As I mentioned in my last post of Priestess in a Pandemic, Isis came into my life this past year. Her arrival was unexpected but welcome. She showed up when there was need, though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it then. Our relationship has been transformational and healing.
In the spring of 2021, I was going down a linguistically geeky YouTube rabbit hole about ancient languages when I stumbled across this beautiful performance of a Hymn to Isis that was done in Egypt as a part of the Pharaoh’s Golden Parade. It brought me to tears. Hearing our Gods honored in that way, with song in a full chorus and orchestra, and seeing beautiful dances for Them performed amongst the great architectural marvels of the ancient world made me ache with longing for that kind of public Paganism. I know that the odds of anyone involved in that performance actually being Pagan was very low, but even so, it was done with such reverence. It was truly a wonder to behold.
I saw a glimpse into the past, and while not everything about the past was good or should be romanticized, I wanted that kind of worship for our communities today. I want us to be able to dance in sacred sites, singing out in praise of the Gods. I want to connect others to deity through performance and embodiment in a way that isn’t possible online or in a small group at a local park. I want us to have new songs of worship, new dances in reverence, new ways of sacred dress, and new music composed for the Gods that people in our communities know by heart and can fully lose themselves in the celebration of it all. I cried at the beauty of it. I cried at the longing for it. And I cried for Isis, though I didn’t know it yet.
At the time, I thought of it as a beautifully moving work of art, and didn’t particularly take any deeper personal spiritual meaning from it – though it inspired me to start dreaming about what Modern Paganism could evolve into. In my own practice, I was looking for ways to deepen my relationships with Hermes and Asclepius. I had been connecting and working with Them for a while, but I felt like things had sort of plateaued. I knew that no relationship with a Deity was likely going to be as all-encompassing and devoted as Aphrodite, as transformational as Cerridwyn/Cerridwen, or as constant as the Lord of the Wild Wood. But I crave deep relationships – both in the mundane world and in the magickal one – so I am always exploring for ways to take things to the next level.
Alas, as with so many things during the pandemic, that unfortunately fell by the wayside for a time as I was just trying to get through the day-to-day. I still prayed, lit candles, and made offerings, but I didn’t really have the capacity to start anything new.
Later that year, one of my friends from my local Pagan group was hit by a car and passed away from her injuries. We weren’t super close, but our whole community felt the loss and grieved. I attended a small ceremony in which our community honored her, shared stories about her life, and sent her off with love to whatever comes next. Isis was invoked and I felt Her presence for the first time. I saw Her as a Goddess of Death and Rebirth, gentle yet powerful. I listened to the song again on my way home, singing words in Ancient Egyptian through sobs for my friend and a life cut short. I called out to the Mistress of the West, asking for Her guidance.
A couple of months later, the song filled my mind again and simply would not leave. I felt Her in the words and around me – something mysterious and new, yet somehow familiar. Samhain was approaching, and after a few days of the song echoing in my brain and filling everything I did, something clicked into place. I understood what I needed to do.
I went for a hike on Samhain proper, in a little pocket of woods nearby that doesn’t get much traffic. I wandered off the path deep into the woods and called to Isis. Though I had been practicing for days, I still didn’t have the song memorized in its entirety. Ever the modern Pagan, I pulled the video up on my phone and began to sing along. I sang into the woods, pouring my heart and soul into the words. I felt the transcendence of the Gods – how I, an eclectic Pagan living in 2021 in the southern US surrounded by a lush green forest even in October, could be honoring a deity whose first home was a continent away in the desert and on the floodplains of a great river over 4,000 years ago.
I made a pledge to honor Her on the New Moons until next Samhain. Though I have only been working with Her for a few months, it has already been transformational. She has helped me to process grief, both of physical deaths and symbolic ones. She has helped to put some situations into perspective with questions I didn’t know I needed. She has supported me in taking care of myself, encouraging me to rest when I’ve been so burnt out that I couldn’t even light a candle.
Through my work with Her and the powerful experience of Her Hymn, I have begun to dream of what fully expressed modern Paganism might look like. What our celebrations have the potential to be. How we can honor the Gods in splendid and fantastical ways. What it might feel like to dance on a sacred site at sunrise, to march in a holy procession, to sing the praises of the Divine in a public square, to truly embody the sacred.
This may not come as a surprise after my “singing Ancient Egyptian in the forest” adventure, but my artistic persuasions are of the performance variety – I have a background in dance, instrumental music, theatre, and song. My creative expression tends to be big and showy, and I honestly haven’t gotten much of a chance to explore that side of myself since leaving university. To see the possibility of using these gifts in service of the Divine was so inspiring.
By definition, the occult (and relatedly, much of modern Paganism) occurs in secret – in hushed whispers behind closed doors and through workings at night in the overgrown woods. And some of that is wonderful. It can be extremely powerful to work like that. But there is so much joy to be found out in the open, too – frolicking through a field of buttercups in a Beltane dance, walking a labyrinth lit with candles, or celebrating the return of the light at the winter solstice. Modern Paganism may have strong ties to the occult, but it doesn’t mean that the entirety of Paganism must stay that way.
I dream of a Paganism where there is no need to hide, where temples are as normal as churches, where we could get our holy days off of work without filling out a special form or using vacation time. I dream of a Paganism where a life of devotion and service could earn a sustainable income. I dream of a Paganism where our Gods are talked about in the present tense, not the past.
I recently told one of my friends (in a conversation with a slightly different context) that I just want to be a priestess and lead rituals and tend the temple garden. And I do. So very badly. But we aren’t there yet. My non-denominational Pagan group that works with many Gods and pantheons doesn’t even have a permanent place to gather, much less have a dedicated temple to a particular deity.
However, as Isis has shown me, we are experiencing a type of rebirth – A Pagan Renaissance. More people than ever are curious about the old Gods, polytheism, and witchcraft. People are leaving their religions of childhood to explore new spiritualities. Even some of my friends who aren’t particularly religious have started asking me questions that are more than just polite curiosity.
And I am so excited for what the future will hold.