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A Pagan Priest Creates Community in Conservative Mormon Utah

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 15th, 2022


Called to the Pagan Priesthood, this AMM Minister left her Mormon upbringing to dedicate her life to the Mórrígan through online connections and spiritual service to others

 


“Let Your freak flag fly so the other freaks know how to find you.” - Priest Leandra Southwinds

 


When Priest Leandra Southwinds left the Mormon Church to pursue a call to the Goddess Mórrígan and Pagan Priesthood, she had no doubt that most people in the suburban Utah community where she grew up wouldn’t approve. 

 

Faced with the threat of ostracization or worse, she cultivated a new community grounded in the ancient traditions of Irish Polytheism with the help of modern technology, online ordination, and the magic of the internet. 

 

 

A headshot of Priest Southwinds. Their hair is shaved on the sides and pulled back in a tight ponytail, similar to a mohawk. They wear wire framed glasses, dark lipstick and eye makeup, and have a septum ring. They stare into the camera with a neutral but confident look.

AMM Minister, Wedding Officiant, and Pagan Priest:  Leandra Southwinds

 

 


AMM Minister Close-Up: Priest Leandra Southwinds

 

Leandra (she/ they) was a teenager when they first heard the call of the deity Mórrígan – the Irish goddess of death, destiny, and battle; sovereignty, and the protection of community.

 

Living in conservative Utah, there were few resources available to help them explore the ancient faith. So Leandra did what many teens do when they find themselves outside the mainstream: they looked for community online. 

 

The internet used its double-edged powers for good, and she soon discovered she wasn’t alone in her faith or calling, despite finding little support at home.

 

The Mórrígan (or Mórríghan, sometimes Mór-Ríoghain, in modern Irish) is a popular figure in Irish folklore, and has a large eclectic global following, with a seemingly-endless library of stories passed down through the centuries – from tales of epic battle, to prophecy, to unrequited love and thwarted romance. She’s described in lore as many things, all of them fierce. She’s The Goddess of Death, The Phantom Queen, a Celtic warrior queen, a shapeshifter, and sometimes, a Triple Goddess embodying the three sister-goddesses of war and sovereignty (Badb, Macha, and Nemain). 

 

With the introduction of the internet, interest in the formidable goddess, and in Irish Polytheism in general, has grown exponentially, reaching followers like Leandra, far outside Ireland’s mossy shores. 

 

Related: When Pagans Wed: Modern Paganism & the Wedding Ritual

 

 

Photo from northern Ireland at sunrise, a green hillside with the sky lit up brightly in warm tones

The rolling, green Irish countryside. 

 

 

Suddenly immersed in a welcoming (though scattered) community, Leandra gathered all the information she could find. The internet was still in its early stages, less established than it is now, and for a while she mostly winged it. But over time, chat rooms and forums offered meaningful connections and conversation. She joined online covens, and researched Irish history and mythology.

 

As she became more confident and vocal about her faith in her daily life, Leandra was approached by like-minded Pagans in her own small conservative city, discovering a community they hadn’t realized existed. Practicing quietly in the shadow of the Mormon Church were Wiccans and modern Druids, Eclectic Pagans, Pantheists, and other spiritual-but-not-religious people. 

 

She translated the inclusive spirit of her online experiences to her local relationships: starting a tarot business, and bridging the intersecting LGBTQ+ and Pagan communities to which she belonged. 

 

Soon, she was presiding over dozens – then hundreds – of local fire festivals and holiday celebrations. As her knowledge and experience with pagan ritual deepened, she served as an educator, teaching the traditions of Irish Polytheism to a (still tiny but) growing group. 

 

Her desire to dedicate more of her life to the Mórrígan, and to serve as a spiritual advisor in her community, capable of administering life rites to anyone who needed her open-minded offerings (through ceremonies like handfasting, marriage, and blessings), deepened. 


 

A photo of Leandra performing a Pagan ritual, with a five point star pentagram, candles, herbs, and other ritual materials

Ritual and magic

 

 

 

Call to Priesthood

 

Leandra felt called to Priesthood. It would mark an important step in the service to others, to the Mórrígan, and to her faith. As with clergy in other faiths, a Pagan Priest or Priestess is someone who dedicates themselves to a specific deity or deities and performs rites and ceremonies within their community. 

