Friday, July 22, 2011

Answering the Call of Isis—musings on Priesthood

I decided I'd blathered enough on the Facebook page about my opinions about priesthood, and I thought I would share with you my own process of becoming a priest. I've never really shared the whole journey, except with a few friends, but perhaps it will help you to see where I'm coming from.

First off, you need to remember that I am trained as a scientist, to experiment, test, and measure things. But I'm also highly intuitive, and often see answers as patterns or images, and then must work backward to create the linear, logical structure others expect. And I've always been psychic to a high degree—at the time I got into science, it looked like the only vehicle around that could explain the experiences I was having. It didn't, and left me in the position of either denying real experiences or being considered technically insane. <shrug> It gets weird out here on the far end of the normal curve, anyway.

When I was in college in the late 1970s, some bare-bones beginnings of Goddess spirituality were becoming more readily available. I had taught myself to erect and interpret astrological charts largely because of the knee-jerk prejudice my physics teachers expressed against the subject. I've always felt that prejudice without data on which to make such a decision is worthless, especially for a scientist.

I also began to read the Tarot cards, out of curiosity. At that time, in Birmingham, Alabama, the only decks available were the Rider-Waite and the Thoth decks. I was uncomfortable with the overt Christianity and patriarchy of the Rider-Waite, and use of the Thoth deck seemed to attract negative energies to me, which I had no idea how to deal with, since no one had ever shown me how to set a circle before. I used to do readings with the Thoth deck with a sword across my lap, so I could deal with anything I didn't like wandering through!

By the early 80s, I had met some Wiccans with whom I began a bit of study, which felt *right* to me at the time. I had become very disenchanted with traditional Christianity through the manifest hypocrisy of most of those I knew in the Church, and with its unfriendliness to women (this was back when most denominations still would not ordain women, remember.) If I had continued at that stage, I probably would have ended up a Wiccan, and maybe have found the Fellowship of Isis at some point.

But it didn't happen. I met and became friends with a person, and married them because my mother was pushing me so hard to get married. (She had always suspected there was something "wrong" with me, and so forced me as hard as she could to match up with her idea of "feminine behavior." Yes, at that time in my life, I was still outwardly female.) In any case, my spouse—a true scientist and mathematician—found the mystical "woo woo" stuff too frightening to contemplate, and he made a condition of our continuing relationship that I give it up. Stupid me! I agreed.

But the Goddess clearly intended to reach me, however long it took. I suffered several catastrophic health problems through the first 10 years of my marriage, and increasing abuse from my husband as well as from my mother. Emotional abuse doesn't leave visible scars, but it can most certainly kill you. By 1992, I had reached bottom, disabled, mostly left alone by my husband, and convinced I was worthless to anyone and had no reason to live. I decided to commit suicide.

I was laying on a couch in the back part of our house, and when I went to get up, our two cats came in and *SAT* on me with the full power of Bast backing them up. Sure, they only weighed 10-12 pounds in objective reality, but I literally could not lift them off of me. They stayed while I broke down and cried out my pain and despair. Bast meant for me to live, and intervened in an unambiguous way. Magic does indeed happen, but most of us don't notice it because we're too conditioned to believe "it's just my imagination."

So I began studying books on Celtic Magic (thanks D. J. Conway!) and resuming my study of mythology, which had always fascinated me. I found Scott Cunningham's Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner, and began to learn and practice the system he described, as well as to meditate in nature around my home, as I was still very crippled and could not walk very far. (We built a pool, and I spent a lot of time floating in the water gazing up at the heavens, and meditating deeply. I learned some interesting techniques doing so, such as how to dissolve into the elements. See my book, Universal Alchemy.) I still had no teachers, or at least anyone on the physical plane to work with. I was taking the information I could gather, and then experimenting to see what worked for me.

The Goddess brought an old friend of mine from college back into our lives—he swears he never sent our company a resume and has no idea how we got it. He had left me in a very bad emotional state after college; the Goddess intended him to heal the hurt he'd inflicted. He was also a Wiccan, and gave me someone to at least exchange ideas with. As he was also a good computer scientist, my husband respected his intelligence, and when he would see us deep in a discussion of the esoterics of the Tarot, he began to get a clue that there might be something to this "woo woo" stuff of mine.

