Priestesses and Motherhood

Let’s face it, what we think of and expect when we think of a priestess is vastly colored by the cultural impacts of the classical world. We are barraged by imagery of young maidens adorned in ritual robes isolated from the rest of the world in lofty temples in serenity or dancing in wild abandon. These are the kind of images that we have in classical representations that have carried through into neo classical and contemporary art. It is simply what we expect, especially for those following in worship of ancient gods of the classical world. For we also possess the knowledge that the priestess positions to be had were typically filled by maidens or elderly women past their sexual peak
and childbearing years. This adds to the expectation that priestesses should not be encumbered with families of their own. Simply because it goes against this vision that seems to be so cherished.

Of course, let us speak plainly and note that this had never been an expectation for men. Men were expected to marry and provide heirs. We see examples of priests with children frequently, and perhaps most notably through Calchas in the Iliad whose daughter was taken from him by the Achaeans and refused the rights of ransom for her return. More historically we know that the priests at Eleusis was a hereditary priesthood. So what is the difference? It is but a matter of culture. In the classical world it was expected that women stayed home and tended to the running of the household, and anyone who has had to do this without modern conveniences knows that this will occupy that person’s day before sunrise until sunset. Even the chore of maintaining the hearth pretty much guarantees that they are not going to be able to go very far from the house. Therefore women were by lot housebound the majority of the time, except for certain festivals, whereas the men had the freedom to have a life among his peers that would allow him to have a priestly occupation, trade, teach etc. Such freedoms were usually enjoyed to some extant by unattached maidens who often performed religious service for goddesses and gods of the state until they were of marriageable age. The laments of one mother in a play (the exact play escapes me) of her unmarried daughter who will be possessing no other choice but to serve Apollon if she didn’t find a husband soon illustrates this. It was fine and good thing to be such when young but as an adult women were expected to marry and be without such options.

Marriage is fortunately less of an issue in the modern era among worshippers, but still you might be surprised by how many priestesses are unmarried, though it seems a bit more common to have a domestic partner which may or may not include a romantic relationship. However it is not fussed over to any great degree if a woman is married, or so it seems. There are a number of married priestesses, though likely still in the minority. A lot of this is due to modern technology that makes running a household much smoother, especially for a household containing only adult members. The stigma seems to rest still with having children, even though this was not historically seen as the primary barrier anciently. Children were typically a part of marriage, so it was unlikely to see priestesses possessing them. However I would like to note that the Pythia did not get dismissed for raising Ion as her son. The stigma then us a modern one in which it has become the norm for religious leaders and clergy in the polytheistic community to be childfree.

The result is that priestesses who are mothers feel like they are being dismissed as being less of a leader and priestess because they have familial obligations. For any priestess to be told more or less to tend her children and leave leadership and priestly duties to others is a slap in the face.

It is not easy being a priestess and a mother any more than it would be to be a priest and a father. We have to make sacrifices in order to be able to serve our gods. We have to tighten an already strained budget to provide necessary supplies for worship, not to mention festivals that we cannot afford to make as lavish as we want. This includes sacrifice of sleep for rituals and Work after the kids are in bed, or catching up on communication with other priests and worshipers. To work on writing projects or any other projects we consider necessary Work for our gods. Those who serve are called to do so, and we work hard to follow our calling and be good loving parents. Nevermind that most worshippers don’t even want our children around. How many times has there been discussion of public events and organizers want it to be childfree. Ironically these children of priests and priestesses are growing up in households if such intense religious devotion and worship that there is a good chance of them becoming such themselves.

Modern technology gives a lot of aid to mothers being able to contribute on large scale as priestesses. We ought not to be considered less if a priestess or religious leader for being a mother.


13 thoughts on “Priestesses and Motherhood

  1. It seems to me that in modern life, when people are balancing work, family, and spiritual activities, the fact that someone who has little time to spare stops in their day and meditates after their children are asleep, or before they wake; the person who works 50 or 60 hours a week and still carves out ten minutes a day for the Gods – They *know* how precious little time that person has, and how much of a gift it is to sacrifice another 15 minutes of sleep to hear Their voices.

