As a priest within my tradition, I am often the one who consoles folks when they feel broken. I take the phone calls at 2am. I take the subway far into the outskirts of Virginia or Maryland to be a shoulder to cry on. I bring my beloved kin to the altar, pray with them, and often cry with them. Being strong for someone when they need to feel vulnerable is an important quality in spiritual leadership. Yet an even more important quality is allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable, broken, and open to aid. We need to be real to our communities. We need to be honest and bring our whole selves.
I find myself in that position this week, in the aftermath of an unspeakable act of terror. As a queer person, words cannot express what it feels like to see people I consider energetic relatives being stolen from this planet in such a violent way. The first day or two I remained determined to be strong. On day three, I broke. I broke my heart open staring at the faces of the many people, mostly LGBTQ, mostly Latinx, who will never in this lifetime get to see another sunrise. They will not be able to enjoy this upcoming solstice, the extension of light in the longest day of the year. They will not get to sip a mojito on the beach, or sweat in ecstasy on the dance floor, or spend the extra daylight hours on a porch swing with a book. They don’t get to have this one last solstice, this first day of summer.
As our community prepares for our own solstice celebration this weekend, I’ve been consumed with thoughts about the “right way” to observe the summer holiday. This is usually a sabbat of great joy, celebrating our strength and our pride. We dance and feast. We light our cauldron fires and take in the sweet-smelling herbs as the smoke snakes through the wooded ritual site. It also happens to be the sabbat where we perform our annual initiations of new members of our priesthood. It’s a wonderful time. But I kept thinking- should we have a wonderful time?
While we are planning to dedicate the first part of our ritual as a memorial service, I’ve been thinking all week “how do we naturally slide from that into a space of joy and celebration? What is the right way to do that?” These are the questions that keep ritual organizers up at night. Even more so when the ritual organizers are all queer people who are experiencing a deep loss.
So I do what I always do when answers elude me. I return to the altar. I align my souls and open up to the power within. I talk to my gods. I breathe and wait. I wait and receive this answer-
“There is nothing normal about what happened and its not your job to make things feel normal. Ritual should reflect the realness of our experiences and who we are. Go through the pain. Make space for joy but don’t force it in. Trust that your community will do their best.”
Ah, once again the gods don’t deliver an easy answer, yet they do deliver the right one. I should have known…
Taking in that message I return to the ritual plan and make arrangements to speak with my co-organizers. The sense of surrendering to this “realness” feels alleviating. And now I know what to do. We will have our memorial and go through our pain. We will bring eight of our beloved members through their initiations and welcome them into a deeper layer of our spiritual family. We will sing for the sun and burn our offerings in that cauldron. We will trace the circle, as we always do, three times with joined hands. We will call for the air, the fire, the water, and the earth to enrich our lives. We will do our best.
The thing about solar festivals, aside from their ancient and deep lore is that they happen every year. In June we notice the lengthening days and in December we notice the lengthening nights. And after the summer when the darkness creeps upon us once again, we continue to do our work. We can continue to know that no matter the length of the day, that sun still rises. That fire still burns. That circle is still made of hands clasped around other hands.
Still, the sun rises.
Still, the sun rises.
David Salisbury is a Firefly initiate and high priest of Coven of the Spiral Moon. He is the author of various books on magick and mysticism and lives in Washington DC. His new book, A Mystic Guide to Cleansing & Clearing will be released in September 2016. You can find find updates on his latest work at daviddsalisbury.com.