On being a priest

This evening I feel twitchy in a non-physical way.  I feel as if I have forgotten something or I’m supposed to be doing something but I can’t think of anything it could be. This non-physical twitchiness is something that I am starting recognise more easily as promptings from those I serve to do something in particular.  This time I believe this twitchy feeling means that I need to write and, in particular, to write about being a priest.

This isn’t the first time I have written about priesthood but the last time was ten years ago so it’s probably about time I revisited this topic here.

Others have written clearly and in depth on a range of questions around being a priest. Most notably John Beckett has written several posts on priesthood the most recent one being “15 Roles of a Pagan Priest – How Many Is Too Many?“.  Also of fairly recent note is a series of three posts by Morgan Daimler starting with “Priesthood in Service to the Other – Part 1: The wide view“. If you haven’t read these posts I recommend you do so if this is a topic that interests you.

My thoughts on priesthood are coloured to some extent by these authors and to some extent by my own experiences and observations. There are a few public individuals in the UK that I feel embody something of what it is to be a priest. Each of them do this in different ways and some may use other titles.  I’m going to name a few of them and try and give some reasons why I consider them to be priests.

The first is Cat Treadwell and you can find her online at The Catbox.  She is self employed as a Druid and Priest.  Much of her work involves celebrancy but she also runs workshops, presents talks, offers divination readings, writes books and blogs and supports people on a personal basis too. Cat serves her community in many ways and is a public voice for druidry and paganism generally.  She does all this from a place of personal challenges and struggles with depression which she speaks about openly. I have still not met her face to face but hers is a voice that speaks from the darkness.

The next is Nimue Brown who writes at Druid Life. Nimue is also an author of books and blogs and she has also been presenting more talks, I’m not sure of she’s been doing any workshops.  My perspective of Nimue is of a woman with a whimsical sense of humour that has worked to overcome a number of personal challenges to get where she is today. She’s a mother, a folk musician and a keen observer of her local environment.  She is a different sort of Druid to Cat and I’m not even sure that she would claim the title Priest for herself but in my mind she is both Druid and Priest.

What these women have in common is that they are both Druids and both pretty public figures. They also both speak from a place of deep experience with extremely difficult personal challenges.

My next example is Dr Jenny Blain. Jenny is a retired academic and a Heathen.  She is a polytheist and animist with strong ties to her local land spirits or landvættir. It is harder to put into words why I consider her a Priest or in Heathen terms a Gythia. One aspect is her ability to lead ritual, another is her ability to share her knowledge with others both through her books and via more direct teaching but there is more to it than that. She is a Seidr worker, that in itself is not a simple thing to put into words as there are many forms of seidr. A basic and probably incomplete description is that seidr is a method of entering an altered state of consciousness which can be used to work magic or journey for various purposes.

My final example is Lorna Smithers. Lorna is a an author, poet and mystic. She has a deep and personal connection to her patron deity, Gwyn ap Nudd. Her priesthood is one of personal dedication and part of her dedication is a call to communicate some of what she learns and experiences through her writing and talks. She is, in my opinion, a priest due to her very direct service to her patron.

I could go on. I have deliberately chosen to highlight a few female examples of priests here but there are a number of men I also consider to be priests such as Damh the Bard, Adam Sargant, Phillip Shallcrass, Geoff Boswell, Robin Herne, Mike Stygal and Rich Blackett. Most of these are Druid types as this is the community I have been part of the longest. I’m still getting to know individuals within the Heathen community.  The main things they have in common are that I know them either personally face to face or online and I respect their opinions.

All of this serves to give a few examples of the complexity of what it is to be a priest. More recently I have started to think of myself as priest as well as druid.  I am not an author beyond this blog as yet (who knows what they future might hold). Currently I don’t give talks or presentations although I have in the past.  I can write and lead group ritual although I don’t do a great deal of this now. I have acted as a celebrant in the past too. None of these things are why I am using the term priest more lately.  I am a priest because I serve a number of deities and because I am a shrine keeper.

I am sworn firstly to the Herd Mothers and to the Ancient Mother I know as An Cailleach. I feel they are still training me and gradually making me ready for further service.  I also serve within my limited abilities Maponnos, Gofannon, Mannanan, Brigantia, Loki, Ran, Aegir and the daughters of the oceans. Some of these I have served longer than others, some I am still learning about but I honour them and give them offerings. This is why I call myself a Priest and Druid.



New patterns of devotion

Last summer I started feeling the presence of a few other deities to those I have regular patterns of devotion with.  One was a being I had a little experience of but others were new to me.  What they have in common are the seas and oceans.

The one I had some experience of is Manannán.  I had heard about him in various myths and in previous years had felt His presence by the shore and when I took a ferry to Arran.  Last summer I felt Him more strongly, particularly when we took a ferry to the Isle of Mull for a short holiday. His presence ebbed and flowed like the tide but last year His presence began to feel much stronger. If you are new to His name then you’ll find an overview here. For a much better introduction though I recommend Morgan Daimler’s book “Manannán mac Lir: Meeting The Celtic God Of Wave And Wonder“.

The other beings that made their presence strongly felt were from the Norse pantheon and the strongest of these was the Goddess Rán. I’ve written before about Loki entering my life but up to last summer none of the other assorted beings from Norse pantheon had made their presence felt so I had thought that Loki was going to be the only one.  That didn’t bother me in any way as I still thought of myself as primarily Brythonic.  Now I started to realise that maybe that wasn’t going to be the case long term. Along with Rán I also felt the presence of what I knew were Her daughters.  It wasn’t until I got home from Mull that I was able to check my feelings with information on the lore.  As the summer progressed into autumn it seemed like Rán and Her daughters had drifted away but then they drifted back again. Over the last year their presences have continued to ebb and flow in my life.

It got to the stage where I felt I needed to set aside some devotional space for beings of water and in particular the seas and oceans. My main altar was already full though so after a bit of thought I set up one of a set of three nested coffee tables as a shrine to being of the seas, oceans and rivers. I brought an indoor water fountain as the main focal point and added a small statue of a leaping dolphin, some sea glass and a hag stone.  The sea glass and hag stone were collected on beaches I have visited.  Since the photo below I’ve also added a shell from a more recent beach trip.

water shrine
Photo of my shrine to beings of seas, oceans and rivers.

And for a while that was it.  I felt the urge to make offerings occasionally but nothing regular. Last week that changed while I was out for a walk round my local park.  I was musing about the ebb and flow of these developing relationships and whether to try and make more regular offerings. I wasn’t sure how anything new would fit into the patterns I already have and suddenly I had a realization.

Ever since I had changed from a lunar patter of devotions to a weekly one I had struggled to keep touch with the lunar phases in the way that I had previously.  I used to make offerings to my ancestors on the dark moon, to Brigantia the day before a full moon, Epona on the full moon and An Cailleach the day after the full moon. When I started to make offerings to Maponos on Sundays my patterns began to shift to a weekly devotional cycle and I started to lose touch with the lunar cycles a bit. This sudden realization was that honouring the beings of ocean and seas would fit beautifully into a lunar pattern of devotions.  After all we are very aware of the influence of this planet’s moon in the cycle of tides.  Using a lunar pattern made sense, it felt right.

And so on this last full moon I began to add a new pattern into my existing devotional practices.  First I made my offering, prayed and communed with the deity of that day and then I turned my focus to the water shrine and made an offering there. As yet I have not developed any particular prayers for Manannán or Rán who are the strongest of the presences that drift in and out.  The shrine also has images honouring Rán’s nine daughters and her husband Ægir. My intentions are to now honour Manannán, Rán and her daughters and her husband Ægir at both full and dark moons.