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Start Making Scents

A Common Treasury for All

by Oak

In the fabulous movie Harold and Maude, the character Maude has a divine device. You inhale and instantly smell places and experiences, such as a snowy day in Central Park. If I had such a device at my disposal, one smell that would be on the dial is Saturday afternoon in the Roll On Eggroll booth at the Oregon Country Fair. This smell contains sunshine, hot oil, cut vegetables, defrosting shrimp, dust, 20 or so wild drummers across the path, raspberry lemonade, sweat and countless other intangible life spices. It is the essence of the kind of world I want to live in, minus a few drummers, and with more toilets.

The Oregon Country Fair began in the counter-cultural year of 1969 and has managed to maintain its "love, peace, and tie-dye" vibe throughout the decades. Once you walk through the main gate, you hail farewell to corporate monoculture. Everything you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste here glitters with human creativity. Mass marketed items have no place in this world. No experience is packaged, canned, or bears a logo. The fair is "off the grid" in more ways than one. Archaeological digs show that this place of power along the Long Tom River has been the site of human gatherings for 11,000 years. Every year it transforms into a cosmic village for three days in July. Musicians, vaudeville performers, magicians, craftspeople, and food makers converge and create alternative culture. There is even a ritzy sauna, shower and spa area. Any lover of Witchcamp would feel right at home. In fact, the Fair's code of ethics bears some resemblance to Reclaiming's principles of unity.

I have been rolling eggrolls at this gathering for more than two decades, the majority of my adult life. There are 13 core members in my fair family. When we started out, there were six couples and my then adolescent brother-in-law. Over the years, we began having children, and now there are eight boys in our booth. The booth of once young people is now middle-aged and every couple has come undone except for two. New partners and lovers have come to the booth and been welcomed with varying degrees of enthusiasm, drama, and acceptance. Some of us have taken a year off here and there, but despite the emotional strife of working closely with ex's and new mates, we continue our commitment to this village experience outside time.

Like any group of Homo sapiens, there are dynamics galore. Over time, alliances shift and change. Power and interpersonal struggles are both overt and subterranean. We strive to be non-hierarchical, yet it is often the case that some voices are given more credence than others. At any given time, there is someone in the booth who is barely speaking to another. Hard and hurt feelings are created annually. Sometimes there is healing, and sometimes there is not. Our stories together would make a sordid mini-series or a juicy potboiler novel.

The Roll On Eggroll Booth is a nonprofit endeavor. While at the fair, none of us uses our own money for daily living. It all comes from the communal pot. For a few days, it is all for one and one for all. Despite the fact that at any given time, more than half the booth may be facing difficult economic straits, our organizing principle is that we don't do the work for the money. The work can be grueling. "The Mother Ship," as we tend to call our booth, contains a fully functioning kitchen, a living room, and bedrooms. This springs up out of a small thicket of trees and bushes over a day or so and then gets taken apart again and hauled off after three days of furiously making and selling eggrolls. There is a funky wooden structure that, depending on the rise of the Long Tom over the winter, either will be intact or not when we get there in July. Despite the fact that we put in varying degrees of work, if money is made, we split it evenly. Despite differing levels of energy and ability, there has never been any move to create a structure that reflects this financially. More often than not, we will decide to spend any money made on a decadent dinner out when we get back to town, or put it towards some luxury for the following year.

More than anything, I believe it is this attitude towards money that keeps us all coming back. For these few days we live outside capitalist culture. Profit is not the motivating force. We work hard, and we give out eggrolls to anyone who can't pay for them. The work is sustainable, not because we make a profit, but because we make enough to fund the endeavor, we keep each other well fed, and more than anything, we make each other laugh. Like Witchcamp, our time there is between the worlds. Coming back, year after year, we work our magic, we change consciousness at will, and we create an alternative reality where, like my heroes, the Diggers, we work together, not for profit, but in common treasury for all. (The Diggers were mid-1600s English radicals who "worked the land in common" — see RQ #71.)

At Witchcamp, like at the eggroll booth, we attempt to spin the world of our dreams. Put a hundred or so Witches in a rural setting, add sacred drama to this, and Witchcamp becomes an intoxicating cauldron of creativity. I have been a Reclaiming Witch as long as I have been an eggroller and was there at the very first Witchcamp.

My politics make me uncomfortable with the glamour and power that the Witchcamp teacher role has become imbued with. As a therapist, I have problems with the "let's go to your deepest place of pain and heal it in one ritual" kind of magic that sometimes ensues at Witchcamp. Nevertheless, I know that the Witchcamp experience is a powerful one, one in which, like the experience of being at the eggroll booth, we glimpse the possibility of our dreams coming into being.

