As a priestess myself, I’m often asked what a priestess is, and how to become a priestess. This article is a guide to priesthood from a modern pagan perspective. It’ll answer these questions and give you a taste of what life is like as a priestess.
(Although this article uses the term priestess, it’s intended for anyone considering priesthood regardless of gender identity).
Priestesses and priests existed within many pagan religions for thousands of years. Priesthood is ancient. So how do we even approach priesthood in a modern context? What are the rules?
Coffin Lid of Takait, Priestess of Amun-Re. Egypt, 13th century BCE.
The first step to priesthood is understanding the job you’re applying for. Priesthood is an incredible spiritual journey. But since there’s so much misinformation out there, I’m going to give it to you straight. Being a priestess isn’t glamorous; it’s hard work.
Misconceptions about priestesses
Let’s start with some misinformation about being a priestess. We want the real talk and the nitty-gritty, right? So let’s get the falsities out of the way first:
1. You can only be a priestess if you’re part of a religion, like Wicca.
Untrue. You only need to be Wiccan if you want to be a Wiccan priestess. But you can be a priestess to a particular god if you identify as pagan. That’s what this article is about.
2. You’re a priestess if you follow the moon cycles, if you’re an LOA practitioner, or if you’re a witch.
Actually, none of these things have anything to do with being a priestess. You can absolutely do the above things and they’re meaningful practices, but they don’t give you priesthood.
3. Online certificate programs can make you a priestess.
Honestly, I’m not sure that they can. Because someone else can’t give you priesthood and no amount of money can buy priesthood. Becoming a priestess is a sacred act that has nothing to do with capitalism.
4. You aren’t a real priestess if you self-initiate.
Untrue. Even if you self-initiate, you’re a REAL priestess. Self-initiation is a misnomer because it implies that you’re giving yourself the priestess title. When actually, the priestess title comes from formally taking an oath as a priestess to a deity, and is earned through the process of initiation. More on that later.
What really makes a priestess?
One becomes a priestess through service, oath, sacrifice, and initiation. The gods want your best, are you prepared to give it?
Let’s go deeper.
Smoke of Ambergris, John Singer Sargent, 1880.
- A priestess is a role of service.
Service is the number one thing that makes a priestess. If you’re interested in being a priestess because you want power or authority, you’ll be disappointed with the amount of work that comes with it. A priestess serves, period.
A priestess serves the Divine:
As a priestess, your life becomes less about yourself and more about the god(s) you serve. I’ll be real with you - you will be tested and sometimes it will be difficult. Your gods will influence your life in specific ways.
For example, I’m a priestess of the Morrigan. As the Morrigan’s priestess, I work on Her behalf to create changes in the physical world.
As a priestess of the Morrigan, aspects of my service reflect who She is and what She represents. The Morrigan’s name translates to The Great Queen, Phantom Queen, and Queen of Nightmares. She’s an Irish goddess of war, sovereignty, sorcery, and prophecy.
One of the ways I serve the Morrigan specifically has to do with prophecies. This is called oracular work or being an oracle. Basically, being an oracle entails speaking prophecies. It’s my job to share visions, dreams, and messages that the Morrigan shares with me. Essentially, the Morrigan is working through me to reach Her people. That’s my service to Her.
As a priestess, your own gods will work through you as well. How they do so specifically depends on your oath. More about that later.
Morrigan - The Raven Queen, Naomi Cornock, 2019.
A priestess serves the people:
Being a priestess is also about being of service to other people. As a priestess, you’ll be making the world a better place as the Divine sees fit. You’ll be expected to share your gifts in some way, which will involve interaction with others.
As a priestess, you’re a connection point between humanity and the Divine. Others may come to you for help and guidance. To prepare for this, I recommend taking some kind of trauma-informed training so you know how to communicate with someone who may be in crisis. You may need to know how to hold space for others.
A priestess can also serve their community through activism, volunteer work, and taking leadership positions. Your god may call you to serve in a particular area or work with a certain group of people.
Being called into priesthood:
Being called into priesthood usually happens after you begin working with your god. Sometimes the call to priesthood happens quickly and sometimes it takes many years.
