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Flames of the Firebird

I love the story of the Phoenix. A being, when tired of its outmoded life, surrenders itself to flame to be utterly consumed, and later rises from the ashes to be born anew.

The winter that I started working with Cerridwyn, I also started to work with the energy of the Phoenix, the Firebird. I had some pretty extraordinary things happen once I started working with the Firebird, and they are some of the stories of how I know my Paganism is real.

The first strange occurrence was an accidental invocation. (Be careful what you dance and sing for, my friends!) It was December or January: I had found a song I really liked, and joyously sang and danced around my living room, feeling the resplendent glory of the Firebird well up inside of me and plume out – like wingbeats fanning a fire. I was hotter than usual when I finished dancing, and I ended up burning like a furnace inside for days. This was incredible! I am normally extremely cold-natured – I wear layers and layers in the winter and I’m still freezing and unhappy. I wore shorts outside when I went to meet my friends that night (instead of my usual four layers of jackets.) Everyone else noticed the odd spectacle, and I shared my story. It was so visceral and out of the ordinary that I knew it had to be real. There’s no way I could make up that experience, and even if I tried, I wouldn’t believe myself.

After that, I knew there had to be a more intentional way to channel that energy. It felt simultaneously like tapping into my own personal power as well as channeling energy from a source outside myself. I felt the flames whirling around me and consuming me from the inside out. It was unlike any other energy I had experienced. It was wild and untamed, while simultaneously purposeful. It didn’t speak in words or have the presence of a God or Goddess. Not quite. It felt Otherworldly, but also inside of me. It was like a dance between this world and another.

A few weeks later, when I was having an awful day at my old job, I sang and danced to the Firebird again, with the intention of burning up all the negative energy I had accumulated from the day. It did so in spades. I was so fed up with all of the bullshit from my job and my awful supervisor. The fury overtook me. I screamed and sang and went up in flames as I spun around my apartment. It was a raging wildfire through my body and my aura, clearing the path and burning away all the bullshit. Afterward, I was still smoldering, and I felt cleansed and empowered.

The Firebird became a regular fixture in my spiritual life. I’m still not entirely sure if it is another being, something inside of me, or a combination of both. Right now, I believe it is both. I will call on the Firebird as a Divine entity in ritual, and I will also call it as a part of myself. The Firebird symbolizes courage and power, and the strength to use both wisely.

I’ve seen the Firebird in visions – I’ve even become the Firebird in meditation/trance. I feel the Firebird when I call to the South and the element of Fire in ritual, but it is definitely not an elemental spirit. I feel its energy when I energetically shield. I’ll feel it when I create through art, song, or dance.

At a fire pit gathering last fall, a friend told me she could see the Firebird behind me as I danced. I feel the energy flowing through me as I move – the wings unfurling behind me with a flourish and flames following my footsteps. I love that other people can see it, too. It’s a part of the shared spiritual experience that helps me to know it’s not just all in my head.

It seems fitting that the Firebird first came into my life when I was in an intense period of change. I had recently left grad school. I was tackling my OCD directly, looking for a better job, and trying to repair my romantic relationship when it made its spectacular entrance into my life. My spirituality was also evolving into a much more experiential and deity-centered practice.

Pretty much everything in my life was uncertain at that time. I was constantly struggling to pay my bills. I didn’t know if my romantic relationship would survive. My brain was being restructured through therapy and psychiatric medication. I was dealing with the grief of losing what I thought was my life’s dream in academia, and discovering that the dream that had replaced it might not be sustainable, either. I was facing so many of my fears head-on, trying not to completely break down in the process.

The Firebird reminded me that even when life feels like it’s going up in flames, beautiful things can be born from the ashes. Even though it completely sucked, I’m so glad I went through that transformative experience. In a sense, I was reborn. My closely-held dreams and fears had to die so that I could continue on – so that I could grow. My life is so different now than it was before the Firebird. Though I endured a few burns in the process, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Devotions to Aphrodite: Ecstatic Dance

Dance is a huge part of my life. I’ve been dancing for almost as long as I have been a Pagan. I started dancing when I was fourteen years old. When I was signing up for electives for freshman year of high school, I put Dance as my third option (behind Art and I don’t remember what else). I am so thankful the universe knew more about what it was doing than I did!

I struggled so much with dance in the beginning. Unlike some of my classmates, I had not been dancing since I was five years old. I did not know all the lingo, I did not automatically point my toes, and though I had acquired a sense of rhythm and the beat from playing the flute in middle school, my body did not know what that meant. Ironically, dance was the first time I ever experienced a big disconnect between my mind knowing what to do and my body not being able to do it.

I kept at it. Even though dance sometimes made me feel like my body was dumb and uncooperative, I loved the artistic expression. I loved pushing myself. I loved finally being able to land a move after hours of practice. Dance challenged me, every day. Since I spent most of my day breezing through academics, I reveled in the test of my physical abilities.

One day, about a year and half into my dance training, everything just clicked.

