Reclaiming: History, Structure, and the Future

by Jody Logan and Patti Martin for the Reclaiming Collective

[Updated for the Web by Sharon Hwang Colligan]

On October 8, 1995, the Reclaiming Collective held an open meeting to discuss with the community of people associated with it the possibility of raising funds to rent and operate a community space. The members of the Collective had been thinking and talking about the idea for some time and had taken various legal steps to make this possible. The meeting brought up several questions, some of which we will attempt to answer here. There will be more Community Meetings on two Sunday, January 21 and 28, 1996, beginning at 3:00 p.m. in the Audre Lorde room of the Women’s Building in San Francisco.

Reclaiming began in San Francisco in 1980 when Diane Baker and Starhawk offered a class that would give people the tools they needed to do their own ritual work. They decided that the class would be co-taught by them to model a different approach to power. The students of that class wanted to go on, so a second, and then a third class were constructed. New teachers were recruited from these classes, and the “bud” of Reclaiming’s teaching cell was begun.

In 1982, while a Spiral Dance ritual was being planned by several of these same people, a blockade was called at Diablo Canyon. (Pacific Gas and Electric, the California energy monopoly, was beginning operation of a nuclear power plant near an earthquake fault line.) Many of the planners of the ritual went off to the blockade, and others stepped in to finish the planning. When those who had gone to the blockade returned, they brought with them more experience with collective process and the use of consensus decision making, as well as models of non-hierarchical group structure. After Diablo Canyon and the Spiral Dance ritual, many of these folks formed a loose-knit community and started meeting under the name Reclaiming Collective. Thus Reclaiming was born.

At this point the Collective consisted of anyone who knew someone to tell them when the next meeting was, and was willing to sit through that meeting. The business of the Collective was to provide public rituals for the eight Sabbaths of the Witches’ Year; to teach Elements of Magic and other classes to any who sought such; and to sustain and morally support the political direct actions of the members and community.

“We had a lot of interesting struggles those first years as we evolved our structure of cells and projects clustered around a central core collective,” recalls Starhawk.

Reclaiming kept teaching classes and putting on rituals and, within a year or so, began publishing a newsletter (which is now at issue number 61). The number of people attending rituals grew, and it became unfeasible to continue the community as the Collective. A small number of very active people who were teaching and planning and implementing rituals formed The Reclaiming Collective and closed membership to only those who had been working closely together. It is from here that the Collective’s current structure has evolved. New members are proposed by current members and the collective must then consense on admitting the proposed member in a subsequent meeting. There does not exist a formal list of criteria for proposed members; however, these have generally been people who have been extremely active in the community. Currently there are 14 active members of the collective and six members on leave of absence. The number of members seems to hover at around twenty, which keeps consensus-process meetings somewhat manageable. Additionally, there are two formal cells, the teaching cell and the newsletter cell, each ultimately accountable to the Collective though for the most part they function autonomously. Membership of the newsletter cell is open, and membership of the teaching cell consists of persons teaching Reclaiming classes.

The first summer intensive was taught by the Collective’s teaching cell in San Francisco in 1985. Reclaiming taught two additional camps in Mendocino the following year, and in 1987 one in Vancouver and one in Ben Lomond. Currently, we teach six or seven witch camps a year and have trained teachers across the US and Canada. As a result, these camps have brought many people who were not in the Bay Area into the realm of community around the Collective, with shared spiritual and political values.

At the same time that these things were happening, a new tradition of witchcraft was emerging known as Reclaiming. Many who are Collective members are initiates of this tradition, but some initiates are not Collective members. This tradition continues to grow and define itself as a niche in the greater Craft history and community. The Reclaiming tradition is eclectic and based on personal empowerment, structurally non-hierarchical, and it engenders in most of its initiates a strong commitment to the work of the Goddess in the world.

