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Author Topic: To Priest or not to Priest?  (Read 6029 times)

veggiewolf

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To Priest or not to Priest?
« on: April 10, 2012, 11:35:18 am »
I've noticed over the years that there's a disconnect between expectations and actuality when it comes to daily life within a Pagan religion.  Many of the varied faiths have little to no direct instruction for laity, and so newcomers take on activities and rituals that might not be meant for non-priests.  And, when one adds in the "Once a week go to church" mentality that so many of us holdover from our days as Christians we end up befuddled and confused.

Kemeticism is a great example of the priestly practices phenomenon.  Most of the documentation surrounding religious practices stems from the priesthood, but modern Kemetics incorporate the rituals, offerings, etc. into everyday life...and some do this without thinking about whether priesthood is what they ultimately want and, if not, what else they could be doing to apply the religion to their own daily life.

When I look at my former life as an Episcopalian, I'm struck by the fact that my job as a member of the laity involved belief and application only.  We did not decorate with liturgical colors, we did not give offerings to God, we did not take Communion in our homes; we prayed, and read the Bible, and tried to apply the teachings of Jesus to the way we lived our lives.  Ritual was saved for the priests - it was their job.  The laity was involved in orthodoxy while the priesthood took on the responsibilities of orthopraxy.  

I see so many new pagans get so bogged down in making certain they have the right offerings for the gods, and the right objects on the altar/shrine, and the right words...people assume that they have to act as their own priest or priestess, and that's just not the case.  They simply cannot see the concept of applying belief to life without all the trappings, because no one is discussing it.  

Really, if one isn't going to be a priest, do the trappings matter?  If one isn't going to be a priest, how does taking on priestly duties help?  Should a line be drawn and, if so, where?  What's actually important here?
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Auress

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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2012, 12:16:55 pm »
Quote from: veggiewolf;49547


Really, if one isn't going to be a priest, do the trappings matter?  If one isn't going to be a priest, how does taking on priestly duties help?  Should a line be drawn and, if so, where?  What's actually important here?

 
I agree with you on this one. This is why I've tried to avoid most formal ritual when it comes to being pagan. Although, I think that if we try to define "what is priestly ritual", we will find that the definition differs according to whom you're asking.

In my opinion, priestly ritual involves all the pomp and circumstance. The robes, the flowery speak, the rhyme (in a lot of wiccish cases), the verses, the setups (as in, this candle goes here, this athame goes there), the circle casting, etc.

I avoid all that. I don't get involved with the formalities. However, on the whole, a lot of what a common Christian would do "could" be construed as "priestly". Priests still pray, they still read the Bible, they still study religious history, they still try to apply the teachings of God and Jesus to daily life. It's still priestly, in a way.

If we light a candle during something, we're still conducting a ritual of sorts, probably meant for priests in many ways, but adopted by the layman for their own private practice.

It's such a....grey area. Again, totally dependent on whom you're asking and whether or not they see that as a formality. Maybe we should just say that we're all priests, but with varying degrees of formality?

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To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2012, 12:28:15 pm »
Quote from: veggiewolf;49547

I think it's a hell of a problem.  There's a ton of stuff out there about ritual so we assume ritual is the sum total of what's out there.  There's almost nothing about daily life, and that makes it look like the only real option is ritual.  Not daily living.

We need more for daily life instead of priest work.  Priest is important, but even priests have daily life.  And there's just no help for that.

Though anyone that reads my work could probably guess that I'd say that.  :D

Juni

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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #3 on: April 10, 2012, 12:33:51 pm »
Quote from: veggiewolf;49547
I see so many new pagans get so bogged down in making certain they have the right offerings for the gods, and the right objects on the altar/shrine, and the right words...people assume that they have to act as their own priest or priestess, and that's just not the case.  They simply cannot see the concept of applying belief to life without all the trappings, because no one is discussing it.  

Really, if one isn't going to be a priest, do the trappings matter?  If one isn't going to be a priest, how does taking on priestly duties help?  Should a line be drawn and, if so, where?  What's actually important here?

 
I think there are a variety of issues contributing to the situation.

