The Pagan Priesthood?

With Facebook constantly tinkering with the settings we now have the option to pose questions – from our profiles, pages and groups. To be honest it’s a little more invasive than I’d normally consider letting Facebook get away with but some members of Pagans in Eire might appreciate the annoying reminders the site exists! 😉 Thing is as annoying as Questions might be we managed to get an interesting discussion going… Pagans in Éire’s Facebook Page. Basically the Question posed was:

Do you believe it’s fair to call one’s self a priest/ess if one does not dedicate to deity or deities, yet serves their community dutifully,through social work, etc?

Some respondents have held one perspective and others another and some a middle-ground perspective. The background to the question is based on my recent announcement that I felt myself to be more ‘existentialist pagan’ than anything else. Honestly I have no bones with any deity I just can’t see myself dedicating to them and servicing them. What would be the point? Magically I understand the principle of sacrifice on an energetic level and have no issue feeling shifts in energy as I work with specific Gods and spirits but why dedicate to them? I’m acutely aware of the strong focus in modern pagan and Wiccan 101 books on dedicating to a specific god or goddess or to working with distinctly only one pantheon I’ve blogged previously on my thoughts about this and existentialist paganism, here. I mean there are several reasons a person might identify as pagan, other than religious; for spiritual or philosophical reasons, for ecological or simply lifestyle choices, right?
In my post on Existential Paganism I stated, perhaps overtly defensively, that I had had no issues working magic or experiencing divinity. I suppose I’d be lying if my defensiveness wasn’t due in part to my proclivities towards subversive actions around hierarchy and power. Its long been stated that the modern Pagan Movement (includes religious and non-religious alike) is a heterogeneity and not a homogeneity, meaning Pagans aren’t one distinct group but rather a unity of several groups – each with their own voice (I’m big on everyone finding a “voice” or an expression of self, in case you’re new to this blog)!
Since my post on Existential Paganism I have had some more interactions with folks and a lot of discourse over Terry Pratchett and the idea of “witching” – a concept very popular with many witches because it goes so far to explain the principles which have been at the backbone of modern witchcraft for a long time. I’ll admit to joining the Pratchett fan-base having just finished The Wee Free Men and completely in love with the concept of ‘headology’ as a key tool of witchcraft. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it yet, nor will I scold because there is a series around this protagonist, Tiffany Aching which I have to work into my reading schedule.
Anyway this really fed my imagination around what it means first to be a ‘witch’ and legitimately call one’s self a witch because of what one does. In the Pratchett-verse there is no priesthood of paganism and indeed witching or witchcraft isn’t really about this. This feeds into a long standing argument I’ve been having with myself for a while. If, as I have been dutifully informed there are family lineages of so-called witches in Ireland who are NOT pagan but simply workers of magic or common sense in service to the community and people they know what role might a Pagan Priesthood have? Here we come to the discussion on PIE’s Page, many people who responded felt that it would be inappropriate for a witch or a person to call themselves a priest/ess if they have not be duly ordained by a traditional body or group. I responded by examining the word ordination here because I felt it important to the discussion (more than one person reasoned with the dictionary definition of priest/ess) which was defined on Wikipedia as:
“In general religious use, ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination itself varies by religion and denomination.”
Okay so here we have the idea that one must first be consecrated or made be sanctified or made holy in preparation to function as a servant to Deity or Deities. There is also an acknowledgement of being “set aside” for the role of clergy, presumably being set aside refers to separated from the main community in some respects. Many of the ‘Wicca 101’ books have actually explained this as part of the shamanic type calling witches experience from deity or the divine. I can’t help but wonder what level on agency one might read into such roles? Its something through my multi-faceted sense of identity as witch, magician, gay and having a hidden disability that I find myself in that liminality of space. It is that perpetual sense of Otherness I often hear many other pagans and esoteric types recalling from youth. Personally I think there is an arguement to the idea of what sets an individual apart that always entices a search for group identity. In my lecture on Colonialism/Post-colonial Literature today we discussed this idea of Otherness and the fight of marginalised groups or individuals have when forced to accept a hegemonic perspective. While not innately related I couldn’t help myself snigger at the parables between the Pagan Movement as it moved from so-called counter-culture to it’s more mainstream and in some cases media-swavvy presence today. We still tend to define ourselves as the Other in society though don’t we?

I’m sorry for waffling so much. But if we’re supposed to be this Other that allows society to define itself in certain ways are we guilty of working from a homogenic perspective? Is it a case now that I am pagan just like everyone else? And through all this I wonder if we’ve lost a sense of purpose. For some posters on the Page a priesthood was ordained as I mentioned, yet they’re sole responsibility was to serve the Gods. There was, I think fair to say, emphatic resolution from the majority of these posters that this service to the Gods may not be connected to serve to others around them. Perhaps a resolution might be that service to the Gods is priesthood, while service to the community is ‘witching’ or healing of a certain nature?

Many questions perplex the mind and I’m intrigued to hear others opinions as always. I don’t think there is one clear-cut answer to this, as I mentioned I think Paganism is far too diverse for such a clear definition. x

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