So You Wanna Be A Priest

Here’s the thing:

I’ve felt for some time that Brighid’s been calling me to priest/esshood. It’s been an inkling at the back of my mind for many, many years and only grew when I helped found Clann Bhride. Earlier this summer after the Orlando Pulse massacre, the necessity and enormity of priest/esshood felt like it could suffocate me. How could I respond most authentically in the face of tragedy and injustice? Submit, seemed to be the answer, submit to your Lady, submit to your community.

I’ve had two tarot readings in the past month – one done by myself, and one from my fiancé – oh by the way blog I have a fiancé and I also moved to New York City and a million other things I have to catch y’all up on – and both of these readings seemed to be whacking me upside the head with a clue-by-four. This is the path and you know it! Stop hesitating and get your life right!

I don’t know… a lot of things, to be honest. I always thought about priest/esshood, both in the sense of dedicating myself to the worship of Brighid in a particular way, and in the sense of taking care of and ministering to others in my community, as something that would happen when I was ready. And one of the biggest indicators of being ready would be feeling ready.

I don’t feel ready.

For starters, I don’t even know exactly what I mean when I say “I want to be a priest and/or priestess of Brighid.”

I don’t know what makes Brigidine priesthood different than just being really really devoted to Brighid. I haven’t done an initiation or dedication or anything similar on my walk with Her. I forget my Flamekeeping shift more often than not and don’t have a regular prayer life at all.

I don’t have peer counseling or conflict resolution skills, or good executive functioning, or a body and brain that work right most days. I get overwhelmed easily and don’t know how to handle my emotions sometimes. I’m not as kind or patient as I think I should be, and I don’t have a clear map ahead of me.

Here’s what I do have.

I have a very, very, very big heart. It is (figuratively) misshapen, bleeds quite often, and doesn’t often know how to hold all the hurt in the world, but good Lord it’s gonna do its best.

I know who I need in my life right now, priestwise, as I struggle with issues of faith and justice and the sticky reality that is being human. I frequently mourn this individual as not currently existing in my life and thinking of all the advice and counsel I’m missing out on. I needed a priest after Orlando. I needed a priest when my Mom went in for cancer screening this week. So I have a clear idea of the person I want to become – at least, part of this person – which is maybe the first step to begin with.

I have an amazing community of fellow devotees in Clann Bhride, and other Pagan and polytheist friends on the internet who support and uplift me. I have a far-flung family who understands this kind of thing and can help me not reinvent the wheel.

I have a beautiful, strong, compassionate fiancé who loves me dearly and has shown me more grace and understanding when it comes to our religious differences (which aren’t really that great, in the long run) than I ever experienced with my Pagan ex. Etienne is the person who, when they walked into the room, caught my eye and made my soul exclaim softly, “That’s who I’ve been waiting for.”

I have a strong sense of justice and equality. And even though it doesn’t feel like it, the fact that I am disabled, and mentally ill, and neurodivergent, is itself a great boon and not a detraction. My priesthood will joyfully reflect all these parts of myself (and not-so-joyfully sometimes, I’m sure) rather than trying to refract light around the places I feel lacking.

And, finally, I have Brighid. If She hasn’t gotten tired of me now then I’m not sure I’m ever going to shake Her – and sometimes I feel like that feeling’s mutual. 🙂

So, here we are, and here I am, publicly confessing these thoughts and questions that have flown through my mind. What happens next? I guess I’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

Finding Grace in Pain

I wrote these thoughts specifically about my own experiences with chronic pain, but they may also resonate around issues of emotional and mental pain, such as working through trauma, bereavement, or depression.

I don’t believe for a moment that Brighid causes us to suffer. I certainly don’t believe She does so to teach us life lessons or to make us stronger people. Religions have been grappling with the concept of human suffering since the dawn of spiritual and ritual life. I believe wholeheartedly that Brighid (and other deities) suffer /with/ us. When we mourn, when we ache, when we face oppression and injustice, our gods walk by our sides. 

