At the Crossroads: Anyone Bring a Flashlight?

A day in the life of one witch’s attempts at community organizing, group leadership, public Paganism, and joyous shenanigans. Balancing inner work with external obligations, a professional career with public Paganism, and a full social calendar with gratuitous amounts of sleep.

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We are Fireworks

July 4th, 2016 marks the 7th anniversary of my ordination.  I had almost forgotten the personal importance of this day until I saw a blog post from another Pagan writer where she wrote about the anniversary of her own ordination.

For a long time ordinations were not something I took very seriously.  They reeked of organized, mainstream religion.  As a typical, angry, pseudo-anarchist young person, I had zero time for those types of distractions.  Ordinations seemed to be something that Christians had to earn after years of brainwashing seminary, or something that was handed to them by a congregation hungry for “the word.” 

Years later when I began to dive deeper into Paganism I was convinced that ordination were nothing special.  If only I had a penny for every time a Pagan called themselves “Rev” or eagerly showed off their Universal Life Church clergy card… I’d have a ton of pennies.

I remember the first time this happened.  One of my mom’s friends, a chaos-magician type, was bragging to me.  “Oh yeah, I’m an ordained minister,” he said cockily.  I was a teenager at the time so I was, naturally, only nominally impressed.  I went along with it, though, asking him for more information.  “Oh sure,” he said, taking a card out of his wallet.  I asked him how he, as a Pagan, could be an ordained minister.  “Oh, the internet,” he said, putting his ULC ordination clergy back into his wallet.  “Anyone can do it.”

Anyone can do it?  Skepticism immediately settled in.  If anyone can do it, via the internet, then how can an ordination be anything special?

Then I met them, by the dozens, Pagans who had become ordained online through the Universal Life Church.  They would call themselves “Rev.,” laugh about how they were “ministers”, explain that they had gotten the ordination so they could perform a wedding ceremony for their friends or family, talk about how ironic and silly it all was, and go about their lives.

That old skepticism tightened its grip.  Ordinations were worthless, clearly. 

For much of my life, ordination was never anything I had ever really considered, or even taken seriously.  Of course this all changed when the Bishop I had been studying with told me it was time for me to consider it for myself.  I was stunned – there was that skepticism again.  But of course, this was one of those divinely inspired moments where someone close to you knows more about you than you know about yourself. 

I had been initiated into a coven a few years before.  I was married, had graduated college, moved to a new state, and was trying out this whole “adult” thing.  In my religious life I had moved beyond basic Pagan 101 stuff, and I was hungrily diving deeper into the lore and mythology, writing my own solitary rituals, and exploring western mysticism, especially Gnosticism and the writings of Carl Jung. 

“No,” I told my Bishop right away, without even really thinking.  He just gave me that all-knowing, kind smile he has.  “I don’t really want that,” I said.  “And besides, I’m not ready.  Maybe after a few more years.”

He laughed.  “What do you think you’ve been working towards all this time?” he challenged me.  “And besides, no one is ever really ready.  But it will grow on you.”

I went to bed that night thinking on his words – what have I been working towards this whole time?  I had vague dreams of a coven maybe, or a study group at least.  I certainly wasn’t thinking about the ministry – I wasn’t even sure what that meant for me as a witch, anyway.  But an ordination is a type of initiation, and the funny thing about initiations is that they aren’t a singular event.  They are all of the steps leading up to the event, and they are all of the steps that occur as a result of that event.  They are not a moment in time, but rather a staircase, a labyrinth, a system of connecting trails.  We can’t always see or understand the paths that stretch behind us or ahead of us.  Sometimes it may seem like the staircase was designed by M. C. Escher, or the labyrinth is controlled by the Goblin King.  But certain energies, once set into motion, have a way of finding fulfillment.

Much to my own surprise, I woke up the next morning and told him yes, I’d love it if he ordained me.  At the time he was part of a growing Gnostic organization, and I was excited about connecting with others in the group as a clergy person.  Also, and perhaps flippantly… I thought, “why not?”

When my husband remembers the day of my ordination ceremony he likes to tell people about how the 4th of July parade was stopped for me.  Like most grandstands of patriotism, the 4th of July is a huge, gigantic deal in Texas.  Because of scheduling issues and fears of a missed opportunity, my ordination ceremony would be held the morning of July 4th.  There we were – me with my giant pentacle and my Bishop with his collar.  He had been teaching music classes at a small fellowship in town and we were going to use the space for my ceremony.  However, the church was on the parade route, but we had been so excited about the ordination ceremony that we hadn’t even stopped to consider the secular celebrations all around us.  We stood there nervously on the side of the road, surrounded by shrieking children and happy families.  We thought maybe we could dodge between the Shriners and the firetrucks, hopefully not getting trampled in the process.  But someone from the parade noticed us, decided we looked important, and stopped the parade long enough for us to cross the street safely.  “It’s the collar,” my Bishop explained, sheepishly. 

The ceremony was simple, sweet, and powerful in a way that takes time to digest.  In the moment I was in such a daze that I didn’t remember much, but energy like this has a way of settling into you and over you.  It’s like a slow release medication – it takes its time to do its work, releasing a bit more and more as you need it and are ready for it.  I was delighted at the ceremony for being so heavily Pagan, even though my Bishop was a Christian.  Aside from all of the recognizable Pagan elements, my ordination ritual drew upon influences from ceremonial magic, ancient-Gnostic texts, and contemporary universalism. 

