Sunday 27 October 2013

The 'C' Word, Part 3: Building Bridges

I went to my first Reclaiming WitchCamp (Avalon, held near Glastonbury) in 1998, and loved it so much I went back the following year. The year after that I joined the organising group. It became an important annual event in my calendar: every summer, a week at Avalon WitchCamp, and the people I met at the camp became my spiritual community. In 2006, I nervously became a student teacher at Avalon, and in 2007 I was asked to teach again. Except it didn't happen. For a variety of reasons, Avalon WitchCamp 2007 was cancelled (I'm reasonably sure my shortcomings as a teacher weren't a major contributing factor!). The repercussions of the cancellation  were many and various, including the organising of a Summer Gathering, and also the birth of a new, second British WitchCamp, Dragonrise.

It was a turbulent time for the British Reclaiming Community. I've a written a little about it here, but for the most part - not wanting to stir up additional controversy or add fuel to any smouldering fires - I've skirted around the more difficult areas. But suffice it to say, difficulties at the 2006 camp caused divisions that derailed the 2007 camp. Dragonrise Camp arose in part as an alternative to Avalon Camp for those who were dissatisfied with Avalon or wanted to try a different model. And although both camps behaved well - even helpfully - towards each other (agreeing to hold camps in alternate years so as not to be in direct competition, for example), there remained a certain amount of distance between them. Some people in the community fell very definitely into the 'Avalon' side and others into team 'Dragonrise'. Still others - myself included - maintained links with both communities.

In 2009 I was asked to be a resource teacher at Dragonrise but couldn't accept due to other commitments, and in 2011 I was too late booking a ticket and missed out. In 2012, Avalon (by now re-named Avalon Spring) had to be cancelled due to low bookings, so by this year I was determined to attend Dragonrise for the first time! I booked my ticket early, and was looking forward to attending a WitchCamp as an ordinary camper with no responsibilities except to myself for the first time in a while. And then a couple of months before camp was due I got a phone call...

Changes within the teaching team had created a vacancy. Would I like to fill that vacancy? Of course, I said yes.


How does this fit with our theme of Closure? Well, as mentioned above, there was still some healing to be done between the two camps. And I felt I needed some healing on a personal level since the fall-out from the cancellation of Avalon 2007. I'd found the split in the community very distressing, and papering over the cracks and pulling together warring factions to create the Summer Gathering was far more stressful than I could possibly have imagined. And now once again, only a week after the emotional upheavals of the wedding in Essex, I found myself faced with the prospect of re-visiting old 'issues' and the opportunity to finally resolve them.

From the outset, joining the Dragonrise teaching team was reassuring. There's a huge amount of work involved in teaching a WitchCamp, and joining the planning process at such a late stage was to say the least nerve-wracking! However, my fellow teachers (Chelidon, Suus and Fortuna) were very welcoming to this late-comer. From the outset we worked extremely well together and things proceeded very smoothly. By strange co-incidence, Chelidon had been my co-teacher for my first WitchCamp teaching experience at Avalon in 2006. We gathered together for in-person pre-camp planning a few days before camp started at the lovely home of one of the Dragonrise organisers, Raven, who had also been on the teaching team at Avalon 2006.  Before camp even started I felt loose ends left hanging for years were being tied up, old wounds finally being soothed and healed.

The camp itself was a delight. Lovely venue, amazing food (a thousand 'thank you's to the fabulous cooks, Amanda and Raven), wonderful people (some of whom I hadn't seen since the 2007 Summer Gathering or earlier), favourable weather, and the Paths (teaching groups) and evening rituals went really well.

By the time we found ourselves gathered for the closing ritual I was feeling very happy that we had had such a wonderful camp, satisfied with the renewal and strengthening of old connections, and very sad to be saying goodbye to such a lovely group of old and new friends. For me, Dragonrise 2013 was magical: a totally reaffirming and healing experience for which I am very grateful. I certainly intend to book my place at Dragonrise 2015 as soon as I can.

See you there?


Anyone would think this was enough closure for one summer, wouldn't they? After the Birthday, the Wedding and the WitchCamp, I myself thought that was it. More than enough to process and work through. But there was more in store. Something I had been trying for some time to push away and not deal with was coming to the fore, demanding my attention whether I wanted to deal with it or not. At Dragonrise I had the chance to build bridges. But on my return there was another bridge waiting, and this one needed burning...

