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Initiations of Ash

The man placed a line of gray ash from the sacred firepit upon my forehead, above the bright sindoor red bindi he had marked me with in Kali’s temple. I felt a shudder of energy release memories of past and future; a layer of old self replaced by a new layer of meaning. There was fire behind my eyes, gray of ash and red of blood. In that instant the gravity of the experience I had just received in the temple, the shrines I had visited marking patterns of a deeper mystery, began to transform me.

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She came roaring in a cloud of ash, bright flashing blade and lolling tongue. Slice, chop, red palms to hungry skulls, CRACK. Here, my child, You Are.

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The boat was rocking so softly as I took my place on the very edge, toes just touching the surface of the water; green-gray that seemed to taste extra salty. Or perhaps that was the tears trapped on my tongue. I plunged my hand into the depths of the black container, pulling out a grasp of the ashen remains of my sister’s body. My hand began to tingle as energy spread across it and up my arm. With a silent prayer I stretched out my arm and released, the ashes falling from my hand and spreading in a cloud in the water. I looked at my hand – it no longer felt like my own. It felt lighter, possessed of something holy and yet weighted by a mass defying it’s size.

Again. Plunge into the plastic, a handful of grains and chips of bone, release. The boat jumped slightly as wind and wave shifted, and the ash blew back into my face. Forehead, nose, lips – the graininess of salt and ash, borne on a gentle caress of wind. Again I felt the shudder, and the energy in my hand surged through my body and blasted through my new layers of meaning as freshly healed skin tender to the touch of it. I felt my crown open as my vision doubled, tripled, became clearer.

Now you see.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about initiation lately. The experiences I told you of here all happened within the span of about a month, this year. I’m also studying another initiatory tradition, and rolling that around has been an interesting exercise around my views on power and authority.

I’ve never really wanted initiation by a teacher (though I have craved the devotional relationship of student-teacher – but that is another post). The tradition I studied under the longest was non-initiatory, though I was given the blessing of self-initiation and acknowledgment as priestess.

But that isn’t to say I’ve never been initiated.

How could these experiences not be initiations? What if initiation is not only a single act, bestowed upon us by another supposedly (hopefully) with the support of the Gods? And what contextualization do we have for these experiences, let alone what support? I’ve struggled to feel comfortable discussing some of these experiences and to be taken seriously, and that struggle has really illuminated the places where initiation is tied to power and authority.

For me, being a priestess is who I am. It is how I walk in the world. It is in my actions and my way of being. It isn’t about holding power over others, dictating meaning or relationships with the Divine. It isn’t about being in service to any one or any thing either, though it is about being of service. It does mean an awful lot of work and sacrifice and looking at things that sometimes I would really just rather not.

It is going to the places unseen, doing the work that needs doing, and bringing it back out into the world. It is walking in cremation grounds, those places where people dare not go, and receiving the ashes.

“A healthy Priest makes all things sound.” Francesca DeGrandis

If I am a god, in relationship with other gods (embodied and not), then where do initiations come from? And if a God should deliver an initiation to me without an intermediary, how is that somehow ‘less valid’?

Ultimately for me, it comes down to the most important questions of all: how do you walk in the world? How are you of service? Do you live with integrity and accountability? Are you willing to show up and do the hard work? Will you thrust your hand into the ash and do what needs done?

If so, you have very likely undergone many of your own initiations, whether through the hands of another or the hands of the Gods.

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Building Polytheist Community: You Might Be Doing it Wrong

This past weekend was the second year of Many Gods West. As one of the conference organizers, I am still recovering from the last 11 months and so find myself unable to put words to my experiences just yet. I am planning to write a blog post about exactly what goes in to putting on a conference for Polytheists, Witches, and Pagans. We don’t talk about it too much and I think our communities should be able to see what goes on behind the scenes so that there is more awareness about how hard organizers work and just how much we wish we could do things like pay presenters. I would also love to see MGW East, Midwest, etc and sharing our experiences is helpful for those who want to try to do this thing. =)

As I wrote in my last post, I was also a part of the plenary panel on building polytheist community. I took the opportunity to hop on a soapbox and say some things that I really felt needed to be said. Here it is:

How do we build Polytheist community? First I want to start off with this:

We don’t build it by allowing people to attack members of our community in such a way that threatens their physical, emotional, spiritual, or financial safety. That especially includes attacks by people who are supposedly also a member of our community. If you hold some degree of privilege or position and there is nothing stopping you from standing up to such behavior that would also put you at risk and you still choose not to address it in some way, at the very least by offering support to the one being attacked, and then try to talk of community, you are being very hypocritical. And I say that in the most loving way possible, but there is an increasing amount of behavior I see happening that is hurting people and driving wedges into our communities.