It was a lovely day.  We all got burgers and milkshakes for lunch.  They even gave us extra-large milkshakes and fries.  “The collar…” my Bishop explained again. 

My life didn’t change much after my ordination, or at least it didn’t change quickly.  I continued to dive deep into my study of Western mysticism, and very soon I began to meet with some of my friends to celebrate the Sabbats, which would eventually become my primary ritual circle.  I’d go on to officiate weddings, belly blessings, and other ceremonies.  My decision to go to graduate school was directly influenced by my desire to be a well-trained clergy person for my community.  I attend conferences on faith, mental illness, and community leadership, and I have even give a talk on health and Paganism at one of the largest and most renowned hospitals in the world. 

But initiations aren’t always gentle and kind, and sometimes it can be a bit scary as our old selves die, shift, change, and are re-born to accommodate new energies and archetypes.  Over the years I have had a few panic/breakdowns/freak outs.  (Or, as the mystics like to call it, “dark night of the soul.”)  I would read something about mysticism that would freak me out, stir me profoundly, and I’d find myself questioning the very nature of the Cosmos.  Or I’d have a scary ritual experience that would have me doubting my talents as a witch.  Or I’d suffer burn-out or disillusionment with my abilities as a ritual facilitator and group leader. 

On more than one occasion I’d call up my Bishop crying.  “I don’t want this anymore,” I’d say.  “Just… take it back.  You laid hands upon me.  Now un-lay them.”  And I’d hear his patient smile from two time zones away and he’d laugh.  “Oh, my dear, dear friend.  You know it doesn’t work that way.” 

“If I had known what it would be like, I wouldn’t have gotten ordained,” I’ve said on more than one occasion.  At the time I say this, some part of me probably means it.  But I certainly don’t feel that way now, and the past few years have been gentle and kind to me, in regards to my ordination.  Maybe I am just finally settling into the initiation of ordination, because I actually really love being minister, though it complicates my life a lot.

“But like, it’s not real, right?” I’ve had more than one friend ask me.  I’ve even overheard this at social gatherings, when people have thought I was out of ear-shot.

“But you’re not a minister, not really,” others say.  “You’re a witch.”

Well, I’m a witch and a minister, and a high priestess and a social worker, and so many other things.  None of these things are mutually exclusive.  (Though I’ve had people tell me that I can’t be both a witch and a therapist, but that’s a completely different issue right there.)

I can understand why my Christian friends don’t see me as a minister or clergy person – I don’t fit their paradigm or image of clergy.  I can relate to their confusion - I’ve struggled with this archetypal image of “minister” as well.  I don’t even fit my own image of a clergy person, but I’m working on that. 

Despite all of the initiations and on-line ordinations, why do Pagans have such a hard time accepting the concept of clergy?  Is it because we have been burned by organized religions?  We have been abused by trusted by so-called spiritual leaders when we were young?  Because reverend or minister or pastor remind us too much of Christianity?  Is it because I’m a woman?  I’m young and fat and fun and I don’t fit the model of an austere white guy with a beard dressed in all black behind a pulpit?

Never mind the fact that I serve the function of a clergy person – I am a leader and organizer of groups.  I facilitate ceremonies of tradition, celebration, and passages of life.  I inspire, support, and educate.  I am a licensed therapist and I offer pastoral counseling to those who are sick, confused, grieving, or just need someone to talk to.  I participate in matters of social and environmental justice.  I devote a huge amount of my time, energy, and money to training and professional development.  Every day I ask myself “what can I do better?  How can I do more?”

“What do I need to do to be a good clergy person?” I tearfully asked my Bishop, years ago.  “I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’m awful.  I’m screwing this up.”  More silence, more love.  “Just be yourself,” he told me gently, and I laughed cynically.  All of that old skepticism came rushing back to me.  “No, I’m serious,” he explained.  “The best thing any minister can do is to be themselves, let the light of the Divine shine through them.  Do what you can do to cultivate that light, to feed it.  Others will see it, and it will spark their lights, too.  Feed your own light, and by doing so, you will feed the light of others.  It’s as simple as that.”

I try to remember this lesson, especially when I’m on the verge of one of those “dark night of the soul” things.  I mess up sometimes.*  A clergy person is just a person, after all.  But all we can do is the best that we can do.  When I feed and nourish my spirit, I know that my Bishop is right.  I see it.  When I take care of myself and my own spiritual self, I see others doing the same.  I observe the high days and the moon cycles, I gather with community, and I enjoy witchcraft.  I try to be the best self that my Self can be.  These things nourish me, which makes my own light grow all the brighter, which encourages the light of others to grow brighter, too.  And then, before you know it, we are all letting our Divine lights spark and flame, all together, like rippling explosions throughout the Cosmos.  There we are, witches and Pagans and Polytheists and others, sparkling, lighting up, like a rainbow of fireworks in the sky.

*Okay, a lot.

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Trivia is a social worker, freelance writer, minister, and priestess. She loves to have a good adventure. Follow her exploits on Twitter ( and on Tumblr (!
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