What I Did On My Summer Vacation and Why This Is Important

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 31, 2008 — 2 Comments

Here I am, last but not least, in the “amazing guest star vacation week” of The Wild Hunt. Jason will return tomorrow, hopefully rested, revitalized, and ready to once again provide us with breaking news of Pagan interest.

Vacations change our consciousness by shaking up the mundane rhythm of our lives. They are, in and of themselves, magic. I am glad Jason took one, and I’m honored to be part of the shape-shifting roller coaster of this guest star week.

Jason included in my bio that I teach at Reclaiming Witchcamps. Witchcamp, vacations, and the value of taking time out, even from our own communities, is the focus of this post. Wrestling each year with whether I want to spend my vacation at a witchcamp, I’ve become acutely aware of the spiritual balancing act of intensity and repose. This balancing act is a challenge for many of us as individuals, but it also a challenge to the Pagan and activist communities I’ve been a part of. This year, I’m jumping out of the box of my past experience and doing something new. I’m not going to teach at an intensive but instead, at a restorative.

In 1986 I attended the first Reclaiming Witchcamp Intensive for my summer vacation. This week long getaway was held at Jug Handle Creek Farm on Northern California’s Mendocino Coast. It was the beginning of the culture shift of the fledgling San Francisco based “tradition” that was then the centerpiece of my life. I had no idea just how many of my summers witchcamp would come to shape. I had no idea how this getaway would come to shape Reclaiming.

At the time, I was in coven with Starhawk and Rose May Dance, among others; both a women’s coven and one that was focused on mixing magic with activism. Due to the popularity of Starhawk’s books, there was a growing demand that we teach our particular kind of magic outside of San Francisco. We took time off to meet that demand, and twenty two years later there are witchcamp intensives across the United States, Canada and Europe. A big slice of Pagandom has attended at least one Reclaiming witchcamp, and there are plenty of newcomers each year. There are plans for new camps in Israel, Crete and also Australia. In the course of serving up our particular kind of magic around the world, our particular kind of magic changed. Mix together old time revival,magical skill sharing, Pagan ecstatic encounter group, and anarchist circus and you have what comes close to resembling a Reclaiming witchcamp.

We’ve forged ahead, creating new witchcamps hither and yon, with little looking back. Reflection is not the strong suit of the Reclaiming tradition. Reclaiming is high on intensity and low on contemplation. There are a growing number of communities that have been built around witchcamps, like Spiralheart, and the one in British Columbia, that have come to value examining the “why” of what they are doing. But, getting to this has meant breaking away from some of the bad habits and community patterns inherited from the Bay Area. Here, due to the crisis based paradigm of the early days of the tradition – the world is about to end and can only be saved by our magic – there is little time for self-reflection or questioning community dynamics. Recruitment is in service of this magic, and in order to bring in people we can’t appear to be flawed. Hence, acknowledging community shadows is potently resisted, as is taking any break from action.

I’ve learned from my years teaching witchcamps and my many years in Reclaiming and activist circles just how important breaks from intensity are and just how important it is to slow down and take the time to envision there is time. Sometimes, pulling back from the fray of Pagan and/or activist community is the only way to stay in it.

Here in the Bay Area, some of us laughingly call ourselves more “Remaining” than “Reclaiming”; we’ve become a strange Greek chorus ambling in and out of local community. We utter our reflections and advice from the blogosphere, occasionally attending meetings and events. From our seasoned teaching guild we send out proposals to the wider community for things we hope will help the tradition, like policies of transparency and accountability. And then, we let go and go off and tend to other areas of our lives. We step outside the insular confines of tradition and join the greater Pagan world. When we step back in, we come back with a wider perspective that signals a vacation well spent.

This summer I will be taking a vacation from a teaching a witchcamp intensive. Instead, along with others, I’m creating an equinox restorative. It’s aimed at those who feel called to a retreat that is deep, restful, and reflective. With three nights away instead of a full week, we also leave free more vacation days for other pursuits. Among us are those who are Feri and Gardnerian as well as Reclaiming. We welcome working and playing with those outside of our respective traditions.

Planning the restorative has been transformative, as it’s called for us to do the very process we hope will occur at the event – reflection and review. When we first started out, we named it aptly “A Fool’s Journey”, as we knew we were stepping into new territory. We are sorting through our past experiences, witchcamp among them, sorting through what we want to leave behind and what we find valuable enough to gather in the Fool’s sack. We’ve noticed that the Fool’s posture is not one of rushing ahead. It’s the posture of taking time to smell the roses. What’s the point in rushing to save the world and all its roses if you never take time to smell them?

We’ve found a retreat center in Northern California built decades back to serve the Jungian community that seems perfect for our intent. Its large swimming pool, library full of spiritual texts, meditation room, art house, acres of woodland and meadow designed for ritual and ceremon
y seem to invite restoration to take place. As a priestess well trained in whooping the energy up, I welcome the challenge of invoking sacred lounging around the pool.

With the spirit of the Fool as my guide, I am open to anything. The Fool’s Journey could become an annual event, part of the community of witchcamps, or purely a one time thing. For all I know, next year I might search for the spirit of Elvis and end up vacationing in Las Vegas.

Taking breaks from the ordinary is important. I’m grateful that Jason and The Wild Hunt had one. Welcome back, Jason! Whether your vacation was restorative or intense, I hope you got what you needed. And now, we will return to our regularly scheduled programming…

guest posted by Deborah Oak of the roots down, branches up blog

Jason Pitzl-Waters