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A PRACTICAL

GUIDE TO

PAGAN

PRIESTHOOD


© Jennifer Hartrey

About the Author Lora O’Brien is a native Irish author, teacher, and guide with more than twenty years personal and professional experience in Irish history, heritage, archaeology, mythology, and pre-Christian Irish Spirituality. A modern Draoí, Lora has been consciously following a Pagan path since 1994 and is cofounder and Reverend legal celebrant with Pagan Life Rites Ireland. With her partner Jon O’Sullivan, she runs IrishPaganSchool.com, an online learning environment where students can connect to the heritage, culture, and spirituality of Pagan Ireland in an authentic and meaningful way, every day. Lora has three children who are getting seriously grown up these days, and not enough animals or plants in her life to keep her happy. Find her online at LoraOBrien.ie. Though not one for responses to personal private messages, she can be found in the comments section on her YouTube channel, sending regular Irish Resources emails to her busy mailing list at LoraOBrien.ie, engaging with her patrons at //Patreon.com/LoraOBrien, and moderating community groups over on Facebook: The Morrigan’s Cave, Learn Ogham, Journeys in the Irish Otherworld, Do The Work System, and the Irish Pagan School Community.


A PRACTICAL

GUIDE TO

PAGAN

PRIESTHOOD COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP AND VOCATION

REV. LORA O’BRIEN

LLEWELLYN PUBLICATIONS WOODBURY, MINNESOTA


A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood: Community Leadership and Vocation © 2019 by Rev. Lora O’Brien. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including internet usage, without written permission from Llewellyn Publications, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. First Edition First Printing, 2019 Book design by Samantha Penn Cover design by Shannon McKuhen Llewellyn Publications is a registered trademark of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: O’Brien, Lora, author. Title: A practical guide to pagan priesthood : community leadership & vocation / Rev. Lora O’Brien. Description: First edition | Woodbury, Minnesota : Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd, 2019. | Includes bibliographical references. | Summary: “Instructions for and insights into being a Pagan priest who serves community, fellowship, and deity. Includes survey of established priests of various Pagan faiths”—Provided by publisher. Identifiers: LCCN 2019030773 (print) | LCCN 2019030774 (ebook) | ISBN 9780738759661 (trade paperback) | ISBN 9780738759876 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Neopaganism. | Priesthood—Miscellanea. Classification: LCC BP605.N46 O27 2019 (print) | LCC BP605.N46 (ebook) | DDC 299/.94—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019030773 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019030774 Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business transactions between our authors and the public. All mail addressed to the author is forwarded but the publisher cannot, unless specifically instructed by the author, give out an address or phone number. Any internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific location will continue to be maintained. Please refer to the publisher’s website for links to authors’ websites and other sources. Llewellyn Publications A Division of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. 2143 Wooddale Drive Woodbury, MN 55125-2989 www.llewellyn.com Printed in the United States of America


Other Books by Rev. Lora O’Brien Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality Rathcroghan: A Journey and Tales of Old Ireland: Retold


For Jon, my Partner in Priesthood, and in Life.


CONTENTS

Introduction … 1 What Is a Pagan Priest? … 2 Who Is this Book For? … 4 How I Came to Write This Book … 5

SECTION ONE: THE DUTIES OF A PRIEST Chapter One: Pastoral Duties … 11 Holding Yourself to High Standards as a Community Elder … 13 Standing Up for Those Who Can’t Defend Themselves … 13 Practicing Self-Discipline … 14 Earning Natural Trust and Respect through Right Action … 14 Keeping an Eye on the Community … 14 Support, Feed, or Clothe Those in Need … 15 Counseling … 15 Learning from Mistakes … 16 Speaking Up …16


x • Contents

Teaching and Mentoring … 17 Leading Prayer, Devotionals, Journeys … 17 Providing Safe and Open Space for Community Seekers … 18

