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CloudCatcher 2019 – Sacred Sexuality Path – Day 1

On the third day after camp, my head cold lifts. My ears no longer ring, my mind, chest and eyes are clear. Mother Mountain has had her way: physically, I am home in my lounge room.

I light a candle, and prepare myself to return to Day 1 of my fifteenth Australian Reclaiming Witch Camp. It is the first time since I started blogging for camp, that illness has prevented me from writing when I wanted.

I mentally return to Mother Mountain …

A few breaths, and in the magic of my mind’s eye, I sit in The Bower with about 25 witches. The sound of rain beating incessantly on a tin roof replaces the bright sun shine and blue skies of my home, which rests on Gumbaynggirr country.

Three hundred kilometres north on the rim of the Wollumbin caldera, and exactly one week ago, on Yugambeh country, it is bucketing down. Sheets of rain pervade the earth. Erishkigal the Dark Goddess is with us:  during this camp, we are to be enveloped in grey clouds.

In this grey Queenslander room, with its wooden vertical joints, I look through a clear window to the grey outside. Water drops trickle down the window pane like tears trickle through my body.

I am nervous. I am hesitant. I do not quite know what to expect: I know that seeking and receiving enthusiastic consent is paramount, After casting circle, I listen as my fellow travellers introduce themselves. We are a diverse group: gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight and transgender people. At 66, I am the oldest, and, possibly the least broadly sexually experienced.

My ongoing relationship started at 20, and I married at 22. I have two adult sons (ages 34 and 30). I sought and gained enthusiastic consent from my ‘other’ before choosing this Path. I hold a special place for my ‘other’ in my heart, but their needs are now different to mine. My witch community help me reference a world somewhat alien to me: cuddle puddles to kink; bdsm and burlesque; intense performance art to relationship anarchy, alternative relationships and polyamory. I am fascinated with what I know and do not know. In these new experiences, I am a Loki on my own wall.

For me, life is a ‘love spell’: a relationship adventure: I have a need for touch, intellectual engagement and sensual pleasure. While being an intense introvert, relationships fascinate me. They may last from less than a minute to a life time – meaningful depth is available in a moment as fleeting as the flap of a bird’s wings as it arises the ground.

In the final moments of a past witch camp, with agreement, I hugged Copper Persephone, disappointed for us not to have conversed. We exchanged eye contact, and I said: ‘I am sure we will meet again, I know you will be my teacher.’ Copper Persephone and Rose Weaver, the teachers of this Path, sit beside the Bower Altar. The room is long and narrow, minimally lit by a single set of sparkly lights frozen on the ‘still’ setting. I can barely see the faces of the participants at the other end of the room in the subdued light, but, their voices reverberate clear as mountain bell birds.

Copper Persephone is talking about Pleasure Activism: resourcing ourselves as an antidote to grief. Copper Persephone moves onto self-care. We are all experienced witches: I have completed two directly relevant paths before this, which I have mentally named: Naked I, and Skyclad II. Self-care is a prerequisite for this Path. We are to all have at least three strategies readily available from our safety tool belt for when we are inevitably triggered. I choose:

  1. The grounding exercise that Copper Persephone teaches us. It is not the same as ‘pagan grounding’. It is a simple breathing exercise to be done with my Eyes Open: Breathe in – 2 -3; Hold – 2 – 3; Breathe out – 2 – 3. Copper references Lisa Najavits’ Seeking Safety work for this exercise.
  2. To breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth while looking for colours; patterns or counting things I can see.
  3. Breathing and humming aloud, while thinking: ‘I am safe. I am present.’

After a discussion around confidentiality and boundaries (both physical and emotional), group agreements are affirmed. We take a bio break: enough time for a cuppa and a quick wee.

The second part of the morning is lighter. This is the pattern that our mornings will take: thoughtful discussion followed by a break, and then a lightening. Rose Weaver and Copper Persephone are clever and astute teachers.

I return to The Bower. We are asked to throw words related to sexuality into a ‘word salad’ mix. Words that might be hidden, forbidden, taboo or unavailable to us in our dominant culture lives. I vocalise a few words: my throat is still constricted. I feel inadequate: in this cacophony, no one can hear what I am saying, and yet, I am still inhibited and my throat remains closed.