Suddenly, my body knew what to do. My brain was no longer arguing with my feet to GO THAT WAY. It just happened. I went from being one of the last people in my class to master something, to being among the first. (I was never going to pick up things faster than my classmates who had been dancing since they could walk, and I was okay with that.) Most importantly, I finally felt the beat. I knew where I was in relation to the rhythm. I knew how my body should move next, and my body instinctively did it. No more arguing with my legs to jump on 3 instead of 4. It was my first experience with embodied knowing.

I did have an upper hand on my classmates with years of dance experience in one area. They had learned how to perform from a young age. They had beautiful technique, and all of their appendages were always in the right place at the right time. But, while they were out there performing with a dance competition-trained smile, I could feel the choreography. I took the emotion of the song and the movements and wove it into my dance. My technique wasn’t as good, and probably never will be, but I danced with more emotionality than any of my classmates. My feet weren’t always in the right place, but my dancing was raw, and real, and captivating.

I continued dancing throughout college and in graduate school. Dancing became a part of me, and I missed it greatly during school breaks and when I was abroad. Dance helped me manage my stress, it was great exercise, it was a beautiful form of artistic expression, and it gave me this profound sense of connection to myself and the world. I didn’t start thinking of this connection in a spiritual context until well into grad school.

I can’t remember when exactly I first danced in the context of ritual, but I do remember that it felt amazingly good. Every part of my body felt connected to every other part – and beyond. My mind, body, and spirit were thrumming in unison as I spun, jumped, tumbled, and twisted. I didn’t care how I looked. I cared how I felt. And I felt transcendent.

Perhaps it’s a simple trick of aerobic exercise. Perhaps it’s something more. Dancing freed my mind of extraneous thoughts, allowing me to focus on my connection to the Divine. Every movement of my body felt like a prayer in motion. As I danced around the space, I felt the Divine move through me. I felt untold power swirling around my feet and my fingertips, orbiting my hips, and racing down my arms and legs. My heart felt open, joyous, and free.

Dance is a regular part of my spiritual practice. I mostly dance to commune with Aphrodite, connecting to the joy and love of movement. I will dance to raise energy. I will even dance to ground myself, which I know sounds counter-intuitive. If I feel angry or off-balance, dancing will help bring me back to center.

My dances for Aphrodite are sensuous. There’s a lot of hip action, body rolls, and touching my own body. Sometimes my dances are more whimsical and carefree, with leaps, twirls, and occasionally crashing into my couch with laughter. All of my dances for Her are a product of love. Taking pleasure in the movement of my body, all in reverence to Her, seems a very fitting devotion for Aphrodite.

Most of the time, I dance by myself, but I relish any opportunity to dance in a group, particularly a magickal group. Whether it’s a spiral dance, a choreographed piece for ritual, a spontaneous gallop around a bonfire, or frolicking in a field of buttercups, I love sharing in the energy of a group dance. Sometimes it seems wild and out of control – barely contained chaos in the best possible way. Other times it feels like a symphony made up of individuals’ energy movements harmonizing to create a much larger force. Sometimes there is a shared purpose, sometimes there’s not, but it’s all beautiful.

If dance isn’t already a part of your spiritual practice, I encourage you to try it out – even (and especially!) if you don’t think you’re “good” at dancing. There is so much that can be expressed through movement that even the most poetic of ritual scripts pale in comparison. It is also, by nature, a very embodied practice, and helps to merge all parts of the self. It is also a practice in self-love and self-compassion, particularly if you don’t feel so great about your body image. It is one of the most powerful ways of raising energy. Feeling all of that power pulse within you is incredible. Sharing that feeling with the Divine… is transcendent.

Why I Quit Caring About Formal Ritual and How That Made Me Better At It

I’ve always loved the idea of formal ritual. There’s something so entrancing about saying sacred words and processing deosil in a circle, about setting up a beautiful altar, about inviting in the elements with their representations, and about blessing the sacred space. These things are wonderful for getting into a magickal headspace, and doing them repeatedly over weeks and months and years are what make ritual, well, a ritual!

The formal elements of ritual were essential to me when I was starting out as a solitary new Pagan. Having a tradition that others followed (in my case, Wicca, when I was starting out) with shared sacred words was an extremely powerful experience. It gave me a script to follow and served as a template to learn what was important in ritual. However, I got so caught up in the trappings of ritual that I almost never actually did one.

I felt like I needed to cast a perfect circle every time. I needed at least two hours that I could devote to communing with the Divine, after cleansing and consecrating the space and assembling my altar with my elemental tokens. I needed to say these particular words and do these particular things. With all of these requirements, ritual became a daunting task, instead of a happy celebration. So, years passed where I didn’t do a formal ritual because of various excuses: I didn’t have the tools, or the space, or the time.

When first I joined my Pagan community, my rituals had been few and far between for many years. Finally, I got to see how others did ritual – and everyone’s rituals were so different! There wasn’t a set script to follow, like I had been holding myself to all of those years. There were some common elements, yes, but no one did them in the exact same way. If the members of my community were presenting rituals with such variation, why couldn’t I mix things up in my own personal practice?

