Transcending the Divide Between Sacred and Mundane

I’ve been reading Dwelling on the Threshold: Reflections of a Spirit Worker and Devotional Polytheist, by Sarah Kate Istra Winter, a book that focuses on pagan mysticism in a modern setting. (I want to note that haven’t finished the book, so this absolutely isn’t a review—rather, one essay in it moved me to write a blog post to explore my thoughts on the matter.)

It’s a fascinating read, and quite inspiring, but that is, in part, because I can’t agree with everything the author says. I don’t strictly disagree: much of what she says seems like it could, or even should, be true, but it doesn’t hold true for me and my life as it is right now. It is thought-provoking, however, and that’s as inspiring to me as anything with which I can strongly agree or identify.

If you’ve read this blog for long, you’ll know that practical paganism is something that matters to me a great deal and is something I struggle with pretty regularly. How can I integrate trancework and devotional practice into my daily life? How can magic and prayer fit into my mundane routine? In what practical ways can I manifest my devotion? It’s something I still struggle with, because I’m not honestly sure. I’m not great with trance—in fact, I can say with some certainty that trancework will be what holds me back in my path to priesthood. I have difficulty integrating magic and devotional with my mundane life, often because the notion of sacred time and sacred space as separate and Other inhibits me from seeing the sacred in my everyday activities.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

The author writes,

“…there are plenty of people who keep more of a foot in each world, and we need those people especially in a ministerial capacity. But I think we also need some people who are willing to make mysticism their absolute first priority, people who can go further Out There because they don’t have the same types of responsibilities holding them back.”

As I said, I don’t disagree. But this dichotomy is extremely unhelpful to me personally, because it suggests that my mundane ties are holding me back from spiritual elevation or fulfillment. I’m not saying that this is the author’s argument; indeed, I suspect she would challenge my wording and the generalization I’ve made. However, I find that the type of comparison contained in this essay acts as an unnecessary boundary to the pursuit of spiritual work in tandem with success (however one perceives it) in daily life.

I spend a lot of my professional life telling myself and other writers that comparison between oneself and one’s colleagues or peers is probably the most counterproductive activity we can engage in, the very antithesis of creativity. When we compare ourselves to others, we set ourselves up for failure. There is absolutely no way I can be anyone but me, and expecting myself to work or behave like someone else is guaranteeing that I won’t meet my own expectations. It’s an impossible, ever-shifting standard.

This is maybe my issue, but the suggestion that my daily life and worldly ties prevent me from achieving true connection to the divine makes me feel inadequate and destined for failure. Why should I even try, if I can’t do it in a way that works for me and with my life?

I know I’m making this more black and white than it should be. However, the bright line separation between Divine and Mundane (or Profane, if you prefer) sets a standard I feel I can never achieve. I want my daily life to support my spiritual life, but I also want my spiritual life to support my daily life. And, to be honest, I would like to overcome that distinction altogether.

My priority, in pursuing priesthood, has always been to be there for pagans in their daily lives: to provide spiritual support at high points (marriages and sainings) and low points (funerals and and other farewells), to create liturgical and devotional resources for depression and anxiety, to encourage spiritual activity during even the most mundane of things, like cooking and cleaning. I would absolutely fall into this author’s camp of the priest with a foot in each world.

But when there’s a divide between true mysticism and practical paganism, I feel stymied before I even begin. If it’s a lower calling, to integrate spiritual practice into daily life, what am I aiming for? If true unification is impossible, why am I even trying? If it’s so difficult to achieve mysticism that one has to sever ties with this world, is there any point at all to my pursuit of practical paganism?

Maybe we do need dedicated mystics who don’t share my insecurities and doubts. For most of us, however, I think bringing the sacred into our routine is a grand aspiration because it’s a way of making the sacred real. When I honor the spirits as I take my daily walk (for exercise, mind you, not contemplation), that is finding sacred space in this world. When I honor Brighid as I clean my stove, that is a way of welcoming her into my daily life. And those activities are what matter to me.

