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As a note – this post is pretty personal. It is 100% my personal opinions and experiences, and does not represent anyone other than me and where I am right now. Please take it for what it is, and know that I am sharing out of a desire to help myself process what I’ve been through. 

I’ve been an ADF priest for just over a year now. In that time, I’ve also become first a Dedicant and then an Initiate in another tradition (that is currently closed, so beyond calling it a polytheist religious order, I can’t say much about that other than that it was an intense experience and extremely powerful).

Also in that time, my grove has lost all of its founding members, and most of its regular members as well. At the time of my ordination, we pulled together a ritual team of almost 15 people to perform the ordination/May Day rite. This May Day we have – on a good week – 7 people. Our ritual attendance is down from 30+ to 10+. I have lost friends, deep heart-friends who I thought I could not run a grove without, and here I am… without them. I am burned out on service, and the grove is taking the whole month of May off to regroup, that I might come back ready to be their priest fully and with my whole heart.

ADF is a hard place to be right now, especially as a Mother Grove member – we had a hotly contested election where the people who I believe were looking to bring ADF forward into a more modern and streamlined version of a religious nonprofit (and who were eminently qualified to do so) lost their elections. I don’t think the people who won are terrible, and many of them are my friends, but I worry for the future of the organization that I’ve spent the last seven years devoted to, and through which I have my priestly credentials. I will continue to serve, because that is what I was elected to do, but deep worries niggle at my heart.

I’m going to quote Elie Wiesel here, because it says what I think I feel about all of this:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

And in the midst of all that, my Gods have gone quiet. I was warned that Herself would do so after my Initiation – that she wanted me to make my oaths and then she’d be off until She needed me. But Himself usually has lots on his plate during this growing time of year, and I’ve felt so distant from it.

I’ve also felt distance from the Clergy Order work – I’ve missed our mutual trance journeys multiple times, nobody is really talking. I have supportive friends, but it seems like we’re all struggling right now.

In many ways I feel like I need to go seeking again – I’ve had these huge goals set before me, and step-by-step I’ve achieved them, despite sometimes insurmountable odds (bipolar disorder, getting divorced, massive life upheaval). And now that I am without a goal, without something I’m working towards, I find myself looking for the next thing as though what I am is somehow not enough.

But I am a Priest – I am a Priest of a deity who called me seven years ago and who showed up in my living room in 2017 and said “why aren’t you my priest yet” and then took from me the oaths He wanted. I am a sworn druid, witch, and client queen to a goddess I never saw myself working with, and who made no bones about exactly who and what She wanted my life to look like (which is not being Her priest, but is certainly a pile of responsibility). I carry the sickle and the black-handled dagger, both as weapons and as art upon my body – I made oaths, and I will keep them.

I am a Priest of ADF – oathed to serve the Gods, the Folk, and the Land – an oath I repeat to myself frequently, as it defines the core of my spiritual practice. I serve a Grove – even if that Grove looks nothing like the Grove that my heart-siblings and I set out to build when we started it. I serve a community, on interfaith councils and through open ritual. My work is grounded in being a priest of the Many Gods, in serving the Folk, in honoring the Land. I wear and honor the stola of a priest, and have the sigils of the cosmos permanently inked upon my arms that I may be always the sacred center itself.

I am an Initiate of the Henge of the Cobbled Path, with more work and one more step ahead of me on that path. Work that is deep and old and new and strange and strong. Work that sets a part of my life aside as “other” and sacred, and yet is 100% a part of everything else that I do. I am a standing stone, one of many who together make a place of great devotion and magic.

I am the Druid of the Swamp, a Druid of the Bayous, a devotee of the Bayou Woman and the deep sovereignty that flows in her waters. I have always talked about being the Druid of This Place, and since I moved into this apartment I don’t have land, and so I’ve set about becoming the druid of my local waterways – and that means the bayous that surround me, the salt marsh, the brackish waters and the liminal waterbirds. I slip between the worlds, the cormorant who slips into the water in search of her prey, who nests in the trees around the bayous.

And that should be enough.

