One of the guiding principles in my life as a Priestess is "joyful service." I passed this phrase on to CAYA, and now with everyone's input this phrase means a lot of different things. But to me, at its root, it means that I bring joy to everything I do, and that if I am not able to bring that, I need to question why I am doing it. This doesn't mean I avoid the hard stuff, it means that even when stuff gets hard, I bring joy to handling it carefully. I have learned a lot about this principle from my dharma work. I witness examples of this principle daily as I observe the care Albert puts into things he does. He is naturally a joyful person, in part because he is a careful person. Full of joy. Full of care.
My work as a volunteer Community Priest/ess and my work as a Ceremonial Priest/ess for Hire are responsibilities I have taken up in joyful service to distinct-but-occasionally-overlapping-populations: the Pagan community and the customers of my shop, respectively. But, fittingly for a Priestess of Hekate, there is a third face to my Priestesshood, which I mentioned in my second article in this series is the source from which the others draw their energy. This third face is one I call "Priest/ess at Large." Nothing else I do as a Priestess would exist without this source.
I could title this role also "Priest/ess at my own altar" and it would be somewhat effective in conveying my meaning, but my life in magic has carried me so far beyond my own altar to the world of nature and social interactions that I like the term "at Large" better.
A lot of what I have written up until now has been somewhat technical, as I have been working to explore some of my lived distinctions, meanings, and understandings of the term Priest/ess. Thanks for coming along for the ride, if you have been reading these reflections. For the piece of the puzzle that is my life as a Priestess at Large, however, I feel it better to share vignettes that illustrate my meaning rather than to directly try to describe or categorize it.
Speaking of vignettes and memories, go read Alley Valkyrie's gorgeous, heart-wrenching Premonitions of Melissa on the Wild Hunt. As a Priestess of Aphrodite, the name of the piece was obviously relevant to my interests, but once I got into it this piece is an amazing narration of her life experiences as a Priest/ess at Large, in my opinion. I almost stopped writing this entry and thought I might just link to Alley's and say, "This is what I mean." But I have my own stories as well, and this whole series is about sharing our unique realities. So I'm sharing some of my own experiences in kind.
To me, being a "Priest/ess at Large" is not an intellectual, professional, nor specifically service-oriented activity nearly as much as it is a spontaneous, magical, transcendent activity where DIVINE HERE NOW comes sharply into focus. It is a timeless feeling and a direct experience, rather than a concept, in which all sacred moments reverberate as one strum, meaningfully, upon the web of existence. It is the sense of "I am currently the child of/receiver of/source of/conduit for The Mystery, and I know it. I am aware of it. It is real and it is now and it is happening."
I am in school, living in NYC. It's morning, and I'm coming gradually into the day. I'm not asleep but not awake, in the hypnopompic state. Out of the fog there is a face in front of me: an old woman is speaking to me in Spanish and gesturing for me to pay attention. It is my ex-boyfriend's grandmother. I don't speak Spanish well, and I have never met her, but she tells me who she is. She tells me over and over to tell him it's ok, it's ok, it's ok. I wake up swiftly and shoot up in bed. I have not talked with my ex in 2 years and I don't know his number any more. I call around to our various friends in common, and someone eventually has his contact info. I call him and he picks up after a few rings. "I'm sorry to disturb you and I know this might sound crazy, but I have a message from your grandmother. She came to me in a dream and told me to tell you it's OK. She looked OK." Silence. I always listen and heed when I get a message like this, and I occasionally lose friends over it. I have no idea what will happen next.
I recognize the sounds of quiet weeping.
"She died two weeks ago. She was everything to me. Thank you for calling me. Thank you for telling me this."
I am Priestess at Large when I dream, when I listen, when I speak boldly at the behest of doting dead grandmothers and other beloved departed.
Moving to Berkeley
I am 13 years old and I get my hands on a copy of Life 30 Years of Photography 1960-1990. I am looking through the 60s section for the hippies. In my small town, in a very conservative area, they are icons of freedom to me. I dream of running away to California, living on a commune, growing vegetables, and protesting war. I am completely drawn in by the photo of protesters placing flowers down the barrels of police/National Guard guns. My mom comes upon me pouring over the book. "What's that?"
"Mom, when I get older I am going to move to Berkeley, California, and be a hippie. And live in a commune."
