I’ve found that spiritual growth is rarely a linear progression. There are times when it is slow and steady, and times of plateau where not much happens at all. Then, there are times when it’s a trial by fire.
Right now is one of those times for me.
I’ve had various other times of what I would consider exponential growth in my spiritual life. My first was the discovery of Paganism. I read all I could about Paganism and Wicca until my parents pulled the plug on it. It was a huge revelatory process, and it resonated so much that I stuck with it. You can read about my first foray into Paganism here.
Unfortunately, after that initial exploratory period, I hit a plateau for about ten years. I knew the core of what I believed (Namely that nature is sacred and that the Divine is feminine as well as masculine), but I just stopped there. At that time, it was enough for me. I wasn’t living in an environment conducive to spiritual growth, and what I had more or less suited my needs. So I plateaued.
My next big phase of growth was when I joined my Pagan group. It was so wonderful to be surrounded by other Pagans, to hear their different thoughts and viewpoints, to see rituals performed in a variety of ways, and to get their recommendations for books and ways to deepen my practice. I also had a greater need for my spirituality to evolve at this particular time. I had just started graduate school, and it was already shaping up to be a shitshow. I needed something bigger to connect with and rely on. I found that in my community and through exploring my faith.
I learned the ins and outs of belonging to a spiritual group over the next several months, taking on a leadership role within the first year, and becoming a member of our governing council within two. I learned all the calls and responses in Pagan ritual – what you say when calling the quarters and during cakes and ale. I learned how to lead a public ritual (even though the first ritual I was slated to co-lead got snowed out (twice) and rained out (once) and still hasn’t happened!) I led Sunday Circles, Full Moons, and Sabbats. It was a time of joyous growth.
My first hint at a trial by fire happened a little over a year and a half ago. I started directly experiencing deity in an entirely new way. It was much louder and persistent than ever before. I got closer to Aphrodite, leading up to my dedication to her in January of 2018. I also gathered up the courage to work with my first “dark” goddess, who happened to be a goddess of transformation and change. I had to gaze bravely into the darkness, and confront what I saw there. I was lucky that Cerridwyn was very gentle with me, but it was far from easy.
It turns out, when you tug on one of the Jenga blocks, they all come crashing down.
All of my insecurities bubbled up to the surface. I had to learn how to communicate with a new goddess in a completely novel way. I was lucky that I had a group of spiritual friends with which to share my experiences, but that also meant that I had to get comfortable talking about my spiritual journey with others. I had to be radically honest, in service to myself and to my friends. I discovered that what I thought was my career path and spiritual calling (to teach people how to be close to nature) was not a financially sustainable pursuit. I started feeling tugged in a completely different direction by my spiritual path, one that involved a lot more talking about sex and relationships and a lot less talking to trees. My grad student insurance expired, and I began seeing a new therapist in my new network (which is a whole process in and of itself). I finally started to get a handle on this whole “emotion regulation” thing, but there were still days I would end up in her office crying. It was a lot of change, but it was good change.
I also experienced a much quieter trial leading up to my initiation. I reached out to my friends and community members to talk with them about what they expected from the office of priestesshood. There wasn’t a lot of change in my spiritual practice, but more of a going deeper into my current practices, and forging a stronger connection with Aphrodite. Reflecting a few days before my initiation, I laughed to myself a bit, and told myself if that I didn’t know any better, I would describe myself as pious! It was a time of transition – from dedicant to priestess – and I was prepared and ready for it.
I was less prepared for what followed my initiation. As I wrote in Adventures of a Struggling New Empath, I acquired some new empathic abilities after my initiation that were difficult to cope with at times. There were also some surprising “priestess projects” that I was assigned that tested my comfort zone. But none of it compared to my current state of affairs.
I’ve been preparing to step more fully into my priestess role by doing something kind of serious and big for one of my friends. And pretty much ever since I committed to doing it, my life has been a raging Trial By Fire. It’s almost as if it’s a challenge from the universe – “Are you sure you’re ready for this role?” – while also showing me how much I have (and haven’t) grown in the past few years.
