views updated


The Reclaiming tradition of contemporary American witchcraft developed from a working collective in San Francisco in the summer of 1980 when Diane Baker and Starhawk decided to co-teach a basic class in Witchcraft. The initial class became so popular that a series of three classes were created which became known as the original Core ClassesThe Elements of Magic, the Pentacle of Iron, and Rites of Passage. Classes were team-taught within a sacred space. This group of teachers and their students shared what they learned and eventually coalesced into a Reclaiming Collective. Soon classes were offered in groups consisting of all women, all men, or mixed genders; many of these classes evolved into future covens.

During the 1980s, many Collective members and people from the larger Reclaiming community were active in anti-nuclear civil disobedience. The Collective's activities, from designing classes to dealing with domestic concerns to public political protests, stemmed from the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). These concepts and method of decision-making fostered close bonds among participants.

Concurrently, Reclaiming Collective began four public sabbat rituals at the Cross-Quarters and four issues of a small newsletter at the Solstices and Equinoxes. The Collective wrote a statement which appeared in each issue of the Reclaiming Newsletter:

"Reclaiming is a community of San Francisco Bay Area women and men working to unify spirit and politics. Our vision is rooted in the religion and magic of the Goddessthe Immanent Life Force. We see our work as teaching and making magicthe art of empowering ourselves and each other. In our classes, workshops, and public rituals, we train our voices, bodies, energy, intuition, and minds. We use the skills we learn to deepen our strength, both as individuals and as community, to voice our concerns about the world in which we live, and bring to birth a vision of a new culture."

So unlike most other Craft traditions, Reclaiming espouses a connection between spirituality and political action.

The Core Classes of the Reclaiming Tradition

The development of the core classes derived from Starhawk's and Diane Baker's basic classes in Witchcraft. The first class, known as the Elements of Magic, teaches basic ritual, concepts and correspondences, energy sensing and projecting, shifting consciousness, spellwork, and theology.

The second, or Iron Pentacle class, based upon a Faery Witchcraft concept, focuses on trance work and the discovery of the healing powers of the human body through meditations on the five-pointed star. The points represent sex, self, passion, pride, and power. Its opposite is the Pentacle of Pearl whose points represent love, law, wisdom, knowledge, and power. Both pentacles have correspondences with the head, hands and feet, going round and transversing the human body touching the points of a five-pointed star.

The third, or Rites of Passage, is the most adaptable class; it is usually redesigned, or created anew, by different teachers.

Besides the three classes, Reclaiming developed a concept in the 1990s known as the Three Soulsa concept sharing Faery Tradition Witchcraft, Hawaiian, Jewish, and Celtic cultures. Starhawk's own adaptation of this concept is called the Three Selves: The Spiral Dance, which represents the Younger Self; the Talking Self, or unconscious mind, which gives verbal and conscious expression; and Deep Self or God Self, which deals with the Divine within oneself.

Rituals Roles of Reclaiming

The leading of public rituals teach new ways of doing magic in large groups with participants of all degrees of magical expertise and inspire the creation of methods and roles to meet these changing circumstances.

Among those roles are "Crows," who oversee everything from an individual ritual to teaching plans to overall Collective activities. Snakes view things from the ground, the "little, down-to-Earth things." "Dragons" guard the perimeters of circles in public outdoor spaces such as beaches so that participants can work undistracted by curious passersby; they do not directly participate in the work of a ritual because they are providing a buffer between the public and the inner circle. In this role, Dragons are similar to what are called in other traditions Guardians, the Summoner or the Man in Black. "Graces" act as assistant priest or priestesses; they welcome people, guide them, keep aisles clear, get people standing, sitting, chanting, dancing, assembled for a spiral dance, all in different and appropriate parts of the ritual. Graces could be compared, in some sense, to Maidens in other Craft traditions.

In recent years Reclaiming employed "Anchors" in large public rituals. Anchors are individuals who help focus and contain the energy of the circle in settings where it might be prone to fragmentation and dissolution. They act to contain the energy until it's time to release and direct it. It's important that the anchor not try to control the energy of the ritual or to ground it through their body.

Currently, some Reclaiming Witches are trained in aspecting a technique which closely corresponds to what in traditional British Craft traditions more commonly known as Drawing Down the Moon. Not all Reclaiming Witches practice all these techniques. Many full-fledged and respected Reclaiming Witches were trained and proceeded in their personal and coven practices before some of these techniques were commonly used.

Distinguishing Features of Reclaiming

In The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, Starhawk describes Reclaiming's style of ritual as EIEIO Ecstatic, Improvisational, Ensemble, Inspired, and Organic. Practices are constantly growing, being "extended, refined, renewed and changed as the spirit moves us and need arises, rather than learned and repeated in a formulaic manner."

