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Loreley European Witchcamp
Young People at Loreley Witchcamp
by George Franklin | Photos by Yoeke
I want to share some thoughts about working with young folks at Loreley Camp this Summer. There has been a trend in Reclaiming the past few years to involve young people in what had been adult-only Witchcamps. Free Camp, Loreley, Vermont, and Dreamroads, plus family camps in Ontario, Texas, Washington, and California, have experimented with including young people in our magical work and space.
I was blessed with the opportunity to co-teach the Older Kids' Path at Loreley Camp this Summer with Petra and Anja, both of whom are also Loreley organizers. Here are my thoughts on:
Having worked with young people at Witchlets in the Woods (California Family Camp) for four summers, plus at two "adult" Witchcamps (Free Witchcamp last year, and Loreley Camp this year), I think the concerns about young people at Witchcamp have been exaggerated. The problems, while real, are solvable. And the benefits to the camps by the presence of young people and families are immeasurable. These camps have truly felt like "villages," not sequestered retreats. I doubt that most adults who attended these camps can imagine it any other way.
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At Loreley Witchcamp, I was struck that the young people (age 10-15) were essentially creating a "parallel camp." While they took part in some adult activities and rituals, their energy through the week ran on its own course, and it was more like a separate camp that sometimes intersected with the adult camp, not an auxiliary to the adult camp.
Families mostly camped together, and sometimes ate meals together. But the young people mainly hung out separately, had their own dinner table, and mostly preferred their own nighttime campfire to the adult rituals. (This is a dynamic we see at Witchlets as well.)
I think such separation is inevitable with teens and near-teens. They have their own ways of being at camp. The challenge is to help create a space for young people which feels like "their space," yet is energetically in synch with the rest of the camp.
If young folks feel like they can create their own spaces and their own ways of doing camp, they will want to come back. Given that, a lot more is possible. At Witchlets, we now have a core of teens with several years' experience at camp. The depth of work possible with this group is amazing. What makes this possible is that young people feel that they have their own place (physically and energetically) at camp, distinct from both adults and younger kids.
I believe we made a good start on this at Loreley as well - the proof will be in how many young people return in future years.
Loreley is one of the smaller Witchcamps, with about 30 adult campers (age 17-up). The camp has completed its third year, each at a different Northern European location. The 2006 camp was held at an ageing chateau on the River Meuse (Maas), near the French/Belgian border. Tree-covered hills rose sharply behind the chateau grounds, reminding me of landscapes from West Virginia and Tennessee in the States.
A creek ran through the retreat grounds and fed into the River Maas (Meuse) in northern France.
Entering their third year, Loreley organizers - some of whom are parents of young teens - decided to open the 2006 camp to ages 10-16 on a trial basis. Being a first-time experiment, I expected 6-8 young people. We wound up with 14 people. While this number stretched us thin at times, it also guaranteed that young people would not be marginalized, and that the camp as a whole would have to adapt to kids' needs.
The kids ranged in magical experience from beginners with little interest, to those who were curious, to several kids with fairly advanced skills (including our youngest camper, age 10). These differences in interest led us to devise a dual-path for the last several days.
We did Kids' Path at the same time as adult path, 9:30-12:30 each day. We aimed to end a little early, but seldom succeeded. (Three hours is a long time for anyone, let alone a dozen young teenagers. Some mid-morning snacks would have helped. Or maybe we needed some teacher nap-time.)
At the same site as our morning path, we set up an optional kids' night-time campfire. This area, about 50 meters and behind a small hill from the dining area and main night-fire circle, formed a young people's gathering area that was respected by the adult campers. When kids left rituals early (see below), they usually went to their campfire.
Concerns and Initial Plans for Loreley Kids' Path
In planning the older kids' path before camp, one of my biggest concerns was language differences. Loreley Camp for adults is conducted in English, but I wondered how many of the young people would be fluent, and what sorts of problems this would raise.
