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I spoke this message to the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church this morning, as a guest speaker (though I am a sometimes congregant there as well). I hope you enjoy it – I didn’t speak this exactly as-is; I went off book about 3/4 of the way through, and it went very well. I hope I have more opportunities to give this kind of message – it’s not as common to give “sermons” in the pagan community!

I want to thank Rev. Beisner for inviting me here to speak with you today, and to thank all of you who are here to explore a bit with me about my experience in as an animist, pagan, polytheist, and druid.

I’ll admit to sitting for a long time, staring at an open document, as I thought about where to start – there’s so much that goes into my polytheist practice, I wasn’t sure how to crack it open in a valuable way to folks who might not have any experience with it as a living tradition. Eventually I settled on a bit of a challenging idea – that my polytheism provides me with the space to resist the toxic aspects of materialism that have come to define our western culture.

So let’s unpack that a bit –

First – polytheism is the religious regard for many real gods. I see the gods as real, distinct, individual beings who are worthy of our honor and respect, and with whom I can enter into relationships of reciprocal hospitality. This is a belief system that embraces plurality – truth has multiple sources, and no one god, one tradition, one system has a monopoly on truth. Polytheism is not a religion. There are many polytheist religions, and they have different thoughts about the gods and how best to relate to them. There are many ways to be a polytheist.

Reciprocal hospitality is the idea that there is such a thing as right relationship, and that it is our Job – with a capital j – as humans to maintain right relationship with each other, with the earth, and with the many gods and spirits with whom we share this existence. Our ancestors had a strong tradition of hospitality as the contract that should never be broken, and we strive to maintain that balance.

Materialism is the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. It takes science – itself a wonderful thing – and turns it from a good servant into a tyrannical master. Even among many monotheists, there’s a strong assumption that everything has a rational explanation that is grounded in science. If it can’t be measured and tested, if it isn’t falsifiable, then it can’t exist. When polytheists talk about their experiences of many gods, a materialist assumes they cannot be talking about encounters with actual spiritual beings.

Of course, that’s a challenging thing to say to a group of smart, educated people like yourselves – but I think it’s good to entertain challenging things now and again, so that we can step into each other’s shoes and begin to understand the many different ways that we relate to the astonishing world in which we live. As Aristotle is famous for saying, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

I came to polytheism through theology – perhaps an unusual path, but it’s served me well. I grew up in the mainstream, liberal Protestant churches, with a brief stint in Catholicism, and then an even briefer time where I tried on atheism as a worldview – but I found that I had too many very real experiences to truly find atheism a good fit, and about twelve or so years ago I started down the pagan path that would lead me to becoming a priest of the many gods.

Ultimately it was the problem of evil that cemented my understanding of the world as being inspirited, being full of beings with whom I can have relationships.

Now, I’m far from the first person raised in a monotheist culture to have struggled with the problem of evil. For those of you not familiar, the problem of evil is the struggle with how an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god could allow evil to exist in the world. Many writers in many traditions have written about this – such that there’s an entire set of religious studies (called theodicies) that address the issue. For me, though, none of them satisfied my deep misgivings about the world and the terrible things that had happened not only to me but also to other people I loved and trusted.

It was Rev. Ian Corrigan – an ADF priest and archdruid emeritus – who first sparked the inquiry I had into polytheist theology as something that I can and should be interested in, with a discussion of how nature provides us with a model through which we can understand the divine. He says, in his essay “Approaching Polytheist Theology”:

Skeptics sometimes say that if there was a God it would look the same to everyone. The problem with that, of course, that they are only disbelieving in a monotheistic God. If there were only one god, it might look the same to everyone, but since the Divine doesn’t look the same to everyone, it makes sense to assume that there is not just one god. That’s the first lesson I draw from Nature as model of the Divine. In nature there is no unique or single thing. Nowhere in nature is there a category of things of which there is only one. Snowflakes are individually unique, but there is never only one snowflake. Things have variations that make each thing individual, but each thing is always part of a category.

To expand that into the problem of evil, when the gods are no longer all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving – when they are what author Terry Pratchett would call “Small Gods” – the problem of evil simply goes away. Because evil simply exists in the world as a result of all of the various persons – human and non, animate and inanimate, divine and mundane – having competing priorities. Sometimes bad things just happen and it’s nobody’s “fault”. This discovery left me seriously pondering my spirituality (which was, at the time, fairly pantheist – which is to say that god is in everything).

I was, as it were, hooked. So I kept reading.

