“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” –Albert Einstein
There is a place near the ocean in a redwood forest where witches gather once every summer. I was guided to this place one night under a full moon by a beautiful loving witch named Laura. A few months earlier she had conjured up a powerful love spell, which I had fallen blissfully under. Laura exudes love for life, spirit and all God’s creatures, including me. She is a living Goddess, witch, healer, nurse and great lover.
Laura – a force of nature, love and the Goddesses
This year would be her 13th year at “Witch Camp”. The witches gathering in this forest were her tribe with whom she had grown in spirit, while teaching others about spirit, nature, the elements and magic. Â She assured me that given my love of nature, spirit and my sense of magic that I was already a witch who was finding his way home in the forest. In any case, I would be with Laura and immersed in her world, if not mine. But given the joy, wonder and magic that this vagabond and witch were experiencing together, I trusted I would feel at home among the trees, stars and other witches.
Over the previous weeks, I’d learned from Laura that these modern witches cherished mother earth as sacred and dedicated their energy to protecting and healing it. Like their predecessors of old who had special knowledge of herbs and healed the sick villagers, these witches believe in healing our bodies, spirits, mother earth and all her creatures. These witches believe in the power of shaping and guiding the elements of air, fire, water, earth and spirit. They believe in creating magic.
Is Magic Real?
But did I believe in magic? I’d always been taught that magic did not really exist. That magic was not in the realm of possibility. But during my week at witch camp, I came to accept their definition of magic, which is – Â “Changing consciousness at will.” By this definition, I now believe that we all create magic within ourselves and in the world and people around us.
As Laura and I drove through the trees under a full moon a skunk, a fox and a huge mountain lion crossed the road. Laura almost leapt out of the passenger side window to follow the mountain lion up the hill as it slipped away into the shadowy forest. I pulled over to the side of the road and Laura called out “I love you” to the mountain lion.
Laura’s Spirit Guide – the Mountain Lion
She has loved mountain lions deeply ever since a black mountain lion followed her mother home as she carried baby Laura in her arms while walking a trail in the Appalachian Mountains. For months and then years that black mountain lion would return to Laura’s house and peer in her bedroom window every day until her mother would chase it away. When Laura grew old enough to walk she would join the mountain lion outside and even follow it into the woods. Some times she’d curl up on the lion and nap.
The mountain lion continues to be her animal spirit guide. When I see Laura move like a sleek powerful cat, or avoid water on her face, or purr when she’s happy – I feel and see the influence of this beautiful black cat. I thank that black cat for instilling such feline beauty and power into this fabulous woman.
The Book of Witches
Before we arrived at Witch Camp, Laura gave me a beautiful old notebook. It was bound in wood and its cover, attached with metal hinges like a door, was coated with a gold colored metal plate that was embossed with an image of a male deer with a large rack of antlers surrounded by leaves. Inside the paper pages were brown and fragile.
On the first inside page was inscribed in old dried ink – Â “A witch party? Well . . . aren’t you lovely? Millicent is making a potion at home on 1st score. Herbal remedy for sore throat.” On the next page it read, “Halloween Party Â – 1948, Witches names are listed here below.”
Below this was listed the names and signatures of some twenty people. Given that the practice of witchcraft was illegal in the United States (land of religious freedom?) until 1978, this book of named witches was not only taboo but incriminating.
Beyond those first two pages the book was full of empty dry brown paper pages. This book, signed in 1948 by twenty some illegal witches, had awoken from it’s long slumber in my hands – a vagabond writer on his way to Witch Camp. Laura, acting as an agent of fate and destiny, had given it to me to complete its yet unfinished pages. Into the pages of this book I wrote of my one week at witch camp deep in the redwood forest. I share with you my raw notes from these dry fragile pages, now transcribed into the realm of computer text living in the ether of the Web:
Notes from a Witch in Training at Witch Camp
“On our first night at Witch Camp we gathered in a circle surrounded by tall pines and redwoods, light by a blazing fire in the center. Those giving the invocations invited us to feel our bodies planted on the soft earth, to breath the cool night air deeply and to let the static and frantic noise of urban life be burnt up by the blazing hypnotic fire. I took off my boots and socks, which had bound my feet, and pressed the balls of my free feet down into the cool soft dirt. Then musicians, drummers and dancers moved amongst the hundred or so participants – stirring our bodies and energies into motion.
