Role of the High Priestess

[The following is something I’ve written up for internal coven documents, because I wanted to spell out what I thought my role was. I’ve run most of it by my covenmate, and included some other thoughts at her suggestion.]

Or, rather, I should say roles: I think there are a number of things going on here. To many people, the HPS is the one responsible for making sure the spiritual and religious stuff happens. At a basic level, there’s three parts to this, in my eyes: anchoring the spiritual core, providing direction, and making sure the practical details fall into place.

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Happy Solstice!

The shiny new coven, Phoenix Song, celebrated our first Summer Solstice today.

It’s become the practice, in our tradition, to use the solstice as a time to revision the group for the coming year. (Yes, the timing’s a little odd, but it’s something that grew organically from stuff we were actually doing, and it turns out to work nicely.) What do we want to do together? What do we want things to be like? How do we want to honor where we’ve come from, while continuing to move forward?

In the group I hived from, the tradition has been to create something that is present in the temple all year as a reminder. In our case, that’s a little impractical (we’re doing ritual in two different spaces, and neither of us has space to spare.

We decided, instead, to do a deliberately impermanent piece of art. (Before I go any further, I want to be clear: L and I discussed whether we were okay with my posting photos, and she’s fine with it. While our interpretations and thoughts about some of this are private, the basic photos aren’t.)

L has a very lovely garden, in which she spends tremendous amounts of time. Her garden also has a flat paved part: this is what we used as our canvas. We used entirely natural ingredients: no artificial colorings like food coloring. We also paid attention to what will not cause havoc to L’s garden as things blow away, get rained on, etc.

Our materials included:

  • bentonite clay (white)
  • green french clay (the pale green)
  • red french clay (the dusty red/brown)
  • tumeric (the far more orange red/brown)
  • dried safflower (the red/orange dried petals)
  • dried lavender (the gray/purple ones)
  • dried hibiscus (the dark red)
  • rose petals (undried, from our friend’s garden last night: these are from a rose called Dart’s Dash)
  • powdered eggshell – we tried something to get it to mesh to blue/purple, which did not work, but they produce a lovely dusty white that shades differently from the white clay.)
  • marigold, dianthus, and a few other flowers from L’s garden.
  • spoons and paper funnels to direct materials (and fingers!)

For next year, we’d really like something in the blue/purple range: this may prove to be tricky. We used far less of our materials than we’d anticipated: maybe 2 ounces each (and probably less) of the clays, and about an ounce or two of everything else. The finished space is about 8×6 feet, give or take.

Timing: I arrived at 1, we finished at 4. We didn’t do other formal ritual set-up, etc. but there was some setting up and getting things ready, and so on. It took less time than I was anticipating, but it was intense work.

If you’d like larger versions of the images (plus a couple I didn’t include here, you can go to my LiveJournal gallery.

Our workspace: note cat perfectly positioned for maximum difficulty. (This is L’s cat, a Bengal by breed. She was actually *very* good once we got started.)

Our workspace

Our first spiral: Everything starts at the center. Bentonite clay, red and green French clays, marigold.

first spiral

Our first pause

Our first pause

(There was a second pause, too: check out the gallery for that one.)

We’re done:

Final outcome


My favorite detail shot (another in the gallery)

Favorite spiral

Coven syncronicity

Something to be going on with, while I get through my last week of work before the summer. (Working for a school has some schedule benefits. The not-getting-paid for 3 months of time off, however, is not the fun part.)

So, tonight, I show up at L’s home, my covenmate, for what was supposed to be a scheduled role-playing game night (we play about once a month with several of my former groupmates. Yes, we’re geeks, but we have fun.) Due to computer emergencies requiring urgent repair, gaming got cancelled while I was on my way there. So, we hang out, she feeds me fabulous food (hamburgers from humanely raised reasonably local cow, and homemade hamburger buns, and and…), and somewhere in the food prep, I say

Me: Hey – I tried out new adventures in bread baking last night. I made pita bread.

L: You did? I did too!

We blink at each other in mutual amusement, comment about how it was surprisingly easy and fun, and we plan to do it again. We wander off to other subjects, and sometime later…

Me: Y’know, when I did the pita bread, I ended up using half whole wheat: it came out surprisingly well, I was really pleased.

L (looking at me slightly oddly): I did too. And yes – they did come out well.

We wander off to other topics again. Another 20 minutes down the line…

Me: Ok, I’d ask if you used honey and olive oil, but that’s probably a given.

L: Yes. But yes.

(Those being our general preferences for bread baking for the sugar + fat component in bread when needed.)

At this point, I decided I should probably blog it, just for everyone else’s amusement.

Ah, well. We’re nicely matched up, at least. And we can talk endlessly about making good bread. There are far worse things to have in the world.

