Start Making Scents - by Oak
Meeting on the Field (with Meeting on the Field Bath Bombs)
A Common Treasury for All (with True Thomas Lip Balm)
The Stories We Tell (with Third Road Exercise)
Start Making Scents
Brick by Brick We Rebuild the World
from RQ85 - Winter 2002
Winter Solstice is the time of year I reflect on what sustains me in the darkest of times, what gives me hope and sees me through. For the last twenty years, I have spent Solstice night with good friends. Throughout the long night we cook and eat food, create crazy crafts and art, tell stories, laugh, argue, and get progressively sillier as dawn approaches. This is the true magic of Solstice, of surviving that long night to witness the birth of the light. Over the years it has become clear that what enables me to endure is fairly simple. It is the mess and chaos of human community working together to entertain and feed ourselves as we wait for the dawn.
On September 11, I felt us fully enter the time of the Tower, the tarot card of sudden change, where old structures fall and nothing is for certain. It is a shaky time, a time when control is lost and rigidity is shattered. It is a breakdown that may also be a breakthrough. Living in a time of the Tower is to live in a difficult and challenging time, a frightening and unstable time. I have been thinking of how living in this time is like living perpetually in the Winter Solstice, waiting in the dark for dawn, waiting for the time of the Star card. This is a time of humanity working together in tandem with the universe, waiting for human culture to wake up to feeling connected to the beauty and interdependency of nature.
I have the great privilege to work as a therapist, a job that suits me. I am endlessly curious about the simple chaotic drama of each individual life. This job has become incredibly challenging in this time of the Tower. Hour after hour, I listen to my clients as they try to make sense of a world gone crazy. They express fear, anger, uncertainty, and grief. In a time of the Tower all illusions come down. It is evident that media and politicians are banging the drums of war, that our economic system is not sustainable, and that the powers that be are invested in taking away our civil liberties. Overwhelmingly, what I hear in my office is a longing for peace, love, and understanding, and a growing feeling of alienation from popular culture. I hear a yearning for connection and the burgeoning desire for a human culture where self-interest is not the organizing principle. It is hard to see what should or could be done to change things. For many of us, love is the anchor that grounds us as we try to keep standing the shakiness of our world.
In times like these, we all are survivors of trauma. When I work with survivors of trauma, I recommend mindfulness of the five senses. A time of the Tower is by its very nature traumatic. Over and over we are getting the message that life is now irrevocably different. This is a shock to all our systems and to all our senses. It is a time to bring in beauty and comfort, to see beautiful things, to taste delicious food, to hear pleasing music, to touch and be touched with pleasure, and to smell uplifting scents. Like the warmth of a kitchen full of friends on solstice night, these are the things that can help us endure and sustain. Mindfulness in the five senses can help heal and restore hope. This is a time to rigorously connect to the regenerative power of nature, as well as connecting our emotional responses to our personal histories.
For any of us who grew up in a crazy family, these crazy times can throw us right back to old coping mechanisms, dysfunctional behaviors, anxiety and/or depression. This is a time when it is difficult to know what to do. Many of us feel as disempowered as we did as children, but this time with no fantasy or possibility of growing up and moving away. Things are so shaky and reality so porous it is difficult to know even what to imagine should happen next. I know that magically I don’t feel adept enough to work on a grand scale, of trying to manipulate or bind anything that is going on globally. Magically, personally and politically, this seems like a time to work close to home and from the heart. I find myself working with clients on making their lives the center of their lives. I’m trying my best to do the same.
It is a time to infuse our lives and our communities with visions of what we want to become, of how best we can live together on this one green planet. The time of the Tower is one in which all the structures we have assumed to be solid, are shaken. The old walls of reality have fallen and everything seems uncertain. It is time to rebuild on a small scale, knowing that everything is connected and that one small change affects the whole. As a therapist, feminist, and Witch, this is a core belief of mine. In my therapy office I work with family systems theory, which says that if one person changes in a family, it affects the whole family. A central tenet of feminism is that the personal is political, that our lives matter. As Witches we say that what changes in one world, affects all the worlds. Reading the headlines in this time of the tower is to fall into a morass of despair and disempowerment. Looking in the mirror at both our ourselves and our community, we can see what needs to be attended to and healed. This is the best way to restructure our world.
