A few years ago in 2012, I said to the world: I’m returning to being an artist. Many voices responded, “But you’re already an artist! Your dance is art! You draw and make stuff! You design things! I love your work!”
But for over a decade, I didn’t feel like I was really making art. That’s not to dismiss anything I made that others said and felt was art, but more about me being able to more fully realize myself and truly make the art I wanted to make. It took getting out of an extremely difficult relationship, allowing myself the freedom to create, while simultaneously taking a huge amount of risks – for me to finally feel like I was (and am) an artist again.
A fan of Rainer Maria Rilke, I have long loved the line from Letters to a Young Poet where he wrote: “All art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further.” But I didn’t understand the full depth of it until that year. It’s not the stereotypical romance of the starving artist, but rather getting down to your bare bones and rebuilding from there. Sometimes you have to take apart yourself to find out what truly matters.
And now in 2016, I’m examining the term “priestess” the way I did with “artist” over 4 years ago. Somewhere between leaving the Pagan society I founded/most of the people who made up my tradition to move to California in 2001 – and focusing more on dance as a profession, I stopped considering myself a priestess. Even though I did what many would consider sacred dance, and I believed in the amazing power of teaching dance to others, I didn’t embrace that title anymore. It didn’t feel right – especially since quite a few others in the dance world who claimed that title appeared (to me) to be the farthest thing from being actual priestesses. But unlike my conscious decision to reclaim artist again, priestess has come knocking on my door, like a forgotten promise.
And I can actually pinpoint the moment from when it went from gently rapping on my door to a distinct hard knock. This past March at Paganicon, Nathaniel and I presented “Hekate At The Crossroads: A Dance Ritual Performance.” Now, we’ve done several goddess-inspired ritual dance performances over the last couple of years (including “Dreaming The Raven: A Morrigan Dance Ritual”) which is typically us presenting an improvised piece for 15-30 minutes, followed by discussion, but due to the amount of time we had been allotted, we were able to actually go past that and bring people into another level of more active, participatory ritual. Nathaniel, observing the reactions and responses from people for the rest of the weekend, starting saying to me, “That’s because you’re a priestess.”Followed each time by some eyebrow working and lip-biting on my part. I’ve been teaching and performing dance for years – to and for dancers and P-words alike for a long time, what changed? Teaching has always been important to me, and I see it as a calling. Performing creates a conversation that can be a sacred experience for all involved. But did either of those qualify as priestessing? Not quite, at least to me.
Fast forward to this past weekend when I taught a movement workshop and co-facilitated the De-Possession Ritual at Many Gods West with Anaar, Gwion Raven, and Phoenix LaFae. As we were doing the latter, I realized how long it’s been since I facilitated a large ritual, and how that felt. I spent the next day thinking about it, and rolling the word priestess around in my head, coming to a sense of peace or more like a place of acceptance. I realized what set the PaganiCon presentation apart – the fact that we went beyond a performance and brought people into it, and lead them through it. And again on Saturday, there I was guiding, feeling, conducting the energy.
In a workshop, I lead by engaging students to incorporate what I teach into their own practice. In performance, I demonstrate my practice and create a kind of experience where the audience is an observer and a passive participant. In ritual, the attendees put the theory into actual practice and become active participants in the rite. Which explains I have long-eschewed rituals that delegate the attendees to a passive/watching position. I not only want them to watch or to learn, but rather I want them to DO as well.
Many many years ago, I assumed the title of priestess because I had earned the education-based marks for it, achieved the status/position to run a group, produced events, and was a public spokesperson. That’s what it meant back then – to me, and to many others.
Now, in answering the knocking on the door, I have found a new meaning and identity within the word. Beyond teaching and beyond performing, I am actively guiding and working with the people to connect them with themselves and the divine – within and without. It’s not so much of a title as it as an action and a state of being. It’s the service and the work that’s done with and for others that defines the word for me.
And the knock on the door is the beating of my own heart.