The Thirteen Priestess Paths
Netivah (plural netivot) is a Hebrew word for path or way of being. In the book of Proverbs, we hear of Wisdom that "all her ways are pleasant, and all her paths (netivot) are peace". We use this word to refer to priestess paths: archetypes or ways of being that embody a particular form of the sacred feminine.
Priestesses-in-training will engage thirteen netivot of the Shekhinah. The ancient work of mysticism known as the Sefer Yetzirah teaches that there are three mothers of the universe, each manifesting in the dimensions of space, time, and soul, and that there are ten dimensions of Divine reality. Following (though not limited by) this tradition, we identify thirteen netivot through which the priestess reveals the face of the Shekhinah. These netivot are three trios of three mothers, three travelers at the boundaries, and one archetype bringing together the gifts of all.
Space: The Mothers of the World
Na’arah: The Maiden
The Maiden is connected to air, and the winds. She is the embodiment of focused intention and right action. The Maiden appears as Rebekah, the zealous and kind girl who draws water for a stranger and his camels, and as Miriam, who watches over a basket on the Nile. She appears as the maidens who dance at the sacred shrine of Shiloh to celebrate the harvest. And she appears as a servant of Wisdom, going out into the streets to find those who seek the Shekhinah. She is the daughters of Tzelafchad, who dare to bring their case before Moses and ask for an inheritance of land. She brings the gifts of action, commitment, and courage. She also embraces joy, movement, dance, and fellowship.
Eim: The Mother
The Mother is connected to water, and the rivers of life. She is the embodiment of love and nurturing. The Mother appears as Leah, the abundantly fertile matriarch, Hagar, who searches for water for her son, and as Yocheved, who hides her child from Pharaoh. She appears as Batya, who has compassion on a child not hers, and as Hannah, who prays to give birth. She is Naamah, Noah’s wife, who shepherds animals and people onto the Ark. She appears in the manna that falls on Israel and in the sea that parts to free the people from Egypt. And, she appears as the Divine Mother of the world. She brings gifts of sustenance, loving community, compassionate listening, parenting, and nurturing.
Gevirah: The Matriarch
Gevirah is a word for mistress, matriarch, or queen mother, and it also means “the powerful one.” The gevirah or matriarch represents fire and the spirit. She is the embodiment of strength and power. She appears as Sarah, who bears a child at ninety and fights for his inheritance. She comes to us as the Queen of Sheba, who tells riddles to King Solomon, and as the queen mother Maacah, who honors the Goddess in spite of a state law to the contrary. She is Esther, who uses her royal authority to save her people, and Vashti, who refuses a cruel king’s request. She also appears as Judith and Yael, warrior women who fight for their people. She calls forth the gift of leadership, persistence, and fierceness on behalf of justice. She is also a trickster, and is connected to stories of laughter. The Book of Proverbs says of her; “Strength and glory are her clothing, and she laughs on the last day.”
Time: The Mothers of the Circle of Life
Mekonenet: The Mourning Woman
Jeremiah, as he mourns for his exiled people, asks that the mourning women be called to come and weep. The word mekonenet means “one who laments” but can also mean “one who makes a nest.” The mekonenet represents the fires of transformation, which bring sorrow but can also lead to rebirth. She embodies the pain of change. She appears as Rachel weeping for her exiled children, as the wife of Pinchas, who dies in childbirth, and as the grieving Mother Zion. She also appears in Ezekiel as the women weeping for Tammuz. She brings the gifts of comforting the bereaved , burying the dead, and healing the mourners, and with the gift of facing cataclysmic change. So too, she embraces the knowledge of passing seasons.
Chachamah: The Wise Woman
We are told in the Book of Proverbs: “the wise woman builds her house.” The chachamah, the female sage, is a guide through human existence, teaching us to build our lives well. She embodies the path of understanding. She appears in the wise women who spin the wool for the Tabernacle, and in the wise woman of Tekoa who advises David. She is Serach, the granddaughter of Jacob, who holds all the secrets of the Israelite tribes and tells Moses where Joseph is buried. And she is Wisdom herself. She is connected to water, an icon for Torah and learning. The Wise Woman brings the gifts of teaching, memory, and storytelling, and with wisdom of all kinds. She is linked to the tides, to the menstrual cycle, and to other cycles of nature.
Meyaledet: The Midwife
Meyaledet means “she who brings to birth.” The midwife is connected to air, the first breath of a new human being, and she embodies the birthing process. We find her in Shifrah and Puah, the midwives of Egypt who saved the Hebrew children, and in the midwives who helped Rachel and Tamar to deliver. We also find her in the Holy One who led Israel through the birth canal of the sea. Her gifts are midwifery, gardening, healing, mentoring, and creating new projects of any type. She is linked to growth, trees, animals, and everything that springs from the earth.
