An hour in the life of a… priestess?

Blogging Priestess series: #1

Now playing:

Woke up this morning and the streets were full of cars
All bright and shiny like they’d just arrived from Mars.
And as I stumbled through last night’s drunken debris
The paperboy screamed out the headlines in the street:
Another war and now the pound is looking weak,
And tell me have you read about the latest freak?
We’re bingo numbers and our names are obsolete –
Why do I feel bitter when I should be feeling sweet?

Hello, hello – turn your radio on
Is there anybody out there? Help me sing my song
Life is a strange thing
Just when you think you learn how to use it’s gone…

Woke up this morning and my head was in a daze
A brave new world had dawned upon the human race,

But words are meaningless and everything’s surreal –
Going to have to reach my friends to find out how I feel.
And if I taste the honey is it really sweet?
And do I eat it with my hands or with my feet?
Does anybody really listen when I speak,
Or will I have to say it all again next week?

Hello, hello – turn your radio on
Is there anybody out there? Tell me what went wrong
Life is a strange thing
Just when you think you learn how to use it’s gone…

– Hello, Shakespears Sister*

The Morning

“We’re bingo numbers and our names are obsolete…”

This morning I woke up crying. (This isn’t a rarity for me, although the further we get into medical explorations of my sleep disorder, the more I’m very occasionally allowed a few sleeping pills, and that helps. I’ll sleep better tonight. Not so many of those pesky dreams.)

Then I went onto Facebook and twitter to check that none of my disabled friends are (more) suicidal (than usual) today from battling in the long war society is raging against us. I remember when I used to go onto Facebook and twitter to procrastinate from work. Now I can’t go near them a lot of the time, for fear of what I’ll read – ‘benefits’ measures get ‘stronger’, and we are pushed ever further towards the edge of the cliff. Falling off, one by one.

Next: remembering that I have no support worker this morning. (There’s only so much money for these things.) I pondered how (if) I was going to have a shower today. (I have so much more running/hot water privilege than almost everyone else on the planet. I must not let myself feel self-pitying about having to go some days without. But still.)

Then I remembered that I won’t get any help making breakfast and lunch today, what with absence of support worker, and considered my various lifehacks that resist a society that creates our vulnerability and refuses to support us through it. These are usually linked to my financial privilege, because it’s what I have that can help make this life work — I go to a cafe, park close to the door, struggle in, and let the low-paid exploited precariat compensate for a stripped-away welfare system (that our parents knew would last forever), and do my privileged, non-manual knowledge work. We oppress and are oppressed. It’s the way of this world and its systems… for now.

Then I finally get to thinking through the state of my body. It hasn’t been doing well recently. Over the past couple of weeks I have done a lot of driving to meet people, to help people, to be with people. I helped a friend whose father has died to clear out his house, just for a couple of days (I really wished I was up to staying longer). I wouldn’t change that, though, despite how much pain I’m now in. My friend is disabled herself. Most of her friends are disabled. We come, and we probably cause far more problems than we solve, but we give our bodies as an offering to the causes of friendship and resistance against oppression. And then an email from a family member who is going into hospital and who I want to help… and thoughts turn to other family members and friends I would like to support far better than I do, or just to offer more time and energy to sustain our friendship… There is a sense in which I do much of this bodily harm to myself, willingly and knowingly. (Oh how the DWP would love to hear that.) But only because I insist on maintaining my integrity and links to community in a world where systems of disability oppression are self-sustaining. Systems of oppression are embodied, not abstract. They break us, again and again. We carry on.

Then my partner sends me a message about a clarification on government policy on disability ‘benefits’ (they come across these things in their job), and I’m crying again. Because I may have to write that 40+ page application to renew my ‘benefits’ at exactly the same time I have to hand in my thesis. It’s a kind of strange irony – or is it the opposite? The famously appalling benefits process (that destroys lives and self-esteem and leads to suicide, that disability scholars and activists and many others have critiqued in much detail, to little effect) may catch up with me (again) just when I am trying to make my dent in these systems, my little attempt at critiquing oppression. That I will be most degraded by the state, for its own very conscious purposes, at a time when I will be on the last push to get out my biggest stab at resistance against this stuff. It’s… oddly fitting. And fits this government’s ideology perfectly.

The Moment

And now here I am in my shrine room (well, the shrine corner of my office). And because of all the chaos in my life at the moment, it currently looks like this.


I was hoping to meditate. I don’t know how effective that will be.

On the other hand. I honour a deity of Chaos. And whenever I try to be tidy, to go with the mainstream, to stay in control, she swallows the ground beneath me and vomits up a new mountain. I die and am reborn every thousand years. I come from stone, and to stone I shall return. Either follow in the wake of my blast, or get out of the way.

And everything shifts into a bigger perspective.

The Concept

I am pondering the concept of ‘priestess’ at the moment – planning to start a new blog series here on it very soon. I am thinking about issues such as: is this a gender-essentialist concept? Is this a female-subjugating archetype? Can a Jungian archetypal approach to the Work ever be a useful one? What about the connection of ‘priest’ and its variants to hierarchy – does that have any relevance anymore, and does it continue to oppress the powerless? And, then, if any of these can be resolved in any meaningful way: what is the Work of a priestess?

