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.

When Books Aren’t Enough

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

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

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

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

I. Love. Learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Trials by Fire

I’ve found that spiritual growth is rarely a linear progression. There are times when it is slow and steady, and times of plateau where not much happens at all. Then, there are times when it’s a trial by fire.

Right now is one of those times for me.

I’ve had various other times of what I would consider exponential growth in my spiritual life. My first was the discovery of Paganism. I read all I could about Paganism and Wicca until my parents pulled the plug on it. It was a huge revelatory process, and it resonated so much that I stuck with it. You can read about my first foray into Paganism here.

Unfortunately, after that initial exploratory period, I hit a plateau for about ten years. I knew the core of what I believed (Namely that nature is sacred and that the Divine is feminine as well as masculine), but I just stopped there. At that time, it was enough for me. I wasn’t living in an environment conducive to spiritual growth, and what I had more or less suited my needs. So I plateaued.

My next big phase of growth was when I joined my Pagan group. It was so wonderful to be surrounded by other Pagans, to hear their different thoughts and viewpoints, to see rituals performed in a variety of ways, and to get their recommendations for books and ways to deepen my practice. I also had a greater need for my spirituality to evolve at this particular time. I had just started graduate school, and it was already shaping up to be a shitshow. I needed something bigger to connect with and rely on. I found that in my community and through exploring my faith.

I learned the ins and outs of belonging to a spiritual group over the next several months, taking on a leadership role within the first year, and becoming a member of our governing council within two. I learned all the calls and responses in Pagan ritual – what you say when calling the quarters and during cakes and ale. I learned how to lead a public ritual (even though the first ritual I was slated to co-lead got snowed out (twice) and rained out (once) and still hasn’t happened!) I led Sunday Circles, Full Moons, and Sabbats. It was a time of joyous growth.

My first hint at a trial by fire happened a little over a year and a half ago. I started directly experiencing deity in an entirely new way. It was much louder and persistent than ever before. I got closer to Aphrodite, leading up to my dedication to her in January of 2018. I also gathered up the courage to work with my first “dark” goddess, who happened to be a goddess of transformation and change. I had to gaze bravely into the darkness, and confront what I saw there. I was lucky that Cerridwyn was very gentle with me, but it was far from easy.

It turns out, when you tug on one of the Jenga blocks, they all come crashing down.

All of my insecurities bubbled up to the surface. I had to learn how to communicate with a new goddess in a completely novel way. I was lucky that I had a group of spiritual friends with which to share my experiences, but that also meant that I had to get comfortable talking about my spiritual journey with others. I had to be radically honest, in service to myself and to my friends. I discovered that what I thought was my career path and spiritual calling (to teach people how to be close to nature) was not a financially sustainable pursuit. I started feeling tugged in a completely different direction by my spiritual path, one that involved a lot more talking about sex and relationships and a lot less talking to trees. My grad student insurance expired, and I began seeing a new therapist in my new network (which is a whole process in and of itself). I finally started to get a handle on this whole “emotion regulation” thing, but there were still days I would end up in her office crying. It was a lot of change, but it was good change.

I also experienced a much quieter trial leading up to my initiation. I reached out to my friends and community members to talk with them about what they expected from the office of priestesshood. There wasn’t a lot of change in my spiritual practice, but more of a going deeper into my current practices, and forging a stronger connection with Aphrodite. Reflecting a few days before my initiation, I laughed to myself a bit, and told myself if that I didn’t know any better, I would describe myself as pious! It was a time of transition – from dedicant to priestess – and I was prepared and ready for it.

I was less prepared for what followed my initiation. As I wrote in Adventures of a Struggling New Empath, I acquired some new empathic abilities after my initiation that were difficult to cope with at times. There were also some surprising “priestess projects” that I was assigned that tested my comfort zone. But none of it compared to my current state of affairs.

I’ve been preparing to step more fully into my priestess role by doing something kind of serious and big for one of my friends. And pretty much ever since I committed to doing it, my life has been a raging Trial By Fire. It’s almost as if it’s a challenge from the universe – “Are you sure you’re ready for this role?” – while also showing me how much I have (and haven’t) grown in the past few years.

