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June Full Rose Moon Ritual – Fighting Fear with Love

I led this ritual for my Pagan group in June of 2018. It was a very powerful ritual, and it requires that you be completely open and vulnerable. When I first signed up to do this Full Moon, I thought I would be leading a fun and sexy ritual, but Aphrodite had other ideas. The experiences I shared were mine, but feel free to substitute your own if you would like to use this in a group setting. This also works as a solitary ritual. You will need a rose quartz stone for every participant, and decorations for the altar. I used three dozen roses (in white, red, and pink) and printed artwork of Aphrodite for my altar. (In case you are curious, this is the ritual I referenced in My Journey to Aphrodite – Part Two.) This year (2019), the June Full Moon is on Monday, June 17th.

Call the Quarters

North

We call to the North, to the element of Earth, to be with us this evening. Please help us to enjoy the earthly pleasures of our physical bodies, help us to remain grounded and reasonable when we are in conflict with our loved ones, and help us to remain strong when our loved ones need our support. Element of Earth, hail and welcome!

East

We call to the East, to the element of Air, to be with us this evening. Please help us to improve our communication in our love relationships, help us to inspire and be inspired by those we love, and help us to enjoy the meeting of the minds as we enjoy a meeting of the hearts. Element of Air, hail and welcome!

South

We call to the South, to the element of Fire, to be with us this evening. Please help us to kindle and maintain passion in our romantic relationships, help us to tend to the flame of desire even when we feel like it’s almost going out, and help us to let our hearts lead the way. Element of Fire, hail and welcome!

West

We call to the West, to the element of Water, to be with us this evening. Please help us to heal from past and present wounds from old or current relationships, please help us to be the balm to our lovers’ ills, and please help us to accurately express the truest emotions in our hearts. Element of Water, hail and welcome!

Invocation of Aphrodite

I invoke the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love, passion, desire, and sexual rapture. Oh patroness of the spark of passion and creation, please inspire us to pursue that which we desire, to create new art and inventions, and to strive for our dreams. May your fierce and protective love surround our circle. Hail and welcome!

Cast the Circle

(Cast a circle in a way that feels powerful for you. You will want a very safe sacred space for this ritual.)

Fighting Fear with Love

The June Full Moon is known by many names. In Europe, it is known as the Rose Moon, as the roses are in full bloom during this time. It is also known as the Strawberry Moon, the Flower Moon, the Honey Moon, and even (particularly pertinent for last week’s weather) the Hot Moon. During these long summer days around the solstice, the sweetness of life is full to bursting. The senses delight in nature, as we delight in our friendships and romantic relationships during this more social summer season.

While winter is typically considered the traditional season for reflection, we must not ignore what summer has to teach us. We must gaze just as bravely into the light in the summer, as we gaze bravely into the darkness of winter. When we look towards the light, to explore just how brilliantly we can shine and just how much we can love, we must also confront our barriers to love and our fear of shining brightly.

As you know, I am a devotee (and now a priestess) of Aphrodite, and I have invoked her here this evening. Aphrodite is generally known as a goddess of light, love, and beauty, and while it is true she is all of these things, she is also so much more. Aphrodite is a lover and a fighter. She is fierce, and while she can be gentle, she is not always. For the call to love, and love fiercely, unreservedly, whole-heartedly, and unconditionally, is by no means an easy task. To love in this manner requires bravery, commitment, and a dissolution of fear.

Love and fear cannot truly coexist. One cannot hold both love and fear in one’s heart simultaneously. And no fears are as strong, or as all-consuming, as our fears around love. This means that even in our deepest relationships, we may be making decisions from a place of fear instead of a place of love. I know I certainly have – many, many times over. It is only through confronting these fears that we may truly know the bliss of love.

When I say love, I mean all kinds of relational love: self-love, romantic love, the love of friendship, and the love of family. I want you to take a moment, be brave with me, and to think of your fears around love in each of these areas.

How are you afraid to love yourself? Do you ever fear that you are unlovable? Do you ever tell yourself “I’ll love myself when…”? “I’ll love myself when I lose that weight” “I’ll love myself when someone else loves me” “I’ll love myself when I get a new job, or get married, or have a kid, or get a new car” For years, I told myself that I would love myself and be loveable once I had a boyfriend, once I got married, or once I conquered my OCD. What are you afraid would happen if you were to radically love yourself? What would you do with all that extra time that you used to spend worrying? I can tell each of you, right now, every single one of you, that you are loveable, and that you are loved.