Chapter Two: Sacerdotal Duties … 21 Ritual Technique: Experimentation, Experience, Expertise … 22 Moving Between Worlds … 24 Technical and Creative Knowledge of the Tools of Worship and Work … 25 Propitiation and Petition to a Deity … 29 Teaching, Training, and Guidance in Sacerdotal Techniques … 31 Ordination or Initiation … 31 Conducting or Facilitating Life Rites … 32 Magical Acts: Design and Implementation … 32 Healing or Medicinal Intervention: Physical or Energetic … 33 Representing Deity … 34

Chapter Three: Modern Paganism … 37 Where We’re At … 39 Professional Priesthood … 40

Chapter Four: Self-Assessment … 43 Leadership Self-Assessment … 45 Reflection and Review on Priesthood … 47

SECTION TWO: PASTORAL SKILLS AND DEVELOPMENT Chapter Five: Group Leadership … 53 The Why … 54 Group Dynamics … 56


Contents • xi

Group Management … 58 Your Group Vision … 59 Your Group Strategy … 61 Your Group Operations … 65 Your Group Tactics … 66

Chapter Six: Community Leadership … 71 Ethics and Accountability … 74 Core Leadership Qualities … 76 Turning Qualities into Skills … 78 How to Develop as a Leader … 82

Chapter Seven: Learning and Teaching … 91 Mastering Your Own Craft … 92 Research and Resources … 95 Mentoring … 96 Running a Coven/Grove/Group … 100 Teaching Classes … 106

Chapter Eight: Crisis Care … 109 Being Available … 110 Being Prepared … 112 Being Funded … 117

SECTION THREE: SACERDOTAL SKILLS AND DEVELOPMENT Chapter Nine: Communicating with Deity … 125 How Do We Communicate with Them? … 126 Personal Journey: The Beach … 132 How They Communicate with Us … 136


xii • Contents

Group Communications … 140 Group Journey: The Island … 142

Chapter Ten: Devotion to Deity … 149 When Not to Be a Priest … 150 Research … 150 Building Right Relationship … 152 Devotional Creativity … 157 What’s the Difference? … 161

Chapter Eleven: Magic Skills and Ethics … 163 Healing Magic … 167 Divination … 169 Trance and Prophecy … 171 How Do You Know It’s Working? … 174

Chapter Twelve: Life Rites and Community Celebration … 175 Constructing Rites of Passage … 178 Dedication and Initiation … 182 Public Service and Ritual … 183

Conclusion … 185 Appendix: Priesthood in Modern Pagan Traditions … 189 Do You Feel Your Priesthood Role or Responsibility Extends Outside Yourself or Your Tradition, to the Wider Community? … 191 In Relation to Above—Why/Why not? … 191 How Did You Become a Priest? … 193 Why Did You Become a Priest? … 195


Contents • xiii

Which of the Following Pastoral Functions Do You Prioritize as an Important Part of Your Priesthood, Specifically (ie. Not Just Being a Good Person in General)? … 197 Which of the Following Sacerdotal Functions Do You Prioritize as an Important Part of Your Priesthood, Specifically? … 198 What Don’t You Do in Your Personal Practice or Tradition, as Far as Priestly Duties Go? … 199 In Terms of Priorities and Priestly Duties, are You Able to Make Those Decisions for Yourself, or Are Your Roles/ Functions Mandated by Your Tradition? … 199 How Do You Feel Your Personal or Your Tradition’s Priesthood Role Differs from That of Other Magical/Spiritual Traditions? … 199 What Challenges Your Priestly Role Within the Community in Which You Live/Work/Engage, or What Difficulties Do You Face Within This Role Personally? … 201 How Do You See Your Priestly Role in the Community in Which You Live/Work/Engage (You Could Talk About Your Motivations, Your Guiding Ethos, etc.) … 203 Is There Anything Else You’d Like to Add or Discuss or Explain That Hasn’t Been Covered by the Questions/ Answers Above? … 209