It has been very similar to a second ordeal (after the ordeal of my initiation), but over a longer period of time, and touching the more mundane aspects of my life as opposed to the spiritual. (I don’t believe the spiritual and the mundane are truly separate, but this trial did have a different quality to it). A good number of things happened over the past couple of months that were unexpected and hit on my various triggers and sore spots.
I found out that one of the casual members of my Pagan community was actually good friends with my ex in college (the ex that cheated on me and lied to me about being transgender). She told me about this right before Circle one Sunday morning, which was terrible timing for going into sacred space. My ex and I hadn’t spoken in years, and I was not at all expecting that old wound to rear its ugly head, much less in a place that I consider safe and sacred. I learned that I’m not quite as healed as I thought I was around that whole situation, and it’s impacting how I interact with this person. (We got along fine beforehand, and I considered us friendly acquaintances).
I know that my ex’s actions shouldn’t affect how I treat this person, and I’m trying really hard to not let it influence my behavior, but honestly I don’t want to talk her. I’m walking the line between wanting to completely ignore her and knowing that I can’t because I am a leader in this group (and, you know, I’m a mature and rational person and all of that). My current plan of action is to just be honest with her – Let her know that I still have a lot of pain from that past relationship, and that it is influencing my interactions with her. It’s nothing she has done – It’s more personal work that I have to do to heal. It’s been eight years since everything happened with my ex, and I thought I would be over it by now, but I guess not.
I also received the news that I wasn’t going to be able to take the next steps in my career that I was planning on (see my Lessons in Faith post for more details). Everyone around me was absolutely shocked at the news, which made me feel a little better, but didn’t actually do anything to change the course of events. I’m still regrouping from that and figuring out my next steps.
Work has been rougher than usual. One of my coworkers doesn’t like me very much, and that has created some tension at work. I confronted her about not pulling her weight sometime back in February (we work on a team, so I or my other team member have to pick up the slack if she doesn’t), and she did not take it well. I ended up talking to our supervisor about it, and thankfully he is understanding and more or less knew what was going on.
Unfortunately, the work situation still isn’t much better, and there were three consecutive weeks where my coworker barely spoke to me, which is difficult to deal with when you work four feet away from each other all day. Confound that with the fact that I’m a struggling new empath who is starting to pick up on others’ feelings, and it is not a fun place to be. I had to shield just about every hour on the hour and it was so mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychically draining.
The past couple of weeks at work have also been difficult because my office could currently be the site of an epidemiological study. My supervisor came in with a cold for a few days, and then the rest of us started dropping like flies, so we’ve also been perpetually short-staffed. AND we had a big health scare from a potentially infected client (not a cold, but something more serious) and they had to bleach everything she had touched while she was at our facility.
It all turned out okay, but it has NOT been a great time for my OCD and germaphobia. I absolutely HATE being sick, so having to take two days off of work to suffer and sniffle was awful. On the plus side, when I’m already sick, my OCD usually goes down because I’m like “Fuck it, I’m already sick, do your worst doorknob.”
Lots of other little things happened, too. My selenite palmstone broke, somehow jumping out of my purse (which has never happened) and cracking in two on the tile floor. I also had some interpersonal drama, both with a friend and with my boyfriend. I was perpetually not getting enough sleep, no matter what I tried. I had to get some maintenance done on my apartment on two different days, and my OCD is very much NOT OKAY with strangers being in my home.
Yet, despite all of these things, there was never anything I couldn’t handle. Nothing that completely overwhelmed me (though there were certainly times I felt overwhelmed). I could deal with all of it, more or less successfully. While it was not fun to experience, at the end, it is nice to reflect back and know that I can handle pretty much any shit that comes my way. And that is a very empowering thing.
I made it through this trial by fire, with only a few minor burns, and those will heal with time. It did highlight some areas in which I still have personal work to do, and I am grateful for that. It also encouraged me, that despite my personal insecurities, I really am cut out for this whole priestess thing. I can dealt with all of that personal stuff (because our own personal growth is never done), and still help other people in a meaningful way.
So, while I did not enjoy it, I am thankful for my most recent trial by fire.