Priestess or Witch?
The titles of both Priestess and Witch are being widely (re)claimed and becoming increasingly common in new age parlance as people identify with either or both in their spiritual practice or journey.
Are they the same or different? What are the differences? Can you be both*?
Certainly, they both require a calling of sorts. You don’t wake up one day and decide I’m a witch or I’m a Priestess. Both take dedication and work to learn the teachings, from books and lived experience, from cycling with nature again and again, season after season, year after year. There is no end point, it’s a continual path of learning, evolution, experimentation, mishap, mistakes, unlearning, intuition, blood, tears, loss, joy, grace, understanding, confusion, soul deep exploration, rejection, connection, unearthing, grounding, discovering and listening. It’s ownership of, and a choice to pursue, this path. And I’ve just scratched the surface. All the while carrying on with the day job and probably in the safety of the broom closet.
Unless of course the “calling” is from instagram and the current interest and trend for all things witchy is making you a few bob as a “spiritual influencer” looking ethereal in floaty frocks wafting smokey materials on certain days of the year…
Both Priestess and Witches work with rituals, sacred days/times/seasons. Some may cast circles before commencing rituals or work, some may not. Both understand the nature of balance and the cycle of life. Important point to note is that here is not devil worship in either case.
What is a Priestess?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary she is a female priest of a non-Christian religion. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a Priestess as (i) a woman authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion and (ii) a woman regarded as a leader (as of a movement)
My own meaning of what a Priestess is, can be described as but not restricted to a woman in service to those who need her (her community) and to the Great Mother, Divine Feminine. She has usually undertaken some formal training. Training in counselling and spiritual coaching has to learned properly and will cost. There are many different types of Priestess too : High, initiated, earth, shamanic, women’s spiritual leader, oracle, medicine woman, ritual leader, ceremonial leader, wise one, ancient, modern-day, in-training and more.
Ancient Priestesses across the globe in matriarchal societies prayed to and were devoted to the Great Mother. They were revered by their communities for their wisdom, their experience, their leadership and their connection to the Divine. They lived by nature’s cycles and performed and facilitated rites and rituals. They both lead and served.
Modern day Priestesses are reclaiming and remembering the Goddess, bringing back the understood or interpreted ancient teachings as best they can and making them relevant to modern times. A Priestess today is not living in seclusion on an isle shrouded in mists (although that does sound immensely appealing), she could be your kid’s teacher, the checkout operator at the supermarket, your dentist! There is an association with the role of the Priestess that she must be holier-than-tho in that nice/lovely/glittery/good-girl bubble of saccharine, when in fact she may be hated or distrusted because the woman has unshakable boundaries. A Priestess is compassionate, respectful and strong because of her boundaries.
Regardless of the time, a Priestess is continually doing the work, exploring the depths of herself and who she is in order to serve the Goddess – be it Gaia, The Great Mother, or any number of deities from the world over, from any number of pantheons or the Goddess that resides within all – as well as both serving and leading her community.
What is a Witch?
We all know what a Witch is, right? The Oxford Dictionary is pretty succinct in that she is a woman thought to have magic powers, especially evil ones, popularly depicted as wearing a black cloak and pointed hat and flying on a broomstick. And Merriam Webster similarly states one that is credited with usually malignant supernatural powers especially : a woman practicing usually black witchcraft often with the aid of a devil or familiar . Yep, evil, magical hags not to be trusted, rather than wise women with skills and knowledge in the healing arts, midwifery or in gardening. Patriarchy and the church did a sterling job demonising women they saw as a threat and persecuting many innocent, mainly women, for “crimes” they did not commit. We all know of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93 in Massachusetts , where 200 people were accused and 20 people executed as witches. In Scotland, our shameful history is far greater with 4,000-6,000 accusations and 1500 recorded executions during the burning times of the Witch Trials. The Scottish numbers were 5 times higher than the rest of Europe, such was the pure hatred and fear fuelled by the kirk.
A witch by my definition is a woman (or a man) who is in service to no-one unless she chooses to be and who practices witchcraft. It is a craft like any other and has to be practiced and developed over time. The craft can include an array of specialisations from divination, spellwork and herb and plant work to intuitive guidance, life coaching and healing via complimentary or traditional medicine. It is not an exhaustive list, just like the list of types of witches is not exhaustive either. The main types of Witches are : Green, solitary, garden, kitchen, moon/lunar, Pagan, Wiccan, coven, hedge, hereditary, traditional, faery, sea, grey, elemental, crystal, eclectic, hearth, weather, energy, artist, magical, forest, urban, healing, spiritual, nature, new/apprentice, new-age, you get the drift! I have probably left our more types than I can remember.
To be a Witch does not automatically mean she is Wiccan or Pagan. Not all witches are Wiccan, not all Pagans are witches!
Unless a witch is part of a coven, there is no formal training that has to be completed before being able to call oneself a Witch. It is not a title that one ought to take lightly however. There are courses a plenty online for how to be or how to practice, but getting outside and attuning to nature is as worthy a teacher as any course. Books and blogs for guidance are helpful but not vital (I am happy to recommend many books I have read over the years if anyone is interested and wants to know). The costumery of witchcraft is not necessary either – wear a hat or cloak, don’t wear a hat or cloak, have a broom, don’t have a broom, have a black cat, don’t have a black cat ( have a dog or a gold fish or a chicken or no pets coz allergies- it doesn’t matter!) Fun yes, necessary no.
I haven’t claimed the label of witch for myself but have been assigned it by others. I never claimed it as it is a powerful word and one that when I hear it, still makes me a little uneasy, despite my life long love of “witches” and decades of personal practice. This is in part to perception, the old fears and hatred of witches deliberately driven by the kirk have been replaced with scorn and ridicule by the general populous. In the modern world where, for the most part, the fear of being burnt at the stake is a thing of the past, in certain company it is easy to discuss openly the hidden world of witches and priestesses but not really generally and not always comfortably, and caution is exercised as there is still much of the foregone stigma heavily attached to either word, though predominantly on the Witch word. I feel as I am moving into a Priestess-type role in my work though I don’t call myself a Priestess. I am completely self taught through experience and books, but am looking into more formal training. I am serving others in circles, priestessing women through rites of passage ceremony and ritual. I honour and revere the Divine Feminine, the Great Mother in all her aspects, channeling her energy as required. I chose to call myself at this time, a Flame Keeper – stoking the fires of the mysteries, protecting and remembering who we are and inviting you to reclaim your soul truth and essence, igniting the spark of curiosity to aid you on your journey to yourself.
Does this answer the question: Priestess or Witch? Or muddy the waters further? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this, being as this is purely my own ponderings and observations on the matter.
*Yes I believe you can