A Priest/ess is a Spiritual Specialist

John Beckett over on Patheos wrote a fabulous article on what “priesthood” means in a modern Pagan/polytheistic context. I HIGHLY encourage everyone to go read it. It’s ok – I’ll wait.

*waits*

Wasn’t that wonderful?

Priesthood is a topic I’ve written about before, albeit indirectly, but I’ve been playing with it in my head for the last little bit and decided this was as good a time as any to put my thoughts into words. I think it’s something anyone working within a polytheistic framework needs to understand, even if it’s just to define where we don’t want to go with our spiritual life.

Personally I identify as a priestess before any of the other spiritual titles out there. I always have. For me “priest/ess” is essentially interchangeable with “spiritual specialist”, and that fits me better than anything else. To my mind there are two incredibly important parts to being a spiritual specialist – private devotional work and the public facilitation of spiritual experience.

So let’s look at those.

Devotion

Frequent readers of my blog will likely be familiar with my devotion to my Lady. It comes up a lot. When I say “devotion” I’m using the word in the dictionary sense – the love, loyalty, religious fervor, and dedication I have to/for Her, and to a lesser extent the other Powers with whom I work.

Devotional practice covers a lot of ground. Personal prayers and offerings fit here, of course. Meditation and daily devotions, both primary ways of fostering two-way communication with the Powers, are also part of the devotional side of things. This also includes the creation and maintenance of my home altar space, the hours spent studying lore and philosophy, and the time/effort involved in obeying the various instructions and taboos I’ve been given.

That’s all fairly predictable. But there’s a strong component of privacy bound up with the definition of “devotion”, and that too is important to me. My devotion is a private affair, between myself and the Powers. I can share what I study and learn with others, but those others aren’t why I’m doing it. They are not my motivation or my guide. If I was living as a hermit and never saw other people ever, if my ability to blog vanished and I had to hide everything I am from those around me, this is the part of my practice that would continue unchanged.

My home altar, where I do my private devotional work.

For me, all the things I do in my personal daily life that aren’t specifically spiritual in nature but stem from my spiritual practice also fall in the “devotion” category. For instance, as I mentioned in my last post, my Lady is all about helping others reach their potential. As a result I’ve found myself becoming more and more passionate about causes like childhood education and LGBT rights. This isn’t at my Lady’s direction, and isn’t really being done as an offering for Her, but it comes from how my devotion has influenced me and shaped my worldview.

Facilitation

Devotional work is personal, but facilitation is a public service. This part of the priest/ess gig is all about how I help others experience and enhance their own spiritual lives. There are three components to the way I approach facilitation: helping others observe the cycles, providing alternative perspectives, and helping others connect to the Powers.

The aspect of facilitation most directly related to my Lady in particular, and most commonly associated with the work of the priest/ess, is helping others mark/celebrate/commemorate cycles, almost always in some sort of ritualized way. This can include seasonal festivals (cycles of seasons), rites of passage and Ordeal rituals (various life cycles), etc. It also encompasses how I help people move on from past stages or experiences, usually through counseling or Ordeal work. Sometimes I lead the rituals myself, sometimes I advise, sometimes I simply clue people in to the idea that whatever they’re doing could be done in a ritual context and thus possibly have more meaning for them. The most recent example of this was helping an old friend ritualize a memorial tattoo for a lost loved one as part of her grieving process.

An actress, playing the role of a Greek priestess, receives the flame used to light the torch for the Olympic Games.

Actresses, playing the roles of Greek priestesses, transfer the traditionally-kindled flame used to light the torch for the Olympic Games in 2012.

Perhaps surprisingly, providing alternative perspectives – not facilitating ritual – is the majority of the work I do in this area. One of the first lessons my Lady taught me was that changing our perspective changes our reality, and that the magick we do through perspective shifting is some of the most powerful magick out there. Seeing a situation from different perspectives helps us reach a deeper understanding about it, be more aware of the bits and pieces that went into it, and thus better react to or adapt it. There’s also an aspect here of challenging what we think we know.

This can manifest in many ways. Sometimes I’m a sounding board, supporting people as they verbally navigate through confusion and helping them clarify things. Sometimes I play devil’s advocate, helping others put their thoughts and feelings into words by being intentionally contrary. At other times I simply listen, and through listening validate their experience or allow them to purge what may be blocking them. Circumstances might dictate the use of divination, or Powers might speak through me and relay things others need to hear. The method used doesn’t matter. As long as the person I’m working with gains some sort of insight or clarity I’ve done my job, even if their ultimate decision/action still remains murky.

