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The Making of a Priestess Part One

The Making of a Priestess Part One


We ran through the streets on Samhain (an ancestor-veneration holiday celebrated the same night as Hallowe’en). My dear friend Robert and I had painted our faces with black and white greasepaint and prayed to our ancestors to be with us.

I immediately felt a sense of my great-grandmother. The one who was the first woman known to have driven across the country unaccompanied by a man. The one who invented life after life for herself. The one who lived in Mexico with her gay friend, knew he was gay, and befriended him fiercely.samhain woman

Robert and I ran up the big hill onto campus. The costumed partiers created the perfect atmosphere for
us, although we were celebrating an overlapping, if not precisely the same, holiday. But everywhere we looked, there were masks, feathers, glitter, zombies, vampires, and all manner of otherworldly creatures. It was perfect.

There was a pedestrian underpass at the top of the hill so people could walk beneath a busy intersection. That’s where we went, where we were aiming. An underworld location, or as close as we could get to one.

We didn’t know any songs. We hadn’t Circled with others—at least I hadn’t—and we didn’t really know how to make ceremony. But we hummed and howled and sang and growled wordless songs to our ancestors, named and unnamed, known and unknown. We beat on the graffitied walls with our fists and let our voices echo in the night, not caring who heard us.

That night, that perfect Samhain night, began to uncoil a power I didn’t understand. It was a power that had popped up now and again within me, but that had been forced into a tight ball, compressed, hidden like a tiny ember I hardly dared to blow into life.

That night was the beginning of something demanding, a demand that would make something new of me. It had waited a long time, and it would wait a while longer.


The Beginning

You see, when I was young, fifteen, maybe a bit older, I told my best friend Leo, a good Catholic like me, that I wanted to be a Jesuit.

Mannheim Jesuit Church
Mannheim Jesuit Church

“But you can’t,” he said.

“Why not?” I queried.

“Duh! Because you’re a girl.”

“But that’ll change by the time we’re old enough for it to matter.”

He argued that even if it did change, it wouldn’t be right. Women mustn’t be priests. Would never. Could never. Mustn’t.

He who had sung and played and processed in liturgy with me for years didn’t hear me.

He who had accompanied my arias and whose arias I had accompanied didn’t see me.

He who had sung Gregorian chant with me since before we were in junior high school didn’t understand that I wasn’t talking about some passing fancy.

I was talking about something powerful. Something divinely given, inspired, blessed, whatever.

Ceremony. Study. Miracles. Leadership. Glorious divinity.

I can still taste it. The desire I had for it and the bitterness of my friend’s cavalier rejection of it.

Ceremony. Study. Miracles. Leadership. Glorious divinity.


But then something terrible happened the end of my first semester in undergraduate school. I was 17 and in love with another young woman.

That wasn’t the calamity.

The calamity was what followed.

The calamity wasn’t coming out to my parents. (That, if anything, was anti-climactic.)

The calamity wasn’t finding myself in the newspaper, writing letters to the editor, giving speeches, demanding the addition of “sexual orientation” to the University’s non-discrimination policy.

The calamity wasn’t even the letter I got from a professor of mine saying things like, “God is a law-giver,” and that he “truly feared for my soul.”

The calamity was what happened at church. It seemed like nothing. I went to choir practice. People were polite. But the warmth of camaraderie among musicians was gone.

The calamity was that the community that had sustained me through the slings and arrows of junior high and high school was slowly, inexorably turning its back on me.rosary

When I was spit on and gum was put in my hair on the bus and I was taunted mercilessly in
school, I knew I could always turn to the music, to the ceremony, to the Rosaries in May and October, to the Eucharist, to the community I had at church.

The calamity was the loss of it. All of it.

Over the years, I’d make attempts to reengage it. Some of them quite stunning (I lived in a convent for a year, for example.)

But no.

Just no.

Loss to Gain

I’d lost my religious, spiritual, and musical home.

Over time, though, I came to understand that the loss of the community made room for other ones. For other people and other understandings of how the Universe might be put together.

And then, then, Robert and I read The Spiral Dance. Feminist, queer-positive, and witchy.

The world that had seemed to be stuck in my grief began, slowly, just so slowly, to turn again…

Part Two on Friday. Join me?

4 Responses

  1. It amazes and yet comforts me when I read other women’s experiences. So many parallels .I know I am not alone. I look forward to the next installment.

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