Advanced Work in Community
A Reclaiming Quarterly theme section coordinated by Portland Reclaiming
Ethical Leadership in an Anarchist Community - Dawn Isidora & Lilith Hayakawa Mist
Exercise: Value-Driven Leadership - from Diana's Grove
Building Relationships As Advanced Work - by Scott Mist
The Elements - by Topaz
Individual and Community Magic on Mount Tabor - by Rowan Phillips
In Favor of Co-Teaching - by Lilith Hayakawa Mist
In this, the “Portland Issue” of RQ, some of us from the Portland Reclaiming group came together with the idea of offering articles covering the diversity of approaches and interests that are present in our community. We selected a theme of Advanced Work in Community.
If there is a common thread in our community, it is that we strive to be deeply grounded in the teachings of the tradition and rooted in the ideal of practice. As we have matured, we have asked ourselves: What is advanced magical work? Can it be practiced as a community as well as by an individual?
While this edition is indeed varied, it pales when compared to the diversity of interests and ideals in our community. But this is our offering to the Reclaiming community at large. We hope you enjoy it.
Blessed Be — Scott Mist
Ethical Leadership in an Anarchist Community
By Dawn Isidora and Lilith Hayakawa Mist
Reclaiming is an anarchistic tradition with a fondness for charismatic leaders. Many profess the tradition is non-hierarchical. Still, most of us could name “who’s on top.” We write this with love and humor, yet we believe this paradox is at the root of a lot of our communities’ confusion and strife. The struggle to understand and grapple with issues of power, both personal and political, is one of Reclaiming’s raison d’etre, so it is hardly surprising that our struggles play out on the community stage.
This article is born of a desire to discuss ethics and leadership, to expand our vocabulary and ideas about what leadership is and how it can best function. Reclaiming’s anarchist lineage gives us many gifts. Among these gifts are individual empowerment and a questioning attitude. Due to the tradition’s hesitancy to codify, the tradition’s relative youth and a commitment to continuing evolution, we are ever learning how to better teach the skills that are vital to the health and sustainability of our communities. The authors have come to believe that healthy leadership models are key to our continued existence as a tradition.
We hear catch phrases all the time suggesting that leadership is as simple as walking: just “step into power.” But many of us stumble and fall with that step. Power-from-within and power-with are lauded and power-over decried. But who amongst us feels we know exactly where one ends and the other begins? As our Portland community has grown, we have had many conversations around leadership, our core values, training, and personal work. The conundrum we encounter, invariably, goes something like this: We want to be inclusive. We trust experience and personal work. We don’t want to gate keep. We want to nurture our community by providing real skills and training to its members. We don’t want to be irresponsible by letting folks who aren’t ready for leadership roles step into them unaided. But we don’t want to gate-keep. We want to be inclusive. And so it goes round and round.
(Note: We use the terms organizer, facilitator and leader interchangeably. Each has a different connotation but in this article we wish to recognize that organizing and facilitating are leadership roles. There are many types of leaders currently at work in our magical communities.)
We found ourselves asking, “What place is there for leadership within the tradition? What are the qualities we want in leaders and how do we as a community nurture the development of these qualities?” The double-entendre in our title, “Reclaiming Leadership,” asks not only what should leadership be in our tradition, but also what about leadership itself do we want to reclaim? Leadership can be a bit of a taboo word in a group where non-hierarchy is affirmed regularly, where we assert the right, if not the duty, of all to be leaders or at least individually-empowered. This taboo has occasionally resulted in tearing down anyone seen as rising in a hierarchy that was not supposed to exist.
Perhaps you have seen a situation as ridiculous as an assault on the person “in charge” of making the flyers for the next ritual for exercising “power over” the color of paper used. Or you may have seen leadership that is woefully destructive to your community defended by the statement, “Well, I am not in charge (responsible).” How do we support and encourage people to engage in, organize, and take responsibility for valid and needed tasks? How do we challenge behaviors that are destructive or unethical? In other words, despite the taboo, how do we reclaim leadership?
We argue that there is hierarchy in our tradition, but that ideally it is constantly shifting: Today I am organizing the action. Tomorrow you are facilitating the discussion group. Tuesday someone else is priestessing the ritual. We concede that leadership does imply temporary hierarchy, but to assert all hierarchy is to be avoided is to throw the baby out with the bath water. Furthermore, it contradicts the way our communities are currently functioning.
Most Reclaiming communities are looking for ways to create structures that support their magical work. To this end, we’ve identified three leadership principles that are in keeping with our tradition. You may come up with more.
Decisions by consensus. We highly value individual autonomy and diversity. Consensus allows for all interested voices to contribute to the decision-making process of creating and maintaining the structures that support our communities.
Flexible hierarchy. Leadership is a role, not a person. An effort is made to keep people rotating through leadership roles, with an emphasis on skill-sharing.
Leadership is service. Leadership affords no special rights like tithing or pointy hats. A leader, like anyone, may expect fair compensation for time and effort but must consider the health and well-being of the community.
These principles move us towards a leadership model that functions in support of the community. To further tailor the leadership model to your group’s values, try the exercise below.
Qualities of the Leader
Here are a few skills we think that anyone stepping into a role of leadership would ideally demonstrate. We want our leaders to:
• be self-aware
• be responsive to feedback
• prioritize the community good
A self-aware leader has some idea of the effect she has on others, knows her strengths so she can draw on them, knows her challenges so she can work those edges, and knows her expectations so she can communicate those clearly. Further, a big part of our tradition is knowing ourselves, so we would hope our leaders could model this. No one is perfect, so we want our leaders to be able to hear feedback, acknowledge mistakes, and when appropriate, make changes. We want our leaders to prioritize the good of the community because leadership is service. We have leaders to serve the community, not the other way around.
Spend five minutes writing in your journal on the following questions (be as honest as possible): What is attractive and alluring about leadership? What is frightening about leadership?
If possible, do this exercise with your coven or peer group. Read your entries aloud and discuss.
Iron Pentacle as Leadership Tool
One of our core tools, the Iron Pentacle, is perfectly suited to address many, if not most, of the pitfalls that come with leadership. The points of the Iron Pentacle are sex, pride, self, power, and passion.
