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.

What Does It Mean to Be a Priestess?

John Beckett, one of my favorite Pagan bloggers, recently wrote a post entitled “Priesthood Over A Lifetime.” It was a great read, as his posts usually are, and it inspired me to examine where I am in the various stages of priesthood that he outlines. The essential precursor to that, though, is to answer the question “What does it meant to be a priestess?”

I thought about this question for a long, long time before I took my official oath as a priestess of Aphrodite. I knew that being a priestess in a public Pagan community was not a responsibility to take on lightly, and I wanted to make sure I knew what I was committing to before I took that plunge. It is a holy office, and the mantle of priestesshood, while joyous and ecstatic, can be heavy at times and comes with a sacred duty to both your deity and your community.

For me, the actions and responsibility of priestesshood fall into two main categories: 1) Your individual relationship with Deity, and 2) Service to your community. Your relationship to Deity is a highly personal connection that is supported and maintained through both solitary and group practice. Service to your community can be many things, and it is dependent upon the particular community you serve.

Your Relationship With Deity

This is the foundation of priestesshood. Without a strong connection to the Divine, there is nothing for which to be a priestess. You may work with one deity or several. You may be a priestess for one or multiple deities. I think you can even be a priestess in a general sense in the broader Pagan community, though this requires an immensely powerful connection to the Divine. My personal experience is serving as a priestess for one particular deity, but having relationships with several.

My call and desire to become a priestess was born from my deep relationship with Aphrodite. I sought Her out, worked closely with Her, discovered that Her values align with my own, had profound ecstatic experiences with Her, felt the call to serve Her, started doing Her work in the world, and then embarked on the quest of priestesshood. A dedicated, meaningful, and reciprocal relationship with your deity is essential to priestesshood.

This Divine relationship has to be committed. You can’t just meditate and make offerings once a month. Your relationship with your deity must be an ongoing, daily relationship. This doesn’t mean that you have to do the same exact thing every single day, but ideally you are interacting with your deity multiple times a day. This can be through prayer, meditation, offerings, deep listening, or other acts of devotion. This encourages an open channel of communication between you and the Divine. The Gods are a lot more likely to speak to you if they know you are listening.

Your relationship with your deity needs to be profound. If you are going to serve as a go-between for your community and the Divine, your personal relationship must be deep and personally very meaningful for you. You can’t expect to help others connect with your deity if you don’t already have a profound connection. Part of being a priestess is being able to inspire others with your connection to the Divine. This will be difficult if your own connection does not inspire awe and wonder within yourself.

To enter priestesshood, your relationship with the Divine has to be reciprocal. You need to know how to honor and give to your deity, but you also need to know how to receive guidance and messages from them. This reciprocity is what helps to foster a profound connection. It helps others to see you as doing your deity’s work in the world. It helps you to bring your deity into your community.

Service to Your Community

A necessary part of being a priestess is sharing and interacting with others in your community. As a priestess, you are a representative of your deity’s values in the mundane and spiritual worlds. Your community will have certain expectations of you when you take on the mantle of priestesshood, and you must be able to address these expectations and provide resources to those who seek you out. You will need to be responsive to the needs of both your deity and your community.

If you take on the role of priestess for a particular deity, people in your community will begin to view you as an intermediary for your deity in the mundane world. This is a hefty responsibility. You must embody the virtues of your deity to the best of your ability, and try to walk as they would in this world. That said, you are not an avatar. You are still a fallible human, and no one can embody all virtues perfectly. Know that mistakes are going to happen, and make sure to practice self-compassion.

What does your community expect of a priestess? In some traditions, this may be codified and straightforward, but with more free-form pagan communities, the answer will not be as simple. How do you determine what will be expected of you? Ask the members of your community! I had an ongoing and very extensive dialogue with my fellow leaders and other members in my pagan community about the role of a priestess for months before I decided to take a formal oath. For my particular community, the aggregated basic expectations were:

1) To continue in formal leadership as a part of the Council of our group
2) To serve as a touchstone for Aphrodite, leading rituals for Her and meeting
     with people to help them connect with Her
3) To provide general spiritual guidance to new seekers and those looking to
      deepen their practice
4) To be knowledgeable about Aphrodite’s spheres of influence (primarily
      romantic love, sex, pleasure, and self-compassion) and be able to provide
      resources and informal/pastoral counseling to community members about
      these topics
5) To officiate rites of passage in my community.

