On Priests, Priestesses, Bridges, and the Abyss…

The Priest and Priestess have been coming up a lot in my conversations with people and in my mind and Fetch.  I’ve talked off and on about this role, but haven’t really put it all together.  In this post, I’ll use Priestess generically, though I mean both Priest and Priestess.  (On a side note, Priestess was originally Priestress, which I like.)

Rope bridge in Indiana
Jones and the Temple of Doom.

To me, the role of Priestess is that of a Bridge.  The Priestess joins the mundane and the divine together through her.  Over that Bridge, the Ineffable, the Divine, G-d, God Herself, crosses over and comes to earth, comes to the people.  Over that Bridge, the people cross over and come to heaven, come to God Herself.  The Priestess is liminal.  She isn’t of the “common people”.  She isn’t G-d (depending how you look at it).  She’s in between, one foot in each world.  Like Witch.  Taboos and Geises are part of every culture, every religion, every tradition.  These are the rules that define the interactions of the members with each other and with the gods or spirits.  Most importantly, they define the boundary between Human and Divine.  The Priestess Bridges that boundary and allows the crossing over, unites the two sides of the line.  But that Bridge is only necessary and only important and only seen for what it is if the boundary already exists.  It’s the image in Judaism of the curtain that separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and the Temple.  There is so much symbolism in these two structures.  Only the High Priest could cross over, pass through that curtain and enter the Holy of Holies, and only once a year, to sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat.  The taboo was broken once a year by him to bring unite the people with G-d.  But this was still dangerous.  There was a rope tied to his leg and bells on his clothes, so if he was struck dead, the bells would cease and they would pull him out.  There is an inherent danger in breaking of taboo.  This idea of a Bridge and the Priestess is very important in my practice and my beliefs.  Witch is the Priest and the Priest is the Bridge.  It’s jumping the broom, crossing the hedge, it’s the joining of heaven and earth and earth and the lower world in the axis mundi, the compass outside space and time yet including all of it, the centre which is the circumference of all.

Going back to one sentence I just said, if the Bridge isn’t needed if the boundary, the taboo, the geise, doesn’t exist, why have the boundary in the first place?  Wouldn’t it be better to have no separation between Divine and Human?  No boundary means no Bridge and no separation, right?  Isn’t this what we want, union with the Divine?  At first glance, it seems like it.  But we are Human.  Without the boundary to begin with, we don’t see Human as one with the Divine, we see the Divine as one with Human.  We can’t see the Divine because we are looking into a mirror with Human eyes and only seeing our self, and not just our self, but only the mundane aspect of our self.  We miss the Divine and so end up creating a separation between Human and Divine, and unlike the taboo boundary, this is a boundary we can’t see and so can’t cross.  We aren’t aware it’s there in the first place in order to cross it.  The taboo, the geise, creates a boundary we can see and are aware of.  We can point at it and say, on that side is the Divine and on this side is the Human.  So when it’s time to cross it, to break the taboo or geise, we are able to see both the boundary, the Abyss, and to see the Bridge, the Priestess, which is us.  Before that point, the Priestess crosses for us and connects us, showing glimpses.  But when the time comes, like the Hebrew High Priest entering the Holy of Holies, we become the Priestess and the Bridge and cross to the Divine.

Kai no kuni Saruhashi no shinsha
no zu, ‘A True View of the Monkey
Bridge in the Province of Kai’
by Shotei Hokuju.  Image
from JapanesePrints-London.

One way to look at the Bridge is as spanning the Abyss.  When I talk about the Abyss, I usually am referring to the concept in Kabbalah.  In Kabbalah, there are four worlds.  The first, Assiah, the World of Action, corresponding to Malkuth and is the physical world (where actions, change, can occur) is separated from the second, Yetzurah, the World of Forms, corresponding to Yesod, Hod, and Netzach, by the Firmament.  Yetzurah is separated from the third world, Briah, the World of Creation, corresponding to Tipherah, Geburah, and Chesed, by the Veil.  Briah is separated from the fourth world (or is it the first?), Atziluth, the World of Emanations, corresponding to Binah, Chokmah, and Kether, by the Abyss.

