Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Why I Go to Witchcamp

I know it's a scary thought, but we are practically one sixth of the way through 2008 already. And I haven't even got used to writing the new year on cheques yet! Oh, for the days of childhood when time passed so slowly that the summer holidays seemed to last for six months instead of six weeks.

This morning my mind has registered that there is only just over a month to go before Avalon Spring (Witchcamp), and as well as the immediate panic of "Oh my God! I have so much to get organised before then!", there is also a thrill of excitement. Witchcamp time!

My first experience of Witchcamp was at the very first held in the UK: Avalon Witchcamp back in 1998. It was a magical week of connection with kindred spirits, powerful ritual, deep personal work, fun and laughter, sunlit days and starry nights. When it ended I cried. I didn't want to lose this magical place and the wonderful people I'd found there.

Luckily for me, I didn't have to. Enough of us felt the same way, and Avalon Witchcamp became an annual event, one that I've never missed until last year's Summer Gathering instead. Over the years, wanting to ensure Avalon continued to thrive I became involved as a Camp Organiser, and also worked on other projects like a community newsletter and yahoo group, and off-shoot events. In 2006 I gathered my courage in both hands and worked as a student teacher at Avalon for the first time - an amazing whirlwind of an experience which was both exhilarating and terrifying in about equal measure. I learned a huge amount and in April I will be student teaching a second time at Avalon Witchcamp's new incarnation, Avalon Spring.

So what is it that makes Witchcamp such a unique and special experience that many of us return year on year? Well, for one thing it's quite different from an ordinary Pagan Camp - in fact the name 'Camp' is a bit of a misnomer, especially here in the UK where it conjures up an image of a few tents in a field and a much looser structure to the event. Witchcamp is a residential Intensive rather than a laid-back camp, and attendees have the option of indoor or outdoor accommodation, plus indoor space for meals and classes. The very first Witchcamp (which started in the US) was so-named partly as a joke, to conjure the image of the American Summer Camp for Kids. Unfortunately the joke doesn't translate so well over here (where we don't have summer camps for kids!) and this has sometimes caused confusion and accusations of overpricing. Actually, for the quality of the venue, the amount and quality of the teaching and just the sheer intensity of the experience Witchcamp is very competitively priced. Renaming has been discussed many times, but 'Witchcamps' are a recognised specific event within the Reclaiming community so it's been hard to break away from that. This year's Avalon Spring is the first time we won't be using the word 'Witchcamp' in the title of the event, and it will be interesting to see if it's easier for people to understand the difference.

The way a Witchcamp works is quite structured and intense. It's a place to learn a lot in a short time. We also work in Sacred Space for the whole week, which imbues even the mundane with meaning and also creates an atmosphere of trust and openness.

In the mornings, we divide into 'Paths' (classes). These are co-taught by the teachers, and are usually connected in some way to the theme of the camp (i.e. the story or theme we are working with), although sometimes the connection is pretty loose! Campers choose the Path that appeals to them and work with it for the whole camp.

Typical Path themes would be for example, 'Elements of Magic' (working with the 5 elements - Air, Fire, Water, Earth & Spirit); 'Rites of Passage' (usually culminating in each Path participant designing and performing their own Rite of Passage ritual witnessed and supported by the rest of the Path); Iron Pentacle (a meditation tool from the Reclaiming & Feri traditions); Shapeshifting; Priestessing (learning practical priestessing skills); Tarot; Bardic Path etc.

The afternoons are taken up with Affinity Group Meetings (where smaller groups of people gather to bond and discuss how camp is going for them), Optional Offerings (where campers and teachers offer their own skills to others - e.g. a workshop on yoga, belly dancing, drumming, or massage), meetings, and time for 'Personal Practice' - i.e. if you usually do tai chi, or write in your journal every day, time is set aside for you to do that.

After the evening meal the whole camp comes together for the evening rituals, which are where we really work with the story or theme of the camp. This usually works this way: each evening a section of the story is told, and in some instances re-enacted. The main body of the ritual is in some way relating the story to your own life, and working with that to (for example) achieve personal insights, make decisions, vows or commitments to take back into the 'mundane' world, work magic connected with this, etc etc.

