Guest Post: Reclaiming the Myriad Forms of Divinity

[The following is a guest post from Abel R. Gomez.  Abel R. Gomez is a student, community organizer, writer, and ritualist dedicated to collective empowerment and ecstatic ritual. An initiated Shakta Tantrika through the SHARANYA Devi Mandir, he is also a priest and witch in the Reclaiming Tradition.]

Reclaiming the Myriad Forms of Divinity: Revisions to The Principles of Unity

Reclaiming is an American grown tradition of Witchcraft with roots in Feri Tradition, ecofeminism, anarchist politics, and the psychology movement. The Principles of Unity document is one of the only unifying threads that define Reclaiming communities internationally. Along with a general Reclaiming style magical practice, acceptance of the Principles of Unity is the single prerequisite to identify as a Reclaiming Witch. The document was originally written in 1997 when Reclaiming was collective. After the document was written the collective structure subsequently dissolved in favor of a working group/spokes council. In addition to discussing what made the tradition unique, the group chose to state explicitly that all genders are welcome, which differentiated Reclaiming Tradition from groups like some Dianic lineages.

As an organic, living tradition, Reclaiming strives to be flexible to the changing needs of the community. One of the structures to address those needs has been the creation and facilitation of BIRCH (Broad Inter-Reclaiming Council Hub), a meeting open to representatives of all Reclaiming communities during the Dandelion Gathering. Concerns around language in regards to non-binary gender and Deity in the Principles of Unity were addressed at the fourth Dandelion Gathering in 2010. It was decided that community leaders would discuss the issue with their home communities and return to the Dandelion Gathering in 2012 with a possible resolutions. Specifically, the group endeavored to revise the following sentence in the original Principles of Unity:

“Honoring both Goddess and God, we work with female and male images of divinity, always remembering that their essence is a mystery which goes beyond form.”

Conversations about theology are complicated, and in a community like Reclaiming where beliefs and experiences of the Sacred can vary so widely, this is especially true. I believe another complexity that is important to acknowledge is that our theology cannot be truly divorced from our commitment to social justice. Referring to the Goddess as the embodiment of the natural cycles, for example, is both a theological statement and a political statement. It is an expression of the living cosmos and a form a resistance against all the ways the feminine has been denigrated throughout history and in the world today.

The political and theological values of Reclaiming, along with a desire to include representation for those in our community who identify as transgender, genderqueer, third gender, or other non-binary gender played a major role in our discussion during the BIRCH meeting held August 2nd and 3rd at the Fifth Dandelion Gathering near Portland, Oregon. My experience has always been that Reclaiming acknowledges the divinity of all people, simply because they are alive. I believe the only real issue that we dealt with during the BIRCH meeting was finding the language to fully articulate this. As an embodied tradition and a community that honors the fierce courage needed to identify as a non-binary gender, it felt particularly important that these members of our community be also mirrored in our vision of divinity. After hours of intense conversations, including moments of passionate debate and compromise, the entire group gathered reached consensus to revise the original sentence to the statement below:

“Our diverse practices and experiences of the divine weave a tapestry of many different threads. We include those who honor Mysterious Ones, Goddesses, and Gods of myriad expressions, genders, and states of being, remembering that mystery goes beyond form.”

Our revision included the Mysterious Ones, which refers to deities and spirits that can take many forms, including gods, goddess, and deities of multiple and no gender. We added “states of being” to include divinity that can take the form of various species and forces of nature. Many believed it was also important to include the last statement, that our experience of the divine can take many shapes and patterns, but the essence of all divinity is boundless, not limited any single form. While gathered, it felt important that we revise an additional sentence in the document to reflect that we honor “all gender histories”, that is, we honor all who have transitioned gender identity and welcome them as valued members in our community. The additional revision reads:

“We welcome all genders, all gender histories, all races, all ages and sexual orientations, and all those differences of life situation, background, and ability that increase our diversity.”

