With this mantra, we invoked the Goddess, and a High Priestess aspected her with powerful grace. With Her blessings, we charged river stones with words of power and sent out compassionate energy to honor and support incarcerated women who have been sterilized without proper authority or consent.
Afterward, I spoke with a participant about my Initiation training with the Wildflowers, which is the mixed-gender clergy group of CAYA. She expressed interest in possibly pursuing that path, and with an expression I took to be curiousity mixed with concern she asked, "What's it like working with men?"
I had at that moment a new thoughtpath open up. Oh! of course! there are many women who have never shared sacred space with other genders. I used to be one.
Twenty years ago I met regularly with friends in a "women-only" space. After a few years it began feeling very limiting and undesirably exclusive to me. I speak only for my own preference here. I recognize that voluntary segregation is very important and helpful to many people for various reasons. I am working toward a broader spectrum of diversity in every part of my life. So what am I doing in a women-only ritual? Well, for one thing, it's a requirement of my training year. But I hadn't looked beyond that. Yet.
Exploring my intention in any group that intentionally excludes any definition of "other" is emerging as a significant source of learning on my path as a public priest/ess. I realized I had entered service in the women's circle with some resistance, because I don't feel a need to explore that for myself at this time. I was alarmed when one of the committee members asked if we could tell the story of the Durga "without mentioning the gods." (It felt rather extreme to me, though I have no idea how the priest/ess intended that exclusion. We ended up agreeing to include the gods, who had gifted Durga with their weapons and powers.) Later I spoke with a Hivemate (someone in my Initiate group) who helped me to recognize that this service is not about my personal needs, but about facilitating sacred space for those who seek it. Oh. Big fat food for thought.
If I can help create ritual space for "self-identified women" and be a priest/ess who simply cannot define the words "woman" or "man," if I can hold space as one who is not afraid of nor despises those who are not included, but wishes we could all celebrate together, if I can open up to the mysteries that reveal themselves in specifically-defined groups and see it as focus rather than denial, perhaps I can be of some benefit for the highest good.
Sometimes I'm not exactly a woman (what IS a woman?)
However, I must say I've been giggling to myself because I knew that at least one of the participants at Saturday's ritual is totally out as genderqueer, and I wondered if that meant that the room wasn't 100% "woman" after all? And besides, I would say genderqueer describes me better than any other gender term. So what is happening to our "self-identified women only" space? Where do we draw the line when a line may not exist?
(It is important to note that this is by no means the beginning of this questioning conversation— among the greater pagan community and certainly among the members of CAYA Coven)