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Meeting on the Field

by Oak

From as far back as I remember, I have questioned why things are the way they are. This has worked out well for me as a psychotherapist, as much of my job entails using the questioning attitude to work with clients at looking at why they are emotionally structured they way they are. However, this has not been received so well in other parts of my life. Challenging the dress code as a kindergartner by wearing my beloved red velvet toreador pants to school resulted in being sent home. Of course it did not help that when the teacher informed me that pants were not allowed for girls, I immediately took them off. As a teenager I would spend many nights alone in my room without dinner, after trying to educate my father as to how he was part of the war machine. He worked at IBM and I grew up with their motto, "Think," emblazoned on everything from pencils to calendars.

"Feel!" I would hurl at my poor dad, who would eventually banish me from the table, informing me I did not have to eat the food provided by a tool of the dirty rotten system. At 20, I debated a Humboldt County sheriff's representative on a local television show, questioning why so much money was being spent on finding Bigfoot as opposed to finding the serial rapist and murderer who had killed one of my friends. After that, I had an inordinate amount of trouble with traffic infractions. Whether in school, my own family, or the culture at large, dissent and a questioning attitude has not been welcomed. This has also proved true in my own spiritual community.

I was tear-gassed at 15 while protesting the Vietnam war, and again at age 45 on the streets of Seattle. As a young feminist I confronted rapists and as an anti-nuclear activist risked arrest time and time again. All of this has been harrowing, but nothing has been quite as personally challenging or confounding as being a voice of dissent in Reclaiming.

There are lots of hazards to voicing dissent. One of the perks of using this voice, of questioning authority, can be the lovely rush of self-righteousness, of being one of the good guys who are working against all bad things. As a Witch, I have struggled to let go of this simplistic position of good versus evil, believing that this splitting of the world into two parts, into heaven and hell, is what got us into the big mess we currently find ourselves in. It is one of our biggest challenges as human beings to move beyond our sense of a split world, to move away from seeing ourselves as the good guys fighting the "axis of evil." Challenging and paradoxical — since one of our own principles of unity is to work for all forms of justice: environmental, social, political, racial, gender, and economic. How easy it is when invoking justice to invoke ourselves as being on the side/scale of good, while others are on the side/scale of evil. If we become invested in seeing ourselves as some sort of Witchy magical superheroes , we make it harder to question and examine our own shadow. Shadows desire recognition, when not acknowledged they swell in size, eventually blocking out light in their demand to be seen. Our principles of unity provide us with worthy tools for looking at the shadow. Fostering the questioning attitude is one of Reclaiming's principles of unity, as is employing a radical analysis of power. These tools have become somewhat rusty in Reclaiming, as we have unfortunately fallen into the habit of when employing them, dividing ourselves into camps of right and wrong.

I have been a Witch in Reclaiming for 20 years. I have seen us change from a small circle of Bay Area Witches to a large international community. We strive to be non-hierarchal in a very hierarchal and celebrity conscious culture. One of our core principles is that our ultimate spiritual authority is within and we need no other person to interpret the sacred to us. We have a thriving Witchcamp culture in which teachers are ranked, there is a pay scale, and teachers get treated a bit like rock stars. We have an inspiring famous writer who draws people to us with her work and words. We have challenges and many of our blessings are also curses as well. Like any community, we ourselves are a microcosm of the culture at large, with all the human foibles that entails. What sets us apart is our idealistic strivings, our belief in magic, and our beautiful principles of unity. In order for us to reflect these principles, we need to truly foster a questioning attitude. In the past 20 years I have put myself and been thrust by others onto one side or the other of the good and bad polarity when the voice of dissent has been raised, hidden hierarchies have been revealed, or questions have been asked as whether the structures we are creating reflect our values. For some reason it is difficult in Reclaiming to question our structures without this being construed as a personal attack on those who participate in the structures. For a community that prides itself on being an alternative to the culture at large, we have proved capable of fostering the same "if you are not with us, you are against us" attitude.

