The most terrifying thing about the “unholy witch covens imagined by men in early modern Europe” and the feminist conciousness-raising groups in the 1960s were not the rumored seances and devilish conjurings but the “collective aspect” of these gatherings (Sollee, 2017, p. 119). Nothing stoked the fire of fear like women united outside the company of men. While today’s safe spaces created by women for women still rattle the patriarchy, we are now able to come together without the collective aspect triggering accusations of demonic possession or--gasp!--liberating conversation that will undo the very fabric of society! And, so, once a year, a diverse group of women who share a passion for running convene on Orcas Island. Together, we run, dance, laugh, swim, move, write, and rest enchanted by the magic of the island and the power of our collectiveness.
Like other contemporary iterations of covens and consciousness-raising gatherings, The Northwest Women’s Running Retreat “may not follow a codified spiritual path, but it tap[s] into the ancient practice of women gathering to create community and create change” (Sollee, 2017, p. 120). While no longer as subversive in nature as 17th century gatherings devoid of men, our annual retreat, because it centers the desires and experiences of women, remains revolutionary. Able to be vulnerable, we empower each other through authentic interactions that engage our body, mind, and spirit. Out of this raw state of sisterhood, we emerge with deeper understandings of ourselves and potent connections to each other.
Shared with permission are three samplings from our dance, in secrecy, with pen and paper.
This is a woman who lives and breathes to move, finds a comforting flow in the rhythm of a step, step, step, breathe, breathe, breathe. She solves the world's problems on meandering journeys on pavement and crunching gravel, then forgets...answers washed from her upturned face, pooling in a shower drain. Churning and pushing, perseverance and tenacity, pounded up into her body through track spikes. Blood red of the track becoming the red flow of her veins. Wind in hair, a face that could be either grin or grimace. Pain is triumph, the curve, the straight, the finish line always just out of reach.
What is in front of me gives me both confidence and spotlights my mediocrity. However, with these women, I feel safe to explore my mediocrity, pick it apart, discern truth from fiction. I feel empowered to challenge my mediocrity, to defy its hold on my goals, to brush it aside as the bullshit of insecurity.
What is in front of me both emboldens me and minimizes me. However, with these women, I feel safe saying this out loud, admitting that, at times, I am an imposter among them. I feel that, despite my comparably slothenly stride, there is space for me to contribute, this is a place to which I belong.
What is behind me is the demon of doubt, hurling boulders marked with failure and limits and shame.
Bang! The gun fires, and a sea of bodies surges forward in the wave of adrenaline. The pace settles and she finds her place in the pack. She breathes and believes.
She moves forward with determination and confidence, conquering the obstacles in her way. Until the pain becomes deep. She can no longer breathe. She looks back at what’s been passed, and starts to slip, her confidence and determination fading quickly.
Then a voice from the sidelines shouts in her ear - you’ve got this! And in a snap she remembers the race is not behind her, but ahead of her. She stops looking back, she knows what’s there and that it’s been conquered. Leaving the pack behind she fixes her gaze ahead, fierce. She breathes, heavy. And proceeds to overcome, facing the finish line.
These distinct voices were received by the women with gratitude and compassion, as were all of the brave words written that day and stories shared throughout the weekend. The trust and strength displayed by every woman who attended the retreat was nothing short of inspiring. To climb Mount Constitution demonstrates tremendous strength, as do the uninhibited movements of Dance Church, the stillness of mind for restorative yoga, and the willingness to make a weekend home in a refurbished tour bus with unfamiliar women. There is a perceptible sense of strength, both inward and outward, when a group of women of a shared interest come together for a common purpose. At the retreat, we created a greater sense of unified community with the unspoken intent to be agents of the change we all long to see for future generations of women - physical prowess, vulnerability, resilience, and uninhibited freedom and joy.
Sollee, K. J., & . (2017). The Coven: Crafting Feminist Community. In Witches, ****, Feminists (pp. 119–120). Berkley, CA: ThreeL Media.