I recorded a video a while ago, which is being posted today, about Priestesshood and Witchery, in a sense. The questions I had for myself and viewers/readers were along the lines of what we think a Priestess is, what we think of when we think of a "Witch", who they are, and what they do. Is a Priestess the same as a Witch? How do they differ, and where do they overlap? Are all Priestesses Witches? Are all Witches Priestesses? And, for those who are Priestesses*, are we a Priestess OF anything in particular?
*Some who identify as men, using masculine pronouns, also choose to identify as Priestess, for their own reasons. You'd have to ask them to know exactly why. Feminist traditions particularly choose to combat preconceived gender roles by using certain words. Others may use Priest the same way I use Priestess in this context, in NeoPagan terms.
I said I'd be doing a blog post to further discuss my own thoughts on this subject, as far as my own path is concerned. So here we are!
Are Priestesses and Witches the same?
- These terms in my opinion and usage are not interchangeable, but neither are they mutually exclusive. One can be both a Priestess and a Witch, and in fact, I think this happens rather often. But to me, they are separate things, each with their own functions.
So what's the difference? Who is a Priestess, and who is a Witch?
- I'll start with what I think is the easier/clearer definition for me. A Witch is a practitioner of Witchcraft. Simple as that. Not all of these people identify with the terms "Witch" or "Witchcraft"--that is, I recognize that people who would be considered Witches by my own definition, based on their beliefs and practices (Witchcraft), do not recognize what they do as Witchcraft, and do not identify as Witches. While I would consider these people kindred spirits of a kind, I think that in order to be a Witch in fullness, we must accept and acknowledge that title. (Side Note: This is part of the reason I like the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft, which began in California. The name itself requires that Witches reclaim the title, and in order to be a Reclaiming Witch, one must own and hold and take pride in that title.) So many Witches dissociate from the name because it is misunderstood. I personally don't think any understanding is gained for a word when people refuse to use it.
- A Priestess, as I mentioned in the accompanying video, could in one sense be defined as someone in an initiatory/degree system tradition who has reached a certain level of knowledge, or perhaps someone who is qualified to teach. The "High" Priest/ess of a tradition is typically the leader, while Priest/esses (without the "High" modifier) might make up other members of the group. So it is a title that shows a certain level of knowledge/practice, and ability to pass it on. Another way I see this term is as a devotee to/of something or someone, such as a "Priestess of Isis" or a "Water Priestess" such as the one I described in the video. If I maintain an altar to Gaia, for example, and do regular work for her, I may call myself a Priestess of Gaia. Or if my work primarily involves and is for the Earth, I may call myself an Earth Priestess. Similarly, because I teach, some people may call me a Priestess based on knowledge/ability.
- The one final association I have with the word "Priestess" is in a way leadership, but is deeper than simply being the leader/teacher of a group. This definition for me comes from the Reclaiming Tradition, with whom I've done some Priestess training and other similar work, both at Witchcamp and at subsequent weekend intensives I have attended. This definition is not so much hard definition... It's more an idea, so, bear with me. Within this work I do, a Priestess takes on a role almost of spiritual guide or counselor, but also kind of like your Soul's best friend. Priestesses hold sacred space, or create that space, for someone (or all someones) to do deep, transformative work. As a Priestess in this regard, I might be designing and then facilitating a ritual for a group that will allow them space to do some awesome work for themselves, each other, and the world, or I may be working one on one with someone, listening deeply and witnessing their own journey. I find this work immensely fulfilling, and enjoy practicing it and improving my skills to help others every time.
Squares and Rectangles: Are all Witches Priestesses? Are all Priestess Witches?
- This is not a case of "all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares." This is a Venn diagram. Some people are both Priestess and Witch. Some are one or the other. Some are neither. Not all folks who practice Witchcraft also have either 1) the level of ability/knowledge/recognition (yet!) to be considered Priest/esses, 2) something or someone to which they are devoted to the level of being a Priestess of it, or 3) the desire/ability to do the kind of Priestessing work I briefly attempted to describe above. And not all Priestesses may be Witches (those who practice Witchcraft). The utmost example of this in my mind would be some more hard polytheistic practitioners, who are devoted deeply to the service of their Gods, but who do not engage in Witchcraft. Their practice is mainly Deity-centric, focusing not on the Earth and its cycles, nor on spellcraft and other forms of magick, but on ritual for Deity alone. Many people we chat with online these days are certainly both, but I do know some folks who are Priests and Priestesses of their gods who are not also Witches.
What about me? Where do these terms fit into my life?
- I am both a Witch and a Priestess. I practice Witchcraft, and proudly call myself a Witch. And as I mentioned, I do Priestessing work. I am not part of a lineaged initiatory tradition, though some may consider me to have the equivalent level of knowledge/ability within my own practice. This doesn't mean I know how to do things in other, specific traditions, as these have their own ways to do things. This refers only to the level of ability I have within the practices and traditions I am a part of. (In Reclaiming, initiation is not required, and Priestess work is done by many. But being a Teacher, someone who is trained to teach in the style of the tradition, requires certain training and pathwork. So Priestess and Teacher have different requirements in Reclaiming, different than traditions which confer the title of Priestess at the point of being qualified to teach.)
