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Alternative forms[edit]


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


  • (UK) IPA(key): /priːˈstɛs/, /ˌpriːˈstes/


priestess (plural priestesses, masculine priest)

  1. A woman with religious duties and responsibilities in certain non-Christian religions.
    • 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 2329-1907, JSTOR 25103356, 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.
    • 1976 July 10, Aubrey Wice, “Anglican, Greek Orthodox Doctrines at Odds: Women Priests Create Rift Between Churches”, in The Globe and Mail, Toronto, ISSN 0319-0714, 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.”

    • 1983 June, W. L. Taitte, “The Lady Is a Priest”, in D[3], retrieved 24 November 2019:
      [] Dr. James Hall, remembers that at an evaluation session of the Isthmus Institute she had been reproaching people for a sexist use of language when talking about the Deity. He was happily surprised when she called God “He.” She still doesn’t like it, though, when Hall calls her a “priestess” instead of a priest.
    • 1986 June 25, John Fraser, “Dust-up Over Women Will Enliven Anglican Synod”, in The Globe and Mail, Toronto, ISSN 0319-0714, 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.
    • 1986 August, Fidelity, volume 5, Marshfield, Wisconsin: Wanderer Forum Foundation, page 6:
      Fitterer married a divorced woman studying to be ordained as an Episcopal priestess, at the same time seeking ordination as an Episcopal priest himself.
    • 1987, Alan Aldridge, “In the Absence of the Minister: Structures of Subordination in the Role of Deaconess in the Church of England”, in Sociology, volume 21, number 3, DOI:10.1177/0038038587021003005, ISSN 1469-8684, JSTOR 42853998, page 380:
      The use of the suffix ‘-ess’ points to the anomaly. Many Anglo-Catholics are deeply opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood, and speak not of women priests but of priestesses. This signals the alien nature of the priestess: ‘other’ religions have priestesses, ‘we’ do not. Any woman who claims that she is a Christian priest is at best deluded, since women cannot be priests.
    • 1991 November 17, David Firestone, “Trying to Unite a Divided Church: Conservative Episcopalians Form a Breakaway Diocese”, in Newsday, page 15:
      "The crazy sexual morality changes in the church may make us unhappy, ordaining priestesses and all, but the priests around here are going to stay in the church and fight," said the Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder, rector of St. Mary's Church in Amityville and leader of the regional synod body.
    • 1992, Alister Anderson, “After Forty Years”, in Peter E. Gillquist, editor, Coming Home: Why Protestant Clergy Are Becoming Orthodox[4], Ben Lomond, California: Conciliar Press, →ISBN, retrieved 24 November 2019, page 85:
      [] I had hoped to serve in parishes where I could stem the advance of the humanistic teachings which had engulfed the Church. I wanted to teach the faith and doctrine of the Anglican Divines [] After laboring in a parish for seven years, I finally had to concede this premise was no longer feasible in the Episcopal Church. The bishops demanded all parishes use the new Prayer Book and a female minister was sent to be a “priestess” in the parish where I served.
    • 1996 July 15, Madeleine Bunting, “Priest Defends 'Sexist' Sign”, in The Guardian, London, ISSN 0261-3077, 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 0149-4244, 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.

    • 2003, Jason S. Lantzer, “Hoosier Episcopalians, the Coming of Women’s Ordination, and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer”, in Anglican and Episcopal History, volume 72, number 2, ISSN 0896-8039, JSTOR 42612317, page 233:
      Unlike his predecessor the Rev. Bert White, the Rev. Eric Geib at St. Christopher's in Carmel supported the idea of women’s ordination. White had once told the parish “when the first ‘priestess’ is ordained in this Church this priest will become a plain ‘mister’!”
    • 2011 May 5, Vincent Foy, “The Betrayal of Homosexuals”, in[5], Toronto: Campaign Life Coalition, retrieved 24 November 2019:
      For a time non-Catholic Christian denominations held to the traditional truth of the grave moral evil of homosexual behavior. Now, that unity in truth has crumbled. Now some non-Catholic denominations have homosexual pastors, lesbians, “priestesses” and Bishops. An example is Gwynne Guibord, lesbian Episcopal “priestess,” credited with getting the American National Council of Churches to scrap an endorsement of traditional marriage in 2000.
  3. (colloquial, obsolete) A priest’s wife.
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]