In modern Paganism, there are lots of people claiming the title of priest and priestess. Yet at the same time it is rather unclear what that title is supposed to mean exactly. In quite a few cases, arguably nothing besides ‘I do believe the Gods exist and I will occasionally tend their altar’. There’s also the problem that to many of us, the only model of priesthood we are familiar with is the one that exists within christianity: people who are ordained by a human institution to serve a congregation by taking care of their spiritual needs.
But how applicable is that definition when we are talking about the Pagan Gods? In most cases (except maybe for more structured part of Paganism like initiatory wicca), there isn’t even a congregation worth talking about. And yet… the notion of priesthood seems to be quite relevant, as there are an increasing number of people who report being called to service by the gods themselves. What then, does it mean to be in service to the gods rather than to a group of people?
I count myself among those who have received such a call. I have made my oaths directly to them, in a private ceremony with no other humans present. I have promised to dedicate my life to further their goals. Now, that sounds all nice and deep and profound if you state it like that, but what does it mean? And so I thought that maybe it might be a good idea to let my gods have a say on this themselves. The messages quoted below were received through a channeling technique called ‘automatic writing’.
Note that different gods may have different opinions on this, and may expect different things from different people, and different times may call for different needs. So I am not claiming this to hold any measure of absolute truth, merely to be of assistance to people who at some point experience this kind of calling themselves, to give them an idea of that it might mean. (Also taking into account that channeling is no guarantee for truth, as I intend to explore further in next week’s post.)
This is what Artemis has to say on the matter:
I am writing to you to explain what I see as the calling of a priestess
I am one that exists on the boundary between worlds, and so I expect the same from one that serves as a priestess to me. This will most often manifest in the form of listening and being a messenger.
A priestess to the liminal is one who walks away from the material world in order to improve her hearing and her seeing. One that understands her life to be in service to the sacred.
One that gives up her own judgement of right and wrong, but instead agrees to be a meeting point where all opinions can be heard. She will not judge or praise. That is not her task. She merely brings together, and forces the opposites to look each other in the eye.
She is the place where the world cracks open and the place where potential is invited to manifest.
She does not strive for personal gain, but sees it as her task in life to offer her voice to the voiceless. She will be the tree that they can use to climb up to witness the skies above for the first time.
That is how she serves the world. She is the priestess of the cup that unites. She only knows a single master, and that is love itself.
That is quite a clear message, it seems to me. Hearing the voice of the gods clearly is a skill. It is something that most people are able to do to some extent, but which will improve significantly with training. Also, arguably it will be easier to hear messages when one makes the time to be open to receiving them. And so it makes sense to have people who are dedicated to providing the service of being reliable channels between the world of humanity and the world of the gods. Ones who are also prepared to take the brunt of criticism and skepticism when the messages they bring can be challenging to hear.
What this does NOT imply is that an intermediary is always needed for communications with the gods. One the contrary. Everyone who works with gods as a part of their spiritual practice should be highly encouraged to get a direct personal relation going.
Unfortunately, the otherworld is also a rather tricky place to navigate sometimes. We all start our explorations there by essentially stumbling around in the dark. And not everything is always what it seems. So… if suddenly you do hear that voice telling you they are this and this deity, what will you do? Are they really who they claim to be? It probably does not matter all that much when their messages are simple psychological affirmations. But there may come a day when claims are made that require a bit more scrutiny, a day when it becomes relevant to be able to check your sources. In occasions like this it can be useful to have a dedicate priest(ess) available that you can turn to for advice, and them having made a vow of being in the service of love and truth should make them a more trustworthy source of information.
Still, it might sound like a form of escapism as well. Our world is very much on fire right now. And so it would seem that what we have most need of right now are activists – people who actually go out and DO something productive. I’ve heard people argue that anyone not standing on the barricades is neglecting their duty. What about this?
Here’s Cernunnos take on that:
The path of service
This post will be a reflection on what it means to dedicate your life to the gods as a priest or priestess.
I would like to begin by stressing that this path is not for everyone, and that there are other ways to show your dedication. It is not because you can not do the things required of a priest or priestess that you cannot be of use. All are needed. The forest can only function as an ecosystem if every task, from the smallest to the largest, is fulfilled.
And in fact, most of what would appear to be the major tasks are not carried out by priests. The ones who build the house and keep it in good condition are not them. Those are tasks shared by everyone.
So then what should a priest or priestess do?
Nothing. Their task is to stand on the sideline. Their task is to be neutral. To be the one that can serve as a gateway when one is needed. They are the ones that spend their time listening and praying. The ones that seemingly do nothing but meditate all day long. The ones that cannot even be bothered to earn enough money to survive on.
Yet they are needed. The ones that have left. The ones that are no longer tied down by the powers that be.
For they have the time to watch, the time to listen, to observe. They have a chance to examine the fabric of reality, and see the flaws in the weaving. They are the canary in the coal mine. They stand aside, knowing that they may well be the first to suffer when things go haywire. And yet they stay loyal. For they know how much need there will be of them some day.
Easy as it may appear from a distance, they have the most challenging task of all. They must watch.
What can be gained from watching then? What is not witnessed does not exist. Experience and knowledge which is gained by nobody, and never leaves the realm of mere potential has no value. When it hasn’t been felt and internalized, there are only mirages that fall apart at the slightest challenge.
Humanity is preparing for a crossroads moment in its existence. Difficult choices will have to be made by those who currently inhabit this planet. There is no escaping. No delaying. The time is now. The time should have been yesterday, but the call was not headed.
That is why we need the priests. They are the ones who have eyes to see. They are the one who can call out and nudge their fellow humans to turn in the right direction. To let them see what was right in front of their noses all along. To make them realize that there might be no tomorrow unless they decide to fight today.
This message is intended for them, the priests and priestesses who sometimes doubt their calling. Who do not understand how they might be called to this type of service when clearly there are much bigger things to be dealt with right now.
You are needed.