Saturday, April 05, 2014

Review of Anthology on Priestessing

Stepping into Ourselves: An Anthology of Writings on Priestesses, edited by Anne Key and Candace Kant, (Goddess Ink 2014) trade paperback, 592 pages.

This is a BIG book, not only in pages, but also in concept and design, in inclusiveness of many paths and cultures, in the number of contributors, and in the quality of the prose, poetry, and art.

The cover art by Betty LaDuke is gorgeous and the art of the book's title page and section title pages by Katlyn Breene are wonderful as well. Soujanya Rao's design of both the cover and the interior is excellent.

In their preface to the anthology, editors Anne Key and Candace Kant write:
"The colorful tapestry of voices in this anthology displays the diversity and roles of priestesses and different ways of priestessing, and how they weave together to create the beautiful fabric of women’s spiritual authority. Differing opinions exist without crushing each other."
 And so it is: 

Each of the four sections of the book has a brief introduction by the editors, followed by a poem or invocation, and then several essays and poems. I really like the inclusion of both poetry and essay not only because of their high quality but also because it gives the reader the opportunity to experience the book on both intellectual and emotional levels. To get an idea of the scope and the book, you might want to take a look at the contents with titles and authors, as well as links to “snippets” from some of the contributions.

The opening poem of the first section, “Lineage of the Priestess,” is Patricia Monaghan’s “Calypso’s Island,” a fitting tribute to this important poet and Goddess scholar who died Nov. 11, 2012. This is followed by various authors and poets writing about the Mesopotamian poet and priestess, Enheduanna, and the Goddess Inanna; a discussion of the controversial topic of whether there was “sacred prostitution” in the Ancient Near East; roles of priestesses in the ANE; the mythology of the Goddess Hathor; several essays and one poem about Israelite priestesses, goddesses and later Jewish traditions (including one that also discusses the possible priestess role of Mary, eventual mother of Jesus); Indian yoginis; and the role of Mesoamerican women in creating “figurines” used in ritual.  This section closes with essays and poems containing personal stories about contemporary priestess lineages in various cultures and traditions, including Mexican, Hawaiian, and Dianic.

In their introduction to the second section, “Roles of the Priestess,” the editors point out:  "A lament for what has been lost with the disappearance of the lineage of priestesses opens this section." The poems and essays in this section present a variety of views of priestess roles, which the editors describe as including those that clash with “modern feminism, geopolitics, religious heritage, gender roles....” Included are a description of a firewalk ceremony; reflections on what it means to be a priestess in patriarchal times; three essays related to Indian traditions, including Tantric temple dance; becoming a priestess after being an ordained minister in an interfaith church. Also, priestessing and: community service, marriage officiation, trees, Dianic Wicca, Queer spirituality, Paganism in Israel, Brigid, and initiation via snakebite. 

The third section is a “Toolkit,” of poetry and prose that focuses on methods, skills, and tools including designing and leading rituals, considering group dynamics and other psychologically-based factors, being aware of rhythms of body and cosmos, approaching the mystical, the relationship of leading and serving as a priestess in community, priestessing styles including solitary priestessing, and the relationship of ritual and theater. Also, use of altars, incense, dance, energy, acting skills, and music including chanting, droning, and drumming.

The last section, “Stepping Into Ourselves,” has two pieces: a poem by Jill Hammer and a short story, (the only one in the anthology) by Tamis Hoover Renteria.

The back matter includes acknowledgements, bios of the editors and contributors, a bibliography of more than 9 pages, “ A Guide to Incense Botanicals” by Katlyn Greene, and a Group Reading Guide.

Stepping Into Ourselves has more than 50 contributors. Some are ordained ministers and rabbis, some are ordained priestesses in various Pagan paths, and others are scholars who have researched priestessing at various times in history (and more than a few are both clergy and scholars). Contributors with more than one poem in this anthology are: Janine Canan, Andrea Goodman, Patricia Monaghan, Geela Rayzel Raphael, and Lorraine Schein. Those with more than one essay in this book are: Ruth Barrett, Jalaja Bonheim, Jill Hammer, Anne Key, Shauna Aura Knight, and Kathryn Ravenwood. Those with both poetry and prose are Jill Hammer, Le’ema Kathleen Graham, and Normandi Ellis.

I enthusiastically recommend Stepping Into Ourselves to you and anyone interested in the subject matter (and to some who don’t think they’re interested—yet). For a more complete idea of the authors and topics in this extraordinary anthology see the contents list on the publisher’s website.
Contributors for whom I am aware that the publication of their work in this book is posthumous are Shekhinah Mountainwater, Patricia Monaghan, and Layne Redmond. The memories of their lives bless us as we bless their memory.

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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.