I don’t believe Brighid “gave me” a congenital back disorder – I have genetics to blame for that – nor do I believe She takes any pleasure in my pain or struggles to access medical care. I /do/ believe that in the midst of pain I can look to Brighid and see Her presence in my life. She is a goddess of healing, and so intimately knows the reality of infection, inflammation, muscle cramps, and damaged nerves. As St. Brigit She is said to have suffered terrible blinding migraines which left Her debilitated for days on end. As the wife of the Formorian king Bres and the mother of Ruadan, She knows intimately the wracking pain of war unending and the unspeakable depths of sorrow that can only be spoken when cradling one’s dead child on the battlefield.

Grace is drawing near to the font of divinity, feeling the presence of our gods despite – perhaps even because of – the slings and arrows of human life. Grace is our attempt to give speech to the unspeakable, the ineffable, the divine. When I have to plan my day around how many times I can reasonably navigate stairs without too much pain, I am in grace. When I experience so much depression and executive dysfunction that I cannot even leave the house, I am in grace. I may not always be able to feel it and may not always be on the lookout for it, but Brighid constantly surrounds me with Her love and grace. She is there sharing my pain and struggles until it becomes Our pain and Our struggles.

On the Ineffable Blessings of Mouse Poop

This post is about mouse poop, but first I’d like to start with a confession: the last time I’ve “done ritual” was September 2015, with a local ADF grove for the autumn equinox. Before that it was sometime in the summer of 2014 with my then-partner, and then again that November with an attempt to corral nearby Pagan communities into some semblance of unity. At some point, “doing ritual” was a regular part of my practice, but moving away from the Pagan group I founded at college, to a very conservative part of the state where the nearest groups are at least an hour’s driving distance away… you can imagine how ritual has slipped from my life.

I’m not sure I can give a good explanation of what I think ritual is. When I think of “doing ritual” it includes something that is pre-planned, rather than spontaneous prayer or devotional offerings (though prayer and devotion can certainly be part of ritual!). For myself, ritual has included observances of the Wheel of the Year, practicing Senut when I was with Kemetic Orthodoxy, and participating in last year’s Reunion with the Otherfaith. It has been a long, long while since I’ve done ritual as a solitary; perhaps last Reunion over a year ago counts, but because the Otherfaith started as a far-flung internet thing, online socialization happened before, during, and after the holy week, so I never felt alone in that sense.

I regularly flametend for the Clann Bhride Cill, but for some reason keeping Brighid’s flame, even with recurring prayers, songs, and symbolic actions, doesn’t feel like “doing ritual.” This probably has more to do more with my own set of standards and definitions than it does with the importance of tending my Lady’s flame. Obviously each flametender would have their own feeling toward what they do for their shift!

There are many reasons for why ritual has slipped from my life: three years in graduate school is a good place to start, as is moving back home, experiencing two breakups (and two new relationships!), depression, and physical disability. Some of these have changed, like my finishing my degree last month and settling into a new relationship with a partner who gives me a great deal of comfort and joy. Some of these, like mental illness and chronic back pain, are still with me to this day. As I’ve grappled with the general sense of imposture syndrome that seems to leech onto everyone in their 20s, I realize that I will never feel ready for all the things I want to get to in life. I also realize that a lot of being an adult isn’t necessarily knowing what to do, but going out and doing something and getting experience that way. It’s been a difficult lesson to learn for someone who struggles with self-esteem and being a high achiever when I was younger. It’s tempting to quit when I run up against a wall of things I don’t yet know or understand.

Which brings us back to mouse poop.