Gradually, I become aware of the music playing.  I perceive a naked woman to my right. I join her: shedding my layers, my fibres, my bras and panties. Her body is exquisite in all its flaws, faults and rolls. Her spirit’s vessel is a human body that has carried her through many years of life. It is a beautiful container. I get up and dance; I am dancing naked and free: the two scars of my recent breast excisions bare for all to see. I am proud. I feel so lucky to have access to modern western medicine and technology. I show off the work of my female surgeon. I relish my breasts and their capacity for pleasure and nourishment.

The sensual, glorious, freeing movements continue for about 15 minutes: some are fully dressed, some half-dressed, and some reaching for that sarong as the music ends. All appear comfortable with each others’ choices: there are many smiles, shining eyes and glowing skin. For me, many familiar faces: I am blessed. I have chosen the right path for me.

After Path, I am feeling lighter than air: disconnected, floating, happy, too happy … I decide to take 10 minutes of solitude before going to lunch. I use a fourth strategy from my safety tool kit: I draw with pen from my memory or reality. Here is The Bower:

Cloudcatcher 2018 – Elements Path – Day 4

The calm…

My experience with water went deep and needed space to properly settle in my mind, let alone open up to conversation about it. I knew it was all part of my personal journey, however I felt like the journey was still quite deeply personal.

Over the few days I’d been at CloudCatcher, I had already made some really wonderful connections, people that I was drawn to, others I needed to work with to cast a circle or an element, and then there were the unexpected connections that arose from simply being in a particular place at a particular time.

They were – for the most part, with people in my path, which made sense considering that we were all taking a similar journey, in our own deeply personal way. However, something that I was inspired by above all else was the collaborative approach taken to perform daily rituals within the path. When asked to participate everyone did something – movement, breathing, inspired utterances, whatever spoke to them at the time. This was something I believe to be fundamental to Reclaiming, the acceptance of our own vulnerability, the acceptance of our own spirituality, and the acceptance of our own agency. It was ok to ‘fuck up’, it was ok to say something that might not have made too much sense, and it was ok to say nothing at all! It was ok to simply move – feel, what was being processed at the time, we were our own agents, and only with consent were we ever expected to step outside the comfort and safety of our own boundaries. Reclaiming is ecstatic, and therefore seeks out the inspiration of the moment, and we were invited to let it manifest in whatever way felt appropriate at the time, respecting the agreements in play when working with a group.

The last day of our path focused on Spirit, and we were introduced to concepts that are familiar to me, but were expressed and experienced with the vocabulary of in the Reclaiming tradition. This was primarily the concepts of the three worlds as explored using our breath to take us into parts of ourselves that connected and aligned our spiritual bodies with them. We also used our breath to focus our attention on the boundaries of the space we take up, the immediate awareness of the imminent self that I would describe as my aura. The importance placed on aligning the three worlds within wasn’t intended to take us away from this one – on the contrary, much of the work focused on connecting with the land, sea and sky which mirrored my own druidic practices.

The second half of the workshop was far more challenging. The teachers stepped away and left us with the task of developing a ritual that consolidated what we had learnt, and to focus our intentions toward achieving our personal quests. I have always been aware of my influence in group dynamics, and having been through this wonderful path with such gorgeous creatures, I was made acutely aware of the need to reel in my personality so everyone could have a piece of the ‘brownie’. This didn’t mean shutting myself down, on the contrary! I just wanted to provide enough space for others to speak and share their thoughts and ideas, and I had hoped that everyone would bare the same consideration into the exercise. When dealing with over 20 adults in this way, leaders quickly emerged, and I was comfortable going with the flow of the river, rather than trying to swim across it. We developed our own ritual intention that informed the whole ritual, and a chant was developed that incorporated elements from each day’s practice – it was beautiful! I felt it truly captured the essence of what we were trying to do, and created the egregore to carry our intentions back into the real world. Everyone placed either an intention or a token into the middle of the circle and we performed the rite. We chanted, and I cried some more as I held onto my quest – to allow myself to see the strength in my own vulnerability and to allow others to see that too.

In true Reclaiming style we finished off the day with another check-in, casting another kind of circle with our words, a circle that didn’t need to be uncast. Although I carried away in my heart my quest and promised to test that boundary whenever possible, I also opened myself up to a practice that will enliven my personal spiritual path, and I’m looking forward to sharing what that looks like with my fellow Druids!

Cloudcatcher 2018 – Day 3 – Elements Path

The rain has arrived…

Writing this blog has a lot in common with how I deal with emotions, with trepidation!

However I made a commitment to share my experience in a blog, and I also made a commitment to myself to lean into that uncomfortable edge when dealing with my emotions.

