(Wo)Man in Love, or When Gods Collide

Last night, I had a lovely conversation with WMFH about how in love he is with his girlfriend. It was amazing how his face lit up in this expression of pure bliss as he spoke of her. Love can make anyone beautiful, and every time he mentions her he becomes positively beatific. I know that look, because since my weekend of passion with my Paramour, I have been beamish and blissful myself. There is something so transcendent in loving and being loved. I used to think that my modus operandi with men was unhealthy, that my my propensity for hypersexuality and tendency to fall in love with them as easily and completely as I do was a sign of some emotional instability on my part. As I have gotten older and my spiritual quest has become more focused, I have realized that this is why I am here. This is what I do. My affections can serve a purpose. I have always felt that I failed at being nurturing, because I tended to only feel nurturing toward men I was in love with. Now I see that this can be beautiful. Sometimes giving love without asking for it in return can be the most fulfilling love of all. Rather than seeing my affections as being something I inflict upon someone in a desperate attempt to win their love in return, I can see now that I am giving them something, something that every person on earth could always use more of. The pain comes when you expect something in return. Adjusting your expectations is necessary to avoid this pain. Of course, it helps immensely that I have my husband now to ground me. There is little risk to loving someone if you know that at the end of the day you have someone to recharge your batteries and love you in return.
Me at college
Me, feeling a little blissed out, at college at 42, married, dating, and kinda loving middle age. It was test day, and test day means 2 things: cookies and cleavage. The cookies were apple almond cinnamon bars and the cleavage is front and center.

I feel that my relationship with the gods has been a critical part of recognizing love for what it is and what it isn’t. Love can transform you, but it shouldn’t be relied on to change you. Love can rescue you, but you can’t expect it to save you. Love is like gravity; the strongest force known and the weakest (is a physics reference too obscure? Meh, you all seem like a PBS kind of crowd). During music appreciation class, WMFH played some Gregorian chants while discussing the importance of monophony in conveying the sacred nature of the chant. My Little Inner Voice said to me, “music is how the god within us speaks to the god outside of us”. The conversation with him after class made me realize that love and sex are how the god within us speaks to the god within others. This is why the experience is so unique to each situation. Every relationship is a different conversation, a different interaction. I have learned that love, any love, is what it is and cannot be defined by anyone. It cannot be molded into something it doesn’t want to be. Because it isn’t about us, it is manifestation of the divine seeking the divine in the physical world.

My Paramour and I have been like lovesick teenagers for the last week, texting and Skyping and calling each other for hours on end every day, all giggling and pillow talk and future plans. There was a time in my life where all I would have seen was the inevitable entropy of our relationship, the gradual decay of our orbit ending in a crash landing back to earth. Now I feel that I am able to embrace my emotions as well as accept his affection for me without question. I don’t worry about if he thinks I am too fat, or that my breasts aren’t as perky as they once were (although they are still quite remarkable for a woman my age thankyouverymuch). The fact that he is as insanely hypersexual as I am, combined with our decade long history and friendship makes us uniquely suited for each other. He is everything I ever dreamed of having in a “lover”, as if he were custom made for me. I tease him that he is my male maenad, our encounters fueled by an animal abandon and savage ecstatic debauchery.

The love that I get from my husband is so lovely and unconditional, almost maternal at times. Ours is a relationship of deep and serious affection and respect, and a protectiveness that I had never known before I met him. He is the man I want to walk through life with, swords raised and battle-cry howling.

My love for my best friend is timeless, we have been together for so long and through so much that it is seamless and effortless, as much a part of myself as my right hand.

I consider myself so very blessed to be surrounded by men who love me and accept my love in return. Each man in my life is a different conversation, a different song, a different kind of love. It truly feels like I am talking to gods and the joy at being so fortunate to be able to participate in the conversation is exquisite.

At our wedding, we asked Co-Priest to read the story of the origin of love from Plato’s Symposium, but ultimately Hedwig said it best:


On Being an Eclectic Reconstructionist

My co-priest and I are planning Yule. We are both working through our ADF dedicant path with the intention of joining the clergy program afterward. He is a Hellenist and I am Heathen, for lack of a clearer term. Even though we both consider ourselves to be Reconstructionists, we also both consider ourselves to be Eclectic. This might seem like a contradiction to many, and while I can’t speak for my co-priest on the subject, I can at least make an attempt to define this for myself.