Overcoming that distinction is one of my ultimate goals for my path, and I hope it’s not one that’s counterproductive to the mainstream pagan way of thought (if such a thing exists). The concept of sacred space/time is important, I think, particularly for liturgy and group ritual, but it also makes it difficult to connect one’s spiritual life with one’s daily life. And if I can’t have some sort of integration, I think I will find the standards of devotion required by the path of priesthood extraordinarily different.

Maybe solitary mysticism is a high goal to achieve. But for me, the ultimate end will be honoring the spirits with my mundane life, to the best of my ability. I want to transcend the divide between sacred and mundane and live, truly, in both worlds at once, with no distinction between my steps on either path.


Companions on the Journey

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about those who walk alongside us during our spiritual journey. For some it’s partners and spouses, parents, and children. For others it’s grove-mates or brothers/sisters in faith. For still others, our ancestors, spirit guides, and deities are the only beings to share our journey. But for many of us, it’s our friends.

For me, it’s often been friends. I grew up in a semi-Catholic household, with a Catholic mother and an atheistic father. My dad never went to church with us, and my mom really only made us attend church when we were working toward milestones like First Communion and Confirmation. Religion did not shape my family. When I reached middle school, though, many of my friends attended the same very active Methodist church. They were in youth group together, they went on retreats together, they took mission trips, went to choir practice, attended lock-ins, and were confident in their church community.

I was a little envious.

I had one Catholic friend in middle school. In high school, I was dumped by my first boyfriend because I was Catholic.

These actions, this passion, the sense of community that drove the people around me to choose friends and mates from within their own congregation puzzled me. I never had that connection with my spiritual practice: I went to mass… sometimes. I read the Bible… sometimes. None of it stuck. I tried on others’ churches, and they never fit. I was always the outsider looking in during a service, and, to be honest, I was always the outsider looking in among those communities. I never belonged. Those friends and partners would never, ultimately, choose me, because I came from a different world.

Some of that sense of exclusion, of loneliness, probably drove me to attend a Catholic university. I loved it there for a variety of reasons, but I loved it in part because I was no longer Other.

…until I realized that I was now a different kind of outsider, the kind who questioned and who chose to go to brunch instead of Sunday morning mass. A friend told me in our third year that she’d always assumed I was Protestant, like her, because I never did all those Catholic things. Ash Wednesday was a sort of branding-by-absence, when you could tell those of us who were different because of our unsullied foreheads.

So I tried harder. I went to mass. I went to the chapel to pray, sometimes, alone with the silence and the candles. I went to a retreat. And, ultimately, I knew my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t believe, I had no sense of connection.

I let it go.

Although it’s much more complicated than I’m revealing here and now, I eventually realized that I didn’t believe. I didn’t belong. I was outside the community not just because those within it looked on me as different, but because I was different. But to me, that didn’t change my relationships with the people who remained within those silent and often loving walls. The difference meant little to me. I’ve had friends who are nothing like me, male, female, neither, gay, straight, Protestant, pagan, atheist, native English speakers, non-native, you name it, I’ll make friends with it. Friendship in difference meant the connection between us was strong and resilient enough to explore and revel in the spaces we could occupy together.  Space between meant there was more room for intellectual, political, and spiritual play.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares that view. Late in my college career, my best friend went, well, super-Catholic. The space between us became a wasteland instead of a playground. Questions and discussion became judgment and disapproval. Discussions became arguments. Laughter turned to silence.

Once again, I was a 13-year-old, dumped by someone she loved because of a religious difference she never chose.

When I discovered ADF and paganism, I reveled in the sense of community. Though I was a solitary, I had found my people. I wasn’t Other anymore; I belonged. People would choose me, as I had chosen them. (Consent in religion: there’s a topic for another day.) I made new friends and explored new grounds, and over the years, these friends have helped me on my journey. They’ve given me a hand up a rocky slope, shared in awed silence with vistas of the sacred, said to me, “You will get through this—I know, because I’ve been there, too!”

We’ve made the journey together. For the first time in my life, I had true companions and partners.

But when the road divides and things change—beliefs mature, questions go unanswered, needs evolve—I find myself both inside and outside the wall of Other once again. I am not the same to my former grove-mates. I am not the same to other solitaries. And I’m not, I am afraid, the same friend to my companions. In the face of change, my sense of betrayal goes outside and in: I feel hurt to lose a treasured co-explorer, and I feel disgusted with myself at perpetuating the exclusion that has repeatedly wounded me.

