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Alternative forms[edit]


From priest +‎ -ess. Compare Middle English preesteresse (priestess).



priestess (plural priestesses, masculine priest)

  1. A woman with religious duties and responsibilities in certain non-Christian religions.
    Synonyms: gythja, kahuna, mamaloi, mambo, miko
    • 1656, Samuel Holland, Don Zara Del Fogo[1], London, retrieved 24 November 2019, page 118:
      Sir Knight, said she (whose looks, language, and gesture create strange thoughts within me) be pleased to know, that I am (I will not say the first) of those Ladies of Honour, who wait upon the high-born, illustrious, and refulgent Maulkina, Daughter to the high and mighty Prince Paraclet, Prince of No-Land, on the confines of whose Territories we now are, so it is that the Divine Maulkina having been a vowed Votaress to Diana (whose Priestess she was, and whose Oracles she exhibited) upon a night as she sat at the feet of the Image of that chaste Deity []
    • 1894 June, Elizabeth Bisland, “The Cry of the Women”, in The North American Review[2], volume 158, number 451, →ISSN, →JSTOR, retrieved 24 November 2019, page 758:
      Among the Northern tribes also the woman was held in all moral aspects the equal of man. Alike the blue-eyed wife of the Barbarian and the proud Roman matron were, as the bearers and breeders of the race, the equals of the fighters and rulers of the race. The importance of their functions was fully recognized and respected, and the priestess at the sylvan altar, the vestals serving the fires and the temples at Rome were held worthy to speak face to face with the gods and convey their blessings to man.
  2. (religious slur, uncommon) A female Christian priest or minister, typically in a Protestant, Old Catholic, or independent Catholic denomination.
    • 1944 November 19, “Letters”, in The Living Church[3], volume 109, number 21, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Morehouse-Gorham Co., page 2:
      The “extenuating circumstances” set forth by the Rev. Mr. Higgins certainly bring home not only the nature of Bishop Hall's problem but its cause; however, the problems of parish life under a deaconess are insignificant in comparison with the very grave issues raised by the ordination of a priestess.
    • 1976 July 10, Aubrey Wice, “Anglican, Greek Orthodox Doctrines at Odds: Women Priests Create Rift Between Churches”, in The Globe and Mail, Toronto, →ISSN, page 36:

      The churches have enjoyed excellent ecumenical relations, he said, and he will continue to work with Anglicans as he does with Jews, Moslems, Catholics and other religious groups, but he added firmly that “there can never be intercommunion with the Anglican church if it has women priestesses.”

      [] “Imagine the problems women priestesses would create with pregnancies and things like that.”

    • 1986 June 25, John Fraser, “Dust-up Over Women Will Enliven Anglican Synod”, in The Globe and Mail, Toronto, →ISSN, page A7:
      He has cleverly figured out that the deluded pro-priestess faction of the church already has its necessary two-thirds majority and that the time to act is now.
    • 1996 July 15, Madeleine Bunting, “Priest Defends 'Sexist' Sign”, in The Guardian, London, →ISSN, page 6:
      THE Church of England is considering taking legal action against a recalcitrant opponent of women priests in Hull who refuses to take down a church sign which says: "This Anglican parish has no part in the apostasy of priestesses."
    • 2003 December, Larry A. Carstens, “The Non Serviam of the Episcopal Church: Unsex Me!”, in New Oxford Review, volume 70, number 11, →ISSN, pages 33–34:

      In 1976 [the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA)] formally ratified and accepted the irregular ordination of several priestesses, which had been carried out by a few individual bishops acting without formal approval [] Less than two decades after the creation of priestesses by ECUSA, the Anglican Church in England (sort of a first among equals in the worldwide Anglican Communion) debated and “studied” the issue, formally approving the practice in the early 1990s. []

      As “gateway drugs” such as marijuana often introduce youth to even more menacing substances, so the sexual confusion of priestesses opens the doors to sodomy.

    • For more quotations using this term, see Citations:priestess.
  3. (colloquial, obsolete) A priest’s wife.
    Synonyms: presbytera, presbyteress

Usage notes[edit]

Chiefly with regard to ancient or Pagan religions, or metaphorically. In Protestant denominations that admit women to the priesthood, such as Anglicanism, they are generally referred to as priests.


Derived terms[edit]



priestess (third-person singular simple present priestesses, present participle priestessing, simple past and past participle priestessed)

  1. (transitive) To oversee (a pagan ceremony, etc.) as priestess.
    • 1998, Wendy Hunter Roberts, Celebrating Her: Feminist Ritualizing Comes of Age, page 124:
      Ye Ye Ife, a gifted feminist ritualist and priestess of Oshun from San Diego, trained in the Yoruba tradition, designed and priestessed the ritual with me.
    • 2014, Danu Forest, Celtic Tree Magic: Ogham Lore and Druid Mysteries:
      Priestessing the earth is for me personally the only natural response to the awe and deep love this evokes in me.
    • 2014, John C. Sulak, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Oberon Zell, The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism:
      I priestessed the ceremony. I played Hecate. One time I played Demeter and my daughter played Persephone.

See also[edit]


  • Alan Aldridge (1987), “In the Absence of the Minister: Structures of Subordination in the Role of Deaconess in the Church of England”, in Sociology, volume 21, issue 3, →DOI, →ISSN, →JSTOR, page 380.
  • priestess”, in Collins English Dictionary, accessed 21 December 2021..
  • Clare Walsh (2001) Gender and Discourse: Language and Power in Politics, the Church and Organisations, Abingdon, England: Routledge, published 2013, →DOI, →ISBN, pages 187–188.