I have been on the same spiritual path for almost thirty years, and during that time, I’ve taught many people, counseled many people, and sent prayers out for many people, but it never occurred to me to seek to be formally ordained until the Fall of 2015. That was a huge step for me to take, but I’m very glad I took it, as it has been life-changing, not only for me, but for the folks that I counsel and teach. I no longer feel like I am “working without a net”–spiritually or legally–so now I can work even harder to help YOU realize you’re not “working without a net”, either!
I was raised Protestant (primarily Presbyterian and Methodist, though we did “dance” with the Southern Baptists briefly), but my soul was most certainly Catholic (courtesy of my Granddaddy Gaspar “Sonny” Iacona), in that I developed an obsession with the Virgin Mary at a very early age. Spiritually and ritually, I therefore consider my base to be Catholic, even though I never attended an actual Catholic Church until I was into my teens (and then, only once or twice), and only regularly attended at a Catholic Church beginning in 2014.
My struggles with the “Traditional Church” began in high school, when I began to fully explore my gifts with Tarot and other more “pagan” pursuits (spirit-contacts; spellwork; vision-questing; past life work). Living in the South, members of my primarily-Protestant community “frowned” upon such things: to the degree that four boys in my class threatened to actually burn me at the stake. They were serious!
It was around this same time that I developed disabling psoriasis. The preacher of the church we were attending at that time (Southern Baptist) often came to visit us during that time, when I was homebound from school, and literally could not walk, nor hold a toothbrush, nor even pull covers up over myself when I slept at night. I was in persistent chronic pain; I couldn’t stand the touch of anything against my skin, and I left blood trails when I attempted to walk (which felt like a thousand paper cuts on my feet, covered in lemon juice). I was also only sixteen years old. On top of the chronic pain (and the ugly–because psoriasis is one of the least attractive diseases you could ever hope to contract), I was faced with the fact that there are five distinct types of psoriasis, and I had all of them, which is extremely rare. At least two of those types can kill you! So the preacher’s visits, at first, were welcome; my Mother and I needed all the prayer and faith-boosting we could get. Then, one night, on one of his visits, that preacher said something to my Mother and I which broke me (and it still breaks me every time someone comes at me with this line of thinking). He said: “I don’t know what either of you did for her to deserve to be punished by God like this.”
That was the last time I set foot in a Church, until I moved to Massachusetts and had the opportunity to attend a Catholic one.
I did, however, participate in Bible Study in College. We had an excellent Presbyterian Pastor at my school. He was a very cool guy, and very open to alternative translations of Scripture; very open-minded. My future husband and I often attended together. His wife (who he later divorced), however, was not as open. One day, after a class we were in together (she was pursuing a bit of later-in-life education), she looked me in the face and said the exact same thing that Baptist minister had said in my living room six years prior: “I don’t know what you did to deserve this punishment by God….” I was done with her, but not with her husband, at that point. Three years after I graduated (in 1997), my husband and I finally decided to make things official, so we approached that pastor, to get him to marry us. My husband is over half Cherokee, and my path had been gravitating towards the Red Path for seven years at that point, so we wanted to include some of his people’s traditions in our ceremony. We had come up with the idea of incorporating the Cherokee Tradition of the Wedding Quilt into our wedding–traditionally, the matriarch of the family wraps a quilt or blanket around the shoulders of the couple, thereby “giving away” the bride, in much the same way the bride’s father does in a traditional wedding–and having my beloved Mema do the honors. The pastor refused to marry us based on this, saying that our wedding was “too pagan for him to be involved.”
My husband and I both washed our hands of the Protestant faith for good at that point. We contacted a Justice of the Peace, and wrote our own vows.
Between 1994 and 2014, I explored various paths, including Wicca (briefly). In 1997, I discovered Welsh Historical Reconstructionist Druidry while attempting to help a friend find a path system that would actually speak to him and drive him. He had been raised in a stifling religious household, and he was struggling with how much of what he believed was truly his own, versus how much of it was “inflicted” upon him. He was deeply drawn to Celtic history (as was I), and both of us accepted Christ as a simple “fact of existence”. In researching Christ in the Celtic world, I stumbled upon the writings of Welsh Bard, Iolo Morganwg, and three striking words that literally sent shivers up and down my spine: Christ, Mo Drui. Those three words literally translate to “Christ, My Druid”, and they led me deeper into an attempt to find some historical basis for their existence, which led me to Welsh Druidry in particular. You see, there is a folkloric tradition in Wales that Christ actually walked those green hills and studied among the Druids, during those “lost years” of His life between that time when He ran away at the age of twelve and was found preaching in the Temple in Jerusalem, and the age of thirty, when He began His formal ministry. And that folkloric tradition is actually backed by some very real historical facts: Joseph of Arimathea, in whose tomb Jesus was buried, was Christ’s uncle, and Uncle Joseph was rich enough to own a tomb in the first place because he was a tin-trader. Guess where all the tin came from in that period? Wales! So it is perfectly feasible that a young Jesus might have gone on a “field trip” with Uncle Joseph, and found Himself among the Druids on those green Welsh hillsides.
In the years since (nearly twenty, as I write this in 2016), I have found that Druidry provides for me a much less rigid framework in which to spiritually work than most modern spiritual systems, whether one is discussing “conventional religions” (such as Christianity), or pagan or ceremonial paths (such as Wicca and Hermeticism). The freedom and simplicity of that framework only became more important once I moved here to Massachusetts, and finally had the opportunity to be what I always wanted to be: Catholic.
The liturgy and ritual of Catholicism are beautiful, and speak deeply to my soul, but the dogma of Catholicism can be just as crushing as the dogma of the Protestants. I have watched that dogma slowly tear the many teenagers who are in and out of our household’s faith completely apart, leaving them athiests, agnostics, or at the very least, extremely broken. I have watched it cause some of the most faith-filled and faith-ful people I know to question whether or not they were worthy of God at all. Very quickly I have discovered that behind the beautiful gratitude of the Eucharist, there lurks a political machine, just as in the Protestant faiths, that is more concerned with maintaining a political status quo (of persecution and damnation), than with actually filling people’s lives with faith (cool Pope, or no cool Pope; that poor man is battling thousands of years of that status quo; please pray for him!).
All of these struggles with dogma versus living faith are what ultimately led me to become ordained, and also led me to write Dragonfly Theology. They have also led me deeper and deeper into the practice of Druidry, and the combination of that practice with the fact that Christ, for me, is a simple “fact of existence”: Christ, Mo Drui! So it is that I am ordained as Ollamh Michelle Iacona. Ollamh is an old Celtic title that means priest, teacher, counselor, and poet all at the same time, which is precisely what I live my life every day doing. I do not wish to be called Reverend, because I do not believe any single human being deserves that level of reverence. That is, in my opinion, placing people above The All/Deity/God/dess. No one should hold that sort of power over another human being. No, I am a priest(ess), in that I observe, share, and perform my own rituals and rituals for those in need. I am a teacher, for I try to bring other people to some sort of path that will get them un-lonely and “learning to fly”, by realizing that none of us are ever truly alone in this Universe. I am a counselor, as anyone who has received a formal reading from me can avow. And I am a poet and storyteller, who tries to infuse her art with ever-present faith in Something Bigger Than Us. Simple Truth. That’s what I’m all about.
So, please, call me Ollamh, and please, call me! If your background is Christian, please know that I will be sensitive to that, and I will meet you halfway. If your background is something else (regardless of what that something else might be), please know that I will be sensitive to that as well, and we will find some common ground, no matter what it takes. I am here for YOU! Ultimately, the entire point of being ordained is to serve, and I am eager to serve YOU!