There is so much to say about women’s spiritual leadership. In this time of fragmented and toxic culture, we don’t even have words adequate to describe the breadth of heritages and practices. Most people would define priestess as a woman who leads ritual. But there are a range of names and culturally-defined meanings, including shaman, medicine woman, diviner, spirit-medium, oracle, sibyl and wisewoman. Countless ethnic titles such as machi, sangoma, eem, babaylan and mae de santo provide even more textured glimpses of a vast global picture.
We can’t really draw sharp divisions between these categories. The shaman may be a ritual leader, but also a solitary practitioner. The visionary can act as healer, the medicine woman speak prophetically. The ceremonial role of the priestess does not preclude her from entering into trance or shamanic spiritual journeys; sometimes it actually requires her to achieve these altered states. Above all, the ritual specialist has skills, special ability, even powers, but every member of the spiritual community has power. In shamanic cultures, the group commonly participates in raising spirit through chant, music, dance, clapping and drumming.
It’s this question of accessing and exerting power that makes the spiritual political, and explains the importance of religion in instituting social controls.
When you connect with your breath, your body, and your ancestors, can you locate and learn from the intersections of the spiritual and political?