 

She looked online for information on becoming ordained. Although formal ordination isn’t required for Pagan Priesthood, she wanted to be able to administer all life cycle rites within her community, and ordination is necessary to perform the marriage rite. 

 

A quick search revealed it’s a simple process to become a minister, but Leandra wanted an association that met her values, and that reflected her belief that everyone had a right to share in the expression of those values – especially the right for all people to marry. She wanted meaningful ordination.


That’s when she found American Marriage Ministries. It was a good fit, and she was ordained with AMM in 2016. AMM is an inclusive, interfaith, and nondenominational church, and welcomes people of all ages, all walks of life, and all faiths (including atheists and those who don’t hold any spiritual beliefs at all).

 

 

(Get ordained with AMM here.)

 

 

Within months, she was approached to perform a wedding – a small nondenominational ceremony in an arboretum in Portland. There, in warm amber air under a large tree, in a place she describes as “right out of Lord of the Rings,” Leandra performed her first marriage rite. 

 

Related: How to Officiate a Wedding For the First Time

 

Since then, she’s officiated over a dozen weddings. Some nondenominational, most for LGBTQ+ couples looking for an understanding and accepting wedding officiant, and several traditional Pagan weddings

 

Since joining AMM, Leandra has continued their religious education with a six-month intensive training course offered online through the Irish Pagan School, which was co-founded by Irish authors and educators Lora O'Brien and Jon O'Sullivan. 

 

There, once again, the magic of the internet provided the chance to foster community, and they met other priests and practitioners, and learned traditional wisdom and witchcraft that helped them formalize their practice. 

 

Leandra is currently completing a Bachelor's Degree in Religious Studies online, and will begin applying to online graduate programs in the coming months to continue their studies in faith.

 

A woman stands in the foreground wearing a black wedding dress, holding a bouquet of flowers, while Leandra presides over the pagan wedding ceremony in the background. Leandra wears a dress, with her hair pulled back, and is reading from a book. The wedding is outdoors, and it looks like sunset or maybe sunrise from the light.

Leandra presides over a modern Pagan wedding ceremony. 

 


A life in service through online ordination

 

Priest Leandra Southwinds admits it’s not easy being out as a Pagan and a bisexual nonbinary person in Taylorsville, Utah, where 61.1% of the population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), commonly referred to as the Mormon Church.

 

The majority of practicing Mormons still oppose same-sex marriage and most other LGBTQ+ rights (although that number is shrinking). And the LDS Church, like the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, only offers ordination to Priesthood to cisgender men. 

 

Related: Will the Mormon Church approve same sex marriages?

 

But it’s this lack of acceptance from within Utah’s religious community that motivates Leandra to continue letting her ‘freak flag fly,’ and to help other open minded people find each other. 

 

She currently serves local Pagan and LGBTQ+ communities by presiding over Pagan Solstice and Equinox celebrations, fire festivals (on cross-quarter days: Imbolc, Lammas, Samhain and Beltane), blessings, handfastings, and weddings, including many same-sex ceremonies.

 

Online community continues to keep her grounded in her work with the Mórrígan (and recently, with deities Lugh and Brighde, or Brigid), and facilitates learning. 

 

And her online ordination with AMM helps her to protect same-sex couples’ right to marry in Morman-majority Utah, and to administer life and marriage rites wherever she’s called – to Pagans, nondenominational Christians, and countless others walking a non-mainstream spiritual path.

 

Find them on TikTok @leandrasouthwinds

 


Learn more about how online ordination protects marriage equality in conservative and rural communities in Utah and elsewhere:

 


...

 

 

Get ordained! 

How to Become a Wedding Officiant in Utah


Friends and family members can officiate wedding ceremonies in Utah: Become an ordained minister with AMM's free online ordination -- it only takes a minute to complete.

 


 

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Illustration by Jessica Levey of a pagan wedding altar

From the Article: Pagan Wedding Altars

Illustration by Jessica Levey

 

 

 

 

 


 

About the Author
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves digging into the history and magic of ritual, exploring the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She’s an advocate for marriage equality and individuality. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys easy hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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