First off, some background. I am what many would call Heathen. In other words, I follow what most consider the Norse religion, only the variation I have been called to is actually more Continental Germanic and Anglo-Saxon. The catch is, the majority of information we have about what we consider to be the Germanic gods is filtered through post-Christian Scandinavian texts (the other catch being the modern age filters it through Neo-Nazi websites and the SCA). So, in short, in order to follow my path with any level of coherency, I can’t just be Anglo-Saxon or Germanic, I need to fall back on the Norse literature to fill in the gaps. I actually don’t care to use the term “Heathen” to describe myself, since I don’t think that communicates a clear picture as to what I am about, but it is a workable shortcut for now.

The hallmark of modern Paganism is the constant need to define and label what we are. Many of us end up as hyphenates in an attempt to describe something that isn’t clearly delineated in the first place. The thing that many of us forget, Reconstructionists in particular, is that these things weren’t clearly defined for our ancestors either. Think about ancient Europe. Centuries of invasions, plagues, and migration meant that the religions themselves were in constant flux. Neighboring gods were added, spirits of one landscape metamorphosed into the spirits of another as people changed environments, invading governments adopted local deities and then changed them to suit their needs. And lest we forget the ultimate four-letter word: Christianity. We can do our best to restore the ancient traditions as accurately as possible, but ultimately even our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of practicing a “pure” version of their own religion. As a Heathen, ancestry is important to my world view. Heathens tend to put a lot of importance on bloodlines and genetics (and, yes, this gets a bit “problematic” at times). As an American, I am not of one national or ethnic origin. My predominate ancestry is Anglo-Norman English and French Breton, but I am also Irish, Hungarian, German, and Native American. Both sides of my family have been on this continent for over 11 generations (and longer in the case of my Passamaquoddy and Anasaguntacook ancestors.) The nature of my very being is eclectic. For me to try and select a spiritual path based on my ancestry would demand not only an Indo-European melange, it would have to include the indigenous beliefs of a completely different continent. Likewise, if I were to choose a spiritual path based on the deities I have had significant metaphysical encounters with, that too would lead to a path as winding and syncretic as anything could be. I am an American™. That in and of itself not only allows for syncretism, it mandates it.

To rattle your spear and accuse someone of being inauthentic as a Reconstructionist because they do not follow the dogma WE invented (because YES, any and all modern Reconstructionist practices are complete inventions and adaptations, no matter how based in historical fact they are) is as obnoxious as the hipster band snob who desperately looks for one-upmanship by siting every obscure Clownstep DJ he can think of and smugly sneering at you for not sharing his passionless accumulation of trivial knowledge. The proclivity for one-upmanship is a huge divider in our community, the tendency towards judging others even more so. The Reconstructionist hate the Wiccans, the Wiccans hate the Chaotes, the Chaotes hate everyone… and so it goes. Hell, we even debate if someone is “allowed” to call themselves Pagan. Are New Agers pagan? Satanists? Unitarians? Who are we to say?

So, where do I get off calling myself a Reconstructionist? I consider myself a Reconstructionist because I consider it my duty to contribute as much as I can to the scholarship and dissemination of the traditions, art, history, culture, language, and values of my Northern European ancestors in as historically accurate way as possible. I want my knowledge of the past to inform, rather than define, my beliefs. I do not consider my reverence for Dionysus to be at odds with my Heathen roots any more than I consider the addition of the Vanir to the Norse pantheon to be somehow “sacrilegious”. To be a Reconstructionist in the 21st century means evolution and flexibility. The world is a much smaller place and the gods are mingling at that great cocktail party in the sky.