The final aspect of facilitation for me is lending whatever support I can to those attempting to connect with or deepen their connections with the Powers. This can include showing by example, sharing experiences/stories/knowledge with whoever might need it, teaching techniques and skills at need, etc. I do that all in person, of course, but blogging and Facebooking about these topics fulfills the same purpose. I do other things in this category too, like maintaining a religious/spiritual library for source material, networking so I can offer alternatives if something comes up I can’t handle, and overall just being available as a resource.

Putting it Together

Devotion and Facilitation, as I’ve divided them here, could just as easily been Private Work and Public Work. I think a priest/ess needs to do both. YMMV, of course, but I think there are different terms for a reason. I’m a big fan of specificity, and that matters even more than usual when we’re talking about spiritual topics.

If someone is doing Devotion/Private Work, without having a public component to what they do, then I think something along the lines of “devotee” would be a more appropriate term. When I was doing strictly private work my Lady called me Her votary. I really liked that – I linked that to votive candles in my head, and took it to mean that my life was a flame in Her honor. “Laity” would also be completely acceptable here. The majority of any faith’s believers are those who honor their god(s) at home, maybe attend a ritual a few times a year, and otherwise live a secular life. And that’s fine. Not everyone is meant to be a spiritual specialist.

On the other hand, someone focused strictly on the Facilitation/Public Work, without maintaining a personal devotional practice,  is really more of a Facilitator than anything else. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, it can be helpful to have someone truly neutral facilitating a ritual or offering counseling/divination services. I’m my Lady’s before I’m anything else, and there’s no way for me to run a ritual or do a divination without Her presence. Even if She’s not specifically invited She has an open invite simply because I’m there. That’s not always a good idea, or what the person seeking services needs at that particular time. In those cases having someone facilitate without strong ties to Anyone might very well be the best option.

While lay members and facilitators both have their place, priests and priestesses are necessary too. By filling both private and public roles they can share insights and skills between them. The dedication and insight provided through devotional work informs their work with public ritual, and working with the public provides further growth opportunities and perspectives to bring back to the devotional table. That kind of role-sharing lends a unique expertise, and that expertise is deserving of its own label.

I know these are loaded terms for many people and that my view isn’t going to work for everyone. That’s ok. Does anyone else have an alternative view on the topic? If so, by all means say so in the comments!

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Arianrhod is a Bit of a Compulsive Goddess

I enjoy reading Galina Krasskova’s blog. We don’t agree on everything, of course, but I felt a lot of resonance with her latest post about how Odin is a very utilitarian God. That post ended with the following:

Now, readers, tell me about your Gods, and Their quirks, and the parts of Their nature that you have personally found to challenge others the most. Forgive the rhyme, but let us learn together to venerate better.

*nods* OK then. Let’s do this.

I follow Arianrhod, the Lady of the Wheel, the Welsh goddess of Fate. She is as complex and multifaceted as any goddess out there, and She’s got a lot of different irons in the fire, but in Her heart of hearts She is driven by one Purpose that overshadows everything else: All potential must be realized. That’s the key to everything with Her.

In Her eyes we are nothing but potential. Her job – Her joy, Her fetish, Her very reason for interacting with us at all – is to nurture and develop that potential to its fullest extent. The thing to really understand here is that She could not care less about what the potential is for. She’s not encouraging people to develop their potential in any particular way, isn’t working towards any Machiavellian agenda of Her own. She simply cannot stand to see any potential wasted.

*fretting* All that potential, right down the drain. If only it had been channeled somehow…

Honestly I often think She’s OCD on the topic. It’s more of a bone-deep compulsion than anything else, and because of that compulsive nature Her approach is … energy-intensive. To avoid wasting potential we must first be aware that waste is happening, then decide what we’re going to do about it (because obviously we’re going to do something about it – right?), and then we actually have to implement whatever plan we’ve devised. So that’s what She thinks we should be doing. Constantly. She expects nothing less than our 24/7 involvement and engagement on the awareness/assessment/implementation front. After all, She’s putting in the time!

She’s not totally unreasonable, and in fact this focus can lead to amazing things. She just sometimes forgets that we’re only human. She fully understands that actually breaking people is counter-productive, and as long as She’s reminded occasionally She’s really very good at avoiding it. I’ve even been able to request breaks when I’m completely overwhelmed, and as long as I’m not slacking She’s been open to that. She’ll dance you right along that edge of what you can handle – pushing limits is par for the course, and “safe” is in no way equal to “comfortable” (a distinction anyone working with Her learns damn quick!) – but She’s got an expert’s eye of exactly where the edge is and is always open to honest feedback. That open quality alone is worth its weight in gold, and goes a long way to explaining how She has engaged my loyalty on such a deep level.