My house has been host to a few new friends as the days have gotten colder, and despite the successful deployment of mouse traps we are, apparently, still experiencing a rodent problem. I myself love mice because I once rescued two baby mice from a high school biology experiment (and if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the kind of person I was as a teenager, I don’t know what will). Their names were Ferdinand and Alonzo (again, I was that kind of kid) and they lived to the ripe old mousey age of two and a half before going to the great cheese wheel in the sky. So even though I know wild mice pose a health risk and I was seeing droppings all over my house, and even though once a mouse was so bold it ran out in front of my lazy dog, who did nothing, thanks sweetie, I was still kind of excited to be sharing my home with rodents again.

When I cleaned off my Brighid altar for my cill shift Saturday night, I found that mice had been doing more than sharing kitchen and living room space. Part of cleaning involves taking off each piece on the altar – the art work, the brats from past Imbolcs, the water urn – and shaking off the altar cloth. As I moved the candle used specifically for flamekeeping, I looked down and saw the unmistakable sight of two mouse droppings alongside the burnt candle wick. Not only that, but there was a decent amount of fur and scored wax in the shape of rodent teeth.

This is a seven-day candle, the kind that’s several inches high with smooth, glass sides, and one that was furthermore sitting inside a large vase. So at some point – probably while I was out of the room, but I also enjoy the idea of this happening while I was sleeping and unawares – a mousey friend jumped several times its height, plopped itself into my unlit candle, and decided to see if wax was edible.

I don’t know if I can explain why this scenario made me so delighted, why I laughed and smiled as I cleaned out my candle, why I felt the tiniest bit of regret at having to melt away the bite marks for my flametending shift. It was unexpected. It was silly. It was probably gross to anyone who wasn’t me. And while I don’t think Brighid sent that mouse as any sort of sign, I’m finding meaning anyway from the evidence left behind by my fellow devotee.

Life is complicated, weird, serious, and oftentimes sad. Ritual helps us mark this reality, but it also gives us the opportunity to put a pause on the normal way of doing the work and experiencing the world. It means we clean out things that haven’t been cleaned in a while and discover that even when we were wrapped up in our own perceptions, life was continuing merrily along without our prompting. And while a live mouse is probably not the most sanitary thing to include on an altar, I do think in its own way the little fella gave some extra blessings to my cill shift this cycle.

(Featured image credit to Hy’Shqa.)

Flamekeeping and Healing

Note: this blog post discusses hazing that happened some years ago. While it doesn’t go into specifics, please be aware if this is a trigger for you as it is for me.

This is the second shift cycle for the Clann Bhride Cill. I’ve never started a Flamekeeping Cill before, though I’ve belonged to the one at the Cauldron for a few years before the launch of Clann Bhride last year. I still belong to the Cauldron Cill; in fact, I even scheduled my shift on the Clann Bhride Cill to be the same as the Cauldron Cill, to make sure I wasn’t overwhelmed with devotional work. But Brighid has a sense of humor (or maybe I just have a sense of duty) and I picked up an extra shift to cover when someone left. As you do. So as I end one shift tonight, I know that tomorrow night at sundown I will begin my second shift and continue the work started over the past 24-hours.

This shift cycle was especially important because of where it falls. Those of you following along at home know that February is an awful time for me because of hazing I faced at my first undergraduate school. Though I try not to know anymore exactly when the school does its Hell Week anymore, I found out anyway that it was this past week, culminating on Friday, and that my shift the next day would be tinted with that. I was a little distressed, I won’t lie; there’s always a knot of panic around this particular traumaversary. But it is amazing what changes in a year. I have done a lot over the past several months in purging this pain and guilt from my heart. I have distance; I have clarity; I have age, and with it some degree of wisdom. I’m not the same eighteen- and nineteen-year-old student surrounded by peer pressure. I wouldn’t make the same choices I made years ago.

Most importantly, I’ve spoken up about my experience and been able to get this poison out of my system. Allowing myself to heal, forgiving myself, and making sure that I have a phenomenally wonderful life despite what happened to me in my past, has been anything but easy. Yet when I think of this past weekend – perhaps the least pained and troubled I’ve been in since my own hazing in 2009 – I know that I’ve made progress. I can see it; I can feel it. I’m the person I am today because of my trauma, yes, but more so I’m who I am today because I got through it. Everything from my feminism to my religious preferences to how I think about community and consent comes from this experience.

