In the earlier days of the NeoPagan community, there was often a general assumption that “we are all priestesses or priests of the Deities.” It was meant to combat “high priestess disease,” assert our equality before the Divine, and empower the individual.
All worthy goals, indeed.
While I have always been sympathetic to that position, I don’t fully agree with it. I believe we all have the potential to be priestesses or priests. I believe we can all have a deeply meaningful personal relationship with the Deity or Deities of our choice. But being a priestess or priest is a particular kind of relationship; a particularly worthwhile one if you find yourself attracted to Isis.
If you are already a priestess or priest of a particular Deity or in a particular tradition, you have, no doubt, done some thinking on this topic. If you are not, then you may decide, sometime in the future, that you’d like to have a deeper, more formal relationship with Isis as Her priestess or priest.
But what does it mean to be a priestess or priest of Isis? The glib answer is that it means different things to different people. The more difficult, and truer, answer is that we each have to figure out for ourselves what it means to us.
So how do we do that?
A good place to start is with what it has meant to be a priestess or priest. So over the next few posts, we’ll talk about some of the things we know about ancient priestesses and priests of Isis and then some of the ways we can discover for ourselves what being a priestess or priest of Isis may mean to us today.
Key #1: Serving the Goddess
Service has been part of a priestess or priest’s job description as far back as we know. In one sense “one who serves” is the very definition of a priestess or priest; it is certainly true of the word “minister.” To minister is to serve. Generally, that service goes two ways: to the Divine and to the greater circle of worshippers.
For people in mainstream religions, which have very prescribed ways to serve, things are—in at least this way—easier. For example, if you are a Catholic priest (you can’t be a Catholic priestess), you would have a very clear idea of what it meant in your particular religion to “serve God.” You would have gone through specific training meant to teach you precisely this.
That was true in ancient temples of Isis. Besides the upkeep and maintenance of the temple complex, there are precise ritual acts that had to be performed every day; for example, opening the shrine of the sacred image of Isis each morning and “putting Her to bed” each night. I imagined this daily opening of the shrine in the introduction to Offering to Isis. And of course, there were offerings to be made, festivals to be celebrated, and funerals to conduct. A priestess of Isis might play the role of the Goddess in certain rituals. Both priestesses and priests would learn the words to the sacred songs and invocations and how to perform them properly in the rites. Some served as sacred musicians. Interestingly, we know of a priestess named Isis (Iset) who was the God’s Wife (High Priestess) of Amun in the 20th dynasty. She was a royal princess and served as priestess for 25 years.
But this type of formal structure of service is not available to us today. In a non-mainstream, more informal type of spirituality—such as those of the modern pagan-polytheist-wiccan-insert-your-identifier-of-choice-here communties—things are less clear. It means that this path, if truly and deeply followed, is more difficult than those of mainstream religions because we have to blaze our own trail. It also requires a significant degree of perseverance and self-honesty to be able to make the important decisions that we must make when creating a personal path.
To take this alternative path, we need perseverance because we will not always know which branch of the path to take…or it will be dark…or it will even be boring. We need self-honesty because we often walk this path alone. And walking alone, with no one to consult, we can sometimes take a wrong turn. We can delude ourselves into not seeing things about ourselves that we should be seeing.
On the other hand, this path can be extremely rewarding precisely because it is difficult. Whereas in mainstream religions there tend to be established answers to the Great Questions, we must find our own answers—fresh and new every time. What happens after death? What does it mean to serve Isis? Why is there evil in the world? What is the nature of reality? What is the nature of humanity? What is the nature of the Divine?
All these are important questions that spiritual people have tried to answer from the beginning of time, and for which we still seek answers today. It is worth our time, as lovers of Isis, to seek our own answers to these questions.
Some will define service as “doing Goddess’ will on earth.” That’s a valuable insight; but how do you know if you’re doing Her will? Is it as simple as listening to your inner voice? Perhaps. Yet how do you know you’re hearing correctly and not coloring it with your own personal psychology or desires? I can tell you for a fact, it will ALWAYS be colored by your own personal psychology and desires. Which brings us back to that self-honesty thing.
How do you get around yourself? Discovering how to do that is part of the work a priestess or priest of Isis. For some, it may be the key part. So I’m going to come back and talk about this some more when I come to the topic of personal spiritual development in a later post. For now, back to service.
What about the other kind of service—service to the greater circle of worshippers?
You’ll find a wide variety of expressions of service in this area. Some priestesses are always available to help those in their circle, whether with spiritual or personal problems. Some take the responsibility of organizing a circle and keeping it running as their service, but don’t expect to be called on the solve personal problems. Some represent their tradition to the greater Pagan community by organizing large festivals. Some organize or moderate blog communities. Some teach. Some don’t.
Again, it is a personal decision as to how a priestess or priest of Isis intends to serve. Yet I do think that a priestess or priest of Isis is obligated to do some service of this type. By serving other people in these ways, we acknowledge the importance, the value, of other people. By serving people, we integrate this knowledge in a deep, intimate, and personal way. (I hear some of you moaning right now. People are SO difficult. Yes. Yes, they are. And complicated. You bet they are. But they are also very worth your time and care. So very, very worth it.)
The same is true of service to others who are not a part of your circle; humanity as a whole. Many religions—most religions, actually—place value on helping those in need. Feeding the hungry. Clothing the cold. Sheltering those without shelter. This sort of service is appropriate for the priestess or priest of Isis as well. Caring in this way makes us aware of other people and their needs and problems. It encourages our compassion and discourages our ego-centeredness. At the very least a priestess or priest of Isis should give money to charity—anonymously, if possible. Do other good deeds. Help people. And be aware of doing whatever it is you are doing in the spirit of service—with an open, compassionate heart. In this, we do our best to imitate the compassion of Isis Herself when She healed the child of the woman who refused Her shelter or withdrew the spear from Set even as He threatened Her own son, Horus.
Ultimately, serving others makes this world a better place one person at a time. Spread kindness and you will serve Isis.