Reclaiming is a community of Witches of many genders, orientations, and identities willing to rise to the challenge of further inclusion and celebration of diversity. To me, our ability to gather together and make decisions for the betterment of the larger community is an indication that we are growing as a tradition. Using consensus process to make decisions, especially when there are over a hundred people in a meeting and particularly when the issue is so sensitive, makes the fact that we are able to reach a unanimous agreement quite spectacular. I see the revised document as a new spell we are collectively weaving, one which will open the way for stronger inclusion and greater dialogue, leading us one step closer to the world we are so deeply yearning for.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • Guestin

    Someone was really eager to write “CONSENSUS”
    It doesn’t look like it’d been proofread.
    The different threads thing – is that to bring people together or to pretend everything counts as Reclaiming consensus? Would it taken too much to say Reclaiming tradition honors deities and not just includes people who do?
    Wouldn’t a few less “alls” make it less clunky? ex. “We welcome all genders, gender histories, races, ages and sexual orientations, and all those differences of life situation, background, and ability that increase our diversity.”
    Not my fight, btw.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=645480792 Emily Jacques

      I’ve been to Reclaiming consensus and it’s generally been well-run and sincere. There is always room for improvement in all traditions and I shake my head in sadness and frustration every time Reclaiming gets the sneer from the larger Pagan community. It seems like whenever there is an interesting Pagan discussion, the moment Reclaiming is mentioned, the discussion devolves into sneering at the Reclaimers, so most of us hide that we are Reclaiming and don’t get involved in the larger Pagan community. And sometimes having to be in the closet inside the Pagan community gets really old. The emphasis is most likely there to explicitly include people who are still ostracized and silenced in most places in society. So they are sacrificing some efficiency of language for a social justice aim.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=645480792 Emily Jacques

        So I guess that was me coming out of the Pagan closet as a Reclaimer! Hahah.

        • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

          Some of my favorite people are Reclaimers!

      • Guestin

        Its exaggeration to feel like Reclaiming gets picked on (or whatever the issue you’re trying to suggests exists here) that means you have to closet – Did you see what happened in the Satanist discussion?
        And considering the original POU was written with care, why “sacrifice?”

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=645480792 Emily Jacques

          Sadly, I’ve never been at a larger Pagan event or participated in an online forum where I haven’t encountered negativity about Reclaiming. But as I continue as a Pagan, I’m looking forward to something more positive eventually. You were right in the sense that I was making my personal experience more universal than it should have been.

          • Guestin

            Is what you mean by “negativity” disagreement or disapproval? Because there aren’t any minority religions at all that don’t deal with criticism towards them every day.

          • Mike

            you can’t really call it either because most of the outside negativity I’ve seen myself is based on straw men and negative stereotypes about feminism, very little has been fact based in my experience when it comes to external reactions to Reclaiming or Starhawk for that matter. This new statement makes more clear that it is not a Dianic trad, though in a rather cumbersome way. “Equally honor both female and male and the spaces between and beyond” is more how I might have suggested it had I been there.

          • Guestlin

            As I said before – its not my fight, but I like how you would have left honoring the gods as an actual part of Reclaiming’s Principles. I’d like to know they’re fellow Witches.

      • Guest

        Don’t take it too personally. It doesn’t actually matter what allegiance you declare someone is going to sneer. You get the same thing if you happen to be silly enough to state you are a traditional Wiccan too.

    • http://profiles.google.com/johnd39 - steward -

      This is a vivid showing of why I hate consensus process as it is often carried out in Reclaiming. People go on and on and oN and On and ON until everyone’s about ready to keel over… the capital letters and exclamation points mark the relief that many in the meeting feel.

  • Leea

    Interesting article. Yesterday I read Machas blog, in which she writes about her experience at the Dandelion gathering. Her experience did not seem very inclusive or respectful. There are different sides to everything, of course-which may be the reason there seems to be a problem.