We walk the rope. We might fall all on our own – failure is learning, after all – but She makes sure the wind and rain don’t knock us off while we try. And if our legs start spasming from the strain we’ll be allowed to rest a bit.

I think it’s that expert eye for the edge coupled with that openness to new perspectives that gives Her the practical streak that is Her hallmark. She can cut through excuses and obfuscations and self-justification with a truly divine eye for bullshit. Self-delusion and people-pleasing behavior simply aren’t tolerated. They’re barriers between us and whoever we’re becoming, blocking or artificially shaping how our potential develops. But reasons? Legitimate reasons? That She can (often gleefully) help with.

See, She wants us to notice and take care of issues all by ourselves, because that’s part of personal growth. But sometimes we’ve tried everything and need a little boost. When that happens, and we request it, She’ll help just enough to get past the hurdle – often teaching Valuable Character Lessons along the way – and then step back so we can do our thing again. I’ve never had a cheerleader as unfailingly encouraging as my Lady.

There’s a whole other side of Her, though, if we slack off, if we refuse to see the problem, or if we refuse to do the work. That’s when the gloves come off. She has no compunctions about doing whatever necessary to make us sort our shit. And Her toolbox for that kind of thing is pretty extensive.

how-to-organize-tools-1

Let’s see, we can try “coaxing”, “screaming”, “sink or swim”, “patient education”… I know! We’ll go with “bruises teach best”! *pulls out a paddle*

It is simultaneously the most accepting and most demanding perspective I’ve ever encountered in my life. You can be anything you want to be, anything at all, so long as you do it full throttle and full speed ahead. This one concept dominates every single interaction with Her, and once it’s understood to a large extent so is She.

She sees every person (and every Power, too, as far as I can tell) as a work-in-progress. As far as She’s concerned our only job is completing that work. To do that requires us to constantly be moving, growing, changing. It’s a 24/7 task, and She won’t let us shirk it. Ever. As soon as I settle somewhere in any facet of my life and start relaxing a bit She’s there to prod me onwards to a destination not even She can see. Sometimes the prods lead to external changes, sometimes to internal shifts, but there’s always some kind of change happening.

Willing to stay where you are indefinitely? That’s simply not acceptable. If you don’t move of your own accord in some way or fashion She’ll make you. You have been warned.

After all of this time with Her I’ve learned to see the world through this lens of potentiality, and in many ways it governs my life. I am potential. No matter where I am now, or where I want to go, there is always the potential to change things. It’s an incredibly empowering concept, and it applies to everyone. That’s huge. The whole idea has affected the way I plan for things, how I interact with others, how I enforce my personal boundaries, how I choose where to live and work, etc.

My Lady is many things – a poet, a leader, a librarian, a guide, a weaver, a visionary, a Mistress, a nurturer, a coach, a ball-buster. But above all else, My Lady’s obsession with realizing potential is often the hardest for other people to really understand and work with, simply because it is such a difficult concept for most to internalize.

Has anybody else reading this worked with Her in a similar fashion?

I’m Not a Superhero. And That’s OK.

Last year I was fortunate enough to help facilitate a community Ordeal ritual, which I discussed here. I’ve stayed in sporadic contact with participants, and so I’ve had an amazing opportunity to appreciate the lingering effects this Ordeal had and continues to have on so many people. That’s been invaluable for me, both as someone who facilitates these experiences and someone who experiences them myself.

Last year’s event went so well that I was invited to help out this year too, with Dark Odyssey’s 2014 Fusion event. Unfortunately I had to decline the invitation. Gigs to present at these kinds of events often don’t come with travel reimbursement, and rising plane fares simply put attendance beyond my budget. I kept hoping I’d pull a rabbit out of a hat, but when $600 spare dollars didn’t turn up in my couch cushions I had to bite the bullet and accept the fact that I simply would not be able to go.

Like this. Except with a lot more cursing and 3 am airfare price-checks.

Like this. Except with a lot more cursing and 3 am airfare price-checks.

I posted a little “so sorry I won’t be able to attend, but y’all have a great time!” message on the group page, sighed deeply, and figured that would be that.

Except it wasn’t.

Apparently I’ll be missed. I received numerous personal emails from last year’s participants expressing regret that I couldn’t attend. They had been looking forward to seeing me, and even better had been looking forward to participating in workshops/events/rituals I’d had a hand in. Their lives have changed over the last year and they wanted to catch me up in person on exactly how they’ve grown. My Work matters to these people, more than I ever knew. I’ve touched their lives in tangible and fundamental ways, and they went out of their way to let me know that.

