In the last year, I've been working steadily on helping to create -- or re-create; it depends on exactly what you mean and to whom you're talking -- a workable, solid, sane, grounded, pagan community, in the Reclaiming tradition. It's interesting work, in Pittsburgh.
When I first got here, about 15 years ago, I worked on this, teaching Elements classes, and working with established small groups. One after the other, they dissolved. Nothing ever went further than Elements. Interest in "Iron Pentacle" or "Rites of Passage"? Nonexistent. Nor could I get a workable coven going. I finally realized that it was time to turn away and work elsewhere, and for about 10 years I worked mostly as a solitary, though I continued to teach for a while at the British Columbia witchcamp, and I worked with some cohorts occasionally, putting together lovely and interesting workshops. We're very fond of the excellent poem, "Sir Orfeo," which has LOTS of inner directions about the mystical life, how to deal with the faery folk, and instructions on vision quests.
About a year and a half ago I found a small group of dedicated pagans working in the Reclaiming tradition, and holding small public rituals on the high holidays. I started working with them, very slowly at first, so I could get used to the collective and individual energy, and see where I fit in, and what was going on. In the course of that time, some people left, some people got disconnected, some people stuck around.
Lately, I've been leading little "teaching rituals" -- not formal classes, but workshops meant to get people new to the tradition, or to the craft in general, grounded in the basics of moving energy, and the history of Reclaiming, and the political and psychic and social aspects of energy structures. Now, we've got a new group of people interested in the basic classes, in small groups, in meeting often, in working deep. This will significantly change the energy of the public rituals.
And deep is what I want, and what I've always wanted. I'm fine with the energy of witchcamps; they are energizing and exciting. And I do love a good public ritual, one that's not only large but well-structured, using group energy powerfully and responsibly. But important as the large events are, they're not where the real work gets done, as far as I'm concerned.
The real work gets done in the small groups, the covens, meeting regularly and often, over the course of years. It's only in that kind of a group that group trances hit real pay dirt. It's in that kind of a group that one's patterns get noticed and addressed. It's in that kind of a group that the relationships get out of hand, and painful, and joyful, and multi-layered. And because of those relationships, it's where individual and group patterns can get worked out.
When they do. As we all know, they don't always. Maybe mostly they don't. But only close relationships give us the compost to work with, and the possiblity of working so deep.
And that kind of work then feeds the public rituals.
I'm totally uninterested in figuring out how to get more people involved in the public rituals, so that we can make them big and flashy. I'm interested in figuring out how to get more people interested in working deep, in small groups, so that we can make the public rituals solid and powerful.
I'm told, by those who have been here a long time, that Pittsburgh's a frustrating place, that the pagan community is long fractured and lacking cohesion and full of in-fighting. Ah. Well. That would certainly be different from the usual run of things.
My experience in San Francisco, back in the heady early days of Reclaiming, leads me to believe that the main differences between San Francisco and Pittsburgh are 1) only true masochists would go around naked in public in Pittsburgh at public rituals, and 2) since there are fewer pagans in general, and a much more conservative population base, the fracturing and in-fighting in the pagan community have a bigger impact than they would in many other cities.
But Pittsburgh's a big city! Or, ok, a medium, not very small city! It's hard for people putside Pittsburgh to believe what a truly small-town place this is. One of my cohorts, in fact, was talking to a Reclaiming friend in Chicago, who, upon hearing that she was having trouble with some members of the community, was advised to go work with other groups in the community.
Please. Who would these groups be?
Well. If I'm right about the power of the coven structure (this is an essentially anarchist view of power, of course), then the need to actually work together if we want anything to get done may well facilitate empowerment.
Here's hoping that it'll take. It's nice, anyway, having another chance. I am truly enjoying being back in the game.