Catching Clouds

A first-time camper’s experience of Cloudcatcher reclaiming witchcamp.

By Jack Tree Boy about CloudCatcher 2013 - Freya and the Brisingamen

The daylight was disappearing as dusk reclaimed the sky and the first stars appeared overhead, the trees lining the road obscuring what little was left of the afternoon sun. The world had begun to take on an otherworldly glow as I made my way to my magickal destination. I breathed deeply as the night was gently falling and I drove through Springbrook national park in search of the site of Cloudcatcher reclaiming witchcamp. I was excited and nervous as I wound my way through the endless tree-lined hills and winding turns towards the very literal end of the road in the Gold Coast hinterland. This pristine area, set in the volcanic cradle of the caldera, seemed the perfect natural setting for a witchcamp, but I had niggling reservations. Who would I know there? What would we do? What if this wasn’t my ‘thing’? Doubts still swirled about in my mind as I arrived at my destination, stepping out of the car into the cool night air and the start of what would be a great adventure.

I was late to camp. I’d missed the initial briefing and was arriving at dinnertime. Another reason to be nervous, I lamented.  But I needn’t have worried, as within minutes of arriving I was approached by some of the most welcoming and caring people I’d ever met. And all witches. I would soon find out that most everyone on this camp was just as warm and inclusive, and I was to find a new and caring magickal family for the next four days.

After dinner we joined together in our ritual space for our opening ritual.  Our four altars boasted gorgeous decorations to welcome Freya, Odin, Loki and the Dwarves. Their significance would become clear as the camp unfolded. Joining hands, grounding and centring, invoking the elements and casting our first circle, we wove a semi-permanent web of magick and energy to hold us in that physical space for the duration of the camp; a wonderful cauldron of support, magic and safety. The camp had officially begun and we were now operating between the worlds, free to open ourselves up and surrender to the transformational experiences which we hoped and believed Cloudcatcher would bring us.

The opening ritual also presented us with the myth and theme of the camp, which we would thread through our rituals, workshops and personal magickal journeying. The myth of the camp was the story of the Norse goddess Freya and the Brisingamen; her encounters with dwarves and gods, and her journey from despair to hope. This mythic tale was spun in tandem with the theme of the camp: 

Here is Animal. Here is Land. We are Family of Blood, Bone and Spirit, dancing our Surrender into Love. Our Hearts Blaze.

Winding down our opening ritual, we left our cast circle in place, to be tended by the guardians of the caldera for the duration of camp. I left our ritual space feeling elated, excited, still a little nervous, but now filled with an overwhelming sense that I was in absolutely the right place with the right people at the right time. There was magick in the air, and it was tangible.

The following morning brought us to our magickal working paths for the camp. These paths represented deeper and more focused magickal workshops, rituals and self-development, and were led by teachers and assistant teachers from within the reclaiming magickal tradition. There were three paths to choose from at Cloudcatcher: Bower of the Blazing Heart, a deep heart healing path; Wind, Forge, Cloud, Mountain, an experiential elements path; and the Chariot Priestess: Power in Self, Power Together, for meaningful priestessing in the community. Each path represented an opportunity to spin deep into the heart of the goddess and learn, share, grow and expand. I was drawn to the path of the Bower of the Blazing Heart.

My path opened my heart, challenged me, held me dear, offered me deep emotional release and provided ongoing opportunities for deep heart and spirit healing. The teachers so wonderfully and warmly offered their knowledge, love and support to the group, and all participants held space for one another as we undertook our sacred journeys. We all journeyed, together and alone, and through a healing connection between our hearts and the heart of the great mother, we were deeply and profoundly changed.

In addition to path groups, campers were also placed into affinity groups which aimed to support campers through community building, post-ritual debriefing and the creation of safe space. These groups were smaller, of 5 or 6 people, and were places to discuss successes and struggles of camp, and they also offered the opportunity to journey deeper. I am forever grateful for the wonderful women of my affinity group; they held space for me and we supported each other as we let our hearts open, our voices speak, and our ideas flow. Further opportunities for healing at camp were found in the soft, sumptuous loving energy of the lovingly-tended sacred bower space, and the range of optional offerings which shared the knowledge and wisdom of the participants to heal wounds, learn magickal arts and share. Love, care and openness abounded at Cloudcatcher.

My experience of the camp was that the myth, the theme and my own personal journey drew grand parallel narrative arcs, with challenging moments, exhilarating experiences, and a climax, all ending in a peaceful and loving resolution. At times Freya’s journey, and mine, seemed muddled and uncertain; my energy was shifting and stirring in ways which at times pushed my edges.

But the safety and support of the magickal cauldron we had cast and the community we had built allowed me for the first time in a long time to feel vulnerable, and this vulnerability was ultimately the gateway to my own heart healing. My heart did blaze. My journey, Freya’s journey, and the group’s journey all beautifully and artfully wove for me a rich magickal tapestry.

In addition to community rituals and path workings, the camp’s activities also included a bardic night, where campers put aside the intensity of path for a time and shared their talents, with dances, songs, theatre and poetry. Smiles, laughter and happy tears abounded, as we relaxed from our magickal workings and focused on friendship, love and a light-hearted sense of community. The night included some wonderful fundraising to create scholarships and opportunities for next year’s witchcamp.

Through all these experiences, Cloudcatcher witchcamp gave me a rich introduction to the reclaiming tradition of magick, and I experienced it as inclusive, practical, experiential and grounded. I learned about communities which thrived based on the principles of the tradition, and I expanded my understanding of this wonderful approach to magick, and life. Reflecting upon my experiences there, it’s clear to me that the person who I was when I arrived at that camp was not the same as the person who left.

As Cloudcatcher came to a close, we gathered once more on the lush green grass in front of our ritual hall. We untied the magickal strands which bound us to that place, we released the elements and sent the spirit of reclaiming witchcamps on to the next camp, far on the other side of the world. And as I walked over to the hall, where we would prepare ourselves to reintegrate into the outside world, tears welled in my eyes and I began to weep. Tears of joy, and of sorrow, of bittersweet endings, and grand new beginnings. Those tears were the most precious gift that witchcamp could have given me; I hadn’t cried for years, and my spirit soared as years of pent up emotions poured out of me. I unashamedly cried standing there on the green grass in the embrace of the caldera, and at this unexpected catharsis I sent waves of gratitude out into the universe. My heart was open and happy. A friendly hug and a knowing look of a friend brought me back to the group as we said our goodbyes and left for our homes.

Returning from camp the world was at once so much richer and wonderful, yet I was calm and at peace. I found myself marvelling at leaves and flowers on the trees I passed; I walked barefoot through parks and felt the energy of the mother earth flowing up into me and brightening my spirit. I closed my eyes as the sweet breezes caressed my cheek; I smiled and listened to the voices and stories of my loved ones. Cloudcatcher was a deeply nourishing balm for my heart, and for that brief moment in time I remembered the depth and wholeness of spirit that is all of our birthright, yet from which we are all too often disconnected.  As the days and weeks passed, I slowly found my life returning to normal, though with the indelible mark of my witchcamp experience nestled deep in my heart. I carry fond memories of my first witchcamp, and very much look forward to the next.