We all held hands and moved together in a spiraling circle of faces as we sang a mesmerizing chant. The complexity of our intricate electronic age gave way to a world of earth, water, air and fire. Like primal creatures in a world no longer encumbered by electronic shackles we danced and sang under the trees light by the raging fire.
Later that night as we settled around the fire, an experienced male witch invited all of us to consider the wound mother earth was suffering as she hemorrhaged thousands of barrels of toxic crude oil into the gulf as we sat here deep in the woods. He asked us to call out our feelings. In the night air dozens of voices from around the fire cried out expressions of despair, anger, dreams, wishes, incriminations and solutions. I called out “Will it take a sea of change to save the seas?” We are all complicit in the wounds of mother earth, some perhaps more than others. But she continues to heal herself and nurture us anyways.
Laura took me by the hand and guided me away from the fire to a gigantic redwood stump. We crawled up into it and laid down on a bed of soft redwood bark and needles. Looking up into the night sky we were ringed by several redwoods that had grown up in and around the base of this fallen giant. These newer trees, perhaps 100 to 150 years old, now towered four to five stories into the night sky. The muscle of man, ax and saw in hand, had cleared this ancient giant from the land. But the force of nature had sprouted new life out of the decay of the old wounds. Time heals and hope springs eternal. Mother Earth, in her timeless patience forgives her selfish children and heals their wounds.”
As a novice witch in training, I chose the recommended “Elements of Magic” as my learning “path” for the week. The course description for this beginner path read in part –
“You will learn the art of how to create sacred space, invoke the elementals, the Goddess and God, basic spell-crafting, how to ground and direct energy through our bodies and out into the world. This is the path of practice: create and manifest basic rituals, explore trance, work with your voice, music and drumming. We will also create magic with our core tools (the athame, cup and cauldron) in service of the Goddess we love.”
Witchcraft 101 – the Elements of Magic
Over the next four mornings we gathered around a fire pit near a bubbling creek – surrounded by tall trees illuminated by the sun rising each morning up into the clear blue sky. Each day, led by two dedicated witches, we focused on one of the four primary elements of life and magic – earth, fire, water and air. On the fifth day we focused on “Spirit” which encompasses all of these elements, the Universe and us.
Each day I gained a more profound connection to the elements of earth, water, fire, air and to the all pervasive “source” from which we come and return back to. With all the complications, distractions, and fabrications of modern life far out of sight and mind – I connected deeper each day to the source of beauty, harmony and joy that is in nature and in all of us. Such a mystery can’t be contained or conveyed by thoughts and words. It must be felt in our heart and soul.
On our first day, guided by our teachers Willow and Riyana, we dozen students of the elements cast a circle after calling upon the elements of earth, fire, water, air and of spirit. Willow then declared that we were “between the worlds and what happens here affects all the worlds”.
Burning our Limitations
We then performed a ritual in which each of us wrote on a piece of paper what we wanted to purge from our lives. Then, one by one, each of us stepped forward to the fire in the center ring and cast our paper into the cleaning fire as we called out what we wanted to purge. Words such as fear, self hate, doubt, judgment, ego, clutter and many more limitations of life and beauty were burned and dissipated into the air as smoke.
The Making of Magic
Many witches have adopted a definition of magic that describes it as “changing consciousness at will“. In our fire ritual we cast a magic spell upon our own minds that we will carry into our daily lives to make real. Such a conscious change – empowered by a ritual that engaged not just our minds and intentions but our emotions, bodies and spirits – is a magic that is well within the realm of possibility. It is real life changing magic.
