The Goddess: An exploration of the feminine role in the ancient mysteries – part I

Wiccan Rede * Summer 1983 by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki

In this article we will look at the roles played by women in the ancient mysteries, what those roles were, what they implied, and how, as far as we know, the training was given.

There were six main roles that a woman could fill, there were others, but they played a minor part in the religious life. They were:


We will look at each of these in turn, but first a look at the path that led to the temple and a life of dedication, though not always one of celibacy and deprivation of her feminine needs, as is the case of a modern nun.

If the child as a member of a ruling family, she would automatically have been taken into the temple at about seven years of age. The royal blood was in most cases carefully kept pure because of the line of psychic descent. This was in the days of the Priest Kings / Priestess Queens. Once that line was broken, the psychic abilities began to decay. However it was not always through self indulgence that this occurred. As the numbers with whom a royal child could safely mate diminished through natural causes and wars etc., so the need to mate brother and sister, and daughter to father, mother to son, became urgent. From were we stand today such practices appear repugnant, and the word ‘incest’ is one that evokes distaste and even horror. But when we are looking at our ancient past, and if we are trying to seek out cause and effect, and how their lives were lived and why, then we must put aside those feelings and look at the needs of the people then, in their own time.

At this time, when history was just beginning to be recorded, the link with the inner worlds was already fading fast. The specially bred families of Atlantis with their highly evolved senses were reduced to a very few, and those were rapidly losing their abilities that led them to decree that blood must marry blood, with the high risk of physical or mental deformity that such a thing would inevitably bring.

Try to imagine yourself as one of a few hundred survivors on an unknown planet. The natives are friendly enough, and even look on you and your companions as Gods sent to help them and teach them. But they have little or no civilisation, no idea of the way of life you have been used to living. In order to maintain that kind of life as long as possible you would tend to find mates only from among yourselves. But as time went on, disease, accidents, still births, miscarriages, any one of a number of things would gradually erode your company. Soon you would be left with a choice, either you would allow your species to die out, you would allow your children to mate with the native blood, or you would, in desperation, mate closer and closer in relationships. With such a choice, one can be driven into a biological corner.

It became, as he years went on, and the reasons for the decree became lost, a prerogative of the Royal family only to mate in this way. The result was degeneration of a noble blood line. There must have been however those who took another line and searched carefully among the non-royal lines for those who showed a natural ability, in the psychic fields, and mated with them to establish a line, many of which have bred right down to our own times. Certain races have an undoubted ability in certain types of inner awareness; the Celts being perhaps one of the best known. In certain parts of the world, the practice of incest is still part of religious practice, and no shame is seen in it. Though we regard it otherwise.

So the royal child would have been taken into the temple quite early and trained as a matter of course. The daughter of the king as the carrier of the blood royal would enroyal her brother on their marriage. He would be the Priest King, she would be his Priestess Queen. They would rule as representatives of the God and Goddess of whatever religion was the faith of that country. I am for the most part talking about Egyptian training since that is the one we know most about.

But at certain festivals, the priests would go out into the country and the towns and look for likely children as trainees. In the bigger towns parents would bring the children to the temples themselves. They would be tested for health, first of all, for the work involved the physical as well as the spiritual. The mind must be healthy in its outlook, and the body well formed. Then would come the psychic tests, and the children would be graded. Both sexes would be carefully examined to make certain they were virgins; in an age when a girl could be married at 10 years old, child prostitution was common. Their days would be very full, duties in the temple itself would perhaps have included such things as replacing flowers, looking after the kitchen gardens, taking messages, learning to decipher the sacred writing and learning by heart the many long invocations to the many gods and goddesses. It would be perhaps a year before any kind of inner training would have been started. A child had to settle down and become used to the temple life. An unhappy child, even though psychically gifted would be of no use. Slowly the inner training would start. Probably the first would be to record their dreams, and learning to interpret them From this, and from the way in which a child reacted to various stimulus in ritual work the priests would gradually be able to sort out in which category each child would be placed.