With no mythic image of a being that is either the ruler or the sum of the cosmos, polytheistic philosophy is free to pursue real diversity, real tolerance. We assert that the Cosmos is intrinsically multiple in expression, whether as chemicals or as the stuff of spirit. The best attempts to depict Cosmic Wholeness might be mandalas – patterns made up of the dance of an often vast number of distinct persons and things. No single symbol, or being, can express the totality of Cosmos.

When we take up polytheism, we are plainly rejecting the claims of some religions that their God is the creator, owner and operator of the Cosmos. But we are also granting that the worship of every Spirit is valid and honorable. We are saying that every people, and even every person, may have their special spirits, their private ways and worship, and find acceptance. We reject the notion of the ‘jealous God’. In polytheism all the god/desses worship one another, and their worshippers are seldom restricted to a single deity or form of worship. It is always proper to honor the gods of one’s neighbors, and to expect them to honor one’s own. We affirm that different life-ways, different paths, lead to different places. The Gods, the practices, even the morality of the farmer is distinct from that of the artisan, the merchant or the warrior. So we teach ourselves not to measure the world against our own standards, and to remember that there are many ways.

Our western culture wants to tell us that there is only one right answer, and that all other answers are wrong. It sets up fundamental duologies, the idea that if you’re not with me, you’re my enemy, that the world exists in black and white, and that for every question there is either a scientific answer or no answer at all.

My very first pagan teacher said to me one time, as we sat around her kitchen table, that whenever anyone presented an idea to me and told me to pick between two things, that I should always find a third answer, and if possible a fourth and fifth, in order to begin to train my mind to the idea that the world exists in a beautiful rainbow of colors, and that very few things are ever only this or that.

Our world is complex, and our experiences of the divine even more so. I’ve heard it said that as many as 30% of the population will have an otherwise-unexplainable religious experience sometime in their lives. That’s a staggering number, and speaks to the ubiquitous nature of religious experience around the world. Polytheism gives us the space to say your religious experiences can be as true for you as mine are to me. If your experience of the world is that it is devoid of spirit, then that is your experience of the world, and I’m not here to tell you otherwise. If your lived life says that there is a supreme creator of some kind, I have no mandate to tell you you’re wrong.

But as much as your beliefs should arise out of your experiences of the world, and I will not judge you for believing in many gods or none, I will judge your actions.

Polytheism is a set of religions that center right practice.

To use Greek, we are orthopraxic rather than having an orthodoxy – what you do is what matters, not what you believe about it. In every ADF ritual, we honor the earth mother. It doesn’t matter if you believe in the earth mother as a deity, as the planet itself, as some sort of Gaia hypothesis, as our local watershed, or something else entirely – if you are willing to touch the earth and honor it (however that looks for you) then we are all on the same page enough to join together in practice.

What does that say to us about the culture in which we live?

It says that polytheism provides a structure for us to resist the ways in which our American mindset does not leave room for the world to be enchanted, for us to experience the divine and the natural in an expanded and pluralistic way. My polytheist practice informs my commitment to justice, to right action, to living in right relationship with the gods, with the folk in my community and around the world, and with the land.

After all – that is the oath I made at my ordination:

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

My service as a priest of the many gods includes justice, it includes environmentalism. It says that the world is full of spirits, human and non-human, animal and plant, animate and inanimate, and that I can and should live in right-relationship to those spirits. That I can be hospitable to my community, that I can serve the gods by caring for my landbase and by doing the work of social justice in my city and country.

It is the religious regard for many real gods – but it is so much more. Walking this path has reframed my entire experience of the world and my engagement with it.

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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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In light of the many, horrific, recent events (Trump administration looking to erase transgender people, bombs sent to prominent Democrats and CNN, shooting more unarmed black people, shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue) I feel that I need to make my stances perfectly clear.

I stand with the minorities, be they racial, religious, or sexual orientation and gender identity.  I fight with them where I can, and when I can’t, I try to raise awareness.  I stand against all who do not, and denounce those that attack any of them.

Unfortunately this past week is not anything new, and it has only happened more often and on larger scale over the past few years.  We have an administration that won on xenophobia and white nationalism, or in plainer terms, by imitating the Nazis.  Unfortunately this is not a uniquely American problem.  I really wish it was.  This kind of thing is showing its face throughout the world.  In Germany, we had a far right “Nazi” party win seats in their parliament last year.  We had the conservatives push for Brexit in the United Kingdom.  Just this week we had the far right win the presidency of Brazil.

America as a nation is stronger for its immigrant history.  We will only get stronger when we open ourselves up to the ideas and culture that future immigrants will bring.  Our problems are not because of immigrants, they are in large part due to greed by wealthy people and corporations along with the policies to support that greed.  For that reason alone, everyone should vote, and vote against those that support this greed.