What about romantic love? I’ll come right out and say it – I am afraid of dying alone. Both in the sense of I might not find a life partner, and even if I do, that I will be the one left behind after they die. I’m afraid that my personal experience of love will not live up to the (probably unrealistic) expectations that I have of romance. I say these things, not to make you paranoid or to inspire fear, but to help bring that fear out of the darkness and into the light. By naming it, we take away some of its power, and we may begin to heal it.

I encourage you to take some time to yourself this cycle of the moon, to really explore your fears and barriers to love. Sometimes it helps to talk with someone – a friend, a loved one, or a trained professional – though to do this you must already overcome the fear of being open and vulnerable.

So, you’re probably thinking, “Thanks a lot! Now I have all of these fears. That’s totally not why I came to circle tonight. I thought you were going to be talking about something fun and racy, like sex. Now that I have all of these fears, what the fuck do I do with them?”

I ask of you, to fight the fear with love. At every opportunity, choose love over fear. I suggest picking one fear, or a set of related fears, to start. In this process, you must be kind to yourself. Do not judge yourself for having this fear. Fear is natural, and in some cases, healthy, but it is our biggest barrier to growth. Accept that you have this fear, and from this place of acceptance, you can begin to change it. You must surrender to your fear – not in the sense that you will let it conquer you, but in the sense that you will let it flow through you. There’s a pithy little saying “What we resist, persists” and there is some truth in that. The minute we start to judge ourselves for having fears, we close off our hearts. The heart must be open in order to change our relationship to fear.

Of course, we don’t have to go at this alone. We can call on divine help, both in the ethereal sense and in the form of friends, loved ones, and our spiritual community. When I began my relationship with Aphrodite, I was in a very fearful place, about pretty much everything in my life. My partner of five years had moved out and wanted distance in our relationship, I had discovered that my life plan of getting my PhD was not going to happen, and my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was so bad that it took me almost half an hour just to leave my own house.

In my years of working with her, Aphrodite has not just helped me in my romantic love life. She has helped me to accept and love myself, in spite of and even because of my mental disorder. Working with her has empowered me to tackle so many of my fears, to fully embrace my sexuality, to nurture my friendships, to draw clear boundaries with my family, and to open myself fully to love.

My first way of connecting to Aphrodite was through roses, which is why I wanted to honor her on this night of the Rose Full Moon. Rosewater and rose essential oil soon became staples in my home and on my altar. The fragrance was lovely, and it helped to put me in the right headspace and, more importantly, the right heartspace. My next way of connecting with Aphrodite was through rose quartz, which adorns the altar tonight. I began with rose quartz hearts – a pair of them placed together under my pillow, and in various places around my house – and then branched out to rose quartz of all shapes and sizes.

Rose quartz is fantastic for all types of love, particularly self-love and romantic love. It’s good for opening your heart chakra, for nurturing self-acceptance, for drawing in love, and for healing emotional pain. For me, I found that rose quartz was able to give me the infusion of loving energy I needed to positively reframe my troubles and to confront my more prominent fears. Simply holding it in my hand or placing it on my heart as I meditated filled me with love and joy.

Aphrodite, O Glorious Goddess, please shower us with the blessings of love!

Charge the Rose Quartz

Hold your rose quartz in your hands, close your eyes, and focus on what you need more love for in your life right now. Imagine a small, glowing pink light radiating from the center of the stone, gradually getting bigger and bigger, until it encompasses your whole hand. See the points of light from all the other stones within the circle, and know that you are surrounded by a supportive network of love. Take this stone with you. You can keep it in your pocket, tuck it under your pillow, or put it wherever you need it most. Remember that you are always surrounded by love.

Aphrodite, O Far-Shining One, thank you for your blessings of love!

So mote it be.

Cakes and Ale

Blessed be the hands that grew the grain, that harvested the fruit, and that baked the bread. Blessed be all hands, seen and unseen, that brought us this nourishment tonight. Blessed be.

Release the Circle

(Release the circle in a way that feels powerful for you.)

Gratitude to Aphrodite

Thank you, Aphrodite, for being with us tonight. Thank you for your blessings of love and passion. We honor you. Blessed be.

