I absolutely loved this book! Written by Anne Key, Desert Priestess: a memoir, is a memoir of her three years as the priestess at the Sekhmet Goddess Temple in Nevada. The memoir is beautifully written in a very honest manner with the narrative including her self-doubts and follies as well as her priestessly moments. After I finished it, I felt like my heart was yearning to take a pilgrimage to the desert, as well as to further deepen and refine my own priestess path! I highlighted several sections of the Kindle version of the text to share:
Writing about her role as a priestess, Anne explains:
…And I can only say that, as priestess, I worked so very hard to open my heart to each person who came, to meet each in perfect love and perfect trust of the structure and beauty of our desert wreath. To do this, I realized that I had to be not only sure of my purpose and strong in my stance but that I also had to see each person as an integral and necessary part of our circle. To do that, I had to be clear about myself and my intentions and I had to stay connected to the Divine…
I realized early in my tenure as priestess that I must stay connected to the Divine to allow things to come through me instead of from me. Everything depended on that: my ability to lead ritual, my ability to stay centered, my ability to understand those who came to the temple, my ability to see my way out of difficult issues. Striving to stay connected to the Divine made another point painfully apparent: I had to be clear, to the depths of my soul. I had to understand what I was, where my limits were, and accept totally who I was. I had to be able to be fully and totally present at each moment of ritual, wide open to everything, and firmly, firmly rooted. This was a real challenge…
Key, Anne (2011-03-29). Desert Priestess: a memoir (p. 45). Goddess Ink. Kindle Edition.
Another very good section of Desert Priestess was Key’s exploration of why it matters to call the Divine “Goddess”:
I lecture at various academic venues on Goddess Spirituality, and I continue to be amazed at the answer to my question: “Does your god have a gender?” While the wording would seem to make the question rhetorical, people almost always answer: “No, my god does not have a gender.” Given the statistic that over 75 percent of people living in the United States claim Christianity as their faith, when I lecture I assume that most of my audience is Christian. When I ask them to describe their god, to tell me what that god looks like in art, many times someone will mention a long white beard, which firmly answers the gender inquiry. But even if they don’t go as far as to mention a beard, when I ask them if their god is a woman, they are shocked and absolutely, defiantly sure that their genderless god is not a woman. We women who create life, the highest of all divine acts, cannot be considered a god.
Between my experiences at the temple and in academia, it has become clear to me that most women in twenty-first-century American culture never see themselves as divine. And it is no wonder. The most predominant images of women in the modern media are as accoutrements to products such as cars or purses. This to me is one of the greatest gifts of the goddess temples, because images of the Female Divine are important. They are important because they begin the process of consecrating women’s bodies as divine. When we as women begin to see our bodies as a reflection of the Divine, then our bodies are removed from the sole category of “object of the male gaze” to corporealized divinity, the embodiment of the Divine.
When women come into the temple, they see themselves, and they see themselves venerated. They see themselves in various shapes and colors, from the round and almond-eyed Madre del Mundo to the black and slim Sekhmet to the brown and regal Virgen de Guadalupe. We women have lived our lives trying to see ourselves in the image of the Christian God, living with the cognitive dissonance of the sound of Charlton Heston’s voice as God, in Michelangelo’s beefy finger, and in the picture tacked on the wall in Sunday school of a man’s aged and ageless face whose white beard melts into the clouds. We live in this culture of the image of God as white and male. As if this were not enough to get the point across, most of those who represent God in the Christian religion—the priests, preachers, and pastors—are men. And if women do represent the Christian God, there is almost always a controversy involved. Still, we women have persevered to find ourselves in the Divine and to see ourselves as divine, and even more courageously to represent the Divine. A sigh of relief automatically escapes me and the cognitive dissonance melts away when I am in the presence of an image of the Divine that is female. Images of the Female Divine are important because they embody the divine qualities of the feminine. The roles of mother, healer, guide, protector, lover, provider, and nurturer combine with the qualities of compassion, justice, truth, fertility, strength, and love to present women in multiple dimensions…
Key, Anne (2011-03-29). Desert Priestess: a memoir (pp. 50-52). Goddess Ink. Kindle Edition.
She goes on to make this important point: “It is of course no small wonder why graven images are so tightly controlled by religious traditions.” (p. 52) Sometimes I feel like this is what I’m tapping into when I make my own goddess sculptures—a resistance to tight control over graven images and over personalization of divinity as female in essence!
Later, Anne writes about creating a sisterhood of priestesses and she describes their vow to each other in a lovely way:
As sisters, we are one another’s truth tellers. We are one another’s loving and honest mirrors. We advise, even when we are not queried. And we let go so that each may fly on her own wings. Our sisters are our bonds with the deepest mysteries. As sisters, we are the ones who bleed, we are the ones who birth, we are the ones who nourish, we are the ones who weave the web, and we are the ones who cut the cord. As women, as sisters, as priestesses, we stand at the doorways of life and death, bonded by the cycles of our bodies and our lives.
Key, Anne (2011-03-29). Desert Priestess: a memoir (p. 57). Goddess Ink. Kindle Edition.
She also writes about creating ritual and liturgy in a desert climate:
At the beginning of each ceremony, we honored the four directions and an element associated with each: east and air; south and fire; west and water; north and earth. Many times when the directions are called, they are written with a wet, lush environment in mind: cool breeze, deep black earth, rushing rivers, dense forests. But these images did not reflect the desert land, a dry, thriving environment.
I wrote a call of directions specifically for this land, for this place, for this temple:
Winds of the mind, open free.
Breath of life, breathe in me.
Red flame of truth, burning pure.
Spark of life, ignite me.
Water of my soul, blood of earth.
Spring of life, wash me.
Bones of rock, sand, and earth.
Roots of life, ground me.
Key, Anne (2011-03-29). Desert Priestess: a memoir (pp. 90-91). Goddess Ink. Kindle Edition.
And, finally, another section I marked was in her description of feeding sweet little birds outside her window, only to see them snapped out of the air and eaten by a hawk. She says, “Of course, I would have preferred that the hawks eat the mice. Much as I loved the cute little mice, the mess they left in our kitchen cupboards was disgusting and infuriating. But the birds! The little birds had done nothing but entertain us.” (Amen!) But, then she goes to make the best point ever about nature: “Obviously, this cycle was not about me, or what I thought was cute” (p. 116).
I really recommend this book! It is of particular interest to priestesses and to those interested in Goddess Temples and women’s spirituality in general, but I also think it would be interesting to people who like memoirs and stories about women’s lives and simple, yet profound, adventures.