  2. Reblogged this on Queen of the Waiting Ones and commented:
    Lykeia excellently points out how ancient cultural norms have been carried over into modern cultural expectations in regard to which women can, or should, serve as Priestesses or leaders within their religious communities. Oftentimes, these expectations were not present for men, who were fully capable and expected to carry out Priestly duties while also engaging in marriage, and procreation. With the cultural and technological advancements seen in our age, why is it that so many Polytheists claim that being a mother is somehow a hindrance to a woman’s Work for the Gods? Surely, it takes some creative planning, and not a small amount of personal sacrifice (and that is something that gets touted around as being oh so pious when considered in the context of some other activity), but does anyone ever question whether male Priests are capable of such planning and sacrifice? Not even. This is all nothing more than outdated sexism, which has no place in modern Polytheistic practice. Those who are childless, or who have left their children, should not go around saying that everyone has their place to serve the Gods, but in the same breath, say that those who are actually serving the Gods in ways that do not match their own, are less pious, less capable, less focused, unwanted, or any other ridiculous notion that they wish to spread around only to mask their own insecurities. Because hey, if X Priestess in the Deep South can raise her three kids as a single mother, while still adding to the glory of the Gods via her Work as a Priestess, then maybe their own decision to forgo children can be called into question. For those who want to sit on high, telling everyone else what is right and proper, seeing an opposing alternative taking hold might be very upsetting, to say the least.

  3. More power to those people who are bouth parents and priest/priestesses both jobs are time consuming but in the end very worthwhile. I think what needs to happen within the Pagan/Polythiests community is a change in mindset towards children I have for the longest time seen people with very strong anti child views within our various faiths and its about time we started showing more support of the little ones as they will be the carriers of our different traditions into the future.

  4. Reblogged this on Geschichten einer urbanen Priesterin and commented:
    Lykeia schreibt in diesem Artikel über die recht weltichen Probleme, mit denen man heutzutage in einer Priesterschaft konfrontiert werden kann, nämlich der Tatsache dass man Kinder und Haushalt zu schmeißen hat, daneben noch einen weltlichen Job. Er ist allerdings auf Englisch. Sehr lesenswert, wie alles von Lykeia.

  5. “Ironically these children of priests and priestesses are growing up in households if such intense religious devotion and worship that there is a good chance of them becoming such themselves.”

    I was at a temple in San Francisco Chinatown last week, and a young boy (who spoke Mandarin and English more fluently than the primarily-Cantonese-speaking adults) helped me out with a divination. I was deeply humbled and impressed by his gravitas and his intense respect for the gods.

    I agree with both you and Lon Dubh, children are the future of our traditions.

  6. Reblogged this on Wytch of the North and commented:
    I’m past childbearing age myself at this point, and my daughter is an adult, but this is an important reminder not to discount either the young priestesses among us struggling to serve both their gods and their families, or the new generation of polytheists they are raising.

  7. I have less often seen the community admonish a mother to not try than I have seen new mothers realize they can’t keep up with their previous committment levels and cut back, with mixed responses from the community. The tendency to expect childlessness seems to be less that we don’t believe women with children *should* be *allowed* to priest, and more that we expect they won’t be able to, won’t want to, and thus we are perhaps unsure they should be allowed to have children.

    And then there’s just people like me who really want, or wanted children for a long time, but the farther down their clergy path they go, the more they question whether there’s room for children in their life, if they will ever be able to afford to have them, etc.

    It’s painful, feeling like we have to choose between the gods and children. I’m glad everyone doesn’t have to, but the fact that some do isn’t necessarily out of lack of respect for women as mothers. It’s as often out of respect and awareness that being a mother is already a full time job, and so is being clergy in many cases, and then so is working for pay, and often so is being a student. While many people can manage two of those, many can’t manage three, and four is pretty well right out. Even so I know folks whose health won’t let them manage even one.


    • I agree with you that it is a kind of juggling act that may not be suited to everyone. I do appreciate that there are clergy who recognize that there is no room for children in their lives, just as I would appreciate that decision made by any adult priest/ess or not. Whether or not one can do it is highly personal and therefore the community has no real actual right in this matter, which is my point. That a priestess chooses to have a family should never be an issue in terms of her service, just as it generally is not for men who have children who are acting as priests. In the end we all just have to be adults and be responsible for our choices. I just dislike the attitude that suggests a mother who is a priestess is less compitent and devoted as one that is childless, when that is not the case. Childfree priestess and mother priestesses are both offering a valuable service, their maternal state should not be a factor whether it is by choice or design. We just all need to be aware of our personal limitations as you so aptly pointed out 🙂

      • Yes. I more often see people get grinchy when a priestess DOES try to cut back than I see people demanding a priestess cut back because she has children. Either way, it seems really rude to get grinchy with someone for doing what they do, and doing it well.

        If you see an actual problem in practice, by all means, address it, but don’t assume there’s a problem by proxy, that’s just a waste of resources.

        But there’s a blessedly wide range in my community, so it’s nice to have a variety of good examples.


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