Roll On Eggrolls only happens once a year. Witchcamp happens one week out of the year, in seven different locales. Each has its own flavor and financial structure. The majority of camps are put on by a team of organizers from the local community. Teachers are usually picked by a selection committee, who run their choices by a guidance council. The guidance council was created to provide overall vision and continuity for all the camps.

How and what the organizers and teachers are paid varies widely. At some camps, organizers give a pot of money to the teachers and have them divide this up themselves, and at some camps teachers are told what they will make when they are hired. Most often, teachers are paid according to a pay scale based on their ranking as a teacher. The ranking is: Senior, Intermediate, Beginning and Student. Student teachers are usually not paid. Senior teachers usually make between two to three thousand dollars for the week's work. The ranking and pay scale were created to reflect the diversity of experience and skill of teachers. Some Witchcamp teaching and organizing teams choose not to employ the scale, and the teachers divide the money evenly. Because of my eggroll experience, in the past I have chosen to only teach with Witchcamp teams that divide money evenly. As with the eggroll booth, to do otherwise would negate the reason I go.

This year, as a financially strapped single mother, it would have been in my best financial interest to agree to a pay scale when hired to teach at the B.C. camp. The organizers regarded me as a "senior teacher." The organizers and selection team knew my stance against pay scales. They also knew that one of the other "senior teachers" was just as adamantly in favor of the pay scale. The organizing team gave the teaching team the difficult job of deciding how the money would be divided. In hiring teachers with such divergent views, I figured that reaching some kind of compromise, some third road, would be part of the magic at hand. In the beginning of our first conference call, the team worked smoothly together. I was excited that my suggestion of a camp story that deals with third roads, Thomas the Rhymer, was met with enthusiasm. We had set aside the last 15 minutes of the call to talk about money. I went into shock when another teacher told the team that we needed to come to consensus on the pay scale within this time. The same teacher informed us (mistakenly) that there was no money for another phone call. Before I knew what hit me, I was off the team.

I now have the dubious honor of being the only person I know to block something in a consensus process and be forced to leave the group. Usually when there is a block, there is a concerted effort to find a solution that all can live with, a third road (this is the point of consensus process). The organizers unanimously requested that I be re-instated on the team. Within a few days of the phone call, I had come up with a third road I could live with, one which, despite my views, would allow me to teach on teams with a pay scale. On this road, I would simply require that I make an equal percentage of the pot of money relative to how many teachers there are. Despite my shift and the organizer's request, the teaching team would not revisit the decision made in the phone call. I was off the team. A guidance council member replaced me.

This spring, there was a flurry of e-mails on the list for organizers and teachers. Anne Hill sent a powerful post that questioned the values Witchcamps are being organized around. With her strong invocation of the questioning attitude, others began to ask hard questions as well. These questions included: why selection teams often select themselves for teaching positions, why the guidance council does not advocate for a one-teacher-one-camp policy, thus allowing more people the possibility of teaching, and why we don't have a grievance procedure. With a few exceptions, senior teachers and the guidance council kept their silence. For the most part, I kept silent as well, needing time to digest what had happened to me with the BC team. After time and reflection, my question became clear. My question is: Is Witchcamp a business, or like the eggroll booth, a sustainable spell?

By the time this column is in print, it will be high summer. I will soon be rolling eggrolls and smelling that distinct scent of Saturday afternoon at the Oregon Country Fair. Fate has worked the trick that three Witchcamps will be working with the story of Thomas the Rhymer this year. It is my hope and dream that the magic will be potent and powerful, that a third road emerges that we all can begin to journey down. It is my hope that with good will and an eye to the future, we attend to the questions that have been asked. My dream is that all Witchcamps, like my eggroll booth, become a common treasury for all, that in those weeks between the worlds, it is not business as usual.

True Thomas Lip Balm

1 ounce Beeswax
1/4 teaspoon aloe vera oil
1/2 cup sweet almond oil
1/4 teaspoon vitamin E oil
9 drops of rose essential oil
2 dozen lip balm pots or tubes (Old lipstick tubes are great — you can even throw in a little lipstick to tint the balm)

Combine everything except the rose oil in a small pourable container, like a glass-measuring cup. Place this in a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of water. Heat until the beeswax is liquefied. Remove from heat and add essential oil. Pour into containers and let cool. A different essential oil can be used, but rose gives you the lips of love, so needed in speaking our truths.

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