The Collective, the Community, the Craft Tradition: this is the triple face of Reclaiming. Each functions in relation to the others, but is self-defined by members of each part. Many people are in more than one part of this three-fold way. If we all together are to carry the work of the Goddess into the future and into the world, we must further define these three parts, their relationship to each other, and, for each of us, our relationship to them.

As Reclaiming began producing and selling music tapes, and as our work expanded, we eventually had to deal with things like accounts and taxes. In 1991, Reclaiming filed to incorporate as a non-profit organization in the state of California. The state’s requirements for corporations are that the Collective keep minutes of its meetings and include those in a Corporate Book which has a copy of the By-Laws and Articles of Incorporation. The Collective’s by-laws describe an organization (Reclaiming) whose objective and purposes “shall be to worship the Goddess and the Old Gods; to celebrate the ancient sacred holidays of the Wheel of the Year and the cycles of nature; to provide religious education”; with a consensus-based process for decision making; and with a “prohibition against sharing corporate profits and assets.”

However, incorporation was but the first step of a dream for Reclaiming: to receive tax-exempt status as a religious organization. So in 1993, the Collective applied to the Internal Revenue Service for 501(c)(3) status: that is, a non-profit religious corporation. In 1994, after a sea of forms and some very hard work and persistence by a few people, this dream was made manifest and Reclaiming became a tax-exempt, non-profit religious organization. Perhaps the two greatest benefits of this status are that 1) Reclaiming does not have to pay taxes on what little money we take in to support our work and 2) Reclaiming may now accept tax deductible donations in order to further this work.

But what is this work? Aside from maintaining classes, public rituals, the newsletter, summer intensives, offering financial assistance to community members to attend classes and the summer intensives, and other projects such as the music tapes and the new book on pagan rites for death and dying, many have felt that there is a need to create a home for our community; a place for the community to express itself and to come together. To each person you ask, the vision of this place is different. Perhaps this would be a place where people who want to get involved in Reclaiming could come and find out what projects need help, what kind of help, and who to contact; perhaps this space could have a community bulletin board, and be a place to meet other people in the collective/community/tradition; perhaps there could be ritual space to reserve or rent affordably for private and/or family events; as well as an office for the administrative aspects of the collective (though to some of us, it all seems administrative). There has also been discussion of housing a library in this space. (Glenn Turner currently holds the Kalyn P. Tranquilison Memorial Library at Ancient Ways in Oakland and there is the possibility that this collection could be housed in a larger Reclaiming library.)

In exploring this dream, many questions have arisen about who and what we are, and how and why we should find and support such a home. We have looked at how some churches and synagogues raise money as a model for how Reclaiming might be able to afford a space. But the more we look at how these institutions function and raise money to support their work, the more we realize that we simply do not function like a regular church; we are creating a structure that we have no models for.

At the community meeting in San Francisco we took a look at some of these questions and sought input from our community. We received extremely valuable feedback from the approximately fifty people who attended, some of which challenged our perceptions of community and overall accessibility of the Collective, as well as knowledge of its structure. We hope this article addresses some of these questions. A further goal of the Collective for having a central space is that information will be more accessible and our community and structures will feel more inclusive. This then, we hope, will strengthen and further empower our community and its members.

This first community meeting clearly showed the Collective that before a community space can be made manifest, we must have additional community meetings and find other ways for community members who might not be able to attend one of these meetings to provide input.

We need your help; we need people who have an interest in what happens to this community to complete the survey included here and to attend the next Community Meeting, if you are able. Yes, we realize that distance and other obstacles prevent many people from attending meetings, which is an even greater reason to complete the survey and send it in to us. We need to know what the community needs/wants. And we also need seed money. Please, if you can afford to send money and you support the vision of a community space, send what you can to manifest this dream.

We all need to include this dream in our magic. The energy and vision between the worlds does affect all the worlds, as we say so often. The work we do when we come together at our rituals can be continued through temporal time making that energy available to all of us and to the world. As we feed the magic with our belief, it grows and takes shape in this world. Let us work together to give Reclaiming a permanent presence in the world.