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Can Anyone Be a Witch?

by Bonnie Wodin

Growing up, I learned that being a Witch was deep and mysterious, an accident of birth. My mother pronounced that only an unbroken line of oldest daughters having oldest daughters "unto the seventh generation" produced a trueborn Witch.

Life has taught me differently. Being a Witch is indeed a deep commitment allowing us to approach the mysteries of life. But now I know that anyone can be a Witch! What a revelation.

At Vermont Witchcamp, we welcome all as we delve into the depths of the unknown or soar to ecstasy. However —

The camp is set on a rugged hillside, with the enticing lake at the bottom and the wide ritual grounds open to the Milky Way at the top — the terrain is a major challenge.

Everything else lies between. In order to get from cabin or tent to meals, Path, vending, showers, ritual, anywhere, requires a trek. But we love our mountainside. And we continue to rent it from the Farm and Wilderness Camp, an organization committed to respecting and caring for the land in as low-impact a way as possible. The winding, often narrow, rocky, sometimes muddy, root-filled paths challenge us all. The first days of camp find us huffing and puffing along until we get our "camp legs."

But anyone can be a Witch, right? Camp is not just for the young, healthy, and able-bodied. In facing the continuing challenge of transporting Witches of many abilities from dining hall to Path, from cabin to ritual circle and back, we enlist modern technology in the form of two four-wheel-drive vehicles and walkie-talkies. The "special needs" coordinator, a work-exchange position, works with two drivers (also work exchange positions) to set up transportation schedules and routes. Anyone wanting a ride between one part of camp and another is welcome to climb on board, be it for the entire week, or one particularly tiring day. The vehicles also carry drums or chairs. 

But accessibility doesn't end with transportation. Special needs cabins are located halfway up the mountain close to the dining room, vendors, indoor showers and, maybe most important, a porta-potty and the road. One special needs cabin even has electricity! These cabins afford campers some ease, saving a few knees as well as spirits.

Another aspect of accessibility revolves around our kitchen. Witches of many dietary persuasions come to camp. During the first six years of camp our remarkable kitchen staff fed us with sumptuous vegetarian foods, as well as a host of alternatives: vegan, wheat-free, and nightshade-free offerings were a few steps away from the serving tables at every meal. The possibilities were staggering. Yet the kitchen handled requests with generosity and grace. A couple of years ago, the issue of serving meat arose. After lengthy and sometimes heated discussions, VWC began the experiment of serving "high-protein" animal foods (i.e. chicken and fish). After all, if we can accommodate some special diets, why not provide for all? Our transition to a wider diet was anything but smooth. The first year we offered meat was clumsy with unclear communication and expectation. We tried to handle it as though it was any other special diet, "the high-protein, meat alternative is on the counter" next to the vegan and wheat- or nightshade-free offerings. Seemed reasonable at the time. What happened in the dining room was more like, "where did YOU get that!" and "why isn't there some for me?!" Some meat eaters felt put under a microscope, as though their neighbors were salivating on their plates. Some vegetarians felt that "the very air has turned greasy" or were offended by the "odor of cooking flesh". And the dining room, which had been a space of fun and nourishment, had become a bone of contention.

By the second year, after a camper survey, we got it down a bit better. Meat is now offered by the second day of camp, and with at least one meal every other day. High-protein vegetarian foods are offered daily. As always, campers requiring denser protein are provided with the facilities to store and prepare protein foods brought from home.

Working with accessibility issues includes the financial realm as well as the physical. Because many campers come from Canada, we provide a "Canadian Exchange" rate, funded in part from anonymous donations. This year we have acknowledged that the Canadian Exchange is a political statement as well as a financial one. We cannot as yet afford true parity between the exchange rates of our two countries, but we are mindful of working towards that goal.

Other financial possibilities are the work exchange, scholarship, and youth scholarship programs. The fifteen work-exchange positions carry significant responsibility and keep camp running smoothly. Scholarships are funded in part by the camp raffle, a highlight of the week, featuring fabulous prizes as well as tons of laughs and loads of glitter! Each vendor donates a prize, and many others mysteriously appear as the raffle draws closer.

Accessibility continues to be an issue at VWC. The timing of camp may be the most significant issue in our future. The week when our beloved mountain is available coincides with the first week of the public school year. This impact is huge: camp is not available to those who work in school systems or choose to see their kids off to that first day of school.

We continue to grapple with this issue.

We recognize that our community is year-round and never-ending. Camp is simply that physical manifestation of the joy and journey we travel together. But it is an important part of our year. It will be a wonder to watch as this very basic issue of accessibility at VWC unfolds.

Bonnie Wodin is a landscape designer, writer, priestess, and teacher who makes her home in Heath, MA, among the Heathens. This was her sixth year at Vermont Witchcamp.