Bibliography … 213 Recommended Resources … 215 Online … 216 Books … 219

Our Survey Respondents … 221


INTRODUCTION

Officially, I’ve been a Pagan priest for twenty-two years (at the time of writing), and this is a book I wish I had my hands on many years ago. That’s not in any way an attempt to set this work up as some sort of ultimate guide. It’s not; how could it be? How could any book be? What this book does is provide something of a baseline or common standard at least, practical advice for building community leadership skills, and information on how to be a priest within the wide world of modern Paganism. As far as I know, there isn’t one outside of specific traditions’ practices. People have been acting as priests for as long as they have been engaging in religious practice, and we do have many examples of historical nonmonotheistic religious structures and how they organized and trained their priests through 1


2 • I ntroducti o n

various different cultures back in the day. Look at ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt and Sumer. Look at the Maya civilization, the Hindu traditions of India, and the pre-Christian societal structure of my own home, Ireland. It is beyond the scope of this book to go into any great depth on the priesthood of any particular culture, but I do urge you to explore and research any that catch your attention.

What Is a Pagan Priest? You may or may not be familiar with the term Pagan, but we can clarify what I’m talking about here in a modern context so we’re all on the same page. If you were to ask ten different Pagans what the word means, I can pretty much guarantee you’d get ten different answers, and that can even be from practitioners who are coming from a similar culture or even a similar tradition! That said, most modern definitions of Paganism would be along the lines of “a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping/earth-based spiritual practice” or thereabouts. What do those words mean? Theism refers to the belief in a deity or deities such as a divine creator (or meddler, depending on your perspective.) So, polytheism refers to the belief in multiple deities, as opposed to the more currently culturally familiar “monotheistic” belief in a single god. Pantheism is the belief that everything is divine, that a deity resides in everything and everyone, rather than being characterized or personified in a single or multiple entity or being. Pagan pantheism offers the belief that divinity is inseparable from nature and that God is in everything as a part of it. Deity is immanent in nature. What I’ve written are only descriptors, and they can apply across many different religious and cultural beliefs. Note that polytheism or pantheism on their own aren’t necessarily Pagan—many Christians around the world might be classed as pantheistic, for example. It’s the combination of those beliefs with the nature worshipping part that gives us the Pagan definition. Nature worship or identifying with an earth-based spirituality is any of a variety of religious, spiritual, and devotional practices that focus on the worship of spirits or a deity/ deities considered to be behind the natural phenomena visible in nature. The figure or figures could be personified natural features (e.g., a mountain, river, ocean) or a fully realized and sentient guardian divinity or specific deity.


I ntroduction • 3

Modern Paganism (sometimes called Neopaganism), is what’s covered through the book, and any historical or non-Neopagan beliefs or references mentioned have been clearly identified as such in the context of the writing. If you’re not entirely sure what Pagans do these days, here’s a quick and very generalized catch-up. There’s a strong focus on ritual through most of the traditions ranging from daily and personal to part of a large community festival. It could also be both or anything in between. And just to throw a little #NotAllPagans at you (because there’ll always be some), you could be a Pagan your whole life and never do a ritual at all, or at least not consciously, because I’d personally argue (and have done, don’t you know it) that as humans we live our entire lives through ritual, a series of actions performed in a set or prescribed order, whether it be large and grand affairs such as getting married, or the small, everyday habitual rituals that run a household. Pagans may draw from multiple sources (usually referred to as being eclectic), or may follow a single contemporary tradition, of which there are many. Some examples of contemporary traditions would be: Wicca (British Traditional, Eclectic, or even “Faery”); Druidry; Witchcraft; Heathenry/Ásatrú; Goddess Worship; Afro-Caribbean (though not all who follow those traditions would class themselves as Pagan); or historical reconstructionist practices such as Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, Roman, and so on. There are loads of others, and we touch on the specific priesthood practices of at least some of these traditions in the interviews section of the appendix. There’s often a focus on honoring deities and/or natural features, observing natural cycles (such as annual seasons, lunar cycles), and rites of passage (birth, transitioning into adulthood, marriage, and death). The forms of ritual a Pagan might conduct or participate in varies greatly by tradition, but some examples of things we do ritual for might include cleansing, consecration, worship, or devotion to Deity; magical attainment of particular outcomes, healing, and so on. Some things incorporated into Pagan rituals might be drumming, chanting, dancing, trance or vision work, offering of food and drink to gods and/or ancestors, group or community feasting, and so much more. The modern Neopagan movement is a vast and complex thing, and people who identify as Pagan spread across the globe. Likewise, its priesthood has grown very organically through the decades that followed Gerald Gardener going public with