"Oh really? Are you sure about that?"
And what will you do for a living?"
"I will own a store."
"What kind of store?"
"I don't know yet. It's like a book store but not quite."
"Well, I'll miss you."
"I'll come back to visit. Maybe eventually I'll live some of the time here and some of the time there."
Although I now live a few towns over in Alameda, I lived in Berkeley for my first 10 years in California. I have attended many, many protests. I do not go to them as much anymore in favor of creation-based rather than resistance-based social justice activities, as my personal activism evolves. I now live in an urban commune. I'm definitely a hippie in many ways. And I do now co-own a store that is "like a book store but not quite." I hope/plan to be a bicoastal dweller some day. I miss the snow.
I am a Priestess at Large when I am following my internal divine navigation system toward my heart's desires, and when I am womanifesting my dreams with trust and magic.
Bee sting & plaintain
I'm sitting on the bank of the Russian River, listening to the sounds of the water flowing and the family splashing nearby. All of a sudden shrieks of laughter turn into pain. The littlest girl has been stung by a bee. The family is gathered around and she is just SCREAMING. Mom has removed the stinger and looks panicked, Dad and the other kids are concerned. I look around and spot some plantain herb. I pick a few leaves and hand them to the mom.
"I would chew these up a little and then put them on the sting. It helps."
Mom looks at me, looks a little dubiously at the leaves, and then does it. The little girl stops crying immediately, and looks at me with surprise. They all look at me with surprise. I explain to them how plantain was used by the indigenous people of this land for a variety of ailments, bites, stings, and injuries, and how an Elder, ChoQosh Auh'Ho'Oh, taught me about it at the Northern California Women's Herbal Symposium. They are so grateful to learn this, to be able to keep enjoying their day together, to have relief from the sting, to feel close to the Earth for a moment. I can see this is a significant event for the little girl, who is now back to running around, examining every single plant in sight.
I am a Priestess at Large when I remember and represent the truth that women have long been natural scientists and medicine-makers, when I listen to the healing wisdom of the Earth, and when I put my herbal knowledge to helpful use.
Well of Sts. Catherine & Augustine beneath the Rude Man
In Cerne Abbas, in the UK, there is a chalk figure on the side of a hill known as "The Rude Man." Legend has it he is an ancient carving, though archeological data shows him to appear in the 17th century. He is linked to fertility and virility. My friend Ava and I hike up the side of the mountain and I manage to make my way through a hole in the barbed-wire fence to go and sit astride him. I recite the Charge of the Sun God that I wrote for CAYA's Brotherhood of the Moon.
I wish and hope and pray for my heart's desire, then descend down the mountainside and through a field to the Well of Sts Catherine and Augustine in the cemetery of Cerne Abbey. Local lore has it that if you drink water from a leaf dipped into the well, turn around three times, and make a wish, you will soon be married to your true love.
The area around the well has a unique and mystical quality to it. Ava and I try to leave the cemetery three times, and three times we find our way back to the well. We leave offerings and make prayers, enjoying the subtle beauty of the little corner of the cemetery where the well is tucked, watching the play of light through the trees in the near-silent town with a field of sheep grazing nearby.
Two months later, Albert proposes to me. A year later, two months before we are married, I bring him across the ocean with me, back to that well. I tell him the story of the last time I was there, and present him to the spirits of the water with prayers of thanks. He hugs me tightly and we weep into the well, tears of joy.
Click the photo below to see a slideshow of photos depicting scenes from this vignette.
I am a Priest/ess at Large when I honor the power of local spirits and sacred places, when I give my trust to the magic that is all around, and when I surrender my heart's most intimate desires to the Divine openly, honestly, tenderly, and passionately.
I could go on. I could REALLY go on! These experiences are the stuff that moves my soul most. Like that wishing well, being a Priestess at Large is a spring from which I drink. It quenches and sustains me. It gives life to my other work in the Pagan community, in business, and in all related spaces.
Bringing this series to what I thought would be its conclusion in this blog, I realize that I have another, maybe a couple more, pieces that I might write on this subject. I want to talk about what it means to be Priest/ess of the Goddess, and of specific named deities as well. What those relationships mean to me, what they grown into over time, how I serve at those altars.
Hmmm...I will not have time to do all of that before I go to Tibet. But afterwards, we'll see what happens.