Glasses and the priestess

Around a month ago, I started noticing increased eyestrain headaches, and got my act together to go and get my eyes examined.

Now, I’ve had glasses in the past – both times briefly, as my eyes got better, and there were some practical issues (computer-only glasses are a really poor choice for a librarian: I’m often up and down talking to people, looking at a shelf, getting a laptop for checkout, and all the other parts of it.) The end result? I have a mild astigmatism in both eyes, enough that everything’s readable, but not crisp. Hence, eyestrain.

The nice optometrist I talked to about this agreed that for library work, computer-only glasses would not work very well (they’d be constantly on and off, with all the wear and tear that brings), and so wrote my prescription for all the time wear. This is fine by me: as I pointed out, it was the only appearance thing I was missing on the librarian stereotype list (I have long hair, often in a bun, and I generally wear skirts and sensible shoes…) And I hang out in geeky-type crowds, anyway, so there are more people around with glasses than not, most of the time.

I picked up the glasses on Sunday. Being me, I also started thinking about the ritual and magical implications. And, since I’m finding less out there about how other people handle this than I thought I might, I figure a post about it is a possibly useful thing.

I do have some options, since I do not actually need them to read and can function just fine with them off (except for the eyestrain aspect if they’re off too much). In fact, I’ve been taking them off when I go to bed, even though I generally read for at least 15-30 minutes before sleep, because I both read and fall asleep on my side.

There are, I am told, some groups out there that heavily limit items like glasses in ritual. (I’ve seen different arguments for this, some of which I’ll address below.) We are not one of those groups: my covenmate wears hers pretty much all the time.

Our ritual work (as you might have guessed from my general description of approach) is something we take seriously, but it is not necessarily very formal. Our current ritual clothing is generally ‘whatever suits the ritual’. But since before I can remember, I’ve also been a big believer in the interaction of ritual and theatre, and very aware of how people pick up mode, mood, and focus cues from choices in dress, word choice, body language, and so on. (This makes even more sense when you know my father was a specialist in ancient Greek theatre, and a theatre historian in general.)

Taken this way, glasses are interesting for two reasons. First, they are a physical, obvious difference: they’re on my face, after all. But second, I’ve already noticed some changes in body language (not just from the lack of tension in my jaw and neck, but also in how I hold my head, move, adjust them, etc.)

Does it matter if they’re on my face? Good question.

For most rituals I’m likely to be taking part in, I don’t think it matters: they aren’t going to affect my ability to priestess or otherwise lead or participate in ritual.

There are times, though, when I think taking them off may be a good idea.

1) One obvious time is if we’re doing something either messy or potentially messy. For example, we’ve talked about a ritual using either body paint or henna: I’d rather take the glasses off rather than risk splatters (and also because it gives more choices for face art.)

2) When they’d be distracting to me. I haven’t yet figured out what I want to do about meditation work, for example. I normally work with my eyes closed, and either sitting up or lying down on my back. I don’t know if I’ll find the weight of the glasses (or something like them shifting slightly) distracting.

3) When they break mood. For example, I’m likely to remove them for ritual theatre, or for Drawing Down, because in both cases, they may be one more thing for people to edit in their heads about presentation. As in good theatre, paying attention to the little details often helps. (Also, from a purely personal point of view, taking them off may be a good indicator to my brain that stuff outside my norm is happening.)

I don’t know which of these will end up happening, but they’re the things I can see as potential options right now.

Daily Wear
But aside from ritual, there’s another aspect that intrigues me.

See, I name stuff. Especially stuff that’s core to my daily function. I have named my computer, my harp, my car. My iPod. My cell phone (ok, so that one I don’t actually use very often.) This is not actually all that weird: many people name their cars, technology, or major musical instruments (or have some sort of consistent pet name.)

I often have small personal ritual moments – I’m not talking big weird things, but I do talk to my car (and my computer, and my harp, and…) and I have *far* fewer technical glitches than you’d think the law of averages would suggest. Treating the glasses in the same sort of ritual sense I treat those things is probably not a bad move. (And even if it’s weird, at least it’s an internally consistent weird.)

I’m not sure yet how I want to handle this with my glasses. Some obvious possibilities include having a specific place they’re kept at home, cleaning them as part of my morning devotional work (in part because there’s such a clear link to some of my primary vocational stuff), or naming them. I’ve been thinking about this since I got them, but I’m still trying to decide which things are meaningful and useful to me, and which things aren’t.

Seekers and responsibility, part 2

I mentioned in my previous post on this topic that I wanted to follow up and talk some more about it.

Responsibility and follow-through are things I pay early attention to because they continue to be important later. It’s not that I expect people to be perfect (and a recent, wonderfully illustrating story follows about that), but that over time, I want to be around people who take their interactions with others seriously, who recognise that time can be a precious commodity, and so on. There’s a couple of reasons for this.

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