Thanks for agreeing to continue this interview, Lowenna. I really appreciate your time and your honesty. Last time, we talked about what it means to be a Priestess of the Goddess. You told me that you were reluctant to take the vows to become a priestess. I’ve been thinking about this and have a couple of questions, if you’re alright to answer them. I’m in no way judging you for your decision, I just want to understand a bit more about priestesses.
That’s fine. I don’t mind talking about it. What did you want to know?
First of all, does becoming a priestess entail certain restrictions? For example, can a priestess still marry and have children?
Yes, but it’s not particularly common. Most priestesses live in the temple and dedicate their lives to the service of the Goddess. Others choose to marry and usually then have a home in town where they spend time when they’re not on duty at the temple. Priestesses have the same birth rate as any other woman in the world, typically two or three children, if they’re so blessed. The children are welcome in the temple, boys up until the age of ten.
You said earlier that you were raised here in the temple?
Yes, Shang-Lae found me as a baby in the shrine. She adopted me and looked after me as her own daughter. The other priestesses all raised me, too. It’s like a big, extended family.
And Shang-Lae is married now?
That’s right. She married this amazing sculptor called Lochlan. He created the snow hawk in the shrine and some other fantastic pieces too. That’s how they first met, actually, when Shang-Lae commissioned the snow hawk.
Lowenna, could we go and have a look at the shrine?
Of course. Let’s go out on to the street and then you can see what it’s like to enter through the main doors. There’s an internal door too, but you’ll get the full effect this way.
We stand up from the kitchen table and walk towards the front of the temple. Lowenna points out the rooms for the male patients, the female patients, the sick children and the birthing room. The storeroom for the medicinal herbs is locked. Near the front door is the staircase which leads up to the second storey where there are mediation rooms and sleeping quarters for the priestesses. Also near the front door is the emergency room where most patients are first brought for assessment and initial treatment.
We step through the front door and I turn to see that it is painted white with the healers’ symbol draw in red. The mark is a leaf curled like a cupped hand. To the left, is a set of large double doors ornately decorated in burnished bronze, set into the soft golden stone of the wall. Lowenna pulls open one of the doors just wide enough for us to slip through.
Light from the ajar door illuminates the tunnel-like entryway which soon opens up into a cavernous, domed, circular chamber. The walls are decorated with murals depicting the Goddess in her various aspects as a virgin maid, huntress, midwife and healer, wise old crone, spectre of death and as primordial mother. The snow hawk, an animal often associated with the Goddess, is painted alongside the Goddess, perched on Her shoulder or outstretched arm, or hovering above Her. At the peak of the dome is a wrought iron and multi-coloured glass cupola through which streams rainbows of light. The floor is a complex, patterned mosaic. On the far side, opposite the entryway, is an astonishing statue of a hawk, its wings outspread, its eyes watchful. The creamy, smooth stone seems to glow with an inner light.
I stand for a long moment, simply staring around me. There’s a great sense of peace and calm here. I turn to Lowenna who is standing next to the hawk, one hand resting on its head. I say the only thing I can think of.