1) As Kiya mentioned (erm, somewhere. Chat? Another thread? I can't recall) the diffusion of Neo-Wiccan beliefs/practices as a Pagan(TM) Norm. Wiccans are all priests, and all Pagans are Wiccans, right? So of course all Pagans must be Priests! It's a little piece of baggage that people don't seem to notice they even have, whether they went through a Wiccan phase or were just exposed to it a lot.

2) The lack of a pre-existing intercessory between themselves and the divine. In Christian religions, the priesthood does the priestly stuff, the laity does... whatever it is they do. (My knowledge of Christian practice is paltry to say the least.) Converts take this baggage with them- if there is no priest role to take on the heavy lifting, then the heavy lifting must fall on everyone.

3) Okay, I'm referencing Kiya a lot, but as she said in a recent blog: People don't know how to live their religions. Religion has a special time, a special aside; do the rituals, make the offerings, and you're done. I think this is at least partially a carryover from going to church on weekends and not having... vocal, I guess, references to faith in the rest of the week. When faith isn't made separate and vocal, observers think there is no faith present, and then the faith gets separated from the action down the generations.

4) There aren't pagan congregations where pagans can do their "once a week"-laity stuff, to see the priestly job done without having to do it themselves. I think some of them crave that activity, and without the ability to participate in a congregational/observational situation, they take it on themselves to get it done. And when they do run into a group setting, it's often modeled on a Neo-Wiccan coven format, which just reinforces the cycle.

I hope that all made sense. (Chat has been... traditionally odd and distracting. ;))
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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2012, 12:36:04 pm »
Quote from: Vermillion;49553
It's such a....grey area. Again, totally dependent on whom you're asking and whether or not they see that as a formality. Maybe we should just say that we're all priests, but with varying degrees of formality?

 
I think that both diminishes the role of a priest, and makes the word essentially useless. Labels are not the end-all-be-all of anything, but if they are stretched to include everything, they cease to have any use at all.
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Maps

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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #5 on: April 10, 2012, 12:55:29 pm »
Quote from: veggiewolf;49547
Really, if one isn't going to be a priest, do the trappings matter?  If one isn't going to be a priest, how does taking on priestly duties help?  Should a line be drawn and, if so, where?  What's actually important here?

 
I've been chewing on this for a little bit, and I think the crux is... do you even have access to a priest or priestly class? Most of us don't, so what do we do in the absence of one?

The entirety of the literature and scholarly texts which I base my faith on, based around the Yucatan Peninsula and surrounding areas from 500-1500 years ago, all take for granted the importance that the roles of priests and religious leaders had (and have) within their communities as determiners of holy days, oracles and speakers for the gods, keepers of myths, literature, and time, and so on and so forth. The principal creator god was a priest and culture hero; from that alone it's easy to infer just how freakin' important the class was. They were the ones that held contracts with the gods, it was up to them to speak and study on behalf of the people.

So what do I, as a solitary practitioner without lineaged training, without a community, do? I do not have someone I can go to and trust that they are a repository of religious knowledge on my behalf, that they can speak to the gods on my behalf, that they can pray and petition on my behalf, that they can conduct ritual and decipher the calendar and the sacred books on my behalf. Those things aren't the whole of religion at all, but for this culture and worldview, it is more than half of the equation.

And even after all that I don't have an answer. :B As for my personal path, I'm going to be getting hold of a couple books that I found that will -hopefully- shed more light on the religious observance of the average Joe and his family. However, I do suspect that my workings can never be completely within the realm of the layperson, since I'm forging my own way; trailblazing doesn't typically go hand-in-hand with being a follower.

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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2012, 01:04:33 pm »
Quote from: Maps;49560
I've been chewing on this for a little bit, and I think the crux is... do you even have access to a priest or priestly class? Most of us don't, so what do we do in the absence of one?

 
To which my question is:  what do you do that needs one?

Frankly, I've found the answer is genuinely "not all that much".  I tend to kick around one of two definitions of "priest".