- But my main question for myself was, am I a Priestess OF anything? So let's look at that...
Am I a Priestess OF anything in particular?
- Ah, there's the rub... At first, I don't think I am! I do maintain altars to certain Deities, and do regular work with Universal forces/energies that are big in my practice. But none of these are daily, sit-at-the-altar-and-do-this-thing practices. I don't have regularly scheduled devotions. I do them when I feel called to. The deities I worship, work with, and have altars to, do not require daily anything from me, and I currently am pretty bad at just doing it anyway. Sometimes I try to start a daily practice, because I think it will be good for me. And sometimes I keep it up for a few days. Inevitably, though, it drops off for quite some time before I pick it back up again.
- Am I boxing myself into a false ideal of devotion? Just because I see those who are deeply devoted to Deity blogging about their daily or weekly specific devotions to specific Gods (One on Mondays, one on Thursdays, all of them on Saturday, or whatever it may be), does that mean this is the only way to be truly devoted to something? It certainly shows a lot of dedication and effort, especially for those who are busier than I am, to carve out this specific time. I do not do this, and I consistently beat myself up for it, while also telling myself it's okay, that's just not who I am or how I work. But does this mean the Deities I consistently meet with in trance, the Goddesses I have altars to, the Gods and Goddesses I call upon in ritual, are not Deities I am devoted to? Am I, or am I not, their Priestess? With some, I feel that I am not. Not because of these presupposed boxes and requirements for ritual based on what others do, but because I know my relationship with them, and I do not feel that it has that type of connection at this time. Others, I feel I am, or could be Priestess to. I could call myself a Priestess of two or three of the Goddesses I work with and worship, because of the strength of my connection to them and their presence in my daily life. From there, it's up to me to decide whether they need their own day when I should always do some kind of devotion to them, in addition to just the everyday, all throughout my life connection. Should I? *shrugs* That's up to me and them, not anyone else. As I said, sometimes I have done this. I enjoy it when I do. I even purchased specific incenses for them at one point, scents that evoke their personal qualities. I only burn these incenses at their altars, when doing devotional work. I just don't do it daily, or on a regular schedule.
- In the video that goes along with this post, I talked about a woman who is a Water Priestess. She keeps a sacred water altar, doing daily work there, and regularly uses the water to heal the waters of the world. Do I do anything like this? Hmm... not really, but also, maybe. I tend my herbs about this frequently, and use them in healing work. Most people would consider this Green or Kitchen Witchery, but not everyone would think of this as being an Earth Priestess, or Herb Priestess. Is some of this just personal preference in how you see these terms for yourself? I think so. I have a very strong connection with the main herbs I grow and use in tea and cooking, and with certain trees. I can call myself a Green Witch (I don't typically, I just consider this all part of Witchcraft), and/or I could call myself a Priestess of Willow, or of Apple, Chamomile, or Mint. I tend them regularly, I sing to them, I praise their growth and progress, I ensure natural remedies to anything ailing them, I give offerings, and I use their gifts in magick to heal myself, others, and through us, the World. Is this not Priestessing? Though we don't all call it that, I think it is. Calling it Priestessing in addition to magick or Craft adds a layer of seriousness, of depth. It implies that I don't just casually grow and pick herbs. I don't just like this type of tree. I maintain a relationship with them, the Spirit of them, and that connection is part of my ongoing work for myself and the planet. The Water Priestess is undoubtedly a Witch. She described other Witchcraft she employs. She could call herself a Water Witch (very Coraline, is it not?), but she calls herself a Water Priestess. The work of the Priestess is different from, but compatible with, sometimes overlapping, the work of the Witch.
- There are also major Universal forces/energies that I find myself Priestessing a lot, both for myself, and for other people in my personal life. Much of my personal Priestessing work is for Love, but also--and this is a connection I only really made recently--for Death.
Love and Death
- Our main Purpose as human beings on this planet is Love. To Love, and to vibrate with Love. This is a teaching I have come across a lot, and I love it (pardon the word choice). Everything comes from Love, everything goes to Love. As Ginger Doss sings, "There is nothing to fear when it's Love that you come from. / There is nothing to fear when it's Love that you're made of." Sound familiar? I've quoted it before, because it's awesome. Love is not just Romance, in case you needed that reminder. Love is bigger than anything. And the Love of the Gods, of the Universe, is truly boundless and unconditional, beyond human comprehension. Every day I strive to work in Love, with Love, for Love. You might call me a Priestess of this energy/force.