I Suck at Prayer

Every day when I wake up, I light the candles and incense at my small shrine to the household gods at the back of the house, then I light the official shrine on the hearth in the living room. The smaller shrine, which has pictures of Hestia, Hera, and Hecate, was started shortly after we moved into this house. I have that ritual down pat. An offering of honey, wine, and usually some baked goods (or at this time of year leftover Halloween candy… what? It’s a thing! Women like candy!), then I light the candle and incense and say “Thank you for your blessings and your bounty, I ask for continued prosperity and harmony in our home.” A simple petition and expression of gratitude, right? It took me MONTHS to come up with that. The main shrine is a much more elaborate set up. Our wedding swords hang over the hearth, replica statues of the Norse gods (not those ones that look like props from Conan the Barbarian) adorn the mantle, the ADF Fire, Well, and Tree, Moroccan candle lanterns, the ashes of my grandparents and pets, objects representing the different elements, offerings of nuts and fruit, etc, etc. It is a manifestation of a lifetime of acquisitions and considerations, and it looks damn sharp if I do say so myself.

The hearth shrine on Samhain, 2012

For this shrine, I wash and refill my Well, offer some sort of food item, light the main candles and incense, recite the basic verse from the ADF prayer, “The Fire, The Well, The Sacred Tree, flow and flame, and grow in me”. Then I try to meditate… or pray… or something. Usually, that something never comes. It’s very strange to me that I feel so much more in tune and in touch with my gods when I am not praying. It almost feels like that awkward moment when you go to kiss the person you have been courting forever, only to find you’ve been “friend-zoned”. The proverbial high-five left hanging.

Oddly, I don’t really have this problem when the moment is less of what you might call a “prayer” moment. Before each ritual, I like to take a few minutes alone to clear my mind and focus my energy. At these times, I can almost feel dozens of hands at my back, buoying me up like a big cosmic stage dive. I have had many moments where I have spontaneously felt the divine beside me and been guided. You would think prayer would be easy under those circumstances. Any attempt to translate my devotion or respect into actual language ends up feeling stiff and fake. Writing any liturgy for ritual makes me feel like someone at a Ren Faire jumping around yelping “HUZZAH!” It just never comes out dignified or, more importantly, truthful. In my mind the most comfortable way of communicating with the gods has always been in a very casual and conversational way. “Yo, Wodan, you rock, dude” may not sound impressive, but it feels genuine and sincere. Ultimately, isn’t this the goal? To have as sincere and real discourse as possible? Otherwise, you’re just going through the motions.

Interestingly enough, this was one of the things that drove me from Catholicism. Keep in mind, I was not raised in a devout household. My father is an atheist and my mother is sort-of quasi-pagan and married to a staunch Pagan. I was only Catholic because my family heritage was Catholic. Even as a child I knew I had very spiritual proclivities, but every time I tried to pray? Nada. Whenever we went to church? Zip. In Catholic school? Donut hole. For years I tried. It wasn’t that my experiences with Christianity were bad, they were just nonexistent. Complete flatline. As I grew, I had many spontaneous spiritual encounters that lead me to the path I am on now, but now I find myself staring the same issue in the face. I feel more often than not like I am trying to call the guy I met at the club last night and only getting voice mail. “Are you there? Sorry, I thought I heard someone pick up… oh well, if you get this message and you aren’t too busy give me a call. I really had fun hanging with you last night, so… you know… er, k, talktoyoulaterkthanxbye…”

So, I continue to light my candles, offer honey, and stand dumbly in front of the effigies, just waiting for that spark to come. In the meantime, the dreams of talking horses still come to me, signs and portents, minor prophecies fulfilled, and an awareness of that unknowable “something” when I least expect it. I guess I really can’t complain, I just wish the act of deliberate prayer was more fulfilling.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m a Priestess!”

I love BBQ.

I married a Southern Gentleman from coastal North Carolina, and I am not entirely sure if it was him or the BBQ that won me over. I happen to be a fan of Stubb’s BBQ sauce. I am telling you, that moppin’ sauce of his is A-MAZ-ING. One of the more charming aspects of Stubb’s is the catch phrase written right on the bottle, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m a cook!” I’ve always found the self-determination of that statement almost elegant in its simplicity. Stubb’s wanted to be a cook, so he was a cook. The exuberance of the exclamation point is almost poignant. You can almost feel the joy of a realized dream, of a life lived to its fullest, of a person so certain of their identity that one sentence was all it took to become that thing.

