Laura Janesdaughter Interview by Joanne Young Elliott
Founder of Temple of Isis/LA Shares the Story of Her Spiritual Journey
Reprinted here by permission of the author, Joanne Young Elliott
Isis was a part of Laura Janesdaugter’s life even before she knew that she would someday be a priestess of this Egyptian Goddess. Her childhood home in Los Angeles was a block away from a street named Isis Avenue, and Ancient Egypt held a fascination for this young girl.
Laura started her life in Texas, but her family soon moved to Washington State. At the age of three her family moved to Southern California for the warmer, drier climate. First they lived in Long Beach and then they moved to Los Angeles where she still resides today.
Early in life Laura attended the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach with her family. Later this same church would play a big role in Laura’s spiritual life. Back then she only went there briefly before her family moved to Los Angeles and sent her to various church Sunday schools. Her parents weren't very big church goers themselves, so when Laura went to Berkley to attend the University she just stopped going.
The idea of priestess followed her, though she says she was, “irreligious for many years.” At school she and the other girls at the rooming house filled out the administration card under the religion category as “Maenads,” female followers of Dionysus. “We didn’t want to put down Christian.” But Laura didn’t really know what Maenads meant then, and it would be many years before she would.
After graduating, Laura worked in London and “fell in love with the stone circles.” She made the final break with Christianity on a six-week trip to Israel. When she visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre she went into the Holy of Holies where a Rabbi asked for money. That was it, she had had enough.
On returning to LA she took classes on stone circles and religion at UCLA. It was here she learned about the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu who is still important to her today. She also learned about the Venus of Willendorf. The Sacred Feminine was coming to the fore in her life. She joined NOW and Z. Budapest came to give a talk on goddesses. Things started to click, Laura says, and it “made me realize I was a Goddess woman.” She asked the Goddess about what this all meant and heard a voice say, “The Priestess of Isis remembers the Goddess is everywhere.”
It would still take twelve years before she understood what that really meant. She began to search for Goddess groups and continued to investigate stone circles. “I did self-initiate myself as a witch,” but it wasn’t until she attended the second Long Beach WomanSpirit Faire that it all came together. “This was the energy I’d been looking for and I didn’t just want to go home with my stuff.” She was invited to a mailing meeting, became a member of Long Beach WomanSpirit and got her priestess training on the spot. “I was trained by the Goddess. We were all learning.” At first she hesitated to call herself a Priestess of Isis, but at a Hallows ritual honoring all the crones she publicly used the title.
Laura continued to make yearly visits to England and on one trip she saw a flyer in the window of the Atlantis Bookshop for a Fellowship of Isis conference. Unfortunately it had already taken place. The next year she saw the flyer again, but she had plans to do something with her family on the day of the conference.
The next year Laura made a trip to Crete and thoroughly enjoyed the warm climate. After that trip she went to London and visited the Atlantis Bookshop again. “A voice told me to go downstairs, there wasn’t much down there, but I saw the Fellowship of Isis flyer again.” This time the conference was happening at that very moment. She found the location and heard Caitlin Matthews talk about the Fellowship of Isis (FOI). The FOI is made up of many members around the world and many have Iseums, centers of worship and learning. Laura said to herself, “I could do this. I could have an Iseum.” Laura joined that day.
Upon returning to LA, Laura wrote Lady Olivia, one of the founders of the FOI, requesting to have her own Iseum. Before Laura’s letter could be delivered to Lady Olivia, however, Laura received one from her saying that there wasn’t yet an Iseum in LA and asking Laura if she wanted to start one.
After Laura Janesdaughter’s ordination in the Fellowship of Isis, she was ready. On February 5, 1994, on Laura’s mother’s birthday, The Iseum of Isis Pelagia came into being. Soon Laura applied for affiliation with the Temple of Isis in Geyserville, California which was already part of FOI and a legal church. In that way Laura’s Iseum received legal nonprofit status as Temple of Isis/LA (TOI/LA). Laura knew that it would be helpful and so it was when WomanSpirit was going to lose its use of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Long Beach without nonprofit status. TOI/LA sponsored them and they were allowed to stay.
When asked what she sees as one of her roles in the community Laura says, “it is to support women.” This is a function she takes seriously and through her mentoring other women have become leaders in the Goddess/Pagan community. Xia, founder of Temple of the Goddess, is one. Two other women, who were recently ordained as Hierophants by Laura and the TOI/LA are Anniitra MaKafia UtchatiNu Ravenmoon, founder of the Iseum of the Nubian Moonand Glory Vernon, founder of the Iseum of the Living Muse. Other Hierophants who Laura mentored are: Letecia Layson, founder of the Lyceum of the Queen of Heavenand Catherine Wright founder of the Iseum Vox Aletheia
Laura says she was always public about her beliefs. “The people at work know. My family supports me. My sister used to have Christmas parties, now they’re Winter Solstice parties.” She says of her path, “I would call myself a Pagan, but more specifically a Goddess woman and Priestess.”
Nature is also important to her practice and her Iseum still does some rituals at the beach. “We really like being next to the ocean and on the sand. It’s important to do some rituals outside.”
This Priestess of Isis has been to Egypt twice, once after she was ordained and then again last year. She goes withNicky Scully. Laura says her tours have “excellent guides.” Egypt was of interest for her as a child, before she knew about the Goddess. These days Egypt still plays a large role in her spiritual life. She works with other Egyptian deities, including Sekhmet, Bast, and Nepthys. Other goddesses that have meaning for her areBrighid and Elen. And of course, Amateratsu is still with her.
The Knot of Isis prayer that Laura has been using at rituals and in her own personal practice comes from Normandi Ellis’ book “Awakening Osiris” her translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. A chapter called “The Knot of Isis” is the inspiration. Laura first heard of Normandi when she read an article by her in Sage Woman about the Egyptian Goddess Hathor. “Who is this woman?” Laura remembers asking herself. Sometime later while visiting her sister in Oregon she met a woman who was carrying Normandi’s book and came across the Knot of Isis chapter and “just loved it.” A couple of years later a friend made a practice of carrying a blood red cord that represented the blood mysteries and leaving a piece everywhere. This is where Laura got the idea to use a chord with the prayer in ritual. She turned the Knot of Isis into a community prayer and made it nongendered.
It soon seemed that Isis wanted this prayer to be used as a healing prayer, so Laura put up a website called The Knot of Isis and encourages people to say it for themselves. She says that Charles Elliott, a Goddess man and member of the Pagan community who had cancer last year, was one of her inspirations for doing it as a healing prayer. Today he is cancer free and Laura is still saying the prayer daily to keep it in her memory.
The blood red cord of Isis seems to have been there all along, the common thread that has run through Laura Janesdaughter’s life, connecting her to the Goddess, to Isis, and to a community of women and Pagans. On Saturday, Dec. 4 you can meet Laura at Long Beach WomanSpirit’s Winter Solstice Faire at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Long Beach. If you come early, maybe you’ll experience the Knot of Isis ritual during the opening circle.