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From Chatauqua to Witchcamp (…and Back Again)

by Robin Parrott

In August of 1999 I attended Chatauqua, my first activist camp. Chatauqua, organized by Rainforest Action Network to teach environmental awareness and direct action, happens every year in August. The five-day camp I attended was in North Carolina, where I was living at the time. I had little idea about being an activist or about the issues, but I sensed it would be an important experience for me. Still, I never realized what a profound impact it would have on my life.

When Kim called me and told me to meet her at some activist camp in the mountains, I was mainly excited about seeing my friend for the first time in over a year. Kim was the only activist I knew, and I had always been intrigued by the work she did. With her fierce passion to change the world she glowed with a powerful light. I didn't think my voice could ever have the strength and hope of hers. She was an inspiration to me, as well as a driving force of transformation in my life.

Add to that the opportunity to meet over a hundred activists from around the globe, and I was blown away. It was an honor to be among such beautiful people and to get to know the dedication they held in their hearts.

I spent five days embraced in the arms of Mother Earth while sitting with all the devastating issues plaguing Her very existence. I didn't think I could take it all in. Looking at photograph after photograph of deforested land, the anguish and emptiness flooded my soul with pain and helplessness.

And genocide. That was a new word for me. The dictionary says genocide is a systematic killing of a whole people or nation. It is one thing to see the land raped and pillaged but another to see a human being suffering and crying out for help. I felt so much anger that I didn't know what to do with it. It became tears and then it became rage. I was lost in it. How does one embrace the pain of the world without being pulled down into despair?

I left camp feeling enlightened but helpless, not knowing where to start. Even though I had attended workshops on grassroots organizing and had experienced a nonviolent blockade with a real direct action at the end of camp, I felt like that type of activism was not for me. I wanted to do something, but I didn't know what.

In March of 2000 I moved to Berkeley with a vision that I could use my skills as a photographer to do activism. I moved into a house with four other activists, one of them a Witch involved with Reclaiming.

We all went to the A16 action in Washington DC soon after, and I experienced my first big direct action. I was incredibly moved by seeing so many people joined together, fighting for the world.

But I felt lost in all those people. There was something missing in my heart and in my head. I wasn't even happy with my photographs.

A Witch and an Activist

When I was 16, I had seen a show on PBS about Witches and Covens. I felt even then that this was my path. I had always felt close to nature and had a sense of something magical about it all. I didn't know any Witches then, but I wanted to learn how to be one.

In the Fall of 2000, my old housemate told me about the Spiral Dance ritual and convinced me to go. I didn't understand much of it, but it was beautiful. I felt myself drawn to rituals after that and read The Spiral Dance to learn more about the Craft.

Where it finally led me was Witchcamp. Witchcamp wasn't as dramatic as Chataqua. It was more like opening a creative door. I felt people were very open, it was easy for me to open up and explore things I hadn't before. I had stopped doing photography and art since moving to Bay Area. At Witchcamp, it opened up. I did an invocation of fire, and started to explore my magical self more.

Here I am today, two months after Witchcamp, sitting in this new-found power. What I had been missing was myself. Witchcamp taught me how to love and be open with myself. The only way for me to be an activist was to tap that inner power and passion. At camp, I discovered that my voice was powerful and I was full of light and hope. I discovered that through my art, whether photography, performance, or writing I can help things change because that is where my power resides and where my voice is strongest.

Back to Chatauqua

After Witchcamp, I went back to another Chatauqua this Summer. In a way these two camps are similar in teaching us how to take care of the Earth and how to find our own inner power to create change in the world and the way we live our lives.

Today, I call myself a Witch and an Activist. I have come to realize that these two things are not so different. As an activist my voice grows louder as it rises to meet justice. As a Witch I hear the Earth calling to me in a deep, still voice to stand strong and fight. I hear the voices of our allies and I know they will be here with me, with us, if they are just simply asked to be.

We are at a crossroads, a crucial time in human existence where our very place here on Earth is threatened. That thread that links all life together is coming unwound and it is up to us to strengthen this thread. Whether we get out in the streets and spiral dance over corporate greed or stay at home and stir a cauldron of hope and change, we can weave all that is good back into the world.