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Spirituality Without Labels

“How do you know when you’ve passed through a threshold on your spiritual path?” I asked him, thinking that he might have a huge, profound, soul-stirring kind of response.

He never has answers, of course. He just asks questions until I come up with the answers on my own. I know this, because it’s what coaches do, and I’m becoming a life coach myself. We’re trained not to problem solve, but to hold space for the client to reach their own personal truths and revelations.

Deep down, I knew. I always know, but I think I needed to say it out loud, admit it to myself, and make it real somehow. He’s good for that—sort of like a priest in a confessional, but without all the associated guilt and absolution. He’d probably hate being compared to a priest, though. I think witch doctor would be a little more accurate, since I’m the witch and he’s my shrink. (See what I did there?)

I told him that I felt like I didn’t really belong under the pagan label anymore, and I said this with a wistful kind of sadness inside. This was the community that had helped me heal from my church wounds. This was the community that introduced me to the concept of balance between Goddess and God, Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine. This was the community where I had experienced sisterhood, women’s mysteries, transformative rituals, and years of study in the esoteric arts.

Then I launched into why I hate labels, because they’re limiting. The second you label yourself, you’ve created a container that will only let you grow so much. It’s like a plant that gets root bound. If you don’t transplant it into a larger pot, its roots will keep circling around and around until they finally run out of space and the plant’s wellbeing suffers.

I felt constriction and repression in church many years ago, which is why I explored other paths. What I was feeling this time is more akin to restlessness or boredom. I was appreciative of all that I had learned and experienced in paganism, but I also had to acknowledge that the enthusiasm I felt years ago was no longer there. I wasn’t meeting teachers and elders who genuinely inspired me with their wisdom, grace, and deep connection with Spirit. It was easy for me to teach and hold space for others, but no one seemed able to do the same for me.

“Take a deep breath, and check in with your womb,” he said.

He knows my womb is my best oracle, despite all the divination tools I own. I felt my breath sinking down into my pelvis, clearing away the cobwebs and debris from my inner vision.

“I see an empty house, clean swept and ready for a new occupant. I’m walking out the door. All of my things are loaded onto a truck, waiting to take me somewhere. I just don’t know where exactly,” I said.

“Then everything you need for the next phase of your journey is going with you,” he said.

I took comfort in knowing that it all had purpose, that it would serve me well later on. Meanwhile, I rest in this in-between place of spirituality without labels, opening up to whatever awaits, calling in my next teacher and tribe, and offering gratitude…so much gratitude…for where this road has led me.

Copyright © 2018 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Goddess, Rituals

Women’s Circles and the Quest for Community

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Everywhere I go, I find myself in gatherings of women. Most are spiritual seekers, deeply engaged in the process of healing old wounds and awakening to their divine purpose. Sometimes I’ve been in tribes that formed naturally and easily, as though we already knew each other, and we were just picking up right where we left off. Other times, I’ve had to be more like a lighthouse, beaming out into a misty void, not really knowing who would show up and drop anchor. This past year has been a lighthouse kind of year. Both circumstances—having a closely knit tribe and then searching for one in a new place—has taught me a lot about what women look for in a sacred circle.

There is such a longing for women’s rituals and ceremonies that it’s almost palpable, especially here in the southeast. Can you feel it, too? It’s like the stirrings of a seed underground that has finally been watered enough to burst forth from its protective layer. I have read this quote by Starhawk many times over the years, and each time, I am filled with inspiration for what could be…and a twinge of sorrow for what women have lost:

We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.

Several books have been devoted to the subject of creating exactly the kind of community Starhawk envisioned. I own a few of them myself. They offer sound, practical advice that looks so delightfully inspiring on paper. All of them will make you want to erect a giant Red Tent in your back yard or buy 20 acres just to create your own version of Stonehenge. The reality is that most gatherings happen in living rooms or around a kitchen table or on someone’s patio or maybe in a community center. It doesn’t really matter—any space can be sacred, depending on the energy and presence of mind and heart that you bring to it—and that feeling of sanctuary and trust in each other is what women are seeking and not finding so easily.

