A Solitary Priest

Rev. Jan Avende is working on a Unity Rite for Summerlands Online Festival this year (where I am doing a presentation slot called And Now What: Exploring Pagan Discernment). For that, she’s requested that all of the solitaries of ADF who wish to be included to take a photo of themselves that represents them and their spiritual journey, and to send it to her for compilation.

Here’s mine:

A Solitary Priest at her Altar

Because of camera angles, you could see the flame, or you could see the World Tree, and I chose to have the cosmos sigil there represented, since it’s such a profound symbol for me as an ADF Priest.

Also, this is the first picture I’ve taken of me in my stole that has my Nine Waves pin on it. It makes me a lot sad to not be part of that group anymore, so I’m glad to have a pin to mark my time having founded and built the group over the last eight years.

Image by annca from Pixabay

30 minute trance practice as part of a course I’m doing for the next 16 weeks called Practical Animism – today’s exercise was around meeting a person/relative that I consume on a regular basis, and exploring that relationship as one that acknowledges the personhood of the plants and animals that I eat.

I actually had some trouble deciding on a food-source that I wanted to reach out to, not because I wanted to pick the “right” one but because so many came to mind that I wanted to approach. I ultimately ended up settling on Rooster and Hen, because I do eat a lot of chicken, and I was pleased with the interaction. I’ve never been particularly distanced from my food – I was raised to thank the food (despite being Christian!) and to thank the Gods (or God) for my food, and so it felt very natural to enter into a conversation with Rooster and Hen about the fact that they sacrifice their lives for me to continue living. I ended up feeling very much called to raise my own chickens, which is not possible right now (community code violation unfortunately) but I think will be something that I do as soon as I’m in a place to legally do so.

Also, I explored the nature of the relationship of Humanity to Chickens – as the domesticator and domesticated relationship progressed, which I didn’t connect to as strongly as I did just to the animals themselves.

I did go back and repeat the exercise with corn – especially as I’m cooking corn this afternoon (charring it on the cob to make Elotes Pasta Salad for a dinner tomorrow). I eat a lot of corn, and it’s a plant with a long and sacred history that I’ve tried to respect. It was easier to talk to Rooster than it was to talk to Corn, probably because Rooster has body language I understand better than Plant Language. But I did get a sense that Corn was, at least at one point in time, honored by its connection to humans – and is now very troubled by mass monocrop farming. Cornfields used to be sacred places, and now they are sterile, machine-driven ones, and that’s maybe not actually a step in the right direction.

I have attempted (unsuccessfully) to grow corn in the past, and could not grow it now even if I had room for it – my yard is in the shade of three huge pecan trees, and so I cannot grow vegetables here. But I feel like I can honor the spirit of that plant, which is so sacred to the land on which I live, even if I don’t grow it myself.

All in all, a very thought provoking set of trance journeys today, and ones I think I will repeat as I go deeper into my practice of Animism. I’m noticing as I sit with this, and am processing the work I did, that I feel almost unsettled – not because I did something wrong or feel guilty about eating plants and animals, but because I feel like I *should* have strong feelings about the fact that I eat plants and animals. I’ve often grown my own food, though never as my main food source, and as much as those plants were persons that I treasured, they were still there to make sure I continued to exist. I kinda wonder if folks in subsistence farming environments, or in hunter-gatherer ones, feel that way – I know many indigenous groups sacralize the harvest (of both plants and animals) and a great deal of paganism is about the sacredness of the harvest cycle at least as it was celebrated in northwest Europe. It feels as though I’m cheating, I guess, for how easy it is for me to get the food I need, and how disconnected I can be from the process of life-giving that happens for me to go to the grocery store and buy six ears of corn to roast for dinner.

(I do not go into or explain the background of this in my journal, and think that it stands well without a lot of filler. If you are interested in animism as a spiritual practice that complements polytheism, let me know and I’ll speak more to that in a more expository post. This is simply a reflection and a direct excerpt from my journaling.)

Image by Amber Avalona from Pixabay

So I’m working on my journal for Initiates Magical Practice, and I’m realizing something very very odd.

I have never, in my life, written magic down with the intent that anyone else would ever read it, let alone look at it and analyze it.

One of the very first things I learned, back when I was a baby witch and a seeker and before druidry had even entered my radar, was the Witches Pyramid. Jason Mankey discusses its history here – but suffice to say it predates modern witchcraft significantly. It’s an adage repeated over and over to magical practitioners and students of the occult as the foundation of how to do magic:

  • To Know
  • To Dare
  • To Will
  • To Be Silent

(Or, as my first HPS used to say; to know, to will, to dare, and to shut the fuck up.)

