Listening to the woods, to the stones, to Gaia, and to women...
In the woods behind my house rest a collection of nine large flat rocks. Daily, I walk down to these “priestess rocks” for some sacred time alone to pray, meditate, consider, and be. Often, while in this space, I open my mouth and poetry comes out. I’ve come to see this experience as "theapoetics"—experiencing the Goddess through direct “revelation,” framed in language. As Stanley Hopper originally described in the 1970’s, it is possible to “…replace theology, the rationalistic interpretation of belief, with theopoetics, finding God[dess] through poetry and fiction, which neither wither before modern science nor conflict with the complexity of what we know now to be the self.” Theapoetics might also be described, “as a means of engaging language and perception in such a way that one enters into a radical relation with the divine, the other, and the creation in which all occurs.”
Practical Priestessing: Who Does She Think SHE is?!
“The journey to become a priestess…(even of the urban variety) remains a grueling task, not something capable of being conferred by a few weekend workshops or sweat lodges. The glibness with which such terms are used can be infuriating…” –Vivienne Vernon-Jones in Voices of the Goddess by Caitlin Matthews
“The Goddess is not only for the temple, she must be carried out into the world to wherever she is needed…” –Vivianne Crowley (in Voices of the Goddess edited by Caitlin Matthews)
I recently finished writing a paper for my The Role of the Priestess course at Ocean Seminary College. This course explores the three roles of a priestess in depth: counselor (mentor), ritualist, and teacher. The first paper was designed to explore the role of priestess as counselor and I found it very difficult to write. After some reflection, I realized the difficulty was due to three personal reasons: doubt that I “deserve” to call myself a priestess, doubt about my own ability to fulfill the counselor part of the role, and fear of not being “good enough” or “perfect” enough to fulfill this piece of the priestess role. I am fairly comfortable with the roles of ritualist-ceremonialist and of teacher and I also feel good about how well I already fulfill those roles. The Counselor though. She’s scary. Am I good enough? Can I really do this? Who do I think I am?
While I have been leading ceremonies and rituals for women since 2004, truly becoming committed to these offerings in 2007, and planning and leading quarterly women’s retreats since 2010, I didn’t become ordained as a Priestess until 2012. It is a big commitment and to totally embrace the role involves a lot of responsibility as well as some degree of personal risk. This year, in fact, while working on the aforementioned paper, I also became ordained by the American Priestess Council, I think in an effort to continue to legitimize to myself that I belong here.
Who does she think she is?
In the process of writing my paper, I came to see that I’m not the only priestess that struggles with the fear of, “who does she think she is?” In fact, this worry surfaced in the writings of multiple priestesses whose work I have explored.
As Caitlin Matthews explains in her anthology of priestess stories, Voices of the Goddess, “Many women reading this collection may ask themselves, ‘Am I or could I be a priestess, mediator, or sibyl?’ In the great desert of spiritual opportunity that constitutes the Western world, the need to make formal acknowledgement of our spirituality is urgent. Yet, lying between us and the achievement of our desire, lies a great abyss excavated by loneliness, lack of emotional and spiritual support, ignorance, uncertainty, fear and the very real need for affirmation. However, there are other qualities that we all possess and can call upon for help. Chief among these is our faith in the Goddess to help us. Never mind the aching hollowness of our need, She reaches down to the very depths of it and answers it: we have only to ask. Even if we can only begin by acting as though the Goddess existed, we will find her help at hand. This ‘as though’ proviso is very important to all spiritual transformation…What then does being a priestess entail? Fundamentally speaking, a priestess is one who mediates the Goddess by making Her power available to all creation. A priestess guards the mysteries of the Mother and helps initiate other travelers on the road to the spiritual home. A priestess changes things, concepts, people…” (p. 15)
As Karen Tate would say, the priestess is involved with rebirthing Goddess on planet earth.
Matthews goes on to explore the role of the priestess as counselor and woven throughout our days by pointing out that, “To be a priestess in practice is to follow a vocation stripped of its glamour. The mundane occurrences of life are near to hand to remind us that life is to be lived now. It means finding the appropriate ritual response to being woken at night by a sick baby, knowing what to say and do when your best friend contracts a life-threatening disease, how to continue a ritual at a sacred site when a coachload of tourists descends. Poise, presence, and humour are essential: especially, the latter. We take ourselves far too seriously” (p. 19).