For most of my life I’d thought of magic as the make believe and impossible abra cada bra instant magic where a toad becomes a prince with a wave of a magic wand. But real world magic is often not instantaneous. It may begin with setting a conscious intention. But it might take an entire lifetime to be realized. By this definition of magic we all have the capacity for conjuring up magic. We are all forces of magic. We can change consciousness at will and redirect ourselves, others and the elements around us in our own cauldron and thus create and shape the world around and within us.
Some people perform black magic without even knowing it, by using their consciousness to destroy nature and transform it into a parking lot. Some can turn gold into shit, while others with the “magic touch” can transform virtually everything they touch into gold.
For some the magic they practice may be conjuring up an amazing dinner or perhaps creating “movie magic” by marshalling an army of actors, equipment and crew to create the magic reality of a movie. By that definition I’ve been practicing magic all my life, including “movie magic”. Some of my magic has been black, some gray, some white and some golden. What magic are you practicing?
I awoke and crawled over Laura, who was curled up and sleeping like the beautiful cat she is. I stumbled out of my motorhome and followed the stream to my open air classroom among the towering redwood trees. Today we would explore the element of water.
I had always loved water – drinking water, swimming in water, bathing in water . . . But I’d never spent an entire morning contemplating this changeable substance that composes most of our physical being, that keeps our bodily fluids flowing and cleans us inside and out.
Our teacher Willow filled a beautiful bowl full of water from the stream flowing next to us and brought it into the center of our group. She invited each of us in the circle to hold the bowl of water, make a prayer, and then pass it to the next student of the elements.
I had dipped my hands in “holy water” inside many Catholic churches as a child. But it never felt holy or sacred. But when I dipped my hand into this clear cold water and touched it to my forehead and heart – I felt its sanctity and holiness for the first time.
As a “recovering Catholic”, I realized that perhaps I’d thrown the baby out with the bath water when I completely renounced Catholicism. Deep beneath its trappings, traditions and rituals flowed water that was truly holy and sacred. This holy water did not need to be anointed by a priest and kept in a basin in a church. This holy water was all around me and in me.
Later that evening a circle was cast around a carefully constructed bonfire around which moved dozens of mysteriously costumed witches. They moved amongst us in between the shadows as the drummers stirred the movement around the blazing fire. These mysterious figures uttered questions for our minds and spirits to ponder. One solemn face, painted white and black, came forward from the firelight and looked into my eyes and asked “Are you truly awake?”
The face turned away and drifted off into the dark, leaving me to ponder whether I was truly awake. If I was in a dream would I still believe I was awake? Awake to what – All of life’s possibilities? Can any human truly be fully aware and awake to all things? Days later, I’m still not sure I’m truly awake or in but a dream.
In my golden witch book “day four” is a blank sheet of old brown paper, as is day five, six and seven. Did we ponder the earth that day in class or was it the air? Weeks later as I write this story, I just don’t know. Did I get lazy and stop taking notes? Or did I become so immersed in the flow and magic of the week that I stopped stepping outside of it to take notes?
I’m no slave to literal facts. As the say goes, “No Irishman ever let the facts get in the way of a good story”. But I’ll try to recall at least the spirit of those last few days at Witch Camp.
I do recollect a sensual evening towards the end of the week involving chocolate, witches, kisses, touching, music and dancing. Given that witches are fond of saying that “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals” this sensual night of chocolate and partying was a perfectly appropriate ritual. God, I love the way the witches worship.
I also remember drumming in the woods one night with a few sweet friends and lighting our individual candles from the same flame in our center. We shared our heart felt thoughts, hopes, fears and feelings. We bared our souls in the dim light of our candles and then we extinguished the flame together.
I also recall an amazing talent show one night – filled with music, comedy and dramatic performance art. This showcase of magical and amazing talent was followed by an auction to fund scholarships for witches to attend the next years witch camp.
During this auction many who love Laura bid generous amounts to assure that Laura would be given a beautiful photo book that chronicles life at Witch Camp – created by award winning photographer, Michael Rauner.
