[TW: Ableism, mention of suicide]
I bought this book mostly because I was interested in Sunflower’s article on the solar priestess, but also because it was a penny plus shipping on Amazon. I didn’t start reading this expecting it to be super amazing, and, truth be told, I had already slotted it into the “Sturgeon’s 90% category”.
And it was very wrong of me to do so and I will never do that again.
In brief, Voices of the Goddess: A Chorus of Sibyls, is a collection of writings by women speaking of their lives and what led them to the vocation of priestess. The stories are all very personal–this, I think, ends up being the strongest aspect of the book–as these women take the reader through the ups and downs (sometimes waaaaay down) of their lives.
I noticed an interesting pattern as I read each of the articles. The first few articles are like a downward curve, like a descent into an underworld of loss and grief, culminating in Sjoo’s article, which deals with her grief at the loss of her sons–and then, suddenly there is Sunflower (no, TC members, this isn’t our Sunflower), speaking of solar goddesses and her own work as a solar priestess, and I can’t help but wonder if the placement was deliberate, because the three articles that come after that are nowhere near as raw as Sjoo’s. The flow of the book also mirrors their individual stories, which usually tell of a period of doubt or a similar “descent” into the underworld before returning and taking up the mantle of a priestess.
The story that ended up being the most interesting for me was Diana Paxson’s (and, as an aside, it was odd reading something by her that was not about Asatru) where she manages to make some good points on the role of the priestess and even argues that there is some use for concepts like the “golden age matriarchy”. In a nutshell, she argues that even if it is ahistorical–and credible scholars indicate that it is–it is still useful because it gives us a framework from which to create peaceful societies. YMMV on that, of course. I also found Sunflower’s article interesting because, let’s face it, you don’t see many books on women’s spirituality talking a whole lot about sun goddesses unless it’s to go “FUCK YEAH SEKHMET!” before going back to talking about the moon. It was also nice to learn a bit more about the Fellowship of Isis, which I don’t know that much about besides that they are a prominent Pagan organization and they have a clergy training program.
This doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some issues with the book, however. The very first article has some ableism (seriously, comparing people with disabilities to people with no spiritual gifts is so not cool) in the very first article, and the entire book is peppered with gender essentialism and golden age matriarchy maiden mother crone stuff that’s pretty much a staple for works of this type. The authors tend to take an archetypal approach to their traditions, and, as far as I know, all of the authors are straight, white, cis women (someone correct me if I’m wrong) so the book fails hard when it comes to diversity. (I should note that it was published in 1990.)
I suppose it might have been better had I gone back and looked at each article individually, but the truth is that what I’ve said above is pretty much true for most of them, with the major differences being that, besides coming from different traditions, some of them ramble a bit more when it comes to discussing their personal lives, which, well, people ramble, but sometimes it seems as if a few of the authors have problems staying on topic.
What it comes down to for me is that although the book is seriously dated, I still came away from it with some interesting insights. I would say this is probably one of those books that you read because it’s relevant to the topic (in this case, priestessing) and not because you expect to get any practical advice out of it, and this is yet another of those books that I’m not sure any of my followers would find terribly useful unless, perhaps, they like this kind of autobiographical stuff. I mean, it’s not that it’s terrible, it’s just kind of dated….and terrible in some ways, but mostly dated.