4 • I ntroducti o n

his book, Witchcraft Today, which was published in 1951 after the anti-witchcraft laws were repealed in England. The book’s release and spread were the start of Neopaganism as we know it, and the trails that have been blazed from then to now are interesting to follow. If you’re into it, I recommend the work of Philip Heselton and Ronald Hutton. In the context of Paganism, a priest is a person who honors a deity or deities; performs religious ceremonies, rites, and duties; and administers sacraments— that is, anything of sacred significance. The priest may or may not be ordained or initiated within a particular tradition, and they may or may not hold the relevant legal status in their home country or state. It’s a loose enough definition, and given the diversity of Pagan traditions, paths, and beliefs, who is recognized and refers to themselves as a priest or priestess can be a very mixed bag, honestly. As mentioned above, there aren’t really any community training norms or standards within the Pagan priesthood, and indeed most of us would rail against one person or group setting any sort of bar for others. Thus, there is a lot of freedom … and very little accountability. The lack of accountability is far from ideal for community leaders and folks who find themselves at the forefront of honoring Deity, performing religious rites, and being responsible for sacraments, as they are often seen (from the outside at least) as representative of Pagans in general.

Who Is This Book For? If you are considering taking the step into priesthood and are taking it seriously because (like me) you’ve seen the harmful consequences of those who do not take the role and responsibilities of priesthood seriously enough—or conversely, who take it way too seriously and use it primarily as an ego prop—this book is for you. If you’re trying to decide whether you want whatever priesthood is going to mean for you, this book is also for you. And if you’re already a priest, don’t turn away! This book is also for those of you who have considered yourselves priests or been considered by your community as priests for a while now. In every job, continuous professional development and brushing up on skills are both ideal and often necessary to fulfil your role adequately and make sure you are up to the demands of those you work for or serve. In this case, it could be the people of your community, or the god/s you are devoted to. So, if you want to be the best darn priest you can be,


I ntroduction • 5

you will get a lot from this book, too. I know I did from the researching and the writing of it. The aim is to help you to figure out what it really means to be a Pagan priest and to provide you with practical support, guidance, and resources to build your skill set, leadership qualities, awareness, and commitment to getting this right.

How I Came to Write This Book My first book on Irish spirituality was published in 2004, when I had just turned twenty-six years old. By the time I wrote my second book, I was eighteen years into my (lifelong, I hope) studies of modern Pagan practices, and already sixteen years involved in the Pagan communities both in Ireland and internationally (that was in 2012). In that second book, I included a chapter on Pagan priesthood in an Irish context because I had more than an inkling by that time—and it’s becoming more apparent to me every day—that in our modern Pagan communities, we have a very distinct lack of cohesive and clear understanding of what priesthood is about. We need to teach and train those wishing to be involved in Pagan priesthood. When I first got involved in our community at the tender age of eighteen, there were a few elders and teachers who were safe and knew what they were doing, and thankfully for me I fell in with one of them from the start. I began to get involved more at home and abroad in local or international events. Later, with the coming of the internet through—Gods be with the days!—email lists and Yahoo! groups, my circles and experience widened. I saw that there were a whole host of chancers, as we say in Ireland, who were completely winging it and were no more qualified to lead than I was back then. They had gained position and power from being among the first to write a book on a particular topic (often merely to cash in, I’m sorry to say), or just by dint of having hung around long enough that they were familiar with what people wanted to hear and could say the things that got people doing what they wanted them to do. Around my early twenties, I worked my way through a series of initiations and a training program in Traditional Wicca (Alexandrian lineage, from Janet and Stewart Farrar through Barbara Lee’s coven). I achieved my 3rd Degree and standing as a High Priestess in that system, was presenting and teaching (online,