Release the Quarters

West

Thank you West, and the element of water, for your healing energies this evening. Hail and farewell!

South

Thank you South, and the element of fire, for your passionate energies this evening. Hail and farewell!

East

Thank you East, and the element of air, for your inspirational energies this evening. Hail and farewell!

North

Thank you North, and the element of earth, for your grounding energies this evening. Hail and farewell!

Spiritual Growing Pains (AKA Dealing With Your Shit)

If you’ve been on a spiritual path for very long, you know that there’s always baggage. There’s childhood trauma, past relationship pain, self-sabotage, the imposter syndrome, trust issues, betrayals, depression, anxiety, fears, and times you genuinely just fucked up. Despite your best efforts, despite the hours and hours of therapy, despite the meditations and forgiveness practices, despite all the pieces of paper aflame in your burning bowl, you still have shit to deal with.

Sometimes the issues that arise are related to something else going on in your life. There is a trigger that brings all the past pain you thought you had resolved bubbling back up to the surface. You may discover that what you thought was a well-healed scar is actually still a festering wound in need of some serious first aid.

At other times, problems may seem to arise at random (though in my experience, very few are truly random.) You may discover that you are unintentionally blocking something you want to manifest by holding onto a pattern that was in your past, but not what you want in your future. You may discover that healing does not, in fact, have a destination – like many things in the spiritual life, it is a journey, and you may never reach a perfect state of being “healed.”

And that’s okay. Accepting who you are and where you are at in your healing is the first step to moving forward. You have to know how bad the wound is in order to treat it. You may get a cut and think it’s no big deal. However, if you don’t properly wash out the cut, even when the skin has healed back over, there can be infection lurking under the surface.

We are all imperfect, fallible human beings. We can’t fight that, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try the best we can to deal with our issues with grace and compassion – for ourselves and all involved.

Take Care of Yourself

In the mundane world, the best first aid for spiritual growing pains is to take care of yourself. Practice self-compassion. Eat healthy food. Get enough sleep. Spend time with people that love you. Focus on something you are good at, and do that thing. Exercise. Take your vitamins and prescription medications. Go outside. Do something productive. Lay on the couch for a day, if you need to. Listen to your body. It knows what it needs.

Throw Away the “Shoulds”

When I was going through my most recent spiritual growing pains, a close friend told me to “throw away the shoulds.” I should be feeling this. I should have said that. I shouldn’t do this. Take all of that internal chatter and throw it out the window. Right now.

Because “should” doesn’t really matter. You feel that way you feel. No amount of thinking “I shouldn’t feel this way” is really going to change that. It just puts you in denial, and further from actually dealing with your problems.

We also tend to invalidate our own experiences with “shoulds.” We often use rationalizations to downplay our feelings and reactions. That happened so many years ago – I should be over it by now. My friend didn’t actually mean to hurt me – I shouldn’t be so upset. If a shark bit off your leg, you wouldn’t think “I shouldn’t feel pain because the shark didn’t actually mean to hurt me – it was just trying to survive.”

With shoulds, you are effectively doing the same thing with your feelings. My mother thought she was raising a strong, independent daughter when she told me not to cry in front of anyone. She thought she was doing what was best for me. Does it still hurt that I couldn’t share my emotions with her when I was growing up? Of course! Her intentions, however good, don’t negate my feelings.

Feel Your Feelings. All of Them.

Part of taking care of yourself also involves expressing the emotions you are feeling. Give yourself permission to feel them all, and feel them fully – just make sure you have a safe space to do this in. (Therapy is great for this.) Cry. Let out your body-wracking sobs laced with pain and hurt. Yell (somewhere the neighbors won’t call the police on you, and don’t yell at anyone, even the person who hurt you.) Throw a tantrum like a 2-year-old when you are alone in your room. Let it all out. Feel where the emotion is in your body and concentrate on it, going totally into the feeling.

Find some way to healthily express that emotion. Find a song that encapsulates that feeling and sing or dance to it. Paint. Write. Talk with a friend (just make sure you don’t inadvertently take that emotion out on said friend.) Run until your legs give out. Cuss like a sailor at your microwave. Find a punching bag. Take a martial arts class. Express the emotion through your body. Let it flow through you and out of you.