And yes, sometimes addressing it does not mean making grand public displays, and we can do this while holding compassion. But there is far too much turning the other way, hoping it will just go away, lets just let them get bored and slink away until the next time. As a community builder I take this personally, because it counters everything I do and makes it that much harder. We have to be brave and willing to stare the dark, vicious, scarred parts of ourselves and our community in the eye. I also think we need many more opportunities to learn and employ tools of restorative justice.

I want to add and clarify that this applies to not only individual, interpersonal actions but also to those who use our traditions to promote bigotry and fascist ideologies.

I am working on getting the rest of my notes together into a more coherent article and will publish it here or on Gods&Radicals when it is finished.

I changed my plans for the Community Ritual of Grieving over the weekend. I recognized that it would not have been safe or responsible for me to hold a big cathartic ritual on Sunday given how tired I was, and it seemed like a lot of people were feeling “ritualed out”. Instead I facilitated a grief circle; it was so deeply moving and beautiful, I think that perhaps it was what was needed all along. The feedback I’ve received is confirmation of the deep healing potential of having our grief held and witnessed in community, and that we really do need more of these spaces. So I will be offering more of such things in the future.

I also want to say thank you to everyone who helped make Many Gods West 2016 such a success, and to everyone who has helped hold and support me during this very difficult year. You have my unending love and gratitude. I am very much looking forward to taking some down time to Just Be, and then jumping back in to co-creating more amazing things with you all.

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Many Gods West, Community, and Grief

Many Gods West 2016 is only 9 days away. The 2015 conference marked a significant point in my life, and I really can’t believe it has only been a year.

This year, I am one of two primary organizers of the event. And let me tell you, it has been quite the adventure worthy of a novel (I’m just not sure what kind yet – contemporary drama, urban fantasy, or maybe even a Dan Brown book). I won’t gloss it; it is exhausting and underappreciated work. And I am honored to offer it.

In the process, my relationships with gods and people have deepened greatly. Doors have been opened and thresholds crossed. Friendships that I will always cherish have been strengthened. Community has been woven. And it is that weaving of community that has held me in my grief during this time as well.

I am a part of two offerings during the conference. The first is the Plenary Panel on building polytheist community (Friday at 12:30); following our opening ritual we hope that this will help set the tone for the remainder of the conference.

Community building seems so challenging. And sometimes we make it more complex than it needs to be. I think people have a tendency to envision community as a utopia, as a grand idea to be reached. We set ourselves up to fail. If we adjust our thinking a bit, we may realize that we are already always building and supporting community, and that the work of doing that is not as big and challenging as we make it out to be.

We can also fall into the trap of conflating “community” with “identity”. Community does form around identity, but if we are not careful we will form an exclusive monoculture. Communities require diversity to thrive. We treat community as something that should just happen because we all share some thing in common, and we don’t question who we are including. For marginalized people this can be a source of support, but it can also be a source of harm. Community is a process; it is continually creating, evolving, changing, dying. And it is based in relationships.

The second offering is a Community Ritual of Grieving (Sunday at 2:00pm). Grief work has been a part of my service for a long time, but it is so much more personal now. And I feel more deeply than ever before the desperate need we have for community spaces around grief, and for more ceremonies for death, loss, and grieving.

We must grieve before we can create. We must learn to mourn what has been lost before we can build something better. We must honor that which is hungry and grief stricken within us. We must give voice and space to grief and to celebration.

That wail? The one coiled in your gut, the tip of it stuck in your throat? You fear it is too wild, too unrestrained, that if you were to let it free the force of it might just break you in two?

It is. It will. It must.

It is the sound of stars, the sound of black holes and supernova, the sound of a sun burning to its death giving us life.

It is the sound of your liberation. It is the key to your wildness and your power. Your restraint is the lock put there by those who seek to keep us quiet, passive, productive.

Let grief break you. Let our wails rise in unison, mourning all that we have lost all that has been taken from us.

And let us build a better world with the pieces, serenaded by rediscovered notes so sweet.

Grief is a part of who we are; as natural as breathing or eating. Grief and ecstasy weave together to form the tapestry of life and love. We will co-create space to access the grief that is held within, to give it sound and movement. We will then fill the space with love and our visions for a better world. We will hold and be held, witness and be witnessed.

I am very much looking forward to sharing Many Gods West with everyone. I hope the conference fills the cup of everyone in attendance, so that you may continue with your own good works.

