Pagan Paths

For Reclaiming Witches, what we do is the living embodiment of what we believe—about human worth, the holiness of the Earth, and the individual and community relationship with Mystery. Join me as I explore some of the tradition's central tenets and commonly held beliefs through the actions of our members. From soup kitchens to street actions, from guerrilla gardening to gender salons, "Reclaiming by Doing" hopes to illuminate the sacred in ordinary and extraordinary life.

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Who Are We?

My home Reclaiming community has launched a series of meetings to try to define ourselves as a community. What is our history? What are our values? What is our power structure, and how do we make decisions? Who, exactly, are "we" in the first place?

To folks in long-standing Pagan groups or lineaged traditions, it might seem strange for a community to have existed, in one form or another, for nearly two decades and its members not know these things. But the Twin Cities Reclaiming community was historically a nebulous entity, coalescing around particular needs and then dispersing again; only in the past few years has a sense of enduring community begun to sit strongly enough in a large enough number of us to deem these kinds of framework discussions necessary.

Then, too, this local autonomy is integral to the nature of Reclaiming, both one of its greatest strengths and highest hurdles: on the one hand, no central authority tells us what to believe or do. On the other hand, no central authority tells us what to believe or do. Our rituals and community structures are not handed down from coven to coven or community to community. We, as groups and individuals, must decide what best serves us and our relationships with Mystery.

As with all things, the Principles of Unity offers a strong foundation on which to base these discussions but doesn't tell us how to do any of it or what conclusions we must come to.

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"We make decisions by consensus..."

Consensus-based decision-making is central to Reclaiming philosophy, but we acknowledge that some decisions cannot--and should not--be reached by consensus. Emergencies, situations that effect only a few people in a community, and decisions that must be made by very large groups fare better under different models. Although some groups see the PoU's statement about consensus as an absolute--all decisions are made by consensus--others view it as confirmation that we prefer consensus but can be flexible when the need arises.

"We strive to teach and practice in ways that foster personal and collective empowerment, to model shared power and to open leadership roles to all."

Reclaiming is meant to be a nonhierarchical tradition, a structure that usually empowers all but sometimes leads to struggle. Our local community favors "the priestess of the moment" over designated High Priestesses and High Priests. The idea is that, when the moment arrives, the person most suited to lead a particular ritual, group, or meeting will feel called to step forward and do so. This is a wonderful practice so far as it works, but if that person does not step forward, we must know how to deal with the power vacuum created, lest one person--often someone who simply can't abide the thought of something going undone because no one else would claim responsibility for it--becomes the default priestess of the moment and either accumulates too much power or burns themselves out.

"We see the Goddess as immanent in the earth's cycles of birth, growth, death, decay and regeneration."

Even something as seemingly simple as asserting that we are a Goddess tradition is rife with pitfalls. Do we mean that we acknowledge Earth Itself as a divine living being, sexualized for convenience's sake as feminine? Do we mean we draw our inspiration from a largely apocryphal but still-cherished dream of pre-Christian, matriarchal, goddess-worshipping cultures? Do we mean that we profess belief in The Goddess, or at least a goddess? Though many of us could answer "yes" to any or all of those questions in our personal beliefs and practices, others cannot. And as the PoU also states that we "balance individual autonomy with social responsibility," each community Reclaiming community attempting to define its shared values and beliefs must ultimately decide whether the beliefs of the many outweigh the beliefs of the few--whether we should confine ourselves, in a statement of identity or list of shared values, to identities and values claimed by all members, or whether we are justified in listing attributes shared by most of our members.

I could spend days talking about this fraught topic. I predict I will revisit it as our community meetings progress. The position of decentralized anarchy has driven some folks--both seekers and long-established community members--away from Reclaiming. One can feel rather unmoored, at times, in the kaleidoscopic uncertainty. But the assurance that we, not a High Priest or Chief Druid, not a tradition founder who never lived in our time and place nor knew the particulars of our lives, determine what is spiritually best for us and our communities, was one of the strongest draws of this tradition for me. The question of "who we are" is a gloriously messy one--one that I can't wait to dive into, again and again.

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Eli Effinger-Weintraub practices Gaian Reclaiming-tradition hearthcraft in the Twin Cities watershed. She plants her beliefs and practices in the living Earth and her butt on a bicycle saddle. Previous works have appeared in Witches&Pagans, Circle, and Steampunk Tales, as well as at the Clarion Foundation blog, Humanistic Paganism, and I’m From Driftwood. Eli writes the "Restorying the Sacred" column at No Unsacred Place, a blog of the Pagan Newswire Collective. She shares her life and art with her wife, visual artist Leora Effinger-Weintraub, and two buffalo disguised as cats. Eli's personal blog lives at Backbooth, and she tweets as @AwflyWeeEli.

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