Water, by knot of one..

I entered today’s path with a certain level of unease, I didn’t like being emotional in front of other people, and I could feel the truth of my quest emerging. I was raised to compartmentalise my feelings and keep my vulnerable side hidden from view. However over the years that attitude never really served me well, so I entered the session knowing that I wasn’t just going to be pushing a boundary, I entered with the expectation that the very foundations of my emotional well-being were going to be uprooted.

By knot of two…

I was already feeling vulnerable from the day before, having carried with me the tenets of the unity statement and how it still in some ways, challenged my sensibilities regarding identity and how I saw the world and me in it.

So, as we prepared for the session, in the centre of our human circle was placed the sacred objects for the day; a bowl of water symbolising the element in focus, a candle to light our way, and a box of tissues!

Oh dear….

Take a breath.

By knot of three…

Our check-in was a little different today, breaking into two groups we entered deeper waters. We were taken through a light trance where we visited a watery place. For me, it was the wintery coastal region of Illawarra in a place called Gerringong. It was a place that I visited with my family as a child, and I enjoyed nothing more than heading down to the beach in the bitter cold winds, and watch the waves break on the rocky fringes of the shore. I would always climb to somewhere complicated and remote – yet close to the rocky ocean edges, and I would just sit, listen, and feel the chilly ocean spray on my skin feeling the slightest chill as it would slowly seep into my clothes.

It was here I returned that day, to enter the water and immerse myself in it.

By knot of four…

We would experience the depth of water in three levels. We were invited into our watery places and experience it. I waded out into the shallowly water and I was buffeted by the swell. I could feel the chill of the salty ocean water wash over me in the gentle churn as it moved with the tidal forces of the earth and the moon. It washed over my face and I could taste the saltiness on my lips. The tension on the surface was evidenced in my struggle to stay afloat in the churn without breaking on the rocks.

Next, we were taken deeper, here the sounds of the ocean crashing on the shore was swallowed up, replaced by gentle sounds reminding me of the perpetual motion of the water all around me. The currents tugged on my limbs, but I wasn’t being carried away, simply moved with the motions. It was a loving embrace, the tension of having to hold myself together on the surface was gone, and I was able to stretch out and allow the movement and churn simply wash around me, and through me.

By knot of five…

But I was asked to go deeper still, and asked what that felt like. Here it was darker, I definitely couldn’t see that well, and the churn above stirred the ocean bed’s sedimentary layers so they obscured my vision, scraped against my skin, and softly exfoliated my body as I laid bare on the ocean floor.

It was here where the shadows lived; the shades that whispered uncertainties in my ear, that reminded me of ancient hurts that I thought were buried deep, they swirled all around me. I was feeling vulnerable and weak.

By knot of seven…

In my deep discomfort I was brought back, and in our groups we formed tight circles around the tissue box and we conducted what was known as a deep check-in.

I cried – deeply, and I hadn’t even said anything yet. The pain, and suffering I saw in the eyes of those around me, in their voices reminded me just how poorly we’d all been treated by the world in some way.

By knot of eight…

It came to my turn, and I wept. I wept for the father I didn’t make space to mourn, I wept for the sense of separation and loss I felt with my family, I wept for that man who never allowed himself to be vulnerable enough to show those he loved, just how deeply he felt – for them, those he cared about, or himself. It was such an incredible moment of vulnerability, yet I have never felt so supported in my vulnerability before in my life. I didn’t see this side of myself as strong, I had never allowed myself to be so raw in front of anyone. But in that moment, in that perfect container of love, of vulnerability and compassion, I allowed myself to be strong in my vulnerability and I let it be known.

A major part of the exercise was to allow each and every one to be vulnerable. We weren’t to interrupt their moment with a hug, a call to support, a gesture, nothing. Just to allow every one of us to have our moment at the depth of our watery place, wherever that was.

Having finished the deep check-in it became apparent what my true quest was, a mission that would reverberate throughout my life: my quest was to ‘allow myself to be strong in my vulnerability.’

By knot of nine…

With our cords of magic that we’d worked into a knot spell, we danced and raised energy to flood our being with watery nourishment, refreshment and renewal with a beautiful chant.

The experience left me feeling raw and exposed, and I spent most of the day quieter, more contemplative than usual. I had a breakthrough in that perfect space, and it needed gentle nurturing to allow the process of integration to commence. It’s going to be a long journey.