In the Bay Area the Fall Equinox ritual was going to focus on healing the community. While the Bay Area Reclaiming community is one of the biggest in the nation, we are by no means the most cohesive. Like most human communities, we have factions, personality conflicts, and power dynamics that are difficult to acknowledge. Reclaiming is like many spiritual and idealistic communities in that we are fabulous critics of popular culture, but resist any dissent or negative analysis within our own ranks. The planners of the Equinox ritual wanted to focus on strengthening the bonds and threads that hold us together, a plan that had me skeptical as it has been my belief that in order to heal something, you need to name and acknowledge what hurts. September 11 changed the focus of the ritual somewhat, but strangely brought back home the point that in order to heal the world, we must start with ourselves.
On the shaky Saturday of the Equinox ritual, being connected literally to others in the circle by a handspun thread was exactly what was required and was all any of us were capable of. As the wheel turns and we head into the dark, that connection to our human community, no matter how fractious and messy, is what is needed in order to see us through. That connection will serve in helping us do the hard work that restructuring our world entails. It is time in our own community and in our own lives to say what needs to change, what needs to be rebuilt. It is time to take stock of how our structures reflect our values.
This Winter Solstice will once again find me surrounded by loved ones, good food, and a worthy art project. I want to be in a kitchen, a community, and a world where dissent is allowed and self-interest is not the organizing principle. I want to be fully in my five senses, enjoying the staggering beauty of this natural world. As I travel through these grim Tower times, yearning for the Star card — for a time of enlightenment where peace, love, and understanding are the foundation of reality — I know that the rebuilding of the world starts from within: that as within, so without. At winter solstice I will honor the hard work my clients, my community, and I are doing in attempting to assist birthing a dawn. In that long night I will smile at our incredible ability to entertain each other. As solstice night progresses, I will be thinking about how creating a life and community that gives me joy, that I am proud of, is work that I am up to, and is work that indeed, can change the world.
Oak, aka Deborah Cooper, is an aromancer, psychotherapist, artist, long time Reclaiming rabblerouser, and a priestess of the Temple of Elvis.
Meeting on the Field
from RQ86 - Spring 2002
From as far back as I remember, I have questioned why things are the way they are. This has worked out well for me as a psychotherapist, as much of my job entails using the questioning attitude to work with clients at looking at why they are emotionally structured they way they are. However, this has not been received so well in other parts of my life. Challenging the dress code as a kindergartner by wearing my beloved red velvet toreador pants to school resulted in being sent home. Of course it did not help that when the teacher informed me that pants were not allowed for girls, I immediately took them off. As a teenager I would spend many nights alone in my room without dinner, after trying to educate my father as to how he was part of the war machine. He worked at IBM and I grew up with their motto, “Think,” emblazoned on everything from pencils to calendars.
“Feel!” I would hurl at my poor dad, who would eventually banish me from the table, informing me I did not have to eat the food provided by a tool of the dirty rotten system. At 20, I debated a Humboldt County sheriff’s representative on a local television show, questioning why so much money was being spent on finding Bigfoot as opposed to finding the serial rapist and murderer who had killed one of my friends. After that, I had an inordinate amount of trouble with traffic infractions. Whether in school, my own family, or the culture at large, dissent and a questioning attitude has not been welcomed. This has also proved true in my own spiritual community.
I was tear-gassed at 15 while protesting the Vietnam war, and again at age 45 on the streets of Seattle. As a young feminist I confronted rapists and as an anti-nuclear activist risked arrest time and time again. All of this has been harrowing, but nothing has been quite as personally challenging or confounding as being a voice of dissent in Reclaiming.
There are lots of hazards to voicing dissent. One of the perks of using this voice, of questioning authority, can be the lovely rush of self-righteousness, of being one of the good guys who are working against all bad things. As a Witch, I have struggled to let go of this simplistic position of good versus evil, believing that this splitting of the world into two parts, into heaven and hell, is what got us into the big mess we currently find ourselves in. It is one of our biggest challenges as human beings to move beyond our sense of a split world, to move away from seeing ourselves as the good guys fighting the “axis of evil.” Challenging and paradoxical — since one of our own principles of unity is to work for all forms of justice: environmental, social, political, racial, gender, and economic. How easy it is when invoking justice to invoke ourselves as being on the side/scale of good, while others are on the side/scale of evil. If we become invested in seeing ourselves as some sort of Witchy magical superheroes , we make it harder to question and examine our own shadow. Shadows desire recognition, when not acknowledged they swell in size, eventually blocking out light in their demand to be seen. Our principles of unity provide us with worthy tools for looking at the shadow. Fostering the questioning attitude is one of Reclaiming’s principles of unity, as is employing a radical analysis of power. These tools have become somewhat rusty in Reclaiming, as we have unfortunately fallen into the habit of when employing them, dividing ourselves into camps of right and wrong.
