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Why Priesthood is Pointless

25 Jun

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.

A Frame of Reference: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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”?

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7 Comments

Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Kemeticism

 

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7 responses to “Why Priesthood is Pointless

  1. Red

    June 27, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Interesting thoughts. It seems like you’re approaching priesthood as an organization rather than something the individual does or is. That’s valuable but I think most of us involved in the discussion on FtS and elsewhere are speaking about the individual who is or desires to be a priest. While service to the community (and by that I personally mean the whole of polytheism; one doesn’t have to be the same faith in order to help with things like, say, conferences) is important the individual aspect is more about how one serves the gods and what the gods are asking for. This isn’t just a flat title a person hangs around their neck, but something the gods ask for them to do. It’s all well and good to talk about priesthood as if it’s a problem of resources, which, in the case of say en established temple it certainly is, but on the devotee/god level it’s something someone /is/. It’s a calling the divine hands down to you, which is something I see these discussions gloss over time and time again. How is someone’s UPG suddenly wrong or suspect, just because it includes a priestly calling?

    Of course how one makes their vocation manifest in the world is a trickier issue. As for how people would achieve, say counselor training? Well, for me that was a vocation that I went after hard. I fought to get in to school and stay there. I did it out of service to the Morrigan and I sacrificed greatly to get my degrees. That’s how. Not to mention the nice part is that having gone through that, I can turn around and help others who might want to follow the same path. Now I know what it takes to say, get through the college admissions process. I am now a resource for those who want to apply for college.

    That’s why I think we can make our own resources to a certain extent. By that I mean, let’s say I have a nice backyard, which isn’t something a lot of people have. In that yard, I create a shrine to a particular god. I then invite those who would like to worship there to do so. Bam, that’s a resource. Maybe someone else has the ability to set up an online conference where we can practice ritual together. Awesome, that’s a resource. It’s little things like that, and eventually that lends itself to building a connected community.

     
    • von186

      June 27, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      In my experience there are three sides to the priesthood discussion.
      1. People who are priests in their own homes, and nothing more. Independent priesthood, if you will.
      2. Community standards for what makes a priest a priest.
      3. Temple affiliated priesthood.

      I tried to write this post to accomodate all three. I’ve found that most discussions revolve around the second point, though. Not the first or last. It’s like everyone is trying to figure out when they’ve collected enough box tops and done enough rituals to be considered a priest within the community.

      The irony of all of this is, I don’t think you (or most anyone, for that matter) even knows what I think makes a priest a priest. So I think you’re assuming some things about what I view priesthood to means or entails. You bring up points that I honestly view to be entirely irrelevant. But I’ll try to address them.

      “This isn’t just a flat title a person hangs around their neck, but something the gods ask for them to do. It’s all well and good to talk about priesthood as if it’s a problem of resources, which, in the case of say en established temple it certainly is, but on the devotee/god level it’s something someone /is/. It’s a calling the divine hands down to you, which is something I see these discussions gloss over time and time again. How is someone’s UPG suddenly wrong or suspect, just because it includes a priestly calling?”

      I agree that it’s not a flat title. This is why I am working to create diverse terms and niches for people to utilize in their practice. I’m attempting to move the community beyond the “laity/priesthood” dichotomy that everyone seems to have grown accustomed to. I’m trying to show people that you can be laity and still have a more defined role within the community that isn’t exactly a priest, either. No one seems to understand how important this is, but I personally find it to be worth exploring, and have been given “orders” to explore it. So I am.

      Second, a calling doesn’t make you a priest. TBH, when I first came to Kemeticism, I thought I wanted ot be a priest. I had this itch I couldn’t scratch. This… .thing in my head that said DO THE THING. DO IT. And it wouldn’t stop. At the time, I thought that itch was a priestly itch. However, I’ve found I was wrong. I have a calling (it’s not a calling, it’s a job, let’s be clear there), but it’s not in a priestly capacity. /Your/ calling may be of a priestly capacity, and /your/ job or calling may involve a bunch of stuff that the gods ask of you, but not everyone is going to agree that your specs match their specs for priesthood. It’s just that simple. When I’m defining priesthood, I’m not considering myself. I’m not a priest, and I will likely never be a priest. I’m using definitions from the past, plus roles in other current religions, and looking at what the community tells me it needs to create new roles for the modern era. Whether people are on board with this or not is really not my concern. It’s coming from On High, and so I’m doing what I’m being told ot do. This is my calling, my role, and I’m doing it to the best of my abilities *shrug*.

