While I fulfill the role of facilitating priestess of our women’s circle’s quarterly retreats, other members each lead parts of our rituals and participate in the planning of the rituals before the event. Part of being an effective Priestess is the sharing of responsibility and the recognizing and cultivating of the skills, talents, and gifts of other circle members. In this sense we become co-circlers, rather than a hierarchical arrangement with one woman “in charge.”
In the book, West Country Wicca, the shared responsibility for the Circle is identified as well: “The Circle belongs to all who are in it. I have heard people in recent times say, ‘I wouldn’t have such and such in MY circle.’ But it is not THEIR circle. It is the circle of the coven. We had no permanent leaders when I was taught” (p. 17). Ryall also explains that, “The Priestess actively involved in the ceremony is merely the key that unlocks the door, and the Goddess Power brought down into the Circle is for the benefit of all…(p. 27, emphasis mine). Finally, Ryall reminds us to have humility and not to confuse the priestess role with superiority: “There is a tendency among some people to develop a mystique as opposed to the Mysteries. It takes the form of, ‘I know something you don’t know, and you are not ready yet to know it, or I shall have lost my superiority.’ I am of the opinion that anyone who knows the right question to ask is ready for the answer…The Craft is simply a worship, through nature, of the One Supreme Initiator and a caring for everything on this planet. We are not engaging in amateur dramatics, with wardrobes and props; we are joyfully celebrating life in all its many forms” (p. 41).
At the Gaea Goddess Gathering in Kansas this year, during several of the sessions, I witnessed how easily a ritual can lose power when the co-circlers do not take the ritual seriously. It is easy (and simplistic) to point to the Priestess as the one who “failed” to hold the energy of the circle, but the responsibility for the circle belongs to all its members. Ruth Barrett in Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries explains the responsibilities of circle participants as such:
Ritual Priestessing is not for the faint of heart. If you fear chaos, the unexpected, or the unforeseen, choose another vocation. A ritual facilitator regularly finds herself in challenging situations that are not at all what she originally planned.
In order to facilitate others, you first need to know how to be a good participant. I don’t believe that it is possible for a woman to priestess/facilitate a ritual effectively until she first knows how to truly participate in one. What are our responsibilities as participants in a ritual? What can we learn from being a participant that can help us become better ritual facilitators? When asked about their responsibilities as ritual participants, some of my students listed these points:
• Stay focused, centered, and present. Lend energy when energy is required.
• Follow instructions given by the facilitators.
• Respect any guidelines or safety requirements.
• Avoid side talk.
• Take care of yourself. Check in with yourself periodically during the ritual.
• Take responsibility for your own experience.
I would also add “avoid heckling.” What does this mean? In my observations at the GGG, I noticed a trend for circle participants to call out different comments in a joking way, either across the circle or to the woman facilitating the ceremony. While it seemed to be done in a light-hearted way and perhaps was the local custom of this group of women, the effect on the group as a whole was striking. The “heckling”—at least to me—led to palpable energy “leaks” in the ritual container and resulted in a commensurate drop in the power and focus of the circle.
As I continue working on my degree at OSC and with my own local circle of women, I decided to start a new Facebook group for those interested in the priestess path as a serious commitment/vocation. I have been feeling a need for a space to talk over and explore the very real work of priestessing, not the seemingly image-based, “step into your inner priestess,” personal-empowerment oriented use of the word “priestess” I’m starting to encounter often online. I’m not talking about the Priestess as an archetype or inner image or as a self-esteem buzzword. I’m talking about the Priestess as a job, a calling, a vision for the service you’d like to offer to others.
While I’d like to flesh it out, the current description of said Facebook group is as follows:
This is a group for women involved in serious study/commitment to the priestess path as vocation, service, and calling. We recognize the priestess identity as an ongoing commitment of devotion, self-study, and an evolving initiatory process.
This group is especially intended for those interested in the practical *work* of priestessing.
If this speaks to you, please join us!
Side note: You may also have noticed that I’ve changed the name of my blog (and soon my Facebook page also) to WoodsPriestess, rather than Theapoetics. I coined the word “Theapoetics” to describe what it is that I experience in my sacred woodspace. As my yearlong experiment has continued and one of my theapoetical experiences introduced me to the word “woodspriestess,” my Woodspriestess-themed posts evolved into the central component of the blog. Recently, I realized that theapoetics feels like something that I do or experience, while Woodspriestess feels like who I am. So, after petitioning Facebook, by next week, my page should be known as Woodspriestess instead. This is also the name of my blog at SageWoman.