I have been a Witch in Reclaiming for 20 years. I have seen us change from a small circle of Bay Area Witches to a large international community. We strive to be non-hierarchal in a very hierarchal and celebrity conscious culture. One of our core principles is that our ultimate spiritual authority is within and we need no other person to interpret the sacred to us. We have a thriving Witchcamp culture in which teachers are ranked, there is a pay scale, and teachers get treated a bit like rock stars. We have an inspiring famous writer who draws people to us with her work and words. We have challenges and many of our blessings are also curses as well. Like any community, we ourselves are a microcosm of the culture at large, with all the human foibles that entails. What sets us apart is our idealistic strivings, our belief in magic, and our beautiful principles of unity. In order for us to reflect these principles, we need to truly foster a questioning attitude. In the past 20 years I have put myself and been thrust by others onto one side or the other of the good and bad polarity when the voice of dissent has been raised, hidden hierarchies have been revealed, or questions have been asked as whether the structures we are creating reflect our values. For some reason it is difficult in Reclaiming to question our structures without this being construed as a personal attack on those who participate in the structures. For a community that prides itself on being an alternative to the culture at large, we have proved capable of fostering the same “if you are not with us, you are against us” attitude.
For many of us, becoming a member of the Reclaiming community is like falling in love. We are struck by the extraordinary beauty and exquisite individuality of Reclaiming. The magic is intoxicatingly transformative. We feel home at last. Witchcamp, our public rituals, Starhawk’s writings, and local classes are constantly courting and winning new lovers of Reclaiming. As in love, many leave when the initial rush of infatuation turns to something more mundane. As we go to meetings, plan rituals, and begin to work in community, we begin to relate to the shadows in both our community and ourselves. As a community, we encourage individuals to do their own shadow work, but as a community we are not so prepared to have the shadow revealed. Like in relationships, many also leave Reclaiming at this point, feeling disgruntled and disillusioned. The shadow dancing that is required in a healthy relationship cannot be done if one partner refuses to acknowledge the dance steps. In our community these are the many unspoken hierarchies and some downright unpleasant politics. Sometimes we function more as a fan club than a community striving to model shared power and open leadership roles.
Many times when the disillusioned lover of Reclaiming speaks out it is not in a loving tone. The voice of dissent is also a voice of disappointment. It is not often reasoned or loving. It is often bitter, angry, frustrated, and hurt. This makes it easy for us to dismiss this voice as mean, jealous, attacking, or symptomatic of a personality defect if not disorder. We rarely view this voice as containing the questioning attitude we purport to foster.
Victor Naasy, publisher of The Nation, has said: “The squelching of dissent happens in many ways, one of which is self-censorship. Another is attacking people who dissent by stigmatizing them. A third is attacking people who dissent by misrepresenting what they said. A fourth is where the government says you can’t say something, and a fifth is where the government punishes you for saying it.”
The first three of these definitely operate in Reclaiming. I know this because I myself have self-censored out of fear. I also know I have participated in creating climates where others feel afraid to speak. There are times I have breathed into the fear, stated my opinion, and watched the stigmatization and misrepresentation fly. In the past 20 years, I am sure that there are those who I have participated in dismissing who I should have listened more deeply to. I have learned through the years to try to take responsibility for how I voice my dissent and watch for the pesky varmint of self-righteousness. I also am trying to listen for the questioning attitude that lies under the irritating self-righteousness of others. I am currently making an attempt to not take the squelching and stigmatizing all too personally. This is easier for me to do than a relative newcomer to Reclaiming. My marriage to Reclaiming has been long and rocky, but I have the deep and abiding faith that no other spiritual community would be a better match. My sense is that those who make it in a long-term relationship with Reclaiming are those who find a group they have affinity for who can support them when they get blasted for the questioning attitude. My little group of friends are blessed with a sense of humor and enduring patience. As a therapist I believe that individuals healing themselves is a revolutionary act. To create a community based on Reclaiming’s Principles of Unity is hard and arduous work. Wedding vows rarely mirror the quality of the marriage, but they give us something to aspire to. We want to create a culture where dissent is allowed and the questioning attitude fostered. Of course we have trouble with this ourselves.
