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Witchcamp 2017: Dancing With Bulls

It is late afternoon and the slanting light is filtering through the redwoods.  I am barefoot feeling the redwood roots intertwined and alive under the trail.  We are laying a maze/labyrinth with rooms of challenge and healing for our community of witches of all genders to move though later this night as part of our evening ritual.  I move off the trail and begin building a altar of bee healing, using a low redwood stump.  There is honey to drizzle on skin with an invitation to feel its sticky goodness before licking it off, pieces of honeycomb to break off and roll around in their mouths, healing honey salve to work into rough skin, a lantern draped with a floral cloth illuminating this place since the ritual will be held after the sun sets in the west.


This year we are working the myth of Crete: of the maze/labyrinth, of Ariadne, of Theseus, and of the Minotaur.  It is the fourth night and we have been gently uncovering the layers of the story, looking deeper than the later Greek myth of the hero slaying the monster, to the earlier fragments of the Minoan culture before the Greek conquerers came.  Before the Greeks, Crete was place of 1,900 years of peace shattered by the twin tragedies of natural disaster (volcanic eruption and tsunami) and then Greek invasion.  Before the Greeks, Ariadne was not just a girl with some thread, she was a goddess, the maze was an initiatory labyrinth, and the Minotaur was Asterion, the bull in the stars, a divine being.  Before the Greeks, the Minoans danced with the bulls.  Before the Greeks there were bee and snake priestesses offering challenge and healing in the labyrinth.  Yet layered on top of the older stories is the myth of the monster in the maze.  This week at witchcamp we live in the multi dimensional space where both are possible and this night over a hundred witches will enter the maze/labyrinth to see if they encounter a monster, or dance with the bulls, or both. 


A few hours later drums call the witches to gather at the mouth of the maze/labyrinth.  But we are not all there, seven of us are already at the heart of the maze/labyrinth getting ready to aspect the Minotaur/Asterion.  In our Reclaiming Tradition it is common in rituals for some priestesses (of all genders) to aspect, a magical practice in which we channel the presence of a deity or quality.  "Aspecting," says Reclaiming teacher Sage, "is a technique which allows participants to experience the presence of a quality, being or deity in an embodied, physically manifest way.”  Seven of us will invite in the monster or the starry bull.  Each of us has a Tender, a person who will make sure we are not lost in the aspecting, that The Minotaur/Asterion is gentle with the human priestess they will be living through and does not wander off into the woods.  In the Greek myth 7 girls and 7 boys are offered as tribute to the monster in the maze, it is somehow appropriate that we also are 7 and 7.  


As we hear the distant drums, our Tenders invoke The Minotaur/Asterion into us so that when the witches finally arrive at the heart of the maze/labyrinth they will encounter us there.  I feel the energy shift in my body, I feel my nostrils flare and my sense of smell heighten.  I feel The Minotaur/Asterion flow into me, to see through my eyes, to hear through my ears, to speak human language with my mouth, and begin to learn how to move my human body.  I am still present witnessing the change from within my deep core.  I feel a shift in my posture, a difference in the way I hold my head.  I feel The Minotaur/Asterion reshape my body, The Minotaur/Asterion moves haltingly at first, fascinated with physical limitation, fascinated with embodiment.  The Minotaur/Asterion begins to live me around the space, smelling the plants, the earth, tasting a bit of the sweet new growth on the tip of a lower hanging redwood branch.  The Minotaur/Asterion is aware of my Tender and sniffs her, she is patient and allows that.  Then The Minotaur/Asterion, getting used to vocal chords, says haltingly, “human.”  She says, “yes” with a smile.  The Minotaur/Asterion says, “fragile.”  The Minotaur/Asterion becomes aware of another Minotaur/Asterion across the space and says, “Me” and begins to move toward themself.  As the two Minotaurs/Asterions grow close they sniff each other then begin to nuzzle.  Close by two more Minotaurs/Asterions are circling then begin to butt heads and wrestle.  We slowly become aware of each other as one complete Minotaur/Asterion yet each a different facet of the whole of The Minotaur/Asterion.  


The witches begin to arrive here in the center of the maze/labyrinth and begin to seek encounters with one or more of us.  The Minotaur/Asterion living through me smells each person, gaining knowledge of who they are, of their fears, of their strength, of their uncertainties if they are facing a monster they must battle or a divine energy with which they can dance.  The Minotaur/Asterion knows that if there is a monster here it is of their own making.  Each human is different.  The Minotaur/Asterion living me, meets each witch where they are and holds their gaze, dances with some, whispers words to others.


The fire in the center burns higher as all the witches arrive and the ritual continues.  The Minotuar/Asterion living me circles round the fire and stops by certain witches and opens energetic portals in some near their throat, or heart, or solar plexus and then breaths hot bull breath full of strength, power, healing into those openings.  


The ritual moves toward its end and one of the last pieces is for the 7 Tenders to thank The 7 Minotaurs/Asterions and devoke that energy/being from the human bodies of the 7 human priestesses allowing us to once more see through our own eyes, hear through our own ears, and speak with our own mouths.  I feel the energy exit my body leaving behind bull wisdom and an ache in my back from my muscles moving differently. I miss the heightened sense of smell and the ability to know humans more fully because of it.  I am very thirsty and drink the entire contents of my water bottle.


Later as the witches drift away from the dying fire I wander back through the labyrinth and stop at the bee altar.  I drizzle a bit of honey on my hand and taste its sweetness delighted to be a fragile human living among other fragile humans.  There is now a dance party happening back at the dining hall and I dance out my bull stiff muscles a bit until walking barefoot through the dark to my bed on the edge of camp.  I fall asleep and dream of dancing with bulls.   



Photo by Rolf Gross of painting in the labyrinth palace at Knosses Crete     

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Lizann Bassham was both an active Reclaiming Witch and an Ordained Christian Minister in the United Church of Christ. She served as Campus Pastor at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley working with a multi-faith student community. She was a columnist for SageWoman magazine, a novelist, playwright, and musician. Once, quite by accident, she won a salsa dance contest in East L.A. Lizann died on May 27, 2018.


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