Dorothy was out of sorts when she landed in Oz and confronted magical witches waging a turf war; however, if she had run into the witches of Reclaiming rather than Glinda, she probably would have found herself making flower wreaths rather than fighting flying monkeys.
Reclaiming Witches—a pagan group with cells locally and internationally—celebrated Beltane, a festival dedicated to the coming of summer and a season of fertility, in Golden Gate Park’s Magical Meadow with more than 100 individuals May 1. Reclaiming’s celebration of Beltane revolved not only around a start to the seasonal change, but also recognition of worker’s rights.
There are many types of Pagan beliefs, which have different viewpoints on divinity, but Beltane, on a spiritual level, is seen as a way to reconnect to the Earth, its energy and all the life upon it. Long-time member George Franklin said that connection was an essential one.
“Every living thing is coming from the earth so we take one day or one period and actually honor that connection as we go into the summer, honor that we’re so connected,” Franklin said.
The celebration represented a mark for change not only in the treatment of people toward each other and their fellow workers, but also their view of the earth. Organizers felt that acknowledging civil and ecological rights would help man and earth interweave.
Franklin expressed how the mixture of both ecological rights and worker’s rights were comparable to the criss-cross of ribbons created during a MayPole dance.
A MayPole is a post with many long ribbons attached, which participants hold as they weave in and out of each other while moving opposite directions, creating an interlocking pattern which weaves down the pole. This pole represents many things to different individuals, but collectively would be a beacon for pagans to congregate around in celebration.
“This is a way to recharge our own personal batteries, we could say, to give ourselves a burst of energy,” Franklin said.
Franklin began his connection to the group 25 years ago while he was incarcerated, but said the group really helped him personally grow and live a life with more energy. Franklin feels that people cannot connect to others or their environment if they do not have the energy to be connected to themselves.
Originally from a Christian background, Franklin said that he respected and honored the religion, but that it just wasn’t his. However, he revered paganism.
The ritual also served to discourage the modern tenancy to be disconnected from nature.
“We spend a lot of time on our computers and all these different forms of media, but that’s not really connecting with one another,” said Briana Cavanaugh, a 10-year member of Reclaiming. “I think that causes us to do things that are really out of alignment with what we really want.”
A celebration attendee who went by the name of the Rev. Gaddy said that a lot of strife in the world came from unnecessary arguments and an earthly disconnect.
“A lot of the problems we have in the world today are because people are fighting over ideas, these mental constructs that have nothing to do with the food we eat or the ground we live on,” Gaddy said. “So often these things are abstracted and begin to make no sense whatsoever.”
The spiritual and magical aspect of the ceremony for its participants, and their personal title as witches, can give the wrong impression to some of the misinformed public who learn about witches from popular culture. Cavanaugh said they couldn’t be more wrong about witches being evil in the slightest.
“I think that all the witches that you would ask would have a slightly different meaning to it, although to me being a witch means that I see the divine in the natural world, and that nature is my source of divinity,” Cavanaugh said. “Religion and spirituality practices around the world have a lot in common but the way sometimes communicates doesn’t really work.”
The earth is also a big source of divinity in a modern world, Gaddy said.
“It’s hard to be connected to the earth in an urban environment sure, however, on a spiritual level I have more interest in the ground I live on and the food I eat that comes from that earth than some kind of sky deity, and that is kind of the paradigm that is more enforced,” Gaddy said.