If you’re being called into priesthood service, profound spiritual experiences with your god will probably happen at some point or another. Profound spiritual experiences may leave you feeling awe-struck or full of deep emotions. They may make you cry.
Profound spiritual experiences are very personal and can look like many different things. But when you have one of these amazing experiences, you’ll know it.
The Quest, Christian Sloe
The gods call who they call:
The gods choose who serves them. I emphasize this because I know that someone out there is questioning themselves.
So here’s the thing: there are many gods from many cultures. Gods aren’t human and they don’t always adhere to the social norms of humanity. Any god can call you regardless if you’re from their same culture or not. The gods don’t care about the ethnicity of your current flesh suit. That’s a human thing.
Know your gods and their culture:
It’s important to intimately know your gods before you swear an oath of priesthood to them. Read about them, meditate with them, and follow any intuitive promptings. I worked with the Morrigan for a couple of years before I became Her priestess. But it also helped me to know the Irish lore around Her.
Knowing your god will help you in priesthood. As a priestess, in some ways you actually embody the Divine. It's good to have an idea of what that might be like.
Embodying the Divine:
Priestesses take on roles that relate to their gods. It’s possible you’ll become more like the god themselves. You may go through physical, emotional, and energetic changes. This is how we embody the Divine.
For instance, after beginning to work with the Morrigan, my physical appearance started to resemble aspects of Her. I felt more at home in my body by wearing lots of black and dying my hair black. I got more tattoos and became unapologetic about how I physically showed up in the world.
You may also take on personality traits or abilities of the gods you serve. For me, my boundaries became very strong and I became more selective about who I spent my time with.
These changes are gifts from the gods - you embody the Divine as a priestess because you become your god’s representative in the earthly realm.
Change (Self Portrait), Lucy Jane Purrington
Do the work:
As a priestess, utilizing the gifts of the gods will require work. For instance, many of the prophecies I receive from the Morrigan are pretty dark. Sometimes Her messages come in the form of nightmares. My work is to endure and interpret the nightmares, as well as share the prophecies. This isn’t always an easy process for me, or for others…
I once had to tell people that their religious group would be dismantled.
I once had to tell a group that there were traitors among them.
It didn’t matter that I had no proof or that it made people uncomfortable. Every prophecy from the Morrigan has always come to pass. I’m not sure if that makes it easier or harder for me. Regardless, it’s our job as priestesses to put our personal feelings aside and do the work.
Sometimes priestess work is difficult and lonely. People in your life may not understand what you’re going through. But as a priestess, we persevere because our duty is sacred. It’s not our job to fit into society, make friends, or please anyone. If these things are important to you, you may want to reconsider priesthood service.
Be prepared for challenges no matter which god you serve. Gifts of great spiritual magnitude can be hard fought and hard won.
2. A priestess is bound by oath.
A priestess is bound by oath to their god. An oath contains specific agreements that dictate how your god will be served by you. It’s a spiritual contract.
When a deity calls you to be a priestess, you must formally accept, usually through an oath-taking ritual.
As I mentioned, I serve as the Morrigan’s priestess with oracular work. You’ll have your own roles to take and promises to make.
Take a lot of time and do divination before you formalize your oath. It is possible to break an oath, so be very sure you make promises that you keep.
Remember, a priestess serves, but you can also make requests to your god to help you be of service. You’ll state these requests when you take your oath, but you can consult with your god about them beforehand, too.
For instance, let’s say your oath includes a promise to perform magic on your god’s behalf. You could then ask that your god gives you magical protection in turn. It’s much easier to do magic when no one else is interfering, right? Remember, you will be tested. Think about these things because they are extremely important.
I’m a soldier:
When you enter into a role of service with a deity, they’re your army commander and there’s no vacation days. You’re on call, soldier.
Similar to a soldier entering service to their country, you can specify in your oath how long you will serve your deity. A year, 2 years, your entire life, or even future lifetimes. You are the one who gets to decide this, although your deity may want a specific length of time from you.