6 • I ntroducti o n

at home, and over in the UK), and had stood in circle and sat in meetings and through social events with many of the really big names in Paganism. Then I left Wicca, knowing it had been tremendously useful to me as a training and development system but not as a personal practice. I decided that I could do with putting myself through more initiations because that’s just how I roll. In 2002, I got involved with the only working OTO (Ordo Templis Orientis) group in Ireland at the time, went through the Man of Earth cycle, had some pretty profound self-development experiences, and left them in 2006. I viewed that OTO organization as a community, but not a spiritual belief system; as such—I was never ordained as part of their EGC Church, for example. My personal spiritual practice developed independently alongside my time there. Going forward, I had a strong set of experiences and beliefs: my childhood and teenage otherworld experiences; inherited family history with ancient sites and stories; my lifelong fascination with ancient Ireland; my professional work as an Irish Heritage sacred sites community business manager (CEO), teacher, and guide; my personal journey through abuse and understanding the psychology of trauma; and all that I was learning about earth-based, Pagan ritual and group/community dynamics. All these things blended to form an at-the-time fledgling native Irish spirituality practice. I continued to privately develop this for many years, eventually publishing the aforementioned second book in 2012. At the time, I also began a more public work with my native spiritual tradition. By then, I had a very good idea of what was and wasn’t available with regard to Pagan priesthood, and in the time since then I’ve traveled internationally and taught at multiple large events abroad while working at home to co-organize and run our national Pagan festival, Féile Draíochta, for thirteen years, and cofounding the organization Pagan Life Rites (within Ireland) to ensure Irish Pagans have legal standing and governmental recognition of our rights as a minority religion. After all of that, I’m here once again writing a book I needed to teach me how to further develop essential skills and continue to do the work of a Pagan priest. Parts of this work you might find in various other books on leadership and from other Pagan traditions, but I haven’t ever seen it all together quite in this way. And given the problems within our communities and out there in the modern world, I see a powerful need for us to speak from a common standard


I ntroduction • 7

and baseline to make sure our deities receive the honoring they need and our people have the leadership we need. There is a strong need especially when dealing with authority or public standing that will allow us to be taken seriously and treated with the respect we deserve as individuals, so that we can continue as a force for good in a rapidly changing world. From there, we can develop a new generation of strong, aware, responsible, and accountable leaders in our groups and in larger communities. This is a book that I hope will open those doors and provide a cross-tradition foundation for what Pagan priesthood can be. Within these pages is work I’ve been doing for a while—I’d love for you to join me if you believe priesthood is right for you and you’re ready to grow and develop your role … or find the path you should be taking instead, if it’s not. Most of all, however, I hope you enjoy the book and maybe learn something new along the way. That’s a good day’s work in itself, right there. Reverend Lora O’Brien Waterford, Ireland, 2018


SECTION ONE

THE DUTIES OF A PRIEST


CHAPTER ONE

PASTORAL DUTIES

In light of the roles and responsibilities of priests generally, the word pastoral comes originally from the practice of a shepherd tending a flock. It refers quite literally to the countryside or life in a rural location. The word is often used to convey the idyllically simple life of shepherds or folk living out in the country. Anyone who thinks rural life is idyllically simple or easy has never had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to milk a cow or catch the goat that’s gotten loose by eating through their steel-reinforced rope and is currently decimating the carrot crop with a fierce determination to not be caught or stopped. True story right there, and let me assure you that goat-related emergencies are never what you might consider idyllic. 11


