From the Hearth: Reflections on Witchlets in the Woods 2001

This essay originally appeared in the Autumn 2001 issue #84 of Reclaming Quarterly under the byline Loam Akasha-Bast

Witchlets in the Woods, a weekend of games, crafts and fun in the woods, was held at Mendocino Woodlands the last weekend of July.  Organized by and for families, Witchlets emerged out of a need to provide sacred space for families to come together and honor the unique needs and gifts of the children in our tradition.  This event was dedicated to creating an environment where our children are surrounded by magic and community and where they feel safe and free to step into their own magical power.  It was an opportunity for pagan parents to build community resources and make a connection with each other. Twelve families, with children ranging in age from two and a half to seventeen, and four “childless” adults who love kids, hailing everywhere from San Francisco to the Sacramento Delta, and from the South Bay to Mendocino County attended this first-ever Bay Area Reclaiming Family Camp.

Parenting in the mundane world is tough work.  Surprisingly, parenting in ritual can be just as hard.  Maybe you’ve seen us parent-types around.  We’re the ones who trip over you to retrieve a wandering child while you attempt to lie peacefully in trance.  After ritual, we usually feel more strung-out than refreshed.  If we seem spaced out, it’s because we know that our children have not developed their energy fields to filter psychic and environmental influences, and we are projecting at least half of our energy across the room/meadow/beach to act as a protective blanket around our children!  We live in a society where parents are expected to be the sole providers of this spiritual energy.

Not so at Witchlets in the Woods.

Witchlets became a weekend where children – and parents – played together without stress and structured agendas.   Relationships transformed like light flitting through leaves – no one person took on the burden of responsibility for another alone; rather interactions shifted and turned and people passed between one another.  We fell easily into the hive mindset, working together as one body, shifting to the needs of our children and each other.  “Childcare” evolved into “childshare.”

Friday night’s Opening Ceremony took place in the dining hall.  We declared the camp sacred space and invoked Lugh and the Bee Goddess.  We called in the spirit of “hearth,” that sense of home and security.  The hearth is the central womb of the community, a cradle of sacred creation.  The hearth represents domestic comfort, the most primal expression of human communion.  We gathered around the fire in the old way, sharing warmth and food and creating bonds.  Stories were woven into the sacred food.  Love was passed through the drinking cup.  The fire sparked a sense of security when the darkness of night fell heavily outside.  Though we didn’t formally call them in, Hestia and Brigid, both Goddesses of the hearth, were there.

It is no surprise then, as we gathered inward into a tighter spiritual circle, that our collective energy spiraled into a work- and playground of activity around the dining hall and kitchen space. Throughout the weekend, families continually intersected in the kitchen.  We shared our food, each taking care of his and her own family while simultaneously offering food to others.  “Does anyone have an extra egg?  I need an egg!” “We’ve got extra pasta over here,” and “I’ll trade you a string cheese for a peanut butter sandwich” were our kitchen chants.

On Saturday afternoon, I looked out from the industrial kitchen at Mendocino Woodlands.  The music of Libana echoed through the dining hall while I prepared Spiral Cookies for the evening’s dessert.  I felt my cooking as spellcrafting.  In kneading the dough, in measuring ingredients, I created a container for my love of these families.  Adults and children drifted in and out of the kitchen.  “What are you making?  Are those for us?”  The hearth is the place where we take care of each other, where we all provide.

I was looking out from the center.  Through the kitchen window I saw families creating their own quiet time.  Some were at the crafts table, wrapping florist wire around sea glass, shells and rocks to create long lines of delicate mobiles and some were creating salt-dough clay figurines.  Others gathered by the Dress-Up tree, shapeshifting into Gods and Goddesses of the fairy and animal realm with costumes, face‑paints, and fantasy accessories.  Mundane clothes were hung on trees like shed skins, a visual metaphor for the casting off of our ordinary lives.  The T-shirts we silk-screened with images of the goddess, animals and the Witchlets logo peppered the base of a redwood tree, a makeshift altar to our weekend’s intention.

The children took a mini-hike to search for flowers, stones, sticks, and cones to place on the altar.  When we found a group of flowers stretching themselves onto the trail, I instructed the children to ask the plant permission before picking it.  A chorus of little voices asked “Do you want to come with us, flowers?”  The high, squeaking voices of the flowers channeled through the children, responding, “Yes, we do!  Pick us!  Pick us!”

The Mendocino Woodlands staff led the group on a Night Awareness Walk.  Campers learned to walk like animals, knees held high and contacting the ground with their pinky toes first and rolling the feet in and down from the front to walk silently through the night forest.  We learned how to cup our hands over our ears to create “deer ears” that would hear noises from far away and we chomped on Wint-o-green lifesavers with our mouths open, creating sparks in the dark!

On Saturday evening, we all gathered for a community vegetarian dinner prepared by Master Chefs Liz and John.  I saw one family sitting alone near the fireplace.  They were smiling and laughing as they ate their dinner.  “We can’t remember the last time we sat down alone together to eat,” they marveled as their daughter played outside with some of the older children.    Parenting is easy in community like this.

By the time dinner was over, we were moving as a pack.  We met at the fire circle for our Lammas ritual.  The children purified the circle by running around the perimeter and shaking the rattles they had created from film canisters and gravel.  Three of the older girls directed and performed the story of The Bee Queen from Circle Round.  We thought about our hopes and fears for the coming year and danced the Bee Dance (also from Circle Round).  After the ritual, we ate Wicker Man cookies and drank Sun Tea.  We sang, danced, and toasted marshmallows in the ritual fire.

Before we went our separate directions on Sunday, we assembled for the closing ceremony.  The children gathered in the center of our circle, and I realized the symbolism of their position.  As the once unborn and as our future ancestors, our children nudge the boundaries between the worlds, reminding us that by securing them in the heart of our energy, we are closer to infinite All That Is.   We collectively cast our energy inward to protect them and in return, they radiate an open goodwill and questing intelligence that benefits the community at large.  When we parents are not drained of our energy from psychically and physically protecting our children in isolation, we are more open to the subtle balance that comes from holding their spirits at the center, and we learn from them.  We become each other’s teachers, and the lessons almost always come from the heart and from the hearth.

See you at Witchlets next year!

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