For your community, this may look very different. Since I belong to a non-denominational Pagan group that has members from many different traditions, the expectations of my community are fairly general, and not locked into a particular path. The expectations of your community are also dependent upon your community’s needs.

How do you know what your community needs? Sometimes this will be a very intuitive thing. You will feel called to lead a particular ritual, only to find out later that it met a need you didn’t know was there (I’ve had this happen several times.) Sometimes it will be less straightforward. You will need to keep an awareness of what is going on in your community to determine what community members might need from you. At times, it will be what the whole community needs – something to unite everyone and bring them together. Other times, it will be the needs of individual congregants.

As a walker between the worlds, you must also know what your deity needs and asks of you. Oaths of priestesshood inherently involve a commitment to serve your deity and to do their work in the world. What is asked of you will sometimes be simple, and other times it will push the very limits of your capability and fortitude, or what you even thought possible. Your directives may not always make sense, though in the fullness of time, a larger purpose may be revealed. Carry out your tasks with integrity and virtue, and don’t be afraid to question. Just because a deity tells you to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it. Your relationship should always be an open dialogue, and you always have free will. Discernment is key. “I don’t feel like it” is generally not a good reason to deny a Divine instruction. Something going against your ethics most certainly is.

Where Am I?

In his post, Beckett outlines nine “stages” in the journey of priesthood: Responding, Training, Practicing, Deepening, Building, Nurturing, Preparing, Transitioning, and Overlapping. He states that these steps aren’t necessarily sequential and can be simultaneous. I didn’t exactly go in order, either. I did a fair amount of Training, Practicing, and Deepening before I made my formal Response to the call for priestesshood.

I think there is a lot of value to “trying out” priestesshood before making a formal commitment to your deity and your community. Figure out exactly what you will be doing, and do it. That will give you the best indication if this is the right path for you. I had a trial period of about a year where I told Aphrodite that I would “try out this whole priestess thing.” I learned a lot, and eventually decided to make my oath.

I trained by reading as much as I could about Aphrodite, Paganism, and magick. I practiced my personal rites, devotions, spellcraft, and communion with Aphrodite. I practiced serving my community through leading rituals, providing spiritual guidance and counsel for members of my community, serving as a resource for Aphrodite’s areas of expertise, and being an active member of our group leadership. Throughout this process, I was deepening my practice and cultivating my relationship with Her.

I’ve still got a long way to go. I am early in my priestesshood, and still figuring a lot of things out. As I recently had reiterated to me – You don’t have to be an expert to be able to help others. There is value in all stages of the spiritual journey.

Brightest blessings to you as you embark upon your own path!

Lessons in Faith (-OR- How I Learned to Like Spicy Food)

I’ll be honest: Faith for me is really, really hard.

I’ve never been good at having faith. Even as a child, I was too much of an independent thinker to “have faith” and accept what others say at face value with no questions asked. While I view this as a generally good thing, it did not allow me to take comfort easily from others. (“How do YOU know it’s all going to be okay?” demanded petulant, eight-year-old me.) From the spiritual side of things, I grew up in a vaguely Protestant culture with some warm fuzzies along with the fire-and-brimstone. To me, the idea of “giving your problems to God” seemed very disempowering on a personal level, and a really terrible excuse to not deal with your own shit on an interpersonal/societal level. Until the past year, I wouldn’t even call my religion “my faith.” The word never resonated with me for a number of reasons.