12 • Chapter One: Pas to ra l Duti e s

The term pastoral is thus used to represent the pastor’s (in most cases, the minister or priest of a monotheistic religion) tending of their community, and it refers to a category of work that is concerned with care for a spiritual community, the outward work of a priest of any religion. In short, these are the bits that could be done by any layperson, really, if they had the same skills, experience, and (let’s face it) desire to do so. The difference is that with the taking of a priesthood role, it can become a sacred duty to take care of your community in these ways. I’m going to be clear here that pastoral care is not an absolutely essential part of the Pagan priest’s role, important and worthy as it may be. The common (largely) Christian idea that the primary role of a priest is to assist folk in their relationship with Deity is not completely irrelevant to us inasmuch as it is a part of the job of priesthood in our wider Pagan belief systems. But it’s also not the be-all, end-all of what a priest should or could be doing with their days in a modern, unsheeplike spiritual community that generally believes in direct access to Deity rather than through an intermediary or middleman who, incidentally, then holds all the power and gets the last word on everything when it comes to who’s good or evil. Having people (most often men) in communities wielding absolute power is not a good idea for most common folk (especially women and minorities) in those communities, day-to-day, as history and even modern societies will attest. In deciding whether these pastoral duties should make up a part (or the whole) of your work as a priest, there are a few big-picture questions to consider: Does the priest represent the god they serve? As a priest, am I entitled to or appointed to act or speak for the deity I have devoted myself to, especially in (but not limited to) an official capacity? Going further, do I really care enough about people to do this work? Does my deity want me to? Within the established structure of a religious organization, phrases such as entitled and appointed become somewhat clearer than they are within our global Pagan community, which is a community of individuals who represent a loose collective of incredibly diverse beliefs, traditions, and organizations. For now, let’s say that representing the gods we serve and acting or speaking for them in this world can certainly be part of the function of Pagan priesthood  … but with provisos, as we’ll see.


Chapter One: Pastora l Duti e s • 13

Some related questions then, are: As a priest, do I constitute the deity’s physical embodiment in this world? Do I walk and talk for, or physically manifest, —a deity? These are big questions, too. As we dive in, let’s be really clear again that the following do not comprise a checklist that every single priest in every single community must adhere to lest they get their Priest Card revoked and are never invited to Priest Retreat with all the other good priests, or transubstantiate stuff ever again. You’ll see mentioned in this chapter the shadow side of each role, which is not strictly good or evil in the way it is often misunderstood. The shadow side of each role here is an idea of what it can look like when things in the subconscious or unconscious are out of balance with the conscious mind, creating repression or projection that seeps out in nasty ways. The work of balancing the personal psyche is vital for any priest to undertake and maintain on a regular basis, and it becomes absolutely essential when dealing with and taking responsibility for others. I’m flagging them here for awareness and accountability purposes. The following are ideals and common examples of the pastoral duties of priesthood; at least some can and will apply to most priests most of the time. Please do take them as such.

Holding Yourself to High Standards as a Community Elder As a priest, you must set a good example at all times, and live with honor and honesty as a role model within your community. Being a priest means that you absolutely must hold that highest ideal for personal responsibility, accountability, and awareness, and you must always work toward living it in the everyday. Of course, you are human and make mistakes—but how you own them and handle any consequences are as much a part of this as pretending to be some perfect being who never errs. The shadow side of this attribute is being put on a pedestal and pressured to be perfect—or worse, putting yourself on one and trying desperately to maintain it.

Standing Up for Those Who Can’t Defend Themselves This ideal is about championing causes and being aware of and lifting or supporting those in your community (or in the wider world) who don’t have a voice. It’s about using your power, privilege, and voice in defense of (or advocacy


14 • Chapter One: Pas to ra l Duti e s

for) those who can’t speak or aren’t being heard in the places where they need to have their say. The shadow side of this is the “white knight,” the archetype of the knight in shining armor who comes to rescue a (helpless) damsel in distress, and of course goes on to claim all the hero accolades. See also, “white savior complex,” when a white person rescues “helpless” people of color from their oppression and of course goes on to claim all the hero accolades. In a word, the shadow side of this ideal is about presuming you know better than folk who are actually living with something; don’t just jump in to speak over those you are trying to support.

