A long time ago, at a young age, I became aware of a calling to leadership. Over time this calling continues to undergo expansion and evolution. In its current state, this calling- which I have come to experience as a living entity and life -long companion- insists on commitments to engage in various forms of teaching, mentorship, ministry, healing, writing, service, and ritual as manifested aspects of my leadership and priestesshood in the world.
I love my calling. I am good at what I do and I am confident in the knowledge base that supports my leadership. But, I do my best to remember that I do not -by any means- know everything about everything. I don’t even know everything about my areas of expertise. No one ever knows everything. Human omniscience just isn’t practically feasible.
So, as I move through the practice of my priestesshood, it is vital that while I am teaching, leading ritual, mentoring, writing, healing, and serving, I remain teachable, myself—that I never assume I already know all there is to know in any given situation during the practice of spiritual leadership. When I stay open, when I consciously remain teachable, I hold space for Divine Lessons to reach me. When I remember this, I bear witness to Goddess’ presence and leadership in others, as well as myself. When I receive these new lessons with gratitude, connections are deepened, knowledge bases expanded, and perspectives widened for everyone involved. Those moments are holy, precious. In those moments the Divine blossoms within us and between us. And we are all renewed.
Without teachability, spiritual leadership in any form, field, or tradition doesn’t stay sacred for long. Those who are called to it must make a commitment to learn, teach, and learn some more in a continuous cycle.
So, intending to lead by example and embrace my teachability, I want to share some of what I’m learning lately, specifically sparked by discussions within the FAR community—which I consider a wonderful example of an engaged community of spiritual/religious/interfaith leaders.
Although I consider myself a fairly aware, sensitive individual, I am learning I have further to go towards a comprehensive understanding of major issues, his/herstories, politics, language, and emotions surrounding gender identity. This learning seems to be coming faster and easier to younger generations who are coming of age amidst public conversations about evolving, less-binary to non-binary continuums in gender and sexual identity. A friend of mine recently shared with me a conversation she had about such concepts with a young person who self-identifies as a “polyamorous panromantic asexual.” The panromantic part sent me running to the computer for a web search. Had I been present during that conversation, I hope I would’ve been brave enough to respectfully ask that individual to teach me what it meant to them right then and there.
As new terms emerge into increasing usage, I find an occasional one I identify with as my understanding of my own identity expands. But I also learn plenty of terms that are clearly not mine to claim. However, I am still grateful for their evolution because I believe in the power of naming. The ability to name for those who do not identify with the mainstream binary is a powerful reclamation of space. It is the opportunity to say “I am here. I occupy this space. I exist as I am and I have a right to do so. There is a name for me.”
There is power in that reclamation of space. It can save lives. The power of genderqueer as an identity name that those who do not place themselves within a binary construction of gender can now claim is a power I choose to commit to respecting and protecting when and where I can. In 2013, I was very grateful and pleased when my Tradition issued a public statement clarifying the Sisterhood of Avalon’s membership policy and explicitly including transgender and intersex women in eligibility for membership. And yet, I know that action isn’t the end of the work, but more of a beginning. It created an opportunity for our Tradition and myself as an individual practicing within that Tradition to be teachable. It opened the door to learning more about how those who identify as genderqueer might want me to understand them and ally with them as they openly claim a space within the Tradition. I may not always know the best word to use, but I hope that I remain teachable when connecting with individuals of any identity, learning how to hold and claim sacred space together.
In a very different arena, I am also engaging in another exploration of the power of naming. Here too, I am learning new things. Up until this point, I found myself using ISIL as my term of choice, when referring to the extremist militants who are dominating headlines. I did not care for ISIS at all, given that as a member of the greater Pagan community, I am very aware of Isis as a Great Goddess; a powerful Deity to many who work with Egyptian and/or Greco-Roman pantheons. In retrospect, ISIL was a somewhat intellectually lazy substitution on my part. I defaulted to it because it sounded close and seemed to have common usage in several media outlets. I have come to learn that ISIL is also a problematic term given the imperialist overtone when referring to the Levant. IS or Islamic State is no better. This group cannot be allowed to co-opt “Islamic” for their own abhorrent agenda any more than they (or the media) should be allowed to subsume the name of a Great Goddess.
Some research and a great opportunity to discuss the issue with several people, including one of our FAR contributors, led me to learn about DAESH/Da’esh/Da’ish- a transliteration of the Arabic acronym for the Arabic name of the group before they declared themselves the “Islamic State.” As far as I can tell, this is the name that is used to refer to them by their opponents in the region and by a handful of other governments/public figures in the discussion. It will be my preferred name for now, as well. It removes issues of co-option for Pagans and Muslims, alike. It eliminates the colonialist connotations of ISIL and it de-Westernizes discussions pertaining to them. Once again, here is a lesson in the power of naming for me to experience.
And once again, I am reminded to remain teachable. For in learning, there is also power.
Kate Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is an American expat, living in Queensland, Australia and homeschooling her children, with the world as their classroom. Before motherhood, Kate earned a Bachelor of Arts from Tulane University, while studying Economics, International Relations, & Religion. She served four years as a logistics officer in the US Army, after which, Kate became a doula and holistic birth educator. She is a regular contributor to The Sisterhood of Avalon’s online journal, The Tor Stone and is active in the Red Tent Movement. Kate volunteered in Houston as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas. In Australia, she hosts seasonal women’s gatherings, facilitates labyrinth rituals, and is in the process of establishing a Sisterhood of Avalon Novice Hearth.