(To be continued!)



Tuesday 15 October 2013

The 'C' Word, Part 2: Three Weddings, and a Burial

Wedding Number One:
In the summer of
1985 I attended a wedding as the 'plus one' of a platonic male friend. At the reception afterwards, I was pleased to be asked to dance by the Best Man, whose blue eyes had caught my attention. We danced and talked and danced again, and I was happy when he asked for my phone number. To my delight, he rang a few days later and we went on our first date.

Wedding Number Two:
In 1991, reader - I married him!

Yes, I met T at the wedding of our friends Kevin and Ann, and six years later, Kevin was T's Best Man at our own wedding, in the little village church in which my parents had married. By then, Kevin and Ann had a three year old daughter and another on the way. Our friendship with Kevin and Ann was so close that they asked us to be guardians for Rachel, Charlotte and (in time) their younger brother, Michael, in the event that anything untoward should happen to the two of them. Until T and I moved to Wales in 2000 we spent virtually all our spare time together, like a big extended family (Kevin and Ann were originally moving here too, but ultimately decided to stay on Essex).

T and I were married for 17 years, and I thought we were pretty happy until he dropped a bombshell and left in 2008. Since that day, he and I have been in (mostly cordial) irregular contact, yet I had not met - nor wanted to meet, to be honest - his new wife, Sawittree.

So when I received an invitation to Rachel's wedding it brought up mixed feelings. Firstly of course, excitement and happiness at the wonderful news, and pleasure at the thought of sharing my beautiful Goddessdaughter's special day. But also... Sawittree would be there. Younger than me, slimmer than me. On T's arm. That brought up less pleasant emotions. Anxiety, insecurity, apprehension, and a lot of the grief and anger I thought I had processed and left behind by now.


Luckily I had a few months to prepare myself - firstly by making careful plans to ensure I would be looking my best and hence feeling as confident as possible, and secondly by continuing to work through my feelings about T and Sawittree.

I'm not sure why or how it happened, but at some point before the wedding, I realised that actually, I don't care what T or Sawittree think about me or how they see me. I am now happy in my own skin, at peace with who I am, loved by and in love with IB. Perhaps enough time has elapsed, perhaps I have moved on, perhaps I am a different person. But something has shifted, healed and it is time to move on. And how symbolic that this closure manifested via the wedding of the eldest child of the couple whose own wedding was the starting point of my life with T? And what better symbol of 'new beginnings' than a wedding? The significance seemed staggering when I made the connections.  

Wedding Number Three:
Rachel's wedding was to be held in Maldon, Essex, so IB and I travelled up from Wales the night before and stayed with my sister and her husband in Kent. The weather was still searingly hot, and although we left in plenty of time in the morning, traffic snarls at the Dartford Crossing meant that we weren't as early as hoped by the time we'd arrived and parked the car. Walking through to the High Street, we arrived at the church with about 15 minutes to spare. But to my horror, it immediately became clear I had brought us to the wrong place - the church I had assumed the wedding was in is now a Heritage Centre and was buzzing with stalls selling arts, crafts and jam! Rifling through my bag in a panic I realised I had not brought the invitation. I asked one of the stallholders for help and she explained that there were two churches that the wedding could be in, either St Mary's or All Saint's - but they were at opposite ends of the High Street! This was now beginning to resemble a scene from 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', and my chances of arriving looking cool, calm and serene as I had hoped were fast melting away. I had the name 'St Mary's' in my mind for some reason so off we headed as fast as we could through the crowds of Saturday morning shoppers, me tottering in unaccustomed high heels. We finally arrived at the church to find no one outside and the door shut. Tiptoeing up, I opened the creaky old oak door as quietly as I could, expecting all eyes to turn on the latecomers... only to find the church completely empty. The wedding was, of course, at All Saints, at the other end of the High Street. 