I don’t do a ton of magic, and what I do is usually spirit work or energy work, though I have branched out into candle magic, talismans and amulets, and spell jars for my Magical Practice course. Over the last three months I think I’ve done more magic than I’ve done in the last three years combined.

This is helped in large part by John Beckett’s excellent Operative Magic course, that is ongoing right now. John is a good friend and co-religionist, and I’m pleased to be able to support his work, as well as to learn from him. And I have learned a lot!

But now I’ve got a magical journal. I wrote my trance journal and submitted the whole thing for both Trance 1 for Priests and Initiate Trance 1. That was scary, but not really unsettling. It was soul-baring in a way, to have my intimate trance experiences put on display for someone else, but that even was different than how I’m working with magic now. I’m happy to share that journal with CTP students who are struggling with Trance because it shows a great deal about the struggles I had – it’s private, but it’s not secret.

I keep backups of all of my journals on Google Drive (because I am both a calligrapher and a techno-druid). My journals are all in text format on the computer because I can’t write as fast as I can think, and I get much closer as a typist – and because as a calligrapher I’m always too angry with how my journals LOOK to really be good at handwriting them. That’s why I’ve always been a blogger – if you’ve been around awhile, you’ve seen my journals from my dedicant work were all published here, as were my Liturgy Practicum 1 for Priests journals. Now I’ve shared that backup journal with three initiates that I’m hoping to work more closely with over the next several months, with the goal of seeing if I’d like them to be my initiators.

And I’m not just planning, executing, evaluating, and then perfecting my magical practice… I’m going to submit it to ADF and a reviewer, who is possibly someone I have never met, and quite possibly someone who has preconceived notions about me, is going to grade that journal and my experience of magical practice. That is a very strange feeling indeed. I can, of course, censor what I’m writing – or what I turn in at least. But I have to leave enough of the details so that someone who doesn’t know me in the slightest will believe that I actually did the working.

Which feels an awful lot like breaking the “and shut the fuck up” part of the pyramid. I know WHY they need to know that I can do magic – it’s part of being an initiate. And were I in a giant working group of other students and initiates, we could discuss and learn together over time and the folks initiating me would not need a journal to judge my work, but I’m not – my Initiate work is being done solo, and my learning is all self directed. I have a mentor (several of them), but this work is being done on my time and my schedule.

So someone has to know what I am and am not willing to do, and how I do the magic I have experience with. Then, at my ordeals, I will have to defend questions about those magical workings, especially about my magical ethics. In public!

I absolutely understand why this is necessary.

It still feels weird though.

Bryn Celli Ddu – courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

I just wrote a bunch of journaling for last week (the week beginning 6/22) and that’s week 12 of my 25 weeks of journaling for Initiates Lit Prac 1, Div 2, Magic, and Trance 2.

I did a TON of magic last week, and I am tentatively encouraged that it is working, so that’s exciting too. Also my Divination is turning up a TON of Eolh runes – a rune of protection, but it’s literally a really spiky plant that lives on the edge of the swamp. It protects you from the swamp… but it also protects the swamp from you, and I can’t help but think it’s a massively significant “social distancing” symbol.

I’m doing a lot of trancework, especially with the Ancestral Healing work that I’ve been doing and will continue to be doing as I go into the Animism and Ancestral Lineage courses this summer, as well as the Magic course I’m doing from John Beckett.

As far as Liturgy Practicum goes, my daily/weekly practices are… pretty daily/weekly at this point? I light the lamp, I do my 3 minute COOR (with no omen usually, just a rite of offering), I do a weekly fuller ritual on Fridays. I do divination whenever I think about it, and it all goes into my journal as well as into a spreadsheet. I don’t need huge paragraphs of reflection on a really well established daily practice at this point. (I clarified this with my mentor to make sure, and they say it’s fine – you reflect on the things that are important, and document that you are doing the work.)

I do need to document my Midsummer observance, but that’s pretty easy. The only thing I find challenging is that I don’t really ever use scripts for my rituals, so I have to say “it looked kind of like this, but not exactly”.

One of the cool things about being in this space is that I am at a point where I can seriously start thinking about who I want my initiators to be. I have some ideas, especially as I’m also Clergy (so I’m going to request at least some of my initiators be Clergy as well). I’m expecting to finish the IP by the end of the year, so hopefully my initiation will be able to be completed next spring, since generally I think at least part of it happens outdoors.

Things are moving along though. Hopefully I’m in my last month of furlough and will return to work on August 1, which will make some of this more difficult, but that’s why I started working on the IP as soon as I got furloughed – I have the time, and it’s been really good to dig into my spiritual work right now.

