Witch at Large: Ruminations from a Grey Perspective

Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.

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The Times They Are a-Changin'

Earlier this week The Wild Hunt blog featured a report on CoG’s recently concluded MerryMeet/Grand Council, complete with photos of the new National Board.  What a change from my day!

There was a time when Witches (and Wiccans) kept deep within the broom closet, for all manner of reasons, most involving fear of discrimination at work, school, or housing.

I remember the first MerryMeet held on the East Coast in the mid-eighties, at Rowe Camp & Conference Center in Massachusetts.  That was when I first met some of the wonderful folks at the then-Northeast Local Council: folks from NECTW, EarthSpirit, and the then-Lone Star LC from Texas, among many others.  At that MerryMeet I saw my first tea dance.  It seemed to have a very New York flavor, especially with BrightShadow[1] in leathers. 

I distinctly remember at the follies, the time when members from all over show their talents.  A Witch from Seattle (who shall still remain nameless unless when he reads this, he gives me permission to name him) played guitar and sang; someone took a photo.  The second he finished his song the musician tromped up an aisle in a rage toward the person with the camera and grabbed it away from him.  I don’t know if he took the film canister or what – this was, of course, many years before digital cameras or the Internet.  What I, as a newish Witch brand new to East Coast Pagandom, I do remember was shock.  Of course, I knew well enough at that time not to name names or take photos.  I was mildly surprised to see someone taking snapshots, but to me it didn’t seem to really matter in this instance because it was only a photo of a man in street clothes singing and playing guitar, with nothing indicative of witchiness visible in the shot.

Over the years since then, photos of outgoing and newly elected Board members have been taken, but only for those in the photos and for CoG’s archives.  A couple of years at PantheaCon former National First Officers were rounded up for photos.  Again, these photos were taken with cameras that had film.  I do have some of them.  They’re especially valuable to me because some of those pictured have departed this plane.  I would publish them here if I were able to contact everyone shown, but alas! some appear to be unreachable.

* * * * *

I also remember how the Reclaiming role of Dragons originated.  We used to meet at Ocean Beach in San Francisco on the Solstices.  We purified with a ritual plunge in the Pacific,[2] then returned to a bonfire[3] for the ritual.  The bonfire attracted other beachgoers, particularly drunks in search of a good party.  Sometimes the media would get wind of this gathering, drawing unwanted cameras and reporters.[4]

Back in our Reclaiming Collective meetings, when we debriefed and critiqued our rituals, we came up with a role[5] to address such potential intrusions.  I named that role Dragon, but in more traditional Wiccan traditions, the role of border-keeper is usually assumed by a tyler (from the Masonic term)[6] or Man in Black.  A comparable role in Dianic Craft is Guardian 

* * * * *

Also back in those days, one needed to warn one’s children of speaking freely about their parents’ religion.  I did so.  My daughter was a friendly, chatty girl, and I knew it would be easy for her to mention something about home and her mom’s being a Witch that would only encourage teasing and maybe even ostracism.  Further, for many of those years I was a single mother, a situation that made me feel more vulnerable when it came to potential harassment.  So, but for hanging with the children of Witchen friends, she learned to be discreet about the witchy goings-on at home. 

The fact that I was known in the Craft by a Craft name rather than my mundane name helped us maintain a more conventional image.  Still, I hated to have to do this.  What other religion requires that its children hide?  For that matter, what other religion doesn’t teach its children?  This is fodder for a different feeding, but suffice it to say that back then Witches were discouraged from involving their children.  The Craft, with its secrecy and mysteries,[7] was considered not suitable for children.  I’m happy that Pagan/Witchen culture has changed in that regard.  Now there are Spiral Scouts, children’s programs at festivals, teen camps, and the like.  Not to mention CoG’s Hart & Crescent Award[8] for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and other youth groups and their leaders.

There were good reasons for maintaining anonymity back then.  Today I’m glad to say there are far fewer.  This is due, in large part, to the work over the years of CoG and other groups, as well as to individuals who have a public face, whether using a Craft name or not.  The day when CoG can proudly and openly publish the names and faces of its National Board officers has arrived.  Praise be! 

[1]  Publisher of the wonderful Enchanté: The Journal for the Urbane Pagan, with its serial “All My Avatars.”  Old issues may be available from purveyors of used books.

[2]   I know this sounds as though it would be wicked cold, but it really wasn’t so bad.  For one thing, the water felt warmer at Midwinter than at Midsummer, at least to me it did.  Besides, one only plunges for a brief moment, than towels off, dresses, and gathers round the bonfire. 

[3]   There’s a wonderful photo by Michael Rauner of this bonfire, sans people, in Visionary State: A Journey Through California’s Spiritual Landscape, by Erik Davis.

[4]   The same thing happened at one of the early Spiral Dances held at the SF Hall of Flowers.  The place was over-packed with people, and along came a crew from the SF Chronicle newspaper.  Volunteer Sipko skilfully sent them away.

[5]   We devised other roles, too, such as Graces, tales of which may be told another day.

[6]   Over the years, my late friend Grey Cat and I discussed these differences.  IIRC, she wrote about tylers in Deepening Witchcraft: Advancing Skills & Knowledge.

[7]   A big topic I plan to discuss in a subsequent blog.

[8]   Information about this award seems to have disappeared from the Web, but there’s a bit about it here (scroll down).

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Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com


  • Richard Daley
    Richard Daley Friday, 16 August 2013

    We can only hope that this trend continues.

  • Robert Scott
    Robert Scott Friday, 16 August 2013

    Well put, and thank you for sharing.

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