So, I tried to make my solitary rituals more regular, experimenting with the different components, trying out new things, and keeping what I liked. This worked well, for a time. I had a consistent personal practice, even if my rituals were just on Sabbats and Full Moons. I love the active participation (ritual is, after all, one of the things that drew me to Paganism in the first place), but something was missing. I almost never did spontaneous ritual, and when I did, it required a bunch of preparation, and didn’t end up being quite so spontaneous after all. I was still stuck in thinking that I had to do things a certain way or they wouldn’t be “complete.” That left very little room for Divine inspiration. My rituals sounded and looked pretty, but I didn’t feel very much of anything.

When I started to more seriously pursue a relationship with Aphrodite, I knew that something had to change. I needed to commune with Her, but I couldn’t take two (or more) hours out of my day multiple times a week to do so. It just wasn’t feasible. I was still in grad school. I was teaching. I had classes to go to, research to do, papers to grade, laundry to wash, dishes to clean, and I still had to eat and sleep. Formal ritual, as I knew it, just wasn’t going to happen.

Fortunately, Aphrodite helped me out with this one. She started interacting with me spontaneously – no ritual needed! I was ecstatic, if somewhat baffled. After all, wasn’t the whole point of ritual to facilitate the experiences that I was now spontaneously having?

This sparked some serious soul-searching about the purpose of ritual and how I was using it in my life and spiritual practice. For me, the purpose of ritual is to get closer to the Divine. I realized that all the fancy words and formulas I had been using were actually getting in the way of my connection with Divinity. I was having much more visceral experiences without those things than I had ever had with them. It was time for a change.

Perhaps the biggest realization I had about ritual involved time. For me to have a strong connection with the Divine, I needed to commune almost daily, if not more often. I simply couldn’t do that with the structured ritual I had been using, so I started to make new ones. Most of them arose capriciously. If I found a moment in my day where I was thinking about or communicating with Aphrodite, I thought about little things I could do to make the moment more sacred. Sometimes what I was already doing was enough (like happily dancing around my living room), and sometimes I discovered things that could be added (like lighting a candle in Aphrodite’s honor before sharing a meal with a friend at my table).

These spontaneous mini-rituals began to permeate my days, and soon started taking up more total time that what I would have previously spent in formal ritual. However, unlike the formal ritual, these moments were so much more meaningful. I felt connected to the Divine in a way I never had before. A few minutes here and there throughout my day meant so much more than a two hour chunk of obligatory fancy-words.

And I wanted to do it. Those mini-rituals brought me such joy – in a way that casting a circle from rote memory never had. It was a positive feedback loop. I connected with the Divine in seemingly small ways, had a profound ecstatic experience, and I wanted to do it again. My daily practice grew – not from reciting passages from books I had read, but from listening and leading with my heart.

When I quit caring about formal ritual, it allowed me to see more clearly the purpose of ritual: to connect deeply with the Divine. This completely transformed my personal practice. I rarely go through a full “ritual” with formal invocations for the elements and the Divine when I practice alone. My private devotions are much more conversational – and thus more strongly integrated into my day-to-day life. I believe this helps me to maintain a more powerful connection with Deity.

In a community, ritual holds an additional purpose. Not only do we want to connect deeply with the Divine – we also want to bond as a group. Having a somewhat-standardized ritual format does help bring a community together. Everyone knows what to expect and how to participate. Even with a general guideline, there are more and less effective ways to do this.

Going through a ritual revolution in my private practice made me rethink how to lead a group ritual. I cut through all the flowery words and expectations to get the the core – connection with the Divine and with other people. Approaching a group ritual with those things in mind was a totally different experience than following a ritual script. Sure, I have a general outline I follow based on the common practices in my group, but I approach these elements differently. If I can think of a way for a guideline to uniquely enhance the experience of the group, it stays. If not, anything is fair game.

While I would argue that the past few group rituals I’ve led haven’t been entirely written by me (Thanks, Aphrodite!), for the conscious parts of the creation process, I focus on the feeling I want to evoke with the ritual. For the Beltane Sabbat I led this year, it was joy and anticipation. For my post-Valentine’s Day circle, it was self-compassion. For the June Full Moon last year, it was courage and bravery through love.

Focusing on the feeling allows me to examine each aspect of the ritual and tailor it to the experience I want to facilitate. There are no words spoken just for ritual’s sake. Every sentence and every action in ritual drives toward the feeling and experience we create as a group. This approach to ritual has profoundly changed the way I lead and participate in group rituals. Throwing away the ritual formulas and expectations allowed me to get to the heart of the experience of ritual and to cultivate that deeper connection, both in my personal practice and with my community.

Making Soup for Cerridwyn

While my closest relationship with a divinity is with Aphrodite, I also have a close working relationship with Cerridwyn. Cerridwyn is the Welsh goddess of transformation and change. She is the keeper of the cauldron of knowledge, and she is frequently viewed as a “dark” goddess.