At this point something in me stopped worrying and just decided to go with the flow. It was blazingly hot and humid, my feet were killing me and we had clearly missed any chance of arriving in time for the wedding. We sat in the church porch, while I changed into the flat sandals I had mercifully thought to stow in my bag and discussed our options. IB said to me, 'You are always running round after everyone, trying to keep everyone happy. Just let go of that, and accept things the way they are.' Which was true, helpful and a very liberating perspective all at once. We decided to walk - slowly - up to All Saint's Church, wait outside during the service and get some photos of the bride and groom when everyone emerged. I realised that though I may have missed the wedding service itself, all I really cared about was seeing my beautiful Goddessdaughter happy, enjoying her special day. But then as luck would have it, just as I'd changed back into my posh heels we spied some other latecomers at All Saint's Church and crept in behind them. Mercifully it was during a hymn and we slid quietly and gratefully into a vacant pew.

It was a truly lovely wedding with Rachel absolutely radiant in a gorgeous dress she had designed herself, and her new husband beaming and handsome. As we filed out at the end of the service, I spotted T and Sawittree shading themselves under a tree. IB and I walked over to say hello, and I was quite taken aback to be greeted by T as 'Darling', which I certainly wasn't expecting. That said, it made me think I couldn't be looking too bad for an old girl!

I took plenty of photos and then we made our way back to the car. We weren't expected at the wedding breakfast as the venue was small and the family party large, but we would be returning later for the evening reception. In the meantime IB and I went for lunch at what was one of my favourite pubs when I lived in the area, The Anchor at Runsell Green, Danbury. It was a beautiful summer's day and we sat outside the lovely old pub surrounded by flowers, enjoying a cooling breeze while we ate. Afterwards we took a meandering drive through my old memories, and I showed IB the church where Kevin & Ann married, the first house T & I lived in together, my paternal grandparents' house and the village my father had grown up in, the village where I went to school and finally the village where I grew up, Mountnessing. We also made an unscheduled stop at T's parents' house. I had always got on well with them, especially T's stepmother and although we'd spoken on the phone since T and I split, I hadn't seen them. By luck, they were in and we had a lovely though brief catch-up, and I was able to introduce IB to them.

At Mountnessing we had arranged to meet up with my Mum and Dad - who were in Essex visiting friends - at the home of an ex-neighbour. It was a little surreal as this meant we were in the house opposite my maternal grandparents' old house and diagonally opposite the house I'd grown up in (we had lived next door to my grandparents). Things became even more surreal when the people now living in what had once been my grandparents' house, invited us in to have a look round and see how the house looks these days. This was turning out to be more of a trip down memory lane than I had expected!

The house was at once familiar and not: some rooms had only changed a little, yet others - including a new extension - were completely different. It was not unpleasant though, as the family now living there are lovely and the house retains its warm atmosphere. Out in the garden there were also signs of time having moved on - plants and trees had grown or disappeared, new fences had been erected, and the patio and fishpond my grandfather had lovingly constructed is now showing its age and is in need of an overhaul! We also wandered down into the orchard next to the house - well, it used to be an apple orchard but now the apple trees and blackcurrant bushes of my childhood are all gone. But still there is the silver birch tree T and I planted when we buried the ashes of our son, Peter.

The tree now towers over me. Time has passed, and the sharpness of grief has dulled, yet it is still there. Suddenly all these ghosts of the past are too much, I am overwhelmed by it all and tears well irresistibly up. Luckily IB and my Mum are there to comfort me. I am held in loving arms and given time to cry, and breathe, and compose myself. More closure. We walk slowly back to the present together. Time to get ready for the wedding reception.


The evening reception was as lovely as the wedding itself. The venue was superb. A live band played jazz and swing and people danced, young and old together. There was cake, and champagne, and pretty vintage china. The heat of the day abated as the evening drew on. I saw people I haven't seen in years and enjoyed catching up with them and seeing the amazing young adults their children have grown into. My parents and brother were there too. It was a very special occasion and I was so glad to have been a part of it. I was glad to have finally met Sawittree and put that particular anxiety aside. I was glad to reconnect with old friends. I was glad I saw Peter's tree, and both the continuity and changes in places I used to know so well. It felt like everything that was important to me from my years living in Essex had all come together, been revisited, acknowledged, and put properly away. Closure, writ large. Again.

And that was when the fiercely hot spell of weather finally broke. Thunder rumbled overhead and lightning flashed. But it all seemed part of the celebrations, Mother Nature's firework display. Deliciously cool rain fell onto warm pavement as we said farewell to the wedding party and made our way back to the car between showers.

I was exhausted. But so glad I'd come.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

October Tree of Life

A small heads up: The October issue of Pagan Pages e-magazine is now available, including my Tree of Life column!