- Death, or Loss, is something that I think about a lot, and Priestess for people a lot. I've often said, in circles especially around Samhain when we honor our ancestors, that I am lucky that Death has kept its distance from me so far, but I feel a lack of connection to many people who have lost people very close to them. One day, of course, I will experience this. It is inevitable that I will eventually lose multiple people who are very close to me. But so far, those I've lost haven't left enormous holes in my life. I have frequently found myself the only person at a funeral or wake holding everything together, being strong, not just in show, but in earnest. I didn't know then that what I was doing, what I have been doing for years, was Priestessing. I was holding, and continue to this day to hold space for people who are grieving. As a child, at funerals of older family members who I didn't know very well, I was often looked at strangely as people commented that I did not cry. They joked that I had no feeling. This never bothered me, although I thought perhaps it should. But as I've recently been thinking more about my work as Priestess, and what kinds of things I Priestess, I've come to a new understanding of my relationship with Death and Loss. I cried when my pets passed away, initially. Some much more than others. But after the initial cleanse, there were no more tears. I took on the duty of putting them to rest. And I create videos in their remembrance. (Mystery. Sierra. Kitty Lizard.)
- Recently, another family member passed. Again, they were not close to me. It took me some effort to connect to the event, realizing that to their closest loved ones, this was a devastating blow. So while I didn't need any healing, I knew they would, and I did my work not for my own grief, but for the departed soul and those left behind. Nothing to interfere with personal will--which I hope I don't have to specify to many of my readers by this point, but just in case you're new here--but sending them Love and healing. Here again, Love and Death work in concert.
- Thinking back, I remembered other times I was a Priestess of Death. One vivid memory, when I was working as a housekeeper at a medical facility. I entered a room I had cleaned multiple times before, with or without the patient there. This day she was there, and I was forewarned by a nurse that she was dying. We didn't know when it would happen, just that the medical team thought it would happen soon. I've told this story before, so you can skip ahead if you've heard this one. As I was cleaning, I saw and felt someone behind me, tall, and wearing black. I stepped out of the way to avoid them and said "Excuse me," I saw and felt them so close. When I turned, there was no one there. A favorite poem of mine came into my head then, and I began to recite it, out loud, in the room of the sleeping patient while I finished dusting and cleaning:
Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The carriage held but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste
and I had put away
my labor, and my leisure, too
for his civility
We passed the school where children played
Their lessons scarcely done
We passed the fields of gazing grain
We passed the setting sun
We paused before a house that seemed
a swelling of the ground
The roof was scarcely visible
The cornice but a mound
Since then 'tis centuries, but each
feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
were toward Eternity
--The Chariot, Emily Dickinson
- I finished cleaning and went on to the next room. The next day, I was told that the patient had passed away later that morning. I also learned then that her name was Emily.
- I do believe the figure I saw/felt in the room was Death, in some form. I've rarely seen beings of Spirit with my physical eyes, even in my periphery. The only other time I can recall physically seeing a Spirit was my grandfather, shortly after his death, when I was a child. It is one of my earliest memories. This instance in the patient's room was unlike any other I've experienced. The presence I felt was so strong and concrete that, as I said, I actually moved out of the way and spoke to it, so much so did I think a real, tangible person had walked into the room behind me. I've also seen the Spirits of my previous cats for brief seconds. But never other human-esque figures, besides those two examples.
- Whether that was Death or not, I consider that experience an instance of Priestessing that transition, again, years before I knew what Priestessing was, or that I am a Priestess in such a respect. I was holding space, offering my Love in the form of art/poetry to someone I knew was probably going to die soon. I have never felt particularly afraid of Death or people dying, or dead people. There is no uneasiness. I used to think this was just me being morbid and a little weird, in a quaint Addams Family kind of way. I mean, I enjoy spending time in cemeteries, after all. And I've always thought about Death and had strange thoughts about it, from the time I was a child.
- Something I read recently actually helped me with this old story from childhood, the one where people said I had no feelings because I never cried at funerals. I'm reading the autobiography of a Witch currently (and I'll be doing a review video when I finish it, or beforehand, depending on when I feel like it, but I'm almost done reading it, so maybe soon) and in one chapter she briefly mentions how she dealt with Death as a child, and the reactions of people around her to her apparent lack of emotion surrounding Death. In her case, she had future sight, and was able to know when someone was going to die. But to the question of why she didn't cry, she did not say that it was because she already knew and had time to grieve, but simply that she was a Witch, and Witches typically do not cry at such times because they tend to have a very different concept of Death than other people. Instead of fearing it or misunderstanding it, Witches recognize Death as part of a cycle. This may not explain things for everyone, and certainly some Witchcraft practitioners may cry at funerals. But this helped me to realize I'm not the only one.
- So am I a Priestess of anything? While on one hand I think, no, on the other hand, yes... several things. I am a Priestess of my Herb Garden, even as a Witch working in her garden. I am a Priestess of a few Goddesses I am close to, in varying ways. (While some Gods have accepted/claimed me as among their followers, I am not particularly a devotee to any of them.) I may be called a Priestess of Willow and Apple. Of Love. And of Death.
I am a Priestess and a Witch. A Witch Priestess, perhaps. Though that sounds a bit pretentious, I may just use it from time to time. ;)
What about you?
I hope this gives you lots to think about and muse upon. Thank you for reading!