This week, my wife and about 60 fellow members of the Reclaiming tradition traveled to rural Wisconsin for Winter Witchcamp. Staying behind is hard for me, despite knowing I need the year off. Winter Witchcamp is a spiritual home-away-from-home, and many members of my home community will be there, as well as friends I only see at that time. I miss them fiercely.
What is witchcamp? For many, it's integral to the Reclaiming experience. It's part summer camp (even in Winter), part symposium, part family reunion. For several days, we learn together in groups small and large, eat together in a lodge and sleep together in cabins (and tents, in Summer, but this is February in the Upper Midwest, and we're not crazy) , and make magic and ritual together.
Peter Dybing gave Sunday's keynote speech, "Stirring the Cauldron of Pagan Sensibilities." A worthy pursuit to my mind. In an animated talk, Peter emphasized that Paganism was not a monolithic institution. He also spoke of the need for boundaries,avoiding what he called "the 2 a.m. crisis." During feedback, I reminded folks that one of the required courses for degree-seeking students at Cherry Hill Seminary is Boundaries & Ethics. I took the proto-class from Cat Chapin-Bishop back around 2000 and found it one of the most valuable classes I've ever taken.
He itemized several issues and then compared the attitudes about them of older Pagans and to those of younger generations. He said that older Pagans generally held tightly to beliefs whereas younger ones welcomed debate. I think this is true of any social phenomenon when it achieves some years; however, I don't think it's universal. I count many Pagans, myself among them, as being open-minded, adaptable, and willing to engage on current issues, far from being hidebound.
I join the chorus of voices reporting on the general wonderfulness of the 9th Annual Claremont Pagan Studies Conference.1 I found the overall quality of presentations exceptionally high, as they were the last time I attended two years ago.
I arrived Friday night after a long solo drive from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles, through rain and the hairy Grapevine Canyon through the Tehachapi Mountains, stressed and with intense pain between my shoulders. Cranky, in other words. Soon Lauren cheered me up.
Saturday morning's first session consisted of four speakers. Joseph Nichter, an Iraq war veteran, spoke of using Tarot in healing PTSD. I loved his ideas about what he calls "peripheral exploration," wherein the querent draws a single card, places it on a larger sheet of paper, and draws a scene that embeds the image in the card in a larger picture.
Last year a young man approached me at a sabbat and told me he was "of my line." Huh? I didn't know I had a line. Then he told me he'd recently been initiated and one of his initiators was an initiate of one of my initiates. My initiate had been a student of mine (and of others) for some years before any oaths were sworn.
This incident brings up lots of questions, especially since it arises from a tradition (Reclaiming) that requires no initiation in order for people to participate as fully and completely, prominently and authoritatively (teaching, public priest/essing, et al.) as they choose. An obvious concern in this scenario is accountability -- to students, to community, to tradition. Another is whether, or how, one can assume a shared knowledge and capability. Those are questions for another rumination; for now, let's stick with lines and lineage.
What do we mean by lineage? Why is it important to us? Or to those of us who may think it is important? Or to anyone?
I'm revisiting the practice of xenia today. Xenia, as I wrote in my initiatory post about it, is the ancient Hellenic practice of ritual hospitality. A quote:
"Hospitality in ancient Hellenic was a complicated ritual within both the host and the guest has certain roles to fill and tasks to perform. Especially when someone unknown to the host came to the door, the ritual held great value. This ritual practice of hospitality was called 'xenia' (ξενία) and is described a lot in mythology. This, because any unknown traveler at the door could be a Theos in disguise or they could even be watched over by a Theos who would pass judgement on the host."
Today, I'm expanding upon my previous post about ritual hospitality with some tips about modern interpretation of the ancient practice. Society has changed, after all, and those wishing to actively practice xenia will find themselves in situations where they will want to assume the best in strangers, but who must safeguard themselves against abuse of all kinds.
When I was a kid I remember that whenever a new person entered our lives, especially whenever one of us children brought a new friend home, my mother would ask, "Who are your people?" This used to really bug me. She did it in a challenging, even accusatory, way, like you had to prove yourself worthy of her attention or of being in her child's life before she'd accept you.
Now that so many years have past, and my mother is gone, I'm revising my attitude towards her question. Who are my people? Who are your people? Who are our people?