It is late autumn, 2009. I am 30 years old and pregnant with my third baby. He dies during the early part of my second trimester and I give birth to him in my bathroom, on my own with only my husband as witness. The blood comes, welling up over my fingers and spilling from my body in clots the size of grapefruits. I feel myself losing consciousness and am unable to distinguish whether I am fainting or dying. As my mom drives me to the emergency room, I lie on the back seat, humming: “Woman am I. spirit am I. I am the infinite within my soul. I have no beginning and I have no end. All this I am,” so that my husband and mother will know I am still alive.
I do not die.
This crisis in my life and the complicated and dark walk through grief is a spiritual catalyst for me. A turning point in my understanding of myself, my purpose, my identity, and my spirituality.
It is my 31st birthday. May 3rd. My baby’s due date. I go to the labyrinth in my front yard alone and walk through my labor with him, remembering, releasing, letting go of the stored up body memory of his pregnancy. I am not pregnant with him anymore. I have given birth. This pregnancy is over. I walk the labyrinth singing and when I emerge, I make a formal pledge, a dedication of service and commitment to the Goddess. I do not yet identify myself verbally as a priestess, but this is where the vow of my heart begins.
I do not know at the time, but less than two weeks later, I discover I am in fact pregnant with my daughter, my precious treasure of a rainbow baby girl who is born into my own hands on my living room floor the next winter. As I greet her, I cry, “you’re alive! You’re alive! There’s nothing wrong with me!” and feel a wild, sweet relief and painful joy like I have never experienced before.
Sharon Fallon Shreve explains that in many ways the priestess and shaman overlap:
A priestess is dedicated to serving the beauty, love, and spirit in all life. She learns how to attune to and work sacredly with all energies, particularly those of Nature and the elements. Like a fluid dance of ebb and flow, a priestess works passionately to raise the vibration of our physical world, infusing it with sacredness. Illuminating all that she is and does a priestess experiences great joy when performing divinely-inspired ceremony and ritual. Often compared to a Shaman, she is able to position herself between the visible and invisible worlds, residing in the valley of enriched tension lying between the two dimensions. A High Priestess works with even finer, more subtle energy frequencies. Archetypically speaking, she is a direct emissary of the Divine Feminine represented here on Earth.
The book Women of the Sacred Groves: Divine Priestesses of Okinawa is written by anthropologist Susan Starr Sered. In her in-depth research on this small co-culture on the island of Okinawa, she notes that most of the Japanese priestesses she studies here became priestesses after a shamanic-type or illness and healing crisis. More specifically, it wasn’t that they truly “became” priestesses then, it was that the illness or crisis allowed them to discover or realize what they’d really been all along. She additionally notes that some of them would become sick while actively resisting the “call” to priestesshood and then be healed once accepting themselves as priestesses.
These experiences were catalysts, defining life moments, and initiatory experiences that opened doors and illuminated paths for these priestesses, through events of their physical bodies.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I read an article with the theme of “Birth as a Shamanic Experience.” I can no longer find the exact article (online or printed), but I distinctly remember my feeling upon reading it: I was entering into a mystery. Giving birth was big. Bigger than anything I’d ever done before and it went beyond the realm of a purely biological process and into something else. Like shamanic experiences, giving birth is often described as involving a sense of connection to the larger forces of the world as well as being in an altered state of consciousness or even a trance state. While shamanic experiences may involve “journeying” to other realms of reality, giving birth requires the most thoroughly embodied rootedness of being that I’ve ever experienced. It, too, is a journey, but it is a journey into one’s own deepest resources and strongest places. The sensation of being in a totally focused, state of trance and on a soul work mission is intense, defining, and pivotal.
In the aftermath of giving birth, particularly without medication, many women describe a sense of expansive oneness—with other women, with the earth, with the cycles and rhythms of life. People who become shamans, usually do so after events involving challenge and stress in which the shaman must navigate tough obstacles and confront fears. What is a laboring woman, but the original shaman—a “shemama” as Leslene della Madre would say —as she works through her fears and passes through them, emerging with strength.
This post will be continued on Saturday, 13 August 2016.
Molly has been “gathering the women” to circle, sing, celebrate, and share since 2008. She plans and facilitates women’s circles, seasonal retreats and rituals, mother-daughter circles, family ceremonies, and red tent circles in rural Missouri and teaches online courses in Red Tent facilitation and Practical Priestessing. She is a priestess who holds MSW, M.Div, and D.Min degrees and finished her dissertation about contemporary priestessing in the U.S. Molly and her husband Mark co-create original goddess sculptures, ceremony kits, and jewelry at Brigid’s Grove. Molly is the author of Womanrunes, Earthprayer, and The Red Tent Resource Kit. She writes about thealogy, nature, practical priestessing, and the goddess at Brigid’s Grove and at her Woodspriestess blog.
Categories: Childbirth, Children, Death and Dying, Divine Feminine, Embodiment, Family, Goddess, Goddess feminism, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Gratitude, Grief, Loss, Motherhood, Pregnancy, Priestessing, Spiritual Journey, Spirituality, Women's Spirituality