Reclaiming Initiation: The Priestess Path by Anyaa T McAndrew

Reclaiming Initiation: The Priestess Path by Anyaa T McAndrew

published in Feminine Mysticism in Art: Artists Envisioning the Divine 

We have seen the shadow side of the Divine Masculine, Patriarchy, gain ascendancy and foster myriad forms of oppression, including the suppression of women’s rights, Holy Inquisitions, and the negation of feminine mysticism.  Over millennia we’ve had priests but no priestesses; a male God, but no Goddesses. It has been out of balance, but things are changing. Initiatory rites and rituals are the domain of all religions and spiritual paths. The path of the female mystic, or priestess, can be seen in its own light in these times of great turmoil and change at the “Turning of the Ages.”  It is unique not only because it is a feminine path, but because it has been absent from our psyches for thousands of years.

One of the features of patriarchy has been an emphasis on “solar initiations” or those that focus on transcending the body to join with Spirit. Fire-walking, warrior sweat-lodges, the Sun Dance, mental meditations, some martial arts, and many forms of vision quests use the mind and endurance to reach out of the body and thereby elevate consciousness. By contrast, the Divine Feminine employs “lunar initiations”, or those that call Spirit into the body, a welcome alternative to jettisoning out into the universe to make a connection! The feminine loves the sparkle of life, the senses, getting down and dirty and into the pleasures and pains, joys and tears of earth. 

Another feature of Patriarchy is our loss of soul connection to our bodies. The result is that most of us center ourselves from our neck up, denying the life-force energy that enlivens us and makes life worth living. We identify heavily with our thinking and action based on thought alone. But as women reclaim their Divine Feminine natures, the true feeling function of femininity gets to play and be re-membered. Shakti dances into ecstatic bliss. Aphrodite revels in sacred sexual pleasure. Pele fully runs the life-force energy of fiery passion. Inanna consciously surrenders to the death-rebirth mysteries. Baubo laughs her bawdy belly laugh. Kuan Yin cries her tears of compassion for all living things, while Gaia pours forth her infinite abundance. Priestess consciousness allows the many faces of the Goddess to be soulfully expressed, as the human woman learns to step into her spiritual power.

After a long suppression, the Divine Feminine and the priestess archetype are returning to cultural consciousness and acceptance.   Women walk very differently on a spiritual path when they are fully encouraged to express their soulful nature. The soul itself is described as feminine by many. She is wild, willful, chaotic, earthy, sensual, sweet, empathic, merging, deeply emotional, passionate and compassionate. These natural soul qualities are the qualities of the Divine Feminine seeking to awaken the priestess within the woman. Through our wild desires and intricate passions, we find our soul-stirring and our spirit calling. We stop silencing our deepest dreams and allow the voice of the Goddess to come through as our own. This awakening, through the various stages of Initiation, and finally Emergence, can result in the full empowerment of a woman as a priestess whose temple is the everyday world. She exerts her influence in all of her roles—as daughter, mother, lover, career woman, neighbor and in every interaction she has, moment to moment. At last, the divine feminine and the divine feminist are joined. Finally, we can embrace a movement of soul and spirit, human and divine. Finally, we can experience the sacred in our daily lives and express our life force energy in everything we do. We can include the very essential factors that make the new feminine mysticism grounded and practical, yet imaginal and sacred.

It is Divine Appointment and a Divine Calling that awakens the inner sleeping priestess. For me, it happened in divine astrological timing. It was a cold summer night on the Isle of Lewis in the highlands of Scotland. The stones of Callenish haunted the landscape like the Ancient Ones of legend.  My heavy red velvet cape was keeping me toasty warm as we ushered in the full moon on this auspicious night to ceremonialize with my teacher Daniel Giamario, Shamanic Astrologer.  It was 1997 and we were co-leading a group to visit the stone circles of Northern Scotland.  Never before had I felt so connected to the land. I was re-membering my lineage, and in that moment I felt the priestess within me quicken and congeal.  This part of me was longing to be re-born and to have her say in my life.  I discovered the Priestess Process™ and later that year I initiated as a priestess in a circle facilitated by Nicole Christine.

