

Then literally the night before the meeting, Starhawk, who had been out of town, emailed saying that we should really discuss fundraising for scholarships so that young Pagan activists could attend witchcamp. Another person on the cell quickly wrote back and said that’s what she wanted to talk about too, and I watched in dismay as months of preparation were tossed out the window.

Disheartened, I could not even bring myself to attend the meeting. That was the turning point for me, the moment where I gave up my years of struggle to change the course on which our local community was set. Now there are virtually parallel Reclaiming communities in the Bay Area, and no encouraging signs that the two will ever be reconciled save briefly, when old friends are able to catch up over lunch or lounging on a sunny deck.

The fragile alliance which had led to that meeting was hijacked by the very mentality that hijacked my lunch table discussion at Dandelion: the insistence that Reclaiming is best served by bringing in new recruits rather than cleaning its own house. Blessedly, I found myself not a lone voice of discontent at the table, and we ended up with some meaningful feedback to offer the next day’s meeting. Then I got the hell out of there before a second discussion topic could be suggested.

The day was like that for me: lovely connections with old and new friends, interspersed with jarring reminders of the dysfunctions with which the tradition as a whole is saddled. Driving away, it was apparent that the former would continue to be scarce without attending to the latter, yet I am greatly relieved to have given up that Sisyphean effort. I love the people I love, and leave the rest. Reclaiming may have its new BIRCH structure. It may go on debating diversity for the next 20 years. Whatever. I am happily Remaining.