I was raised by parents involved with San Francisco's Reclaiming Collective, a fluctuating group of adults pioneering feminist pagan spirituality in the Bay Area. We went to rituals as a family, and unlike stories I've heard of children being dragged to church, I liked going. I knew there would be familiar faces and good food at the end; I was also lured by the energy of the rituals. Many of these ceremonies were held outside at the beach or in a park, and children and dogs were always roaming in and out of circle. If I were underfoot, I'd often be asked to help, and so I began to learn ritual preparation and organization from my elders. I enjoyed the responsibility and social approval, and I loved the symbolism and mystery of ritual.

I didn't feel that what I was doing was peculiar at all; I felt like any other kid my age. But as I grew older, it became clear that I was unique in my interest in our religious practice; the other Reclaiming kids tolerated what their parents did but didn't participate as much as I did, and my school friends didn't understand at all. By the time of my first blood ritual at age 13 [described in "Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions"], I was beginning to separate myself from the community. I had mixed feelings about having a community ritual for my first period. I wouldn't have asked for it, but since it was offered and everyone was so excited I didn't protest. But my enthusiasm didn't match the enthusiasm I felt from my mom and the other women who participated.

Growing up, I believed that our tradition was closely linked to the old traditions, but in reality much was being improvised by my elders.

I entered high school and began to be disillusioned with the Reclaiming community. The neo-pagan movement was gaining popularity, and more and more new people crowded our public rituals. The unfamiliar energy generated by the influx of new pagans made me feel uncomfortable. I felt defensive about what I thought was a traditional practice and interpreted their contributions as irreverent. I didn't understand the significance and nature of the work that Reclaiming did. All I knew was that my childhood world was changing; it was becoming less and less hospitable, and many of the familiar faces from the early days weren't to be seen.

I was unsettled by the changing rituals, and I began to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable about participating. I was also becoming more independent from my family and didn't feel that I could combine my spiritual inclinations with my teenage lifestyle. I pretty much stopped going to rituals altogether when I was about 15, though I was still connected to the goings-on in the Collective through my parents and extended family.

I still identified as pagan, but I avoided talking about it. It was too painful for me to admit I felt abandoned, so the feeling grew and I continued to be isolated. I felt spiteful and critical of Reclaiming because it was moving in a direction I didn't understand and didn't meet my needs. As the community grew, Reclaiming evolved from a grassroots, counter-cultural, loosely organized group to a popular, mainstream public organization. I wanted the intimacy and security of community from my childhood within the public rituals, because that was the only place I had felt spiritually whole, but it was next to impossible.

When my parents split up, I moved out to a San Francisco suburb. It was a difficult transition, but I was lucky to find a group of friends in high school who respected my involvement in paganism even if they didn't fully understand it. Instead of being suspicious, they were very open-minded and interested. I had finally found a community where I could confide my opinions without fearing any judgment. But I was still very cautious; I had lost a few friends in junior high school by exposing them to ritual objects--my athame [ritual knife], pentacles, and a snakeskin--and my juvenile explanations of paganism and Reclaiming did little good. It took more than two years, but as my friendships in the East Bay became solid, I felt safer and began to reexamine my needs and relationship to the community.

Although I wasn't going to rituals, I was interested in the politics of Reclaiming and developing my own spiritual identity. I had a strong desire to be mentored in the fashion of the Old Craft. The adolescent ideas I had about the community and how we practiced were influenced by the mysticism of novels I read about the craft and European witches. Growing up, I believed that our tradition was closely linked to the old traditions, but in reality much was being improvised by my elders. I was a stickler for the sense of tradition, and it was hard to see things change without my participation and approval. Understanding the evolving nature of Reclaiming occurred over time. I gained perspective by talking to those I had known as a child about the history of Reclaiming. With a better understanding, I was able to let go of my insecurities and open up to what the community had to offer without judging it. Learning about other cultures' traditions while I was in college helped, too, as ours is a medley of philosophies and practices.

When I am asked about being raised pagan, I sometimes feel like a novelty. I've had to live down so many stereotypes--about cults, forced participation, brainwashing, etc. It was difficult to grow up as I did because with any new progressive movement mistakes are part of the process. There were no role models for my parents to follow. I felt like an experiment of sorts, even though I was always surrounded by good intentions. The frustration, rejection, and complications I've faced I now understand to be side effects no one could have foreseen or prevented. My experiences were unique and special, for which I am grateful. I am joyful to be able to say that I now better understand and accept the work of Reclaiming, and I still identify as pagan.

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