I’ve spent most of my 20+ years as a witch as a solitary practitioner. But over the past year I’ve been working on forming a small circle with a few other Celtic polytheist witches in my area. And Saturday we met for a (masked, socially distanced) Lúnasa ritual in a local park.
On my way to our ceremony, my stomach twisted with nerves and anxiety. I was responsible for a large part of our ritual, and imposter syndrome was sinking its nasty claws into me. What if I stumbled over my words, stumbled over my own feet, or otherwise embarrassed myself? Measured breathing wasn’t helping. So I said a prayer to the Gods I am devoted to. I started out just asking for courage and calm. But as I spoke to Them, They began to nudge me into a better understanding of what was important at that moment. And it wasn’t how I sounded or looked while I cast a protective boundary, called on Land, Sea, and Sky, and made offerings for our circle.
My anxiety was coming from a desire to do a good job, but my self-consciousness was distorting my perception of what doing a good job entails.
“Doing a good job” in ceremony or magic has nothing to do with sounding intelligent or looking dignified. Doing a good job in circle means connecting with the powers we wish to contact, and allowing those powers to flow through us into the circle for the benefit of all involved. Effective ritual might not look like much at all from the outside, but those inside the circle should feel it.
So I shifted my request. I asked for help getting out of my own way. I asked for the Gods to be present. I asked for a strong connection with the energies of the land, and I asked the spirits I have relationships with to help me create a strong circle. I asked to be an effective vessel, so I could call and direct the energies we needed to create a powerful, safe, sacred container for our work.
And as I focused on this new definition of “doing a good job,” my anxiety eased. My stomach stopped pretending to be a badly-played accordion. My enthusiasm for our ceremony returned.
I no doubt spoke and moved imperfectly when we began our work that day. I know I forgot some of the things I meant to say, and had a few moments where the words didn’t come out as cleanly as I wanted. But I was present and focused on what mattered, and felt the presence of the ones we called on. Though we were working in a busy public park, no one interfered with our ceremony or even stopped to watch - at least not until we dropped our protective circle and transitioned into social time before heading home.
And there was an unexpected side effect of focusing on doing powerful work rather than on sounding right or looking right. Even in the moments I was leading a section of the ritual, I was also nourished by the ritual. In the past I have found leading ritual to be somewhat draining, and have felt that I didn’t get as much out of the experience when I had to take a leadership role, because I was focused on taking care of everyone else. That day felt like a glimpse into the possibilities of priesthood. For the first time I could understand how a priest can be just as nourished by leading ritual as by being led.
My friends and I have a lot of conversations about imposter syndrome and social anxiety, especially in the context of witchcraft and polytheism. Especially when a God comes calling with tasks for us to accomplish. But we’ve started reminding each other that the Gods call us for Their own reasons; and, as I say over and over again, They tap on the shoulders of the willing, not the perfect. As far as I can tell, the Gods and spirits want to form relationships with those of us who are willing to get over ourselves and just do the work. They want reciprocity and action, not just eloquent words or fancy garb or elaborate shrines. Should we give our best? Of course. Everything meaningful deserves the best we can offer of ourselves. But it’s important to keep an eye on our perceptions of what is actually our best. The most gorgeous words can’t create a powerful ritual if the priest doesn’t have relationship with the Gods and spirits being called upon, but a simple hand gesture can create a profound shift in the atmosphere of a ritual when the person making it is attuned to the Gods, spirits, and powers of the land.
I didn’t conquer my imposter syndrome for all time on Lúnasa. It’s still a pretty constant companion in my day to day life. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is showing up and tuning in to the messages and powers of our Gods and spirits. When we are focused on Them, there’s no way to be imposters; in those moments we are as real as we can get.
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