Processing

Once you’ve felt the depths of your emotions and expressed it in some way, you need to process what happened and why you are feeling what you are feeling. Therapy is also great for this, and you have a trained professional to help you. Talking things out with a wise friend is wonderful. Writing can be an excellent self-reflection tool.

Start with the facts – just what objectively happened and nothing more. Then layer on your interpretations of these facts. What motives did you assume the other person had? Why were you in this situation in the first place? How did you feel about what was happening? Learn to separate the facts from your experience. None of this means that your experience wasn’t real. On the contrary – it was very real for you, and that means it deserves respect. Being able to separate the facts from your experience just allows you to be a bit more objective so that you can learn whatever lessons the experience has to teach you.

Healing

The process of healing has already begun. Don’t be surprised if it takes some detours, loops back around to different steps again and again, or doesn’t go in a traditional straight line upward trend. The healing process is as unique as each person and each experience.

I know I’ve already touted the benefits of therapy in this post and others, but if you notice that your emotions are exceptionally intense or last for an extended period of time, PLEASE seek professional help. Therapists are specifically trained to help you through this process. Some therapists are better at it than others, and if you aren’t getting the help you need, look for a new therapist. That said, before you go looking around, make sure you are doing your part of the work, too.

Healing takes place over time at different levels. The particular issue I’m working through at the moment was from events that happened almost ten years ago. I’ve gone through several different levels of “I’m over it” and “No, really, I’m definitely over it now!” throughout the years. I was not over it. I am not over it. Not completely, anyway. As annoying as that is, I can still see the growth I’ve made since it first happened, and that gives me hope.

Spiritual First Aid

None of this process has to be done in a spiritual vacuum! I encourage you to actively make your spirituality a part of your healing process. Pray to your Goddesses and Gods. Light candles. Make offerings. Do magick. Perform energy work. Use crystals. Balance your chakras. Burn that shit away. Grow plants. Make charms. Cook delicious food with magickal herbs. Meditate. Sit in sacred space. Take a salt bath. Go for a hike. Plunge in the ocean. Sing songs of worship. Enjoy sacred movement. Make the Divine a part of your daily life.

And, above all, know that you are not alone.

Are You Projective or Receptive?

(Spoiler: You’re both!)

When I first started to take part in discussions in Pagan communities, I was astonished at the number of stories about people “feeling” things outside of their being. Whether it was empathic abilities or sensing someone’s energy field, I didn’t have a personal point of reference. I didn’t feel other people or energies inside my body. I have pretty keen social skills, and I can read a room or someone’s body language and discern basic emotions, but the idea of just “knowing” it or viscerally feeling it was completely alien to me.

Throughout my life, I had never been a very “receptive” person. Sure, I was open to new ideas, and some other mundane-world definitions of receptive, but energetically, I was not. I was almost always doing something. I put more time and effort into the vast majority of my friendships than I ever got in return. I rarely relinquished control of a situation to just “go with the flow.” I had a horrible time trying to “clear my mind” for meditation. And I never, ever, surrendered to anything. Until very recently, I put out WAY more energy than I took in from the world.

Not all of this was necessarily “good” energy, either. I have really big, overwhelming emotions, and I’ve had them all my life. If I feel something, I feel ALL of it. If I’m happy, I am overjoyed. If I’m sad, I am devastated. If I’m angry, I am livid. I also wear my heart on my sleeve, so anyone around me can tell what I am feeling at any point it time. I have absolutely no poker face. According to my Pagan friends, this is true of me energetically as well. I broadcast my emotions in waves radiating off of my body. Sometimes I can feel it, but the majority of the time, I cannot.

All of my emotions are very visceral, too. When I am happy, I feel this lightness in my chest and it feels like bubbles are coursing through my veins. When I am angry, I feel the blazing inferno in my solar plexus. When I am sad, my heart literally aches. I think most people feel emotions somewhere in their body, even if it is only a little sensation. My sensations were so overwhelming that they completely hijacked my brain. This was a bit of a disaster with negative emotions, to the misfortune of whomever made me sad or angry. Many years of therapy later, I have a bit more control over my emotions, and I know how to consciously keep from broadcasting them to the world (at least most of the time).