Vision of Isis
One evening while waiting for Jeff and Marty to get home for dinner, I went out to meditate on the New Moon, something I did fairly regularly at that time. The new Crescent was just visible above the trees to the west of our house, in close conjunction with Venus. I put myself into a deep meditative trance state, and allowed the worship in my heart to link me with the Moon. I saw silvery light begin to flow downward from the Crescent, and to become the hair and face of a beautiful Goddess. She and I regarded each other in total silence, and I could feel myself being weighed and measured. When She was done, she sent me fully back into my body and told me to go finish up the dinner I was cooking. Many years later, I tried to draw the vision I'd seen, which isn't exactly what I saw, but what She guided me to create.

I became friends with a massage therapist in the area, and began to study massage therapy in Pensacola, Florida, looking for something that I could do to help myself and heal others. Through Cathy, I met Lady Lilit (Deborah Nix-Merwin) of the Lyceum of Isis of Philae. I began attending their Full Moon Eve events, and realized I'd finally found a teacher and an organization in which I could believe—and one that had the purpose of letting me be *myself* with the Goddess, whatever that ended up manifesting as.

I began working with the Lyceum of Isis of Philae, and found the Full Moon Eve rituals profoundly affecting. As happens around me, though, magic also manifests somewhat randomly, and we had several "events" that convinced Lady Lillit and me that I should look to enter the priesthood of the FOI. One example involved a ritual we had done to release our anger at those who've hurt us; Lady Lillit had found a "reversing candle" (black on the outside, red on the inside), and we gave our anger to the flames under the supervision of Athena. The specific point was to let go of the anger, not direct it at anyone or anything, but our intensity was so powerful that even though the candle was placed in sand in a cauldron, and set on an asbestos pad on the carpet in the temple, our anger was so strong it set the carpet to smoldering. Most of the group had left the temple for the feast as I came out of my trance state, and noticed the smell of smoke. Fortunately, Lady Lillit and I were able to put it out before it got out of hand.

I continued my studies on my own, as well as with Lady Lillit, focusing primarily on Celtic and Norse mythology, which is my ancestral background in this lifetime. But as I continued working with the Goddess whose form I saw in the Moon, I came to realize She was Isis. My first thought at that point was, "Oh, no! Not the Egyptians! They're too weird." I'd tried to read some of their mythology years before, but it had been too complex for me—at 7 years old, I wasn't quite ready to tackle it. <grin>

I conducted a Full Moon Eclipse ritual in which I focused on Isis as "the Bereaved" searching for Her beloved Osiris. Throughout the darkness of the Eclipse, I felt Isis' grief and agony at the loss of Her beloved, and as the eclipse lifted, the shift to joy as She found him within the Persea Tree. This confirmed to me that I had been called to the priesthood by Isis, at least, the first of the three Goddesses who would call me to their service during my initiation year.

Nut, Mistress of the Spheres
Because I was an amateur astronomer and competent astrologer, I often meditated in the pool at night, staring into the stars overhead to see what messages might lie there. I've had a lengthy attachment to Vega, the bright blue star in Lyra in the summer sky, since I was very young. I remembered watching the star several nights when I was 10 or so, and feeling its light shine through and within me, and a sense of journeying there. Now, at 34, I saw the silvery form of a goddess form with Vega as her eye, and I met the Goddess Nut. Much later, I found out that Vega was considered the Star of Ma'at to the ancient Egyptians, pulling me further along the path. So I knew my second Goddess called me to Her service, for the wisdom of the starry sky.

I met other Gods and Goddesses along this initiatory journey, encountering some lightly, and some at a very profound level. In one of my daytime meditations, I watched the clouds swirl overhead to form a face, and I found myself in the regard of Odin, who made his call clear to me to be one of his Valkyries, or sacred Warriors. This didn't fit with the "script" of the FOI ordination, but who am I to argue with Odin? I've learned to just do what they tell me to do; they're bigger than I am. <grin>

The Celtic Brighid came to me at a Brighantia rite, when we shared the creations of our past year and planted the seeds of what we were to create in the next. Because I was still disabled and unable to work, I tried taking art classes at the local community college. This was a huge step for me, because I'd avoided my artwork since a junior high teacher had told me to "go back to the sciences because you'll never be an artist." Learning the skills I needed to convey some of what I was seeing when I journeyed to the other planes was important to me—I may never be a great artist, but at least I regained my lost artistic voice!