Witches work with Iron Pentacle to know ourselves better, to embrace our Shadow, and to reclaim the points of the pentacle fully in our lives. Because this tool can take us to the most intimate places in our personal work, it is also valuable for understanding what our issues are in groups. “The personal is political” was a tenet of the feminist revolution. Every issue that is likely to arise in taking on a leadership role can be traced to a root in the points of the pentacle.
• Sexual attraction to power.
• Power differential in a teacher/student sexual relationship.
• Sexuality and glamour (or lack of it) in priestessing.
• What gift(s) do you bring to leadership roles?
• What is your growing edge and how can you strengthen it?
• Explore issues of ego, shame, and arrogance in leadership.
• Explore the importance of self-awareness in leadership.
• What role does recognition/validation play for you?
• What style of leadership suits you, and why?
• What do I and don’t I have control over?
• Explore responsibility vs. domination.
• Explore the relationship between charisma, power and leadership.
• Explore ways to balance your passion(s) to maintain sustainability.
• Paralysis and Obsession: what keeps you from taking appropriate action or triggers you to micromanage?
• Is your passion ever abusive or destructive to yourself or others?
After each group presented their exercises there were two rounds of feedback. First we all processed our experience in the exercise and what came up for us. What did we learn about ourselves through the exercise? In the second round, we critiqued the exercise — what worked and why, what didn’t work so well, specific suggestions for improvement, etc. This portion of the workshop worked on three levels: it provided useful information on teaching strategies, facilitated practice on giving and receiving feedback, and encouraged personal insight into our relationship and shadow relationship with leadership.
Practice, mentoring and peer feedback
We said above that we want our leaders to be self-aware, to be responsive to feedback and to have the good of the community as a priority. We believe that people are not born with all the abilities necessary to make us brilliant communicators, ritualists, priestesses and Witches. We learn. We screw up. Hopefully, we keep trying and honing our skills. If we are really lucky, we find ways to get training and feedback: someone we trust to give us an outside perspective. We are not omniscient and can’t always tell what the effects of our actions are.
Unfortunately, what often happens looks like this: Mudflat takes a risk and nervously steps into a new leadership role. She does some things well and others not so well. Her friends tell her she did great but perhaps even they, along with others, talk behind Mudflat’s back about what they did not like. Perhaps they notice Mudflat isn’t as skilled as Rainbow, who has been doing this longer. Community support swells in a thousand tiny and often unspoken ways around Rainbow. Mudflat gets discouraged, gives up, leaves, starts her own group, believing any number of things about why she was rejected.
In the communities we are building, we’d like stepping into leadership to look more like this: Mudflat takes a risk and nervously steps into a new leadership role. She has done some honest self-evaluation and feels ready. She asks Rainbow for her support. Rainbow shares tips of the trade and is a silent or secondary partner in Mudflat’s first venture, quietly providing real assistance and emotional support. Together they debrief afterwards, discussing what went well and what could have gone better. Community members give Mudflat direct and honest feedback, positive and negative. Mudflat asks to talk this over with Rainbow and other friends as well to figure out what, if anything, should be done with the feedback. Mudflat has some sense of what her strengths are at this point, and has things to work on. Rainbow remains a resource for as long as Mudflat wants her. Eventually, Mudflat mentors someone else.
There are many complex skills that go into being a good leader, facilitator, organizer — far too many to go into here. The best way that we can think of for us to be continually learning is to regularly and consciously engage in a feedback process. Do you have peers that are willing to call you on your bad behavior? Do you ask for constructive feedback? Do you ask for mentorship? Do you give it? We never outgrow the need to engage in the feedback process.
We would like to see our tradition develop a shared understanding of the qualities and skills wanted in our community leaders.
Portland classes have taught priestessing skills like invocation and trance. In class, we practice process-oriented skills like check-ins and consensus, but spend little time actually teaching these skills. In our community, every class ends with a feedback form, but few classes teach the use of compassionate, effective feedback. Upon reflection, we realized that Portland’s Core Classes were not transmitting information that we felt was necessary to the well-being and continued existence of our community.
We are evolving, as a community, as a tradition, as a species. We are moving out of the Age of Pisces, out of an age of leaders, heroes and saviors, and into the Age of Aquarius, an age of community, personal empowerment and co-creation. It is critical to this transition that we explore and redefine our notions of leadership. We have to learn what healthy leadership looks like. How can we allocate more time to learning valuable skills such as consensus process, how to give and receive feedback and how to design and teach an exercise? Can we make space to delve into the examination of our values, what draws us to or repels us from leadership roles, and what our personal strengths and challenges are when it comes to leadership? In our community, we have found it very useful to spend time discussing these issues. While a community consensus on every aspect of leadership is probably not possible, it is important to be engaged in thoughtful dialogue on the subject. We believe building a shared vocabulary around leadership will serve us all well.
This article is based on a workshop developed by the authors called “Reclaiming Leadership” that has been taught twice in Portland, OR. All scenarios in this article are fictional. Any similarity to you or your community is purely coincidental.
Dawn Isidora lives in Portland with her soon-to-be husband and two teenage sons. She has been a Reclaiming witch for over two decades and is initiated in both the Reclaiming and Feri traditions.
Lilith Hayakawa Mist is a native Oregonian, witch, priestess and gardener. She is interested in what holds communities together and long-term working relationships with friends and deities.
Exercise: Value-Driven Leadership
Different leadership styles arise out of different values. To understand what kind of leader you want to work with or become, begin by looking at your core values.
Make a list with your peer or working groups. What values do you want to embody in your work: humor, awareness of the immanent sacred, honesty, compassion?
You may hold two equally cherished values that don’t always work well together. For example, the authors have shared that we value advanced skill and we also value inclusiveness. It is helpful to us to know which value we are prioritizing in a given context.
When you have your list of values, select two or three that are most important to you personally. For these, ask yourself how could they be embodied? What specific real-world actions can or do you take that bring these values into play?
For example, what do you actually do that supports a value like diversity? Pause and notice what values, if any, fall to the bottom of the priority list when your top three are advanced. Does this remind you of any conflicts you have had in community?
Seeking out the values underneath behaviors can shed light on disagreements. For example, Witchcampers might argue whether our value of inclusiveness (keeping cost down) is at odds with our value of just compensation for work (when so many organizers go unpaid).
