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Author Topic: Wicca a religion of clergy? Something I don't get...  (Read 8100 times)
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Last Login:June 20, 2022, 04:12:33 pm
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Religion: Priestess in initiatory religious witchcraft tradition
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« Reply #5: March 09, 2008, 11:11:37 am »

I guess you can practice witchcraft without being a priest/ess, so she's aparently speaking only about Wicca. But why is it a religion of clergy? Why are the initiates priests/esses?

1) Be aware that Starhawk is using language that has gotten more sophisticated in the subsequent 30 years: many people I know these days distinguish between priest/esses (doing the work of the Gods) and clergy (ministering to a community of some kind.) Traditional Wiccans are priest/esses by that definition, but often not very interested in being clergy, especially to a lay community.

2) A lot of it - especially in counterpoint to many Christian traditions - is about full-on emotionally intimate participation.

In a congregational model, a few people do all of the 'heavy lifting' of the actual work of the ritual. In a priesthood-centered tradition, every member (usually defined as initiates, in Wicca) participates equally in the actual work. So, for example, when we are doing a magical working, every initiate in circle contributes. They don't get to hang back and observe or benefit by the work of others. When we are interacting with a deity, everyone in circle is responsible for that work - and for helping to make the space appropriate for that.

Obviously, in some parts of the ritual, one person or another will be speaking (because having everyone do every step can be unwieldy), but you will usually see the parts spread out pretty thoroughly (for example, if you have six initiates, four of them might do the quarter calls, and the HP and HPS will do their bit, and so on.)

3) The role of the HPS and HP (and many Wiccan traditions are formally priestess led) is about focusing the will and intention of the group, both in terms of planning over the long-term, and in terms of directing and best harnessing the energies worked with during ritual. Exactly how these are handled depends on tradition, the individuals, and whether you have other roles present (some groups, including the one I trained with, include a handmaiden and summoner role: these assist the HPS and HP in various ways both mundane and energetic.)

It's hard to describe the difference, but the best analogy I have goes like this: being an initiate in a circle of initiates is like singing in a small chorus: if I do not sing, the music loses something. Being HPS or HP is like being the conductor and pulling it all together so you're all doing the same stuff at the same time.

There's also about long-term focus and direction for the group. I'm HPS of my brand shiny new coven, and working with a friend who is acting as my HP. She is very happy to let me do the direction and leadership things: I obviously run things by her, and we talk about it, but my role as HPS is largely to make sure we *have* a focus and that we keep centered on it.  Out of all of the hundreds, maybe thousands of things we could do for ritual work, of all the discussions we might have, we need to pick some. Which ones we pick (and how we structure them) form the work of the group.

4) The last part (though really, the most important part) is about interaction with deities: one of the reasons each initiate is a priest or priestess is because they are responsible for their own relationship with deity. While in group work, someone needs to coordinate, in personal work, each initiate is considered (generally) capable of standing before their Gods on their own two feet, and of coming up with suitable rituals, methods, and approaches to handle all of their own personal religious and magical needs without anyone else's help.

This is a pretty revolutionary idea when compared to intercessionary Christianity. (And it's one of the revolutionary ideas of the Reformation, too.)

The other part, though, is that it brings a responsibility to do my own work. As an initiate, I don't get the luxury of showing up for rituals someone else has planned, and letting them do all the work. I'm basically obligated to contribute (though I can define and adjust that contribution in various ways: I do things differently when I'm at Pagan Pride or a large group ritual than I do at my own circles.)

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