I am only human. I am not always rational. But when the support-net changes, we’re bound to feel vulnerable. The people around us shape our journeys, just as we shape theirs—and they, too, are vulnerable, fallible. Sometimes we all lose the path, even when we have the steadiest hands beside us.

The hard part is realizing the hands reaching out to us are trembling. And sometimes we have to shake hands at the crossroads on the promise of exchanging different views. Occasionally, we must wave a distant hand and shine a shaky light of hope toward our faraway companions, with the faith that it will be enough to guide us both down our separate paths.

A mature friendship, just like a mature faith, is resilient. I still believe that. It finds detours. It explores the unknown. It looks into the shadows. Friends are more than companions. They are, at times, our faith in humanity.

And I can hold on to that.

PCTP Work and a Fall Update

I never intended to only update this blog once per season. *headdesk*

Still, I’ve given the place a facelift—it was due, after nearly three years of blogging with the same template. If you’re reading via email or RSS, please come check out the new appearance! It’s quite pretty, if I do say so myself.

Yesterday I received approval on my final PCTP course! I’m all approved to submit my letter of intent, and I’m extremely excited to do so. The last year has been quite a journey: I finished my DP a year ago, began the PCTP work, and now I’ve become a DP mentor, Organizer of SDF, and Coordinator of the Brighid’s Hearth SIG. That’s a lot of stuff, even without the everyday highs and lows that come with coursework and responsibilities.

While I wait for a verdict on my letter of intent, I plan to put up my coursework in a new section on this blog. It’s always been helpful to me to look at examples of others’ work, and I like to think that my work my help future students. Check back in the coming days, and I’ll post another update when I’ve gotten everything online.

In the meantime, wish me luck! The next stage of the journey is about to begin, whether that includes priesthood or another path.

Summer Solstice, SDF, and Me

Some of you reading this are old friends. Some of you are new friends. Some of you are probably here wondering who the heck I am after yesterday’s announcement.

So I’m going to do what I do best, and tell you a little story.

In late November of 2010, I joined ADF. (How I got there is another story!) Back then I lived in northern New Mexico, in the mountains east of the Rio Grande Valley. Though it was a beautiful and magical place, it was cold, it was isolated, and it was very lonely. My husband and I were living in a 200-year-old fortified plaza, “modernized” by our land-lady, who ran a bed-and-breakfast out of the plaza and worked the attached farm and orchard. I’ve never lived so close to the land, but just then the land was frozen and settling in for the long hibernation of the mountains in winter. The Earth Mother in all her beauty was surrounded me, but she was hunkered down for a nap, and I was more or less left alone to find my path.

It seemed I wasn’t the only person to join around that time and feel the ache of solitude. A number of us—some of you who still read this blog!—shared our blogs and formed our own community. I pretty quickly struck up a friend with Teo Bishop, whose blog Bishop in the Grove quickly became much more than an ADF Dedicant journal.

On he went to blog for Patheos and Huffington Post and interviews and all sorts of amazing things. It was a pleasure to watch, and I continued to take a little bit of pride in our early correspondence about the nature of sacrifice, meditation, deities, and all the ‘ologies and ‘isms of Druidry.

Then, last August, he contacted me about an idea he had, a way to help solitaries. In an odd bit of synchronicity, I had just returned from the Summerland gathering, my first ADF festival, where I discovered just how difficult it can be to be the newcomer in a long-standing community. I wanted, after seeing how it felt to know no one, to help solitaries feel like a part of the community I found myself looking at from the outside. When I embarked on the pre-clergy training program, I knew I wanted to serve solitaries. I went into last fall with a new vision for my path.

Over the next months, Teo worked with ADF to establish the Solitary Druid Fellowship. I like to think I did my bit, advocating for the project with the few ADF leaders I know, but mostly it was Teo’s baby and Teo’s determination that carried it forward. SDF took off, and has been successfully offering liturgy and community to solitary druids since last winter’s solstice.

And now, here we are at the summer solstice.

In another odd bit of synchronicity, not a month ago I chose to leave my grove and return to solitary practice—and then Teo approached me to take over leadership of SDF.

