Pagan Studies

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Priesting for the Goddess: Planting the Seeds of Change

Of late, men have been coming together to discuss how in Goddess traditions and broadly in contemporary Paganism, what it means to serve? This need for men to be heard is what prompted me to edit Finding the Masculine in Goddess Spiral: Men in Ritual, Community, and Service to the Goddess through Immanion Press (note, I am still accepting contributions though July 31). Men have stories, and one way we heal the divide is to welcome men's mysteries, and lift up exceptional men. This however isn't a second wave mythopoetic mens movement, but rather community building, reflection, and dedication to service. My friend Devin Hunter for example recently started a Facebook page, Project Pagan Priest. Such platforms couldn't come at a better time, as our community and the world confronts gender binary, equal rights, and how men plant the seeds as change agents. 

Recently a question was asked in the group, what does it mean to be priest? The conversation has been interesting, considering that Project Pagan Priest isn't about one tradition, but rather inclusive of all pagan men. There was a lot of talk about what priesthood specifically that many find ourselves 'torn between ancient models of priesthood and the modern notion of 'clergy' to quote a group member. Others within the group feel that defining priesthood is tradition specific, and this too makes a lot of sense.

The general consensus in the group was that priesthood had evolved. I think many pagans and scholars are in agreement that the ancient priest served the temple as steward,  involved in the daily worship of a specific deities.  In antiquity, the role of caring for temple iconography, recitation the invocations, offerings, and to support the worship and needs of the community was attended to by the priest.  

We know that once monotheism took root, the nature of priesthood changed. Priest became an occupation, the role of cleric (i.e. clergy). Typically because he was versed in Latin the language of Christianity. The role was that of "teacher of the new religion".  The Priesthood had evolved into both business manager of the church as well as its spiritual leader. 

Somewhere in this transition from temple priest to church priest is a host of misappropriations, violence, and supplication in the name of "religion".  Religion, from Latin religion-, religion: supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, and perhaps from religare to restrain, to tie back. I have always loved the definition of religion by Unitarian Universalist theologian, Forrest Church,  "religion is to bind to a set of belief and practices."  We see today, that many people are not bound to one set of beliefs and more and more spiritual movements are struggling for traction. Yet Paganism seems to be growing each year more people turning towards something different.  

One of Paganisms first truths is the development of personal spiritual practice. Here we excel at personal priesthood. Personal Priesthood is the informal, the home shrines and reliquaries, devotionals to ancestors, simple daily practice, and yes, magic. From antiquity to present, in some form there has always been the personal priest.  But what does that mean? What is a priest for paganism today?  How are we priesting for the Goddess?

I am reminded of Village Zendo abbot, Pat Enkyo O'Hara, roshi, who once said, "When asked of all the wisdom traditions why Zen, I said, because I live a life of Zen." 

I think for Pagans the answer is similar. For me, I live a life that's Goddess. It's public in my service be it magic, teaching, evangelizing, or issuing rites of passage. Because I am not affiliated with a coven, my priesthood is not managing polity.  It's private in my personal devotion, and it's temple stewardship in my commitment to Earth as Her temple, and the creatures great and small who reside here. I am absolutely a 'minister of the Goddess' as immanent and as generative Earth.  

The question that is not easily answered is how do we get there? I think this is what O'Hara was getting at. Our Pagan ministries do not follow linear paths, but like Zen it is a living ministry. When we live it, everyday, the priesthood comes naturally.  This is not to say that everyone in service doesn't need training and skills. Many earn the title HP completed an initiation, but that to me doesn't always qualify someone for public priesthood.  However does Paganism need an M.Div and 3 units of chaplaincy to be legit? I think it depends on the role in the world you aspire to.  Paganism is by its nature is interfaith and this is glorious. 

Sam Webster as written prolifically about formal ministerial training. I agree with a lot that he offers and I have been fortunate to have the privilege of such education and community to guide my ministry. But that kind of exposure doesn't always a priest make. Sure that formal training in Faith Development, and a degree in theology gave me the tools for effectively communicating to other wisdom traditions about what Paganism is, but I'm not sure it makes me a better priest of the Goddess? It made me "clergy" for a time, but clergy is a job and I think priesthood is a way life. Priesthood is about doing the work of service and that service varies as widely as our rich and diverse community and is inclusive of men and woman. Many choose to be clergy, follow a linear path to ordination and then are employed. For the priests of the Goddess, often we have other jobs, patch-quilt style training, and at times face vast discrimination because our ministry doesn't by default come with an M.Div, a governing body, and formal recognition.  

Yet we are still priests. Whether we serve the temple of our sacred earth, the 'congregation' of coven or the congregation of the people, it's ultimately a choice in how we live. Service to Goddess, to community, to self is about coming into presence with ego on the back burner and Goddess on the heart. It is about not just 'walking the walk"; but living the life. We live that life when we continue to seek, and when we recognize our shortcoming, and when we celebrate the successes. As I watch the threads grow on Project Pagan Priest, and men engage in heart centered dialogues about who we are as men and the legacy we wish to create, I am honored to be priest among them.  Whether coven bound, or a priest on the go, entering into the service of a living tradition like Paganism is a gift to be cultivated, nurtured, and celebrated. 

When we are Priesting for the Goddess, we are priest for humanity.

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Erick DuPree is a published author, mantra and meditation teacher, and yogi in the Philadelphia area, who seeks to discover the intricacies of life through a Tantric lens. He weaves heart centered practices with ancient Goddess mysteries, holistic healing and art to create better living.


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