"The Twelve Wild Swans" is a guide to practicing magic in the Reclaiming tradition. Why do you think people are so interested in magic these days?

I think people are really hungry for some values that make sense in the world and that go beyond sheer materialism. People are hungry for a spirituality that honors nature and honors the body--and for women, one that honors your power as a woman.

Why did you choose the fairy tale of the Twelve Wild Swans to work with?

We've worked with this story a lot in our Witch camps, and it works so well as an initiatory journey--that's what it is at its core. I felt that there was enough in it that it would hold up as a thread in a book like this. A lot of people vaguely remember something about it, but it's not like Cinderella or something that's been made into a Disney movie, so you can get a fresh perspective on it. And it's one that's found all over Europe in hundreds of different variations, which tells me that its origins are very old.

"Ritual has tremendous power to help us in our personal growth."

Can you discuss what you call in the book the "three legs of the cauldron" of Reclaiming practice?

The three legs are first of all the magical and spiritual work, and being able to do that on a deep level to create a ritual that changes consciousness. The second leg is personal healing. If you're working magic, you have to be able to heal. Ritual has tremendous power to help us in our personal growth--that's one of its traditional functions. The third leg is about taking action in the world. Without any one of these legs, the cauldron would tip.

How important is community? Can one have a complete, authentic earth-based spiritual practice as a solitary?

I think community is wonderful if you can find the right community. But there may be times when you need to do it on your own, depending on where you are. I think your life is a bit poorer if you never experience a ritual in community and find out what it's like to work in a group, but it's a lot better to be solitary than to be in the wrong group or community. Now there's so much out there to choose from that you should never have to accept a group that doesn't feel right. Even if you don't live somewhere where this is happening, you can travel to Reclaiming Witch camps for a week. And we're just one of the groups that are out there.

Activism isn't generally thought of as a component of traditional witchcraft--how did you decide to blend the two?

When I first got involved in the Craft, it was in the late '60s. I was at UCLA, and I'd been involved in the anti-war movement, but not in a leadership capacity. I met people who were practicing the Craft, and it seemed to give a name and a form to what I had experienced intuitively--that nature, sexuality, and the body were sacred. I liked the idea that as a woman I could have some power. And then the feminist movement experienced a revival, and it seemed like a natural fit. We started to understand the slogan that "the personal is political," and it does have a political impact what you believe and how you consider God, or the Goddess, or the sacred.

Then in the late '70s, when I was writing "The Spiral Dance," there was kind of a lull. There was a community of people in San Francisco who had been activists and who were now saying, "We need something deeper in our lives--we want to create a new culture, envision a new world, make it happen." The Craft provided activists a spiritual community that supported the social change work they were doing, and then because it was so much a part of our community, people who might not otherwise have been involved in politics got drawn in, in a way that was visionary and exciting.

You mention in the introduction to "The Twelve Wild Swans" that what allows you to continue with your activism is the sustenance of your spiritual work, and without that people burn out, which is why most activists are young. But isn't another factor that young people have fewer obligations? How can adults with jobs and families take risks and make a difference?

I think any action needs people to be involved at all different levels. It's true that I'm in a fortunate position, in that I can set my own time in terms of my work, and I don't have young kids to take care of. But there are a lot of other things that people can do--jail support, going to legal rallies--without risking arrest. For example, during the World Trade Organization protests in Washington, D.C., one woman who lives there put about 10 of us up in her apartment for a week. If you belong to a coven or a circle or a book group, and you all go in to a supermarket over a two-week period asking why they don't carry organic food, then it can make an impact. Getting involved with your kids' school district--that's a great way to make a difference. Political issues and campaigns are really won by thousands and thousands of little things.

How has the Reclaiming Collective evolved over the years?

When "The Spiral Dance" came out in 1979, I used it as an occasion to create a big public ritual. Someone who came to the ritual suggested that we apply this to political organizing. Diane Baker (co-author of "Circle Round") and I decided that we should teach some classes together. It was so successful that we recruited some of our coven to teach more classes. And the Reclaiming community grew up around the classes. We carried on teaching, doing ritual, doing direct action and political activism, and that brought a lot of people into Reclaiming.

In the mid-'80s, we started teaching weeklong intensives around the world. We developed a whole network of people teaching and learning, and went through a lot of issues around how do we grow without losing what we were. We've made a conscious effort to grow in a way that respects our nonhierarchical roots. It's important for people to know that the book is co-written by me and Hillary Valentine, and that it really reflects the wisdom of the whole community, and the growth and development of the whole community.
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