Soul: The Mothers of the Sacred Rite
Neviah: The Prophetess
The neviah is the “one who is sent.” She represents the breath of the Divine and embodies inspiration, prophecy, and ecstatic experience. She appears in Miriam the prophet, who dances and drums by the shore of the Sea of Reeds, and in Deborah, the woman who leads the people and sings of her victories. She is in the levitical drummers who danced in Temple processions. Her gifts are music, drumming, poetry, dreaming, ecstatic practice, visioning, and the ability to speak out and be heard. She experiences angelic guides and Divine visions, and seeks truth on behalf of her people.
Tzovah: The Temple Keeper
The tzovah, or “one of many hosts of women,” once served at the entrance to the mishkan. In the Torah, we learn that the priests used the mirrors of the tzovot to make the priestly basin for handwashing. The tzovot are associated with water, with divination , with sexuality, and with the affirmation of the self. In midrash, they are the Hebrew slave women in Egypt who seduce their tired husbands with games and mirrors. We see the archetype of the tzovah in Eve, who chooses the fruit of knowledge, and Lilith, who flies away from Eden. We also find her in Ruth, the stranger who lies down with her lover on a threshing floor. We know her in the women who bake bread and pour out wine for the Queen of Heaven. The tzovah embodies the life-spirit. Her gifts are self-awareness, sensuality, the keeping of the body and the keeping of sacred space, and the performance of ritual and ceremony. She brings the sacred into earthly reality.
Ba’alat Ov: The Spirit Vessel
To be a ba’alat ov, or the keeper of a spirit, was a forbidden practice in ancient Israel. Yet in the Bible, the Witch of Endor, a ba’alat ov, raises Samuel from the dead so that he may speak to King Saul. The ba’alat ov embodies the inner ability to connect to hidden realities. She represents the fires deep within the earth. The ba’alat ov connects us to our gifts of spirit-journeing. We see her in the enchantresses and sorceresses the prophets condemn, and in the mother of Abaye, a Talmudic woman who is an amulet-maker and charmer. Her gifts are shamanic awakening and inner sight. She also offers spiritual protection and the ability to guard the sacred circle of the self. To this end, she brings the gifts of incantations, amulets, and other spirit-charms.
Between Space, Time, and Soul: The Mothers of the Journey
Doreshet: The Seeker
Between the rootedness of space and the mobility of time, we find the one who seeks. The Seeker’s task is to move from her fixed place so that she may learn. In Genesis, we learn that Rebekah the matriarch goes to seek the Divine Presence so that she may learn why her pregnancy is so painful, and by seeking, she receives the knowledge she needs to go on. The Seeker is a questioner, always asking anew why things are the way they are. The Seeker is a listener, desiring to hear the truth of others. And the Seeker is a peacemaker, seeking ways for human beings to hear one another into speech. She is both deeply rooted in her own experience, and a midwife to the truths of others. Her gifts are questioning and listening, traveling, learning from others, and dialogue work of all kinds. Her elements are air and fire, the moving wind and the moving of the spirit.
Leitzanit: The Fool
Between the inexorable march of time and the inner truths of the soul, we find the laughing one. When Sarah is told she will become pregnant at the age of ninety, she lets out a laugh so resonant that the Holy One takes note of it. Sarah’s laugh contains joy and heartbreak, anger and relief. So too, the fool, jester, or sacred clown uses laughter to help us confront life’s difficult truths. She makes fun of accepted truths and says what no one else dares to say. She is our shadow, weaving together light and darkness. She is both a midwife who changes us, and a priestess who brings us new vision. Her gifts are laughter, cleverness, boldness, honesty, and deep compassion. She is water and air, the hidden depths of the unconscious and the laughter that brings truth to the surface.
Ohevet: The Lover
Between the embodied presence of space and the fiery realm of the spirit we find Ohevet, the one who loves. The woman of the Song of Songs calls out to her beloved out of deep passion and a desire to share of herself: “Let us go out to the fields!” The Lover, like the Shulamite of the Bible, reaches out of herself with desire and knowing, giving both body and soul. She is both innocent and wise, seizing her moment with zest and openness. Her beloved may be a human being, or a song, or a world, or the Divine, or her own soul. She is grounded in her experience, yet also a priestess who embodies the cosmic love of the universe. Her gifts are openness, presence, and the special quality of being awake to all. She is fire and water—passion, emotion, and the reconciliation of opposites through love.
Space, Time, and Soul: The Mother of the Web of All
Oreget: The Weaver
The oreget, we are told, weaves in the Temple to honor the Divine feminine. What she weaves are batim or “houses”—tapestries, garments, or maybe worlds. Like the Fates, the oreget weaves space, time, and soul together. She embodies the knowledge of the connectedness of all things, and represents the solidity and multiplicity of the earth. It is she who integrates and connects the many threads of the world. We see her in the women who spun the goats’ hair for the Tabernacle. Her gifts are the weaving of legends, interpretations, rituals and traditions, as well as weaving, sewing, writing, interpretation, and all the creative arts. She watches over all activities that bring disparate elements together.