The teaching team are all thoroughly trained in Reclaiming-style magic and you don't become a fully trained Witchcamp teacher until you have a minimum of 2 years student teaching at camp under your belt. Teachers need to be skilled in such areas as drama, drumming, aspecting, energy-raising and moving, etc etc, and usually have experience of teaching in their own community before student teaching at Witchcamp.

Finally, I think my good friend Annie put it really well when she said,
'Out of my twenty plus years "on the pagan scene", I believe that Witchcamp is an unusual phenomenon... It provides a safe and reasonably comfortable place for a large group of people to spend a long period of time in "alternative space" together. Because you don't have to come back to "ordinary reality" after a ritual (as you would usually have to in order to negotiate the "outside world") people have the experience of being able to fully complete and integrate their "otherworld reality". Also, there are very experienced people around to support them as needed. To be able to do this within a culture which does not validate the skills and abilities that humans possess to do this, is a very rare situation in my experience. '

There are now many Witchcamps to choose from in the US, Canada and Europe (and plans afoot in Australia too I hear), so if this sounds appealing, check out the central Witchcamps website. After all, Witchcamp is something you have to really experience to know what a unique and special event it is. Until you do, you'll just have to take my word for it!

In the meantime, I'm counting the days until April. Yay, Witchcamp!
P.S. You can read someone else's opinion of why Witchcamps are so special here, and you can read reviews of past years at Avalon by clicking the 'Reviews from Past Intensives' link on Avalon Spring's website.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Sunday on the Beach With James

This weekend, my brother, sister-in-law and 5-year old nephew, James, are staying with us. Today was a beautiful, crisp, cold, sunny winter day, so we went for a walk on our favourite beach.

James was fascinated by a big patch of ice on the sand. Yes, it was that cold last night!

Further up the beach we came upon some charming 'beach art' left by some children who had signed their names in the sand underneath it.

I liked this 'wind-chime'-y one so much I may try replicating it in the garden.

This was an enticing little shelter someone - probably the same group of children - had constructed in a nook in the cliff wall. It was 'thatched' with grass and had a driftwood seat inside and a stash of shells. Very tempting to sneak in for a nap.

James found his own piece of driftwood, which became a magic ray gun...

...and created his own beach art

What fun!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Big Night

T and I met at a wedding in June 1985, and moved in together a few months later. We had our ups and downs, but by February 1991 we had learned to negotiate the choppier waters of coupledom and things were good between us.

When T announced that he had booked a table at our favourite restaurant for Valentine's Day that year, something about the way he told me seemed to hint that there was more than a simple meal for two afoot. "I think he's going to propose!" I told my workmates, causing a flutter of excitement around the office. Much speculation about the hows and whens of the anticipated proposal ensued until The Big Night arrived.

While we were getting ready to go out, T cracked a bottle of champagne, adding to my expectation that this was not a normal evening out. I dressed in my favourite dress, carefully choosing pretty earrings to match and fussing over my hair and makeup. After all, a girl wants to look her best on such an occasion.

At the restaurant, we sipped drinks whilst reading the menu, and after ordering we took our seats at the table. The lights were low and the music was soft, it was the perfect romantic setting.

Our first course arrived, delicious. We chatted, ate and drank, and my sense of anticipation mounted. We finished eating and the plates were cleared away. We held hands across the table and smiled at each other.

The main course arrived, delicious again. T ordered another bottle of wine. I smiled at him across the table wondering if this was it. I didn't want to give the game away that I knew what was ahead, but I was on tenterhooks waiting for the moment to arrive.

We finished our food and again the plates were cleared. Ah, this must be it. He was waiting for a space uncluttered by crockery, cutlery and waiting staff.


We ordered dessert, and by now I decided I must have been mistaken. My tongue - and possibly judgement - loosened by all that champagne and wine, I leaned across the table and said, "You won't believe it, but I thought you were going to propose tonight!"

From the look on T's face I could see immediately that I had been completely wrong. The thought had never crossed his mind. I felt like a fool.

"You said you didn't want to get married," he said after a brief pause. I considered. Yes, when we first got together I had said that very thing. And meant it. But now...

