|La Belle Dame sans Merci|
I am Renounced. I am no longer a Priestess, though I am still a witch, and possibly still an abbess. It's a disconcerting and enlightening sensation, replete with relief and disappointment. I have been Dedicated for two decades, and had forgotten what it was like not to be constantly connected with Deity. Since becoming Renounciate, however, the change in perception has been so quick and profound that I feel more qualified to speak on the difference in roles, abilities, and experiences of each.
Being a witch and being a priestess are manifestly not the same thing, though many of the current crop of books imply otherwise. A priestess is a conduit of Deity in the world, and can be from any tradition or set of practices, including wizardary. Invoking Deity during a ceremony, feeling Her move you occasionally or hearing Her is a completely different experience from dedicating yourself to a manifestation of the Universe. It is a contract; a Covenant between you and the Deity, where you are both matched and agree to it. You may hear the Call, but your deity must also take you on... Your inner Divine slowly, or sometimes radically, creates a constant communication with the outer Divine, learning from it, hearing it, and aligning yourself with it. You also represent Deity on earth, and channel that into spellwork and ceremony. Eventually, as you practice and feel the Calling, you take on aspects of the Deity, which manifest in your daily life. It greatly increases your abilities, sometimes even giving you new ones, since they are automatically Divinely channelled. As you become more aware of the bigger picture, and your mind is expanded to encompass it, you envision better your place in the Universe, and what you need to do to achieve it. Priestessing therefore touches Destiny, and you are filled with Purpose, and the passion for it. When you are an accomplished priestess, you are always in contact with Deity. Everyone talks to themselves, but priestesses sense the echo that their words, thoughts, feelings, and wishes are heard directly by Deity. In a way, they are always praying.
In our relatively safe Western world, we forget that many of these paths are actually dangerous, so therefore the tests can be as well. Not all Shamans or priests make it through their Initiations and Trials with whole skins or minds intact. It sometimes isn't simply a case of passing a sword over someone's head or anointing. It can involve passages to other worlds, links with other hearts and minds, and can threaten one's very physicality. Because that's what the job can sometimes entail and it can be pretty tough. Especially for priestesses, who are the Deity's representatives, doing Her work in the physical realm.
Priestesses and witches both have Initiations. Like most spiritual or mystical beginnings, they can be extremely similar or even simultaneous, often confused with each other. Both also share the concept of Trials, where major changes in life circumstances or spirituality are marked with an ordeal. In the case of priestesses, however, it isn't merely the inner self or circumstances and how one reacts that denotes the Initiation or Trial and its success or failure: it is the intervention and channelling of Deity itself that, if not creates the circumstance, then at least does the judging. Passing means that entirely new paths, powers, or perceptions open up. Think leveling. Failure in a Trial as a witch can mean that no movement into a particular new life path is possible for a time, perhaps ever. Failure for a priestess can mean much the same. However, it can have graver consequences. It can result in penance, with the promise of further chances to rectify, or punishment, or in the loss of favour from Deity entirely.