As fate would have it, this beautiful book of visual poetry ended up in Laura’s hands – a fitting keeper of these memories to which she contributed greatly over the past 13 years.
Beyond all the details of what occurred that week in the woods, I’m left with a profound sense that we are all stirring the pot and combining the elements of fire, water, air, earth and spirit to make magic in our inner and outer worlds. So what magic are you cooking up?
Learn More about Witch Camp and the Reclaiming Tradition
To learn more about Witch Camp visit http://www.californiawitchcamp.org
To learn more about the core principles of the Reclaiming Tradition of witchcraft, which was founded by Starhawk and others in the late 1970’s in San Francisco, read the “Principles of Unity” and “The Charge of the Goddess” below. To learn more about the Reclaiming tradition of witchcraft and its history, current events, politics, publications, rituals and gatherings visit the Reclaiming Website.
Principles of Unity
“My law is love unto all beings…”
– The Charge of the Goddess
The values of the Reclaiming tradition stem from our understanding that the earth is alive and all of life is sacred and interconnected. We see the Goddess as immanent in the earth’s cycles of birth, growth, death, decay and regeneration. Our practice arises from a deep, spiritual commitment to the earth, to healing and to the linking of magic with political action.
Each of us embodies the divine. Our ultimate spiritual authority is within, and we need no other person to interpret the sacred to us. We foster the questioning attitude, and honor intellectual, spiritual and creative freedom.
We are an evolving, dynamic tradition and proudly call ourselves Witches. Honoring both Goddess and God, we work with female and male images of divinity, always remembering that their essence is a mystery which goes beyond form. Our community rituals are participatory and ecstatic, celebrating the cycles of the seasons and our lives, and raising energy for personal, collective and earth healing.
We know that everyone can do the life-changing, world-renewing work of magic, the art of changing consciousness at will. 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. We make decisions by consensus, and balance individual autonomy with social responsibility.
Our tradition honors the wild, and calls for service to the earth and the community. We value peace and practice non-violence, in keeping with the Rede, “Harm none, and do what you will.” We work for all forms of justice: environmental, social, political, racial, gender and economic. Our feminism includes a radical analysis of power, seeing all systems of oppression as interrelated, rooted in structures of domination and control.
We welcome all genders, all races, all ages and sexual orientations and all those differences of life situation, background, and ability that increase our diversity. We strive to make our public rituals and events accessible and safe. We try to balance the need to be justly compensated for our labor with our commitment to make our work available to people of all economic levels.
All living beings are worthy of respect. All are supported by the sacred elements of air, fire, water and earth. We work to create and sustain communities and cultures that embody our values that can help to heal the wounds of the earth and her peoples, and that can sustain us and nurture future generations.
Provided from – http://reclaiming.org/about/directions/unity.html
Charge of the Goddess
Traditional by Doreen Valiente, as adapted by Starhawk:
Listen to the words of the Great Mother, Who of old was called Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Diana, Arionrhod, Brigid, and by many other names:
Whenever you have need of anything, once a month, and better it be when the moon is full, you shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me Who is Queen of all the Wise.
You shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that you be free you shall be naked in your rites.
Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in My Presence, for Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and Mine also is joy on earth.
For My law is love is unto all beings. Mine is the secret that opens the door of youth, and Mine is the cup of wine of life that is the cauldron of Cerridwen, that is the holy grail of immortality.
I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal, and beyond death I give peace and freedom and reunion with those that have gone before.
Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all things and My love is poured out upon the earth.
Hear the words of the Star Goddess, the dust of Whose feet are the hosts of Heaven, whose body encircles the universe:
I Who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars and the mysteries of the waters,
I call upon your soul to arise and come unto me.
For I am the soul of nature that gives life to the universe.
From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return.
Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.
Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.
And you who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.
For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am That which is attained at the end of desire.
Provided by http://www.reclaiming.org/about/witchfaq/charge.html