Projection was my default state until I was about 25 years old. It wasn’t always about emotions, and there were many good aspects to it as well. My projection made me a captivating performer, an enthusiastic public speaker, an engaging educator, a skilled social butterfly, and pretty good at doing magick. However, always being projective meant that I had a lot of difficulty receiving messages from the Divine, which began to be a much more important part of my spiritual practice around that time.

I didn’t start to be able to receive communication from the Divine until I reigned in my emotions and energy projections. After that, things slowly started to open up. I was much more in touch with my intuition, I could hear Aphrodite more clearly, and I also began to pick up on external energies more easily.

One of the messages that Aphrodite had for me (and required for me) was to be able to surrender. My OCD and anxiety had turned me into quite the control freak, and I didn’t want to let go of anything. I could barely surrender my thoughts during meditation. Through a series of events, it became very clear that I had to surrender – to Her and to the flow of life. I had to surrender my fear of letting go (along with lots of other fears). I had to allow things to happen – not make them happen, which had been my default for so many years.

I did not like it one bit! It jettisoned me far from my comfort zone and into an alien land. The best I could do most of the time was to throw my hands in the air and say “Well, here goes nothing!” This surrender was also intimately tied to overcoming my OCD and anxiety, which added whole another layer of complexity to things. It was rough going for a while. I felt completely energetically spent at the end of each day for several months. It took much more effort for me to let go than it did for me to control. It was an exhausting lesson to learn, but it was important.

After a few months, it became easier. It no longer required as much effort to surrender. I trusted Aphrodite and the world a bit more. I could receive things a lot more easily – be that a Divine message or kindness from a friend. Meditation became almost effortless, and I even started unintentionally slipping into a meditative state sometimes. My sensations of outside energies got stronger. I was able to receive, both spiritually and in the mundane world.

I believe that everyone has projective and receptive abilities. For some, one will be much stronger than the other, and that’s okay. It just means you will have to work a little harder to develop the other skill. I also don’t believe that being projective and being receptive are mutually exclusive. While it’s true that for me to find my receptive self, I had to tone down my naturally projective state, I have since had moments of both big receptivity and projection. A good example of this would be receiving energy from Aphrodite, combining it with my own, and projecting that energy during a ritual or magickal working.

Everyone’s process for reception and projection is different. I can tell you what worked for me (therapy and Divine intervention, mostly, but also following a few tips from my empathic friends). Recognizing which category each of your actions falls into is a great place to start. This can give you some idea as to what your primary mode might be, or if you tend to be ambidextrous.

After you determine your “default state,” explore activities that encourage the opposite mode. Some receptive activities include meditation, deep listening, empathy, sensing energy, divination, and pretty much any activity involving surrender of some kind. Some projective activities are raising energy, dancing, public speaking, planning an activity, going completely into your emotions, and doing things for others.

As you do things outside of your comfort zone, you will discover new capacities for using and sensing energy. Try combining two different activities of the same type to see how they feel, and two activities of the opposite type. As you develop your personal and magickal capabilities, you will be able to simultaneously hold projective and receptive energies. This was revolutionary to my spiritual practice. I hope it is positively transformative for you, as well!

What We Label Ourselves

In writing this blog, I’ve necessarily had to label my posts. These labels (called “tags” in blogging) help search engines to pick up on key themes in my posts that, in turn, help readers to find my blog. I’ve had to wrestle with which words best describe my content, what categories people may search for that are relevant to my blog, and what the nuances are between religious terms that individuals may define very differently. It is an interesting microcosm for something we all have to do in our daily lives: label ourselves.

What Is A Label?

For the purposes of this post, I define a label as “a word or phrase that describes key attributes about a person.” Labels serve many purposes – chief among them is the act of classification. If you have a background in science, you know that classification is vital to understanding the world around us. This is a plant and that is an animal. This plant is a grass and that plant is a tree. This tree is a red maple and that tree is a white oak. And so on…

Classification, and the labels with which we classify things, forms our basic understanding of the world. This is just as true for language as it is for how we process information. It’s how we know to call a stove a “stove” and a microwave a “microwave.” Though they may serve similar functions, they are categorically different, and you would definitely get some weird looks if you put a pot to boil on the “microwave” or said you were going to “stove” your leftovers. Labels are an important part of how we navigate the world.