The first one is the traditional Kemetic "servant in the house of the god".  If there are no active temples - god-houses, in other words - in traditional ways, then there is no need to have people running them.  That job is defunct, because there are no employers.  Now, one can make the argument that that job should exist and work towards that point, but for various reasons my personal feeling is that that's a no-starter.  Which means that the time of priests is over and done with for cultural polytheisms - the edifices that supported priests no longer exist, and we do not have the means to restore them.

(Which of course raises the question of what functions those priests performed are necessary in a changed world, which is a complex one and one that reconstructionists go around and around on anyway.)

The second one is, similarly, addressing priesthood as a job description: a priest is someone whose relationship to the divine or the Powers has relevance to a community. In short, if, should you mess up your relationship with a god, it only really matters to you?  Then you're not a priest.

This of course requires having a religious community in which some aspects of dealing with the divine are delegated to specialists.  If one does not have such a community, then it isn't relevant.
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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2012, 01:12:58 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;49561
To which my question is:  what do you do that needs one?

 
I don't necessarily think it's all about need. Desire is not always sufficient reasoning for something, but it can be.

To use myself as an example: I do not need to attend rituals celebrating various religio-cultural holidays, or participate in large-scale community purification/ritual scapegoating. They are not necessary for my day to day life and interaction with my gods. I would dearly, dearly like to, though, should I be able to find a priest who was capable of performing said actions properly and a community willing to support and engage in such actions. My life without them is not poor, but it would make me richer.

I think a lot of pagans- especially new pagans- can't see the line between need and want. It can be very thin.
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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2012, 01:31:27 pm »
Quote from: Juni;49562
I don't necessarily think it's all about need. Desire is not always sufficient reasoning for something, but it can be.

To use myself as an example: I do not need to attend rituals celebrating various religio-cultural holidays, or participate in large-scale community purification/ritual scapegoating. They are not necessary for my day to day life and interaction with my gods. I would dearly, dearly like to, though, should I be able to find a priest who was capable of performing said actions properly and a community willing to support and engage in such actions. My life without them is not poor, but it would make me richer.

I think a lot of pagans- especially new pagans- can't see the line between need and want. It can be very thin.

 
I think that's a good point, and it's an argument for building the communities that can support that sort of thing.  There are places that will do large-scale pagan rituals of various sorts, but of course those are both sparse and not going to meet the needs of all religions.

There are things that can be done in that direction.  One is the obvious "build communities in which public festivals can be done", which is actually one of the harder ones - given the sparse populations of pagans and how widely distributed we are, it's a rare group that can pull this off, and one is more likely to have to join a group and adjust to its standards and procedures than find something native to one's own base practices.  (For example, an ADF grove.)

I think groups that are starting from a basically tribal structure have an advantage here.  Heathen kindreds, from what I've observed, tend to start from an assumption that they are a local group and meet the needs of those people, rather than trying to fit into some sort of pan-heathen thing that doesn't have any real historical basis.  The organisational level is assumed to cap out at tribe or village scale rather than nation-scale or even just city-scale.  This is also an advantage that traditionally oriented covens have - the chosen family structure builds a community of people who axiomatically care about how everyone is doing with the Powers.

Another thing to consider is the support structure for mystics.  I believe it was someone named Dver whose blog was recently discussing oracles in the Hellenic tradition.  Basically, one of the standard Stupid Recon Tricks arguments, honestly, but the upshot of it boils down to: if we want a priestly service that is as grand as the ancients had (such as an oracle), we need to start with smaller proto-services and build the support structure they need to get better.  Which means, again, that what's available scales with the size - and wealth - of those communities.

Beyond that: definitions of terms and contexts.  My own mystical work has led to some serious crunching around the meaning of "the house of the god", for example.  But we're not going to be throwing whole-city festivals any time soon.  However - around here there's a Hellenic group who considers Patriot's Day (anniversary of the Boston Tea Party) to be a festival of the hero cult of their city, and thus go and pour libations at the statue of George Washington.
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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #9 on: April 10, 2012, 01:51:51 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;49563
I think groups that are starting from a basically tribal structure have an advantage here.