One of the reasons I am bad at having faith is the perpetual struggle with my OCD. My OCD is convinced that nothing is ever okay, EVER and worry is the appropriate response to pretty much anything. Everything ranging from “That plate that clearly just came out of the dishwasher must have gotten dirty on the way to the kitchen counter. WASH IT AGAIN!” to “It’s my second day at my new job and I’m doing everything wrong and they are going to find out I’m a fraud and I have no idea how to deal with children and I’M GOING TO GET FIRED!” has been running through my head since I was twelve years old. When it comes down to it, OCD is basically a lack of trust that things will be okay, and all of the obsessive thoughts about it not being okay and compulsive behaviors to make life feel a little more okay. (OCD sucks, by the way, though that’s a post for another time.)

Another part of my difficulty with faith stems from betrayal from people in my past whom I thought I could trust. My ex from high school and the first part of college cheated on me and lied to me about being transgender. (I walked away from that relationship with two checked suitcases and a carry-on full of emotional baggage.) My parents have also broken my trust over the years. When I was younger, they wouldn’t take me seriously when I tried to talk to them about Paganism. When I was older, I discovered that they lied to me about several family health issues, as well as some foundational beliefs about our family. (Surprise! I was born out of wedlock and didn’t find out until I was 22 years old. AND I only found out because my parents had a knock-down-drag-out fight with my grandmother that ended with us not speaking to my dad’s side of the family. Hooray!) It wasn’t even so much the content of the lies, but the act of lying itself that really hurt me. I’ve had several people whom I considered close friends abandon our friendship for no discernable reason, including my roommate/best friend in college.

Graduate school was a complete and utter disaster that led me to doubt my intelligence and self-worth as a person. It destroyed most of my trust in the world of higher education. Job hunting after graduating was demoralizing and shattered the illusion of “if you work hard and are talented at what you do, you’ll get a good-paying job you enjoy.” (HA!)

Never was my faith tested so much as when my boyfriend moved out. I was depressed. I was suicidal (no plan, just wanted to quit existing so the pain would end). I felt like I had no future because grad school was simultaneously going down the tube. I had one more semester of grad school, and that was it. All my life plans went up in a poof of smoke in the space of a year. And I was a complete wreck.

Finding the right kind of therapy helped a lot, as did finally taking the right psychiatric medications for my OCD and anxiety. It made the day-to-day bearable, and I went from crying myself to sleep every night to only occasionally sobbing into my pillow. But the therapy and the medication didn’t take away the great existential dread of “What am I doing with my life?” It didn’t give me a purpose. It didn’t give me something bigger to believe in. The Divine, specifically Aphrodite, did that.

As I mentioned in my first post on My Journey to Aphrodite, I sought her out in crisis. In grad school, I had everything I trusted pulled out from under me, and I was drowning in the sheer helplessness of it all. Before my boyfriend moved out, I had already discovered that I wasn’t going to get my PhD. I still had one semester to go before earning my Master’s, but grad school was already a closed book. When my boyfriend left, I couldn’t take any more loss. I knew we were worth fighting for, and I would not give up on our relationship. I would move earth and sea and sky for us to heal. I would prove to him and myself that I would not be ruled by fucked-up circumstances or my mental disorder. It just took my world ending for me to gather the muster to actually do it.

I wasn’t courageous about it. Hardly. I cried ALL THE TIME, and went kicking and screaming into my new way of life. Every time I made progress in therapy, there would be a set back. Every time I thought my boyfriend and I were getting to a better place, he would suggest breaking up again. Every time I went to school, I was on the verge of tears. Every time I tried to look for a job, I’d have a panic attack. Every time I tried to think about the future, I thought I had none. But I kept on – Because Aphrodite gave me hope.

I felt Her with me those dark nights sobbing into my pillow. My rituals and prayers to Her became a comfort – an extreme feeling of right-ness in my world that had gone so wrong. I began to see other possibilities, new ways of being that I hadn’t thought of. A way out of the dark tunnel. And above all, a reason to want to get to the other side.

My life began to have new meaning. I was invested in my friendships and heavily involved in my Pagan community. I found a job sharing the joy and sacredness of nature with others. (It ended up being a dud because of a terrible supervisor, but I still felt like I was making a difference.) I learned to live on my own and to tolerate emotional discomfort in a way I never had before.

