If you practice solitary, then you are your own priestess. In a larger, more public setting there may be many priestesses. Sometimes there may be one for each element or directional. In the event of more than one priestess, there would be a high priestess as well. In many religions being a priestess is a full time position. In other cases it may be a part time role. The position can be appointed any human election or inherited through familial lines.
By definition a priestess is a woman who officiates sacred rites. The word "priest" is from Greek, via latin, presbyter, the term means "elder." The feminine english noun priestess was coined in the 17th century, refering to female priests of pre-christian religions of Classical antiquity.
Priestesses throughout history:
In historical polytheism, a priest or priestess administers the sacrifice to a deity, often in a highly elaborate ritual.
In ancient Egyptian religion, the royal daughter presided as the high priestess in the temple, as the royal line was carried by the women. She and the pharaoh fulfilled duties and rituals.
Along the Tigris and Euphrates river there were many shrines and temples or "houses of heaven" dedicated to various deities. These temples housed priestesses of the goddess. There is no evidence what so ever that any kind of sexual services were performed by them or any other women included in any other cult. Sacred prostitution was common practice until emperor Constantine, 4th century ad, destroyed the goddess temples and replaced them with Christianity.
Priestess in literature:
In the Epic of Gilgamesh: Enkindu was a wild-man raised by animals and ignorant of human society. He is bedded by the priestess Shamhat, for six days and seven nights. After a series of interactions with humans and human ways, he becomes closer to civilization.
Where have all the priestesses gone?
Excluding women from ritual leadership or religious authority has been the focus to undermind the female power, for instance, the Gnostic scriptures naming Marry Magdeline as the foremost Christian disciple. Male authorities carefully selected and edited scriptures to erase traditional female leadership. Priestesses were banned from religious authority either explicitly or through stories demonizing their power.
Who was the first priestess?
En-hendu-ana, Akkadian 2285 bc - 2250 bc was the first known holder of the title "En Priestess."
Today's guest post was originally scheduled for Wednesday but due to my lack of organizational skills it wound up being pushed to today. Hope you all enjoy. And oh yeah, today's post was written by Angel Heaven Murkeson (Scarlet Falconess).