On Tuesday, August 6th M. Macha NightMare issued the following press release (excerpted below).
I, M. Macha NightMare, Priestess & Witch, aka Aline O’Brien, withdraw from the publicly recognized organization known as Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft and hereby dissociate myself from further involvement with the tradition. I make this statement formally and publicly because I am a public figure known to be connected to Reclaiming.
I do not make this decision lightly or without forethought and considerations for potential consequences. [Read the full Press Release]–
Pagans, both within the Reclaiming Tradition, and independently, are struggling to understand the significance of this departure by a co-founder. Some say it is insignificant, people and traditions change and grow. Others want to characterize the withdrawal as an indicator of crisis within a tradition. Neither is accurate. Macha acknowledges in a statement to PNC-MN :
Macha: … over the next weeks and months I’ll be exploring and trying to articulate in an understandable but constructive and non-accusatory way the various reasons that led me to this decision. It’s much more complex than it might seem to someone not part of the community, and to most who even are part of it, especially those who have no knowledge of our history (which is most everyone).
The Reclaiming Tradition just completed approval of revised Principals of Unity (POU) underway in discussions for several years prior, at the biennial Reclaiming Dandelion Gathering immediately before the release of the press statement of withdrawal by Macha. In a statement from Starhawk, an additional co-founder of the tradition, this change is indicated as a possible cause of the withdrawal. [The 1997 Reclaiming Principles of Unity can be read here.]
A reading of the Reclaiming POU 2012 mentions “welcoming all genders” and does not appear a radical departure from the direction of increased inclusiveness in worship styles and gender issue sensitivity the Reclaiming Tradition has been moving toward refining over many years.
Many community organizations, traditions, spiritual groups, and sometimes covens struggle over a balance between strong ethical leadership, decision-making process, inclusiveness, and efficiency at meeting their goals. Popular is a move toward consensus based decision-making, especially within larger activist coalition groups like the Occupy Movement, and Reclaiming in particular. Consensus process is a learned skill for nearly everyone. It has many facets and forms, and each form can have aspects that may be foreign to us or appear offensive and disrespectful at times.
Macha in an account of her Dandelion experience of fully two years ago at a meeting discussing issues of gender :
Macha: … when I feel the discussion has grown very confusing, I ask a question: “Can you tell me, is there anyone here who is not here as the result of the union of an ovum and a sperm?” Impertinent of me, I guess, because I am initially met with silence. Then one of the transgender activists says to me, in an overtly condescending tone, “You do know there’s a difference between sex and gender, don’t you?” This person’s remarks are met with loud hissing. I answer that yes, I do. [Read Full Blog Post Text]
The blog post refers to acquired additions to Reclaiming consensus process designed to aid decision-making efficiency in large groups through signals. Either an audible hiss or a “twinkle” (raised hands wiggling fingers upward) indicates individuals in agreement with the speaker, without having to restate agreement by further speech. A downward twinkle indicates disagreement. For those expecting a person’s words to be considered silently this can be interpreted as an imposing and disrespectful interruption and indication of what a group is prepared to hear, and less so as an aid to finding group consensus, especially when offering a minority position.
Donald Engstrom, a respected member of the Minnesota Reclaiming Community, acknowledging not having a personal relationship with Macha, offered a perspective to PNC-MN.
Engstrom: I have heard Macha’s discomfort/confusion when discussions centered around Queer Gender and Queer Spirit have come up. I have heard her discomfort/confusion when discussions turned to the vast range of personal experiences/understandings around Mystery that go beyond monotheism, particularly around the specific term ‘Mysterious Ones’. I have also heard her talk about the lack of respect she experiences in Reclaiming, though I have never witnessed such an event I would call disrespectful. And yes, I have heard her mention Reclaiming Tradition’s lack of intellectual rigor and/or coherent body of theology, but again Macha was unable or unwilling to give specific critique at the time. I have yet to hear any specific critique about any of her issues. …. I did hear her once say that if the ‘Goddess’ was taken out of Reclaiming she would leave.
Donald affirms that Reclaiming tradition is as diverse in its local manifestations as the people who participate locally through Witch Camp and other tradition experiences.
Engstrom: Camp cultures have also broadened to include many different ways of experiencing the multiverse. At one time many of our camp stories and themes were built on a subtext of The Goddess or in other words, all goddesses are one goddess, or the standard Wiccan idea of the Goddess and the God. Currently polytheism and other understandings of myriad sacred possibility are also offered as foundations to our camp stories and themes.
…. decentralized, loosely connected, with no central hierarchy or control. Our Principles of Unity, collectively written in the late nineties after we’d been in existence for more than a decade, are our single unifying document.
Issues of gender, inclusiveness, decision-making process, and personal ethics should properly be in the forefront of the actions and decisions of a spiritual people. It is a healthy and sometimes foreign process to many Pagans, but such is the Mystery as this struggle for understanding the gift of our Pagan diversity unfolds.
Nels Linde with notes provided by Diana Rajchel
Editor’s note: comments are now closed on this topic. Thank you all!