The HEALERS would be called upon to train the children; first of all the embalmers. To heal they must first know how the body works, and how it is fashioned. They would work with the gardeners growing herbs, and as they grew older they might go with experienced healers on journeys to discover new herbs, and exchange knowledge with other temples, maybe even in other lands. They learned the art of hypnotism as a means of anaesthetic. The Egyptians were skilled surgeons and mummies have been found with trepanned skulls. When fully trained such healers were in great demand, they might go to another temple where there were few healers, or to a small town with no healer at all. It was a life of great dedication, and in some cases hardship. All healers would have a knowledge also of some form of seership, which they would have used as a form of diagnosis. Mostly the women were the healers in the small country towns and temples. The people trusted them as being part of the Great Mother image. But men as well were trained, and became embalmers and surgeons sometimes with the army of in the palace itself. Some temples were specially dedicated to healing, like that of Aesculapius at Epidaurus in Greece. Here the sick were taken to small rooms to sleep under hypnosis while the healers did their best with the bodies thus left in their care.

I had a strange insight when I was at Epidaurus. There is a famous and very well preserved theatre there. The acoustics are said to be perfect. All the guides show their groups of tourists how the sound carries. They place them around the theatre and then on a certain spot marked with a metal plate, they drop a small coin. The sound can be heard in every part of the theatre no matter where you sit, and in July and August they still hold plays there. But when I was there it was evening and the tourists had gone. I and my friend and students were sitting quietly thinking about those who had once worked here. Slowly I became aware of a very different use of the theatre. Where the guide had dropped the coin, there was a low altar on which was a figure draped in linen. It lay very still and I had the impression that whoever it was, was very ill indeed. All around on the seat of the amphitheatre were priests, and healers of all grades. The whole place was utterly silent. Every ounce of attention was being placed on the patient. Power of a high healing quality was being poured into the still figure on the altar. The same construction that made the place acoustically perfect, also funnelled any form of power put out by those sitting around the central pivot. The impression was very strong, and we decided to try it out for ourselves. We were all extremely healthy, but far away in the USA a SOL student would soon be undergoing an operation for what doctors told her was cancer of the bowel. They held little hope for a full recovery. I had promised the woman I would think of her on the day of the operation, and this was now only three days away. I placed the students around the theatre, and we built up an image in the centre which we psychically christened with the students name. Then we invoked the old God of Healing, and in his name directed all the power we could muster down into the imagined figure.

Several weeks later I heard form the woman, yes, she had had the operation and it had been cancer, but so small and so localised that the surgeons had been able to remove it entirely. X-rays had shown it to be much bigger, and they were at a loss to explain the sudden shrinkage. With no scientific checks we can never claim that we really did anything… but it did seem strange, and we mark it down as something we may be able to experiment with in the future.

Seers, or Lookers, as they were sometimes called, were also mostly women. Women have a much stronger aspect on the inner levels than men and are much better suited for this work than their male partners. This is one reason why it is so small minded to want to be like men o this level… each sex has its part to play and each part is as important as the other. Men are physically stronger on this level; women are astrally stronger on the inner levels. A perfect balance. Seers were, and still are, trained to see things happening at a distance. Today true seership is very rare and usually confined to isolated moments when, in extreme stress, what is happening or what will happen can be clearly seen and even heard.

A true seer uses either a crystal ball, a mirror, or some bright reflection with which to focus that part of there mind which is responsible for her far seeing talents. In modern times it appears that the ancient seership is mixed with a precognitive ability, and sometimes a tendency towards mediumship. Mostly the seers were young girls, and as a rule, though not always, the remained virgin until their far sight showed signs of lessening. This happened very often as they approached their twentieth year. Seership of the truest kind seemed to be the gift of young girls, and often before puberty was the time when their sight was at its height, although some kept their powers beyond this time. We can see this in our own time when it is the young child who often has the invisible companion, clearly seen to their inner sight. And often they are the ones who can predict events sometimes without fully understanding what it was they are doing.