I met the Celtic Goddess Arianrhod when I did a spiral dance (in the pool) into her Castle in the polar stars. She is the one who gave me the name, "Starsheen," as my magical name in this incarnation. To me, it is not the reflected light of the stars (starshine), but the sheen of light lying over the deep waters of creation, light dissolved in the watery depths. All of this I got in a blast of imagery, and I returned to the physical plane.

Cosmic Web Diagram
with Gods and Goddesses
to Whom I Dedicated Myself

I was ordained just before Sahmain 1994 by Lady Lilit. The three Goddesses to whom I dedicated my service in the Ordination Rite were Isis (for healing), Nut (for wisdom), and Bast (for creativity). To each of them, I gave a significant gift: special massage oil for Isis, a painting of the Tarot card of the Star for Nut, and a painting of the Cosmic Web diagram to Bast.

The Star painting is highly significant for me, as it represents the flow of stellar wisdom from Eternity through the Gods and Goddesses into the hands of the Priest/ess. It is another of my visions from working with Nut, where I felt the light of Vega flow down and into me, filling me entirely, and bringing me a profound sense of peace. That vision is also captured in my temple logo, two upturned hands filling up with starlight.

By using Shamanic practices and deep meditational states, I open myself to this deep received wisdom—along with ecstasy and joy! Because of my background and learning, I don't work in any one tradition, but combine elements of all of them pragmatically—do they work? Use them. I've learned techniques of self-hypnosis to induce trance states at will, and in the process learned a lot about the psychology of ritual and sacred space.

All of the different schemas we use for creating a ritual are intended to occupy our conscious minds, so that our intuitive, unconscious selves can activate and allow us to get out of our own way. Whether you literally believe in the Gods as separate entities or as aspects of a larger Divinity that shines through them in large enough bits that we can still understand them, we hear them from what Jung called the "collective unconscious." As cultures have risen and transformed themselves, they have invested considerable energy in these archetypal symbols we call Gods, and we can only hear them clearly when we let the overly developed rational side of our nature be quiet for a time. Some people need a lot of ritual structure to get to that state, while others need much less. This is why the Fellowship of Isis emphasizes that priesthood training is never a "one size fits all" proposition!

Me Invested as Hera
The Lyceum of Isis of Philae hosted a performance of Lady Olivia's "Psyche and Eros" from Dea along with the group from Pensacola. We held it on the beach among the shining white dunes; I was Hera in the drama. Lady Lilit emphasized the need for us to research the symbology of the drama, and to spend time connecting with the Deities we were to represent, so I set up an altar to Hera in my room, and began to work heavily with Her. My room in the house was getting a bit crowded, with every level space covered by one altar or another!

Hera assumed a very special place in my life, in that She ultimately saved me. My marriage had become a horrendous place, my husband was treating me as furniture for the most part—someone who is there whom you use, but with whom you do not engage meaningfully. In his continuing fear of my spiritual studies, he drew us into a sexual world of BDSM, and I participated in an attempt to "hold the marriage together" as I felt I was supposed to.

While Hera is known as the Goddess of Fidelity, I discovered She had another major aspect as the Goddess of battered and abused women. We had one BDSM weekend party where many guests had come from other parts of the country to play. I spent the entire party cooking snacks, cleaning up after guests, washing towels from use at the pool, and otherwise running my tail off to be a good hostess. But when I found myself in the kitchen consoling a young woman who was crying on my shoulder because my husband was showing more attention to his fourth girlfriend than to her, I felt Hera sit up and say, "This is nonsense." Later, another couple spent a few minutes in my room counseling me to get out of the marriage because of what they had seen of my husband's behavior, and by the end of the weekend, all of our guests were apologizing to me for my husband's behavior at the party.