The first thing you learn when you learn a second language are the “be” verbs. “I am” is quite possibly the most magickal phrase in the human tongue. It is defining, it is definitive, it is self-fulfilling. So frequently we focus on the things we are not, the things we wish to be, the things we could be if the circumstances were different. Personally, I try as often as I can to take a page from Mr. Stubbs. I am exactly what I tell the world I am. (More on language and magickal thinking in future posts…)

When my “co-priest” first brought up the idea of joining the ADF and pursuing the clergy path, I think he was shocked at my enthusiasm in joining him, which may have seemed to outsiders completely out of the blue. While friends knew I was some kind of Germanic-y, Heathen-y Pagan, it was not a topic I discussed freely. When we first started to perform rituals, I was terrified. I felt like a phony playing at being a priestess, undeserving of the title. My co-priest was so much more knowledgeable and comfortable with the liturgy, where as I just wanted to say as few words possible and get off the stage. On top of everything else, I have this fear of being taken seriously. I have this sarcastic, “Mae West one-liner” persona that has been my defense since childhood, and the thought of shedding that armor, having to stand before others and be not only sincere but devout was like staring into the abyss. The first ritual we performed was a Hellenist Orphic Autumnal Equinox rite (my co-priest is a Hellenist, and our congregation is mixed so we try to trade off different traditions). The ritual was beautiful, and I think I did rather well, even if I was shaking throughout. (Some people may quibble with the fact that neither my co-priest and I are officially ADF clergy yet, however our group actually formed long before we decided to go the ADF route, and he actually performed my wedding ceremony a few years ago.)

The second ritual, a Proto-Indo-European inspired Samhain and the first to completely conform the ADF core order of ritual, was a steaming hot mess.

We started with very lofty ambitions, created animal masks to represent our totem animals to protect us, bonfires, torches, and a goat sacrifice (calm down, the goat was made out of straw). At the last minute, everything started to slide sideways, my co-priest had foot surgery, I had a German midterm the following week, one of our congregants broke her wrist and couldn’t come, 2 others had a month of hellacious traveling and were too worn out to make it, and so on. Half our group would be missing and those that would be there were sick or crippled. We persevered, I made a fantastic bear mask, my co-priest was an owl. We did a couple walk-throughs, rehearsed our liturgy, checked out props and timing, we thought we had considered all possibilities… ah the best laid plans…

The Lemur, the Crow, the Bear (me), the Peacock, and the Owl (my co-priest). My husband, the Bull is taking the photo.

As the ritual began, we turned off the lights, as it was to be conducted by firelight. I tried to read my script… only to discover that in the dark my bear mask made it impossible to see anything with my 42 year old eyes. I stammered and stumbled, whacked one of the attendants in the face with my corn husk censer during the purification, was unable to light the bonfire, and generally fell apart like Mary Tyler Moore throwing a dinner party (if you are under the age of 35, you will not get that reference.) I was frustrated, embarrassed and generally not feeling the ritual vibe.

Then came the reading of the names of the dead. Every member of our grove had written the names of the loved ones they had lost over the years, and I read them out loud as each member placed a clove into an apple for each person they wished to honor. I could actually read these, as the print was larger, and as I did so, the feeling came over me; a reminder of why I was there, of who I was serving, and the reason for the ritual. A ritual is a party you throw for the gods, ancestors, and spirits you want to honor. Sometimes, even the most disastrous party can be memorable and endearing. In the end, I think everyone felt a sense of catharsis, and the ritual ended much better than when it started. This made me realize, performing a perfect ritual doesn’t make you a priestess, having an official clergy license doesn’t make you a priestess.

I am a priestess because I am willing to take that chance of making a fool of myself so that the gods and ancestors can reach out to us.
I am a priestess because I am willing to spend my time educating myself about the gods and the ways of our ancestors.
I am a priestess because I am willing to pass on that knowledge to those who want to learn it.
I am a priestess because I am willing to spend 2 months of my life preparing for a ritual regardless of how many people show up. We don’t do these things for the “audience”, we do them for the gods, spirits, and ancestors.
I am a Priestess because I am willing to change the things about myself that I see as an impediment to my relationship with the gods. I am prepared to mold myself into a more appropriate vessel, a more loving and forgiving person, a more disciplined and dedicated scholar, and a manifestation of both their will and my own.
I am a priestess because I have chosen to be a priestess. Because I was called to be a priestess.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I AM a Priestess!

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