"Well I didn't want to then... but now..." I smiled, trying to keep the mood light. After all, we were happy as we were. We didn't need to get married or anything. I changed the subject, and considered the matter closed.

After a few minutes, T made an excuse and left the table. I still felt a bit daft, but after all, nothing had essentially changed. I mentally put the subject of marriage on the shelf and when T returned we resumed conversation on other topics, and ate our dessert of Crepes Suzette. It was still a lovely evening.

The table cleared of dishes once again, we were waiting for coffee when another bottle of champagne and two glasses appeared at the table. T poured me a glass, and then the lights dimmed, and he completely surprised me by dropping to one knee and...

"Will you marry me?" My jaw dropped open. In the bottom of my champagne glass was a ring - T's signet ring, which until now he'd insisted he couldn't take off, as he couldn't get it past a swollen knuckle joint.

Of course I said yes, and immediately the lights of the restaurant came back up, celebratory music blared and we were surrounded by the restaurant owner (who in cahoots with T had provided the dimmed lights, champagne, glasses - and copious amounts of soap to remove the stubborn signet ring), all the waiting staff, more popping champagne corks, a cake (where did that come from?), and applause from the surrounding tables.

So that was it - how I accidentally got T to propose. We married in June that year, and this year will be our 17th Wedding Anniversary.

And do you know, until then I'd always said T wasn't romantic? How wrong can a girl be. And how lucky.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Tag - I'm It!

I've been tagged for an archive meme by Willow at Contemplating Change. There are five categories under which I have to link back to a previous post. Below are the rules and categories:
Archive Meme Instructions: Go back through your archives and post the links to your five favorite blog posts that you’ve written. … but there is a catch:

Link 1 must be about family.
Link 2 must be about friends.
Link 3 must be about yourself, who you are… what you’re all about.
Link 4 must be about something you love.
Link 5 can be anything you choose.

I think this is a great way to circulate some of the great older posts everyone had written, return to a few great places in our memories and also learn a little something about ourselves and each other that we may not know. Post your five links and then tag five other people. At least TWO of the people you tag must be *newer acquaintances so that you get to know each other better….and don’t forget to read the archive posts and leave comments!

So... here goes!

1. Family. I choose 'Laughing, Loving and Loved', which I wrote last year about my brother's amazing 40th birthday party. It really was a fantastic evening, such a success in fact that he's repeating it this year (although of course it's his 41st this time - sorry to remind you, Michael!). And can I cheat? Yeah, why not - I also choose 'Full'. It's only tiddly, but like 'Laughing, Loving and Loved', it brings back happy memories of good times with my family.

2. Friends. Has to be 'Confessions of a Fairy Goddessmother'. This post celebrates just one of the many ways Kevin and Ann have been the most wonderful friends to us. We are very lucky to have such people in our lives.

3. Myself, who I am… what I'm all about. Well, this presents more of a problem! I'm not sure I've written that much about who I really am. As a fairly typical Cancerian, I tend to keep the true, inner me pretty well guarded behind my protective shell. And on this blog I've retained a degree of anonimity as I prefer to keep my Pagan self in the broomcloset due to my evangelical Christian neighbours. Well darn, I guess that means I've just told you two big things about who I am and what I'm all about! This blogging lark is clearly a slippery slope for secretive types like myself! Having started the process I may as well go the whole hog and remind you that in 'Interview', Tori managed to get me to reveal a lot more than just my name, rank and serial number.

4. Something I Love. Oh, this is much easier - except perhaps I have too much to choose from! Dang, I'll have to choose two again - 'Gratitude and Joy' and 'Beltane'. These are about two things I'm so looking forward to again this year - the beginning of summer and Witchcamp!

5. Anything I choose. Ooh, hard to choose again. But I think it'll be 'Magic in the Mist'. This was a post I was really proud of. I hope you like it too.

So, that's my five (oops, sorry, seven...) posts.

