The Patriarchal/Hierarchical Priestess?
Until this moment, we have only been able to define, express and understand the calling of priestess (or priest) within the context of the hierarchical and patriarchal worldview. As a result, those who have discerned and accepted this calling have done so within the only framework Western culture knowns – that of presider. In this expression, the priest or priestess is charged with the task of performing and facilitating ritual – first for herself and then for those who are called into community around her. She is called to honor the lunar phases and the turning of the year with proper rituals, offerings and intentions and to do so in a (somewhat) public way. Beyond presiding, some priestesses are also called to be healers, to counsel, and in some traditions – to be an oracle through card reading, throwing runes, reading palms or speaking with the dead. All of these external, exoteric, outward expressions of priestess are critical to the priestly calling, but in interpreting the priestly calling through the hierarchical/patriarchal worldview, we have missed a critically important task of the priestess – that of transformer.
(I am choosing the word transformer to describe the forgotten task of the priestess because I don’t know what else to call it! If you come up with a better word, please let me know! )
Trying to Remember What Has Been Forgotten
This is where things are going to get a bit sticky as I try to describe something for which we have no historical context and therefore no conscious memory. This forgotten task of the priest/priestess is one we have not seen in our patriarchal world for over 5000 years. This hidden/esoteric/secret and mostly silent task of the priestess was left in the dust when the hierarchical/patriarchal hoards conquered the peaceful and egalitarian communities that preceded them. What was left was an external model of priest – one who has power over the people and who is the intermediary between the people and their god. This is not as it was before.
The Exoteric: Prior to patriarchal rule, the spiritual needs of the community were supported by women and men who played a wide variety of roles. Some led ritual, made offerings to the gods, counseled, and healed. Some read the stars and the earth for signs of impending change. Some were teachers. These were the exoteric (meaning outward or external) priestly roles.
The Esoteric: Alongside the exoteric, however, was the esoteric – the priestly role that was internal, quiet, and mostly done in separation or secret. These were the women and men who spent their day communing with Spirit (praying), and who took into their bodies that which needed to be transformed/healed/released on behalf of the tribe and for the sake of the world and then transformed/healed and released it. These were the transformers of ancient times and the task of the priest and priestess that is reemerging today.
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