Who am I, Now?

I have been struggling with my identity for over a year. Each time I come up against my usual habit of proclaiming my battlefields, i.e. “I am a bisexual Wiccan warrior woman of color, hear me roar!”

But today my mentor asked me a question. “What battle are you fighting now?”

And the answer was revelatory. “I am not on any battle field”

“So why are you still fighting?”

Good question ...

Our latest discussion concerns my calling myself a priestess. First off, it is not about me being a priestess, but my inclusion of that title in my self description, as in “Poet, Priestess, Warrior & Witch.” Skipping over the obvious battlefield references inherent in the “Warrior & Witch” parts, what is the purpose of declaring myself to be a priestess?

To me it is a title that best describes what I do day in and day out. It signifies my leadership role in the realm of spiritual community. And to me it is no different than the collar on a Catholic priest or the “Rev” on a minister’s calling card.

So my mentor asked me why I didn’t just call myself a teacher. Well I am a teacher, but I felt like the teaching part was inherent in the title of priestess. And this is where we hit the snag in our conversation. Because according to Dr Conforti, clergy and teachers occupy very different archetypal fields.

Teachers are inherently within the realm of elders, storytellers and the learning process. Clergy are within the realm of institutional and societal power. The explanations of Joseph Campbell figure highly here.

“In ancient times, that was the business of the [priest]. He was to give you the clues to a spiritual life. That is what the priest was for. Also, that was what ritual was for. A ritual can be defined as an enactment of a myth. By participating in ritual, you are actually experiencing a mythological life. And it’s out of that participation that one can learn to live spiritually.”

“A priest is a functionary of a social sort. The society worships certain deities in a certain way, and the priest becomes ordained as a functionary to carry out that ritual. The deity to whom he is devoted is a deity that was there before he came along. But the shaman’s powers are symbolized in his own familiars, deities of his own experience. His authority comes out of a psychological experience, not a social ordination.”

And the birthplace of religion is to be found within how “... the shaman ... translate[s] some of his visions into ritual performances for his people.”

But as soon as the hunter gatherers settled down and begin building institutions, the shaman was slowly replaced by priests who focused on the forms and structures and left out the “troublesome” mystical sources of the shaman.

And this speaks to the core of my internal conflict. I am both a shaman working with deities of my own experience and enacting my visions in ritual, and a priestess who is ordained to carry out societal functions. And further, my role as priestess flies in the face of the majority culture’s Abrahamic orientation, i.e. Christian, Jewish and Islamic.

So calling myself a priestess is both charging into another battlefield, and entering an archetypal realm ripe with issues like power differentials, spiritual inflation and clerical abuse. No wonder this is so hard.

Conversely as a teacher it seems simpler and more straightforward. A teacher guides, illustrates, and points out the path, the thread, or the essence. As my teacher David Rottman declares, “We can learn some things on our own, but for the rest we need teachers.” The ancient source of teachers is less conflicted and the mythological source is still close at hand. So the archetypal realm of the teacher may hold some negative aspects, but it is not as corrupted as the field of clergy is for both shaman and priests.

I actually feel less conflicted, less defensive even, when I call myself a teacher. And this difference is key here. Publicly declaring myself a priestess pulls up all my defensiveness, I feel like I am picking up the dropped flag and charging into battle. And quite frankly, I am tired of being constantly on the battlefield.

This questioning has been helpful for me in so many ways. It has helped me to clarify my internal conflict and its archetypal source. And since I am unwilling to fight battles I do not need or want, I can accept that I am both a priestess and a shaman without having to declare it for the world. And most importantly, I feel much more willing to declare my identity to the world in a new way. A way that reflects the ease I feel within me and within my work.

Katrina Messenger, teacher and writer ... hmmm ...

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Wed, 03/21/2012 - 7:24pm.

d.bella (not verified) | Fri, 03/23/2012 - 9:19pm

Could be the start of a fun adventure - whatever words you find that fit you best, may you be blessed for it!


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Recent comments

  • Nephthys (not verified)

    I've been with Firefly for a number of years, I recently left my position at The Firefly Community to pursue other dreams but to be clear how much I was involved before I address the statements made, I was a teacher, Priestess, member of the Inner Circle of the Council of Elders, Course Contributor, Clergy, Delegate and Divination reader so I was quite involved with Firefly on many levels.

    I am offended by your statement that Firefly is cultish. Given my involvement as listed above I can safely say that Firefly members are not cultish in behaviour nor is Firefly cultish in of itself. I am no longer involved with Firefly in any strong capacity other than that of a student so I can also safely say this is not coming from a blind faith position. I will be the first to admit that part of the reason I left Firefly was because I did not agree with some of the changes Lady Iris intended to make, that being said, I don't support the idea that abuse should be turned into a political statement.

    I don't know Sean and I am not close to Lady Iris (I live in a different country) and have not commented on the situation with her marriage but some of his behaviours are reprehensible. If a President did this he would be impeached and booted so I fail to see why it should be ignored and relegated to 'personal marital issues' when behaviour like this is indicative of larger psychological issues. If Sean Bennett is allowed to use and abuse women in this fashion, eventually he would work his way through the single ladies in the OHF and what would you be left with?