My initial introduction to Cerridwyn, and what sparked my relationship with her several years later, was my first shamanic journey/trance with my former coven. We had gone on a guided journey to find our magickal names, and Cerridwyn’s name appeared to me, spelling and all. I had not heard of her, so when I did research later, I was shocked to find that the name of a goddess appeared to me! I did not believe that was actually supposed to be my magickal name, and I was absolutely terrified of working with a “dark” goddess. So I pushed it aside, and didn’t think too much about it.

A couple of years later, signs started popping up a little before Yule 2017. Some of my friends and Pagan community members began to talk about how they were starting to hear from dark goddesses. I was reminded of my brief interaction with her in my journey several years before. I started seeing references to her again, and I blatantly ignored them. Eventually, it took the intercession of one of my friends saying “Hey, Cerridwyn stopped by with a message for you. She wants to talk.”

Mild panic ensued. I had never had a deity speak to me through someone else, and clearly she had been trying to get my attention. I spoke with a few different friends about it, trying to get over my fear of working with a “dark” goddess. I was very heavily in the realm of “love and light” at this point in time, and I would steer clear of anything I deemed “dark and scary.” I had avoided doing the personal shadow work that was necessary to see that both light and dark are essential to life, and dark doesn’t necessarily mean bad. I would figure this out in time.

I also didn’t know how to communicate with her. Clearly my own channels weren’t open enough if she had to go through one of my friends to talk to me! I asked the friend who gave me the message if she had any ideas for contacting Cerridwyn, and my friend (who is a kitchen witch) suggested that I make a big pot of soup, which paralleled one of her stories from the lore. What I thought my friend had said was “Make a big pot of soup after dark completely by candlelight,” when all she actually said was “Make a big pot of soup.” I discovered this discrepancy after the fact, and I had clearly gotten some divine guidance in a way that I was able to hear it.

So, I prepared to make some soup. I found a nice recipe, gathered the ingredients, and laid out everything in my kitchen. I had been studying trance, and I wanted to make the experience as fruitful as possible. I compiled a chant to sing while making soup from a song that my Pagan group sings at Yule. The original version contains sections on the Maiden, Sun Child, Mother, Father, Crone, and Sage (I usually sing the Maiden section at our gatherings). I edited the song to the Maiden, Mother, and Crone sections, since some research revealed that Cerridwyn is sometimes depicted as a triple goddess.

I turned out the lights and lit my candles. I didn’t have many – maybe five or six, so it was still rather dark. I could barely see the recipe, which I had printed out and was propped up underneath a cabinet. I could barely see the vegetables I would be chopping. It would definitely be a test for my OCD. I couldn’t tell what was dirty or not by sight. I had to just go with it.

I began to sing, slow and soft at first, but gaining in energy and momentum. I chopped vegetables and lost myself in the song, sometimes forgetting words, sometimes skipping a section, but I just kept going. I added the ingredients to the pot and stirred, feeling very much like the witch I knew I was. I had to learn to not be afraid of the dark.

After I had added all of the ingredients, the soup needed to simmer for 30 minutes. I gave it a final stir, finished that round of the song, and sank (a little lightheaded) to my kitchen floor in silent meditation.

The vision came almost immediately. I was in a forest glade at night. There was a single fire burning in the middle of the glade, with a cauldron hanging over the fire from a tripod. Cerridwyn was there. She had dark brown, almost black hair that fell around her face in messy waves. She looked to be in her mid-30s. The contrast between her pale face and her bright red flowing dress was made even starker by the firelight. She looked at me with deep brown eyes as I cautiously approached.

“Why did you call to me?” I asked her.

Giggles. “You’ll see.”

“But you’ve been so gentle with me. Not everyone has had gentle experiences.”

A combination of three phrases bombard my brain at the same time. “I have to do it this way. / You need it this way. / We do what we need to in order to reach out to each person.”

“What do I need to do?”

“Enjoy your soup.”

I looked at her, confused. I had expected some profound message. She stirred her own cauldron, and motioned for me to go, telling me once again, “Enjoy your soup.” The vision started to fade, and I was once again sitting on my kitchen floor, listening to the pot of soup bubble above me.

I turned the burner off, and ladeled myself a bowl of soup. I sat on the kitchen floor again to eat the soup by candlelight, somehow knowing that it was what I had to do. The soup was delicious, and helped ground me after the powerful experience.

As I rose again to clean my bowl and tidy the kitchen, I realized I didn’t want to turn the lights back on. It was beautiful – everything lit by candlelight. It felt peaceful. I also had a realization that I would not have been able to do what I just did a year ago. My OCD was so bad then that the idea of doing anything in the dark and not washing my hands a million times would have been impossible. But I had done it, and that was a victory in and of itself.

Cerridwyn is a goddess of transformation and change, and I got to see so clearly in that moment how much I, myself, had changed in the last year.