As Witches, we say, “What happens between the worlds, can change all the worlds.” By this, we mean that what we do in sacred space, in that place we create between the worlds, will ripple out and change the world at large. If we can learn to embrace the questioning attitude and invite different radical analyses of power and structure into our own place between the worlds, this circle called Reclaiming, without reducing each other to good and evil, this would be a true feat of magic. The world needs changing, and we can start at home.
Rumi says, “Beyond good and evil, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Let’s meet on that field and talk about the problems we have as a community. I’ll be wearing some red velvet toreador pants for the occasion. It’s time.
Oak, aka Deborah Cooper, is an aromancer, psychotherapist, artist, long time Reclaiming rabblerouser, and a priestess of the Temple of Elvis.
“Meeting on the Field” Bath Bombs
9 drops Lavender
9 drops Rose Geranium
3 drops Rose
11/2 cups of Baking Soda
1/2 cup of Sea Salt
2/3 cup of Citric Acid
2 tablespoons of soluble Dextrose
5 tablespoons of sweet almond oil
Mix dry ingredients together. Pour wet into the dry and mix quickly before fizz starts. Meditate on letting go of good and evil while talking about hard stuff. Lightly oil cupcake tins and pack mix down tightly. Turn and tap onto waxed paper and let dry for 24 hours. Should make about a dozen bath-bombs. Drop into the bath and enjoy how things can feel better when there is a little fizz.
Lavender is great for clearing old karmic patterns and helps with conflict. It promotes balance and relaxes us in communicating with others. Rose geranium helps with good humor and enhances the flow of communication and negotiation. It helps with pressure of all kinds, in the blood and in relationships. Rose is the scent of the goddess and is love love love and pretty much is the essence of our principles of unity in one whiff. The company Glory Bee (which has a website and a mail order catalogue) is the best place to get hard to find ingredients like citric acid and dextrose.
A Common Treasury for All
from RQ87 - Summer 2002
In the fabulous movie Harold and Maude the character Maude has a divine device. You inhale and instantly smell places and experiences, such as a snowy day in Central Park. If I had such a device at my disposal, one smell that would be on the dial is Saturday afternoon in the Roll On Eggroll booth at the Oregon Country Fair. This smell contains sunshine, hot oil, cut vegetables, defrosting shrimp, dust, 20 or so wild drummers across the path, raspberry lemonade, sweat and countless other intangible life spices. It is the essence of the kind of world I want to live in, minus a few drummers, and with more toilets.
The Oregon Country Fair began in the counter-cultural year of 1969 and has managed to maintain its “love, peace, and tie-dye” vibe throughout the decades. Once you walk through the main gate, you hail farewell to corporate monoculture. Everything you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste here glitters with human creativity. Mass marketed items have no place in this world. No experience is packaged, canned, or bears a logo. The fair is “off the grid” in more ways than one. Archaeological digs show that this place of power along the Long Tom River has been the site of human gatherings for 11,000 years. Every year it transforms into a cosmic village for three days in July. Musicians, vaudeville performers, magicians, craftspeople, and food makers converge and create alternative culture. There is even a ritzy sauna, shower and spa area. Any lover of Witchcamp would feel right at home. In fact, the Fair’s code of ethics bears some resemblance to Reclaiming’s principles of unity.
I have been rolling eggrolls at this gathering for more than two decades, the majority of my adult life. There are 13 core members in my fair family. When we started out, there were six couples and my then adolescent brother-in-law. Over the years, we began having children, and now there are eight boys in our booth. The booth of once young people is now middle-aged and every couple has come undone except for two. New partners and lovers have come to the booth and been welcomed with varying degrees of enthusiasm, drama, and acceptance. Some of us have taken a year off here and there, but despite the emotional strife of working closely with ex’s and new mates, we continue our commitment to this village experience outside time.
Like any group of Homo sapiens, there are dynamics galore. Over time, alliances shift and change. Power and interpersonal struggles are both overt and subterranean. We strive to be non-hierarchical, yet it is often the case that some voices are given more credence than others. At any given time, there is someone in the booth who is barely speaking to another. Hard and hurt feelings are created annually. Sometimes there is healing, and sometimes there is not. Our stories together would make a sordid mini-series or a juicy potboiler novel.