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Invocation to Grieving Hearts

May the waves of our grief
and the fires of our open hearts
rise and flow to remind us all
of the power that we contain.

Our bones are made of mountains
Our tears made of stars

With the contraction and expansion of every heart beat
Our bodies call to the grief and ecstasy of life

May we remember
in honor of all those who are forgotten
May we remember
in honor of the blood in the soil
and the beings that have been lost.

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I actually wrote that over a week ago, before I really heard about the murder of Alton Sterling, followed by the murder of Philando Castile, and a number of other deaths of POC in the last few days that happen everyday.

It came after a night of devotion to Kali. It came after having another layer of maya ripped from my sight. I’ve been struggling to reorient myself since then, and have realized that nothing has felt stable in longer than I can remember.

Three weeks ago I wrote “I don’t know what’s next. We’ll see what the coming weeks and months bring, even if I am afraid to look.”

I keep diving into the current, hoping to pull out something profound and meaningful, something that will inspire to empowerment and action. But I gotta be honest: right now I’m not finding anything other than the ominous. And as I watch the protests surge across the country, fear and grief flowing through the people, I can’t help but feel that this is not the end.

Are you feeling it too? That sense of something being ripped open, of something below the surface that feels too dark, too deep?

Do you feel the resistance, like a rip tide?

 

Hymn to Kali

 

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O Maa
Dancing through our hearts
Shattering our illusions

You, Creator and Destroyer
All encompassing Time
Nothing escapes the wisdom of your blade

Sever us from our demons
Teach us to drink deep
of the ecstasy of life

O Maa
Praise be to you,
Most Fierce and Loving One.

Jai Kali Maa!

Poem and Photo by Syren Nagakyrie

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Roots and Rainbow Tears

I am breaking. The coils of grief have finally worked their way through my body, piercing me like roots pierce the earth, reaching for life.
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The massacre of LGBT bodies on Saturday night, in my home state, hit me much harder than I thought it would.

I’m not straight. Personally (and this is very much a personal thing – I wholly and fully support individuals identifying however they choose), I have a real resistance to using terms to label myself (maybe that is a Queerness in itself?) but if I had to, I would identify as bi/pansexual and queer, though I currently am in a hetero marriage and to date the majority of my primary relationships have been hetero.

I frequented gay clubs in my youth in Florida. It is where I first learned that I could be comfortable in my then-gothy queerness, where I could just be me surrounded by people who also came there to be who they are. I’ve never been to Pulse, but I can imagine the atmosphere, the music, the queers in their beautiful black and brown and white bodies taking those moments by the hand and living them with full passion.

When I heard about the shooting on Sunday morning, I was getting ready to drive two hours to a meeting. All I thought was ‘I can’t do anything about this. I can only keep doing my Work.’ I got in the car, turned up the music, and pushed it aside.

Then someone else arrived at the meeting, visibly shaken by the events. And I thought ‘what the hell are we doing?’ We talked about it a little, and about the need for allies to protect Pride spaces this weekend. But there was a time when my first inclination – the very first thing that came to mind – would have been to hold some sacred space for us and those who died and those who mourn. Even if it was only woven into our meeting, at least a few moments to hold that space. But I didn’t, and I didn’t say anything.

And I realized I am usually the only person to suggest such a thing in the moment.

And so it was Monday when the visions started, the flashes of images and sound, voices and cries. Monday I started to feel the tear in the fabric of our world, as our collective grief tore away at our barriers, as those 49 souls left this earth long before they were supposed to. This Work is so hard, but bearing witness is necessary. I see you. I hear you. I hold this space for you. Take my hand and we will step across together.

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But now, I am exhausted. Exhausted from carrying the grief of my sister for three months; feeling like I am ultimately carrying it alone. Combined with multiple layers of family and home based issues, and I feel sick. Broken. Questioning whether I can go on, whether it is even worth trying. Knowing that I can’t always be the strong one and that I’ve broken and put myself back together many times.

So I don’t know what’s next. We’ll see what the coming weeks and months bring, even if I am afraid to look.

And I want to be very clear that this is not a cry for help, nor do I want any advice or “well intentioned helpful comments.”  I am sharing this because I believe in the power of sharing our process and vulnerability with each other. If this resonates with your experience, I would love to hear about it. If you would like to offer love and support, I will gladly accept, but “prayers” don’t get us very far in the long run. And if something about this angers or upsets you, please take that to your own process to consider and do not share it with me. Thank you for respecting this.