For many of us, becoming a member of the Reclaiming community is like falling in love. We are struck by the extraordinary beauty and exquisite individuality of Reclaiming. The magic is intoxicatingly transformative. We feel home at last. Witchcamp, our public rituals, Starhawk's writings, and local classes are constantly courting and winning new lovers of Reclaiming. As in love, many leave when the initial rush of infatuation turns to something more mundane. As we go to meetings, plan rituals, and begin to work in community, we begin to relate to the shadows in both our community and ourselves. As a community, we encourage individuals to do their own shadow work, but as a community we are not so prepared to have the shadow revealed. Like in relationships, many also leave Reclaiming at this point, feeling disgruntled and disillusioned. The shadow dancing that is required in a healthy relationship cannot be done if one partner refuses to acknowledge the dance steps. In our community these are the many unspoken hierarchies and some downright unpleasant politics. Sometimes we function more as a fan club than a community striving to model shared power and open leadership roles.

Many times when the disillusioned lover of Reclaiming speaks out it is not in a loving tone. The voice of dissent is also a voice of disappointment. It is not often reasoned or loving. It is often bitter, angry, frustrated, and hurt. This makes it easy for us to dismiss this voice as mean, jealous, attacking, or symptomatic of a personality defect if not disorder. We rarely view this voice as containing the questioning attitude we purport to foster.

Victor Naasy, publisher of The Nation, has said: "The squelching of dissent happens in many ways, one of which is self-censorship. Another is attacking people who dissent by stigmatizing them. A third is attacking people who dissent by misrepresenting what they said. A fourth is where the government says you can't say something, and a fifth is where the government punishes you for saying it."

The first three of these definitely operate in Reclaiming. I know this because I myself have self-censored out of fear. I also know I have participated in creating climates where others feel afraid to speak. There are times I have breathed into the fear, stated my opinion, and watched the stigmatization and misrepresentation fly. In the past 20 years, I am sure that there are those who I have participated in dismissing who I should have listened more deeply to. I have learned through the years to try to take responsibility for how I voice my dissent and watch for the pesky varmint of self-righteousness. I also am trying to listen for the questioning attitude that lies under the irritating self-righteousness of others. I am currently making an attempt to not take the squelching and stigmatizing all too personally. This is easier for me to do than a relative newcomer to Reclaiming. My marriage to Reclaiming has been long and rocky, but I have the deep and abiding faith that no other spiritual community would be a better match. My sense is that those who make it in a long-term relationship with Reclaiming are those who find a group they have affinity for who can support them when they get blasted for the questioning attitude. My little group of friends are blessed with a sense of humor and enduring patience. As a therapist I believe that individuals healing themselves is a revolutionary act. To create a community based on Reclaiming's Principles of Unity is hard and arduous work. Wedding vows rarely mirror the quality of the marriage, but they give us something to aspire to. We want to create a culture where dissent is allowed and the questioning attitude fostered. Of course we have trouble with this ourselves.

As Witches, we say, "What happens between the worlds, can change all the worlds." By this, we mean that what we do in sacred space, in that place we create between the worlds, will ripple out and change the world at large. If we can learn to embrace the questioning attitude and invite different radical analyses of power and structure into our own place between the worlds, this circle called Reclaiming, without reducing each other to good and evil, this would be a true feat of magic. The world needs changing, and we can start at home.

Rumi says, "Beyond good and evil, there is a field. I'll meet you there." Let's meet on that field and talk about the problems we have as a community. I'll be wearing some red velvet toreador pants for the occasion. It's time.

Meeting on the Field Bath Bombs

9 drops Lavender
9 drops Rose Geranium
3 drops Rose
1-1/2 cups of Baking Soda
1/2 cup of Sea Salt
2/3 cup of Citric Acid
2 tablespoons of soluble Dextrose
5 tablespoons of sweet almond oil

Mix dry ingredients together. Pour wet into the dry and mix quickly before fizz starts. Meditate on letting go of good and evil while talking about hard stuff. Lightly oil cupcake tins and pack mix down tightly. Turn and tap onto waxed paper and let dry for 24 hours. Should make about a dozen bath-bombs. Drop into the bath and enjoy how things can feel better when there is a little fizz.

Lavender is great for clearing old karmic patterns and helps with conflict. It promotes balance and relaxes us in communicating with others. Rose geranium helps with good humor and enhances the flow of communication and negotiation. It helps with pressure of all kinds, in the blood and in relationships. Rose is the scent of the goddess and is love love love and pretty much is the essence of our principles of unity in one whiff. The company Glory Bee (which has a website and a mail order catalogue) is the best place to get hard to find ingredients like citric acid and dextrose.

Oak, aka Deborah Cooper, is an aromancer, psychotherapist, artist, long time Reclaiming rabblerouser, and a priestess of the Temple of Elvis.