Runes drawn for the Midsummer 2020 ADF Newsletter

One of the things I’ve always liked is the idea of creating purified water for purification of self and space in ritual. While water, on its own, is obviously cleansing, it’s nice to have “extra” purified water. This comes out of the Hellenic tradition of creating Khernips – Lustral Water – which had specific uses in Greek polytheism.

Most recipes for traditional Khernips involves quenching a burning stick/twig/herb in water that may or may not have salt added. I like having the “land, sea, sky” representation of salt, water, and a burning herb, so this is the formula I’ve come up for making my own purification water.

You will need:

  • A bowl of clean water
  • Sea salt
  • A bay leaf, a sprig of laurel, or other dry herb
  • A source of flame

Then say and do the following:

I charge thee, o creature of water, by the moon which draws thy tides, cast out all imperfections and be purified.

I charge thee, o creature of salt, by the sun which draws thee forth, cast out all imperfections and be purified. (put a pinch of salt in water)

I charge thee, o creature of fire, by the smoke which rises to the sky, cast out all imperfections and be purified. (light a bay leaf, and extinguish it in the water)

Use any time you are cleansing something for ritual, or in combination with other magic. I find it to have been especially effective.

In the beginning, there was distance. The distance between South and North. The distance between Fire and Ice. The distance existed before the many worlds were born, and in it there was, licked from the ice by the great cow Audhumla, a giant. Ymir he was, and he was the progenitor of all of the Jotun. There in the great between, he drank the milk of the great cow Audhumla, until he was slain. Odin, Villi, and Ve slew him, there in the gap between, and from him they fashioned all of the worlds. They fashioned the earth from his flesh, the seas from his blood, the mountains from his bones, the stones from his teeth, the sky from his skull, and the clouds from his brain. Four dwarfs held up his skull, one in each of the four cardinal directions. His eyelashes became the fence surrounding Midgard, or Middle Earth, the home of mankind.

Today we stand within those eyelashes, on the earth that was once the great sacrifice that brought the many worlds into being, and below it, we find that there are three wells. These three wells are the Well of Fate, the Well of Roaring, and the Well of Mimir – from them we seek wisdom, and we hallow this well that it may connect with the sacred Wells beneath Yggdrasil, that we may speak with the worlds below.

Above these three wells, we find a great tree – Yggdrasil – the steed upon which messages are transmitted from world to world. The dragon gnaws at its roots, the stag forages on its leaves, and the eagle soars in its branches, and around it spin the nine worlds of all of creation. We hallow this tree, that it may be Yggdrasil for us, that we may be the axis of the many worlds, the sacred center of all things.

And between these many worlds, up from the wells below, riding upon the tree, we find the bridge of Bifrost – shining and bright, the fiery way that leads from Midgard, where we now stand, to Asgard, the home of the Gods. We hallow this fire, that it may be the sacred fire that transmits our messages to the upperworld, that we may speak to the worlds above.

By all the mighty kindreds three
By fire and well and sacred tree
By land and sky and flowing sea
I recreate our cosmos.

This course will prepare the student for their work as an Initiate by examining the myths both within their primary hearth culture as well across Indo-European cultures. The student will also reflect on how mythology affects their personal practice, and how it can be applied to ADF ritual structure.

For this course, in all cases where you are to use your primary hearth culture, if you have not chosen one, please choose one that you would like to learn more about and use it for all the questions.

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This course will prepare the student for being an Initiate by giving them basic instruction in divinatory work, as well as an introduction to doing divination for ritual and others.

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For the first time since 2012, it’s a high day, and I’m not running a ritual. This feels EXCEPTIONALLY strange, even in the days of COVID, but I’ll be attending a ritual tonight, one on Saturday afternoon, and one on Sunday evening – all virtually. I’m going to get into that headspace and wear my stole, but I won’t actually be priesting.

As such, it feels very odd and not very much like May Day. But I got a playlist put together and have it cranked up, am dressed nicely (all the way to shoes) and have an apron on, and I’m making potato leek soup from the fresh leeks I got from my mom’s overabundant harvest. Also have a loaf of no-knead bread going to have with the soup for dinner.

Here’s that playlist, if you want to join me – I suggest you start with The Queen of Argyll and then put it on shuffle – it’s a massively diverse playlist, but really feels like the start of summer and festivals and outside.

And if you only have time for one song today, let it be this one. This is a traditional English Maying song, sung by The Watersons.

So fair warning – this post has a lot of opinions in it about things I’ve done, traditions I’ve been part of, and etc. I’m going to try not to air any dirty laundry, but I’m finding myself in a hard place with regard to my spiritual path right now, and I think processing it out will help.

