This weekend, I am putting together the latest episode of “Upon a Pagan Path” and I am featuring a talk from Cat Treadwell on Priesthood. This weekend is also the Many Gods West conference, which I wish I had the vacation time to go to, but unfortunately do not. There’s always next year though. However, both of these particular points have helped clear some of the fog I have had on what I am writing about now – the growing future of modern Paganism.
Before I get going too far, let me preface all of this with one point: this is completely my opinion and perspective. I do realize that there will be those who disagree with me on the overall context of what I am presenting, and perhaps even just in the manner in which I am presenting it. I am not writing this to create a reaction. I am writing this as the start of a conceptual dialogue. Much of this comes directly from listening to conversations that were had in open, public space within Pantheacon, as well as a few private conversations had around campfires at OBOD East Coast and Gulf Coast Gatherings. Other parts of this were inspired from the writings of other bloggers, such as John Beckett, Byron Ballard, Shauna Aura Knight, as well as the writings of Authors such as Joanna van der Hoeven, Cat Treadwell, Nimue Brown, and many, many others. The conceptual idea behind this post arrives directly from those campfire conversations, where a few people have gathered around, and take on the role of “solving the world’s problems” over a cup of beer underneath a blanket of stars. So, please understand, I am not seeking debate…I am attempting to start a conversation, whose roots go back into all that I have read, discussed, and overheard over the last two-plus years. Hopefully, in the end, you’ll not only understand, but also start to ask similar questions and seek out campfire conversations under similar night skies.
There are plenty of “introduction” books and blogs and podcasts out there. Lots of information for the Pagan taking their initial steps on this Path. Many breadcrumb trails for the exploring Seeker to locate and follow as they grow their knowledge and understanding of something that seems foreign, new, and fresh. But what about those who are looking to grow their knowledge and understanding beyond these introductory points? And those who are wanting to create new knowledge?
In the past, I have discussed some of the difficulties I have in accepting the title of “Priest” within what I do as a polytheist Pagan. But as I have started to dive deeper and deeper into my personal studies, I have started to notice a trend that has helped explain parts of my trepidation. Many of us “elders” (another term I have had some difficulty with, and for some of the same reasons I am about to note) came to Paganism from other initial Paths. Many of us started out our lives being taught aspects of the various Christian faiths in our youth. As such, many of the similar terms that we utilize within our Paganism continues to hold an undercoat of what we learned about Christianity. Let’s face it, when people talk about “priests” – many of us normally envision a Catholic Priest, or perhaps even a Baptist preacher, each leading in the instruction of their respective faiths to their seated, quite and respectful congregations. Yet, when we talk about being Priests within the Pagan community, our understanding of the term can sometimes be at complete odds with what we initially learned in our lives.
I can easily state that I am no Priest in the same vein as a Catholic Priest or even a Baptist preacher. The very thought of being similar to either of these archetypes makes me cringe in horror. Neither of these functions are what I do as a Priest to Fliodhas. Nor are either of these concepts what I do as an ally of Crow and Coyote. Yes, I perform rituals to honor each of them, as well as other Gods. I perform rituals to honor the cycles of the Year. I read books, magazines, and bloggers to grow my knowledge and understanding on various topics and ideas, and perhaps people get similar things from what I write. I am a Priest, just not in the sense of what I perceive of that term from Christian upbringing.
But then there are so many other terms that we utilize in our Pagan practices that are heavily tinged in understanding from the Christian faith. Ritual. Sacrifice. Priest. Rites. Celebration. And the list can continue on and on. I have begun to wonder whether its this slight tinge from our collective pasts that can cause problems for us in transitioning from 101 Pagan thought to growing towards 201 Pagan thought – to borrow a piece of imagery from the collegiate community.
So who dressed our Priests, Priestesses and to some degree our rituals in these definitions? That would be us. We brought our own understanding and luggage from our earlier years with us. Our understanding of authoritarian figures such as the Priest and Preacher came from our early years in our respective churches. Our understanding that the patriarchal figures were those that could interpret the holy scriptures for us at the Sunday morning congregations came from the heavily male-oriented Christian models that were a part of nearly every Sunday we partook as a family. Arriving within Paganism, this male dominated perspective was one of the easier things to shake off for most of us. Providing an equal voice between the sexes was not a massive jump. But shedding the clothes that we put on the archetypes of leadership in the form of the Priest and preacher are far more difficult to remove. Even when females fill those roles, we still ascribe similar functions and authority to those roles.
And its not just those roles that provide the stumbling blocks. Our symbolism of what ritual is to each of us is rooted in that same Sunday-morning programming that we had undertaken. We come together. We open our ritual. We sing together. We allow the authoritarian figure to speak of what the celebration means. We celebrate our rite, we sing again, we close. We go home, and change out of our Pagan-day clothes and rejoin our regularly scheduled day.
Some folks are refreshed from these ceremonies and rituals. They allow the experience to get hold of them and enjoy the ecstatic experience that their beliefs bring to them. Others, go through the motions, and are content with being around others txt they consider to be friends – not partaking in the ecstatic experience that their beliefs provide. And all of that is fine. Each participant will get what they can/want from it. But I am left to wonder, are the tinges of Christian faith holding back the ability to grow our Paganism?
Interestingly enough, we have a phenomenon currently taking place in today’s Pagan communities that was not as large nor as prevelant as before: we have young adults coming into their own within our community that have known an entire upbringing as Pagans. From my perspective, I would term this young adults as “native Pagans”, but that term may not be completely appropriate. But I am excited to see where they will take Paganism in the coming years, without the constraints and wrappings that may be there with definitions and terminology tinged from a monotheistic belief system. I am curious if they will strip the terms and definitions down to the bare bone, and then build those up in their own understanding? And if they did, where will it go?
I have several discussions on the Blogosphere that have talked about “rewinding” Paganism – taking it back to its roots, in order to allow it to progress forward in a different manner. On this, I complete agree. I do believe that Paganism – at least my own individual understanding of it – needs to take a step backwards in order to progress forward. That I need to strip back the meaning and definitions of some of the terminology I use – particularly those where I find myself averse to the usage of it because of the Christian clothing I have dressed it in since my youth. bring it back to the barest definition, and then build it up from there – carefully, slowly – insuring that I only add perspectives and perceptions that work directly for me, and shed the clothing from a monotheistic belief system that no longer works for me or fits into my daily practice.
Its my sincere belief, that its the tinge of Christianity which plays a huge part in how Paganism gets hold back in a 101 stance, when it could move forward into a 201 stance. I also believe that each individual will need to assess how much, if at all, that this restrains some of the growth of Paganism into the future. For some, what I am suggesting might be a silly notion, and I understand that. For others, they may see a lot of what stilts and stunts their own personal growth, and need to step back and re-evaluate. I wonder whether this is something that the over-arching Pagan community may need to look over and evaluate as well, going into the future? On that particular perspective, I can’t answer. My Path is mine to walk on my own. I sure don’t mind the company during parts of it though. So, please walk alongside with me if you like.