And so I stand in front of an incredibly messy shine made with human hands to a distant deity who lives in a mountain and who often pays little attention to the fragile creations of people — but who also, right now, sees the mess of boxes all around it, and approves of them far more than the pretty trinkets. The boxes that are full of things that I am ebaying for the aforementioned friend who can’t deal with them herself. That speak of the Work of – whatever I am. When I claim the space of a priestess, I don’t call on the hierarchical associations of the term — I am an anarchist (of a sort) who walks in the shadows. Nor the female/gendered ones — I am non-binary, autigender, gender-binary-rejecting, and aim to be non-essentialist in all things gender. Maybe none of these oppressive associations can be extracted from the term now. But there’s something there that has always worked better than ‘witch’ (I’m not magical enough), than ‘druid’ (I’m not white-robed-respectability enough), or any of those identities that can be reclaimed for better things than they once intended. Its shadow side speaks of standing with and for communities and lone liminal people living on the margins, shouting at the forces we call gods for support in our cause, walking alongside those who have no one to walk with them, and calling down symbolic power that was always already within us. I want to know if this archetype can be radicalised, can be useful for liminal people. But ultimately, if it can’t, the term matters far less than the Work.

I take a breath, and start on the Work again.

When you’re standing by the roadside
And it’s a long way to go
Ah, to carry me
to carry me, friend

Together in this mad land
far from truest of hands
well I’ll carry you
if you’ll carry me, friend
Oh, carry me…

If we can take the time
we’ll build ourselves a road
from what we know
each take our part
and now’s the time to start

Carry Me, The Levellers


*Thanks to Cat Treadwell for reminding me about this song, which was on repeat for much of my teens. Oh look, it’s on repeat again.

8 thoughts on “An hour in the life of a… priestess?

  1. I’ve been thinking about “priest” and “priestess” lately too, for reasons that may be obvious to people who read my LJs ;-) They’ve acquired different connotations for me independently of gender – “priest” tends to suggest someone more on the ritualist end of the spectrum of clergy roles and “priestess” someone more on the counsellor end. I think I’ve been influenced in this by knowing a HPS in a British Traditional Witchcraft line in the US that also uses them as genderneutral terms for different functions, so any given one of their rituals could be priested by a woman and priestessed by a man, just as easily as vice versa (although their specific connotations for the words are probably different from mine). I don’t think of either as hierarchical, but more as facilitators of specific kinds of work that a person or group may want or need to do. I may end up using “priest/ess” for myself, to indicate both my genderfluidity and the fact that I see myself in both the ritualist and counsellor roles.

    • Ohh we should have a chat about this soon, somewhere! I have taken different things from ‘priest’ and ‘priestess’, also non-gendered views on them as archetypes, but drawing on different ideas of what each is. How interesting, how differently the terms are seen in a BTW context and outside of that (I guess my view is a slightly more interfaith and archetypal one). So fascinating! I love you idea of priest/ess as a title, although I am drawn to (my own personal understanding of) the priestess role, which is tricky as I want a non-binary-gendered term but I still want the archetypal associations. It’s a difficult one. I will be commenting more in future posts about what I mean by the ‘hierarchical’ comment – again my associations (with ‘priest’ in particular) are drawn from a broader interfaith understanding and experiences. I shall expound soon! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing some of your life and struggles. There’s certainly a horrible irony in the system catching up with you just when your critique has been handed in. I hope it makes a dent in the system and brings about positive change.

    I’ll look forward to hearing how your exploration of being a priestess goes. Likewise, witch never fit for me (never been witchy) nor druid (too bound up with hierarchy and white robes) but awenydd (the mad poet/spirit-worker on the outside) did. You certainly did a good job in the priestess role at the Pagan Fed rite.

  3. I look forward to your priestess series! I definitely feel a difference between the connotation of priest vs priestess, though interestingly I’ve always felt ‘priest’ being part of the hierarchy and ‘priestess’ being outside it. Could be from being on the other side of the Pond, maybe? But probably just my head being odd.

    • Nope, that’s exactly where my thinking is going – but with the caveat that nothing associated with either priestess or priest can be entirely hierarchy-free, because of the associations of both terms with institutionalised priesthoods and religions. I think each person’s associations with these terms will be very different, too, because we are all provably drawing on different religious traditions, archetypes and stories to give these terms meaning… If that makes sense?

      • It absolutely makes sense that our understandings of the term will all be different.

        I wonder if part of the priest/priestess thing is the Christian influence- priests being part of the accepted religious hierarchy, whereas (for me during my formative years, at least) priestesses only existed in history books and fantasy novels, always outside the sphere of real and acceptable.

      • Yeah, I think different religious influences are going to have different effects on our ideas, especially with such a fluid idea as priest/ess which can be very different in different religions. It would be interesting to see other people write about their concepts of the terms too. :)

  4. I wish I could offer you something useful, the frustrations of distance. It’s been a bottom of the barrel sort of week, scarping around for useful things to say or to do. Like you, the going onto facebook and facing the despair, and the illness and the pain other people are going through it hard, some days, most days… aware that most people seem to be feeling serious scarcity – if not practical then emotional, and the need to do something about it. And I can see no answer other than keeping on trying to fix everything and hold things together and make things better, and I can’t say ‘don’t do this to yourself’ because I know how deep the need is, and that you cannot turn your back on people who could die for lack of support…. and dear gods this surely has to change soon.

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