Ultimately, you’re the one who gets to decide how long you serve your deity and how you serve your deity. Once your oath has been sworn, your deity becomes the one calling the shots, within the parameters of the oath, of course. Nevertheless, there is a certain loss of control once you become a priestess.
KATANA, photograph by Firas Salamen
3. Priesthood is sacrifice.
Oath agreements and priesthood usually involves sacrifice. While priesthood itself is a sacrifice, it may go beyond that.
Your gods may ask you to reform your lifestyle in some way. For example, giving up alcohol, caffeine, or THC (all of which I had to do). You may also be told to leave toxic relationships that you have some codependence in.
Sacrifice will vary. The gods will ask you to do hard things because they know what’s best for you. They will do it even if you have a lot of resistance to what’s being asked. And even if you didn’t agree to these specific requests in your oath, you still must answer to your god in some capacity. Remember, you’re a soldier.
“I just do what I’m told.”
As a priestess, you’ll end up doing what your god tells you to do. “I just do what I’m told” became a joke among some of my priestess friends. Because it’s actually pretty true.
Sometimes your god will guide you to do something and not explain why. Knowing why is a luxury you might not get. Obviously, I’d love to know more about an alarming prophecy before I share it. But sometimes a priestess must do hard things.
“It’s not your job to understand the prophecy. It’s your job to speak the prophecy.”
- The Morrigan
Again, gods don’t always have the same human concerns that we do. You may find yourself just doing what you’re told, even if you don’t understand the reasoning behind it.
To know more about what sacrifices may be required of you, consult with a priest/priestess who's been in your position before. Especially those who serve your chosen deity.
4. A priestess is initiated.
After you take an oath of priesthood, you’ll go through what’s called initiation. Aside from your oath, initiation is probably the most important thing to know about becoming a priestess.
Initiation is a spiritual awakening. Many of us misunderstand what spiritual awakening actually means. It’s not becoming some highly-evolved being without a single negative thought in our heads. It’s not meditating so deeply that we levitate. Wouldn’t that be nice? But no, not even close.
Initiation is where the promises you made during your oath actually play out. You’ll be shown what’s going to be required of you as a priestess. Initiation can be difficult because we actually become more spiritually-awake. Illusions and comforting lies fall away and ugly truths are revealed. You’ll be made aware of the ways in which you sabotage yourself. These things can hurt.
Initiation is both a spiritual awakening and the earning of your priestess title. The initiation process may make you angry, anxious, or depressed. You could through a Dark Night of the Soul.
There are priestesses who have even faced death as part of their initiation. I am one of them.
This isn’t meant to scare you, but to prepare you for what initiation can be like. However, sometimes nothing can prepare you for what you’ll face during initiation. That’s the truth of it.
Persephone by Alexandre Chaudret
Hard fought, hard won:
Initiation as a priestess can be harrowing. But eventually, initiation can yield great gifts and many blessings.
Sometimes we have to be broken down so we can be rebuilt...better. That’s what initiation can do. Initiation helps us metamorphosize into someone we wouldn’t even recognize today. We become the warrior, the queen, and the experienced priestess. Fierce, invincible, stronger than we’ve ever been before.
We emerge from initiation, sword in hand, ready to face anything. We’ve come through a battle, perhaps the toughest we’ve ever faced. It’s only then that we’ll know exactly what we’re made of. And that alone is one of the best gifts we could ever receive.
Becoming a priestess is one of the most honorable things you can do with your life. Priesthood is a path of service, sacrifice, and deep love for the Divine. While being a priestess has many challenges which should never be overlooked, it also has many rewards.
If you want to move forward on the path of the priestess, I leave you with two additional tips. First, I highly recommend communing with others chosen by your deity before you decide to swear an oath to them. Second, I recommend receiving professional divination before taking your oath. Divination specifically from someone who serves your god will be extremely helpful.
If you feel called to serve as the Morrigan’s priestess, I welcome you. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to hear more of my story or have questions. Additionally, if you feel called to priesthood but not to the Morrigan, I will help you if I can.
Being a priestess is a beautiful and meaningful way to live. Priestess life is never easy, but it is extremely fulfilling. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Many blessings to you on your path.