What title do you use, or prefer? What archetypes do you associate with it? Priestex, Priestess, Priest?
Although I am nonbinary, I like the title priestess, for various reasons:
- I don’t associate it with motherhood (I’m not the motherly type).
- It makes me think of the High Priestess card in the Tarot (particularly the one created by Pamela Colman-Smith).
- I gather that the Reclaiming Tradition use the title priestess for everyone, regardless of gender.
- It has only ever been used to refer to Pagan ritual roles (at least, that is true for the English language).
I’m okay with ‘priestex’ for other people, but it just doesn’t give me the warm fuzzy feeling I get from the word priestess, and to me, ‘priestex’ seems like a weird way to indicate gender neutrality. If someone wanted to be referred to by that title at appropriate moments in ritual, of course I would oblige, because people’s lived experience of gender is more important than being an offended grammar nerd.
A much better gender-neutral word would be sacerdos (pronounced /saˈker.doːs/): one who makes things sacred (which is essentially the role of a priest or priestess). It’s better because it is a real word and not a badly-put-together modern coinage. And rest assured that it is genuinely gender neutral.
I toyed with creating a hybrid of gothi and gythja (the Norse words for priest and priestess respectively), but it would probably sound just as bad to Norse-language speakers as priestex does to me (sorry, priestex fans). For what it’s worth, my hybrid was gotha or gythi. I think I prefer gythi. Another alternative would be to use the plural form, by analogy with using ‘they’ as a gender neutral pronoun. The plural is gothar.
The word ‘priest’ comes from Latin presbyter (elder), of which the feminine form is presbyterissa. The root of presbyter is from Greek and means “old man”.
According to Wikipedia: “The feminine English noun, priestess, was coined in the 17th century, to refer to female priests of the pre-Christian religions of classical antiquity.” I suppose people in the 17th century thought it sounded weird, too.
Anyway, it would be nice if sacerdos became a choice, as it’s a genuinely Pagan word, as far as I can tell, that actually referred to a Pagan priestly role in antiquity.
Another alternative is flamen and flaminia, which were ancient Roman priestly roles. The plural is flamines, so the gender neutral word could be flamine. Unfortunately every time I mention this to anyone, they automatically start thinking about burgers. (“It’s flaming good”). Ah well.
So, whatever titles you use in your traditions, I hope that we can agree on some gender neutral options for people who want them. I was very pleased when the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel announced that they were officially embracing the title priestex for use in their organization.
It has just occurred to me that one of the biggest issues with Indo-European languages is that the masculine word is always considered the default or root word, and then you have to add a prefix or a suffix to make it gender neutral or feminine (examples include: man, woman, human; priestess, priest, priestex; this also applies in German, e.g. Artzt, Ärtztin) or you have to switch to a different linguistic root to get a gender-neutral word (e.g. god, goddess, deity).