I need to go deeper into the things that I already am – I have so much growth to do. So much that I need to learn, and practice, and do. I am no mystic, and yet I have one foot in that world, and I will do my best to serve where I am called.

So tonight, I will go to the otherworld, and I will find the fires and tend them. I will do the work that is called of me. And I will try to understand that I am enough – and if I am not enough, then that work will be set before me. I have been told to rest, that I am not needed yet, that I have the work of a devotee to do, and no more for now. That is and must be enough for me right now. And when They come calling, I will – hopefully – be able to answer fully with all of the things that I have become and learned and integrated into my being.

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I don’t currently have any tattoos. This surprises none of you, for though I may be a flaming pinko commie on the political spectrum, when it comes to how I live my life, I’m quiet, conservative, and reserved.

Going out on a limb and having purple hair for awhile was a HUGE radical change. (That part of my life is done, now that I’m covering my hair.*)

But when I started this path in ADF there was an image that caught my eye, and I fell in love with it. With what it means, and with what it looks like – it’s just an aesthetically pleasing image to me.

cosmos sigil

Ian Corrigan created it – affectionately known as the Cosmos Sigil – and it is unofficially the symbol used by ADF priests and groves. It’s the primary symbol on the stole of an ADF priest, and many of us have it carved or painted on world pillars or pieces of art that we use on our altars.

 

And I looked at it and thought “I want that as a tattoo”. But I was new to ADF, and I figured impulsive tattoo getting was both a) dumb and b) really out of character, so I filed it away and nursed the idea and let it grow. A few years ago, when I got serious about my path as a priest, I started to really consider this a thing that I would be doing. I made it about a goal. I would get this tattoo when I was ordained, as a gift to myself, and as a symbol of my ordination.

 

I meditated on it. I had a friend who is good with henna dry-run the tattoos for me twice, to make sure I liked them, liked where they were placed. And I did. Having them on me was just right – it was how things were supposed to be. So I settled down to wait until I finished the first circle of Clergy Training, so that I could formalize the arrangement.

 

Well, that time is upon us, but my tattoo artist (that I picked out after seeing wonderful work that he’d done for friends) was booked through until May, so I was going to get the tattoos as a reward for having been ordained.

Until this morning.

I messaged him about something, and he got all excited – he’d had a cancellation this Saturday, and did I want to come in and get them done now, so they’d be all healed and glorious for my ordination ceremony. After a quick check in with the friends I want to go with me, I agreed.

So on Saturday I go to formalize an arrangement I’ve made with the Gods and Spirits, in a way that is permanent. I’m a little nervous, but mostly excited. One more step on the process that is taking me from where I was to where I’m going.

*Yes, I’m covering my hair full time right now. This is not a religious mandate (yet) but something I have felt called to do, and that makes me feel beautiful. So I do it! So far nobody has commented negatively on it, probably because I’m wrapping Tichel style and not Hijab style. 

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I’ve been reading Kathleen Norris’ (wonderful) book The Cloister Walk, about monastic spirituality, as a sort of side piece to all of the work I’ve been doing and to kind of keep me sane as I prepare for ordination and all the rest of the hoopla that is my religious life right now. And one of the things she talks about is the idea that, at least for Benedictine spirituality, formation is endless – the conversion of the self is a process that takes a lifetime.

So I sat down and looked at a typical formation process for someone in the Catholic faith vs what I’ve done, and realized there are some similarities. With apologies for generalizing, as each community really does have its own rules, and because what I’ve done is nowhere NEAR as dedicated as true monastic life, it still struck me that there were things that I could relate to.

My dedicant year was the equivalent of basic religious education – it gave me the tools to get started on the path, and set me up with a spirituality that I could practice satisfactorily for the rest of my life. This only took me a year, but for others it is the work of a lifetime, and that’s more than okay.

The 2 years I spent working CTP-Prelim were my postulancy – where I figured out whether this whole priesting thing was really going to be for me. It was a longer process, but like all processes – like all formation – it takes however long it takes. I did a lot of work, internally and externally, between August 2014 and August 2016, and I don’t want to shy away from that. It involved a lot of confirmation that what I was doing was really the right thing, and set me up with a lot of the spirit relationships that have continued to nourish me through to today.

