Friday, September 29th, to Sunday, October 1, 2023
What are some of the resonances between Quakerism and pagan/animist earth spiritualities? Might such resonances deepen our spiritual journey? Join us to engage the historical and contemporary overlaps between these traditions through historical teachings, collective inquiry, worship sharing, arts, song, ritual, and a decolonial lens.
This program will be led by Sara Jolena Woolcott. Hayley Hathaway and Elaine Emily will serve as program elders. Sara has known and worked with both Hayley and Elaine for many years.
“As the sea gull lays in the wind current,
so I lay myself into the spirit of God.”
If Witches Were Quakers: An Exploration of eco-spirituality
In the midst of a too-quickly warming planet and movements of decolonization, this workshop gathers together those Quakers who are hearing and being called forth by the Spirit’s stirring within Creation. You, who hear Spirit when you dwell in the Redwood Circle as much as when you sit in Meeting for Worship; you, who offer songs, perhaps in your heart, perhaps aloud, to the full moon’s reflection on the lake; who sense the movement of Spirit in Meeting as akin to the fluttering of wings; who experience directly the alive-ness in all beings. Perhaps you sense the Divine Feminine within the Holy Spirit; perhaps you experience gender fluidity within and around the Holy Presence. You feel the aching pain of the rising fever of our Mother Earth, and are in the midst of actions, and prayers, and struggles, and keep falling in love with Her.
There are so many questions often difficult to raise: what does it mean to be both a Quaker and to “find your own magic”? What is the role of eco-spiritual practices as part of a journey of decolonization? Can we have more worship time outside? How can we create more earth-honoring spiritual-practical practices in the midst of our changing climate? What myths/stories can we draw on and co-create towards this possibility? What is the role of that which has been deemed “non-Christian” and even, at times, “non-Quaker” in our personal and collective circles?
Perhaps you have a semi-secret (or fully hidden?) druidic practice, or read tarot cards and cast circles; perhaps you experience dancing in the woods as a form of prayer and keep returning to the myths in Women who Run with the Wolves. Perhaps you are finding ways of honoring your ancestors as part of your practices of decolonization.
This space is for those of you who know the sweetness of the night as part of the Light.
The time has come to circle together: to share from scattered edges and as edgewalkers, to dance with mountains and to sing with the Silence. Join us to learn, to explore, to share in the Spirit, and to worship.
For those of you who identify as queer/LGBTQ, know that Sara Jolena and her two elders are all queer. For those of you who identify as male and are feeling nudged to attend, please also feel welcomed! This is not a women’s spirituality gathering for women-only! For those of you swimming in multiple forms of fluidity, we are explicitly welcoming of gender expansive folks, nonbinary folks, cis and trans people.
A note on our terminology
The term “witch” has had many meanings across time and cultures. In some places the term refers to those people who actively seek to do harm to others, human or non-human. We do not engage with that energy and do not welcome those who carry harm-seeking energies or practices. We are interested in faithfulness to the Spirit and the many facets of a healing eco-spirituality which we find arising, like a sacred spring, from Earth herself.
We also recognize that the term “pagan” has, over roughly the last two thousand years, come to predominantly mean “non-Christian”. We are not “non-Christian.” Sara Jolena is a trained eco-theologian and actively works with the Bible as well as with other sacred texts. This is not an anti-Jesus or anti-Christian gathering. We acknowledge that there is often deep anger towards Christianity and the wider Church (including Quakerism), for harm done in the name of Jesus. Christian and Catholic expressions (ie, experiences of Mother Mary in the desert) and experiences might arise in the course of our time together.
Prior to attending, and only if you feel so moved, you might want to do some free writing (poem/song/prose/a letter to your Meeting) starting with the phrase, ‘If Quakers were witches….” and see what arises for you. Feel free to bring the writing with you. It is completely fine if you don’t get around to doing this.
If you cannot attend but are strongly drawn to this workshop, feel free to send in a reflection of your own on these themes. We will read/share this reflection with the group.
We will start with a Circle on Friday evening, and share our experiences of these intersections of Quakerism and “witchy”/ pagan/eco-mystical/animist experiences. The workshop will move into a combination of teaching and sharing: Sara Jolena will offer some history about pre-Christian/indigenous European practices, the influence of the European witchhunts on colonization and climate change; and some of the historical intersections between Quakers and animist/witchy traditions. We will discuss different contemporary aspects of “witchy” practices within and surrounding Quakerism; and will lean into some of the sticky spaces (such as doing rituals and building altars as a Quakers; how we relate to early Friends’ writings; and some of the common challenges around cultural appropriation in this space). The questions you bring will influence which areas we will focus. There will be opportunities to share personal practices, and you are invited to bring objects that might assist with your sharing and/or that you want to place on our collective altar. There will be worship sharing, ample time in and with nature, body-movements, and opportunities for singing/music. On Saturday night, we will gather under the full moon in the Redwood Circle for a Meeting for Worship. Sara Jolena is doing some original research for this workshop: all participants will leave with a resource document that they will also have the opportunity to add to for our collective learning.
As with most of Sara Jolena’s offerings, this workshop is both structured and is open to emergence. Your curiosities, leadings, and personal practices will inform our conversations and activities.
About the program leader and elders
Sara Jolena Wolcott, MDiv, is a healer, ecotheologian, legacy advisor, and founder of the international learning community, Sequoia Samanvaya. From a young age, she was called to deep and joyful listening to the divine feminine. Much of her research and teaching – in online courses, in-person workshops and retreats, and individual learning journeys- is on the intersections of decolonization, climate change, and spirituality, including dimensions mythical, magical, and mystical. Her journey brought her to the importance of shifting origin stories for creating different solutions. She obtained her MDiv at Union Theological Seminary, where she developed theological work on the importance of animism/re-enchanting, and linking the European witch-hunts with the wider histories of the Doctrine of Discovery. Sara has researched and worked in climate change-related initiatives in over nine countries. She obtained her MA in Science, Technology and Society at the institute of development studies at the University of Sussex in England, her BA in Anthropology at Haverford College, and received somatic training at the McKinnon institute of massage therapy. She worked as an intern at the Ben Lomond Quaker Center, served with the Quaker Institute for the Future, and has traveled amongst Friends internationally. She hosts the reMembering and reEnchanting podcast and is on the board of the Alliances for a Viable Future, where she is supporting the homecoming project for Mohican/Mahican peoples. She lives with her partner, Kristine, alongside the River that Runs Both Ways, aka the Hudson River, in what is now called the Hudson Valley in New York.
Hayley Hathaway is passionate about supporting creative and spiritual movements for social change. Her background is in nonprofit work, including most recently serving as the co-director of Quaker Earthcare Witness. She is the former director of Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City, a historic center for peace and international understanding. She is inspired by Quaker mysticism, watershed discipleship, emergent strategy, and the sparrows that live in her Albuquerque backyard. Hayley is a Master of Social Work candidate at New Mexico Highlands University.
Elaine Emily’s passion and work as a Quaker elder for the last four decades has brought her to the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and England, leading workshops on how to invite, how to notice, and how to tend the Spirit. Prior to this work, she earned her Master of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; practiced psychotherapy; ran a group home for adolescent girls; did body, energy work and hands-on healing (Body Wisdom Therapies) for a number of years; and trained as a Kripalu yoga teacher. She has been a Spiritual Nurturer at Pendle Hill, and is a member of Quakers in Pastoral Care and Counseling.