And yet…

Labels can also be detrimental. The labels we assign to others or others assign to us can have devastating consequences. Most of this harm comes from the value judgement we place on each label. Alone, labels are just a form of classification. Labels with value judgements result in prejudice, misinformation, and hatred. And, as much as we like to think we are open-minded spiritual beings, a certain amount of value judgement is inescapable. The best we can do is learn to recognize it, and consciously know that it is influencing our thinking and decision-making.

If you’re like me, perhaps you grew up with a certain distaste for labels. Maybe you were called an unkind name in school, were grouped by your peers with people you’d rather not associate, or felt too confined by a label that didn’t accurately describe your essence. Maybe you experienced prejudice from a label and the value judgement the others around you made about it. Maybe you’ve endured discrimination because of a self-proclaimed label – one which you were proud of, but the value judgements of others ranked you as “undeserving of respect.” These are all very real experiences, and show us the harm that labeling (and subsequent value judgements) by others can bring.

However, I believe that there are some very good motivations for labelling yourself (without any attached value judgements). Labelling yourself serves two main purposes: 1) It allows you to solidify your personal and spiritual identity, and 2) It allows you to communicate this identity to others. Labelling ourselves helps us to know ourselves better, and to find a community of similar people with which to share our experiences.

I am a Pagan

I started calling myself a Pagan around age eleven or twelve. Ever since I learned that there was a group of people who believed that nature was sacred, and it was a real religion, I wanted to be one. I knew I was Pagan in my soul, and once I discovered Paganism, there was no turning back. It felt wonderfully new and old all at the same time.

These days, I identify as Pagan as my main religious/spiritual descriptor – Partly because my particular flavor of Paganism doesn’t have any other nice short words to describe it, but mostly because it is the widest term for a spiritual community with which I have a deep connection. There are so many different aspects of Paganism that we could talk about (I particularly like John Beckett’s Four Centers within the Big Tent of Paganism), but when I say Pagan, I most generally mean:

Pagan – Someone who has a nature-based spirituality

I am a Witch

I’ve identified myself as a witch (with varying degrees of seriousness) since I first learned about witches and magick. A witch was my go-to Halloween costume for most of my childhood, and once I hit puberty and started to discover what “witch” means in a Pagan context, I embraced the label even more.

My interpretation of the essence of a witch has evolved over time. Obviously, my six-year-old conception of a witch was completely different than my current idea of witchhood.  There’s so much to being a witch, but if I had to distill it to one sentence, I would define it thus:

Witch – Someone who works magick with intention and in harmony with nature and the elements

I am a Polytheist

I adopted this label a bit more recently – perhaps late 2016/early 2017. I knew I believed in feminine and masculine aspects of Deity, but my belief of distinct Goddesses and Gods came from my direct experience with them around that time. I lean towards the harder end of polytheism. (I’m sure there’s a sex joke in there somewhere…) I formerly ascribed to the “diamond” philosophy of soft polytheism: that all Goddesses are facets of one Goddess and all Gods are facets of one God. Direct experience with different deities revealed that no, they are not all the same.

Right now, I think I’m more in the “star cluster” philosophy: that there are certain essences of Divinity that expressed themselves differently and by different names across different cultures, but embody the same ideals. Even this, I am a little wishy-washy about. I definitely know that Aphrodite and Cerridwyn are not the same essense of Divinity, but I also know that, while they are similar, Aphrodite and Venus are not the same Goddess. Could they still be the same essence of Divinity, even though they aren’t the same Goddess? I don’t know. I do know that they manifest very differently, and want different things.

Polytheist – Someone who believes in the existence of many Goddesses and Gods

I am Devotional

Devotion to my Goddesses and Gods is a cornerstone of my Paganism. I believe the Divine, and manifestations of the Divine, are worthy of honor, celebration, and worship. My version of worship does not entail debasing myself as unworthy before a superior Divine being. Worship, to me, is the honor and reverence freely given to a Divinity because of your unique relationship with them. I view us as being co-creators with Divinity, and we always retain our own agency (unless you consciously voluntarily surrender it).  

For me, being devotional means expressing honor to my Goddesses and Gods in my daily actions. It’s thinking of them often. It’s making offerings. It’s praying frequently and maintaining an open channel of communication with them. It’s celebrating them every day. It’s all the actions done in love and in loyalty to the Divine. It’s everything that makes my connection to Divinity stronger.