From August 2016 to March 2018, I was a novice – not yet having taken any formal vows, but having applied and been accepted to my community of faith and living as best I could the life and spirituality of a priest in my community. I did the clergy student discipline, I spoke with mentors who assisted with my formation and my growth. I studied hard, got handed a few massive life-lessons in the process. I served my community in such a way that they could see my building ministry and vocation, and they allowed me to learn and grow.

And now I sit in the liminal space before taking my oaths as a priest – before being vested with the stola of a priest (which is given to me by the folk). I will step into the role of a junior professed, whose path is renewed every year through continuing education. I wonder what this life will look like in a year, or two, or five. Or twenty. I’ve been “in formation” since 2012. In five-odd years, I’ve come an awful long way, but yet there’s still so much that I don’t know. I’m still so new at this.

What will my life-long formation as a polytheist priest look like?

Because I am not done. If anything, the wheels of change in my life are spinning at a rate that is almost dizzying. New doors are opening up for me, with new opportunities to study and practice my spirituality. This is a watershed moment that I am preparing for, yes, but it is only the beginning.

To coin a phrase, this isn’t even my final form.

I wonder what that will look like.

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Toad Dandelion

toad dandelion

As a new pagan in the early 2000’s, I was aware that I ought to have a magical name, but I never gave myself one. Nothing ever fit.

Then, one day, in a fit of pique over yet another Lady Onyx Raven Wolfmoon, I decided to call myself Toad Dandelion.

I’ve used the name on and off over the years, always in jest, but it seems that if you jest about something long enough, it might stick.

Hi, I’m Toad.

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So I’m not a priest.

Yet.

But I’m kind of a priest? I’m a devotional priest, but you get that through a relationship with your deity, not through an ordaining organization.

I do a lot of priest-work. But I’m not an actual priest in a way that anyone outside of my grove would really ever recognize. They see me as one, but I don’t have the credentials yet.

Anyway. My final essay, the capstone Discipline course, is currently being graded for ADF’s first circle Clergy Training Program.

Which puts me in an odd, liminal space right now where I’m not really sure what I am, or what to do. I’ve finished all the work, but my ordination won’t be for another six weeks or so (shooting for April 28, if all goes well). It’s exciting – I turned in my first CTP-Prelim course in August 2014, three and a half years ago. So much of my life has changed since then, so much of who I am has changed since then.

I’m really proud of what I’ve done, of who I’ve turned into, and yet this process is only just beginning.

After all, I’m not a priest yet. There’s an ordination, an oath, a change of status for me with respects to my religious organization and to the world. I get to add “Rev.” in front of my name (though I have to figure out where and when I’m going to want that, if at all). It’s a beginning – of a lifetime of dedication, of work, of service.

“I pledge to love the land, to serve the folk, and to honor the gods. To this I dedicate my head, my heart, and my hands.”

It’s a simple oath, really. But a heavy one.

Planning an ordination is not unlike planning any other large event. You send out invitations, you figure out who is bringing what. You make arrangements for friends coming in from out of town. But somehow there’s a lurking terror beneath the excitement and busyness and planning.

What if I can’t hack it? Of course, I think I can, or I wouldn’t be trying, but what if I can’t. What if I bonk out of priesthood? What if I can’t live up to that oath, or the virtues and ethics I’ve set for myself? Thinking about it is intimidating.

I have two great priests coming to my ordination (at least). Rev. Jan Avende will hear my oath upon her sickle, and do the official work of ordaining me. And my good friend and spiritual mentor Rev. William Ashton will be there to witness it, to guide me, and because I came onto this path at his urging and wouldn’t want to formalize it without him there. (I have invited another priest, but he is unsure if he will be able to attend.)

But I haven’t met either of them in person before. Neither of these priests have seen me do ritual. Neither has seen my grove in action. Heard our songs and liturgy. Watched us work like the family we’ve become. And so I am nervous – what impression will we make. What impression will I make on these two who are coming from so far away to confer this ritual upon my head, to witness my oath.

