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.