Reclaiming by Doing: Ecstatic witchcraft in action

For Reclaiming Witches, what we do is the living embodiment of what we believe—about human worth, the holiness of the Earth, and the individual and community relationship with Mystery. Join me as I explore some of the tradition's central tenets and commonly held beliefs through the actions of our members. From soup kitchens to street actions, from guerrilla gardening to gender salons, "Reclaiming by Doing" hopes to illuminate the sacred in ordinary and extraordinary life.

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Reclaiming by Doing

The day I started this post was pretty easygoing, spiritually. I got up early and took a six-mile bike ride. Later in the morning I edited the first chapter in a novel-in-progress about pilgrims who travel thousands of miles to worship a tree. In the evening, I biked about a mile to help a local feminist theater company label brochures for their new season. Blessed be.

When I started in Paganism twelve years ago, big, elaborate rituals were the order of the day. Every day. This took a lot of time (one of the few times I've been glad of underemployment). In some ways, that's a good thing: sacrifice can (and perhaps should) be an integral part of religious practice. Problem was, the rituals did nothing for me, spiritually. Day after day I performed these solemn rites, and I never felt connected to the divine, the Cosmos, or my Highest Self. I felt like a silly girl surrounded by fire hazards, waving a knife around.

a1sx2_Original2_Reclaiming-by-Doing01-00.jpgHere's where I felt the deepest sense of spiritual connection: walking the two-mile mini-pilgrimage from my apartment to the Mississippi River, experiencing the wondrous aliveness of my body and humility in the presence of this ancient and majestic river. Ghost-writing letters to the editor for a conservation and renewable energy campaign, placing mind and hand in service to the Earth I loved. Making a game out of how many days in a row I could go without starting my car, challenging myself to do better, to be better, for Gaia. I knew these things about myself. Yet for my first Pagan year, I resisted this understanding. I'd embarked on a new religious path rich in magic and mystery; I couldn't find spiritual fulfillment doing the same mundane things I'd always done, could I?

I'd read about Reclaiming (okay, let's be honest: I'd read about every tradition that had an essay on WitchVox) and was drawn to the "Reclaiming elevator speech", if you will:

Reclaiming is a community of people working to unify spirit and politics. Our vision is rooted in the religion and magic of the Goddess, the Immanent Life Force. We see our work as teaching and making magic: the art of empowering ourselves and each other. In our classes, workshops, and public rituals, we train our voices, bodies, energy, intuition, and minds. We use the skills we learn to deepen our strength, both as individuals and as community, to voice our concerns about the world in which we live, and bring to birth a vision of a new culture.

Lookit those verbs! Working. Train. Deepen. Voice. Bring to birth. Not a lot of highfalutin talk about other realms and ancient wisdoms--which works for some folks, but not for me. No, this was a tradition of here and now, and I wanted in.

When I found the local Reclaiming community, almost by accident, I was—pun intended— ecstatic. I connect the instant feeling of homecoming I felt in my first ritual to how little separation I sensed between who how they presented themselves in ritual space and how they presented themselves eating coffee cake in the kitchen afterward. I had found a spiritual community that embodied the sacred and held embodiment as sacred. With that approach, walks and letters and car-free days became as sacred as Maypole dances and Full Moon rites. That, in a coconut shell, is what I hope this blog will be about. I want to open a window on the Reclaiming tradition via what we do with ourselves, day after day and year after year.

a1sx2_Original1_Reclaiming-by-Doing02-00.jpgKnow the old saw "Ask three Pagans one question, and they'll give you five answers"? Now try this: "Ask three Reclaiming witches one question, and they'll give you five answers—and then try to reach consensus on an answer they can all live with." Trying to explain what Reclaiming is and what it's about is like being asked to tell an international audience what "the American experience" or "the Australian lifestyle" is about. We are not a monolithic tradition. We root our practices in the ecology and cultures of our home bioregions, so those of us practicing here in the cold and hearty Upper Midwest likely do things differently than our fere in sunny España or the rain-bejeweled Pacific Northwest. In some ways, there are as many Reclaimings as there are Reclaiming witches. But you will often, I think, know us by our actions.

We will likely spend a great deal of time, you and I, with our fingers wrapped around pens, our feet resting on bicycle pedals, our wrists handcuffed to financial institutions. We will speak with the artists, advocates, activists, and agitators who make Reclaiming a sticky, juicy, cacophonous euphony of magic and spirit. We may even peer into the tradition's future and examine the often challenging but always worthwhile work of making sure our living tradition keeps on living and thriving and adapting and being relevant, simultaneously true to changeless Mystery, changing Mystery, and the changing humans who celebrate that Mystery.

Boots on the ground, fingers in the dirt. All in ecstatic reverence. That's Reclaiming by doing.

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Eli Effinger-Weintraub practices Gaian Reclaiming-tradition hearthcraft in the Twin Cities watershed. She plants her beliefs and practices in the living Earth and her butt on a bicycle saddle. Previous works have appeared in Witches&Pagans, Circle, and Steampunk Tales, as well as at the Clarion Foundation blog, Humanistic Paganism, and I’m From Driftwood. Eli writes the "Restorying the Sacred" column at No Unsacred Place, a blog of the Pagan Newswire Collective. She shares her life and art with her wife, visual artist Leora Effinger-Weintraub, and two buffalo disguised as cats. Eli's personal blog lives at Backbooth, and she tweets as @AwflyWeeEli.

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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Monday, 30 July 2012

    Brilliant exposition of the way I do my Paganism as well, Eli. If I was a joiner instead of a committed solitary, your "elevator pitch" would have me signing up in a heartbeat. Very nicely done! Gaia bless, Anne

  • Eli Effinger-Weintraub
    Eli Effinger-Weintraub Monday, 30 July 2012

    Thanks, Anne. I think you might even groove on the way we do "joining" around here; Twin Cities Reclaiming is a loose association of folks who do our own witchy things for the most part, then get together periodically for community service or singing or potlucks (us Midwesterners love our potlucks). The expectations for actually being Pagan together is pretty low.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Monday, 30 July 2012

    Fascinating idea (solitaries with occasional potlucks) sounds GREAT!

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