By knowing and communicating your values, you can raise the level of trust by giving people a window into the motivations behind your actions. By consensing on shared values in groups, the group can bring its goals into clearer focus.
Leadership should be at the service of the community and its values, not the other way around. Value-driven leadership makes us ask, “What is ethical leadership and how can we practice it?”
With core principles and values that serve the community, we begin to build a functional model for ethical leadership. Having a useful model for the system, the question then becomes what qualities are useful in the person filling that role?
Thanks to Diana’s Grove for this exercise.
Building Relationships as Advanced Work
By Scott Mist
Building relationships is the core of my practice. I find that everywhere I go, with every entity, corporeal or not, my skills in relationship building are brought into play.
Within the Portland community, it is the one skill that I go back to over and over both in my personal practice and my teaching. If things are going poorly for me, chances are it has to do with my relations. If they are going well, again, my relations.
A professor of mine, Dr. Martin Zwick (who would be flabbergasted to know he is being referenced in a zine for Witches) has made a life’s work of creating a model for the ontology of all things. The second key concept in his ontology is relationship. All things are to some degree or another in relationship with each other. The interconnectivity of all things plays a major role in our own religion.
It is with this understanding of the basic nature of relationship that I write this article. Though relationship building with non-corporeal entities is an advanced endeavor, like most things that are considered magically advanced, it is also extremely basic.
First, let me say that I have a bias in all of my magical practice — and to some degree or another it seems to be something in common to our approach to magic in Portland. My bias could be described by the saying, “As above, so below.” This can be interpreted in many ways, but I tend to feel this means look at your “mundane” life — it is a reflection of your spiritual life.
If your life has clutter, your spiritual life has clutter. If you can’t keep a relationship going with folks who are embodied, chances are you can’t with the Gods, spirits, and other things that go bump in the night. In my experience, the same skills that are needed to build deeper relationships with your loved ones are required with the non-corporeal. Communication with spirits requires time and energy, just as with humans. So before traipsing off to Fairy to build relationships, look at how things are going with your partner, your family, your friends. Start your work there.
I begin almost all relationship building with spirit by doing some research. (I have to admit that I love books and reading and general arcana.) When I decide I am going to build a relationship with an entity, I first read everything I can about the entity. In some ways, this is similar to doing a background check on someone, but generally the entities I have built relationships with are very appreciative. It is good to know the stories of the deities, the fey, the ancestors. We can learn about the motivation and character of the spirit. While I very much enjoy this step, in the end, it is often the step that informs me the least. That being said, it is a good place to start.
Altars & Communication
Next I recommend building an altar. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but that can be fun as well. Altars serve three functions for me. First, it is a visual reminder of my interest in communication. An altar that is hidden away where I don’t see it is only good if I am willing to make the trek with some regularity and don’t neglect it. There are few things, in my experience, that will hinder relationship building worse than neglect. This includes the altar.
Second, altars are places to build communication. Do your meditation at the altar. Do artwork at the altar. Sleep next to it. Do divination on it. Make a regular practice of spending time at your altars. Personally, I recommend taking down any altars that you aren’t spending time at. These unkept altars are distracting and take energy.
The altar is a place to bring your questions, issues, hopes, and dreams. There is a Cuban saying,”El nino que no llora, no mama” or the child who doesn’t cry, doesn’t get fed. I am not saying that the only communication that should happen is when things go poorly. The spirit world doesn’t like someone that only pays attention to them when they are trying to get something from them, any more than those of us who are embodied. That being said, speaking your fears, desires, and observations while at the altar, just like catching up with a good friend, builds rapport and allows your communication to deepen.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, altars are places to feed the entity with which you are building a relationship. Victor Anderson used to say that the only way of working with the Gods was to feed them. In most cultures, altars are places to feed the spirit. So what do spirits eat, you might ask? This goes back to research. It has been my experience that almost every spirit has a favorite food. This could be something you learn through time or it could be widely known in lore. Oshun loves honey. Ganesha loves milk. Thor just loves to eat. When working with ancestors, it is good to learn their favorite foods and drinks. Besides food, spirits are also fed by our art, our song, and our sex. Any of these can happen at the altar and certainly aid in creating relationship. (If your ancestor is closely-related or a prude, they may not appreciate sex at their altar!)
Reclaiming as a tradition is particularly adept at other tools that are extremely useful in building communication. Specifically, the use of trance, song, and energy raising are all excellent methods of communication and relationship building. The problem with them is that they only work if you do them. In addition to these, I would add meditation and dream work.
A friend of mine, Ravyn, has taught me a brilliant way of working with communication. She informs whomever she is communicating with that she is not very good at this and would they please try and talk to her in as many different ways as they can. My spirits know I am a little slow, so this works well for me.
I take it a little further. I ask that they communicate in dreams, in my meditation, in my mental wonderings, in my physical surroundings, and in my divination. This way I am bombarded with the same message. Then, I make a deal with the spirit in question that I will confirm my communication with them through divination until I really get how the communication is going, and then later through directly telling them what I “heard.” This is similar to repeating back a communication with someone so that you are on the same page.
I use a simple divination system that allows me to ask yes-no questions to confirm the messages. I strongly feel that in the beginning, a simple and concrete system of divination is important. Flipping a coin, using dowsing rods, pendulum work, and pulling cards are all methods that can answer yes-no questions. In this way, I set up a dialog. I get a communication a few times, I confirm the communication, and we move on. After a while, the divination can be used to ask more subtle questions of the entity. As a note, when you go to do the divination, it is often helpful to cast a circle and invite or invoke the spirit beforehand. That way, you know who you are speaking to. You might even make the first question, “Am I working with <insert name here>?” Some spirits, like some friends, are prone to be nosey and interrupt. If in doubt, always confirm to who whom you are speaking.
There are many common and unique barriers to effective communication. They are as varied as the many stories we tell ourselves about our nature. For this reason I believe the iron pentacle practices are incredibly important to the work of relationships. Each of our stories acts as a filter for communication — both what we hear/observe and what we say/express. We have all had the experience of speaking to someone and having them not hear the meaning of our message because some story that the person was running stood in the way of what was trying to be communicated.
