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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Hoeing Rows and Bigger Pies

I am about to tell you a Deep Reclaiming Secret. Seriously. This is, like, twelfth-level initiate stuff.* This is the secret of how to become a Reclaiming Witch. Are you ready? Here goes (at least, as I was taught. Your Moose May Vamoose):

In order to be considered a member of the Reclaiming Tradition, you must name yourself as such  and agree to abide by the Principles of Unity.


Oh, but that's a tall order, agreeing to abide by the Principles of Unity. The PoU is a dense and beautiful treatise, first written and consensed upon in 1997, which lays out what the Reclaiming tradition is about and what its members believe and do. It's our only official document, and it teems with the beauty of paradox, which sometimes leads to friction between members and communities who abide by it in different manners.

I use the analogy of all Reclaiming witches having identical cups, in the sense that we take many of the same core classes and learn the same methods for ritual-crafting, community-building, energy-raising, and the like. But what we each drink from that cup—Who we worship—is between us and Them.

But the PoU did have one sentence that presented that doing in the framework of believing:

Honoring both Goddess and God, we work with female and male images of divinity, always remembering that their essence is a mystery which goes beyond form.

A noble sentiment wrapped in lovely language. But there was a complication. As there often is.

Reclaiming is, for various reasons, a hotbed of LGBT magic and activism. We have a high density of queer and genderqueer practitioners (awesome!). Many of those folks bring with them relationships to Mysteries not represented by Goddess or God, by female or male images of divinity. They feel called to deities of multiple genders and none, to other-than-human beings, to Mysteries perceived more as states of being than identifiable entities. We also have a small but vocal contingent of naturalistic, Gaian, and polytheistic Pagans, drawn primarily or exclusively to the "mystery which goes beyond form" (when I say "small but vocal contingent", I mean that I am short, and I talk a lot).

Lord Shiva on the banks of Ganges, Rishikesh

Photo by Naresh Rao. Some rights reserved.


And so the proposal came to BIRCH to change the language in the PoU to reflect the changing realities of our members.

The process moved slowly. The change was proposed two years ago at BIRCH, a sort of tradition-wide business meeting. Everyone returned to their home communities to discuss the matter for a couple years, and then the proposal came up again for debate at the most recent BIRCH this August.

For two years, in bioregional communities around the globe, through in-person meetings and gender salons and in email lists and Facebook pages, we wrestled with the weighty questions raised by this proposed change. What does it mean to be truly inclusive? Does opening the way for people who do not resonate with gods and goddesses, considered by many to be a central tenet of Paganism, change our tradition so much as to make it unrecognizable? How do we make space at the table for all perceptions of Mystery while simultaneously celebrating that part of our history rooted in the revival of Goddess spirituality? Is it possible to explicitly welcome people of all genders and none without changing our "god-language" around this issue? Would changes in the wording mar the poetic beauty of the original document? And so many other questions large and small.

The conversations were sometimes contentious and never perfect. Some in the international community felt excluded from a debate taking place primarily in English. Class disparities came to the fore as those with inconsistent Internet access struggled to keep up with fast-moving online discussions. Again and again, we remembered that Reclaiming has evolved differently and embraced different values and priorities in different bioregions, leading at times to inter-community friction. But we did the work, because we are each our own spiritual authority, the PoU also reminds us, and we must speak out for what we believe in and co-create the worlds we wish to live in.

I was unable to attend this BIRCH, but reports paint a picture of a sometimes difficult but ultimately amazing weekend of opened hearts and minds and rolled-up sleeves. The debate regarding the proposed language change lasted a full day and was not always amiable. Tempers flared, seemingly irreconcilable differences clashed, well-intentioned people accidentally hurt each other. But those who came stayed and listened and contributed their voices to the song of this work. At the end of the long, long process, those present, representing Reclaiming communities around the world, reached consensus on revised language for the PoU. This language replaces the sentence quoted above.

Our diverse practices and experiences of the divine weave a tapestry of many different threads. We include those who honor Mysterious Ones, Goddesses, and Gods of myriad expressions, genders, and states of being, remembering that mystery goes beyond form.

Not everyone is happy with the change, of course, but I love it. It welcomes more people to the Reclaiming feast not by giving anyone else a smaller piece of pie but by making the pie bigger. It acknowledges that, as the human community of Reclaiming witches has changed, the divine community we worship has likewise changed. And it celebrates that the diversity of our experiences of the divine strengthens our communities and our tradition.

It isn't all smug self-congratulation in the Reclaiming web. In person and online, we deal with the aftermath of the process. What worked, what didn't, whose voices weren't heard, whose were given too much weight? And we begin examining our communities, rituals, classes, our very principles. How do we open our arms to Mystery in all its glorious diversity, of all genders and none, the named and the unnamed, the formed and the formless? Having reached the end of one row, we turn our hoes to the next.

The work is never done. That's why we love it.


*A little Reclaiming humor for you. The tradition has only one, completely voluntary, level of initiation.

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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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