I continued to make soup for Cerridwyn, albeit somewhat sporadically. I discovered that she has to be called – She doesn’t just show up for me like Aphrodite does. She continued to be vague while giving me information and instructions for how to spiritually prepare for the upheaval that was coming, and she always told me to enjoy my soup.

She has appeared to me as the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. While I am not dedicated to her, she is still very present in my life, and has influenced so much of my spiritual growth. I tend to contact her during the dark half of the year, and our connection is stronger during this time.

Once I was initiated as a priestess of Aphrodite, I wasn’t quite sure how to navigate my relationship with Cerridwyn. I was pledged to another goddess. Connecting to her was more difficult than it had been at some points in the past, but she reminded me that “Even though you’re not my priestess, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing my work in the world.”

I was humbled. I was also reminded that my relationship with one goddess is not diminished by having a relationship with another goddess. Some of the lore portrays Aphrodite as being a jealous deity, but this is not my personal experience of Her.

I even reached out to Cerridwyn about my transition into priestesshood by talking over some of my fears with her. I was (and still am, to a certain extent) afraid of not being good enough. I’m afraid of letting myself, Aphrodite, or my community down. I’m afraid that I’m too young to have this role. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do what needs to be done. I’m afraid that sometimes being a friend and being a priestess will conflict, and I won’t make the right decision.

Cerridwyn told me that these fears are normal, and that it’s good to be concerned about these things. It means I care deeply about my service to Aphrodite and to my community. She also told me that I can’t let those fears get in the way, and that I’ll know what the right thing to do is when the time comes. I hope so. And I trust in Her, and I have faith.

Why Beltane is My Favorite Holiday

I know I’m a few days late (I was very busy right around Beltane this year, both mundanely and magickally!), but I knew I had to do a post about Beltane. Beltane is the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, and is traditionally celebrated on May 1st.  However, the astronomical midpoint is usually a few days later, and in 2019, falls on May 5th. While Beltane Day is very sacred to me, I also celebrate a whole Beltane season, which for my personal practice, involves around a fortnight of festivities centered around May 1st and astronomical Beltane. I wish you a Joyous Beltane Season!

As you may have guessed (since I am a priestess of the Goddess of Love), Beltane is my favorite holiday. It has been ever since I first learned about it as a preteen. In the beginning, I was enamored with the idea of a holiday about the spiritual side of love – a literal holy day, untouched by candy and greeting card companies. As I got older, I embraced Beltane as a celebration of physical love in a society where shame debases physical expressions of love as somehow “lower” and “less than.” It baffled me how any expression of love could be “wrong.” In college, Beltane was the beginning of summer – when the natural world came alive, the forest was lush and green, and flowers were in full bloom. When I started celebrating Beltane with my Pagan group, I rediscovered the sense of wonder and playfulness of childhood, and I donned the sparkly pink fairy wings I never had as a kid. The meaning of Beltane for me has evolved over time, as I am sure it has for you as well.

Beltane is about ecstatic union. The traditional story of Beltane is about the union of the Goddess and the God. The concept of union can be applied much more broadly. It is a time of our personal union with the Divine, of union with nature, of the union of thoughts and ideas, and of the union of people into a community.

Beltane is about laughter and joy. My favorite part of the Charge of the Goddess has always been this verse:

Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

– Doreen Valiente

I just think there is something so beautiful about that. Whether you love to dance, cook, or paint, go for a run, hang out with friends, write stories, sing in the shower, blog, cheer on your favorite team, cuddle with your cat, or play music – These are all acts of love and pleasure to be divinely enjoyed. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be something you “do.” It could be appreciating the beauty of a sunset, enjoying a good book, or literally stopping to smell the roses. ALL acts of love and pleasure, even the tiniest ones, even the superficially mundane ones, can be divine.

Beltane is about glitter and fun. It’s about embracing play and making sure we don’t work too hard. It’s appreciating beauty of all kinds. It’s about being silly and ridiculous, and laughing until you pee a little. It’s about dreaming with reckless abandon and being true to yourself.

Beltane is about magick. It’s about bringing the magickal into the mundane. It’s about the magick in all things. Beltane is opposite of Samhain in the wheel of the year. This is a time when the veil between the worlds thins, and we can make contact with the Otherworld. Instead of communing with the past and our ancestors, we can commune with ideas and things yet to come.

But most of all, Beltane is about love. All kinds of love, for everything and everyone. In a world rife with oppression, shame, and hatred, we need Beltane now more than ever. There are so many kinds of love: romantic love, familial love, love of friends, love of things, love of ideas, love of activities, spiritual love, and love for the Earth. Love that is all encompassing and never ending. Love that touches you at the core of your being.

Love and joy will be our focus for this Beltane Sabbat. We want the energy that we raise in these delightful days to radiate out to the world – to nourish ourselves and our global community. We want to send out love that heals and transforms. We want our infectious laughter to spread to everyone we meet. We want our hearts to sing with the unity of all things.

