Dr. Anne Key, 51, is the editor and owner of Goddess Ink Publishing, a university professor of Women’s Studies and Religious Studies, a burlesque and belly dancer, and was the high priestess at the Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet.
Alibi: When did you first realize you had a spiritual calling?
I grew up as a Southern Baptist in a very intellectual church in Fort Worth. It was connected with the Western Baptist Theological Seminary, so many of my teachers were professors and biblical scholars at the seminary. I grew up with an academic connection—as opposed to an emotional connection—to religion. That suited my mindset a lot better, and I really loved it. I was a very passionate Christian. At one point I thought about going into ministry, but when I went to the seminary, I was basically told I could be a children’s minister or a minister’s wife. I didn’t want to be either. There are not many places for women in the main religions in the United States. I had a real passion for religion, but I just didn't feel like I had much of a place in it. I became introduced to a more Pagan lifestyle and found that Paganism really has a place for women in spiritual authority. It's not unusual at all for women to be spiritual leaders in different Pagan and Wiccan groups. Then I sort of moved into goddess spirituality, which looks at the divine feminine and looks at the divine as feminine. With this I could see myself as part of the divine. So I've always had an interest in it, but it has taken me a long time to find a place where I, as a woman, could find a leadership position and a place where I felt like I fit.
What was the best part about being the high priestess at the Temple?
One of the best parts was being able to lead public ritual. It's really amazing to be able to lead an open ritual and have anywhere between 20 and 100 people show up and really be able to be out in the elements—like to have an open-air temple and a fire in a fire pit. They were very embodied ceremonies out in the Nevada desert.
What is something you learned while you were out there?
One of the best things I learned was that being in silence is one of the best teachers. The more I was in silence, the more that I was open and able to surrender and understand the cycles of nature and life.
The Temple is dedicated to Sekhmet. What does she embody?
She’s a very old Egyptian deity. She was often used by kings and queens as a warrior. Her full name means “powerful woman,” and she’s a defender and protector in a very forceful kind of way. She’s also very powerful in that she brings life and death—she’s associated with healers and doctors as well as pestilence.
Why did you create Goddess Ink, and what ideas are you contributing to the spiritual genre of publishing?
In the ’90s a lot of mainstream publishers were publishing books on goddesses and spirituality. Then when publishing really crashed in the 2000s, they didn't pick that thread back up. This study of goddesses and women's spirituality was just being handled by publishers like Llewellyn. I really felt like this field of women's spirituality was being defined by some of these smaller publishers who aren't so much interested in moving the field forward as in selling books. I didn't want this field that I took very seriously—and within which there is really beautiful academic work—to be unrealized.
Do you feel that belly dancing and burlesque can be forms of feminine empowerment?
I do because both use the body. Dance always keeps me from being in my head too much—it reminds me that I am flesh and blood, female—no denying it. I think all of these forms of dance give me, as a woman, an opportunity to face a lot of things about myself that culture has imposed on me. Like, “You shouldn’t move like that, shake like that, put yourself out like that.” It allows me to look at that and say, “Oh really? I shouldn’t? I don’t think I buy that anymore.” It brings all these cultural ideas out in a very physical way. It’s sort of a continual breaking of barriers.
Does your spirituality sometimes come through in your dance?
Oh absolutely. I think being one with yourself sexually, spiritually, emotionally—it’s like being a whole human. Spirituality is about being whole. It’s about saying, “This body is me. This heart, this soul, this drive, this desire is me.” And I think being able to bring all that together is something I really love doing through dance.
You have a six-foot boa named Asherah that you dance with. What does she bring to your dancing or your life?
One of the most amazing things about her is that when she wraps around me, I feel like she just pulls out everything that I don’t need and just washes me clean in this amazing way. And then she’ll shed her skin and be done with it. She’s just very healing in ways that I didn’t really expect.
Advice for the world?
Be exactly who you should be. Just don’t worry about what society tells you you should be, but be exactly the amazing, beautiful human being that you’re here to be.