…not just a woman in her prime but
a mother of the tribe, not just
an old woman but a priest(ess),
not a woman but a queen
not a woman but a vessel for the energy of Goddess…
This is what they hide from us…
–Patricia Monaghan, Seasons of the Witch p. 134
In the Practical Priestessing class, we consider the sociopolitical value of the priestess, the priestess as political statement and social change agent, and in this way we move beyond small group politics and into wide cultural politics and perception.
In the anthology, Stepping into Ourselves, Priestess Josephine MacMillan explains the impact of seeing women in spiritual power on a public level:
On a very primal level, seeing women hold power in the public spiritual sphere stimulates people’s belief and trust that women can therefore be an authority in other places, as in political office, or corporations. The impact of the symbolic role of the priestess in public ritual reaches into our psyche; this is why it’s important that priestesses be seen performing public rituals and openly invoking the Goddess.
From “The Priestess as Wedding Ceremonialist”
My own priestess work is intimately tied to my activism in women’s health and empowerment, particularly with childbirth, but in all stages and phases of the female life cycle.
“Immense can be our Fear surrounding ‘coming out’ with our beliefs, our passions, and our ancient wisdom whether to our families or friendships let alone the community at large…For in doing so we may experience rejection, ridicule, abandonment… all experiences masking an even greater fear… that of ancient memories of persecution, torture and death…”
–Ayla Mellani, Chrysalis Woman Circle Leader Manual
Perhaps the above sounds a little dramatic and perhaps it is a feature of the region in which I live, but I do think there is a lot of truth here to the buried fear/memory or worry of being put to death for speaking up for women, for priestessing, even for self-empowerment. When I read the book Witchcraze for my Persecution of the Witch class at Ocean Seminary College, I was disturbed and frightened to see how very clearly the sociological connections could be made between the witchcraze of the Middle Ages and attitudes, more subtle and framed in different language, that still exist today.
In my final essay for this class, I wrote:
In her book, Witchcraze, Anne Barstow concludes with the following sobering statement: “This book has been an effort to remember the names of those who died across Europe. So far, few have said, ‘Yes, these things really happened.’ And no one has yet said, ‘They will never dare to happen again.’” (p. 167).
My first response upon reading this statement was, I’ll say it! They will never dare happen again! But, then I more somberly thought about the things I currently see in society that to me still carry living threads of the witchcraze legacy and I realized that I truly think that globally as well as in the U.S. we teeter on the edge of having history repeat itself. When I read about the histrionics of the extremely conservative and fundamentalist movements in the U.S. and their increasing and frightening political influence, it is not so farfetched to me…Some of the things conservative religious movements promote and advocate are very scary. And, they are increasingly gaining political influence in subtle but powerful ways. While I don’t think we would literally experience a resurgence of the “burning times,” I think the type of misogyny that produced them remains alive and well.
I re-visited this topic during a Rise Up class in which we talked about why a goddess-honoring culture does not automatically translate to being a woman-honoring culture (even though it seems like they would be logically connected). We talked about standing up, speaking out, about activating the goddess within, and about the idea that showing up and doing it matters. We talked about how creating alternative images and ideas and sharing them—not in a conflictual or challenging or “you’re wrong” oppositional way, but in terms of sharing and showing up with our own symbols and art and ideas. I thought about the fear that is associated for many women in doing this kind of work. I also thought about just how big it is and how far and deep it goes and I remembered the idea of “small stone activism.” I suspect perhaps many women end up withholding their own “small stones” of empowerment and activism because they don’t seem big enough or profound enough to actually change the world…
While reading the book The Mother Trip by Ariel Gore, I came across this quote from civil rights activist Alice Walker: “It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes failing over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame. This is the tragedy of our world.”
It is important to recognize that for centuries women have been socialized and enculturated to hide their power. Women’s power is to be feared, suppressed, and denied. We need “small-stone priestessing.”
“[For centuries women have] had to withdraw their power – withdraw their energetic movement and flow. It had to be protected and hidden as the chalice of the woman had to survive.
Now it is time for all to bring out their chalice – to gather their “tribe” – to radiate their energetic flow. Now it is time to find the “especial genius” that is intuitively woman. It is time for women to openly exhibit their power, their knowledge, and their leadership. The ancient symbol of unity is the circle. It is the sacred hoop of wholeness and female power. It represents the feminine spirit in a sacred space that is unbreakable. It is time to bring the circle – the hoop – to its power.
It is time to restore the balance of the energies. For this to happen, you must first restore your own power – restore your own energies so that the balance of the humanity “tribe” can be restored and all be lifted in the eternal flame of love. It is time to celebrate all of woman, in all of her beauty.”
In one of David Hillman’s presentations on Karen Tate’s amazing radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine, he mentioned that when political and religious tides were turning in the ancient world, those who wanted to dominate and control didn’t go for the leaders of countries, for political heads of states, or for those in powerful jobs, they went for the priestesses. They went for women who held the cultural stories and ritual language of the people. They went for the healers and nurturers and those who took care of others. They destroyed temples and sacred images and books. They almost succeeded in total eradication of the role of priestess from the world and worked really hard to take midwives and wisewomen out completely as well.
Does this persecution and near-eradication from the past hold any influence over you and how you “step out” as a priestess, or identify yourself as a female religious leader?
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