A seer, when she was older, sometimes became a priestess, or a teacher of the younger children, often they became the wives of the priests. Sometimes this marriage was arranged in order to pass on a particularly strong talent for seership. This arranging of marriages was a common thing and most girls, and even the priests themselves, did not know they were to marry until told maybe the day before. Ritual matings were not despised, but considered an honour, as it meant that their talent was of sufficient strength to be thought worthy of handing on.

There was a different kind of seership that was anxiously sought after. A few girls showed such promise even in early childhood, that they were kept away from the others and trained separately. They were the ones who had an etheric body of finer substance than most, easily detachable from the physical. Theirs was a gift of clear seeing that transcended the everyday world. From these girls the high priestesses were chosen and the highest of all, those who spoke with and for the Gods themselves. They were highly trained trance mediums, a psychic talent that has come down to man in our own day and age. But like all things psychic abilities evolve, and the Aquarian trend is towards Mediatorship.

In Egypt these special priestesses were called ‘The Garments of Isis’. In Greece they called them ‘Pythonesses’. In Egypt, only these women could provide the channel for the Goddess herself to manifest, and only through their abilities could a potential priest of Isis take his grades. It was they who invoked the Archetypal Feminine principle into their own bodies, and who became for a while the goddess herself. It took great courage to allow something else to co-exist within your own personal space, it amounts to a symbiotic relationship that most people would find intolerable, even for the short space of time that such experiences last.

The pythonesses of the ancient world were renowned for their ability to predict, to see, to interpret and to give out instructions from other levels of existence. It may seem foolish to some, but there is no doubt that such people existed in those times, just as there is no doubt that they exist today. The old ways, old talents, and the methods of training are still there.

In the case of the Garments of Isis, it was they who took the priests through the long and sometimes dangerous roads towards the apex of the priesthood. They who taught men how to search within themselves to find and work with their own image of the feminine. What in later centuries we would learn to call the anima. Occult training in those times was aimed at identifying with the gods. They knew, although they had no access to the kind of knowledge we have available to us, that the answer lay within. They trained their finest priestesses to open the ways of man’s mind and heart to the influences of their gods. It was the women who held the keys tot the inner kingdom with their greater ability on the inner levels. Once the power had been drawn down into the world, THEN, the priests could take it and direct it, that was where their power cam into it’s own. But first that power had to come through a woman. When man began to deny woman the right to take part in the rites of the temples in the ancient world, it became a long descent onto the lowest level of the physical. Because the power had t manifest somewhere and somehow, it began to appear in the mystics of the church through their self enforced celibacy and self inflicted tortures. My teacher, who as himself a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church always said that if the old style saints had lived in modern times they would have been rightly put away as psychotics for the most part. The American Indians used periods of celibacy and fasting to increase their sensitivity, but they did not make the mistake of the early church, of totally denying the creative powers of man. For it is in those physically creative powers that the whole force of the psyche rests. That is why the practice of untutored magic is so dangerous. It arouses the fires of both body and soul and the reason perishes in the flames.

The visions and extasies of male and female saints were a sign that the power was still there and still potent, but it was being twisted because its true channels was denied. Man and women should bring the power down together. The most powerful of all workings are those done by three people, one woman and two men or two women and one man. Such ritual is extremely powerful, believe me, I know form personal experience that it can drain you of all energy for a few hours, than it returns and you could run a marathon!

Do not mistake my meanings when I speak of ritual in this way. I am not talking specifically of sexual ritual, though that is one way of drawing down power, and is sometimes used by those working in the Craft, with great usefulness. Ritual can be on anyone of the four levels of existence: spiritual, mental, astral and physical. You choose whichever is best suited to the work in hand. While we are at this point I might add in passing, that men who have undergone a vasectomy, and women who have been physically sterilised will never be able to work ritual magic in the high degrees. Strangely this does not apply to those who are using contraceptive methods, only those who have deliberately ‘cut away’ so to speak there fertility.

In the second part of this article we will continue with a discussion of the sacred prostitute. Also we will take a look at the role of christianity and it’s influence on women, and the emergence of the Craft in recent years.


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