Priesthood and Service

During my recent reflections regarding the path of Druidry, one issue that I have found myself returning to is how we manifest maturity on the spiritual path and what this might mean in relation to what we give to others. While it remains open to a degree of debate, one of the characteristics that might be imagined to define a Druid –  as being distinct from the role of either Bard/Poet or Ovate/Seer – was the way in which they helped mediate specific social processes within their given communities. Whether via legal adjudication, philosophical consultation or by acting a celebrant during major life-rites the role of the Druid/Priest requires that they embody specific principles or perspectives within the external world.

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#Life Goals

Having spent the last 40 years ensconced in a spiritual journey that has allowed me to encounter a wide variety of folks who have laid claim to concepts of Priesthood, I thought it might be helpful to explore some of the shared concepts that seem important to those who minister with varying degrees of esoteric intention.

Perhaps the first and most obvious thing to observe, is that a Priest (whether Male, Female or non-binary) is usually a Priest of something or someone! Priests of virtually all denominational stripes are seeking to mediate and embody a deity, a principle or a process. Even if the mission of our Priesthood is broad, there needs to be a certain degree of clarity regarding the perspective they are seeking to represent to the wider world. Some may be attracted to the status or accouterments of the Priestly role, but without a clear sense of vision as to who or what our service is being offered, such Priesthood is likely to be little more than cosplay. For our Priesthood to have depth it feels critical that we have internalized our goal to a degree that it has truly transformed us; we have moved beyond merely articulating truths and more profoundly we are seeking to become them.

Most forms of Priesthood seem to incorporate both the function of Priesthood i.e. what you actually do and the ontology of Priesthood i.e. how you as a person have been transformed internally by having Priesthood conveyed upon you.  When we examine different traditions, we can see the way in which they place varying degrees of focus on either part of this vocational equation. For some schools Priesthood is predominantly sacramental and initiatory in that the goal of ordination is the alchemical transformation of an individual spiritual DNA. For others Priesthood is less about identity and a person may move in and out of a Priestly function depending on the role or function they are adopting at a given time.

In seeking to comprehend ministerial roles that are more defined by function, I was aware of my own background as a former Christian and the way in which the Protestant emphasis on “the priesthood of all believers” sort to minimize any unique status or intermediary role for those who sought ordination. I am aware of the way in which my own biases have been formed by a good dose of Welsh anti-clericalism, but I’m glad to say that this has slowly softened over time as I have been more fully able to appreciate the initiatory and transformational power of having such vocations acknowledged.

My own journey into Priesthood has been a long and winding one. In my late teens I became a seminarian with a view to become an Anglican Priest, but this was eventually derailed by the crisis of faith that pushed me to explore a more magical-gnostic path. Eventually my exploration of magic and the Thelemic-Tantra espoused by AMOOKOS led me into an intense encounter with the Egyptian deity Sekhmet and I became increasingly aware of the obligations that this experience carried with it. During my own in encounter it was made abundantly clear that if I wished to continue a working relationship with these forces, it would entail both cost and obligations in representing her reality to others. While I am a firm believer that vocation can take manifold forms that are uniquely shaped by the individual and their context, based on my own experience I would question the validity of any call to Priesthood that doesn’t have its basis in both marked intensity and sacrifice.

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Will you have a cup of Tea Father?

Although we should be cautious about any insistence that a person’s Priesthood must involve service to a physical community who hold similar perspectives (this is especially the case if adherents are spread over a large geographical area), we mustn’t underestimate the impact that our presence and embodiment might have on those in our more immediate sphere. The very magical act of someone pursuing a deep vocation and the creative flame of the daimonic-self can be both inspiring and potentially disruptive for those who feel they are simply going through the motions of day-to-day life. This in part is the challenge of our service as a Priest: the ideals and forces that we are seeking to manifest, become intensified and crystallized within ourselves as we take the risk of mediating them to those around us.

In the last 10 years my own Priesthood has found expression via mentoring, writing and more publicly in naming ceremonies, hand fasting and delivering eulogies at funerals. Often those seeking such support have been less concerned about the fine detail of my wyrd theological preoccupations and more drawn to the way in which my own initiatory process has enabled me to sit with challenging life processes. It feels as if what I have to offer is less about metaphysical certainties and far more about an ability to explore Mystery. For me those who manifest Priesthood most readily are those for whom their offer of service to others is as a natural overspill of the work that they are embodying in their own lives. This is at once the challenge of feeling called to such vocations but also the powerful initiatory role they can have in forging our magic.

Steve Dee

 

Big Up the Druids!

I was reflecting on Big Rituals, you know the ones, like Big Dreams they stand out in memory as real turning points. Catastophic and beautiful experiences of revelation. Sometimes Big Rituals feel like this at the time. Things come together ‘just so’ and we receive some flash of insight, some beautiful vision or, if we’re less lucky, a Holy Book 😉 Then there are those rites which are true initiations. They may be impressive enough at the time, but it’s only in hindsight (that most splendid of divinatory tools) that we recognise just how awesome they were – or are. That’s the thing with the Big Rituals, they resonate in ones life long-time.

One such ritual, many years ago, was one which took place in Sussex in the company of some Druids. It was a camping affair, our tents creating a temporal autonomous zone of  jovial and friendly good vibes. Good music, good company, good food and all the rest. Druids, in my experience, really know how to camp (as it were…).

Anyhow, the ritual consisted of a spectaular fire labyrinth. Laid out on the ground, lines of wood-shavings and soaked with some flammable fluid. The spiral design of the maze enabling people to walk in to the shape, circling back and forth into the centre. At the core of the space was the heart of the labyrinth, with the next section leading straight out. Walking such a beast (once lit and the 6ft flames having died down) would itself have been mindblowing. But add to this a composition of a few mysterious sounding notes that one participant had decoded (from a similarity between the design and some aspect of musical notation) and we had the perfect soundscape too.

But the ritual didn’t end there. The plan was once people had walked the labyrinth they’d leave and go and sit in one of two places around the design. Those sitting in one space would be brought by a guide to the Upper Realm. This was a beautiful large white tent, decorated in fabulous Druid Pagan style. In this tent they could do a divination (if I recall correctly) and would then sit singing ‘Arwen’ until all who wanted to journey that way were gathered in.

Meanwhile those who were going to the Underworld would be guided to another dark tent. There they would face their fear and ceremonially die. Suffice it to say that this process was dramatized in a suitably powerful way.

I can’t remember if I was asked or if I volunteered (hmmm – note to self, always check this in case I need to apportion blame later…) but my job was to be the ‘ferryman’ to the dark side. For three hours I walked back and forth from the Underworld to the dying embers of the fire labyrinth, all the while chanting a suitable Ogham rune. It took that long to ‘process’ all those who wanted to die. But serious practitioners each and every one, those folks in the Upper World tent chanted ‘Arwen’ all that time.

At the end of the ritual in my part of  this ritual landscape the dead awoke. We gathered in a circle and the presiding Druid brought us back to the world. We held hands, remembering we were alive again, and in the darkness a cow uttered a long, comic ‘moo!’

The Druid asked us to ‘banish with laughter’, and we did.

Looking back on this ritual it was certainly a Big One for me. It sparked a chain of events which led me into some really challenging territory and has brought me great rewards. This was a major initiatory experience in my own magickal unfolding and while I’ve never formally been part of the Druid tradition I’m honored to have worked with such inspiring and inspired  people.

Big Up the Druids I say!

JV