But why?

You’d think that developing a strong sisterhood would be easy. Women are naturally communal and cooperative, right? Sure we are, but we’ve also learned how to be competitive with each other, how to hide our authentic selves, how to be controlling, and how to sabotage our own personal growth. All of that comes into the circle, too, more often than not—and the circle sometimes fragments as a result. So, then the question becomes whether we can unlearn those patriarchal influences while still holding space for each other to move past those barriers.

I’ll just say it right now—it’s easier to give up, go your own way, and practice your own solitary rituals. But then you also miss out on the power of women whose energies are united and fueled by the mystical radiance of the moon, the strong pull of the tides, the healing power of the sun, the richness of the earth, and the lineage of our matriarchal ancestors going back thousands of years. It’s strong medicine and much needed in this world. I believe it’s worth getting out of our own way and working together for the common good. Maintaining both a personal and communal practice helps both the individual woman and her tribe, creating a ripple effect that ultimately benefits the whole planet.

As Sandra Ingerman notes in Awakening to the Spirit World, “Ceremonies and rituals are performed to honor the spirits, to celebrate life and changes in Nature, to acknowledge rites of passage, to give thanks, and to create change. Performing a ceremony or ritual creates transformation.”

Indeed it does. When a ritual encompasses an entire group, transformation happens on a much larger scale. How it affects individuals will vary, depending on their openness and receptivity, but the point is that everyone experiences some degree of change on both a personal and transpersonal level. The energy that is raised collectively is always stronger; therefore, the responsibility for working with that energy both during and after a group ritual is even greater.

With that in mind, I believe there are four key elements that can help establish and maintain a women’s circle when the focus is ritual and self-improvement:

  • Purpose: Never lose sight of why the group formed in the first place. What do you hope to accomplish together? If the purpose doesn’t remain at the forefront, then the circle can quickly dissolve into nothing more than a social hour or a venting session.
  • Sacred Space: Creating a space that feels safe is absolutely essential. It requires more than just wafting around some white sage, ringing a bell, or chanting a mantra. All of those things are lovely, but they are useless if those inside the circle don’t feel free to speak openly and straight from the heart without being judged. Many of us carry scars. Many of us are fighting hard battles right now. Sharing our stories makes us both vulnerable and courageous at the same time, and it’s vital that we honor that by refraining from gossip or anything that would compromise the integrity of the circle.
  • Leadership: Good leaders set the direction of the group and keep the support of the whole in mind while doing so. Leadership can remain with one person, or it can rotate so that all experience having that responsibility for a time. Anyone leading a women’s circle should understand that it’s much more about service and much less about power and ego. An article from Forbes on The Most Undervalued Leadership Traits in Women highlights the following: “Looking for respect more than recognition, the most successful women leaders don’t seek to become the star of the show — but they enable others to create a great show.  In other words, being in the spotlight is not what drives them – but rather it’s the ability to influence positive outcomes with maximum impact.” I believe this holds true, whether you are running a business or serving as a High Priestess.
  • Flexibility: Circles tend to change and evolve. People come and go for different reasons. Some move away. Some decide they need to follow a different path. Some attend for a while, disappear to do their own solitary work, and then return later. It’s all perfectly fine. As long as the core purpose of the group stays in tact through the guidance of inspired, heart-centered leaders, the circle can still flourish even as it changes. Strength and flexibility don’t cancel each other out—they support each other, as any athlete knows very well.

The dawn of the Aquarian Age marked the beginning of many positive shifts for women. We are still waking up to our inner Shakti. We are tapping into the Divine Feminine in new ways, as we seek greater equality and balance in the world within and around us. We have spent a lot of time and energy examining how we relate to men in the quest for greater understanding and equality. Maybe it’s time women looked just as deeply into how we relate to each other and how we can best move forward in our sacred circles, our sisterhoods, our communities, and our world.

Blessed Be.

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Copyright © 2015 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.