Devotional – Participating in actions done in love to honor, celebrate, and worship a Deity

I am a Priestess

This label made it to the title of my blog. The main reasoning behind this was to put something at the forefront of my blog that would be easily recognizable to serious spiritual seekers of Aphrodite. I have taken a formal oath of service to Her that includes helping others to connect with Her, or on their spiritual path in general.

Being a priestess is something that I take very seriously (though one could argue that I can’t take it too seriously – I do serve a Goddess of Love and Pleasure, after all). I encourage you to read What Does It Mean To Be A Priestess for a full account of how I define priestesshood. The short version is:

Priestess – A woman who has a committed, profound, and reciprocal relationship with a Deity, and who serves that Deity through worship, embodying their virtues, and sharing experiences of that Deity with others

Deciding What to Label Yourself

The process of trying on and identifying yourself with a label is an introspective and exploratory process. It can be a process of trial and error. There may be times in your life where you feel one label fits and other times when it doesn’t. That’s okay. We are constantly evolving beings. While some labels can evolve with us, or develop new meaning to us over time, we can’t expect them all to do so.

We must also be discerning when we choose labels for ourselves. For example, I’m fluent in the Italian language and I’ve lived in Italy, but I would never identify myself as Italian. Why? Because I lack the family heritage that I feel is part of the label’s essence. I will, however, identify myself as an Italian speaker, because through much study and practice, I feel that I have earned that label.

There was a period in my spiritual journey that I wasn’t totally okay with the label “witch” (though I was still very much a witch). I felt like the label carried too much baggage in the popular usage that I didn’t want to bring into my spiritual identity. I didn’t want others placing value judgements on me – getting caught up in the “hocus pocus” part and being unable to see the serious religion that accompanied the magick.

Obviously, my feelings on this have changed, and I identify as a witch today without any hesitation. Part of this was my own taking back of the label and making the decision of “fuck what other people think!” Part of this was also exploring what “witch” meant to me, and evolving my own definition of the label.

Reluctant Labels

We all have parts of our identity that we aren’t as proud of as others. Some of these may come with labels that technically fit us, but that we don’t really want in our lives.

For example: Other than an extreme dislike of cold and an occasional craving for grits, most of the people who encounter me would never guess that I was born and raised in the American South. I have no discernible accent (I actually trained myself out of it when I was young because I had already encountered the stereotype that “Southerners are uneducated” – a label I desperately did not want to be associated with). I don’t like sweet tea. I don’t eat meat. I don’t hunt or fish. I don’t believe in country clubs (even though I took cotillion etiquette classes when I was younger). I don’t believe we fought the Civil War “for state’s rights.” Most importantly, I don’t believe in the racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of prejudice that are so frequently associated with “being a Southerner.”

But I am a Southerner – for all the good and bad that comes with it. That is something that I have to live with. Is it a label I would necessarily chose for myself? Not really. However, the more people that embrace the label that don’t fit the stereotype can evolve the popular meaning of the label and the value judgements associated with it.

I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It sucks. It made my life very difficult for a long time. But sharing my own mental health story has helped others to feel okay with sharing theirs. The more people are open about mental health, the less stigma will be attached to it. So, I claim the label OCD. I’m not necessarily proud of it, but I’m not ashamed, either.

The Power of Choosing Your Own Labels

What we decide to call ourselves has immense power. In a spiritual sense, it’s the conscious act of putting yourself out there. Saying “I’m Pagan” has power to it.  Saying “ I am a witch” has power to it. The Divine is listening and the Earth can hear – you may be surprised what comes your way when you make a spiritual declaration of this sort.

Labeling yourself also has social power. It forms a connection between you and others who choose that label. It enables you to more easily find a community. You have an identity, or several parts of an identity, around which to rally, swap stories, celebrate, or worship.
At its essence, labeling yourself requires knowing very intimately who you are. This necessitates a huge amount of introspection and exploration. You’ll never know which identities fit unless you try on several to see how they feel.

It is worth saying that no label can ever completely define who you are. And that’s okay. It shouldn’t stop us from trying to get a close approximation. Knowing deeply and truly who you are is essential to a meaningful spiritual practice. You cannot expect to connect with the Divine unless you are able to connect with yourself. Knowing who you are and standing in your power is a beautiful thing. Have fun exploring!

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.