Practicing Self-Discipline This is an important life skill generally, of course, not just for priesthood (though I guess we can say that about all pastoral functions, really). We all know that living without self-discipline can lead to health problems, distraction, procrastination, financial problems, clutter, anxiety, and much more. Modeling a healthy sense of self-discipline as a priest puts you in the position of knowing you are practicing what you preach and walking your walk, in addition to helping you be more effective at your job. The shadow side of this is extreme self-deprivation, self-punishment for some imagined transgression, wearing hair shirts, or sleeping on beds of stinging nettles, that sort of thing (don’t do that sort of thing).

Earning Natural Trust and Respect through Right Action This is about being the sort of person whom people want to look up to and model their own behavior from. It’s about being an inspiration through nothing more than acting in the right way, in the day to day. If you’re doing that honor and honesty thing as a standard, this does happen naturally, and the trust and respect of your community is an organic outcome. The shadow side of this is being overly invested in what people think of you and contriving or manipulating yourself into action or situation to “earn the respect” you desperately need.

Keeping an Eye on the Community This is the position of watcher, and it comes from having an awareness around how other folks are getting on and being able to identify what potential prob-


Chapter One: Pastora l Duti e s • 15

lems might be on the horizon. Watching ranges from those visits and/or regular check- ins with people who may be at risk for some reason, to staying informed and open to information on how other community leaders or those in positions of power are reacting to or utilizing that power, and if there’s any suggestion of abuse or danger. Generally, it’s best to let folk get on with things and problem-solve or learn from mistakes all by themselves, but there’s also a responsibility to remain vigilant for things that may harm the community or the vulnerable members within it. The shadow side of this is gossip and scaremongering, indulging in rumors or going looking for problems where there aren’t necessarily any there, and possibly creating or stirring things up with your own words or actions.

Support, Feed, or Clothe Those in Need This principle falls under “charitable works” in most faiths, and it is as much about GoFundMe or YouCaring campaigns for medical bills as about soup kitchens or clothing drives. Fundamentally, it’s about making sure that everyone in the community at least has access to shelter, food, warmth, clothing, and safety to a basic human rights standard. The shadow side of this would be throwing time and energy (and even community funds) into fundraising for things that are somewhat skewed prioritywise over those basic human rights being met. No, Nora, you don’t truly need that trip to India to find yourself before you turn twenty-one. Go work in the local homeless shelter or soup kitchen and see what you find there.

Counseling Counseling in this context is about giving advice and guidance to those who seek your support in your position, or through outreach programs or support groups for those who may not know that they need this sort of advice or guidance. It can help with resolving personal or psychological problems, situational issues such as loss or bereavement, and give people who need to discuss their problems and any difficult feelings they encounter a safe, confidential environment. It’s of course important that the priest has professional training and peer support when providing this service. The shadow side of this is nonconsensually foisting unwarranted or unwanted opinions and advice onto folk, which is often done more for the ego of the


16 • Chapter One: Pas to ra l Duti e s

foister than the good of the one who needs it, but it can also be well-intentioned (if misguided).

Learning from Mistakes Connected to right action, this principle refers to having the confidence and honor to admit a mistake, as well as going out of your way to ensure you learn the lesson of that mistake and all the other different mistakes you will undoubtedly make after this. Because hopefully you won’t be repeating this one, right? Taking ownership of errors and growing from the correction of them are among the most impressive leadership qualities we see in the world outside our own communities, and yet all too often they are lacking within our communities. The shadow side of this is being frozen by mistakes: beating yourself up endlessly over the tiniest of errors and allowing them to stop you in your tracks, or wallowing in how bad you are forever. Move on.

Speaking Up Connected to (but not the same as) standing up for the disempowered is having the courage and strength to speak up and hold others accountable for their words or actions. This is the “calling out” or “calling in” that is vital for big things like obvious abuses and crimes. But it is absolutely essential for the little things, too. How do you think the big things get to that point? It can be a tough station to always be the one who says, “Actually, that joke is not funny” or to tell your peer that their “harmless” behavior is not okay. Consider what most would call “locker room talk” between guys, or a comment that’s a bit racist but the group of people hearing it is all or mostly white folks so nobody’s getting hurt by it. No. Stop that immediately. As a priest, you have a responsibility to educate yourself on how all those little things—those microaggressions, those innate expressions of societal conditioning—are truly, devastatingly harmful. And it’s up to us to make sure they are rooted out of the communities we are responsible for. The shadow side of this is a certain closed-mindedness around listening to folks who are genuinely well-intentioned (if ignorant) and who are willing to do the work and learn to be better. That last bit is vital. Intent is irrelevant when the effect is harmful, and those words or behavior must be addressed as we speak up. On the other hand, it is also important to leave some space for folk to learn and grow, and to also help them with it where we can, especially