Afterward, he asked me if I wanted to have sex before I could tell him that I was leaving! How like Zeus and Hera! I moved out and divorced him, and tried to get on with my life. I continued studying with Lady Lilit toward becoming a hierophant because my experiences with the mystery dramas reached me at a deep level. I wanted to study them and understand how the symbols and energies manifested and were used to produce the mental space in which the participants come in direct contact with Deity and receive a "mystery"—a gift, communication, vision, or other insight from the Gods that comes through gnosis, the process of direct knowledge. The more carefully you study and prepare for one of these mystery dramas, the more profound your experience is liable to be; however, you should never enter into one of them lightly or frivolously!

The Awakening of Osiris
The first mystery drama I attempted to conduct as part of my hierophancy training came off reasonably well. It was the "Awakening of Osiris" from Dea. The morning of the ritual, I woke up with a powerful insight placing Osiris and the other deities mourning him within the spheres of the Tree of Life, according to his naming of them at the end of the ritual. By that time, between Budge's Gods of the Egyptians and Hieroglyphic Dictionary, I was becoming fairly competent at writing hieroglyphs. I had always been able to tell whether a given piece of text was gibberish or not, even before I started studying to learn them.

I was also working with a hypnotherapist about traumatic memories  I was discovering, and had been having past-life flashes from Egypt and elsewhere/elsewhen that confirmed for me that the priesthood was indeed my path in this lifetime. Whether these lives are actual, real, historical people or not is unimportant to me; they have arisen to teach me and give me deeper insights into the past when I've needed them. The knowledge I've gained through them has been accurate and useful, and has survived my own rigorous testing. (I'm a scientist, remember?) So when I wake up the morning of a ritual with a deep insight like this one, I attempt to recreate it for the rest of the participants.

What I didn't know was that one of the participants, whom I thought was a priest, was simply someone who hung out with the local group around the fringes. When the gentleman who had agreed to be Osiris for the ritual failed to show up, the man agreed to take his place. He was unprepared for the ritual, and apparently took it very lightly, which I also didn't know. Did I mention this was my first time attempting to lead a group rite on my own?

In any case, when we reached the section where the Gods were mourning the dead Osiris, this guy thought he'd make a joke of it and sit up. He found that he was unable to do so—this is what I mean by the ritual overriding one's conscious mind and taking you into a space where your subconscious is running the game! He left as soon as the ritual was over, and I didn't see him again for over a year. By that time he was haggard and distressed, as Osiris had been plaguing his dreams that whole time. Essentially, he didn't really believe in anything we did; his philosophy of life didn't permit this type of thing to have a basis in reality. He knew that Osiris was trying to get him to open up to the possibilities of greater spiritual growth, but he was fighting it tooth-and-toenails. I'm not sure what happened to him ultimately; he avoided me a lot because of the ritual at my home. However, his experience reinforced for me the need for careful and considerate preparation for these dramas of Lady Olivia's, and I began to focus my hierophancy on building up a database of the symbolism and mythologies used in them.

I also created a web site for my Temple/Lyceum of Isis of the Stars in 1995. With Lady Olivia's permission, I posted a page with the FOI Manifesto and a link to a form people could print and send to the castle to join. Apparently it was a hit, as Lady Olivia later told me that a huge number of people had joined through my site. Funny thing was, I almost never actually met any of them! I also took on two students for the priesthood, with whom I worked via Internet, and eventually ordained when they and I felt they were ready. At least one, Rev. Dawn Chuley, is still around and doing healing work through her Iseum.

I attended the FOI Goddess Convention in Chicago in 1995, where I conducted the Evening Rite with a priestess/friend of Lady Lilit's. I had signed up to give a talk on the legends of the constellations, but when one of the audience asked me a question about the astrological signs and the Aquarian Age, I stepped off into an impromptu discussion of the Great Year of the Precessional Cycle, and how the symbolism of the signs in Western culture tended to be reflected in the symbolism of the religious cultures here on Earth. This was the first time I had met Lady Olivia, with whom I had corresponded for years discussing esoterica, and she indicated that my extensive knowledge and ability to extemporize impressed her. The Rev. Deena Butta's group also conducted "Time Magic" from Sophia, in which I played one of the Companions. Weirdly, I had already done Time Magic with Lady Lilit's lyceum a few months before, in which I was Atropos. The double dose of mystery profoundly affected me for many years afterward.

