I wrote this originally in 2009 for an anthology of essays entitled ‘Priestesses, Pythonesses and Sybils: The Sacred Voices of Women who speak with and for the Gods’ published by Avalonia. I had not at that time received ordination as a Priestess in E.G.C. and having done so since, I have been asked how my thoughts on the role of the priestess in the Gnostic Mass have changed. The only way that I can answer that is to say “Completely, and not at all”. Although stylistically it is not what I might write now; I would not re-write the article as it stands as a genuine testament to my first experiences of the ritual. More importantly, I honestly do not think anything I wrote now would be that different in its sentiment.
I wrote this article mainly in order to convey my experience of wonder at performing the role of the priestess in the Gnostic Mass and to attempt to express my great love for this ritual and for our church. I was humbled to hear from clergy, both ordained and novices, across the world to tell me that they had found it inspiring and informative to their approach of our central rite. I have edited my writing purely for clarity and to allow it to fit better in this current collection but in the main part it remains as it was. My particular hope is that it may encourage and hearten novices in E.G.C. and those considering entering the novitiate to continue the Great Work of this church.
“Greeting of Earth and Heaven!”
The position of a Priestess in E.G.C. is a clearly and formally defined role in terms of performing the Gnostic Mass, but through performing the role I have become aware of the wider part that a Priestess plays within her community. At first glance at the role as it is set out in the Gnostic Mass, it may seem that the Priestess performs a very passively servile role; however the internal process that she goes through during the ritual is actually a powerful invocation and strong possession which has fundamentally changed my view of myself, those around me and my concept of the divine.
“Make open the path of creation and of intelligence between us and our minds.”
When I first came to the church, I was quite unsure of the idea of having a priestess separating me from the direct connection to a sense of divinity I felt when doing things alone. My magical experiences previously had been impulsive and instinctual, speaking directly to ‘gods’, responding to thoughts and feelings as they came to me. I had tried a small amount of formal ceremonial magick, but working alone I often felt something was missing. I was interested in experiencing the community feeling that I had observed from the outside in other religions and I was curious about the Gnostic Mass. I liked the idea of the ceremony, that it was a tried and tested ritual with repeatable results; but at the same time I felt intimidated and overwhelmed by the thought of it being too structured. Partly I am sure now that this was out of a fear of getting things wrong in the eyes of others that I felt at the time might know more than me.
“Let the rituals be rightly performed with joy and beauty.”
I was invited to attend a Gnostic Mass and despite my initial fears I took the opportunity offered. I decided not to read the ritual text beforehand as I didn’t think that it would be useful for me to try to understand the ritual intellectually before I had experienced it first hand. I wanted to see how it made me feel, what it did to me to be in that place at that time. Before the ritual started the Deacon explained what would happen in the ceremony and the parts that the congregation were to participate in. I was extremely nervous, and panicking that I would not remember what to do when we went into the temple. Mostly, I didn’t, and I was concentrating so hard on what I had to do that I couldn’t fully focus on the ceremony. Somehow, that just didn’t matter, I was swept along by the momentum of the ritual itself.
“But to love me is better than all things”
Just before taking communion, I experienced what I felt to be a great strength in the Priestess’s eyes, and really felt that she was in direct contact with … something infinite, and the awesomeness of her doing that on my behalf. Taking my communion I realised that there was another way to achieve that direct link with the divine I had always sought and that right there I was standing in a huge wave of it, and it took nothing away from myself by having someone work as a conduit. In fact, the feeling was enhanced with everyone in attendance being focused on achieving the same results, reaching out together to something outside of ourselves in order to bring it into ourselves. Knowing how it had made me feel to stand there, I realised that I wanted to be able to provide that service for others but I felt sure that it would take me many years to be in a position to do so; and I also knew that I would do it no matter how long it took.
“Therefore by seed and root and stem and bud and flower and fruit do we invoke Thee.”
A few months later I attended a class on the Gnostic Mass. It was a class to teach people to perform one of the roles in the Mass and since I had only just taken my first initiation into O.T.O. shortly after the first Mass I had attended, I didn’t think I would be able to take part in the ritual; but I was desperate to learn more about it and I thought that if I hid at the back maybe no-one would mind. As the day progressed, I began to realise that I was being encouraged to step up and perform the Mass and it was the role of Priestess that I was drawn to.
“For one kiss wilt thou then be willing to give all”
The night before my first Mass as Priestess I slept deeply. We had been practicing thoroughly for weeks beforehand, reading and re-reading the invocation of Nuit that is so central to the role. That night I dreamed of the night sky and I could see the outline of a woman above me in the heavens, the dark shape of her body moving against the backdrop of stars as if she was dancing. Her beautiful, darkly ephemeral face came close to mine, so small in comparison, and a huge pair of dark blue, almost black, lips kissed me gently.
“For as much as meat and drink are transmuted in us daily into spiritual substance, I believe in the Miracle of the Mass.”
When it comes to performing the Gnostic Mass I have a great certainty in the ritual itself and its ability to create that connection with the divine forces. As it took me with it on my first attendance as a member of the congregation, so it does when I am in the role of Priestess. I consider careful preparation in advance to be essential for me to make full advantage of what is inherent in the rite. To ensure I know the ritual completely in my mind and my body, and have a certainty in my ability to be open to the forces called in. Then I can mentally step back and allow these things to happen. It is not a passive process but one of being actively receptive.