With the energy we raise and as we celebrate Beltane, let us honor the love and joy in all things. Let us see the magickal in the mundane. Let us embrace play and remember to have fun. Let our laughter fill the air as we dance and make merry! Let us rejoice in our deep connection with the Earth. Let us celebrate the Divine within ourselves.

My Experience of Aphrodite

Spiritual experiences are, by nature, very difficult to put into words. You’ve just experienced something transcendent – It’s no surprise that it also transcends language. Given that, I’m going to do my best to describe to you how I experience the Goddess Aphrodite.

My primary, everyday experience of Aphrodite is presence. Soon after I started working with Her, it became a regular, comfortable feeling. I interacted with Her so often that She was only ever a prayer away, some whispered words, a spray of rosewater, a moment of silence. I felt Her, not as an experience of the other, but as something both within and outside of me. I knew She could look through my eyes, and feel what I was feeling.

It was for this reason that I never had to go through big, elaborate rituals to commune with Her. She was just there. This was in stark contrast to Cerridwyn, the other goddess with whom I have a deep relationship. For Cerridwyn, I have to go through an elaborate ritual, reach a state of trance, and meditate on my kitchen floor to even just speak with Her. It was never so difficult with Aphrodite. Cerridwyn never pops up unannounced in my life. Aphrodite does so all of the time.

Impulses to Action

My first experiences with direct communication with Her, that went beyond the feeling of a presence, were impulses to action that were not my own. I spoke in my story of my Journey to Aphrodite about Her asking for my blood (but completely without words). The best word I can find to describe it is a propulsion. Since I have OCD, I have very intimate knowledge about what compulsions feel like. This is categorically different. It still feels like a very strong drive to do something, but it isn’t rooted in fear. It springs from somewhere deep inside of me, bubbling up to the surface of my conscious thought as some variation of “I need to do this thing.”

Another distinction is that these actions aren’t compulsory. I know I can say no if I want. (But I haven’t wanted to yet.) I also know that these impulses do not come from me, which sounds contradictory since I just described them as springing “from somewhere deep inside of me.” I know that these thoughts and feelings are not my own, yet somehow they still come from within me, instead of being dropped on my head from the Divine. I know that they are not my own because some of them have been things that I would never choose for myself (like jumping in the ocean in January during my initiation), or were things I would never have known about (like composing a song in the Greek/Eastern style with no prior knowledge of music theory or microtones). Some of these impulses to action have been to do things that pushed me very far out of my comfort zone. Some have been to serve Her in one way or another. Some have been to create.

Divinely-Inspired Creation

My divinely-inspired creation has ranged from composing songs, writing rituals, and ecstatic dancing, to giving advice, having sex, and even writing this blog. During my dedication to Aphrodite in January of 2018, I wrote a song for Her that I sing every morning and night. It riffed off of a familiar tune, but eventually took on a life of its own. I didn’t enter that ritual with the intention to write a song, but that’s what happened, and it was a beautiful experience. A lot of my ecstatic experiences with deity could be described as “I didn’t intend to do this, but this is what happened, and it’s beautiful.”

Another instance of divinely-inspired creation was the Full Moon ritual I led in June 2018. I put a disclaimer on the ritual (as I had for the Full Moon I led the previous year) that it was appropriate for ages 18 and up because I intended to talk about love and sex. I went into planning for the Full Moon thinking that it was going to be a fun, raunchy ritual. It was not that AT ALL. I started getting pings of ideas here and there, all around the theme of “it needs to be about love and fear.” I didn’t exactly know what that meant, until I sat down to write the ritual the week before.

Everything just flowed. People talk about flow states in psychology – about not being aware of the passage of time, about feeling equal parts competent and challenged, about that amazing feeling of creation. I felt all of those things. Time, however, passed differently for me than it does for those in flow. Typically, when someone is in flow, hours can pass and it feels like minutes. For me, what felt like hours and hours (very enjoyable hours, but still a long time) was only a single hour. My fingers moved across my keyboard as if they were not my own. And I’m convinced, at the time, they were not. Words I never meant to say to anyone appeared on the screen in front of me. I typed out my worst fears as if I were going to announce them to an audience. And I did. What I intended to be a fun, sexy ritual turned out to be a ritual about using the power of love to conquer your deepest, most closely-held fears.

I spoke openly about my OCD. I admitted that I am afraid to die alone. I almost cried in ritual. I was open and vulnerable, in a way that invited others in the ritual to do the same. I felt so raw, but it felt so right. It was what needed to happen. It was what others needed to hear. It was what I needed to say. And it just happened.

I also composed a song specifically for that ritual, though I have used it in other contexts since. The words flowed onto the page. The melody echoed through my brain. It was not a tune I, nor any of my friends, recognized. I invited my friend who plays music over to help me write it down, and she told me that I was using lots of microtones – notes that aren’t on the Western musical scale. That made transcribing it very difficult, and we ended up not finishing the transcription of the song because none of what we wrote sounded like how it was supposed to in my head. My friend told me that the use of microtones was common in Eastern music, including Greek music. I was dumbfounded. There was no way for me to know that, and the three years I spent playing the flute were all in the Western style on a traditional musical staff. I knew in the process of writing it that it did not feel like it came from me, but this confirmed it in a way that was unimaginably real.