Distinguishing features of Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft are:

  1. non-hierarchal covens and group priest-or priestess-hoods;
  2. no specific pantheon;
  3. no requirement of initiation, and when initiations are undertaken, customized ones;
  4. strong emphasis on political involvement and social and ecological responsibility/consciousness;
  5. no set liturgy (except in certain large, rehearsed or semi-rehearsed public sabbat rituals) but rather training in principles of magic and the structure of ritual, and how to "speak as the spirit moves you" within that structure;
  6. cultivation of ecstatic states (customarily without the use of entheogens or psychotropics) and divine colloquymore shamanic than ceremonial;
  7. cultivation of self-empowerment, self-discovery, and creativity;
  8. extensive use of chanting and breathwork in magical rites;
  9. intense "energy-raising," often using our trademark spiral dance (or even double helix/DNA molecule dance);
  10. magical use of the Pentacle of Iron construct and its ob-verse, the Pentacle of Pearl;
  11. concept of Three Souls;
  12. encouragement of the creation of new ritual forms by anyone.

Reclaiming rituals are typically loose in structure, high in energy, and ecstatic in nature.


Reclaiming has no specific pantheon, rather, invokes Goddess into circles and often, but not always, God. Collective classes, covens, and community usually have had more women than men. Eventually, two particular deities seemed to have adopted the Bay Area Reclaiming communityBrigit and Lugh.

Initiation, or Not

Initiationthough not required to perform ritualsis performed by "committees" of teachers selected by the candidate who must ask for initiation; it is not offered, or even suggested. Just asking for an initiation does not guarantee that the request is granted; one or more teachers may refuse. It may take some years before all on the "committee" agree that the candidate is ready. If the candidate works in a coven, they usually are simultaneously initiated into the Craft and that coven, and any initiates within the coven are invited to be part of the initiation whether they were the candidate's teachers or not.

Reclaiming initiations are customized to the individual seeker. First, the initiators give challenges to the candidate. The candidate must accept the challenges from each initiators and fulfill them to everyone's satisfaction before the actual ceremony takes place. Each initiator creates these challenges according to what that priest or priestess feels the candidate needs to improve upon. The initiator's challenge is a task, which they have already done, or would and could do. They can also require the candidate to complete a challenge if they determine it would foster the candidate's development. It must be a task the person is actually capable of completing. A challenge is never given if it poses a danger to the candidate's health or welfare.

Reclaiming Collective Today

Over the years, Reclaiming Collective expanded from teaching Craft and providing public sabbat rituals to recording chants, publishing books, and maintaining an internet presence with website and listserves. The Reclaiming Newsletter developed into Reclaiming Quarterly, a magazine of articles, poetry, and photos.

After years of discussion, the Collective (which varied in size from about 10 to 20 or more at its largest) dissolved itself as a collective in 1999 and turned over its authority to the Wheela representative body comprised of spokespersons from all the many different witchcraft groups. About 52 people had, over the years, been members of Reclaiming Collective, for greater or lesser periods of time.

With the dissolution of Reclaiming Collective and its evolution into a more inclusive complex, the Collective wrote Principles of Unity.

Reclaiming Principles of Unity

The values of the Reclaiming tradition stem from the understanding that the Earth is alive and all life is sacred and interconnected. The Goddess is seen as immanent in the Earth's cycles of birth, growth, death, decay, and regeneration. This practice comes from a deep, spiritual commitment to the Earth, to healing and to the linking of magic with political action.

Each of the members embodies the Divine. The ultimate spiritual authority is within oneself, and no other person is needed to explain its interpretation. A member's questions are welcomed, as well as, intellectual, spiritual, and creative freedoms.

Reclaiming is an evolving tradition honoring both Goddess and God. Members work with female and male images of divinity, but remember their essence is a mystery which goes beyond form. The community rituals celebrate the cycles of the seasons and their lives, and raise energy for personal, collective and earth healing.

It is known that everyone can do the life-changing, world-renewing work of magic and change one's consciousness at will. Reclaiming strives to teach and practice in ways that foster personal and collective empowerment, to model shared power and to open leadership roles to everyone. It makes decisions by consensus, and balance individual autonomy with social responsibility.

The tradition of Reclaiming honors the Wild, and calls for service to the Earth and the community. Its members value peace and practice non-violence, in keeping with the Rede, "Harm none, and do what you will." They also work for all forms of justice: environmental, social, political, racial, gender, and economic. Their feminist views include a radical analysis of power, seeing all systems of oppression as interrelated, rooted in structures of domination and control.

The organization welcomed all genders, races, ages, and sexual orientations before its disbandment. It strived to make public rituals and events accessible and safe. Members tried to balance the need for compensated labor with a commitment to make their work available to people of all economic levels.

The Reclaiming Tradition believed all living beings are worthy of respect and that the sacred Elements of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth support everything. The group worked to create and sustain communities and cultures that embody their values, that can help to heal the wounds of the earth and her peoples, and that can sustain and nurture future generations.

In the San Francisco Bay Area today Reclaiming, the entity, is the Wheel and many specialized cells or smaller groups. Several "daughter" collectives are spread over a widespread geographic area. Reclaiming Tradition Witch Camps, which began in 1985, are still conducted in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The camps are a series of intensive lessons held in a retreat-like setting. The people trained in these camps, in turn, train others in their communities. They are connected to Reclaiming's representative body called the Wheel through their Witch Camp spokescouncil called the Web.


NightMare, M. Macha. "Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft." May 11, 2000.

Reclaiming Principles of Unity. May 11, 2000.

The Reclaiming Tradition. May 11, 2000.

Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft. May 8, 2000.