Priest/esshood, Leadership and Atheopaganism

If you come to Atheopaganism from other Pagan paths, you may have noticed something in my writing, at least: there is no mention of priesthood or priestesshood.

That’s not an oversight.

Rituals very often have leaders. There is usually one person (sometimes two, but rarely more except with very large groups) who shepherds the flow of the ritual through its phases. This is inevitable and proper: leadership is a real function and all human groups have examples of how it is exercised, even in groups with completely flat power structures.

Leading a successful ritual—helping to “move the energy” or facilitate the smooth building of emotion and Presence—is a learned skill, and a powerful one: it translates to the ability to lead in many other life contexts. It’s a valuable thing to be able to do.

So my hope is for all who wish to do so to learn it. This requires that we practice, and pay attention to how various techniques work out in our rituals. It also requires that those of us who are experienced in leading rituals make room for those who are new and learning.

I thought about using the term “priest/ess” as a verb, as in “priesting the ritual”. Many do in Pagan circles. And I might yet, in the future. There is power in the term, and in carrying it, as I have done many times in leading Pagan rituals.

But there is something about the word that necessarily implies division: there is a Priestess, and then there is everyone else. And I really hope for Atheopaganism to be a path within which we are all working together to lift one another up; in which we are all both priesthood and congregation, equal though different, and each empowered to create and lead both working ritual circles (covens) and rituals as we see fit to do and as we understand ourselves capable of doing.

This is a new path. It’s similar to some other naturalistic Pagan paths that have been charted before, but it’s somewhat different as well: Atheopaganism is focused on practice more than ideology, and it presents a ritual structure that is different from the standard Wiccan model. As it grows—presuming it continues to do so—I hope that everyone investigating it feels empowered to both tinker to make it fit her personally, and to take the lead in making ritual celebrations happen.

We’re all Priestesses and Priests of Atheopaganism, should we choose to deem ourselves such. We all have within us what it takes to convene others of like mind and to move through the paces of ritual observance in a manner that is effective, should we so choose…or the ability to develop such skills, if they are not already present.

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4 thoughts on “Priest/esshood, Leadership and Atheopaganism

  1. I tend to agree. Leadership is not a position occupied but a faculty exercised. We all have the opportunity to exercise this faculty — and only by exercise is it strengthened. A flat authority structure seems appropriate, at least for now.

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  2. Interesting points, you’re bringing up. Certainly, when used in the “power over” sense of the word, I have little use for Priests, or Priestesses, of any stripe. As you know, there are many Pagans who are attracted to the idea of hierarchical organization, and feel comfortable in a spiritual group led by a Priest/ess who’s decisions are considered to be authoritative. Not my cuppa, but that’s what makes horse races.
    My “Priesthood”, as I usually think of it, is my therapy practice, in which I am “of service”. A different way of looking at something described with the same word.
    I just did a little search, starting with “Priest”, and it led me to such seeming synonyms as “Minister” and “Pastor”- two terms that seem, to me, to be less “loaded” than “Priest”, since they suggest (to me, anyway) being of service (“ministering”; “administering”), rather than telling people what to do. I don’t know if I will take to thinking of myself as either one, but if you’re looking for something to call the person who is leading an event or facilitating a ceremony, you could do worse.
    Or, you could just say to hell with it, and (in your role as Progenitor), announce that the person leading the Ceremony will be referred to as “The Clown”, and will wear an identifying red nose, for its duration. After a few months, this will become Tradition, and any attempts to eliminate the Nose will be viewed with suspicion and alarm.
    Y’know, we’re all making it up as we go. May as well make sure there’s some silliness in the mix. It’ll show up, anyway.

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  3. Mark, you used the word “Presence” in the post and capitalized it:

    “Leading a successful ritual—helping to “move the energy” or facilitate the smooth building of emotion and Presence—is a learned skill …”

    I think I know what you mean, and it is a word that I myself have played with in naturalistic discussions, but I wonder if you might explain what it means for you.

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