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.

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.