It has been very similar to a second ordeal (after the ordeal of my initiation), but over a longer period of time, and touching the more mundane aspects of my life as opposed to the spiritual. (I don’t believe the spiritual and the mundane are truly separate, but this trial did have a different quality to it). A good number of things happened over the past couple of months that were unexpected and hit on my various triggers and sore spots.

I found out that one of the casual members of my Pagan community was actually good friends with my ex in college (the ex that cheated on me and lied to me about being transgender). She told me about this right before Circle one Sunday morning, which was terrible timing for going into sacred space. My ex and I hadn’t spoken in years, and I was not at all expecting that old wound to rear its ugly head, much less in a place that I consider safe and sacred. I learned that I’m not quite as healed as I thought I was around that whole situation, and it’s impacting how I interact with this person. (We got along fine beforehand, and I considered us friendly acquaintances).

I know that my ex’s actions shouldn’t affect how I treat this person, and I’m trying really hard to not let it influence my behavior, but honestly I don’t want to talk her. I’m walking the line between wanting to completely ignore her and knowing that I can’t because I am a leader in this group (and, you know, I’m a mature and rational person and all of that). My current plan of action is to just be honest with her – Let her know that I still have a lot of pain from that past relationship, and that it is influencing my interactions with her. It’s nothing she has done – It’s more personal work that I have to do to heal. It’s been eight years since everything happened with my ex, and I thought I would be over it by now, but I guess not.

I also received the news that I wasn’t going to be able to take the next steps in my career that I was planning on (see my Lessons in Faith post for more details). Everyone around me was absolutely shocked at the news, which made me feel a little better, but didn’t actually do anything to change the course of events. I’m still regrouping from that and figuring out my next steps.

Work has been rougher than usual. One of my coworkers doesn’t like me very much, and that has created some tension at work. I confronted her about not pulling her weight sometime back in February (we work on a team, so I or my other team member have to pick up the slack if she doesn’t), and she did not take it well. I ended up talking to our supervisor about it, and thankfully he is understanding and more or less knew what was going on.

Unfortunately, the work situation still isn’t much better, and there were three consecutive weeks where my coworker barely spoke to me, which is difficult to deal with when you work four feet away from each other all day. Confound that with the fact that I’m a struggling new empath who is starting to pick up on others’ feelings, and it is not a fun place to be. I had to shield just about every hour on the hour and it was so mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychically draining.

The past couple of weeks at work have also been difficult because my office could currently be the site of an epidemiological study. My supervisor came in with a cold for a few days, and then the rest of us started dropping like flies, so we’ve also been perpetually short-staffed. AND we had a big health scare from a potentially infected client (not a cold, but something more serious) and they had to bleach everything she had touched while she was at our facility.

It all turned out okay, but it has NOT been a great time for my OCD and germaphobia. I absolutely HATE being sick, so having to take two days off of work to suffer and sniffle was awful. On the plus side, when I’m already sick, my OCD usually goes down because I’m like “Fuck it, I’m already sick, do your worst doorknob.”

Lots of other little things happened, too. My selenite palmstone broke, somehow jumping out of my purse (which has never happened) and cracking in two on the tile floor. I also had some interpersonal drama, both with a friend and with my boyfriend. I was perpetually not getting enough sleep, no matter what I tried. I had to get some maintenance done on my apartment on two different days, and my OCD is very much NOT OKAY with strangers being in my home.

Yet, despite all of these things, there was never anything I couldn’t handle. Nothing that completely overwhelmed me (though there were certainly times I felt overwhelmed). I could deal with all of it, more or less successfully. While it was not fun to experience, at the end, it is nice to reflect back and know that I can handle pretty much any shit that comes my way. And that is a very empowering thing.

I made it through this trial by fire, with only a few minor burns, and those will heal with time. It did highlight some areas in which I still have personal work to do, and I am grateful for that. It also encouraged me, that despite my personal insecurities, I really am cut out for this whole priestess thing. I can dealt with all of that personal stuff (because our own personal growth is never done), and still help other people in a meaningful way.

So, while I did not enjoy it, I am thankful for my most recent trial by fire.

Chakra Clearing Meditation

I shared this particular meditation with a friend the other day, and I thought it might be nice to post it here as well! This is the visualization that I typically use for clearing my chakras. It can be great if you’re feeling off-balance, or if you just want to recenter and recharge. It is also helpful before doing any spellwork to open up the channel of energy flow, and can add another layer of energetic depth if done before sex.