Besides learning the skills of active listening, it has been my experience that the only hope I have of understanding what is being said, is to understand how I bend the message upon receipt. There are very good scientific metaphors of this including the idea that observation affects the observed. Just as poor hearing affects all messages received, so too do the many stories we have about the nature of the communication we are experiencing. For example, when in sacred ritual, often the message one gets is, “Brid wants you to pledge to use your Sacred Hammer,” rather than, “Fix your roof this year.” We get arcane messages with hidden cryptic meanings. This is partly because that is what we expect from spirits.
How does the communication feed my ego? My partner, Lilith, taught me this method of critique. When one has some form of communication with other, she advises the individual to first think about how the communication feeds the ego. Once one throws themselves into this practice it is amazing to see how easily one’s ego can be stroked. With just a little creativity, I can easily find how the communication feeds my grandiosity. Sometimes it is a message that implies that I have power. Sometimes it is a message that says I am important. Sometimes my ego is stroked by telling me that I am not important, allowing me to feel righteous about the importance of getting out of the way of the message. I am the messenger of this important message! Sometimes, it is simply that I am able to get a message. Gosh, I am psychic!
I am not saying that any message that comes should be discarded due to its ability to feed the ego. Rather, it is a safeguard that allows one to understand how the message may be changed by the receiver. A message can be true and gratifying to the ego. But if I am conscious of how it feeds my ego, I am more likely to act ethically with the message.
Here is another scenario: just like a good friend telling you that you are fantastic when something bad has happened in your life, spirits can give pick-me-up messages that are sometimes pretty grandiose. When you’ve been dumped by a lover and a friend tells you anyone should be grateful to date you, you are so awesome, you don’t go around proclaiming that to the world. In communicating with spirits, people sometimes lose that common sense.
I would like to put in a caveat about working with spirit that has a living tradition associated with it. In my opinion, these tools I have spoken about are all valid tools within any tradition. They are pretty standard methods of relationship building. But within living traditions, those that have a continuous practice such as Native American traditions, there are going to be specific ways of working with the spirit that the spirit is used to. The spirit may expect you to communicate with them in a similar way. They may want particular offerings, songs, prayers and altars. My opinion is that if one is going to work with these spirits, it is best learned from someone who is an elder in that tradition. I am not saying that it is not possible to do this work on your own. Simply, there is strength in tradition and the pathwork of generations before you. It can be a real pleasure to add to the strength of a tradition and develop communication with entities that have a current practice.
In conclusion, I hope these techniques are useful for you in the lifelong work of listening and truly communicating with the Gods, Ancestors, the Fey and other bump in the night types. Begin your work by looking at your manifest life, strengthening relationships with the embodied as the start of your journey. Keep referring back to it as a diagnostic tool. And just as self-examination is important in our other relationships, bring those same skills to your spirit communication. As Lilith, my partner says,”Relationships are cool. Why not make friends with the Gods?”
Scott Mist lives in Portland with his wonderful wife, a very demanding cat, and an attention deficit dog. He is a Feri and Reclaiming initiate.
Advanced Work in Community: The Elements
Oh away – the long black night.
Sun – light and life, the beautiful solstice.
Giving thanks, for love and freedom.
Discernment, deliberation, go ahead and imagine song. Cleansing, joy, flowing compassion. Our magickal transcendence, leads to the clarity of life. Clouds float like cotton on a breath of inspiration, Lightness of being, Journey on fragrant wings. Discover inspiration; germinate compassion; and imagine a way to peace.
Warm day, passionate energy
Love, power, and poetry
Coursing through our blood
Burning with the fire of freedom.
Cleansing and Purifying
Source of action
Courage and strength
Source of transformation
Creativity and healing
Course through me like lightning
Move my lips
Work my hands
Illuminate this new beginning
Warm this seed I have planted
Protect this fragile peace.
Bringer of life,
Sustainer of life,
Carrier of life.
We open our hearts so the grief can flow,
Like a mother’s tears into the healing pool of compassion.
We dive beneath your waves of kindness
To dance with your cobalt blue shadows,
To drink deeply of the sweet nectar of freedom.
We swim in the swift running water that runs free and pure, Until our minds are clear and have fluid thought. We float on your surface, Mixing our sweat with the sensuous pleasure of your sacred beauty. We rest in your womb, Remembering how to sing a collection of scattered people Back into a deep community, Taking lessons from the ancient whales toning in your vast depths. For this and the untold wordless gifts you give, Water we thank you.
Earthen bowls full of acorns, full of the deep, solid strength — roots. Roots, anchor of the circle, stability and strength. May the Earth bring us the power to unite in peace, healer of life, abundance for all. Earth energy bubbles forth, ready to be revealed at any moment; Just open your eyes and breathe deep. Grounding, becoming one with the Earth, divine transformation. Drum songs produce what’s in the heart, Release and fall into the Mother’s pure love, in return for the next one. Rich plants nurture power from within, Ever-turning strength, Comfort and home, Birth and stability, Love, Humility, Life. Thank the Earth for the season’s bounty: Earth, Food, Mother, Nourishment, Ground, Center. Rooted, let the monolith stand tall, grounded in the Mother. Dark, damp, strength. Thank you for continuing to feed us, no matter where or who we are.
In the middle of it all, in the Center of it all, it is here. The Center holds us together — it is our middle. The Elements go in their own directions, but their anchor is Center. When I whirl out of control, it is Center that brings me back. Oh so mysterious, we know what you do, but what are you really?
Are you Element? Are you Spirit? Are you the Fifth Sacred Thing? The Center is our heart.
Changing Consciousness through the Culinary Arts
I first heard it years ago as part of my early training in Reclaiming. The teachers were discussing the idea, so fundamental to this Craft, that magic is “changing consciousness at will.”
One of them said, “Making peanut butter sandwiches can be a magical act.” I nodded fervently as they elaborated on the idea of bringing consciousness into ordinary acts, waxed eloquent about the magical and the mundane being the same thing, and about how what you do is not nearly as important as how you do it. When you make the peanut butter sandwich with intent, infused with love, gratitude, and consciousness, this act is as powerful as any spell. I couldn’t have agreed more.
