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.


Reya Mellicker said...

I'm so glad you're teaching. What path are you going to do this year?

In the U.S. people also always complain about camp being overpriced - I think it's part of Reclaiming culture, though probably for different reasons in the U.K.

It is a residential intensive - definitely not a laid back camping experience. Hope you have a wonderful time this year!

miss*R said...

it sounds perfect!
I must look into reclaiming.. it is something I believe Starhawk is involved with in the US?
not sure if it is my 'path' as but I am always interested in learning.. hmm.. you know, I am not even sure what my path is :)

Moonroot said...

Hi Reya,

There are 4 paths this year, Air, Fire, Water & Earth. I'm co-teaching the Water Path ('Call of the Sensuous') with Brighde Eire (AnneMarie). Details of each of the Paths are on the website.
As to people complaining about cost, it must just be that people don't realise the expenses incurred in staging an event. Venue hire is costly!

Hi Miss R,
Yes, Starhawk was one of the founding members of Reclaiming. What she writes about in her books is Reclaiming style magic. I'm always interested n learning too, and I find Reclaiming suits me very well in that it's pretty eclectic and open to trying new things.

Bohemian Mom said...

Amazing and fabulous!
I sooooo wish I lived closer, I'd hang out with you all the time. You have so much you can teach others.
I love, love this post and am going to go back and read it again!
And yes, the days go by so quickly, but for things like this, not quick enough!

Kim said...

Wow, this sounds amazing. I'll definitely check out the links you mentioned. I'd love to do it, but not sure my family could cope without me (or me without them!)

(BTW, I've browsed your site before, but came here via Robyn's, today)

Kim x

solsticedreamer said...

it sounds amazing~i shall be reading more about it~after i have done my studies this morning or i will get nothing done!

Reya Mellicker said...

Give AnneMarie a big hug for me, will you? I bet your path will be wonderful!