I don't have much to say in reply, aside from "Yes, This," but also: I am now trying to envision Kemetic religion in a tribal scale. Which I think is similar but not quite the same as strictly onion-hoeing.
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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #10 on: April 10, 2012, 02:05:09 pm »
Quote from: Juni;49566
I don't have much to say in reply, aside from "Yes, This," but also: I am now trying to envision Kemetic religion in a tribal scale. Which I think is similar but not quite the same as strictly onion-hoeing.

 
I'm stealing from the structure of rabbinical Judaism on that one, myself.
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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #11 on: April 10, 2012, 02:15:51 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;49563


I think groups that are starting from a basically tribal structure have an advantage here.  Heathen kindreds, from what I've observed, tend to start from an assumption that they are a local group and meet the needs of those people, rather than trying to fit into some sort of pan-heathen thing that doesn't have any real historical basis.  The organisational level is assumed to cap out at tribe or village scale rather than nation-scale or even just city-scale.  This is also an advantage that traditionally oriented covens have - the chosen family structure builds a community of people who axiomatically care about how everyone is doing with the Powers.



Another advantage is that while there is a community priest, the head of household also took on this role for his family. He/she is in charge of offerings, maintaining luck and relationships with the ancestors and spirits. He/she is the religious authority behind those walls. I take on this role in my own home by deciding what offerings are given, how we honor our loved ones, etc.

I can see how single people don't need the pressure of being priest, but what of parents and families? Wouldn't teaching your children about proper behavior, religious morals, ways to connect with deity and conduct ritual, all fall under modern priestly duties?

Or is that just taking it out of context for other pagan paths?
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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #12 on: April 10, 2012, 02:16:43 pm »
Quote from: Maps;49560
I've been chewing on this for a little bit, and I think the crux is... do you even have access to a priest or priestly class? Most of us don't, so what do we do in the absence of one?

....

So what do I, as a solitary practitioner without lineaged training, without a community, do? I do not have someone I can go to and trust that they are a repository of religious knowledge on my behalf, that they can speak to the gods on my behalf, that they can pray and petition on my behalf, that they can conduct ritual and decipher the calendar and the sacred books on my behalf. Those things aren't the whole of religion at all, but for this culture and worldview, it is more than half of the equation.


I agree with this. We simply don't have a large enough population to support a hereditary lineage of priests. Even if we did, that kind of leaves solitary practitioners in the dust, doesn't it? Even the traditions that had a full time, dedicated priest class still had private, home-based cults that were maintained by people who weren't necessarily trained as priests. Modern Hinduism is like that, where a brahmin might be called in to say, perform marriages, funerals, rites of passage, that sort of thing, but it's usually the women of the household (who are most likely illiterate--and even if they can read, they are highly discouraged from reading the Vedas or other sacred texts) who are in charge of making daily offerings, vows (vrats), etc. There are temples, of course, but you can be a "good Hindu" without ever setting foot in a temple. The home-based rituals aren't restricted to the brahmin caste.

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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #13 on: April 10, 2012, 02:24:48 pm »
Quote from: Juni;49558

1) As Kiya mentioned (erm, somewhere. Chat? Another thread? I can't recall) the diffusion of Neo-Wiccan beliefs/practices as a Pagan(TM) Norm. Wiccans are all priests, and all Pagans are Wiccans, right? So of course all Pagans must be Priests! It's a little piece of baggage that people don't seem to notice they even have, whether they went through a Wiccan phase or were just exposed to it a lot.


This is, incidentally, one of the places where I think the massive publication of Wiccan-based Stuff did the community at large and a lot of individuals a tremendous disservice.

Thing is, in initiatory trads that presume everyone is a priest/ess, there's a couple of things going on that are missing in the "I've read this book, now I do this stuff." Namely, a year or more of learning how to do stuff, and ideally a bunch of "how do you live this stuff, not just do the ritual bits a couple of times a month."

(My visit to Minnesota, lo how it highlighted a bunch of these issues in various conversations with tradmates. We do better than some trads I know, but we can do a lot better still, and I'm committed to making that be true.)

1) Time! Whether it's initiate+train or train+initiate, the initiatory systems that have figured out how not to break lots of their initiates have generally determined that time in the process works better than "poof! initiate now!" does.  