Below the Abyss are the things we humans, with our human minds, can understand.  Across the Abyss are the Supernal Triad, Kether, Chokmah, and Binah, which can’t be understood with the human mind or intuition, intellect or emotions.  Any words we use for the things across the Abyss don’t come close to describing them.  It is more this abyss of ability to comprehend that forms the Abyss than anything else.  Part of it is protection for us, lest we be destroyed or go insane.

In the midst of the Abyss is Da’ath, Knowing, the “false Sephirah”.  Depending on who you ask, Da’ath is either a trap or a treasure.  It’s the “false Sephirah” because it doesn’t really exist on the Kabbalah Tree of Life.  The Sephiroth are eternal, they are the Divine in this world and are the building blocks, the DNA if you will, of creation.  Da’ath only exists in the moment, only when you’re in it, then it’s gone.  It’s a trap because you can get lost in the Abyss if you’re not careful, and find only insanity.  It’s a gift because it is a glimpse at the Supernal Triad.  In Da’ath, you get a taste of what’s beyond, a glimpse that changes you, for Da’ath is intimate knowing.  What you see becomes a part of you.  But you can’t stay there without losing yourself in the Abyss.

Da’ath, sitting in the Abyss, connecting the two worlds, is a Bridge.  It connects that which we can comprehend to that which we can’t.  Da’ath is the Priestess.  She stands in the Abyss, holding the Divine in one hand and the Human in the other and brings them together.  She helps the people get that glimpse across the Abyss that will change them forever.

Though there were concepts of Priestess that I encountered before then, my current understanding of Priestess started with my understanding of the Hebrew letter Chet and the Chatoteret.

The sixth letter in the Hebrew Aleph-Beit is Vev, the “Hook”, which is also “And”.  I won’t go into the rest of Vev, but Vev is the Kav, the Ray.  To make room for creation, G-d withdrew, the Tzimtzum, Contraction.  The space left over has a background radiation that is the Reshimu, Impression, which is the Womb.  Into this space is shone the Kav, Ray, which is the Ohr Yashar, Straight Light, which is the Penis.  The Reshimu is passive, Free Will.  The Kav is active, Divine Will.  Vev is the Kav, the Ohr Tashar, shining into our world.  Vev is the male principle, in this context, and represents G-d outside creation, shining in.  He is Heaven.

The seventh letter is Zayin, the “Weapon” or “Arm”.  The form of Zayin comes from Vev.  It is a Vev with a Yod as a crown, alluding to the verse, “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband…”.  Zayin is the Ohr Chozer, the Reflected Light.  While Vev is the revealed power of G-d, the power flowing into the universe, Zayin is the hidden power, because it is the reflection of that power, not revealed until it comes in contact.  Like Vev, Zayin is active, as the sword that is used to confront.  Zayin is the female principle, G-d within creation, the Shekhinah, the Nukva, reflecting the light of Ze’ir Anpin.  She is the Earth.

The eight letter is Chet, the “Fence”.  Fences are of course boundaries, Chet is the liminal between two areas.  The form of Chet comes from the last two.  On the right, you have the Vev (remember that Hebrew is read right to left, not left to right) and on the left, you have a Zayin.  Connecting them is the Chatoteret (in the traditional letters, not the modern ones), the “Hunchback”, which is made of two lines, each resting on a Vev or a Zayin, leaning toward each other so the other ends join.  In essense, a Bridge.  A Bridge, like a Fence, is liminal.  It spans the boundary between two things, joining them, creating a passage between.  In this case, it’s the Bridge between Vev and Zayin, between the revealed (exoteric, religion, science) and the hidden (esoteric, occult), between Heaven and Earth, between the gods and spirits and the people.  This is the essence of the Priestess.