      And I’m not suspecting or side eyeing anyone’s UPG. idk where that is coming from, but it feels very out of place. I don’t know if you’re bringing up other interactions that I haven’t witnessed, but I can’t address this because it’s irrelevant to my post and viewpoints.

      “That’s why I think we can make our own resources to a certain extent. […] It’s little things like that, and eventually that lends itself to building a connected community.”

      I agree. And I would love to see more people doing this. It is through these endeavors that the community gets larger and bigger and better. I’m not shitting on these ideas. I’m, in fact, trying to get people to do exactly that. But until we move from the just talking stage into the more doing stage, we will continue to sit where we are, with limited resources. Again, I am saying we need more resources to make priesthood a more viable thing long term.

      Hopefully that addresses the bulk of what you brought up. And I’m sorry for the text wall XD

       
      • Red

        June 27, 2014 at 9:48 pm

        “So I think you’re assuming some things about what I view priesthood to means or entails.”

        I’m just going off of the post alone, so I’m sorry if I am misinterpreting something you’re trying to put across there. I think I might view community standards a bit differently. I look at it through the lens of what I understand about AE, which is that different ideas were very common and people didn’t tend to try and organize them overmuch, at least not in a more linear modern Western type way. That is to say, what one group of Kemetics might think a priest is may very well differ from the next group, and I think ultimately that’s just fine. I suppose I don’t think of the Kemetic community as a single entity. And I do tend to bring the lens of a solitary to these things, which I am sure colors what I have to say as well. For me, the social stuff including interacting with other Kemetics is really secondary, though important.

        I hope I am not giving the impression that I think feeling a priestly call automatically makes one a priest. It doesn’t, except perhaps in the most basic sense. But it does seem that the call /to/ priesthood is going out to some, and not just in Kemeticism, and that such has been going on for awhile now. I think that’s something to take notice of. The different roles we all fill do not have to be better or worse than the others, and I think most prominent polytheists that I know of have come out saying how important they feel the laity are.

        Maybe the resources thing just applies across the board. I don’t even think I am interested in having a single priesthood. I like the idea of indie priests. More viewpoints, more ways of accessing the gods, more services that could potentially be provided to those who need them. Some of us over at FtS are going to do an online ritual together tomorrow, if everything comes together. We’re going to try and make it a monthly thing. Rest assured, a lot of us have the motivation to contribute through action, not just words!

        Heh now /I’m/ sorry for the wall of text! 🙂

         
      • von186

        June 28, 2014 at 2:26 pm

        ” I look at it through the lens of what I understand about AE, which is that different ideas were very common and people didn’t tend to try and organize them overmuch, at least not in a more linear modern Western type way. That is to say, what one group of Kemetics might think a priest is may very well differ from the next group, and I think ultimately that’s just fine. I suppose I don’t think of the Kemetic community as a single entity.”

        I view the Kemetic community almost in the same way that i view Egypt in antiquity. We are islands. Small groups of people with our own ways of doing things. Tumblr has its own culture, parts of FB has its own culture, FTS its own, HoN its own, etc. The unifying factor is the religious practice, and how we approach it varies, but the NTRW and ma’at and all that fun stuff gives us some similarities. That’s what boat paddling is about- about cultural exchange btwn Kemetics. The sharing of ideas, and the acknowledgement and respectful discussion of differences and ocmparing notes and all of that.
        AE would have been similar, imo. They had something of a ‘universal culture’ in that they were all Egyptian, and usually under the rule of the same leader. But that was about it. The practices change city to city and era to era.
        I am iffy on the notion that they didn’t have unifying ideas about priesthood, though. AT least during the Unified times. Seems that the Egyptians loovvveeedddd to make rules and boxes for things to fit into. So I’d wager they had at least some criteria that was universal (during a particular era, at least) for priesthood. That being said, I agree that people can have differing views on what makes a priest a priest. But I still stand behind “that’s not what’s important right now”. For those who are called to be a priest, cool. Go for it. But on a community level, I think we have bigger problems to tackle. *shrug*

         
      • Red

        June 27, 2014 at 10:21 pm

        “TBH, when I first came to Kemeticism, I thought I wanted ot be a priest…”

        I also want to point out that callings, in my view, are about the gods. If the calling changes, then I change. Just another thought I had. Just like some people interact with a lot of different gods and spirits at different points in their lives, we as polytheists might change in terms of our roles as well over time. If I get the sense that priest is no longer relevant, then I’d hope I’d have the humility to change according to the needs of the gods. (there’s a thought in there about the difference between being the Morrigan’s priest and being Her warrior, but that’s neither here nor there and probably deserves its own post :P)

         
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