The Roll On Eggroll Booth is a nonprofit endeavor. While at the fair, none of us uses our own money for daily living. It all comes from the communal pot. For a few days, it is all for one and one for all. Despite the fact that at any given time, more than half the booth may be facing difficult economic straits, our organizing principle is that we don’t do the work for the money. The work can be grueling. “The Mother Ship,” as we tend to call our booth, contains a fully functioning kitchen, a living room, and bedrooms. This springs up out of a small thicket of trees and bushes over a day or so and then gets taken apart again and hauled off after three days of furiously making and selling eggrolls. There is a funky wooden structure that, depending on the rise of the Long Tom over the winter, either will be intact or not when we get there in July. Despite the fact that we put in varying degrees of work, if money is made, we split it evenly. Despite differing levels of energy and ability, there has never been any move to create a structure that reflects this financially. More often than not, we will decide to spend any money made on a decadent dinner out when we get back to town, or put it towards some luxury for the following year.
More than anything, I believe it is this attitude towards money that keeps us all coming back. For these few days we live outside capitalist culture. Profit is not the motivating force. We work hard, and we give out eggrolls to anyone who can’t pay for them. The work is sustainable, not because we make a profit, but because we make enough to fund the endeavor, we keep each other well fed, and more than anything, we make each other laugh. Like Witchcamp, our time there is between the worlds. Coming back, year after year, we work our magic, we change consciousness at will, and we create an alternative reality where, like my heroes, the Diggers, we work together, not for profit, but in common treasury for all.
At Witchcamp, like at the eggroll booth, we attempt to spin the world of our dreams. Put a hundred or so Witches in a rural setting, add sacred drama to this, and Witchcamp becomes an intoxicating cauldron of creativity. I have been a Reclaiming Witch as long as I have been an eggroller and was there at the very first Witchcamp.
My politics make me uncomfortable with the glamour and power that the Witchcamp teacher role has become imbued with. As a therapist, I have problems with the “let’s go to your deepest place of pain and heal it in one ritual” kind of magic that sometimes ensues at Witchcamp. Nevertheless, I know that the Witchcamp experience is a powerful one, one in which, like the experience of being at the eggroll booth, we glimpse the possibility of our dreams coming into being.
Roll On Eggrolls only happens once a year. Witchcamp happens one week out of the year, in seven different locales. Each has its own flavor and financial structure. The majority of camps are put on by a team of organizers from the local community. Teachers are usually picked by a selection committee, who run their choices by a guidance council. The guidance council was created to provide overall vision and continuity for all the camps.
How and what the organizers and teachers are paid varies widely. At some camps, organizers give a pot of money to the teachers and have them divide this up themselves, and at some camps teachers are told what they will make when they are hired. Most often, teachers are paid according to a pay scale based on their ranking as a teacher. The ranking is: Senior, Intermediate, Beginning and Student. Student teachers are usually not paid. Senior teachers usually make between two to three thousand dollars for the week’s work. The ranking and pay scale were created to reflect the diversity of experience and skill of teachers. Some Witchcamp teaching and organizing teams choose not to employ the scale, and the teachers divide the money evenly. Because of my eggroll experience, in the past I have chosen to only teach with Witchcamp teams that divide money evenly. As with the eggroll booth, to do otherwise would negate the reason I go.
This year, as a financially strapped single mother, it would have been in my best financial interest to agree to a pay scale when hired to teach at the B.C. camp. The organizers regarded me as a “senior teacher.” The organizers and selection team knew my stance against pay scales. They also knew that one of the other “senior teachers” was just as adamantly in favor of the pay scale. The organizing team gave the teaching team the difficult job of deciding how the money would be divided. In hiring teachers with such divergent views, I figured that reaching some kind of compromise, some third road, would be part of the magic at hand. In the beginning of our first conference call, the team worked smoothly together. I was excited that my suggestion of a camp story that deals with third roads, Thomas the Rhymer, was met with enthusiasm. We had set aside the last 15 minutes of the call to talk about money. I went into shock when another teacher told the team that we needed to come to consensus on the pay scale within this time. The same teacher informed us (mistakenly) that there was no money for another phone call. Before I knew what hit me, I was off the team.