I still believe that when you are fully present in the moment the content of the moment hardly matters. When I began teaching I adopted the same example. I confidently told roomful after roomful of adults that making a peanut butter sandwich could be a magical act. “All it takes is intent,” I asserted breezily, certain of my inner knowing and the wisdom I was passing along.
Now, years later, much in my life has changed. I had a baby. Then another. And I have to tell you: I make a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. Hunger has sparked a battle in my kitchen wherein I am under attack for not making mac-n-cheese again, for using the red jam, for not cutting off the crusts, and then for cutting them off, and finally for slicing diagonally across the bread. I assure you, this great plethora of experience makes it harder, not easier, to find the magic in the process.
I still remember, vaguely, my wiser, younger, sage self making languid magical sandwiches full of intentional love, aware of her body’s movements and conscious of the peanut, wheat, and raspberry plants whose sacrifice fed her, the technologies that made the process so convenient. And I realize the difference: that self made a peanut butter sandwich in that moment because she chose to, because it sounded good. Not out of desperation. Back then, the entire experience was a choice, including whether to make the damn thing at all or to go out for a nice salad with pears, walnuts, endive, and a light cranberry vinaigrette instead. Alone. With a book.
It is relatively easy to be deeply conscious of inherently pleasant things. It is easy to remain conscious in the face of novelty. Or during profound change or excitement. Remaining conscious through all the tedious, annoying, infuriating, frustrating, distracting, repetitious, and exhausted moments of our days: aye, there’s the rub.
I see this reflected in the lives most of us lead. We change cars, jobs, and even partners at a rate never before seen. As a species, we use up the resources of the world, creating a stream of constantly improving goods and services. Our energies are drawn to newness, excitement, and change. This is especially salient for me right now. Several months ago I gave birth, one of the top events for change and excitement. Prior to that, it was generally agreed that I was the Goddess incarnate. Strangers and friends alike gushed about my glow and presence (everyone but my mother, who suggested I begin wearing tents). The celebration of pregnancy and birth is electrical. But, it is striking how little of that energy carries over into parenting. Once the birth is over, there is a mountain of judgment and advice, but the excitement and wonder fall off almost immediately. Now, just months after my son’s birth, I’m just another woman with two kids. An object mostly of either annoyance or pity, viewed as anything but powerful and present.
So it goes with most things. How much energy do we expend finding a new job or getting a promotion? How little do we expend learning to do the job well? By the time I’ve spent 20 years struggling into my shoes every morning at 7:30, braved 20 years of morning traffic, parked in the same spot, and so on, one can almost hear the great sucking sound made by the energy void this kind of reliability creates.
The most salient example of this is obvious: love, love, love. Nothing receives the entirety of our attention like falling in love. But staying in love, learning to live together through morning breath and in-laws and unbelievably insensitive comments, doesn’t make the chart. Yet it’s a no-brainer which is more challenging and worthwhile.
In between brief bouts of excitement and change are long stretches of uninspiring sameness. For many of us it starts with an alarm at the same time every day, followed by the usual set of whacks on the snooze button. From there we face rude drivers. Grocery lines. Mail. Bill paying. Phone solicitation. Cavities. Meetings. Things that break. Dog poop. Illness. That’s just the physical outline. Paint in the emotional landscape, adding such stuff as fatigue, fear, stress, misunderstandings, and all the daily ins and outs of our emotional selves, and I get depressed just thinking about it.
On the surface, it sounds like a really dumb idea to try to be more conscious in such places. What exactly is so bad about mindless escape? It’s easy, readily available, and comes in so many forms that it could open its own chain of department stores.
And ultimately, escape is its own trap. Arguably, we have little choice about the mundane details of our lives. The only reliable choice is how we live within them. And choice is good. It is freeing. I cannot control another driver’s aggression, but with practice I can intentionally choose whether to be angered by it, or amused, or even just notice it and not react at all. I can uncover a sense of connection to the aggressive driver, to find sympathy for what might fuel such behavior. I can observe my own physical responses or emotional tendencies in this situation. Not only is choice valuable, but the information gleaned from noticing my tendencies and reactions — my choices — conscious and otherwise helps me know myself better and continue to hone my best magical tool. Which is of course, me.
It is the way of the Witch to bring consciousness to all the tiny mundane and vexing pieces. Not just the fun ones. All of them. I used to think that the “at will” part of the phrase “changing consciousness at will” meant “changing when I want to.” Which implies, “I will consciously change my consciousness whenever I remember to and feel like it.”
What I continue to learn is that changing consciousness at will means changing consciousness when it does not come easily. It means training oneself to pull out of unconscious patterns and become conscious of them and in them. It also means being able to sustain deep levels of consciousness for longer and longer periods of time until I can remain conscious throughout the entire mind-numbingly boring staff meeting.
This is what changing consciousness at will is really about. Can I change consciousness in traffic? Can I stop grinding my teeth and find a connection to the Volvo driver who just cut me off? Can I look at the sky and notice the variation in the cloud pattern on the 44th, 45th, 46th and 47th overcast day in a row? Can I change consciousness, on purpose, when all my buttons are being really pushed?
Without consciousness, without intent, all these moments add up to 20 unremarkable years and a great sucking sound. Lived consciously, each experience opens up, teeming with richness and depth. It’s not like there’s an end to the possibilities of how to do this. I start by noticing my physical sensations at any given moment, the play of muscle and bone. I ground a lot. I hunt around for what my stomach, lungs, uterus could be telling me should I care to listen. I notice my body reacting to stress, to hurt, to anger. If I know the physical cues, I may be able to ward off some of my own behavioral pitfalls. Or not. Lately, I have been pulling the threads of unseen connections. I look, for example, through the shell of my car and discover a thousand hands efficiently constructing it, other minds discussing fabrics and names and test markets. I remember that three other owners have maintained the car before I did, and did it conscientiously. I cast my mind to the wild places from whence the oil has come these many years. I offer gratitude for all of it. It can make the daily trips to preschool and the grocery store as expansive as a trance in ritual. Explored and played with in any number of ways, we find the ordinary and the infuriating alike full of possibility.