As it happened, the majority of the kids were Dutch, and spoke English to varying degrees. But we had four kids who spoke virtually no English - two French, one German, and one Dutch - meaning that my co-teachers (Petra and Anja) were kept busy all week translating everything that was said into 2 or 3 other languages (and speaking their native Dutch hardly at all).
The delays occasioned by translation affected everything we did. Standard techniques like "go-rounds" or "check-ins" became difficult and time-consuming. Getting momentum and engaging the young people in any sort of processing was difficult. It took us much of the week to adapt to this and make plans that worked better.
The week's pathwork was planned according to the flow of an Elements of Magic class. However, this framework was loose, and allowed for a lot of variety each day. We tried to include the usual "elements" skills -- casting a circle, invoking, visualization, meditation, energy work -- as well as more "tactile" work like animal allies, tarot, and labyrinths.
The first couple of days of path were planned along the lines of nature awareness and group bonding. We played games, went on hikes, and did group exercises. While the days went okay, they lacked spark, and by the second day, some of the older kids were complaining that they wanted more magical content and training.
After the second day, we decided that we needed to plan two parallel paths each day - one for the more physically active kids, and one for those who wanted more magic. So for the last three days, we began and ended each path together, but then divided into optional subgroups. Various kids tried the "active" path for one or more days, but by the end of each day, most had rejoined the "magic" subgroup.
As teachers, we were intrigued that young people were asking for more magic in path. My experience at Witchlets the first couple of years was that a little magic went a long way (although the past two years, as the teens have gotten older and returned for a second or third year, they too have wanted more magical content and training).
Young people played active roles in all-camp rituals, as well as sharing their own night campfire. Here, kids take part in the cleansing/purification before an evening ritual.
With three days remaining at Loreley, we decided on three magical topics as the focus of pathwork: (1) tarot and oracles; (2) invocations and animal allies; (3) labyrinths and magical challenges.
Tarot proved especially successful. We used the "standard" Smith-Waite deck, and also the Inner Child Tarot, which is very colorful and lends itself well to work with young people. We worked with "intuitive" readings of the cards, asking the young folks to follow these steps with each card:
(1) What do you see with your eyes?
(2) What or who are you in the card?
(3) Make up a one-sentence "story" about what is happening in the card
(4) What does the card mean to you?
Watching the kids project their own experiences onto the cards was exciting, and by the end of the day, all of the kids except the three young boys (who were busy building a bridge over a creek) had done a reading for themselves and for one other person.
Some of the young people did invocations at the all-camp rituals (see below). We devoted some of our path time to practicing different ways of casting a circle and invoking, using words, movement, sounds, games, etc. Then, on the second-to-last day, we used our invoking experience to discover and invoke an animal ally.
This exercise derives from Michael Harner's nature awareness and tracking classes, and was taught to me by Seed, one of the veteran teachers at Witchlets. It involved a trance journey to meet various animals, and welcoming one of the animals as our ally. The "trance" worked well, since the natural pauses allowed space for translation into other languages. I was surprised at how focused the kids were during this meditation - it probably helped that rain had forced us indoors, cutting down on the external distractions.
Once the kids had welcomed an animal ally, we did a short meditation during which the animal spirit was "blown" into the participants' heads. We then did some exercises involving movement and sound with the animals. This day seemed very successful, and we'll write up more detailed notes for the kids' path resource file.
The threat of rain forced our labyrinth indoors on the final day of path, which turned out to be a good break. Instead of a 7-circuit model, we had room indoors only for a simple 3-circuit labyrinth. This greatly simplified our plans, and lent itself to a series of four magical challenges as kids made their way through the short maze.
Labyrinth challenges were the culmination of a week of magical pathwork for teens at Loreley Witchcamp. Photo by Paul.
We gathered the young people at their usual fire circle, then sent them one by one to the labyrinth (which was drawn on the floor of a small chapel building). They entered the labyrinth-hall one at a time. Inside, a priestess met them at the entrance to the labyrinth with their first challenge. On completing this challenge, the young person would return, enter further into the labyrinth, and receive another challenge. On completing four challenges, they reached the center of the labyrinth.