Part of being able to change was proving to myself that I could, and having faith that it would be okay. I started doing all sorts of things to test myself. I started leading public rituals. I got more sexually adventurous with my boyfriend. I took some courageous steps at work. I set firm boundaries with my parents. I touched doorknobs and didn’t wash my hands. And I tried to like spicy food.

I had never understood spicy food. Why would anyone want to be in pain while they eat? And who would think that was enjoyable?? At the crux, my dislike of spicy food was very much parallel to my OCD. I didn’t trust that things were going to be okay. I didn’t have faith – in myself, in the world, or in the Divine. I would touch this shopping cart handle, get sick, and die. I would eat this spicy thing, the pain would go on forever, and I would never be able to taste anything again. My boyfriend would break up with me, I would be heartbroken, and the emotional pain would never, ever stop. There was never a scenario in which I got through the terrible thing, and was stronger on the other side of it.

Learning to regulate my emotions in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) helped a lot. A phrase that one of my therapists used will stick with me for the rest of my life: “If you have a jacket, and it’s cold, wouldn’t you put the jacket on so you wouldn’t be cold anymore? If you’re sad, and you could do something to make yourself not as sad, why wouldn’t you do that thing?” I didn’t have to stay in the sadness. I didn’t have to live in the fear. I could do something about it. The sadness didn’t have to last forever. And it wasn’t disingenuous to not want to be sad – just like it’s not disingenuous to not want to be cold.

My world cracked open.

So, in addition to doing a lot of other brave things to make my life better, I started to eat spicy food. At first, it was awful. My roommate in college loved wasabi peas, so I bought a container at the grocery store. I tried a few and immediately regretted it. My nose was on fire, my eyes were watering, and my tongue was numb. My whole face was consumed in an inferno of torture, and I was SURE my tastebuds would never taste delicious ice cream ever again. And then… it was over. I wasn’t dead. I could feel my tongue. My sinuses felt clearer. And I was OKAY. So I ate a few more. The same terrible, torturous fate awaited. My nose, eyes, and tongue burned – but I knew that I was going to be okay, and I actually enjoyed it.

I trusted more – in myself, in the world, and in the Divine. I took more leaps of faith. When something bad happened, I assumed it would turn out okay instead of imagining the worst possible scenario (not all the time, but at least some of the time). I did more magick because I wasn’t as afraid of screwing things up. And it was all okay.

I took a big leap of faith when I quit my job to get away from my terrible supervisor. I didn’t have anything else lined up, and had been casually applying for jobs for months already with no luck. I couldn’t take it anymore and I knew I had to get out of that situation. I didn’t have a back up plan, but I trusted that everything would work out. It did. I found another job a few months later, right before all my bank accounts hit zero. It certainly wasn’t a luxe life, and it was definitely stressful, but it was all okay.

The whole inspiration for writing this post is that I recently had a crisis of faith. What I thought would be my next big step in the realm of my career and the fusion of my mundane and spiritual work isn’t going to happen. At least not right now. I was devastated when I found out. I cried and I felt like a worthless piece of shit. And I was angry. Angry at the external circumstances, and yes, angry with the Divine. In a fit of emotionally charged frustration, I shouted at the sky, “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?” Because I thought I knew. I thought this was it. And it was not.

To be honest, I’m still coming down from that place. I know I need to take some time to talk with Aphrodite seriously when I can actually listen and not be caught up in my own head. I haven’t come up with a Plan B for the future yet (though to be honest, as far as Big Life Plans go, I’m on Plan D now). I hate feeling directionless, so I’m sure that will happen sooner rather than later, but I definitely need some time to process everything I’m feeling and really tune in. However, despite all of this, after the first couple of days, I’m not actually angry anymore. I’m disappointed, but I’m not sad. I have this indescribable feeling that things are going to go in a very interesting and better direction, though I have no idea what that is at the moment.

But I have faith. And I believe that things will be okay. Because they will.