“Thee therefore whom we adore, we also invoke.”
The Gnostic Mass contains a piece of text taken from The Book of The Law that is spoken by the Priestess as an invocation to Nuit. It is beautiful and works very swiftly as a strong invocation. However I do not consider that the invocation starts there. Preparing myself for the ritual, clothing myself beautifully in white, blue and gold, and arriving at the doors of the temple, I am always thinking about what I am about to do, the role I am about to step into, and preparing a space in my thoughts for that. When I hear the ritual begin, a deep calm enters me and any thoughts I had of who I am and what I may be doing in my everyday life leave me, making that space for that Goddess of infinite space. Entering the temple and seeing the assembled congregation sets up a dialogue with them in my actions, it is their presence that elevates me from being a magician seeking a connection with the divine, to a Priestess seeking that connection in the service of others. I strongly believe that as a Priestess it is them that I am there for, it is them that I am there to serve, and in that service to them I am able to be lifted up to meet the divinity.
“I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy.”
All of the actions I perform at the beginning of the ritual are working towards the invocation that is to come so that the space has been set and the invocation works in such few words. When I invoke Nuit somehow it is not as if she is within me but that I am in Her. I could not fit the infinite night sky within me but as “Every man and every woman is a star” there is a place for me in Her. It is so necessary to learn the ritual thoroughly in my body, to rehearse and rehearse until my hands know where to be without any conscious control from myself; because when I really achieve that invocation with every part of my being I won’t be able to think about what comes next. I have always felt that being possessed by Nuit is a ‘gentle possession’ in that should I need to I can still have a presence of mind without dropping the magick altogether, perhaps this is due to me being in Her and not the other way around. Its as if I can peek in over my own shoulder and see what is happening around me while She does the Work. Though there have certainly been plenty of occasions when I have entered the temple and have no memory from then onwards until its all over and my Priest is coming to collect me from the altar at the end. Those are the times when I have felt that everything has been working perfectly and the power of the ritual has taken hold completely.
“If under the night-stars in the desert thou presently burnest mine incense before me, invoking me with a pure heart, and the serpent flame therein, thou shalt come a little to lie in my bosom.”
Even during my very first Mass as Priestess, I began to feel that things were slipping into place without me really trying. The forces worked through me without me controlling them, and it was through my letting go of control that made the way for the ritual to do its thing. I felt a sense of doing but not-doing, removing my own self from the situation, so that it is not my ego that does the work but something deeper. It’s like being on a waterslide – you have to put in the work to climb up to the top then consciously let yourself go and once you’ve done that, you’re on the slide to the end, flowing with the water. You can decide to a limited extent the way you want to move, but the water ultimately takes you where it wants you to go. The biggest mistake would be to try to stop yourself, to try to hold back once you are moving, the more you go with it, the faster you will go and the better it can be.
“One Star in the Company of Stars”
Through my experience of being a priestess in the Gnostic Mass, through invoking Nuit, my view of divinity has completely changed. In my solo work the gods seemed to be forces outside of myself that I could anthropomorphise in order to commune with. The power of pulling those forces inside of myself and feeling myself inside of them has enabled me to feel truly ‘gnostic’. I have discovered a sense of finding a place in the world, of being one star in the Universe, by looking directly into the darkness, which is never as dark as it seems. I feel infinitesimally small and able to marvel at how wondrous it is to be a part of the infinitely huge whole. And I can see that divinity, refracted in all people, see each person I encounter as a star in the body of Nuit, equally small and hugely part of everything.
“Giver and receiver of joy, gate of life and love, be thou ever ready, thou and thine handmaiden, in thine office of gladness.”
As my view of divinity, and of those around me has changed through my experiences, the way others respond to me has changed also. I the very process of opening myself out to the forces outside of myself and offering that out to others appears to encourage people to be more open with me in return. When dealing with such huge ideas that cut right to the core of being it is not surprising that it will affect people deeply and change their view of you. In times of crisis people will look to others within their community for assistance and offering yourself as a community’s Priestess automatically implies being looked to for guidance. It is a role that has acted thusly for thousands of years. Responsibility comes with that recognition; there are times in people’s lives when they may feel vulnerable, and they may look to a Priestess for support. This is something I feel it is important to be noted, especially by our young church as it grows.
“I believe in one Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love and Liberty”
Having a structured church creates a framework to grow within, one where no-one is left without knowing who to turn to. If people come to me with their thoughts and feelings, I have others to go to with mine. The support of my peers who are also working as clergy within E.G.C., as well as the guidance of the Bishops, establishes a real sense of a strong church community. A church is not simply a building in which people congregate but a body of people working together for a spiritual purpose.
“A feast every day in your hearts in the joy of my rapture.”
Working as a Priestess in E.G.C. has fundamentally changed me. It has opened my eyes to a spiritual world that I had previously been skirting the edges of. It has allowed me to perform a vital function within my community and find my own orbit as a star in the body of Nuit.
“There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.”
by Cathryn Orchard For Oto.ie