The challenges involved work with the animal allies:
(1) build a small altar and make an offering to your ally
(2) create a poem or song for or about your animal ally
(3) create a card for your animal ally
(4) do a one-card tarot reading concerning your further work, following the steps from Day 3
People engaged to varying degrees, all taking at least an hour to complete the challenges. Some surprised us with how hard they worked on one or more of the steps. For us as planners, this unfolded as a very beautiful day, and could be adapted for other sorts of magical work with young people.
Young people took part in the all-camp rituals to varying extents. A couple of times, all of them played a role. But mainly, it was a small handful of more experienced young people who took part. At one ritual, four young folks cast the circle. At another, several kids took part in invocations.
Overall, I'd say most of the young people were not that interested in the "adult" rituals. I doubt there is any way to organize Witchcamp rituals that are going to satisfy most teenagers most of the time. I'm open to ideas, but I think we need the back-up plan of "opting out," as described below.
Here are some ideas we tried during the week of Loreley:
Witchcamp Story - have the relevant portions of the Witchcamp-story ("Snow White," in our case) narrated and acted out (!) early in each ritual. Dramatic performances were much more engaging for young people than straight narration or meditations. "Trance-voice" does not work for most young people.
Kids' Bubble - we experimented with a kids' "bubble" for the slower parts of the ritual - for instance, during the grounding, we had a separate side-circle for young people, where we did a more hands-on grounding, then played silent games like "pass the pulse" until the adults finished grounding. We've tried this at Free Camp and at San Francisco rituals, and it seems to work well.
Opting Out/Night Campfire - Experience at several camps persuades me me that young people want/need an "opt-out" choice for rituals - they have the option of leaving the ritual, either at a pre-arranged point (eg, when the trance begins), or at their choice (ie, when several kids want to leave, they get one of the teachers and go to their own campfire - other kids can follow when they wish).
We worked with these models at Loreley, and it seemed to be going well until rain ruined our campfire plans the last couple of nights. I liked the latter "choice" model - I was surprised how long many young people would stay at a ritual, if they knew they could leave when they wanted.
This opt-out plan required an adult or two ready to leave the ritual at any time, the campfire already laid and ready to light, and the young people's campfire-space close enough to the ritual space that other kids could wander over when they are ready (yet not so close as to disrupt the ritual). Having some snacks pre-arranged was a bonus on several nights.
I consider the teens' campfire (participation optional but encouraged, with 2-3 adults along to help with fire, music, etc) essential to developing a strong older kids' presence in camp. The night-campfire is a great bonding time for young people. We've seen the same thing at Witchlets - the teens' campfire is just as important as the morning pathwork, as far as building the group and strengthening their sense of identity in the camp. At Loreley it served as a gathering place for young people when they left the evening rituals, helping focus what could have been diffuse energy.
Camps that include young people are likely to become more common in Reclaiming, with adult-only camps reserved for special work or in areas where a parallel family camp exists. For areas struggling with low attendance, this seems like a natural step toward broadening the base of the camp.
Several teachers dedicated to a young people's path are essential. This is not "part-time work." Three teachers for 14 young people - covering daily pathwork and planning, night campfires, and various other commitments - were barely enough.
During the week of camp, teachers for these paths are in a somewhat different "energetic flow" than the rest of the teaching team and organizers. For instance, I found it hard to focus on planning the all-camp rituals - I didn't feel part of that flow.
I'm not sure whether or how this could be different. The magical challenge is how to integrate the camp while acknowledging the autonomy of young people. It will be a different answer each time.
As this experiment develops, I feel grateful for the chance to meet and work with young folks at Reclaiming camps. I look forward to hearing from other teachers, organizers, and camp participants about their experiences.
George Franklin was the coordinator of Reclaiming Quarterly magazine, and now coordinates the RQ.org website. He has co-taught young people's paths at Witchlets in the Woods (CA), Free Witchcamp (OR), and Loreley Witchcamp (Europe). In his spare time, he enjoys playing guitar and setting sticks on fire. Contact email@example.com
For more information, visit Loreley European Witchcamp, visit www.reclaimingloreley.com
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