And so as I enter into this liminal space – where my coursework is done, but I am not yet ordained, I find myself turning inward. To ritual, to trance work, to my allies and the spirits that surround and aid me. I’m doing more full rituals, because it feels right to do them, even if they’re the 5 minute kind and not the elaborate kind.

There is preparation to do, both in this world and the other, and it just feels right to amp all that up as I get ready to make this step into a new role in my life and in my grove and in my community.

We call through the mist to the Ancient Wise,
To Poets, Magicians, and Priests.
We, too, keep the fire of the Ancient Ways,
We have honored you well at our feasts.

Wisdom and love we have gained in the work,
But greater from you we now seek.
The voice of the wise has been stilled for too long,
And with it we now hope to speak.

So lead us, and speak to us, open our eyes,
Guide us in mind, heart and hand.
Teach us, we pray you, the ways of the wise
For the Gods, for the Folk, for the Land.

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A friend on Facebook was talking about how a lot of people describe their spiritual work as happy and sunny and bright, and how hers felt more like sliding down a hillside in the rain and landing on her arse in a pile of dead leaves.

She ended the post by asking:

Anyone else want to share an analogy for their spirituality that isn’t a motivational poster?

This is my response:

Being perpetually lost in fog, in scrubby hill country with patches of trees and patches of open air. Sometimes there’s a river to follow, other times a building rises out of the mists. Sometimes I go into the forests, but as often as not those are Places Not To Go. I’m never 100% sure of my footing, and rarely glimpse the path more than a few feet ahead of me. The mists are my constant companion, but at least they’re not cold.

There are moments of scintillating brilliance though – when the sun comes out and illuminates the world, and everything sparkles in a way that makes it seem too beautiful to touch.

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I’ve been working in trance/meditation lately, looking for a more active guide – I have a stable mental grove, and lots of things come to visit me there, but I am rarely led to leave the boundaries of that space, and I know I need to be able to do that kind of journeying as I work toward my Clergy vocation and eventually my Initiate’s work.

So I’m doing a lot of listening, and seeing who shows up, and I have an ancestor who seems interested (not surprising) but his work is very internally focused, so we often do work within my mental grove instead of going out into the Worlds. But I seem to have another spirit guide who wants to help, and this one is … uh … well. She’s showing up as a brindle and white French Bulldog. Which has got to be the most unimpressive spirit guide ever. But she keeps nudging me towards the boundaries of my space, so I’m going to try following her and seeing where we go.

I’ve always maintained that I was the worlds most dunderheaded trance/meditation spirit worker. Now, apparently, I am attracting adorable puppies as spirit guides.

5279cb72ea57ca0325acd10b80e754c6

The part that I *didn’t* share on Facebook? And that makes me feel like I”m a total whackjob barking moonbat?

Is that this little french bulldog started showing up after I added Carrie Fisher to my regular ancestor offerings after Hallows. (It’s traditional to refrain from honoring the dead from the last year until Hallows, so I hadn’t been making offerings for her, but I did a big public one at Hallows, and then ordered an “icon” of her and have her up on my shrine.) I don’t think the bulldog _IS_ Carrie, but I’m kinda wondering if she sent me a puppy.

25069473568_6033450794_o

It’s just weird and a big adjustment because I have longstanding relationships with rabbit, owl, rooster, and toad. So I always expected if I was going to have a spirit ally that was going to lead me into the worlds, it would be something like that. An animal I already have an affinity with, not one that I think is utterly ridiculous and silly and kind of … well, ridiculous. (And I’ve had plenty of experiences in my mental grove with ALL of those animals, but they clearly came THERE to VISIT me. Whereas this bulldog? she wants to GO PLACES. SEE ALL THE THINGS.)

So I have a new adventure buddy, and we’re gonna go explore all the things. I really do think she’s a good fit, because she’s quirky and inquisitive, and dogs make great companions – all things that I’ve needed in my spiritual life. I need an enthusiastic friend who will encourage me to take risks, and who will – if needed – be very protective if we get into trouble.

But I still feel pretty silly about it.

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