I am not trying to suggest that overtly magical practice is somehow lesser than the mundane, even a mundane lived magically. I am all for magical practice in its many forms. It can facilitate profound heights (and sometimes devastating depths) that punctuate our lives and give us powerful glimpses into the realms that lie beyond our ordinary senses. We get infusions of ecstasy and mystery and connection. This is really, really cool. And the more we do it, the better we get at it.
Even so, for many of us, all those classes taught and taken, the epiphanies in ritual, the hard work in coven — all those delicious experiences—are the training wheels. Holding onto that consciousness while at home with needy and opinionated children, during solitary evenings folding laundry, in the company of depressed partners or irate neighbors, faced with sinks full of dirty dishes comprises the true test and the work of magic. And while it is true there is cross-over: the better I get at changing consciousness in ritual, the more I can change consciousness in traffic — I must invite the cross-over. It is easy to compartmentalize my life. In coven I am a priestess, on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the afternoon a student, in the evenings a parent, and so on. In doing this, I keep my magical practice in my magical life, and by necessity my mundane life stays mundane. If, however, I allow the edges to blur and my life to be one great whole, then I can reclaim the way I communicate at work, how I pay the gas bill, the dog’s daily walk, the making of all those peanut butter sandwiches. I can begin a love affair with the life I already have, and I am better able to evaluate what needs to change. In this way, Witchcamp epiphanies et al don’t remain in the same category as birth or a new love. They aren’t isolated moments of magic. They become, as well, the tools by which all experiences can share that same intensity, that ecstasy.
There is a chasm of difference between theory and practice, between knowing this and doing it. This is freaking hard work! Sustaining the curiosity necessary to delight in the mundane takes practice and skill. Under my old definition of changing consciousness at will, I am quite a master. I can choose moments and be profoundly conscious in them. I can remain active there for a good two to forty seconds. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the least conscious, I might score a 7 or 8 on peanut butter sandwich making. Once. In one glorious instance. But I would regularly score a zero. I find it takes incessant practice and a resilient sense of humor. Fortunately, the more I practice, the more interesting the practice becomes.
And so, I cling to my assertion that the magical and the mundane are more or less the same thing if we learn to experience them that way, but I’ve abandoned even a hint of my former flippancy. Making peanut butter sandwiches can be a magical act — a really difficult magical act, harder than casting a decent circle or facilitating an awesome trance. More profound than the Wednesday ritual at camp. I tell you, making peanut butter sandwiches is a magical practice with nothing less than lasting implications for how we live our lives and shape our world! And I don’t expect to master the art of it anytime soon.
Flint lives in Portland with her husband and two beautiful sons.
Place of Power
Individual and Community Magic on Mount Tabor
By Rowan Phillips
Those who have attended the same Witchcamp for more than a few years know the feeling: that prickly sensation of magical possibility that arises within the body upon arriving at a familiar landscape to work magic together. Some Witches are fortunate to have a place closer to home which they have identified as a power spot. For many Reclaiming Witches in Portland, Oregon, Mt. Tabor carries a magical charge.
An extinct volcano with a visible crater surrounded by a stone cliff, Mt. Tabor is a large city park in the midst of single family houses and shopping districts in southeast Portland. Every day, hundreds of visitors walk their dogs, run, bicycle, and stroll through the park’s numerous hilly trails and along the edges of its reservoirs. An observant visitor would notice other patterns of more esoteric use as members of the larger Pagan community gather on Tabor’s hilltops for outdoor rituals, coveners arrive at twilight and stay for hours, and solitary Witches work intensively in certain areas of the park, leaving subtle hints of their visits.
Although many Witches create personal altars and find comfortable locations for trance or other magic in their homes, finding a larger outdoor location which serves as a repository of magical power can be more elusive, especially for urban Witches. What makes Mt. Tabor a place of power is its ability to make a liminal state of awareness available to a range of people who visit. Several local Witches who have tried to explain it mention that they feel connected when they arrive, or that their awareness shifts in certain areas of the park, or that they are able to quickly establish a link with the place. All of these descriptions hint at a difficult-to-define feeling of rapport with the landscape on the basis of more than its natural beauty. There is a sentience and complexity to the place that serves to attract certain people to work more deeply when they are there.
Over the past several years I have experienced Mt. Tabor as a teacher which draws me into moments of personal insight, but also shows me the mountain’s possible connection to other sacred places of power. A helpful practice has been to use dowsing rods to dowse maps of the park, asking to be shown the best place for a particular kind of work. The answer from the rods is often swift and accurate, and I am directed to areas of the mountain where I can open my intuition and begin to explore the details of the landscape with the strong eye of a magician. This part of exploration is like tracking, where all the senses are open and alert, and the land, the sky, the trees, the weather and the birds can all provide information about the question at hand.
Geomancers speak of the importance of daysigns: those small and subtle, and sometimes humorously obvious hints from the natural world that act as oracles or wayshowers when we are working closely with a physical location in the landscape. The park’s elevation and size attracts birds of prey, so circling hawks and occasional eagles are regular visitors, as are numbers of crows that seem to take a strong interest in the activities of Witches working nearby.
During a trip to a hilltop site on Mt. Tabor last year, I sought the right location for a politically-oriented Summer Solstice public ritual. As I set aside my tools and watched, a group of crows arrived overhead, shrieking and clicking at me. I acknowledged them, and began to ask them questions. They moved from tree to tree, and I followed on the ground below, watching and asking for more information. Finally they settled in the overhead branches of a tree with multiple trunks, and grew silent only when I stood at the base of the tree beneath them. Dowsing confirmed that I was standing on the second branch of a large, V shaped energy line that crossed the hilltop and passed beneath the tree where I had been led by the birds. Based on their information, I helped form the ritual around the use of these lines for singing and drawing down the voices and intention of the ritual-goers a few weeks later.
Many of the lines and whorls of energy in the park pull at the feet, drawing everything downward. Being able to read the land’s energies can help in designing the right kind of ritual that powerfully enhances what is already there, rather than attempting to struggle against it. Mt. Tabor is the right place to work with what’s below: with letting go of strong emotions, with underworld passages, and with quiet, dark forces like compost, decay, and the listening roots of trees.