I cried. Flat-out cried. I can’t really express how much I needed to hear that.

A fundamental component of my world-view is the idea that “our perspective creates our world”. As the news of school shootings and sexual assaults and this never-ending war crashed over me, as I felt more and more disconnected from my family, the faith I had that any of the things I fought for would ultimately matter took a real beating. It’s been hard to stay optimistic, or at least snarkily amused, about the world around me. Every day things seemed to get a bit bleaker, a bit colder, and I’ve noticed a corresponding downward shift in my perspective. Finding a silver lining anywhere more and more felt like I was whistling in the dark.

And each set of eyes is a Dementor. Yeah, I read Harry Potter. It's not ALL ancient philosophy in Casa de Caer!

And each set of eyes is a Dementor. Yeah, I read Harry Potter. It’s not ALL ancient philosophy up in Casa de Caer!

I mean, it’s not like my day-to-day life fundamentally changed or anything. I still woke up, worked, and slept. I still did my daily devotions, covered my head, and worked on the various projects I have going on. I was totally and completely aware of exactly how fortunate I was to have the bandwidth for an existential crisis when there were all too many others out there stressing food/clothing/shelter.

None of that seemed to matter where it counted, though. I kept coming back to whether or not I was accomplishing anything doing the things I do. I’m very goal-oriented, and not seeing results from my hours and hours and hours of effort was discouraging. I’m just one person, one voice, one pair of hands, one blogger/educator/lunatic among many. I am not Batman or Wonder Woman, saving the world from comic-book villians in the dead of night. I’m a simple priestess, busing to and from my tiny studio apartment outside of Seattle, in bed by 9p unless I’ve got ritual that evening. Did any of my Work have any sort of effect in the larger world at all?

Yes. Apparently yes, it does. Apparently, even if the world is imploding, I don’t need to be a superhero to make a difference.

Which rocks, because even if I can find the outfit I've yet to figure out flight.

Which rocks, because even if I can manage to find the outfit I’ve yet to figure out how to fly.

These emails are straight-up validation, folks. My Work does matter. I have helped people, and a year later my Work is still helping people. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and that seems to be enough for now.

Why do I need to be a superhero, when I can say that?

Pagan Men and Patriarchy

I haven’t written much here lately. To be honest, most of my attention has been wrapped up in discussions/debates about the UCSB shooting in other forums. Those discussions have been so draining I honestly haven’t had the energy for much else. And I didn’t have the heart. I had just finished a whole thing on consent in response to the Kenny Kline situation – what more could I say?

Well, according to my tired fingers, lots.

I don’t think it can be argued that we live in a patriarchal culture with a prominent layer of misogyny. The silver lining to the Rodger rampage is that the misogyny has been exposed for viewing in a way we can’t ignore. It seems like everyone I know has had at least one conversation about the #YesAllWomen hashtag, about rape culture, about male privilege. Misogyny might be “the way it is” now, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can change it.  The question is how.

Again and again, as I’ve participated in these discussions, it’s occurred to me that Pagan men have a somewhat unique perspective when it comes to the fight against patriarchy and misogyny. In most cases, these men voluntarily stepped away from faiths dominated by a patriarchal Father-god to embrace faiths that include a Divine Feminine. That’s huge.

As a result of that step, they’ve learned whole new ways of relating to masculinity, femininity, strength, and power. Some of the most passionate feminists I know are Pagan men. They are pioneers, working with women to confront power-over structures and find alternatives. I’m not saying that Pagan men are the only men doing this kind of work, but they’re doing a lot of it!

These are exactly the kinds of lessons other men need to learn if we’re going to address the issues brought to light by recent events, and in my opinion, these lessons are going to be most effectively taught to men by other men. There’s definitely something to be said for effective role modeling!

I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about all of this and couldn’t find the words. Luckily, a bunch of Pagan men can, and have, and did. They stated this better than I ever could.

Here are some of my favorite posts Pagan men have made recently addressing these issues. May you be as encouraged by the reading as I was.

Dude, It’s You” by John Beckett on Patheos

“’Men Need to Decide if They Want to Stand Up and Be Allies’: Dude, It’s Not About You” by Anomalous Thracian on Thracian Exodus 

Thoughts About Being a Man” by Phil Brucato on Satyros Phil Brucato

Misogyny and Killing Sprees” by Adrian Moran on Looking for Wisdom, Ancient and Modern

Pagan Men Speak Out on Patriarchy and Misogyny” by Tim on Intersections and Circles