This Sunday I attended my fourth holiday ritual with my local Witchcraft community. My fourth ritual with them since Samhain. Not so long ago, but so much has happened since then—I’ve taken their introductory core class, spent time socially with members of the community, and started to feel a “part of.” Still, I was surprised when they asked me to play one of the four central roles in this Vernal Equinox ritual.

Was I nervous? Yes. And ironically enough, I was invoking the emotion “fear” and leading the group in a journey about that emotion. You can write what you think you are going to say, and say it aloud in the car, but when you are in front of 20 people, and drums are rat-a-tatting and boom-booming behind you, and suddenly you need to make your voice fill the room, it is a lot different. I also went last, after three priestesses who really brought down the house. I mean, seriously. Not easy acts to follow. They knew how to work with the drums, they knew how to let the energy in a room build naturally without feeling anxious about trying to push it to a specific place. Whereas I was like the nervous girl on a date rushing to fill every silence in the conversation with inane nattering.

Priestessing is not easy. I do not know why this did not occur to me before but of course it isn’t! It is performance and a spiritual act all in one. You need to let yourself be spoken through but also hold your presence. You have to be large enough to lead people but not so big that you crowd out their personal experience and expression. The challenge of trying to evoke a negative emotional state in a large group of people through words, chanting, sounds, and then leading then through an exploration of seeing that state as a possible ally… Quite the order for my first priestessing gig.

Things happened that surprised me. I did not expect to begin full-throated singing about halfway through my invocation. But that was my response to the moment, my response to the fear, my response to the flop sweat that was starting to bead on my forehead. I told people I was afraid, afraid of what I was doing right at this moment. And I asked—will you join me now? And they did, beginning their own singing. Fear we sang. You will not destroy me. Fear, please transform me. That was when I felt the energy of my invocation begin to shift.

You can’t tiptoe around the topic of fear when you are a member of a recovery program. Your sponsor will hit you with obnoxious sayings like “You can Fuck Everything And Run or you can Face Everything And Recover!” You will be writing a list of your fears and reading them to another human being. You will be facing your fears by making amends to people, by tackling situations sober that you previously could only handle while under the influence. Here’s what the AA Big Book has to say about Fear:

This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread: the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling. Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble. Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 67

What happens when we look at the shadow of the shadow? When we look at fear not as an enemy, but extend our gaze beyond the obvious and ask “In what ways can you be my ally?” Yes, fear can paralyze us. Yes, fear can fill us with anxiety. Yes, fear is uncomfortable. But what actual function is fear playing in my body? Have I ever been about to take a shortcut down a dark alley, and fear has whispered in my ear, “No. Not this dark alley”? Have I ever been about to go somewhere with someone I just met and the hair has raised on the back of my neck and told me, “Not with this person.” If I was running for my life, would fear make me run just a little faster? Fast enough to make the difference between being caught and not? Has fear ever been a beacon? Has it shown me what I SHOULD do because I am so afraid of it? Have I ever been so afraid to die that I realized how very much I wanted to live? What is that knowledge worth?

Can fear drop down deep into our bodies and become instinct? Can it become intuition? Can it become one of the ways I hear the wisdom of my unconscious self?

We had planned that day to have other people do the elemental quarter callings, but in the end the four main ritual priestesses ended up doing it, with little notice. When I called North, I was unprepared, and I truly felt that space inside of me that is God Hirself turn hir head up and speak with me. What is deep in the caves of the Earth? We asked. What is deep within the mountain? What message is held there? What will we find there? Will we fear it, or will we claim it? Later, I entered the cave. I entered the mountain. I feared it. And then I claimed it.

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