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.