Another place to look is in the symbolism of the Tarot.  There are two relevant cards in the Major Arcanum, the Priestess and the Hierophant (also called the Priest, depending on the deck).  These two are two sides of the same coin.  The Priestess is the hidden, the secret, like Zayin.  The Priest is the visible, the structured, like Vev.  Both are teachers, and both serve as Bridges, but they do everything in very different ways.

The Priestess understands the secrets, understanding how they relate to this world and the world to come.  She looks for who is ready to understand the secrets she knows, and only shares them with those who are ready.  This is the reward.  Those who are not ready, she punishes with riddles, which will last until they are ready and learn the secret.  When they are ready, they will join those who were ready when they came to her, and all will know the secrets forever.  She sits in the House of G-d.  She knows all secrets, and finds them there, hidden and concealed.  She sits between the Pillars of Jachin and Boaz, Establishment and Strength.  She is pregnant with potential, with desire, but the time has not yet come for birth.

The Hierophant is all about the order that And encompasses.  He categorizes religion and philosophy into various sets of ideas.  This helps his students understand, but also can make the concepts loose their motion, their dynamicness.  He sits down in the throne.  He takes what he sees and begins to teach, sharing all he learned.  His school is very formal and structured, well established.  Many find his teaching and his religion too formal, to structured, but those willing to listen find hidden truth in the rituals, ceremonies, and rhetoric he employs.

Two sides of the same coin, together the two cards show the role of Priestess, the role of Priest, I’m discussing here.  Both connect the people with the gods and spirits, they just use different approaches.  I could argue that the Hierophant is ceremonial magic and related schools of thought and that the Priestess is witchcraft (true witchcraft), powwow, hoodoo, conjure, rootwork, Voudou, and similar traditions.  But in fact, there’s overlap.  The Hierophant is Talker and Talker’s way of approaching the world.  The Priestess is Fetch and Fetch’s way.  Without Talker, without the Hierophant, Fetch and the Priestess never make any changes in the practitioner or the world, for she only knows the present.  Without Fetch and the Priestess, Talker and the Hierophant become too static, and likewise never change anything, because they lack the inspiration and creativity to see what needs to change.  But the balance of the two form the Bridge, Priestess/Priest as I’m talking about them here.  Not the balance of a Priest and a Priestess, a male and a female performing the role together, but a balance of the archetypes and energy or the Priestess card and the Hierophant card.  The Priestess/Priest has both a structured, external, logical aspect (Hierophant card) and a intuitive, internal, hidden aspect (Priestess card).  Within him or her is the energies of both aspects, just as inside each person are the energies of both the masculine and the feminine.  One might function in one of these two aspects (cards) at a time, while someone else might function in the other, but the role of Priestess/Priest is incomplete without both aspects.  They are Yin and Yang.  They appear to be opposites, but there’s no true separation between the two.  They are a continuum.  Yin can further be divided into Yin and Yang, as can Yang.  If Yin is destroyed, so is Yang.  If Yin and Yang are separated, both are destroyed.  Yin creates Yang and Yang creates Yin.  The dualism is an illusion.  There is only Tao.  Yin is Tao and Yang is Tao.  All is Tao.  Tao in this case is the Priestess/Priest (Chet) I’m talking about, with the two aspects Yin (Priestess card, Zayin) and Yang (Hierophant card, Vev).

Shaman from Siberia,
photographed
with his drum in 1882.
Image from Exotic India.

I was asked about difference between the Shaman and the Priest.  Here’s my thoughts.  Being Priest requires a connection with the gods or spirits, and a connection with the people.  Can everyone grow into these?  Can you form a connection with the gods and spirits without them calling you?  Do you seek them or they seek you?  Is the connection a Shaman has with them different from that of the Priest?  What exactly does a Priest do?  What exactly does a Shaman do?

The Kohanim in their Priestly
Garments: the ordinary Kohen (left)
and the Kohen Gadol, front and
back (right).  Image from CHABAD.ORG.