I work with two different walking sticks or staffs when working on Mt. Tabor, and each offers a different way of gathering information. One of the sticks, made of driftwood found on a beach in the San Juan Islands, seems to act, as I told a friend, like a truffle-hunting pig when I take it to Mt. Tabor. As I walk, I stop frequently to poke and prod at the ground, especially around the roots of trees that draw my attention. Sometimes my stick finds a place in the roots that feels charged with power, and the wood conducts that charge right up my arm and into my body. These places at the roots seem to be vents of powerful force that wish to be siphoned off from time to time, and they appear to contain memory of what has happened below the ground, and in the tree. When I locate one of these vents, I return to it periodically to feel what it has to say.
The trees on Mt. Tabor are powerful entities and magical collaborators. A surprising number of them have triple trunks, and some of these trees have become working companions to the Reclaiming Witches who work magic nearby. Inanna, whose coven of three crones has worked on the mountain for the past few years, tells me, “Some of them have incredible presence. We firmly believe that they move around. We go up there and say, ‘wait a minute—was that tree over there last week?’ I envision the trees as Ents that are playing a joke by standing still. After we leave they move around.”
Sometimes the trees offer gifts. Earlier this year, on a cold winter day, I was tracking signs on the mountain, and arrived at the foot of a wind-whipped hawthorne tree. At my feet was a downed limb, and on the trunk of the tree I saw a heart scraped into the salmon colored flesh of the trunk. The heart oozed, reddish and wet, and was inscribed with the initials of lovers. The symbol, horrible and gorgeous all at once, linked with some work I had been doing over the previous year. At that moment I knew a gift was being offered, so I reached down and snapped off a branch from the downed limb. The hawthorne wand is prickly and ferocious, and I am still learning how to use it wisely.
Mt. Tabor serves as a location for community magic in many forms. In 2001, the day after September 11th, several of us organized a hastily-planned public ritual of grieving on a hilltop on the mountain, pouring our anger, fear, and sorrow into the ground in a place which two years later we discovered to be the site of the V-shaped energy lines. The land took our grief, and continues to listen. That same site has been used by members of the local Feri community for outdoor classes, and I have taken groups of students to Mt. Tabor for outdoor ritual on several occasions as a way of introducing them to this local power spot.
After September 11th, Inanna and the crones worked with the dead, helping them to pass through the gates. She explains that “We invoked Hecate and got down there, and helped the dead cross over. They were crammed up against the gate.... We had to encourage them (to cross over), and when they did, the wind picked up.” These are the kinds of experiences that happen so frequently on Mt. Tabor that they no longer seem strange to any of us.
Just a few weeks ago, on the dark moon, several of us gathered on the spot that Inanna described as having trees that move around in order to participate in her coven’s croning ritual, a culmination of their several years of work in that location. Layer by layer, we add our own rites of passage and meanings to our local place of power.
Mt. Tabor’s mysteries remind me regularly that places of power can serve a community and its individuals in ways that may not be fully recognized by those who work there. In our own magical community, we show up and participate in rituals, coven meetings, walks, conversations and classes at the park, but very few of us that I can identify have had intentional conversations around the things that we have learned about the place, and the ways in which it enhances our work as a community. Over time, much as earlier people working with the neolithic sites of Europe, or the Native American sites found in the deserts and mountains of the Americas, we are accumulating ritual knowledge when we work with this location. May we be intentional in our work, and willing to share the mysteries we discover. Is there a public place of power in your own community that you have identified, whether through dreams, visions, dowsing, or by accident?
A working theory I have, which has been supplemented by conversations with other geomancers, is that when we collaborate magically with our local sites, not only is our magic enhanced, building a reservoir of power that can be accessed by individuals or a group, but these sites may be able to be connected with our intention to build networks of power. These linkages, when we establish them, or cultivate what is already present, can serve to strengthen our Reclaiming community and political magic as we cast threads of intention back and forth to each other, letting the strength of the land feed our work.
In Favor of Co-Teaching
by Lilith Hayakawa Mist
As a teacher, I have been fortunate. I have opportunities to work with some excellent co-teachers. When I started to teach the Craft, there were experienced Witches who supported and helped me move into that role.
Now that I have been teaching for some time, I have realized how strongly in favor of co-teaching I am.
My experience has been that co-teaching is good for the community for a wealth of reasons having to do with modeling shared power, sharing information and skills, and because of the process that it forces the teachers to go through in planning a class. I have also found it to be enormously useful to me personally for many of the same reasons. It has provided me with a network of peers with whom I can share my thoughts, questions, and challenges.
Teaching Witchcraft is an enormously complicated task. Reclaiming teachers endeavor to attend to many levels: the content of the class information, the process of conveying it, the practice of employing it, the dynamics of the group, and the challenges individual students are encountering, to name just a few. How valuable to have an ally when trying to do so much at once!
Certainly there are cases when co-teaching is not possible, and I’ll discuss some of these later in this article. Any number of valid reasons may make it impractical or undesirable. But let me say at the outset that I hope to show that the benefits of co-teaching often outweigh the negatives. Co-teaching is not directly addressed by the Principles of Unity, the only agreed-upon statement of the tradition. The Principles say, “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.” I interpret this to mean that co-teaching is not a firm requirement within the tradition but is an excellent step towards the goal of modeling shared power. Co-teaching has a distinguished history in the Reclaiming style of magic, and I believe that a teaching partner has so much to offer that one should opt out of the practice only after the options have been carefully explored.
Advantages of co-teaching
One of the most obvious advantages of co-teaching is that it facilitates the sharing of information such as course content and class outlines. The classes most commonly identified with Reclaiming (Elements of Magic, Rites of Passage, and Iron Pentacle) have outlines (created by previous teachers) that are circulated and shared throughout our communities by the practice of co-teaching. When I teach with a student teacher, I make a point of sharing every outline for that class that I have ever received. I have never taught from one of those outlines exactly — each teacher brings their own work, skills, and style to a class — but I love to read and understand something about the history of the work that has been done before me.
When I teach a new class that I have created with another teacher, I benefit from the sharing of exercises and class content that a co-teacher brings. Many Witchcamp paths are new classes created by blending the bodies of work of two teachers. I believe this enhances and expands the tradition.