And now I must pass the baton on to five more people. I choose the following lovely bloggers:

Tori at 'When I Finally Decided to Get It',

Fiona at 'The Cottage Smallholder',

Kitchen Witch at er, 'Kitchen Witch'

Breezy at 'Breezy Break Blog'

and Boho Mom at 'Words of a Bohemian Mom'

Tag, you're it!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

When I was a child growing up in Essex, our most common garden birds were sparrows, starlings and blackbirds. The sparrows were endearing and cute, the blackbirds elegant. The starlings - well, they were basically the comic relief. With a comical gait and a repertoire of whistles, squeaks and squawks; squabbling so much over scraps left out for them that the cheeky sparrows would often sidle in unnoticed and grab the prize, starlings were amusing but mostly ignored by us in favour of more exotic garden visitors like blue tits and pied wagtails.

Since moving here to Wales I rarely see starlings any more, except in the winter when they sometimes appear in groups for an afternoon, and then disappear again.

Today has been damp and misty all day - not really a day for birdwatching! Yet just now as I fed the chickens their afternoon treat of mixed corn, I witnessed a truly extraordinary sight. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a huge flock of starlings appeared and settled like a great cloud in the two biggest trees near the house. Hundreds of them filled the air with their chattering, whistling, squawking. The cats were still and silent, the chickens muttered in amazement, awe-struck by this display of bird-power.

I stood transfixed myself for several minutes, until just as suddenly as they'd come, at some invisible signal, they rose into the air with a huge rush of wings. Wheeling and swirling in the air like a whirling duststorm for a moment, they flew off into the mist and still and silence returned.

How could I ever have thought starlings dull?

Here is a video clip from Youtube which gives you some idea of the grace and beauty of a flock of starlings getting ready to roost.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Happy Birthday to Moonroot!

It is exactly a year since I started this blog. Back then I wrote:

"I took a stroll down the hill to look at my bees, and they were out in force enjoying the balmy weather. There's really not that much bee fodder available this early, even though it has been an extraordinarily mild winter, so I was relieved to see them making full use of the gorse blossom near their hive. The snowdrops haven't yet opened, but there are daffodils in the bottom of the hedge that are nearly out, and on the way back to the house I found a clump of crocuses opening wide smiling faces to the sun. "

Just a few days after that we had inches of snow and ice!

This year I can report that the weather is cold, wet and stormy. The bees are very sensibly staying home and feeding themselves on their honey stores. But the crocuses are out (though staying tightly furled against the elements) and the snowdrops and daffodils will soon be joining them. Hopefully cold, wet weather at Imbolc/Groundhog day means (if groundhogs know about these things in Wales) that real spring is not too far around the corner.

My first ever blog post was about the weather, because I didn't really know what else to write. I just knew I wanted to get started writing! Since then I have written about my day to day life, as well as pondering such diverse topics as gratitude, ageing, elderflowers, peace, community, infertility, history and magic. Blogging has been a great way to stay in touch with friends, family and loved ones via this and their own blogs. I have also had such a blast discovering for myself the many talented bloggers out there in cyberspace. But the best thing of all has been discovering a whole new community of blogging friends.

Many, many thanks to everyone who has taken time to read and/or comment on my blog over the last year. Happy Birthday, moonroot.blogspot.com/!

P.S. The photo is of an altar I set up to Brigid at Imbolc last year. The bowl contains many of Her symbols - a tiny anvil, some rowan berries, a herb knife, a candle etc - symbolising Her triple aspects as Goddess of smithcraft, healing and poetry.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Brigid in Cyberspace Poetry Reading: 'Day Dream' by ASJ Tessimond

I'm posting a day early as I will be out all day tomorrow at an Imbolc event celebrating Brigid. Happy Imbolc/Brigid/Candlemas/Groundhog Day everyone!

Day Dream

One day people will touch and talk perhaps
And loving be natural as breathing and warm as
And people will untie themselves, as string is unknotted,
Unfold and yawn and stretch and spread their fingers,
Unfurl, uncurl like seaweed returned to the sea,
And work will be simple and swift
as a seagull flying,
And play will be casual and quiet
as a seagull settling,
And the clocks will stop, and no one will wonder
or care or notice,
And people will smile without reason,
Even in winter, even in the rain.

ASJ Tessimond