The latter such was my case recently. My Goddess has only benevolent aspects, so my Trial was, if you will, subcontracted out to another, less merciful manifestation of Spirit. Or simply not interfered with as another borrowed me for Her own purposes, which works out the same. I was geased with a task last October. Rather like a command function, it is a fundamental set of instructions that overrides any other code, to the exclusion of all other orders. It overwhelmed every part of my mind and body - the strongest Sending I have ever received in my life. Therefore, I never questioned its authenticity or imperative. Though seemingly simple, it was made clear that my entire future depended on its execution. However, since it conflicted with other self-imposed restrictions and needs, the task became more complex and harder to complete. The sacrifices became greater and, though I was willing to pay them, came with fewer results. I burnt everything - my sense of self, my defences, my university work, my ties to my family and home - none were worthy of acceptance. Uncompleted, though still running, for months the geas drove me mad. Ironically, I have never worked so hard at my spirituality in my life. Every single night without fail, for months I lit my candles and concentrated for hours. Spells, prayers, meditation, writing hundreds of pages, fasting, altering my biochemstry to dull the pain and make me functional... I prayed for mercy, and tried everything to break the geas or complete it. Waking or sleeping, it consumed my every moment, and I had no relief for my torment, except for brief periods of joy when a newly Initiated Priest took pity on my plight. For which I remain deeply grateful. Judgement was finally realized in the form of the new priest in the name of his Deity, and I was found wanting. My strength and honour were not enough to overcome the obstacles to the task, particularly my personal demons. Though I was responsible for his Initiation, even his introduction to his new Matron deity, which was part of my task, it was not enough of a boon to switch the judgement in my favour. It took me some time to process that, and all the while the geas continued unabated. Finally, only a few days ago, I realized that the only way to release it, since I wasn't going to be able to complete it, was to cut off the Divine conduit itself.
My Deity was clearly disappointed in my service, and had removed Her protection and dismissed me, though in Her kindness, rather allowed me to resign. So on April 1, without even an auspicious date, since it seemed pointless, I Renounced my Deity. Never having participated in such a ritual before, I had to wing it a bit. I announced my intention to my family to prepare them and took off my pentangle, some version of which hasn't left my neck in over two decades, as a symbol of repudiation of our Covenant. The results were astonishing. The overwhelming pain of the uncompleted geas was gone almost instantly, and the dominant sensation was one of a burden lifted, though not without sorrow, particularly in my proven failure and weakness. So in case I was still in doubt, I was proven correct - the source of the geas was Divine, and though this destiny remains unfulfilled, it no longer matters.
As I return to being a humble witch, my perceptions and abilities have been altering rapidly, as I discover which parts of my life were intertwined with my constant channelling and which are my own inherent gifts and skills. For example, for me that means I retain my precog, which I've had since I was a child, but all the Destiny and grand epicness that I used to manifest on a daily basis is gone. No longer connected to the Divine, I am suddenly cut off from the bigger picture, and cannot touch the filaments of Destiny that weave through life. Sidelined, if you will...
That does beg the question, however: how much of my witch skills were boosted by Divinity? I can no longer perform some duties, clearly, but others remain as my own, though lessened. Will I be able to help others heal anymore? Can I teach? Will I even want to, as I am bereft of the sense of passion and destiny necessary for such grand schemes? I have known what I was supposed to do since I was 12, with every single skill, task, risk, and relationship in my life, including that with Deity, moving towards that goal, and now, I literally have no future in front of me anymore. Even my cooking is off. Apparently, even that was a prayer, since my Deity is a Healer and Hospitaler. Now I have to re-learn how to do that without channelling, too... My daughter, who has never known me when I wasn't a priestess, says that I'm 'all here' now and that when she speaks, all my attention is fixed on her. She claims that part of me was missing when she used to talk to me, since I was in constant communication with Deity. Which I agree with, since now it seems like my universe has shrunk, and it's only me inside my head. She insists that I even smell differently.
Part of me still retains hope that I can be Redeemed and finish my task, returning to the Divine in humility but triumph. Fulfilling my Destiny by completing my quest and moving on to the next level. However, that requires the relenting of my priest judge, and neither he, nor his matron, are known for their mercy. So it's a false hope. Turns out that he'll make a far better Manifestation of his Deity than I ever did of mine, though, so at the end of this, it's a net gain of Priests, right? I do feel that this withdrawal could eventually change, however. Perhaps, once I learn who I am, by myself, and again increase my natural gifts, in a number of years I might be able to rededicate to Deity - though not necessarily the same one, or Her and another, and maybe reintegrate with Destiny, being useful on a grander scale once more. Or I might not, since I'm not enough of a optimist to believe that She is doing this in the long run for my 'own good'. Maybe I just failed and got fired, because that is what happens sometimes.