If you have been reading the blog, you would have noticed that I posted a review of “Paganism 101” from Moon Books (editor, Trevor Greenfield) – a book that has given me many, many writing prompts. Today’s blog post will be no exception to that, as I tackle a concept and descriptor that I have eschewed for most of my life: “Priest”.
Anyone who has read this blog or listened to my long period of podcasting or even knows me personally – is aware of my hardcore avoidance of the term and title of “Priest”. I am no Priest for anyone except myself. I have always avoided the usage of the term where I was concerned, so that I would not be wrapped up in any misconception over my role as a Solitary Pagan practitioner. I am a group of one…me. And yet, as I have learned over the years as a podcaster, by placing myself out in the public through my podcasting and my blogging – I am more than just a group of one. For the longest time, I avoided the descriptor of “teacher” – until I understood that even standing up and talking about my manner of being a Pagan on a Path of Druidry placed me in a position of being a teacher. I am not teaching anyone about the mysteries of a belief system. I have no formal students, but I am showing people where I stepped along the rocky Path of my beliefs. In essence, I am showing them where the slippery rocks are, and where I had slipped and stumbled. And for some folks, its a helpful learning lesson that they utilize, and pass on to others. Strangely enough, I am finding out the same thing about the descriptor of “Priest”.
In “Paganism 101”, the very last section is titled ‘Celebrant Work’ and the introductory paragraph is written by someone I admire a great deal – Cat Treadwell. Considering the large amount of celebratory works that Cat conducts through handfastings and other rites in her local area, I was hardly surprised to find her writing this particular introduction. In reading through her essay, I found several passages that have really managed to grab me by the throat and make me take a longer look at my perceived discomfort with the word “Priest”.
What people seem to be looking for in The Person Leading the Rite (whatever their title) is someone to do precisely that. An experienced, preferably trained individual who is capable of holding together a group of varied individuals, leading them to a specific purpose. To act as a Priest, in fact, as this term would usually be understood by the wider society. (p.251)
There is very little, in fact, that is common to all Pagans, except for our reverence of and for Nature, and our active lives within it. (p. 252)
Every Pagan worth their salt has to be able to justify their beliefs on demand. We’ve all heard that simple question: “So, what’s a Pagan, then?” or “What exactly do you do?” The extent of our answer depends on our own deep (or shallow) understanding of what it is that we actually do. Those questions still make me question myself, my own beliefs and practices. And that’s before we even get into the muddy ground of explaining ourselves in a way that is actually understood. (p. 253)
Remember: those who do this are standing for the rest of the community. As I said, each of us speaks for every other Pagan when we’re describing what we do. Imagine that, multiplied to include everyone who is watching. I always have that awareness in my mind when speaking publicly: do I accurately represent each and every one of those Pagans out there? If I saw myself on the television, would I roll my eyes and turn away, or nod and smile? The responsibility is terrifying, and for someone who isn’t a natural show-off, never, ever fun. At heart, I can only ever be myself. But I promised to do my best for my community, and so I do. (p. 254-255)
Four simple statements. And in reading through them, some of you might see these and say – “How in the Nine Hells are these related Tommy?” But they are, my friendly reader. They are. Taken individually, these statements may seem like simple individual statements, but for me – they are pieces to a small puzzle. The first statement shows the typical response to the notion of what a Priest is – an individual that leads participants in a Rite or Working. The second statement is a reminder of what binds all of us on this wide-arching set of beliefs together – as Pagans under the wide big-tent of Paganism, as my friend John Beckett has mentioned a few times on his blog “Under the Ancient Oaks“. For me, the third and fourth statements combine together as a reminder – we can only be ourselves. No matter what training we have received, no matter what order or group we have made ourselves a part of. In the end, we can only be ourselves.
Every ecosystem is a community of beings, perceiving, sensing, experiencing, responding, and more, each community, the whole community of life, being in a constant flow of interactions. A community, then, is a pattern of relationships; within each pattern there are countless smaller patterns, and each pattern itself is a part of a larger pattern and a part of other different patterns. (p. 200)
Taken in with the quotes I have brought here from Cat’s essay, for me its a fairly easy perspective of seeing the role of a Priest. The Priest’s role is to help celebrants locate and experience the interconnected aspects of the web that weaves us all together. If we looked at everything around us in the context of a Song that is sung all day, throughout the day – the verses strung together by our thoughts and actions, with participants in the song constantly stepping into and out of the verses – the Priest is there to bring the chorus into focus, to help bring the Song together between each verse. And where are the Priests exactly? Who are they? We all are. Each one of us adds a voice to the Song, adds a strand of a verse to the Song, helps hold down the rhythm that weaves its way underneath that Pattern.
I am a Priest. Whether I want to believe that or not, I am. Just as you are. Every day we add to that pattern, add to that celebration of being alive, in the here and now, living each moment so that the future continues to unfold in front of us. We sing the Pattern of the Song, so we can celebrate each moment as we experience it, but also so we can remember the experiences as we go forward. Each strand we weave into the Pattern of the Song is important, no matter how great or small – each strand helps to create the Pattern we are.
Yes, I am a Priest – just as you are. I may not fully embrace the title or the term, but I embrace the workings that are part of it. And in my estimation, that is far more important than whatever descriptor I attach to it. I celebrate Life every day. In every breath that I take. In every action I perform. When I add mindfulness to that equation, I discover where I am on the Pattern, and how my strand of the Song fits in. And at the end of the day, when I step out on to my porch to wish the Sun well on its journey to the other side of the Planet, and greet the Moon as She rises in His place – I celebrate what I have managed to create. I celebrate my workings as a Priest.
— Tommy /|\