No matter what, it's a process, and it *should* take time. And it's part of why a lot of my model of early training is about personal stuff (energy management, finding a devotional and seasonal practice that works for you - I point at my continually blue-painted toenails here and the playlists on my computer.) And then about living in the world, in the best way you can.

This week, I seem to be about to read a bunch of Neo-Platonist philosophy, because that's what's gnawing on my brain - but my religion is part of what taught me to sort out that gnawing of "this would be good" from the simple (but also happy) "this would be fun."

2) The intermediation of the Gods.
I do refer to myself as a priestess. (And, on occasion, borrowing a tag line one of my favorite community elders gave me, "a professionally trained stunt priestess.") I don't know everything, but I know a big bunch of stuff, and if you throw me into a situation that requires someone to calm someone down, or help someone who's grieving, or deal with a difficult life moment, or celebrate a happy one, and they're someone with whom I've got either enough points of religious similarity *or* enough understanding of their own stuff, I can do stuff that helps.

Sometimes this is ritual stuff. Sometimes this is putting on the priestess hat and being a listening ear for friends (and recently, I've been doing it a whole lot for a friend who's a recent convert to Catholicism: she amuses me by telling me what she's getting from the priests in that faith she's also talking to.) And hi, possessory practice within the tradition, so there have been times in the past, and I'm quite sure there will be in the future, when I will be doing the "Hi, here is my body to do your Work." routine in a very fundamental way.

And I'm at the point of looking at facilitating community religious witchcrafty space in *some* format, where I'm living now, and need to go get my act together about talking to the relevant not-that-local esoteric store about if they'd have space I can rent.

And I think that's important for someone to be doing. But there are also parts of priestess duties where I go Meh a lot. I *can* run a perfectly reasonable public ritual. Do I really want to, generally? Mostly, no. I prefer to do stuff where I can play with a known set of patterns, and it's hard to do that in an open ritual. (On the other hand, I will teach, explain, help, etc. at the drop of a hat, given time and energy to do so.)

(And of course, I also work in a tradition where everyone is responsible for lending energy and focus to the working - they might not be running it, but they're expected to participate. I can lead and design congregational model stuff, but if I wanted to do that, I'd be in a different religion, really. And likely still be Catholic, actually, because it's largely the fact I *couldn't* do the core ritual pieces - being female - that got me to start looking elsewhere, finally.)

Quote
2) The lack of a pre-existing intercessory between themselves and the divine. In Christian religions, the priesthood does the priestly stuff, the laity does... whatever it is they do.


This depends vastly on which Christian traditions you're talking about - but the intercessory piece is one of the core issues of the Protestant Reformation.
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Re: To Priest or not to Priest?
« Reply #14 on: April 10, 2012, 02:49:32 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;49561
(Which of course raises the question of what functions those priests performed are necessary in a changed world, which is a complex one and one that reconstructionists go around and around on anyway.)

Ah but see, and this is really only relevant to me here, but the Mayan religion is far from dead; it looks Catholic at a quick glance, but it's really pagan, through and through. And that's not to mention the Lacandons, who more or less managed to escape from the oppression of the missionaries, many of whom go about their lives as they always have. (But their religion isn't my religion.) I guess what they practice could, for the sake of discussion, be considered Mayan Orthodoxy, or Orthodox Mayan Polytheism or what have you.

There are god-houses out there, but they are so far removed from my reality that it would be futile to try and recreate that in my own life. Technically, they don't much resemble the great mountain temples and sunken plazas of the era I look to for guidance, but the formal elements are there. So me attempting to take on even the most minor of roles of the priest in a solitary context, which I do have to do, makes what I practice a different religion or denomination entirely.

So if I use that logic, then it's a non-issue, and I can delineate between priest and laity as I please, because I'm both.

As far as the translation to a tribal structure, I also have the benefit of a social model to work from where my source culture is concerned, so it's definitely feasible, and it's really the only way any of the pagan traditions and paths are going to have a chance at slaking that nostalgia. But finding the people to congregate with is... a completely different matter. :B

Also, I forgot what point I was trying to make by writing this.
« Last Edit: April 10, 2012, 02:50:16 pm by Maps »

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