Which brings us back to Brighid, and Flamekeeping, and this particular shift that ended some hours ago. The weather outside yesterday was horrendous, as it was for much of the eastern half of the United States; it snowed for fifteen straight hours and left over a foot and a half of snow, which is particularly dangerous in a mountainous region like ours. And yet today the temperatures soared into the low 50s, much of the snow melted, and I went outside in just a t-shirt to soak up the first sun in weeks.

Today was glorious and amazingly, almost ridiculously symbolic.

Keeping Brighid’s flame is the one regular devotional act I perform for my goddess. From sundown to sundown I literally (with a seven-day jar candle) or figuratively (with a special bracelet only worn on my shifts) watch over a flame that represents the same fire St. Brigit tended at Her abbey so many hundreds of years ago. I sing, I pray, I clean up Her altar and the rest of my room, and I do Her Work. As a goddess of healing and justice, I’d say that I’ve been in Her arms for a long, long time, possibly since before I realized Who She was. Every shift, even those I forget to keep, I can see the progress I’ve made and the subtle changes manifesting in my life. Just since the previous shift I’ve applied for a full-time job and given a talk at the local UU congregation about Brighid. And sometime in the next shift cycle, I look forward to seeing some beans sprout that I planted just today.

Following the symbolism of today – rebirth and coming through the darkness and just wanting it to be spring already – I planted seeds: two dozen marigolds, one dozen slicer tomatoes, and one dozen green beans. It was good to be outside in the sun and even better to have my hands in the dirt. This time last year, torn apart by the dissolution of my first serious relationship, I’d been too bereft to care about the garden I wanted to cultivate. Now I have two egg crates full of soil and seeds, resting by a south-facing window in my room.

I haven’t celebrated Imbolc in years, precisely because it coincides with the month of my traumaversary, but even the part of me that’s just logic and skepticism has to admit that Brighid coming into my life when She did, the way She did, and being Who She is, is a wonderful twist of fate. The goddess I love has Her most sacred festival in my month of sorrows. The goddess I love is a protector of women – and though I am trans and not always or exactly a woman, my hazing happened at a woman’s college at the hands of women in the name of sisterhood – and a dispenser of justice and judgment. While I’m not arrogant enough to think She personally fixed me wholesale, nor disparaging enough of myself to think I had nothing to do with my own changes, I acknowledge and am so grateful for the fact She has stayed with me through my transformations. I am not the person I was when I first prayed to the Lady of the Stars in late 2010. And for that, I am truly thankful.

From heart to hearth I pass this flame ’til next I tend it in Your name.

The State of the Sage

Good Lords and Ladies (does that sound too pretentious? I feel like that might be too pretentious) it’s been a long time since I actually blogged for Sage and Starshine instead of just reblogging content I’d written elsewhere. Let’s recap what I’ve been up to in the past few months.

Library Stuff

I’m in my final calendar year of my MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) and will be graduating next December/January with my expensive piece of paper that says I’m a real live library adult and can be paid real live adult money. I’m both excited and terrified at the same time.

This semester I’m in Multimedia Production, which builds on an earlier class on web design. Our final project will be a website that functions as our online business card of sorts. Fun fact: Holly Black (yes, the Holly Black, and if you don’t know who she is drop everything in your life and go to your local public library’s YA section and check out all her books) took this exact class in my exact university in 2002 and her final project is still used as an example of building a cool website. That practically makes me royalty, right? Here’s the first project I turned in this week, which is just a basic site to house my analysis of another website. I’m so ridiculously proud you have no idea.

