Burning Woman, Healing Woman…

“Traditionally female archetypes get power from other people. Think about things like the mother, the queen, the daughter — these are all lovely archetypes for women, and yet they’re deriving their power from their relation to other people, whereas the witch, she has power unto herself. She perhaps draws power from something greater than herself or from nature, but it’s really coming from within herself. It’s not because it’s in relation to someone else. She’s self-defining in the same way women are defining themselves today.”

Pam Grossman

In the new book The Goddess in America, Kate Brunner’s essay  A Dream of the Wise Woman’s Comeback: Priestessing for Goddess in Today’s July 2016 211America, she writes evocatively of the Wise Woman as Healer, Protector, Advocate, Ritualist, and Conduit of Community.

Describing Wise Woman as Ritualist, Brunner writes:

“She was lighting candles. Women stepped out of the mists around me, creating a circle that enveloped us into its perimeter. She smiled. And ushered us all into sacred space.

More and more, American women crave ritual not tied to specific spiritual traditions in their lives.  Mother-baby blessings are increasingly replacing baby showers as the pre-birth ritual of choice. Death doulas and soul midwives are stepping into ritual roles of service created by the burgeoning home death movement. The labyrinth has made a huge comeback.

All acts of love are Her rituals.

To facilitate a mother-baby blessing, to lead a candlelit community labyrinth walk, to create entirely new ways to mark the dying of friends or family—these are acts of Goddess-centered love. These are not high magicks with pageantry, doctrinally-requisite tools, specific intricate invocations. This is the territory of the everyday ritualist. We are all capable of doing this work as long as we move from the Goddess-blessed love we know resides within us.

Imagine what it would look like if you:

  • Facilitated a mother-baby blessing for the next willing friend of family member expecting a wee one?
  • Issued an open invitation for your community to attend a simple moonlit labyrinth walk?
  • Created a brand new, low magic ritual to mark an occasion for a loved one?
  • Saw yourself as Goddess’ priestess in your community at-large?

Think about what little, everyday rituals are important to you. Think about how you might offer those beautiful ritual moments in a way that might make them important to others in your community, too.

I  just finished reading Burning Woman by Lucy Pearce. She writes powerfully of anger, and shame, and social fear of the witch, and of reclaiming the Goddess, both within and without. She quotes Rebecca Solnit, who said:

Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story […] The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt. 

Lucy Pearce also writes about the power of ceremony: “The weaving of a ceremony holds power in itself. There is a natural building of energy and anticipation through all the preparations and these should be done in the spirit of the ceremony, not with stress or hurridness. Preparing the space is a way of preparing ourselves: each action we take is meaningful and ceremonial, adding energetic charge to the space and to our understanding of the ceremony. The process is the purpose.

As the summer section of the Goddess Magic Circle draws to a close and I am planning the fall section as well as the Practical Priestessing and Red Tent courses, I also have returned several times to a quote from Elizabeth Davis in her book, A Woman’s Wheel of Life:

“Women who regularly participate in circle are best at articulating its benefits. [One woman] said that what she loved most about her circle was how everyone went deep, and that this had changed her life because she now brought that depth into her relationships…”  –Elizabeth Davis

In August, during our Cauldron Month, I am priestessing a family summer solstice ritual, a Red Tent Circle, a Maiden ceremony, and a small study group. I love this work. The weaving of ceremony. The calling of the circle. Bearing witness to self-discovery and connection. There is nothing like it.

“Let nothing stand between you and your overflowing banquet,
your inner abundance of Being.
Give guilt no place at the table of your Self.
You are all yours.
Every last morsel.”
–Bethany Webster, in Burning Woman

If you’d like to explore more of the messy, beautiful real-life work of practical priestessing with me, I invite you to join me in our Practical Priestessing or Red Tent Initiation courses.

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  1. What an incredibly fertile combination of ideas! This low-magic-ritual thing happened to me two days ago. On Monday a dear friend, who is Jewish, finally had to take his beloved cat in for euthanasia. He emailed me as he entered the vet’s office.

    I grabbed a standard white candle and very quickly carved in the cat’s name. Holding the cat’s face and voice strongly in mind, I lit the candle to heat some sage and frankincense. There is a traditional Scottish Gaelic song that mimics the call of the oystercatcher, a shorebird sacred to Brigid, which is believed to carry souls Westward, to the afterlife. Some in my tradition believe that afterlife to be Tir na nOg, the Land of the Young, a paradise with abundant food and entertainment and definitely no illness or pain. I relayed all this to the cat daddy before turning to prayer beads to petition Brigid the Healer to take the cat into her arms, and keep him until his daddy was reunited with him.

    I noticed the ordinary votive was burning for what seemed an unusual amount of time, which seemed to tie in to Jewish myth and tradition — and the cat daddy later confirmed that Jewish funerary candles burn for 24 hours. The votive didn’t last quite that long, and truthfully was probably fueled at the end by some wax I hadn’t cleared from the candle burner, but the idea of the flame continuing was powerful for me as I conducted the silent ritual, with cat and daddy both necessarily absent.

    I don’t know if I was a death doula, so much as simply lending my spiritual presence to a lonely man who is now stripped of the earthly presence of his companion. But my friend did thank me for “being there,” albeit in different places in the same city. I have offered to accompany him whenever in the future he feels ready for another cat. He wrote to me of the connected threads of lives, and asked that I always remember his little friend, and I told him I certainly would carry that very good kitty in my heart. Yet it seems like something a little above the usual way of our friendship. Not too far above, and no high magick was involved. Yet it was just a little more than the norm, and though he did not ask me to go with him to the vet, I felt a real connection during that time, and a sense of profound honor that he would ask me for this commemoration.

    So — I don’t know where to place this experience, but a lot of what you’ve written in this entry resonates with me like a huge gong. I was the woman who lit the flame and carried the memory of the kitty through the transition. I was the one my friend confided in and asked for remembrance. I’m just glad I had the time to be there in spirit and in communication throughout. There is no specific ritual that I followed — I was just a friend, yet my actions and intentions were just a little — ramped up? How to even phrase it? Just a little more ceremonial than just writing a note of sympathy. Holding space, I guess you could say. Accepting death. Holding on to memory. Low magick, but every move I made during that time was aimed at the commonalities in what my friend and I hold sacred.

    Thanks for giving this a name, and voicing these ideas.

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