I now have the dubious honor of being the only person I know to block something in a consensus process and be forced to leave the group. Usually when there is a block, there is a concerted effort to find a solution that all can live with, a third road (this is the point of consensus process). The organizers unanimously requested that I be re-instated on the team. Within a few days of the phone call, I had come up with a third road I could live with, one which, despite my views, would allow me to teach on teams with a pay scale. On this road, I would simply require that I make an equal percentage of the pot of money relative to how many teachers there are. Despite my shift and the organizer’s request, the teaching team would not revisit the decision made in the phone call. I was off the team. A guidance council member replaced me.
This spring, there was a flurry of e-mails on the list for organizers and teachers. Anne Hill sent a powerful post that questioned the values Witchcamps are being organized around. With her strong invocation of the questioning attitude, others began to ask hard questions as well. These questions included: why selection teams often select themselves for teaching positions, why the guidance council does not advocate for a one-teacher-one-camp policy, thus allowing more people the possibility of teaching, and why we don’t have a grievance procedure. With a few exceptions, senior teachers and the guidance council kept their silence. For the most part, I kept silent as well, needing time to digest what had happened to me with the BC team. After time and reflection, my question became clear. My question is: Is Witchcamp a business, or like the eggroll booth, a sustainable spell?
By the time this column is in print, it will be high summer. I will soon be rolling eggrolls and smelling that distinct scent of Saturday afternoon at the Oregon Country Fair. Fate has worked the trick that three Witchcamps will be working with the story of Thomas the Rhymer this year. It is my hope and dream that the magic will be potent and powerful, that a third road emerges that we all can begin to journey down. It is my hope that with good will and an eye to the future, we attend to the questions that have been asked. My dream is that all Witchcamps, like my eggroll booth, become a common treasury for all, that in those weeks between the worlds, it is not business as usual.
Oak, aka Deborah Cooper, is an aromancer, psychotherapist, artist, long time Reclaiming rabblerouser, and a priestess of the Temple of Elvis.
True Thomas Lip Balm
1 ounce Beeswax
1/4 teaspoon aloe vera oil
1/2 cup sweet almond oil
1/4 teaspoon vitamin E oil
9 drops of rose essential oil
2 dozen lip balm pots or tubes (Old lipstick tubes are great — you can even throw in a little lipstick to tint the balm)
Combine everything except the rose oil in a small pourable container, like a glass-measuring cup. Place this in a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of water. Heat until the beeswax is liquefied. Remove from heat and add essential oil. Pour into containers and let cool. A different essential oil can be used, but rose gives you the lips of love, so needed in speaking our truths.
The Stories We Tell
from RQ92 - Winter 2004
Reclaiming is a tradition that is, like all traditions, influenced by the stories we tell.
Unlike other religions, or even Craft traditions devoted to one pantheon, we have an endless choice of what stories to work and be worked by. And work it is. Myths and stories, when chosen to enter and explore, enter us. This is the essence of sacred drama, telling and acting out a story that allows the divine to play with us, and often roughly.
Given that we don’t have one body of stories to choose from, it is important that we examine the stories we are working, making sure that gut, heart, brains, feet, genitalia, and more are accounted for. If we just work stories of descent, hanging on a meat hook, and ascending, we ensure that all transformation will be hard. Conversely, if every story involves going to Fairy, we will eventually find ourselves wearing too much glitter for this world. Like the idea of truth, no one story is right for everyone. A plethora of stories and truths makes for a strong community and enriches our tradition.
Truth and silence are two themes being strongly worked in Reclaiming. For many years the tale of “The Twelve Wild Swans,” in which the protagonist is silent and suffering through much of the story, was a favored theme of Witchcamp. Recently, Thomas the Rhymer has become popular. Stories told at Witchcamp waft out into the whole community, and flavor the magic of the year. Even if you don’t go to camp, if a handful of community members come back from camp working a story, this will spice the community soup distinctly. If several camps work the same story, the entire Reclaiming community will begin to be worked by it as well.
“Thomas the Rhymer” is currently working our community, and a fabulous taskmaster this story is!