My other class is Social Informatics which is, among other things, the field that studies how society and technology interact. It’s mostly a fun class, though I am frustrated by the number of older students and sources that are technophobic and complain about what the Milleannials and Homelanders are doing with their Googles and their YouTubes. One interview we listened to put technology at the opposite end of the spectrum from spirituality, which is of course bullshit. My religious life is plenty technological and vice versa. I like to stir up trouble in class.

Also, I’ve applied for a full-time position at a local(ish) library! I’m crossing fingers and toes.

Brighid Stuff

Last month, Clann Bhride started its own Flamekeeping Cill. I’m really excited about this and the growing Clann Bhride community on Facebook. I tend to go through cycles with my Brigidine practice; it’s been on the quiet side recently, but I’ve come to realize the embers never really go out. I often think of myself as a “Brighid kid,” not so much in that I’ve been chosen to be Her child, but in that Our relationship is always open and I’m welcome to come home whenever I want. It’s a comforting position to be in.

On Imbolc I gave the sermon at my local Unitarian Universalist congregation on Brighid and St. Brigit. It was pretty anxiety-inducing for me and I feel like I flubbed it, but the folks who talked with me after the service said I did well and no one could tell I was nervous. It’s so difficult to condense Who This Goddess Is in a twenty-minute slideshow presentation with Q&A afterward. It did have me think about how to communicate my ideas to a non-Pagan or non-polytheist audience. The UUA is a liberal religious organization but one that also has a strong intellectual, sometimes humanist or theologically secular bent. I actually find it easier to talk with my Baptist mother about my deity beliefs than I do folks who are largely nontheistic. (Not that talking with Mom is always easy; this past Christmas she told me she wished I’d reconsider Christianity. My insistence that I was a polytheist and couldn’t/didn’t want to make Christianity work for me didn’t really make a dent.)

It also reminds me of a conversation I had with a close friend of mine who’s a secular humanist. She’s known I’ve been Pagan for years, and we both actually met when we were evangelical teenagers who were Totally Christian and Totally Straight. (That didn’t last.) I realized that she didn’t realize that many Pagans and polytheists literally believe in the gods. It was… awkward. Not that she was disrespectful – she’s always been very supportive of me, which is why we’re friends 13 years later – but it was disquieting to explain my thoughts about Brighid.

It’s easy to be outwardly religious because I do go to a church (just not a Christian one) and we have things like sermons and hymns and meet on Sunday mornings at 11 AM. Oftentimes I can pass as Christian without overtly lying about it, which is a boon in this part of the state. I just also get frustrated at lacking my awesome online community in the physical world. What I wouldn’t give for Wednesday night prayer circle and spaghetti dinners for Brighid, you know?

Otherfaith Stuff

I’ve really enjoyed the past few months getting to know the Otherfaith community. Recently I started blogging on a mostly weekly basis on Of the Other People. What I love most about the Otherfaith is the emphasis on values like consent and personal autonomy, and the fact we value stories and modern folklore as a way to understand a pantheon of gods and spirits. Being part of a modern religious tradition is freeing, in many ways; there’s no Lore to creep around, no ancient traditions to care about resurrected, no cultural appropriation to avoid. Aine, the founder of the Otherfaith, has also made it explicitly clear that those of us without mystic bents have just as much ability to understand the gods and contribute to the faith. She’s been wonderful about answering questions and letting me bounce ideas off her at all hours of the day. Being able to write mythology and meet the gods that way is freeing and empowering.

Right now I have two half-finished myths. The first is about Epiphany, a spirit of books, knowledge, and chance, and her relationship with the Clarene, founder of the West. The second is about the Ophelene, a goddess of retributive justice, and the holiday of Reunion.

Speaking of Reunion – which is held from Dec 25 to December 31 – I had a really good time celebrating it with the Otherfaith community this past December. I’ve got a small project in the works of collecting the Reunion essays and poetry we all created and publishing a free, spiffy-looking PDF to showcase our work.