The pharaoh, as High Priest, makes offering to Isis
The pharaoh, as High Priest, makes offering to Isis

With a number of us gearing up to serve as ritualists in an upcoming Pacific Northwest Fall Equinox Festival, I’m re-running an older post on what it means to serve Isis as Her priest/ess. (Also, I’m scrambling to get the ritual written before our next Festival Crewe gathering, so bear with me.)

Of course, not all of our Festival ritualists will desire a relationship with Isis beyond the festival. Probably most won’t; they may already have important Divine connections in their lives. But for those who may, I offer these next few posts as starting thoughts for discovering a specific type of relationship with Her.

Oh, and another thing. As these are older posts, they used the gendered terms “priestess” and “priest.” As a community, we haven’t yet settled on a gender non-specific title for the intensely connected relationship with the Goddess that I will be talking about. So I’m going to try out a new one…and we’ll just see how that goes.

In ancient Egypt, the terms were very gendered; you really can’t get around that. One was either a Male Servant (hem) of the Goddess or one was a Female Servant (hemet) of the Goddess. So we’re not going to rely on ancient Egyptian terms, but English.

And now, here’s the older post with updates…

A priestess shakes the sistrum to please the Goddess
A Servant of the Goddess shakes the sistrum to please Isis

Of course, we can all have a deeply meaningful personal relationship with the Deity or Deities of our choice in whatever capacity we choose. But being a ministrant of the Deity is a particular kind of relationship; a particularly worthwhile one if you find yourself attracted to Isis.

If you already serve a specific Deity, you have likely already done some thinking on this topic. If not yet, you may decide, sometime in the future, that you’d like to have a deeper, more formal relationship with Isis as Her ministrant.

But what does it mean to serve Isis in this way? The easy 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 serve the Goddess in this intensely connected manner. So over the next few posts, we’ll talk about some of the things we know about ancient Servants of Isis as well as some of the ways we can discover for ourselves what being Her ministrant may mean to us today.

Key #1: Serving the Goddess

Service has been part of a ministrant’s job description as far back as we know. In one sense “one who serves” is the very definition of this role. This is true of our English word “minister.” To minister is to serve and, as you can see, it is the basis of the non-gender-specific word I’m trying out here. Generally, a ministrant’s service goes two ways: to the Divine and to the greater circle of worshippers.

A priest of Isis carries a sacred vessel in veiled hands

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.

Having precise ways to serve was true in ancient temples of Isis, too. Besides the upkeep and maintenance of the temple complex, there were particular 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. And of course, there were offerings to be made, festivals to be celebrated, and funerals to conduct. A ministrant of Isis might play the role of the Goddess in certain rituals. The Servants of Isis would learn the words to the sacred songs and invocations and how to perform them properly in the rites. Some served as sacred musicians.

A priestess carries a sacred vessel in veiled hands
A priestess carries a sacred vessel in veiled hands

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-Witch-insert-your-identifier-of-choice-here communities—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 or a situation 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.

Roman sacerdotes of Isis in sacred procession

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. That’s not a disaster; it just brings us back to that self-honesty thing.

So how do you get around yourself? Discovering how to do that is part of the work of a ministrant 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.

A modern priestess of Isis enters the temple at Isis Oasis
A modern Isian enters the temple at Isis Oasis

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 ministrants 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 you might decide to serve. Yet I do think that we are 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.)

Edwin Long, “A Votary of Isis”

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 ministrant 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-centered-ness. At the very least a Servant of Isis should give money to charity—anonymously, if possible. Do other good deeds. Help people. Help the earth. 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.

Next Time, Key #2: A Responsibility to Gain Knowledge & Experience