The song was ethereal – haunting and beautiful. I felt it in my whole body as I sang. It evoked just the right feeling for the ritual. After the ritual was over, I had several people come up and tell me that it was what they needed. I was very happy to be able to serve my community in this way.

Meditation and Communion

I do see Aphrodite in a physical form when I meditate, and occasionally in everyday life. She usually appears to me as a woman in her late twenties. Her hair is usually blonde, though sometimes it is brown or a shade in between. Her hair is long, wavy, and always down. She is on the taller side (or taller than me, anyway), slender, but with some curves. (Though, She never appears blatantly sexual to me.) She is typically wearing a flowing robe or tunic, sometimes white, sometimes brightly colored, sometimes embellished with gold or silver. She is always barefoot. There is a light radiating from within Her, that cast sparkles in Her eyes and in Her smile. Her eyes are all different colors – blue, brown, grey, hazel, and all shades in between, depending on the day. She typically does not wear any jewelry, though occasionally She will have a bracelet or a pin in Her hair. She moves with indescribable grace and tenderness. Her form will often change in the little details while I am with her, showing that Her physical representation is mutable, though Her essence remains the same.

Aphrodite’s voice is melodic and comforting. It seems to come from all directions at once, though not in an overwhelming way. Sometimes I hear specific words, but it is usually more of a general feeling, or sometimes a few different phrases all at once. Her tone is typically gentle and kind, though She has been stern and even fierce with me, but never unnecessarily. Any time She has been less than gentle, it has always been in a “this is for your own good” kind of way.

Frequently, my interactions with Aphrodite in meditation take the form of some physical activity. We dance together often, one time very memorably leaving trails of blossoming flowers by our feet (Hers were red in color.) She has walked with me hand in hand, combed my hair, and led me through the woods. We sit next to each other and talk. She appears to me as a close friend.

Aphrodite will frequently pop in out of the blue. This takes various forms. Sometimes it is in the form of an impulse to action or a thought that I know comes from Her. Rarely, I will hear Her speak to me outside of meditation. Occasionally She will appear when I am not meditating specifically for Her. One time in yoga, when I was in shavasana at the end of class, She playfully tackled me, and completely threw me out of meditation! I had to try so hard to keep from laughing and disturbing the rest of the class.

In-Body Experiences

I’ve experienced Aphrodite in my body a few times. This is the experience for which I have the fewest words, because nothing seems quite adequate. It wasn’t full on divine possession, because I still felt that I had control and remember (mostly) what happened in those instances. The feeling isn’t as entirely overwhelming as you would think, but it still transcends most description. It is usually accompanied by a tingling sensation all over my body, and some lightheadedness that borders on a headache (but in the best possible way). I’ve felt Her do this during ritual. My voice quality will change a bit, my focus will sharpen or blur, and I appear taller (according to witnesses). I’ve also experienced it during sex, especially when I’ve extended my pleasure to Her as an offering. I feel a different energy coursing through my body (and the orgasms are pretty awesome, too). This sharing of my body feels sacred, holy, light, and powerful. That’s about all of the adjectives I’ve got.

Whether you’re ecstatically experiencing deity for the first time or the fiftieth, or if you’re hoping to soon, I hope that you’ve found something helpful here. The more we talk about our religious experiences, the more it normalizes them. The more we can find common ground. The more we know that others are going through the same thing. There aren’t very many resources about the modern day experience and worship of Aphrodite. Please share your stories. The world will be better for it.

When Books Aren’t Enough

Y’all, I love books. I have a long history with books. When I was growing up, I would voraciously read pretty much anything that was available to me. As a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for me to leave the library with a stack of books almost as tall as I was!

This love of reading wasn’t limited to a particular genre, either. I loved fiction – mostly fantasy, sci-fi, and coming-of-age stories (because even I could be a moody pre-teen/teenager sometimes). I also loved non-fiction. I had books on nature (naturally), a manual on quantum physics, a German grammar book, and a (hidden) stash of books on Wicca/Witchcraft.

I was a bit of an overachiever when it came to school and learning (I still am, to be honest). In high school, I took all the AP classes I could – Calculus, Biology, English Literature, Environmental Science, Physics, European History, and Psychology. I read A LOT. I studied A LOT. Books, and the information contained therein, were, in a sense, sacred to me. I learned mostly because I wanted to, not because I felt like I had to (with the exception of Mechanics in Physics, maybe). If I wanted an answer, it was in a book. Or on the internet, which had its coming of age in my later teen years.

I went to college, where I discovered research and the idea of discovering your own knowledge. This was amazing to me. I majored in Environmental Science, which more or less meant I had to be knowledgeable in all the science disciplines, and more. I took classes in biology, chemistry, physics, geology, ecology, mathematics, geography, and computer programming. I minored in Marine Science, so I took classes in hydrology, estuaries, and oceanography, too. And I doubled majored in Italian, so I learned a whole other language and culture, studied abroad, and even took science classes in Italian while abroad.