Receiving the Call is the first step toward Initiation. The Calling can be from childhood, when a woman simply knows or re-members past lives when she was witch, sorceress, shamaness, wisewoman healer, courtesan, oracle, or any number of ancient roles she has played.  I remembered being a nun many times and even attempted it in this life, but my sexuality was far too strong for me to seriously consider surrendering it to a disembodied Jesus. Some women are fortunate to have mothers who open the way for them to re-member.  Children from the sixties and seventies had parents that may have passed on enough “pagan”- flavored spirituality to allow their daughters to feel comfortable exploring a feminine spiritual path. Many simply hear the word “priestess” in right timing to trigger the cellular memory, and if the opportunity to respond is given, they will follow it into Initiation.

Creating Intention is the second step toward Initiation. It must happen consciously. As women, when we intend, we are calling back our right to be spiritual beings.  We are calling back the power to call on the Divine, to do ritual and ceremony and magic, to manifest our own dreams and visions on earth. We are calling back power we may have never known in this lifetime or for thousands of years.  This is heady stuff for most women, and it can come with a certain amount of fear. What if someone hears, sees, and knows I am claiming my right to be spiritually powerful?  It is a time where we must confront the Inner Patriarch who has limits and rules about being feminine in a man’s world.  Sue Monk Kidd, in Dance of the Dissident Daughter describes the necessity for women to own their own experience with “persistence and resilience, standing firm despite everything that would seek to limit or silence the feminine spirit.”

This movement into intending our power then plunges us into the darkness that must be faced and directed into a very powerful dying stage of the initiatory process.  What we intend always has a shadow…that which stands in the way and must be traversed and integrated for us to fully be all that we are. 

Nicole Christine, creatrix of the Priestess Process™ and the Magdalene Mystery School™ taught that initiation always results in a psychic death. When we can get conscious of those aspects that must die, we consciously cooperate with Spirit in freeing ourselves from past patriarchal conditioning. We also realize that the abuse, betrayal, and oppression of the past were what drove us to seek our lost Feminine Spirit.

It is helpful for women to find a way to tell their story. The telling of our stories allows us to surrender those aspects of self that must go, and to call back those aspects of soul that need to be retrieved. This may involve a format like therapy or a priestess circle, but the empathic presence of other women can hold an initiate in a womb of love that can never be experienced in the same way with men. Releasing, burning and cord-cutting rituals can be helpful to give greater intention and meaning to what we are dying to.  Expressing and releasing emotion at the deepest levels is also called for. Tools like breathwork, trance or ecstatic dance, chanting, sounding, or anything that allows free movement physically and emotionally is the natural feminine way to let go.

Re-birth always follows death in the great cycles of transformation.  My soul sister Linda Star Wolf, Shamanic Priestess, Visionary, and creatrix of Shamanic Breathwork™ and Venus Rising describes the path of the shamanic priestess as one who is willing to walk these cycles consciously throughout her entire life.  She is the “walker between the worlds” and embraces both the human and the divine.  Death is always the death of some aspect of the ego, and connects us to our humanity once again, giving rise to compassion.  Rebirth connects us to our archetypal or divine natures and allows us to walk as the goddesses walk.  The priestess requires a connection to both worlds.  If she embraces death or humanity without a connection to the archetypal worlds, she will have no greater purpose.  She will not be able to see the overview. If she is too celestial, she will become arrogant with her power and lose compassion.

For the priestess, re-birth can also be about having the inspiration and vision to create heaven on earth, to seed her version of New Earth or Celestial Earth. Because she has traversed the underworld with Inanna, she now has what she needs to step into that vision.  That vision can be carried out in the simplest way, such as a commitment to working with an altar, or the Celtic wheel of the year holy-days, or a medicine wheel. Or it can be a more complex commitment to express more of her feminine in her relationship(s), or do volunteer work at the local women’s shelter or create a women’s art guild.  In this way the new priestess walks in the world while she stays enlivened and inspired by her spiritual connection.