    2 years 2 weeks ago
  • Virginia Carper (not verified)

    I for one have been pondering this question. Iris did highlight a valuable point - how are checks and balances established to prevent potential abuse and to air concerns. These are hard lessons that groups need to learn.

    Without denying people their agency, how do you set up a system that will prevent abuse by other members? How far does a group go to ensure the mental and emotional safety of the adult members?

    For example, I know with my disability (brain injury), I would deeply resent being told that the group is looking out for my best interests. It would seem to be paternalistic on the group's part to assume that I cannot fend for myself. But because of my disability, I can be easy prey for a con-artist. How do you solve a dilemma like that? Can this be encoded or is this sort of thing too nebulous to pin down?

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Virginia Carper (not verified)

    I have a traumatic brain injury.

    That being said, I got caught in the cross-fire in the Firefly Campaign, since I did not get with the program - i.e. Firemoon was abused by a sexual predator, who for the sake of the community had to be removed. I was shocked at how this mantra was repeated over and over everywhere it could be. I was shocked at how the Firefly folks did not identify themselves as they sought to achieve their goals. It left a poor taste about Firefly in my mouth since I started to regard them as "cultish", incapable of independent thought or discussion. Also it disturbed me how the Firefly folks who had nothing to do with DC, carried water in the campaign as well.

    Since I had lot of free time, I researched the consistent posters and everything I could find, and an disturbing picture arose. The one you described of a one-sided campaign to achieve a stated end, without proper identification or perspective.

    As for the brain injury - I got raked over the coals for making light of the issue from an avowed healer, who thought my injury was a ruse. That scared me into thinking that perhaps my impression of the "cultishness" of the Firefly group was true. (I know cult is a loaded word, but I cannot think of the word that would indicate a group of people, emotionally inflamed with one mission in mind, and not allowing any dissent.)

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Kali Firemoon (not verified)


    I am so sorry that we have not met yet since it so obvious from your comments that you are a close personal friend of Iris’s and know all there is to know about the situation from a front row seat. I mean, after all, one who has seen a woman four months pregnant, losing weight and physically appearing to not be pregnant would of course understand the emotional, and yes, physical stress she was under. But of course, since you were there I don’t need to remind you of that. So lets move on to the rest of the story, you know where her husband chose to have unprotected sex with someone else, who I am sure was a complete virgin and posed no risk to mother or child, and then husband went home to engage in carnal activities with his wife, confident that his unborn child was never at risk. Yes, I am sure that all of your female students understand why you are firmly in the husband’s court. After all, it’s always the woman’s fault when marriages go bad. Or at least that is what I seem to glean from your article. Yes, I am Firefly, and I was one of the one’s chosen to help this woman after she was victimized by this predator who seems to have persuaded the pagan community that it is acceptable to treat not one, not two but at last count four woman as though they were simply a means to his end. And BTW I know she attempted to alert the community to her situation and apparently no one felt it worth even a cursory investigation. Oh yes, one more example of us not wanting to rock any one’s boat. I will tell you that in response to her story, several other pagan women have come forward with similar stories of abuse reported to the male members of a community met with similar disdain and an obvious desire to hide this type of behavior. Do I believe it happened this time, yes; do I believe that this community is willing, no matter the cost, to hide this type of behavior, yes. No one wants to call attention to the pagan community because we already have an undeserved stigma. But that does not mean we should allow behavior none of us condone simply because we are afraid of controversy. If one of us needs be sanctioned, then we either stand and sanction or accept the stigma so many would place upon us. We need to “police” our own. When four and probably five women come forth and tell the same story of predatory behavior against women we either act or fold the tents and go home. So I suggest you talk to all of them before you post any more pontifications. I also realize you can never post this but we both know you will have read it.

    2 years 4 weeks ago
  • Cara Schulz (not verified)

    Hello Katrina,
    Although we know one another, mostly online but also when we met at Sacred Harvest Festival, for your readers let me note that I'm the Managing Editor of PNC-News and the Co-Editor of PNC-Minnesota. I was the primary author of the PNC-News statement that you are writing about.

    The persons who contacted me asking when PNC would cover this were not Firefly members. Most were not local to DC, but were Pagans and polytheists in other parts of the country who had donated to the Pagan community center in DC and naturally had an interest in it. Why would they contact me? Because I'm the Managing Editor and people often contact me to ask if PNC is covering a story or to request that we cover a story. That's how we get many of our articles - through our readers.

    As for why PNC-News put two different situations in one statement, it's because they are related in nature and both needed to be addressed promptly.

    If anyone has any questions, we encourage them to contact us and ask them.

    2 years 4 weeks ago
  • Kat, Emralde (not verified)

    Thank you for this perspective. I very much appreciate the voice of the elders as I struggle with my own (not-voiced) feelings about this situation and its outcome.

    2 years 5 weeks ago