The roles of a Priest vary between different cultures.  Usually, the primary role is that of the one who presents sacrifice to the gods or spirits, at least in my reads and the cultures I’m familiar with.  Some perform the sacrifice for the people and some direct the person themselves in the sacrifice, then present it to the gods or spirits.  Either way, they preside over the ritual.  Sacrifices might be killing an animal, but it might also be a libation or a grain or other plant offering.  But there’s many other roles of the priest.  Some priests heal, some bless, some curse, some offer prayers (or is that part of the sacrifice part?  lol), some cast spells, some teach, some prophecy.  But over all, the role of Priest is that of mediator between the gods and the people.  In this role, he serves the gods and the people.  Kohen, the Hebrew word for priest (used by the Hebrews both for Hebrew priests and those of other religions, by the way), according to some scholars, means “worker” or “servant”.  In Egypt, I was told and also found reference online, one type of priest, the oldest clerical title, is the Hem-Netjer which means “Servant of God”, Hem meaning “servant” and Netjer meaning “God”.

Voudou priestess in New Orleans.
Image from Voodoo Authentica.

How do you become a Priest?  If we look at the Hebrew version, Kohenim, Aaron was chosen by G-d, and the rest of the priests later on were his descendants.  When they became a priest, they were anointed with oil, symbolic of G-d coming upon them and choosing them.  In Voudou, priests are chosen by the Loa, possessed by them, and receive revelation from them.  Catholics believe some people are called to be married, some to become religious brothers or sisters (monks, friars, nuns, etc.), some to be priests, and some to remain single.  First you feel a calling from God, then you talk to and get approval or acceptance through your priest, your diocese, and the seminary, attend seminary, get approval of the bishop, become a deacon and serve that way, then become a priest.  I don’t know much about priests in other settings, at least in regards to how you become one.  But all these examples include being called or chosen by the gods or spirits.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word shaman was first used in the 1690s and means:

“priest of the Ural-Altaic peoples,” probably via Ger. Schamane, from Rus. shaman, from Tungus shaman, which is perhaps from Chinese sha men “Buddhist monk,” from Prakrit samaya-, from Skt. sramana-s “Buddhist ascetic.”

What does a Shaman do?  Wiki says this:

Shamans perform a variety of functions depending upon their respective cultures: healing; leading a sacrifice; preserving the tradition by storytelling and songs; fortune-telling; acting as a psychopomp (literal meaning, “guide of souls”). In some cultures, a single shaman may fulfill several of these functions.

If you read what Voudou priests do, it will sound very similar to the Shaman above.  So does my description of what a Priest does, above.  I think a Shaman and a Priest are the same thing, Bridging the worlds, the gods and spirits, and the people.  In fact, there’s not much difference between Witch and Priest or Witch and Shaman either, in my experience.  I think they are all words for the same thing in different capacities and cultures.  Though not everyone who calls themselves a priest is a Priest.  And not everyone who calls themselves a shaman is a Shaman.  And not everyone who calls themselves a witch is a Witch.  In all of these, there are people who try to be one of these because it sounds neat or because others pressured them into it, but aren’t called and don’t have the connection to the gods and spirits.  At best, these are actors, whether consciously or not.  At worse, they are frauds.

FFF,
~Muninn’s Kiss

A few links to older related posts if you want more detail or want to understand how I got to this post:

My post: Meditiations on Vev…
inner.org’s excerpt on the mythical significance of Vav
All Vev posts from my LiveJournal
My post: Meditations on Zayin…
inner.org’s excerpt on the mythical significance of Zayin
All Zayin posts from my LiveJournal
My post: Meditations on Chet…
inner.org’s excerpt on the mythical significance of Chet
All Chet posts from my LiveJournal
All Tarot Priestess posts from my LiveJournal
All Tarot Hierophant posts from my LiveJournal
All Priestess posts from my LiveJournal

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