What is it to be a priest in a pagan community? This is a question I keep coming back to and I’m still not certain I have a convincing answer.
Most dictionaries I have looked at give definitions of a priest as one who act as a mediator between god/s and people and who perform rites of sacrifice and celebration. The word itself comes from the Greek presbyteros meaning “elder”. Some dictionaries will give a definition of someone ordained in a Christian church to consecrate the bread and wine for Mass.
In most pagan communities individuals are encouraged to develop their own relationships with their gods, to make their own offerings and sacrifices. Individuals are usually encouraged to develop their skills so that they can craft their own rites and rituals. My own experiences show that some simply don’t want to do learn how to craft rituals for groups or indeed for themselves but prefer to let others craft rites where they can take part.
There are also times in life where you don’t want to be writing and or leading a ritual such as a wedding or a funeral – most people at these times want someone else to act as a celebrant.
Some months ago a discussion took place on one of the forums I belong to on what a priest should be. The following is my summary of ideas from that discussion:
A priest would most importantly be expected to serve the community and the gods. They would expected be able to communicate effectively with both the gods and the members of the community and if necessary negotiate between them. They would be expected to be a well known figure in the community and an exemplar to all within it. They would be expected to be willing and able to share their experience and knowledge to aid members of the community in both spiritual and practical matters. They should be willing and able to share what they have learnt and to continue their own learning.
A priest within a community would be expected to enable members to celebrate ritual in a deep and meaningful way, they would not necessarily lead all rituals but would be capable of doing so as required. They would also be expected to be able to act as a celebrant for namings, weddings, funerals and other rites of passage as required.
I think the key to this role is service and in order to be a priest as defined above you must have a community that you serve and a community that recognises your service.