Our racial minorities are continuously under attack.  I support Black Lives Matter wholeheartedly.  They are not saying that non-black lives don’t matter, but they are bringing into focus that there is a significant bias against them, especially from the police.  What is worse, when it is the police they are dealing with, they have good cause to fear for their lives. This is not limited to blacks though as most racial minorities have similar fears.  We need to embrace this movement and work towards more equitable policing, especially in predominately minority areas.

I firmly denounce any and all bigotry to any religion. The antisemitism of the synagogue shooting is horrific.  In this day and age there should be no reason to hate a person because they are Jewish.  For that matter, nobody should hate someone because of their religion at all.  We need to realize that if someone is truly following the teachings of their religion, and not a perversion of it that is meant to control others or perverted for political purposes, there is much more in common than different, especially when you are talking about the values the religions teach.

For anyone that is transgender.  I support you too.  There is no reason to not believe that you are not the gender you identify with.  I fully support you living as the gender that you identify with, and to be yourself and to be comfortable with yourself.  I find it abhorrent that anyone would think otherwise, and I will continue to do what I can to make sure you can be who you are.  I will do what I can in the fight that is currently going on, and I am more than willing to listen and learn from you.

With all of that, I will again make this offer to anyone that is reading this.  I live in a state that is likely to be minimally screwed by the current administration.  I offer you refuge here, and will help you transition to a more liberal area of the country if you feel the need.  My home is always open to everyone that does not hold a xenophobic, white nationalist, or similar belief.  I can always get a cup of tea, coffee, alcohol, and/or food here.  I pledge to help however I can and however you want, be it just sit here and let you vent or a shared brainstorm on what to do next.

In closing, I hear you, I support you, and I am here for you.

*Originally posted by Rev. Robb Lewis, who gave me permission to post it here, and to say that I agree with and stand behind his words. I’m sorry to not have the eloquence to be able to give my own words to this situation, but I offer these instead. 

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An excerpt from the lovely pre-ordination rite that Rev. Jan Avende wrote for me, performed by a small circle of close friends and mentors, in preparation that my ordination and my priesthood would be blessed and strengthened:

Blessing and Spirit Gifts

Blessing – one person speaks while another purifies with incense and water

May your feet be washed clean and purified,
as you stand ready to embark on your new path.

May your legs be washed clean and purified,
As you draw strength from the earth in this work.

May your hands be washed clean and purified,
as you prepare to do the work of serving the Folk.

May your heart be washed clean and purified,
as you open yourself to the love of the Land

May your lips be washed clean and purified,
as you sing praises to honor the Gods.

May your eyes be washed clean and purified,
as you see the way open before you.

May your head be washed clean and purified,
As your judgments be just and sure.

Individual gifts:

Each individual places their hand on their heart and reaches a hand toward the individual and states the gift that they give. You may speak these words as written, or use your own that better reflect the intent of your gift.

The work of a priest, while challenging, is fulfilling in many ways. May you find beauty and contentment in your vocation.

You will be challenged in many ways, and by many people in this work. May you be blessed with the confidence to hold your ground and be firm in your beliefs and your work.

Some things have no easy answer, especially in the work of a Priest. May you be blessed with the knowledge that you have a fair heart and strong will. They will serve you well.

You are a Priest, soon to have the blessing and burden of responsibility to the Folk. May you be filled with strength and courage to be surefooted along the path you set out to walk, knowing that we support you in your work, and that we trust in your vision.

Though the road may be uncertain at times, know that the path will reveal itself in time. May you be blessed with patience as you find your way, and may you never stagnate in your growth.

Priesthood can be lonely, and requires sacrifice. May you know that you’ve got allies in this world, as well as in the Otherworld to support you in your work.

As you find yourself changed after this rite of passage, know that your words carry weight. May you be filled with the deep voice that speaks to the spirits and invites them into your work.

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When did you hear the call to the path of ADF priesthood? What did it sound like?

If I may offer an answer that is slightly tongue in cheek, it sounded like a phone call to Rev. William Ashton where he asked me why the h*ll I wasn’t doing the CTP. (It was not a subtle call, that one.)

To more seriously answer the question, I need to go back to days long before my even knowing that paganism existed, to the time as a child when I first considered a calling to ministry. My paternal grandfather is a minister, and he is a wonderful example of the beauty and sacrifice that such a vocation can take. When he retired, I spoke at the party – I was eight – and read a poem about being shown the way to do things, instead of being told. I think back on that now and all the things that he showed me how to do that I am now doing in my grove, and I am thankful for him.

