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 Classes—The 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 antinuclear
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 Goddess—the Immanent
Life Force. We see our work as teaching and making
magic—the 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.
Rayleigh, Lord Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
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 Souls—a 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
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
(1) non-hierarchal covens and group priest- or priestesshoods;
(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 responsibilityconsciousness;
(5) no set liturgy (except in certain large, rehearsed or semirehearsed
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 colloquy—more
shamanic than ceremonial;
(7) cultivation of self-empowerment, self-discovery, and creativity;
(8) extensive use of chanting and breathwork in magical
(9) intense ‘‘energy-raising,’’ often using our trademark spiral
dance (or even double helixDNA molecule dance);
(10) magical use of the Pentacle of Iron construct and its obverse,
the Pentacle of Pearl;
(11) concept of Three Souls;
(13) encouragement of the creation of new ritual forms by
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 community—Brigit and Lugh.
Initiation, or Not
Initiation—though not required to perform rituals—is 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
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 Wheel—a
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Reclaiming
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, worldrenewing
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.’’
httpwww.reclaiming.orgabouthistory-mmnm.html. May 11,
Reclaiming Principles of Unity. httpwww.cog.orgwicca
tradsreclaiming.html. May 11, 2000.
The Reclaiming Tradition.
orgtradfilesrectrad.html. May 11, 2000.
Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft.
~ravnglastradition.html. May 8, 2000.