Following re-birth the priestess is ready for Sacred Marriage, or the uniting of all polarities and dualities within. Isis~Osiris, the Magdalene and the Christ, Shakti, and Shiva, and all the Divine Couples through time, hidden from our view as they have been, show us the way to open to God~dess within.  The priestess is particularly aware of uniting these dualities because her sacred task is to bring Spirit into Matter. As Carl Jung noted, the Individuation Process or Integrations of Polarities can take a lifetime of spiritual work and healing. We are always alchemizing and integrating polarities.

Consciously evolving, exploring and embracing our inner masculine is inner work that is essential to the feminine.  Unless we walk with healthy inner masculines, we cannot walk safely and effectively in the world.  The inner male’s highest function is to be present, listen and make decisions based on what is good for all aspects of the Self.  Because this is not how the masculine has been modeled for us, we suffer from not even knowing our own inner male’s essence or Divine qualities. We can tend to push away the concept of the masculine both inside and out, while in fact, he longs to be known and to serve. Many women have become “animus-possessed” drivers, letting their immature male selves unconsciously run the show to the exclusion of their understated feminine selves. It is time for this inner patriarchy to change along with its outer manifestations!

Sacred Marriage is another ongoing life process, just like the continual process of death/rebirth.  We can find ways to ceremonialize the Inner Marriage to give power and potency to this essential aspect of Initiation.  Priestess Circles in my lineage spend an entire weekend expanding their understanding and then co-create a beautiful Sacred Wedding Ceremony where they make vows and declarations to themselves. In these times we cannot afford to exclude the Divine Masculine as we embrace the Divine Feminine. The ancient fertility rite of  Hieros Gamos was played out every year by the Year King and the High Priestess to ensure prosperity for the land and the people. Our own Sacred Union, or Sacred Marriage within, is the spiritual foundation from which springs true personal growth and empowerment. It is the alchemical activity that engenders wholeness and balance.

At the end of Initiation, the new priestess emerges. She is ready to step into her newfound spiritual authority in an immediate and formal way. In my priestess process, Initiation lasts nine months or the time it takes to gestate a “Self.”  Emergence can be a solitary experience of self-proclamation or a public proclamation~declaration with beloved friends and family.  Sometimes a woman chooses to be ordained as a minister, and this can be a powerful way to proclaim herself a priestess.  An Emergence Ceremony allows the priestess within to be seen and honored, even if only Spirit and Nature witness.

The ancient priestess was called to the temple to serve or took on her sacred healing work as a special task recognized and valued by her community.  The new priestess will not be so easily acknowledged by the world. This has the disadvantage of appearing to separate her out from her spirituality, but the advantage of shielding her from criticism in times that do not yet fully honor sacred functions.  There are some lineages that will certify or train or anoint women as priestesses, but in fact, we are creating as we go. The temples are long gone as is the Matriarchy that supported them. However, all women have the priestess archetype within them, ready to be awakened.

The new priestess walks everywhere and does everything within the ordinary flow of her life.  The difference is that she is fully aware that where she walks is sacred, what she does is sacred and who she is, is sacred. The new priestess “priestesses” the planet.

Women’s spiritual work calls for full embodiment if we are to co-create a New Earth with Spirit. We can no longer afford to be disembodied victims of a worn-out patriarchal system on any level: physical, economic, political, social or spiritual.  As many have predicted for these times, it is women and the feminine that will have the greatest impact. The “New Priestess” archetype that is rising up in women is a sure sign that everything is happening in Divine Feminine Timing!

The Priestess calls us back with the “Charge of the Goddess”
I who am the beauty
Of the green earth and the
White moon on
The mysteries of the waters,
I call upon your soul to arise
And come unto Me,
For I am the soul of nature
That gives life to the universe,
From Me all things proceed
And unto Me
They must return.
Let My worship be in the
Heart that rejoices,
For behold
 All acts of love and pleasure
Are My rituals,
Let there be beauty and strength,
Power and compassion,
Honor and humility,
Mirth and reverence within you.
And you who seek to know Me,
Know that the seeking and yearning
Will avail you not,
Unless you know the Mystery:
For if that which you seek,
You find not within yourself,
You will never find it without.
For behold,
I have been with you from the 
And I am that which is attained
At the end of desire.
—Doreen Valiente

from “Earth Prayers from Around the World”