I moved to California in 1996 and tried to go back to work in computers because of my fear of the fragility of living on Long-Term Disability Insurance. I had been completely disabled as of 1992, and in one review told I would never be able to work again. Still, I forced myself to do so, although I found that with my newfound spiritualism, I could no longer work as a government contractor, especially for one as unethical as I'd found myself in. I went to work for an Internet startup instead, and began writing pamphlets for classes I'd created. These are long out of print and need serious revision anyway, but included Tarot for Self-Enrichment, Ritual 101, The Egyptian Nine-Fold Soul, and others. I taught classes and seminars at various pagan festivals around the West, including Pantheacon (CA), Dragonfest (CO), and the FOI Convocation (CA).

In 1998, I had to go on Social Security Disability because my Internet job did not offer long-term disability insurance, and I was no longer able to work. My last trip to Dragonfest, which is held at a remote site about 9,000 feet up in the Rockies nearly killed me; I developed a severe case of altitude sickness on top of the disabilities I'd been fighting to remain employed. I fell on my face and realized I had to move to somewhere I could afford to live, and eventually, that was my home here, now in Dunsmuir, CA.

Also in 1998, Lady Olivia created the Archpriesthood Union, and for some unknown reason, made me one of the Archpriestesses. I had no idea what it was about when I received my certificate; only later did I get information that disturbed me a great deal. Essentially, one of the other archpriestesses told me that I'd only been named to the group "for my past services, and that I had no purpose in the group's future." I couldn't understand why this person was treating me in this manner, as I did not even know her—but I could see the provenance of so many of the other well-known archpriests and priestesses, and I did not feel that I fit into that exalted company. I was more comfortable being a solitary hermit working my way through the mystery dramas!

So I went to the West Coast FOI Convocation, and for two years I argued with Lady Olivia for naming me to the Archpriesthood. I've never understood the nastiness of some of the politics within the group, as it has always contradicted what our Founders set out in the Fellowship of Isis Handbook, College of Isis Manual, and so many of their other writings, and I was deeply hurt by the attacks. I didn't feel worthy of the appointment, nor did I want such an angry target on my back, so I kept badgering Olivia to take it back. Finally, in exasperation, she told me at Isis Oasis that as to my appointment, "It wasn't *me*, it was ISIS who chose you." Well, that pretty much settled the issue; I had dedicated myself to Isis service, and if She wanted me to do this job, I would do my best.

One element of my spiritual growth has caused many people to be less comfortable with me, and that was my transition from female to male, which I completed legally in 2008. I had never felt comfortable in the roles I was offered as a woman in Western society; it's pretty hard to fit in when you don't fit any of the usual behavior patterns. I'm firmly a feminist because I have seen in my own life how hard the patriarchal structure tries to strangle and suppress our abilities. But recognizing myself as transgendered was a much deeper and more painful struggle that I generally kept out of sight of the FOI.

However, one ritual during my initiation year prefigured the change unambiguously. Lady Lilit had created a space for myself and another candidate to go through the Descent of Inanna. At each of the gates into the Underworld, we lost an item of our black clothing until we confronted ourselves in a mirror naked, as Inanna was forced to confront herself in the underworld. We were given the ritual instruction to stare into our own eyes to see the Goddess within, but when I did this, I very clearly saw myself as a man. At that point, I didn't even know such a thing as transgender was possible, much less from female to male, but as I learned and worked with my therapists over the next 15 years or so, I realized that this was what I was, and I chose to transition. Being a priest now instead of a priestess really changes nothing at all—I'm still the same person inside. The difference is that I am more comfortable in my own skin now, and under less pressure from society to conform to a role I simply can't do. I'm extremely honest and open about my situation, in hopes, again, that I can help others who are similarly wounded in spirit.