I think back on considering Methodist seminary, on considering whether I had a Catholic vocation to holy orders, on my days with a Trad Wicca outer court, and it is very clear to me that I’ve always been intended to be a priest, have always been called to ministry. I just had to find the right religion first.

When I began to study with ADF, it was entirely as a solitary. It wasn’t until I began working with a group – flexing my muscles as a leader – that I started to consider ADF’s priesthood. Over time, as my study group grew, as I was encouraged by other priests who provided shining examples of servant leadership, as my own spirituality grew and changed, I realized that while the path of the Initiate will one day be one that I walk (and probably soon), my little community here needed a priest, and I was willing to step up to fill that need.

ADF is my spiritual home. I’ve studied a lot of theology, and tried on a lot of religious hats, but until I found ADF – and specifically a devotional polytheist current within ADF – I never truly felt like I’d found the tradition I was supposed to plant my roots in. In ADF I’ve found a tradition that values both study and piety, ritual and action, history and inspiration. Reimagining the Indo-European religious practices has given me a depth and breadth of spiritual practice unlike anything I’ve known before – and unlike my days studying Christian theology, the more I study, the more sure I am that I’m in the right place, and that I’ve found the place where my vocation is meant to be nurtured, cultivated, and grown into a full-blown ministry.

The call itself wasn’t something that began or ended at any one time, but rather something that grew and was nurtured in me by my practice and study, by other priests, by my community, and by the Kindreds, until it was something I could no longer ignore. In August of 2014, I officially set foot on the path to become ADF clergy.

What form do you expect your vocation to take?

I expect my vocation to take a few different forms, based on my work so far in the clergy training program. My oath will be to serve the gods, the folk, and the land, and I see my vocation as falling into those categories as well.

I know that my devotional relationships with my deities will remain the central focus of my private practice. I have taken oaths to that service, and though I fully expect to “Serve the Gods” in many and different ways, I will likely always remain both a public servant priest and a devotional priest. I look forward to my vocation encompassing multiple spirits and to my service in the community continuing to be one where I am known as a polytheist priest – someone who will make offerings on behalf of the folk, and who will help people listen to the gods and spirits that are important to them, even if they are largely unknown to me.

I also expect that my vocation will continue to grow one on one, with the people to whom I act as a mentor. I have a strong history of helping people who feel “lost” find their footing again, getting them restarted in a devotional practice and helping them find a new home in paganism. That home may or may not be with ADF, but usually within a few months of working with someone they feel more confident and empowered to step out on their own and be the type of pagan they are called to be. Since I seem to attract these types of people both in-person and online, I will continue to make myself available for both in-person and virtual mentoring, and I look forward to seeing many more folks find their way.

My vocation in my community will, I hope, continue to express itself through the growth and development of Nine Waves Grove. I have tried since my first study group meetings in 2013 to empower the people in my group to lead, to study, to teach, and to perform rituals in such a way that my grove has never become “the Lauren show” – and I fully expect that to continue. With a slowly, but consistently, growing membership, I serve there as a coordinator, as a liturgist, as a spiritual counselor, and as a mentor, and I hope that my vocation to leadership in this group continues to grow along with it.

Serving the land is probably the place where my vocation feels the weakest, at least in the sense of things that are demonstrable outside of my own small spaces. I expect that I will continue to serve my local landbase, to clean roadsides and waterways, support legislation in Houston that preserves our wild spaces, and to grow what things I can in the little bits of earth I have access to. I have always sought to be the “Druid of this Place”, and I want to continue to be that druid.

Do you feel prepared to become an ADF priest now? Do you see further work that you will need to do to prepare yourself for the work ahead?

I don’t feel like the work I will need to do to be the best priest I can be will ever be done, but I do think that right now I have done the work that it takes to be a first-circle priest. In many ways, the work that I do for my gods and my grove already is the work of priesthood, and it is now up to me to “formalize” that relationship through ADF and ordination. I knew what priesthood often looked like when I started, having grown up in a family with a minister, and I knew what I needed to do to prepare for that and practice that, even though much of it has been external to the clergy training program courses themselves. ADF’s study programs have given me the academic foundation for my priesthood, but I expect to be challenged and continue to grow in study even as I mark this one moment of completion in my journey.

But the work of being a better priest is ongoing, and I am fully prepared to continue to study, both within ADF and with other groups, in my goal of serving the gods, the folk, and the land. I hope never to feel stagnant, never to feel like I’ve “learned it all”, because this journey is one that will change and grow as the responsibilities I have change and grow. May I never become complacent, and may I always strive for growth and the betterment of my ministry and service.

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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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