I said yes, of course, and we’ve all arrived at this blog, wondering who the heck Kristin McFarland is and what she has to offer solitaries.

I don’t have a resume to offer. I don’t have a long list of credentials or a thick black-book of contacts. I’m just me, offering my hopes and dreams for ADF and for solitary druids on all paths.

Like I always do, I slept through this morning’s sunrise. Every Solstice I think, “Hey, I’ll get up and do a sunrise ritual! It’ll be amazing!” And then it never happens. (Last year, I was in Mexico on my honeymoon, and I planned to do a beach devotional at sunrise on the Solstice. That would have been amazing. At least I have the dream of it, if not the memory.)

I slept late, and when I got up I had to putter through drinking the two cups of tea that make me functional enough to act like a civilized human being. Then I exchanged some texts with my husband. I brushed my hair. I read my RSS feeds. Then my cat barfed everywhere and I had to clean it up.  And then the maintenance crew started running the weed-whacker outside my apartment, and then the garbage truck came and started honking at them, and then, and then, and then.

By the time I got to collecting my ritual implements, I was already feeling a little frazzled. I forgot a cup for the waters of life and had (not for the first time) to consecrate the water bottle I keep on my nightstand. My offerings of incense went out repeatedly. The barfy cat tried to jump on my lap. I dropped my binder. I forgot what I wanted to say.

But all the noise from outside dropped away. It was just me, sharing liturgy with every druid in the Fellowship. There was silence and sacred space, because I created it.

That is the magic of solitary practice. We don’t need a coven or a circle or Stonehenge to create meaningful ritual. We just need our intent.

I tell you all this not to demean myself or lower the bar of expectations. I’m telling you this because we are all together in the effort it takes to create the sacred in the midst of the mundane. We may be walking different paths, but they lead to the same place, out of time and out of space: in the end, we are all in that sacred space, sharing silence, sharing intent, and sharing our worship.

For me, Druid ritual will always be practicing my worship alone at my altar in the frozen pink foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and knowing that Druids everywhere were sharing in my work. Even apart, we’re together when we step into the sacred.

If you’re reading this, thank you. Thank you for putting faith—or at least curiosity—in me. And thank you for sharing ritual with me, wherever and whenever you do it.


In case you needed another reason to cultivate mindfulness in your practice, learn from my example:

Tonight, as I sat down to my nightly devotional, I realized the well on my altar needed topping off. Thinking of a big decision I still need to make, I absentmindedly picked up the bottle I keep on the floor next to the altar, and poured a hearty measure of water… into the pillar candle that serves as my fire.


All was well, and I was able to light my fire with no more than a few warning sputters and crackles, but believe me—I kept my mind on the present as I performed the rest of my ritual.

Gender Politics in Worship?

As part of my efforts to shake up my home practice, my husband is creating a random deity “generator” for me, a program that will email to me a specific deity or entity to honor during my nightly ritual. The list of deities comes from me, of course, and tonight I sat down to make it.

I listed all the deities I’ve worked with and felt connected to, as well as all those I’d like to get to know better. I put a lot of thought and care into those Beings I’d like to draw closer to my hearth. But as I began to glance back over my list, I realized that it’s pretty lady-heavy.

Am I, as a woman, inclined to worship goddesses rather than goddesses? Have I connected with them because of our shared femininity? Do I feel more comfortable praying to a Being who has, on some oddly-perceived level, more in common with me? Am I (I say this in a whisper) sexist?

What an interesting and alarming thought. I’ll be exploring this a bit more in the coming weeks.

How about you? Are you more inclined to worship a deity that shares your gender identity?


I resigned from my grove this weekend, readers. It was a big decision, and one that took me a long time to do. For a variety of reasons, it was the right choice, but there’s “a bend in the road” now, as Anne of Green Gables would say, and I’m not sure what’s around it.

I’m happy to be returning to solitary practice. As a grove member, I was often unable to balance my grove work with my personal work. That’s a failing of mine, but it became dire enough that I had to take steps to shift my focus. Home practice is the foundation of all practice, and because of that, it’s the most important.

Wish me luck! These are big changes, but I think they’ll be for the best.