A long long long time ago I wrote a post detailing how the priesthood existed in antiquity. At the end of that post, I had asked Kemetics to weigh in on what it meant to be a priest now. Originally, I was going to write a response to my own question, once I sorted out what being a priest entails now that we have no state structure to support us.
I never wrote a response.
As it turns out, figuring out what being a priest should be is much harder than what it appears at first glance. And despite all of the reading and poking and musing that I’ve done regarding our religion in the past few years, I am still not very solid on what I think our priests should be, or what qualifications our modern priests should have. The closest I’ve managed to get to writing about priests is this post where I talk about how I don’t feel priesthood is the most pressing concern in our community and this post where I outline that we need more roles in our community beyond laity and priests. While both posts are helpful, neither really answer the question of where I personally see our priesthood fitting into the modern Kemetic community.
But for the sake of KRT, I shall now try to take a stab at what I feel modern priesthood should entail.
Priesthood: What it Isn’t
It’s easier for me to start off by figuring out what I don’t think should necessarily be encompassed by Kemetic priests. I’ve had the fortune or misfortune of sitting in on many discussions regarding priesthood, and it seems that most people want priests to do a little bit of everything. They want priests to be grief counselors and wedding facilitators. They want priests who engage the community, produce accurate resources on the religion or their patron deity. They want priests that basically do all of the hard work without paying them or compensating them for their time and efforts.
I personally think this is a horrible idea, and I have a couple of reasons for it:
- One: we’re not other religions. We’re not Wicca where everyone is a priest. We’re not Christians with priests that stand in front of clergies and give mass. We’re not these other religions, and I don’t think that we necessarily need to emulate these religions simply because they are what is familiar to us.
- Two: resources. I know people are tired of me wailing about resources, but it is what makes things run. People don’t have the time to do all of this stuff, and the only way they would have the time is if we were paying them. Which I’m pretty sure our community doesn’t have the funding to do.
- Three: second cousin to point two would be education. How do we educate our priests in all of these things? There is no Kemetic college you can go to. And most people don’t have the ability to become an Egyptologist (not that that really deals with the religion, either). Taking a general theology class might be useful, but it still wouldn’t arm the priest with all of the tools needed for what everyone seems to want them to be able to do. And that still doesn’t address the cost in both money and time to learn how to do these things effectively. Both of which our community is lacking in.
- Four: It sets up a damaging expectation about our community. It will bring back the ‘priesthood-laity’ dichotomy that I think we desperately need to move away from. It will create a structure where you are either a super cool priest that does everything, or you are a lame layperson who does nothing. It doesn’t allow for diversity in our community or diversity amongst our community roles.
From my perspective, priesthood is not really about helping the community. I do think there should be some overlap with the community, but at the end of the day, that’s not what being a priest is really about. I don’t think priests need to be grief counselors. I don’t think priests need to be community facilitators. I don’t think priests need to be holding retreats or opening the doors of their shrine to other Kemetics to enjoy. I don’t think that priests should necessarily be any of these things (though obviously, they can be these things if they so choose to). I feel that too many times the members of our community want to place all of these expectations and responsibilities on priests for personal reasons. And I feel that these personal desires shouldn’t be conflated with what the actual role is meant to entail, or what the community actually needs from it’s priesthood.
Priesthood: What it Could Be
So that leads me into what I think priests should be, or more accurately, what they could be. I personally don’t feel comfortable putting up too many requirements for priests because I am not one, and will never be one. However, I will give some suggestions on what I think would be the most logical and beneficial for the community in a long term sense.
A lot of what colors my ideas about what priests could or should be comes from antiquity, to be honest. In antiquity, the priesthood kept the house of the god in order. They kept the gods clothed and fed, and made sure that the temple precinct was maintained. To an extent, I think that modern priesthood should mirror this. Priests take care of the god’s quarters.
This means you have an established house for the god that you venerate. You perform daily rituals that involve food offerings, libations, and words of power. I know that a sort of standard for priests has been that they perform state rituals, but I personally don’t think that is mandatory. What I do think is mandatory is that your daily rituals are more involved than simply placing down and offering plate and wandering off. I also think that priests should be doing more involved rituals on a regular basis, and honoring days that are special to the deity that they are serving.
I add these extra caveats in because I want to differentiate between someone who is a ritualist (aka: does a lot of rituals, or has a very rituals driven practice) and someone who is acting in the capacity of a priest. In my experience, there is a difference between quick daily rites, and rituals that are more involved and are aimed towards keeping the god’s place and body clean and renewed every day.
Beyond the basic rituals of feeding and caring for the gods, I believe that a priest needs to ensure that the house the god resides in is well maintained. This means making sure that the shrine doesn’t collect 2 inches of dust before you clean it. This also means making sure that the shrine upkeep is as important as the deity upkeep because you’re there to facilitate a living space for the gods, and that living space should be kept tidy.
In addition to everything above, I don’t think it’s mandatory to have an Open icon. Once upon a time, I thought that maybe it would be, but I personally feel that maintaining the shrine and the god inside of the shrine is more important than whether the icon itself has gone through a specific ritual. This is probably also due to the fact that I believe that the gods can cause an icon to become Open, regardless of what rituals you may or may not have performed on the icon.
You’ll notice that my list of “requirements” is pretty short, and that is on purpose. We don’t need priests to do everything because we have non-priests who can do those things as well. I think the biggest role for the priest is maintaining the house of the god, and the god that resides inside of that house. Anything more than that is at their own choosing. It is also this focus on rituals and shrine work that lead me to believe that I will likely never become a priest, because I don’t do a whole lot of either. I’m fairly certain that my views on priesthood are too narrow for some people’s preferences (“priests should do more!” they’ll say) and too loose for others (“they need to do state rites and have an Open icon!”), but that is my current line of thought regarding priesthood in the modern era. I guess we’ll see if my views shift in different ways over the course of the next few years as I continue to poke at this topic.
To read other responses to this topic, check out the KRT Master List