How can we not take ourselves seriously with mandates like these? No wonder I feel some trepidation about my priestess path. This is not for the faint-hearted. And, it is not for those who just like having rituals every once in a while!
Matthews continues, “If you believe yourself to be a priestess of the Goddess, take stock of your resources and abilities. Question yourself about your motives. Does ‘priestess’ spell power to you? Are you able to cease manipulating situations and relationships in order to let the energy of the Goddess work freely? Does the title ‘priestess’ make you feel important? Are you prepared to help every created being, regardless of their appearance, status or gender? Look at the problems around you, your friends, your environment and locality. Next look at your mediation of the Goddess. What practical ways can you find to connect one to the other?” (p. 19)
Kathy Jones also addresses the notion of “who does she think she is?!” explaining that, “A Priestess of the Goddess is always in the process of becoming priestess. To name ourselves as Her priestess is not to make a final statement of achievement, but to mark the place of our initiation into what priestesshood means for us and for those we hope to serve. As priestesses we are continually learning, developing, growing and refining exactly what it means to be a Priestess of the Goddess. This is a reclaimed, remembered and yet ever new 21st century path of service to Her…The role of priestess has both public and private components. It is not enough to name oneself priestess and hold the gifts of the Goddess for one’s private entertainment, although her gifts will definitely enhance our personal lives. The role of priestess is primarily a public role, expressed through our varied personalities with all our splendid quality and with our inadequacies too, which are in process of transformation. Our purpose as priestesses is to act from our soul nature, with love, kindness, compassion, clarity, vision, wisdom, movement and stillness. As priestesses we are always on the journey to becoming whole” (Priestess of Avalon, Priestess of the Goddess, p. 306).
I very much appreciate this acknowledgement of priestess work as a lifelong process of becoming, rather than a single initiatory moment, but that the title comes with the initiation, not with the final outcome. It is okay that I continue to learn, grow, and deepen in my own personal practices, as well as my ability to serve others. In fact, this may be perhaps a central ethical mandate of priestessing. I also look at Initiation as a process of commitment—to a spiritual path and to oneself—and discovery (of one’s spiritual path and oneself). I look at Initiation as an unfolding spiral of exploration, communion, experience, and dedication.
Jones also explains that “The title of Priestess carries not only the personal energy of the one who takes the name, but it also carries archetypal transpersonal energy, which exists beyond the present culture and time, and beyond individuals. When we take the title of Priestess we are also taking on the mythic energy that lies beyond the manifested form, that has accumulated over hundreds and thousands of years. This archetypal energy is much bigger than the individuals. It is powerful. It heals, catalyses and transforms all that come into contact with it, both within the would-be priestess and those whose lives she touches. When we take on the title Priestess of the Goddess we are asking for change in our lives…” (p. 309-310)
Finally, Jones touches on motive, as did Matthews above: “As we begin to journey to Her priestesshood it is important to spend time thinking about why we are doing this. Is it merely a glamor? Is it that we want to dance around in pretty dresses and be seen as important or mysterious? Do we care more for the trappings of priestesshood than the substance, which includes spiritual, psychological and physical work, daily communion with the Lady, deep healing of personal wounds, sweeping floors and cleaning wax from candlesticks, as well as wafting about in silken robes looking lovely?” (p. 314)
“This duty is one that all women have, for we are each a garment of the Goddess, and the way we wear her matters” (Caitlin Matthews, Voices of the Goddess, p. 15).
"The priestess is worn within the soul, not donned for occasion or kept in a bowl." (http://schoolofsacredscience.com/Priestess_Training.html)
While I do have several beautiful priestess robes that I very much enjoy wearing, my heart for service is much deeper. I further addressed my personal call to service in my first practical priestessing post and wrote a little more about my journey along the priestess path in my description of attending the Gaea Goddess Gathering in Kansas last year.
Priestess robe pictured from Goddess Garb!
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