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Elowah Falls

It was an intense day. After a rough night of grieving, I woke a little late and fired up the computer a little too soon to start working. I immediately jumped into juggling several messages, helping a couple of friends with some things, dealing with emails and doing some Many Gods West stuff. Then I had to take a break to pay bills and well – that is never a fun experience. By then, I was done – stressed, frustrated, and quickly spiraling off into some not-so-good place. It was time for some nature therapy. I dug some clothes out of a bag (I hadn’t gotten to the laundry, either – no added stress there!) and hopped in the car. I knew I was going to go for a drive through the Columbia River Gorge on the Historic Highway, but I didn’t know where I was going to stop yet. I was thinking “waterfall” but since there are dozens in the Gorge that didn’t really narrow it down. But I really enjoy just getting in the car and seeing where it takes me – intuition, spirits, and gods guiding the way.

20160526_162415I passed the waterfalls on the way out, and thought maybe I would stop at Horsetail, since I hadn’t felt the urge to stop anywhere else. When I didn’t get the nudge there either, I started to feel like maybe I would just turn around and go home. But then I remembered I hadn’t continued out Highway 30 to it’s junction with the interstate. I drove a couple more miles and pulled off at the parking area before I got back on to 84.

I looked at the sign – Elowah Falls trail. Oh! I had read about Elowah Falls, and the name sounds pretty awesome*. I checked in and got the definite ‘Yes – GO!’ so I tightened my hiking boots and set off, not really sure where I was going or what to expect.

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The trail is just under a mile to the falls, with a few hundred feet of elevation gain; its just enough to make me feel like I’ve worked to get there; combined with the first time on a trail with no guide, it was enough to wear down any resistance. The trail parallels the interstate for the entire length of it, adding some frustration and a heaping dose of paradox.
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It is beautiful – vibrant rain forest above and below. The landscape muffles the highway, but it is such that you can’t actually hear the falls until you get close enough to see it peeking through the trees and you start descending a series of switchbacks. It is a bit labyrinthine – trees growing across the trail at odd angles, washouts and rocks, green leaves and flowering plants obscuring your view.

And then you start to feel the water – the air sings with it, the earth softens with it. The trees and rocks are covered in moist moss. I dipped my hand into the pool beneath the small stream falling from the rocks and touched the sweet water to my head.

20160526_151522A few more steps and I stopped, my breath caught as a rush of energy went through me and tears came to my eyes. Opened before me was a great amphitheater where water played, cascading over rocks and singing with such playful joy. Elowah was falling grandly from the cliff. It felt like another time, another place; something out of a fantasy novel. The spirit of this waterfall had a kind and joyful priestess-like presence.

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As I came to the falls a crow flew over my head, joining a hawk high in the sky. They did not seem to do the usual territorial debate, rather they circled and seemed to danced. Dozens of swallows flit above me, birdsong resonating through the open canyon. There were no other embodied humans there.

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I wept.

I usually do, at waterfalls. At least the ones that aren’t displayed as tourist attractions (*cough*Multnomah*cough* ) Something about the singing in the air, the joyful play, the gentle power – the timeless presence that is constantly in movement. It resonates with my watery-airness in a way that is comforting and pulls me right into energized alignment.

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And I think about how grateful we should all be that such beauty exists. That sense of awe can not be replaced or duplicated. And yet, our capitalist society doesn’t appreciate it enough at all, beyond value as a resource. I wept for the highway that cut through this place, wept for those beings, human and non-human, who used to be here. Oh, the land spirits in the Pacific Northwest are strong and lively beings, make no mistake. But what must it have been like before we paved it over? Before we ran out and murdered the indigenous peoples that knew them as kin? Before we named new spirits in the name of progress?

I marveled at the fantastic geological formations, at all of the forces that merged and dance and broke apart over millions of years to create this place. I watched the faces in the waterfall, and formally introduced myself to the spirit there.

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I’ll be returning rather frequently.

On the way home I stopped for my nod to Devil’s Club. We’re still getting to know one other, this powerful plant and I, but oh is that thread getting stronger.

And then, as I left the Gorge and made my way back into “civilization” I had to stop the car to cry again. I can’t really tell you what that was about. It was a moving cascade of things. Rather like a waterfall.
*A note on the name of the falls – Elowah. In the brief research I have done, it seems no one is claiming to know the meaning of the name or why the falls were named Elowah. A mountaineering club had the name changed in 1915. If it is/was a word in the language of the indigenous peoples, I haven’t been able to find it. In Hebrew, Elowah is another word for God (correct me if I’m wrong). I got the sense that the spirit of the falls liked the name okay and the feel of the word is appropriate, but it is not the right name. As is usually the case.

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