I’ve spent 8 years with ADF, and attained clergy status – there’s about 40 people who have done that – it takes quite a bit of work and dedication. There’s two more circles of clergy training open to me, but they’re heavily scholarly (and somewhat dated) and won’t make me a better priest in ways that I think are useful for the kind of ministry I’m trying to build, so I’ve opted to do the Initiate Program, which is REALLY well done. I’m on course four of twelve, and when I am done with the coursework I will be set to face the trials (a questioning/defense, a ritual performance, and a secret one that I don’t get to know about in advance, but I have a bit of an idea what to expect). It’s an independent body, with it’s own leadership and preceptor, and the only requirements are “do the work” and “find three initiates who will initiate you”.

Okay, so that’s all good, and it’s good work and I’m enjoying it and getting some real nourishment out of it.

But… I’ve been on the mother Grove, ADFs elected board of directors. And it was so bad, I had to resign, which I did in January, alongside two other female directors on a 9 seat board. (Yes that’s right – things were so toxic that literally a third of the governing body resigned, and the other two quit ADF as well, though I obviously did not). The org has a serious “if we say we’re inclusive that’s all that matters” problem, and thus it has really problematic people running around because “we welcome everyone” and despite bylaws that espouse anti-racist and other (good!) ideals, doesn’t seem to back that up when people display really bad behavior. It also tends to not want to make hard decisions out of fear of “choosing sides”, something that I find very displeasing.

I have friends who have left the org who have said things to me that I struggle to describe (like “you just don’t have the strength to leave yet/you’re brainwashed”). They were actively harmed by the organization’s top leadership structure, and not only do I believe them, I have seen the harm that was done and did my best as a MG member to try to fix it. I was unable to do so.

On the other hand, ritually and energetically and magically it works for me. In the words of a clergy friend, it feels like if the good stuff is like a clean spring, the stuff I’ve lived through and seen and know is like someone dumped motor oil in it. To get to the good stuff, I have to go through the oil slick of gross that’s floating on top.

But I’ve looked around, and if I were to say, seek out a BTW coven? (Something I have seriously considered) I’d be going back to really basic stuff again, and that would be the fourth time I’ve started over like that. And that’s okay – everyone has to re-do the basics when they switch traditions, especially ones as different as Trad Wicca and ADF Druidry, but I’m very much tired of starting over if I don’t have any guarantee that it’ll work out.

Maybe that’s sunk cost fallacy kicking in, but it would have to be really perfect in every other way for me to be okay going back to square one.

I guess it boils down to:

Why am I continuing training, even if it’s really excellent training, with a tradition that I wouldn’t recommend other people join unless they have a really good local grove, and even then maybe not?

I have friends that I respect deeply who have decided to leave ADF. I have friends that I respect deeply who have decided to stay. All of us agree that the large organization has major issues, and I don’t begrudge people who decided they’d had enough and just voted with their feet and left. But I also struggle to abandon the magic, the religion, the mythology, the story that is my path in this religious organization.

My hearth fire is a hearth fire. My hallows are a fire, well, and tree. I’m a devotional polytheist at heart, and the ADF religious system just works for me. If it didn’t work, if I didn’t feel nourished and fed by it, I would leave.

But I also feel very alone. Some of that is because priesthood is inherently a lonely path unless you’re in a tight-knit community of co-priests. Some of that is because I don’t have a grove anymore, and am distanced from the community I’d worked so hard to build for the last eight years. Some of that is COVID and my inability to gather with the community I do have here in North Texas. It’s a lot to puzzle through, and in the end I’m trying to make the decision based on what my end goals are.

Right now my end goals are to deepen and improve my magical, trance, seership, and spirit work practices in a really intense way. I don’t know of anyone else offering this kind of training other than ADF or the advanced levels of an established traditional coven, and of the two, ADF is the only one I have access to right now. So I’m staying, and doing the work, and seeking initiation. I do not think I will regret doing that, just as I do not regret doing ADF’s clergy training program. I learned a lot, deepened a lot, and made some really amazing magical and religious connections through that endeavor. I am a priest, and that’s part of who I am, and I value that part of my work and my identity.

If, sometime in the future, I decide that the only viable option is for me to leave ADF, the training will not go away. The learning, the practice, the intense work that I’m doing right now will always serve me well.

Which I guess is a long way to say “I know this is a decision with a lot of facets, but it’s what feels like the best choice for me right now”. I’ve made no oaths or promises about the work – merely some goals on how I’m going to get it done – and so I can always choose differently in the future.

Hopefully as I get settled I’ll feel less conflicted about this. The clergy journey that I do each new moon felt easier this month (especially as I did it over Zoom with friends – that really helped). I’m told that “searching for identity” is a common problem with priests of all kinds, so I maintain that deepening this work is where I think my efforts are best focused right now.