The nature of the Olympia pagan community

The pagan community in Olympia is a community of practice, but is comprised of many religious and spiritual traditions. Within the overall pagan community, there is the community of practitioners of wicca, a neo-pagan earth-based religion. A great historical study of the origins of neo-pagan witchcraft is Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon, (2000) which matching my sense rightly categorizes the wiccan religious traditions as neo-Romantic, post-modern and essentially counter-cultural.

One tradition within the wiccan community is Reclaiming. The Reclaiming tradition came out of a community of witches in San Francisco, primarily as a spiritual path that included the activism that was a part of the lives of the practitioners. One of the most well known members of the early Reclaiming community is the author and activist Starhawk, whose books are quite well known. Starhawk’s Spiral Dance (1989) is considered a classic of neo-pagan literature, and Truth or Dare (1990) has been used as a text at Antioch University Seattle. Jone Salomonsen (2002) undertook an interesting study of the Reclaiming tradition, which demonstrates the origin and connection between Reclaiming and the feminist movement in which many of the practitioners were active. A statement of what the Reclaiming community is can be found in the Reclaiming principles of unity. (See fig 1) That the Reclaiming tradition stresses the link between activism and magic is merely an extension of the overall counter-cultural basis of modern neo-pagan witchcraft.

Structurally, the wiccan community is roughly and generally divided into functional groups: covens, circles, individuals and events. Covens are generally closed and close-knit groups of practitioners that work together over a long period of time. Circles are generally more or less open groups, which allow for a more divergent membership, and may or may not exist for an extended time. Events are organized, usually as rituals or classes, and are usually public and if there is a cost, if possible, no one in refused on account of inability to pay.

Individuals in the community may participate in the various organizational structures at various levels of engagement, including being merely allied to the principles of the community. For example, there are many members of the overall Olympia community that only participate in single events, such as the annual Spiral Dance, or have only attended one of the Reclaiming classes when they’ve been offered, and are not connected with any coven or circles.

There is a striking similarity between the coven structure of witchcraft to the affinity group structure, also called revolutionary cells:

“An affinity group is a group of people who have an affinity for each other, know each others strengths and weaknesses, support each other, and do (or intend to do ) political/campaign work together. Most of us will have had some childhood/formative experience of being part of a group whether informally, as in a group of kids that are the same age and live in the same street, suburb or town, or formally, as in being involved in a sports team. However, affinity groups differ from these for numerous reasons, as explained below, (hierarchy, trust, responsibility to each other etc).
The concept of ‘affinity groups has a long history. They developed as an organising structure during the Spanish Civil war and have been used with amazing success over the last thirty years of feminist, anti-nuclear, environmental and social justice movements around the world. They were first used as a structure for a large scale nonviolent blockade during the 30,000 strong occupation of the Ruhr nuclear power station in Germany in 1969, and then in the United States occupations / blockades of the Seabrook nuclear power station in ’71 when 10,000 were arrested and again many times in the highly successful US anti-nuclear movement during the ’70’s and ’80’s. Their use in sustaining activists through high levels of police repression has been borne out time and again. More recently, they have been used constructively in the mass protest actions in Seattle and Washington.
We don’t have to use the word ‘affinity group’ – blockade teams, action groups, cells, action collectives etc. have all been used to describe the same concept.” (Starhawk, n.d.)

In other words, an individual’s membership in a group is generally not known to outsiders and an outsider knowing one member of a group does not mean knowing the complete membership. Moreover, as opposed to typical organizations, and many communities, it is very possible that there are individual, and even active groups of, practitioners with long histories in the overall community about which I may have no knowledge whatsoever, even within the tradition in which I am active; but, moreover, very likely that I would not know individual, or groups of, practitioners for traditions in which I am not.

… a reclaiming witch

Where the creative arts are the praxis of imagination so is activism the praxis of an idealistic imagination. I believe this is fundamentally related to design thinking design thinking that mediates between what is and what could be, to discern what should be. Design thinking, at least in some sense, is as much the same denial of realism because it is a search for what is more than is.

Therefore, I submit that activism is also praxis of design thinking. And, since activism is an attempt to manifest the desire for what should be through invoking and evoking an imaginal idealism into the real, I submit that design thinking is a form practical magic, the art of changing the world through the use of will, of consciousness. When this practice is wholistic and systemic, I submit that it is a form of witchcraft, deeply rooted in consensus power instead of command. Both Axelrod (2002) and Starhawk (1990) speak to the importance of this distinction, and there is demonstration of the connection between creative change in the world and … creative change in the world through magic

I therefore suggest that witchcraft is a religion of post-modern systemic wholism that complements the scientific, technological post-modernism (p395) of ceremonial magicians.

I discovered I was a witch

When I moved to Olympia, I discovered that I was a witch. There were signs and portents, to be sure. In high school, my wardrobe consisted of variant shapes and forms universally shaded black and o’ershrouded by a de rigueur trench coat, long before there was ever a “trench coat mafia.” I had a penchant for fantasy novels, and an abiding interest in exploring the new age section of every bookshop.

But, there were also contra-indications. I have long been a technophile, tending toward the geeky nexis of computers, science and the presumption of intellectual aristocracy. My interest in fantasy novels was far outweighed by an interest in science fiction. My rejection of Captain Kirk as exemplar in favour of Mr Spock would have suggested the inclination toward scientism and a purgation of emotional thinking, except that the archetype actually is one of deep inner conflict between intellect and emotion, both strong and always close to loss of control.

I think in many ways the theatre was the crucible in which my personal process of integration and wholism was kindled. The strength of my explorations into the imaginal and in manifesting the imaginal in the tangible world offered a way to realize and become a self that was more than myself.

And, an early self-identification with atheism, which evolved, with the acquisition of complexity and pretentiousness, into “agnostic mysticism” …

Reclaiming Principles of Unity
Reclaiming Principles of Unity

However, logic, in the face of the elimination of all reasonable explanations for phenomena requires that the unreasonable be considered. Some things, it seemed to me, were just beyond explanation by the metaphysic of the prevailing paradigm. And, there is in the imagination a call to yell out that reality is not, can not be what it appears. (Houellebecq, 2005, pp 16-17). This “resounding NO” to the mundane is at the same time a resounding YES to the imaginal.

For the most part, with some exceptions, such as a stalwart cynicism, I have managed to nuance this “resounding NO” to life into a resounding NO to life as it is. Instead of devolution into what I’ve euphemistically called a culture of corrosion, exemplified by much of my generation’s smug and satisfied alienation from meaning and life, I have managed to maintain some fraction of optimistic idealism, which in turn I have sought to manifest in the world through my actions.

Witchcraft can be seen, like my history with fantasy and theatre before it, as part of the same heartfelt cry for a “supreme antidote against all forms of realism” (Houellebecq, 2005, p 29) that led me to poietic practices, the pursuits of active creativity, the praxis of imagination.