Another level of information-sharing has to do with process. Because each teacher brings their own style to a class, I can learn not just from my co-teacher’s material but also from her skills and methods. I see how she does things and she sees how I do them. Much of the specific language I use in teaching (the way I introduce an exercise or present a concept) I have learned from observing the way teachers I admire speak in ways that involve and engage students. With a co-teacher I am continually learning new or more nuanced ways to teach.
Co-teaching facilitates conversations about the material. To plan with another teacher, we have to sit down and decide what we want to do. This discussion often prompts me to ask questions about the work that might otherwise not have occurred to me. If the other teacher and I do things differently, I am forced to ask myself why I have developed a particular habit. If we struggle to integrate our ideas or to come up with a plan, we have to stop and ask what is really important. I can honestly say I have learned as much from these conversations as I have from the many classes I have taken. This in turn has benefited students by deepening what I bring to my teaching. Co-planning may require, and perhaps at its best does require, two teachers to verbalize and share their philosophies of teaching, approaches to the work, opinions, priorities, and goals.
A blessing of the teaching partner that benefits students immensely is the second opinion. I love it when as teachers we can present more than one opinion on a topic, if those differences that we discovered in planning are allowed to be visible in the class. I don’t mean arguing. I am talking about encouraging different opinions in a supportive manner. One of my favorite ways to do this is to say in a relaxed and warm way, “I have a different perspective on that which is . . . Does anyone else have any other ideas?” If my co-teacher and I can demonstrate diversity of style, approach, and philosophy we have accomplished something significant. We model that there is no one right way, that magic is an individual process, and that different opinions are no reason not to work together.
A second opinion also may make information more accessible to students in the room. Sometimes when one teacher’s explanation just isn’t “clicking,” the way another puts it into words will make sense. As a student, this is what I long for most when I take classes from a single teacher. Sometimes, I want to hear how someone else who has done the work would frame it.
As I said in the introduction, it is valuable to have an ally. Anyone who has taught a class or priestessed a ritual can testify to how unpredictable it is. Emotions flare, crises occur. Shit happens. When I have a co-teacher, there is someone else there who is taking responsibility. If I don’t know what to do, there is at least a chance that she will. We can piggyback off each other to work through challenges. If it happens that a student requires individual attention, there is one of us left to tend the whole group. Sometimes when I am teaching I just run out of words, or my mind goes blank for a moment. At these times, I can signal my partner with my eyes or just ask, “Do you have anything you want to add?” People I have been teaching with for awhile learn my non-verbal signals for “Help?” In class, we pass the torch and share the work.
My co-teacher is in a unique position to give me useful feedback about my work. Student feedback is often biased by power difference and there may be a hesitancy to be critical of the teacher. My co-teacher may be more likely to stand up to me or call me on inappropriate behavior. Further, participants see the work from one perspective and teachers from another. An Elements student may be so happy to have found magical community that she has no idea how the class could have gone better for her. But a fellow teacher is likely watching some of the same things you are. The feedback may reflect the different teaching styles and strengths, and some of those I may be unwilling or unable to change, but the feedback might also uncover true blind spots in my work. Useful feedback helps me to continue to grow as a teacher. If the people that I respect trust and respect my work, I feel more confident that I am teaching ethically and with integrity.
Reasons co-teaching may not be appropriate
Here are a few reasons that co-teaching may not work in your situation. These are the reasons I hear most often, but it is not intended to be an exhaustive list.
You may not be able to find a co-teacher if you are the only experienced Witch in your area. Traveling out-of-town teachers may be an option for you occasionally, but not consistently.
It may be that there are experienced Witches in your area but you can’t work with them for one reason or another. It is possible that the philosophical or style differences are so great that two people cannot reach agreement or trust each other enough to be allied in teaching. I do think there is an opportunity for self-examination in this circumstance. If you are unwilling to work with anyone you know, try to understand exactly what is going on. If no one is willing to work with you, it is probably worth the time to ask yourself why.
Perhaps no one else is interested in teaching what you want to teach. Or it may be difficult to integrate your material with another teacher’s. Perhaps no one else has the skill set for what you want to teach. You want to teach “trance banjo” and no one else plays the banjo. Is there another way for you to combine skills? You bring the banjo and she brings the trance? Teaching with someone else will likely require compromise. How much are you willing to compromise to have the benefit of a co-teacher? Will the compromise mean just a little more effort and inconvenience, or will it truly lessen the impact of the work you have in mind? If the work cannot dovetail with someone else’s work in a complementary fashion, it may be time to go it alone.
Ways to address the lack of a co-teacher
Depending on your situation, there are ways to get some of the benefits of a co-teacher without actually having one. If there is no one in your area, invite a guest teacher from out of town. Perhaps she cannot return for the full course of classes, but you can do a weekend workshop to start the class off together. A friend of mine taught a long series of classes and invited several out of town teachers to join her for one class each. Not every class had a co-teacher, but many did.
If you are new to teaching and there is no one to support you in your community, an out-of-town teacher may be able to provide some support over the phone. You could ask to discuss the material and approach of the class you are planning. While it is not the same as having a teacher there with you in class, checking-in on the phone after class about how class went may give you another perspective on parts that were challenging or surprising. Peer check-in periodically throughout the class is a valuable thing. Maybe a friend in your community who doesn’t teach could provide this for you. Even when teaching solo, there is no reason to go it entirely alone.
When no co-teacher is available, remember that an option is to ask someone to student-teach with you. Share your skills! Teachers with whom I student-taught in the past now routinely ask my opinion. Perhaps with time and effort, you can build a network of peers where there was none. A variation on this is to ask a trusted and experienced class participant to help support the work of class and let you check in with her periodically about how class is going, without asking her to step into a teaching role.
Co-teaching is not a mandate or requirement. In many cases, it may take more time and effort to find an appropriate co-teacher, to plan with another person, to discuss and agree on what will happen in the class. But this time and effort can yield large returns including a deeper understanding of the material, peer support and feedback, and dissemination of class materials and skills. In my opinion, all of these strengthen not just the individual teachers but also the magical work of the community as a whole. Co-teaching is not always possible. But when two teachers are willing to learn from each other as well as teach, the rewards are great.
Lilith Hayakawa Mist is a native Oregonian, witch, priestess and gardener. She is interested in what holds communities together and long-term working relationships with friends and deities.