To be a Priest/ess
Candles flicker, casting strange shadows onto the walls. Ever so carefully, I place another small spoonful of incense onto the charcoal. Clouds of white smoke, fragrant and heady, billow upward, spilling across the bottom of the shelf holding spirit houses and other attachments of my family’s ancestors. The air is noticeably thicker, both physically and spiritually. I dip my fingers into the oil, anointing candles and letting a few drops fall onto the charcoal. I anoint myself and breathe deeply.
It’s the beginning of the third day of a twelve-day long festival that comes every November. There will be further rites necessary to work this evening, but for now I must attend to the morning rites. In total, there are seventeen holy days this month, with other necessary rites dependent upon the results of some of those feast days. It’s a busy, busy month, one that greatly taxes my patience and determination. But I do it because it must be done. I do it because I am a priestess.
To be a part of a priesthood is to walk a path filled with obligation and responsibility to a greater Power than yourself, a Power that knows you intimately, Who sees your for all your faults and failings –and still finds you worthy. It’s not a path to be entered lightly, as there are consequences with every step. There is always Work to do; always parts of yourself that must be tackled, changed, and made more to Their liking. To be part of a priesthood is to always have Someone to answer to.
While others can forego Sabbat celebrations with little more than a guilty conscious to follow, there are no such allowances for a priest or priestess. Feast days and holy days are not just “important days” –they are requisites. You must acknowledge them; you must work the necessary rites or you risk breaking your oath. And breaking an oath to a God is not something that one gets away with unscathed.
But it doesn’t end there. There is always some sort of other work that your Deity will set forth for you, some task They need completing, some person They have called and have brought to you to confirm that person’s suspicions, some thing They need you to make even though the reasons are entirely unclear to you.
To be a priest/ess is to be constantly cultivating a relationship, to be woken in the middle of the night because They have something to tell you. It’s to have your life be consumed with synchronicity, where every day is fraught with messages that must be carefully analyzed, interpreted, and tested.
And all this must be done on top of other commitments, such as family, work, and the necessity of finding free time for yourself so you neither lose yourself in the shuffle of activity nor lose your grasp on reality from spending whole days in trance because it suits Them.
It’s clearly not a path for everyone, and the reasons why some make this commitment are as variable and numerous as the Deities to Whom a priesthood exists. Some individuals are answering a call, the unmistakable knowledge that Deity X has chosen them to Their work. Others are choosing to forge that relationship, contacting Deity X and asking if the arrangement pleases Them. How one comes to be part of a priesthood is not nearly as important as the work they do, the work they are doing, and the work they will do.
The title “priest” or “priestess” still carries with it some romanticized ideas, the misconception that it is glamorous and makes one powerful and wise. But, in truth, it is a title that merely indicates someone with a full plate, with discipline, with a full understanding of the weight of responsibility and obligation, and someone who has no time for bullshit aggrandizement. To be a priest/ess is to be constantly looking within and without yourself.
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