    • Macha

      To be clear, the Dandelion I wrote about on my blog yesterday was two years ago, not the recently concluded one near Portland. Also, be it known that my decision to leave was not arrived at without several years of cogitation. Further, I arrived at my decision some hours *before* the new PoU were approved. ~ Macha

  • Gooseberry

    @facebook-645480792:disqus Ive never heard of one person who identifies as Reclaiming Tradition feeling the need to “hide” within the larger pagan community. No idea where that concept comes from. Reclaiming is about reclaiming the right to call ourselves witches and practice witchcraft. Reclaiming the goddess in our spiritual practices and honoring the earth. I know of no one who hides in the ways you refer too. I have many friends in the massive pagan community, who are not Reclaiming.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=645480792 Emily Jacques

      Yes, I should have said, “me and the people I know tend to hide” rather than “most”, because it could just be the people in my local community who feel this way so it could be a regional thing or an online thing.

  • Flame

    Thank you for this article and update on Reclaiming’s POU. As a queer trans woman within the larger pagan community; I have had many doors slammed in my face in the broader pagan community. This is why I mostly am a Reclaiming Tradition Witch. This is my experience, that because of my life(born interssexed,queer and trans) Reclaiming was one of the ONLY traditions in which I found acceptance. That we continue to practice social justice in our core statement, really our only statement; the Principles of Unity(POU) is keeping us all vital, evolving and loving ALL of ourselves more fiercely and freely. I attended this Dandelion and really didn’t even add much to the discussion on this issue, instead I co-lead an afternoon with children where we made wings and discussed air and the creatures of air and why they might be important to us. Children in Reclaiming are fully accepted as well. I also spent mornings in a group ecstatic singing group, and daily meditation. The Earth is a living, sacred being; and all blessing to you all.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    WHERE’S THE “SUBSCRIBE” BAR? THIS IS NOT AN IMPROVEMENT!!

  • Chuck

    Beautiful. I am so grateful that Reclaiming it being brave in efforts to break down gender stereotypes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1542692508 Peter Dybing

    Nice to see more social Justice progress in the community. Each Pagan organization that has addressed gender justice has furthered the communities ethic of acceptance and love for all. Great to hear.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    I will not get into the argument on Reclaiming, simply because I don’t feel that I know enough to have an opinion. Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance” was the first book that I read on Wicca and worked as a starting place.

    Her being so politically active has always been controversial in Wicca, I have heard people blaming her for the fall of Wicca, whatever that means. However having grown up in the fifties and the sixties, perhaps I am more comfortable with a person being an activists.

    Wicca has gone in many ways, in fact I would say we will have gone in every possible direction. Though I am Alexandrian Tradtion, I refuse to get into the argument of who is really Wiccan. If what you do works and gets results, you are doing the right thing, even if it is very different from what I would do.

    As for people leaving Reclaiming, or any tradtion, nothing new about that. In any tradition, things change. Some like the change and some do not like the change, so they split off and do what is right for them. I comdemn neither side. Frankly I think the idea of Witch tradtions is fairly recent, there was no conformaity in most old religions, or magical practices, but endless personal and group variations.

    If two people get into an argument, it is a personal matter. It only becomes a Witch War if the rest of us join in and choose sides. So again, I will not join the argument, I don’t think anything will be gained by us all getting involved in what is mainly an internal matter of Reclaiming Tradition. It will work out on its own.

  • Guest

    Does this have anything to do with the recent hullaballoo with one of the founders leaving the Reclaiming tradition? The timing is just… interesting.

    • ConsensusInMyPants

      So one of the founders of a tradition ‘quits’ over what the tradition and it’s members have become. Then we get a full-on, flowery write-up on why Reclaiming is the faeries wings. Super.

      • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

        I asked for a guest post to explain Reclaiming’s new Principles of Unity, and how they came about, since there were questions about it. It actually has little to do with Macha quitting, as she herself said she’d made the decision to leave before the new POU was approved.

        • ConsensusInMyPants

          Fair enough then.

  • Deborah

    Lovely. Practicing with true love and acceptance. We are all different and with differences are the lessons of life we all need and should honor. I’m proud to be “clumped” together with such “misfits” lol. But really proud of love for all.


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