“Thomas the Rhymer” is a tale of Thomas’s encounter with the Fairy Queen. She shows him three roads — the road to heaven, to hell, and to Fairy. He goes with her to Fairy. Thomas becomes her consort for seven years, being bidden to neither eat nor speak in the Fairy realm. Before leaving Fairy, she gives him an apple, which upon eating means he can only speak the truth. Thus, he comes to be known as True Thomas, an oracle, seer, and teller of truths. This is a rich and complex story, and like all such stories, will mean something different to each who decides to enter it. As a community, this story can’t help but filter through all of us, taking us down the path of that third road, whether consciously or not.
The aspects of the third road, and the eating of the apple, are the most powerful symbols for me in this tale. Both inform my understanding of truth, and the telling of it. Different things in the story will stand out for others. Such is the power of a good story, and in the richness of community we will favor different aspects of this tale. As time goes on, we will learn from the symbols we are drawn to and then learn from each other, eventually digesting this story fully into our common mythos. So far, it promises to be savory fare!
The third road is the road between heaven and hell, right and wrong, and truth and silence. It is the road to knowledge of the fey, the path many Witches choose to tread. On this road, there are no saints or sinners, no bad or good, no angels or devils. This is the path of paradox, of magic, and of mystery. On this path, there is one truth, and there are many truths. To walk this path is to get comfortable shifting between two entirely different truths, and holding each as valuable, holding each as not. This path takes us away from linear thought, and the world of absolutes, leading us to shimmery realms where anything and everything is possible. The challenge the third road offers us as a community is to hear entirely different truths without getting polarized, to imagine a community where there is room for many different voices and positions, and to hold all as an aspect of truth, as different as they may be. To walk this road as an individual is to be forever changed, to travel this path as a community is to subvert the dominant paradigm.
Witches are fond of the apple, as it holds within it our sacred pentacle, a symbol of the five elements. It makes sense that if we are to speak the truth, we need to have ingested the power of the elements, the power of the pentacle. When we speak truth, it helps to have the power of the elements running through us. By this I mean: it helps to be clear (air), to have a clear intent (fire) to have an open heart (water), to be grounded (earth), and to understand that paradoxically, your truth somewhere has an opposite, equally true (spirit). To eat of the apple is to change the course of your life. To work with the elements of life and to hold them as sacred transforms how we speak and act in this world. It is a challenge in itself to speak the truth as we see it. In this way, the working of this story intensifies what we have already been struggling with, the holding of each other as sacred, even when we disagree and have conflict. To be effective truth tellers, we must constantly reconnect with the five elements, making sure we are running their energies in a balanced way. The power of the apple, the fruit which contains the pentacle, is a magic key to speaking with lips that are true.
The Twelve Wild Swans invoked the power of keeping silent in our community. Thomas the Rhmyer powerfully invokes both the power of keeping silent and the power of speaking the truth. It raises many questions, some which may only be answered by time and experience. When does silence in itself become a lie? When is truth best left unsaid? How long must you be in Reclaiming/the fairy realm before you speak out? What is a lie? What is our responsibility when we hear a lie? Is it important to balance silence and truth? When are each appropriate? When are they not? And of course, the big question: Can we as a community be enriched by plethora of different truths, just as we are enriched by a plethora of different stories?
Oak, aka Deborah Cooper, is an aromancer, psychotherapist, artist, longtime Reclaiming rabblerouser, and a priestess of the Temple of Elvis.
Third Road Exercise
Spritz with your favorite aura clearing and chakra opening spritzer. Below is one especially good for this exercise — Oak
Fill your spritzer bottle mostly full with distilled water. Add:
• 13 drops of lavender — puts us into the present and cleanses out old karmic patterns. A paradoxical scent as it both relaxes and stimulates.
• 9 drops of geranium — stimulates the psyche and the soul and also is a paradoxical essence. A balancer and brings good humor.
• 3 drops tangerine — invokes the younger self and helps us absorb new paradigms. Is freeing and opening.
• 1 drop rose — because it is the essence of love.
Fill one cup half full/half empty with water. Hold it in one hand and hold an empty cup in the other.
Say a truth. Examples of truths: there is one truth, there is hope for the human race, my body is sacred and beautiful, George Bush is a fucking monster.
Now say it’s opposite. Example: there are many truths, we are doomed, my body is ugly and disgusting, George Bush is a human being like any other.
Keep going back and forth pouring the water and saying the opposite truths, until they blend and make something different, until you can hold both as true at the same time. Drink it in. Now give yourself another spritz.
This is the potion of the third road!