I. Love. Learning.

I even went to graduate school for a PhD, because I loved learning so much. It turns out that, as fascinated as I was with the idea of creating your own knowledge, I actually despised research. Or at least the research I did. But you need research when you get to the phase in your learning where books aren’t enough. We don’t know all the answers. So we have to find them ourselves.

I left grad school (with a Master’s Degree instead of a PhD, if you’re curious), and that’s when my spiritual journey really started to pick up. While I was in grad school, I started buying all the witchy books I would have loved to have had years ago when I was a fledgeling Pagan. I devoured them, as well as pagan blogs and any other media I could find. Once I left grad school, I started having experiences that they didn’t talk about in the books. And I didn’t know what to do.

I was lucky to have a very supportive community and a close group of friends that I could share my experiences with. A goddess started talking to me (well, two actually), that there isn’t much (if any) reputable modern scholarship on. And I freaked out. None of my science training had prepared me for this. I was in completely new territory – having actual ecstatic experiences of deity. No amount of reading in the world will prepare you for that.

Sure, there are things that you can do to be more prepared. Having a good knowledge base of your deity is an excellent place to start, as is having practice with grounding, shielding, centering, meditation, and trance. Knowing basic energy dynamics and how to move between different levels of consciousness is also extremely helpful. However, none of this adequately prepares you to truly encounter the Divine.

I think ecstatic experiences of deity are supposed to be overwhelming and slightly terrifying – Awesome, in the antiquated sense of the word. If you were able to prepare for it, the experience wouldn’t be as meaningful and profound. You are encountering something Otherworldly – it being alien and ineffable goes along with the territory.

One important thing to remember as you blaze the trail beyond books is to believe in yourself. Believe in what you are experiencing. Our perceived experience of the world is all we have to go on, anyway. It’s how we get to know the world, scientifically or spiritually. When we are children, we throw things off of high places to see how gravity works. There’s a learning curve, we experiment in different environments, our aim gets better, and maybe in a few weeks we can play trashcan basketball with a decent degree of accuracy.

Spirituality is no different. We have to experiment, to do our own research, to figure out what works for us and what does not. How can we have ecstatic experiences with deity more consistently? We can change the time of day, the chant we say, the phase of the moon, how recently we ate, how we construct sacred space, and a million other things, but we won’t know what works until we try.

Believe in your experiences, but be cautious in your interpretations. When something Big happens, we often want to jump to spiritual conclusions, especially if we’ve been putting in the work to help facilitate these experiences. Questioning is essential. A good dose of skepticism is what keeps us on the healthy side of delusion. Can the Divine speak to us through synchronicities? Absolutely. But is every coincidence that happens actually a sign from a Goddess? Probably not. Believe in your experiences, but use wisdom, intuition, and common sense when you interpret these events. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. (And Freud probably didn’t even actually say that.)

I am so grateful to my group of Pagan friends who helped me navigate my first visceral experiences with deity. They were my sounding board for all of the crazy things that had started to happen. I got to share my experiences, as well as my interpretations and concerns. Explaining my experiences to others helped me to sort out what was probable and improbable. I was able to draw on the spiritual knowledge of several other people, not just my own.

If you are starting down the path where books aren’t enough, I highly encourage you to find a group of like-minded spiritual seekers, ideally with varying backgrounds and experience levels, to help you navigate your new experiences. No one should have to do this work in isolation. You can do research and experiment together, and sharing in adventures such as this helps to create community.

What do you do when your experiences don’t match the lore? Or others’ experiences of that deity? Questioning comes in handy in these instances as well. Could it be another deity that you are communicating with? Do some old-school book and internet research and find out if your experience is more in-line with a different divinity. What would this deity look like in a modern context? Most of our original source material as Neo-Pagans is several thousand years old, and was written by humans and subject to their own (potentially erroneous) interpretations. Isn’t it possible (or even probable) that the Gods would present themselves differently to different people? I encourage you to think deeply and talk with others about these questions.

Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) gets a lot of airtime in Pagan circles these days, and I am heartily in support of it. I am not a Hellenic reconstructionist – I do not believe that we need to do things exactly the way they were done before. A thriving religion evolves over time, and I believe that our deities (and our relationships with them) do, too. I don’t experience the same Aphrodite that Homer wrote about – and that’s okay! I know people in my community who have experienced Aphrodite in a similar (though not exactly the same) way that I perceive Her. This gives me some confirmation of my own UPG. However, when I went looking for modern-day reference material for Her, I found very little. Part of the goal of this blog is to help build a resource for the contemporary worship of Aphrodite.

Eventually, you have to put down the books, stop reading, and start doing. You never stop learning, but you do start discovering. You do your own experiments. You have your own experiences. You make your own knowledge. It is a deeply personal and courageous journey, and it is so worth it.