I sometimes ask other Pagans questions that I have had trouble answering for myself just to gain their perspective and knowledge so I can add it to my own. One of those questions is, “What does it mean to be part of the Priesthood?” Often, I am met with silence and a deer-in-the-headlights stare. If I probe further, I most often get a variety of explanations, all of which boil down to, “I’m not part of the Priesthood.”
I happen to think that if you count yourself as part of the modern Pagan movement, you automatically are a priest or priestess. Let me explain my reasoning:
Unless I’m missing something, I think all modern Pagan religions are mystery religions. That is, the relationship between the follower and Deity is totally at the discretion of the follower. This differentiates mystery religions from “revealed” religions in a big way. Revealed religions depend on dogma and common practice for the follower to establish any sort of relationship with Deity. This is usually in the form of written and sometimes pictorial documents that are supposed to be either directly supplied by Deity or (in most cases) inspired by Deity and recorded by mortal humans who are considered prophets in their religion. Although they are not the only examples, the Abrahamic religions are the most notable revealed religions. For a person to be considered a part of those religions, they must show fealty to the doctrine and dogma resulting from the documents ascribed to their Deity. Their pathway to union with Deity is outlined by the doctrine and any deviation from that doctrine is cause for being cast out from the official roles of the religion. Those in positions of authority in revealed religions get to interpret the doctrine and dogma of the documents their religion has declared as sacred. Any interpretation by people outside of this authority structure is considered blasphemous.
Revealed religions are not famous for their tolerance of variety or experimentation.
Mystery religions are, numerically speaking, in the majority of the world’s religions. However, this is not to say they are anything alike. In fact, there are some tremendous differences among the non-revealed faith groups and some mystery religions just don’t mix well with others. But it is the nature of those involved in mystery religions that they usually don’t care much that their neighbor is part of a different faith group. That’s because even within their own faith group, there are countless differences between individuals concerning the cosmology and spirituality that make up their religious practices and beliefs.
In mystery religions, variety and experimentation are the norm and usually encouraged. Each person is given the authority to decide what their relationship will be with the rest of Creation – and the god(s) of that Creation – and what it all means. Each person is considered to be, in some way, directly linked to Deity and must decide for themselves what the meaning of that connection is and how it shall be reflected in their lives.
That is being part of the Priesthood.
It’s that last part – the meaning of the connection and how it will be reflected in their lives – that makes being a priest or priestess interesting. For me, it causes me to question all things, most especially my motivations and the accuracy of my conclusions. You see, I freely admit that most of the time, I’m wrong. Maybe not catastrophically wrong, not life-as-we-know-it-will-end-tomorrow wrong. Just a little wrong so that I’ll have to revise my estimations and calculations about what the future holds. And, of course, that revision will also be wrong, sometimes even more wrong than my original assessments. Oh well.
I want to backtrack to that sentence that says, “it causes me to question all things, most especially my motivations and the accuracy of my conclusions.” Motivations and accuracy of my conclusions. Questioning motivations is problematic. More often than not, we will automatically ascribe the most noble of motivations to even our most stupid actions. However, if we are truthful and have bothered to actually admit to ourselves that we can be (and perhaps sometimes are) sneaky, greedy, and insecure little jerks, finding out that our motivations are less than noble will not come as any great surprise. In fact, the deeper we dig to understand our reasons for doing the (mostly) dumb things we find ourselves doing, the less noble we find ourselves to be. But, let me get off the subject of how reprehensible we humans usually are and go to that second part of the sentence, the accuracy of my conclusions.
Here, I believe, is the single most disturbing part of the whole equation, but perhaps the key to understanding our motivations. Strictly speaking, our conclusions about what is happening now, or in the past, or what might happen in the future are ALWAYS wrong! Or, at best, it can be said that they are never 100% right. We simply can’t know everything about what has occurred, what is happening at this moment, or what will happen at any time in the future. Our sensory equipment is insufficient, our informational system is slow and very limited, and our deductive algorithms are flawed. And, try as we might, there doesn’t seem to be any way we can fully compensate. All the whiz-bang gizmos we invent to help us still rely upon some human factor and therefore are no stronger than the weakest link in the chain, which too often is us. As HAL pointed out to Dave, these things almost always are the result of human error.
And the worst part is we KNOW it. We are constantly faced with our perceptive and comprehensive inadequacies from the moment we are born. This brings me back to our motivations.
Since taking our first breath of air, we learn how limited we are and how that can lead to some very bad situations. Try as we will, there isn’t any way to completely get around the fact that we will never be 100% right and that we will pay a price for our shortcomings. It’s part of the human condition. And that leads to FEAR
As I’m sure you already know, fear can make people do a lot of crazy stuff. Did you also know that fear is the opposite of love? Yup, it isn’t hate that’s the opposite; it’s fear. And here we get back to motivation. I believe that there are just two real motives in life: fear and love. You might think that bringing it down to just two motivations is over simplifying it a bit but, when I’m the most honest and introspective, I have never found my motives to be any more complicated.
There is a big advantage to this belief. Look at it this way: Fear and love can’t exist simultaneously in the same setting. Therefore, if fear is the motive behind one of my stupid actions, the way to counter it is to replace it with love. It may not “cure” what I’ve already done, but it very likely will help get me back on the best path towards harmony with the universe.
That, of course, is a simple thing to say but a much harder one to actually accomplish. A large part of my spiritual education has been directed towards learning how to generate love inside me to chase out the fear. Knowing what I fear helps somewhat as well as knowing the best way to create love inside me. Both together form my main goal as a priest. I want to do this for myself but I also want to do it for others because the more I grow in spirit, the more I realize that “I” and “we” are one.
So, for me, the answer to what it means to be part of the Priesthood is that I want to learn to love… all the time… everything… everywhere. I’m nowhere near accomplishing that but at least I’ve identified my goal and my purpose. I probably won’t accomplish my goal in this lifetime but that isn’t a reason to not set it as my goal and purpose in life.
How about you?