In the intervening years, I have continued to study the dramas and grow spiritually. I became an Archdruid in 2006 in the Druid Clan of Dana, and a Knight Commander in the Order of Tara in 2007. I studied with the spiral of alchemy, and with the spiral of the Adepti, and broadened my understanding of the mystery dramas and their methodology. I have participated or conducted, either in groups, attunement, or singly, all but one of the rites in Dea, all of the rites in Sophia, some of the rites in Urania, several of the rites in Panthea, a couple of the rites in Melusina, and all of the rites in Maya. And others; I pretty much stopped keeping specific track quite a while ago.

On this journey, I have gained many insights and had many visions at the behest of the Gods. They have made it clear to me that my role as Archpriest is to spread my knowledge to others, to give them the benefit of my long journeys into the Otherworld, and to be a bastion of courage and strength within the group. That last may sound strange coming from someone who is physically disabled and suffers from depression and PTSD—I didn't say that I had an easy life getting here, now did I? But I've survived, grown, and am now offering back those things the Gods have taught me.

I've also begun working on a doctoral degree in Psychology, partly to better understand how the rituals create the mental space for mystery to manifest, partly to get a better sense of "best practices" to use when people come to me for counseling or training, and partly to deal with my own issues. I thought back at my ordination that Isis had asked for my services as a healer to others, only to find she wanted me to heal myself, first. Weird how that works, sometimes. I feel that by learning how to manage chronic pain and other conditions using meditation and spiritual growth work, I will ultimately be able to turn my struggles into help for others. But we shall see.

I've written and published two books as an Archpriest: Mythic Voices, which retells the stories of the Greek Gods and Goddesses from their own points of view, and Universal Alchemy, which describes the techniques I've used for attuning with the elements, landscapes, and the Sun, Moon, and stars. I've also published a couple of workbooks for FOI members who want to study the dramas in Dea and in Maya/Panthea, consisting of lists of questions for students to discover the symbolism involved in each rite. At one point, I gained permission from Lady Olivia to create a concordance for the mystery dramas, which I would ultimately like to do, but it got overtaken by events and politics for the time being.

Would members of the FOI want a series of books that gave answers and descriptions of they symbolism in the mystery dramas? Would you want a collection that related mysteries discovered through participation in them, expanding on the texts written by Lady Olivia? I have always felt that was what the Goddesses had called me to do, especially as a hierophant, but I have a lot of other work on my plate to accomplish if this isn't something the FOI wants.

I will be 55 this Halloween—yes, I really was born on Halloween—and close to 60 before I get my doctorate. I'm primarily a hermit; I'm not into leading a large group of people, or in mass training of people for the priesthood. I have never sought to put myself forward as an expert on anything; I'm dealing with enough of my own issues to occupy a great portion of the rest of my life. But, as Lady Olivia so clearly told me, I am here at Isis' behest and bidding, to serve the Fellowship as you need me to do so.

No one's spiritual crisis is pretty, and the growing process never ends just because you've been through ordination or whatever. Once you've let the Goddess and Gods into your life, as with any mother, She will push you to grow to your best capacity. Our degrees and titles only mark areas of service we've agreed to accept, a bargain that we make with the Goddess to serve her needs her on Earth. None of them make you any more important than you were before, nor do they establish you in a hierarchy over others. They simply represent your intent to serve the Goddess in the manner associated with the title. All of us are equal peers, with different talents, strengths, and weaknesses. No one ever needs to feel pressure to "become" anything in the FOI; your bargain with the Gods is always known to you in your heart. If you are not called to Her service in the priesthood, so be it. She still needs poets and painters and dancers, and people who provide food for the sacred feasts. There are no limits to what we can do, except what we place upon ourselves.

May you go forth on your own journey with the blessings of the Goddess and the Gods, and all the beings of light and life shining upon you and magnified through you. Remember that you are each Her children, endowed with abilities and beauty that is unique and powerful in your own right! Let us work to keep the FOI a place of sharing of wonders with one another, as our Founders intended.


  1. Michael, use the attached email, and email me! Let me know how you are doing.

    Blessings of Isis,

  2. Dawn, I did not receive your email address or connection. Please send it to me at, so I can get back to you. I'm *SO* glad to hear from you, my friend!

  3. It's done. Can't wait to chat!