It seems like discussion about priesthood is an almost yearly thing. That at least during some point of the calendar year, we Kemetics feel obligated to discuss what on earth it means to be a priest, and how we can define it, how do we know who is a priest and who isn’t… and and and. And every year, we kick the idea around for a bit, realize we don’t really have any answers…. and we put it back up on a shelf to stare at until next year. I’m not sure what causes this revolving door to occur, but if you sit around long enough on various non-temple affiliated forums, you’ll find that it crops up almost like clock work.
The debates that arise from discussing what is necessary for priesthood can get pretty heavy. There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to clergy, and there are a lot of social and economical dynamics that you have to consider when you talk about priesthood. Many of us come from a Christian background, where the priesthood does a lot of stuff that Kemetic clergy wouldn’t had to have even considered in antiquity. Many of us also move into the Pagan/polytheist sphere through Wiccan information, which also promotes that everyone is a priest. Combine that with the very stark definitions of priesthood from antiquity, and you’ve got an organizational nightmare on your hands.
But this post is not about how we could tackle the priesthood topic (I’m working on that, still). This post is about why this isn’t a discussion that is really worth having right now.
There are a lot of reasons behind this, but the most important reason is resources, and whether we like it or not, priesthood, whether affiliated with a temple or not, requires a lot of resources that our community doesn’t really have. We don’t have many resources in just about every sense of the word. We lack people, the people we do have often lack time or money, and we also lack knowledge (in some cases) as well as structural support from our religious community. All of these things compound to make the discussion about priesthood (and many times, temples as well) very interesting, but pointless because priesthood at this stage of the game is the equivalent of putting the cart before the horse.
Back when I was in college, I was taking a writing class where we discussed how to make stories believable and how to flesh out character development. During this writing class, I was introduced to the concept of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those who don’t know about Maslow’s Hierarchy, it’s often represented with a triangle or pyramid (as seen above). Each level of the pyramid shows a person’s needs for survival. When a tier’s needs are met, the person is able to move forward to the next tier.
The tier on the bottom is considered the most basic and the most important. If you’re not eating, sleeping, or healthy, your concerns about other stuff become heavily diminished. You’ve no time for soul searching and ethical dilemmas if you’re not getting your basic health requirements, or so the theory goes (a relatively simple explanation of Maslow’s hierarchy can be found here).
When I see our community, I see something very similar to a Maslow’s triangle. I see that we have needs, we have stuff we need to accomplish if we want to be a viable community that lasts for a couple of generations, and priesthood is near the top of the pyramid. And much like the golden capstones that you’d find on real life pyramids and obelisks- if there is nothing beneath that capstone to support it, that capstone has nowhere to rest and ultimately falls to the ground.
Another way to frame this is that without a lay person base, without a community and all of its trappings, without these very precious resources, there is no priesthood. The capstone that would be the priesthood (not because priests are better than everyone, but because priests are a small percentage of the larger group) would be stuck on the ground, if not missing entirely. Much like the Egyptian kingship that folded in on itself at the end of the Old Kingdom due to overspending and lack of resources, we too will ultimately fail if we try to move too far too quickly. As it is said, you have to be able to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. Placing priesthood at the forefront of our concerns puts us at running before we’ve even really started taking our first steps.
First Steps First
I once wrote about the various considerations needed to make a temple or organization. When I view the community at large, I tend to look through the same lens as I did for that post. As mentioned above, we have needs. Our community needs things if it is to survive. Instead of talking about how we want priests to be around to help the community (because that’s what most people want modern priests to be- facilitators for our non-existent community), let’s talk about what the community can do to help start the formation of it’s own “Maslow’s Hierarchy”. If priesthood is, in fact, the end goal for some people, then we need to start re-framing the question by looking at what the community itself needs in order to build up to the priesthood pinnacle.
I often call what I do in the community “laying foundations” because from where I am standing, we need a good foundation to build off of before anything else within the community can become possible. Our community at large needs more foundations laid out in order to help facilitate the bigger and better things that everyone wants.
These foundations can come in many forms. Some examples would be:
- People: We need people in order to actually be a thing. Compared to most other groups in the Pagan/polytheist community, Kemetics are pretty small in number; and when you take out the Kemetics who are already affiliated with a temple (where our priesthood discussion doesn’t apply), that number gets even smaller. Small numbers means small resources. As much as some folks like being niche and obscure, at the end of the day, more people = more ability to do things.
- Religious Structures: When I say structure, I don’t mean buildings. I mean we need calendars and rituals. We need guidelines and methodologies that people can adopt. We need to actually have guides for “this is how we do things” so that others can come in and do those things.
- Knowledge: This goes hand in hand with the last bullet point. We need to know enough information to be able to format that information into something we can actually use. Slowly, we are getting more useful information for religious practices, but it is a slow progress, and one that may need to progress a bit more before we actually have enough to work with.
The list for foundations could go on and on, but I think that these points sum up the most important parts, and they are the parts that I regularly focus on in my community building activities. If we want to make priesthood a viable thing in the future, this is where I think we need to start, and you will notice that most of these topics have little to nothing to do with priesthood on the surface. That’s probably why many people don’t want to focus on them: they are unglamorous and difficult to establish. However, these things are vital to our longevity. They are necessary in order to bridge the gap between here and where we want to be.
Much like with the logistics post above, when I see someone mention that a priest should help the community, I have to ask: what community? Where are these people that the priest will help? Or if someone mentions the requirements for rituals that a priest needs to perform, I have to ask: where will they get these rituals? When people mention priests helping with funerals, marriages, or counseling, I again have to return to: where will they learn all of this stuff? Where will they get the resources, the time? Our community is only starting to grow. We’re just barely establishing a presence in the larger communities, and we haven’t even crossed the threshold into having good printed resources that newcomers can utilize. We’ve just barely gotten started. And while I don’t necessarily disagree with a lot of ideas about where priesthood could go, or what it could be, but I just don’t see many people actually doing anything to get us from point A to point B.
It is my belief that until we start focusing on the foundations, on the basics of our religious community, and building those foundations up (much like a pyramid), the discussion of priesthood is pointless. And only once those things are somewhat in place will the concept of priesthood actually be able to take hold within our community (in whatever fashion it chooses to ultimately take). Perhaps instead of discussing everything that we’d like to see in the community, people can actually get out and start doing the leg work (or supporting others who are doing the leg work) and we can get from A to B even faster.
How important do you feel having an active priesthood is for the community? What changes or improvements do you think the community needs to make in order to facilitate a future priesthood? Do you think a cohesive priesthood will ever be a “thing”?