I often do this meditation lying down, as I frequently practice it before going to sleep and when I wake up in the morning. I’ve read several reasons not to do this, from the energy alignment not being proper unless you are sitting or standing, to “you’ll just fall asleep.” Lying down works for me, but you do what works best for you! If that’s sitting on the floor or in a chair, great! If that’s standing, also great! Do what feels best and what will also allow you to make it a more regular practice.

Some notes before you get started: I view the chakras as spinning wheels of light. The first (root) and the seventh (crown) are parallel to the ground if you are sitting or standing, kind of like two endcaps on your energy channel. I see all the chakras as spinning clockwise, as viewed from behind and above. I know other energy methodologies have differences in these details. Explore a few, and do what works best for you. I also generally view the crown chakra as white instead of violet. Again, choose what feels powerful for you!

I also have a specific breathing pattern that I use when I do this meditation, borrowed from some tantric breathing I’ve learned. I breathe in from the earth through my root chakra and up my spine (or into the particular chakra I am working on), and then breathe out starting from the crown of my head, going down the front of my body and into the earth, in a circular breathing pattern. I envision releasing anything that was blocking my chakra to the earth on that out breath.

Once I reach the crown chakra and have cleared it using the method above, I will breathe in from the Divine to the crown chakra, down the front of my body, and exhale up my spine back to the crown. This is more of an infusion process, bringing the Divine in, as opposed to the releasing to the earth from before.

Draw your awareness into your body. Feel the ground beneath your feet/seat/back. Become aware of your consciousness’ connection to your body and the earth. Begin to reach downward into the earth, as if you were a tree extending its roots to grow. Feel your roots go down, down, down, until you reach a brilliant white source of energy at the earth’s center. This is the energy you will use – the radiant, pure energy of the earth – to cleanse your chakras.

Bring the energy of the earth up through your roots, into your body, starting with your feet, then your ankles, your legs, and finally into your root chakra. Your root chakra is a horizontal (parallel to the floor if sitting or standing) spinning wheel of ruby red light. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from above). As the white light of the earth enters your root chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your root chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant ruby light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Do this for several breaths. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your root chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

On your next inhale, breathe the white light of the earth up through your brilliant red root chakra and into your sacral chakra. The second, sacral chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of tangerine orange light in the center of your pelvic bowl. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your sacral chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your sacral chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant tangerine light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your sacral chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

Inhale again, and breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, and now into your third chakra. The third, solar plexus chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of golden yellow light right beneath your sternum. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your solar plexus chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your third chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant golden yellow light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your solar plexus chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

On your next inhale, breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, third, and now into your fourth chakra, visualizing the rainbow of colors as you breathe up the spine. The fourth, heart chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of radiant emerald green light in the center of your chest. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your heart chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your fourth chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant emerald light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your heart chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

Inhale again, and breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, third, fourth, and now into your fifth chakra. The fifth, throat chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of sky blue light in the center of your throat. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your throat chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your fifth chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant sky blue light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your throat chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

On your next inhale, breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and now into your sixth chakra. The sixth, third eye chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of indigo light slightly above the midpoint between your two eyes. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your third eye chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your sixth chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant indigo light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your third eye chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

Inhale again, and breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and now into your seventh chakra, seeing and feeling the rainbow of colors radiate up your body. The seventh, crown chakra is a horizontal spinning wheel of violet or white light at the top of your head. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from above). As the white light of the earth enters your crown chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your seventh chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant violet or white light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your crown chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

Breathe up your spine, sensing each of the glowing rainbow of chakras as your breath passes through them, culminating at your crown chakra. Breathe out, and send your energy up into the cosmos, spreading like branches in the etheric pool of Divine Energy. Inhale this Divine energy down the front of your body, allowing it to nourish every cell. Breathe out, moving the energy in a circular pattern back up your spine, and breathe down the Divine energy once more. Do this for several breaths. Once you feel completely nourished and at peace with this Divine energy, slowly bring your branches back into your body. Ground any unneeded energy back into the earth, and bring your roots back into your body. Take a few more deep breaths, feeling empowered and rejuvenated, cleansed and cleared.