Chapter One: Pastora l Duti e s • 17

if we’re not the ones directly affected by the harmful stuff and have more bandwidth to do that labor with them.

Teaching and Mentoring This is important for the training of new priesthood, as well as for the general education and improvement of communities. A really important part of priesthood involves looking at your skill set and what your natural abilities, learned knowledge, and lived experiences make you uniquely qualified for, and from there, figuring out a way to pass that on through your community or even to the wider world. There is paid teaching, and what you’re doing as a job is one thing, but if this is your full-time career or even a part-time side hustle (both of which are perfectly valid; you deserve to be paid for your time and skills and experience, just like any other professional), it’s also important to build in accessibility for community members who can’t pay your rates. You can build this kind of accessibility through scholarship positions, work placements, and skills exchange (formally or informally), or a myriad number of other ways to open up vital learning opportunities for anyone who may have need of them. You can also take responsibility for organizing community training classes or programs in areas that you might not personally have the skills or experience to teach, thus supporting not only the students, but other teachers with valuable knowledge to share. The shadow side of this is unfortunately all too often seen in the ego-driven “teachers” who are entirely invested in their own authority and knowledge, bordering on that truly scary “one true way” nonsense. Just so we’re on the same page, there is not a singular truth or path in spiritual experience or expression. A good teacher acts as an advisor, guide, and facilitator for your own spiritual experience. There is no room for insisting, dictating, or owning that.

Leading Prayer, Devotionals, Journeys We all lead busy lives, and in many people’s day to day, there’s not much room or understanding about exactly how one would go about being more spiritual. Of course, “being more spiritual” is going to look different for everyone, but generally we could all do with a little more prayer, active devotional practice, or guided meditational journeys to connect with and/or worship a higher power. One of the functions of priesthood is to facilitate, guide, and enable the community to


18 • Chapter One: Pas to ra l Duti e s

incorporate these devotional and self-development practices into their everyday lives, as well as take the lead and guide devotionals at community events and gatherings where such things are appropriate. The shadow side of this stems from the fact that as Pagans, we don’t have a large body of devotional work to draw from, or at least an agreed-upon or trusted central source. All we have are individuals’ interpretations and suggestions as they have been published through the decades, something that can lead to our Pagan priesthood drawing their devotionals directly from indigenous or native source materials, teachings, or practices and using them out of context, ignorantly, disrespectfully, and in any other number of ways that are frankly just not right. Our justification is usually that “we need it.” Let me point out here the colonialist mentality of taking things that aren’t yours without permission, integration, or even understanding just because you need or want it. This way of thinking is not healthy for anyone involved.

Providing Safe and Open Space for Community Seekers Around the time I was a baby Pagan here in Ireland, if you wanted to get in touch with another Pagan, you had to trek thirty miles through broken glass scattered in the snow while wrestling bog monsters and lake demons along the way. And then maybe you’d find a secret note hidden in a library book on mythology or spot an obscure coded notice by the till in a cafe that served two different nonmeat options on the menu and thus qualified as “hippy.” I’m mostly joking there … mostly. This is the bit where I’m supposed to make some wry joke about all ye Millennials eye-rolling at the thought of no internet though, right? Nah … you’re not getting that from me. Millennials (and Gen Z) are amazing, and you’re doing it all under more pressure than we ever knew at your age. But anyway, pre-internet—things were obviously different. Like, not exactly snow-infestedwith-broken-glass kinda different, but we definitely had to find community in creative ways, especially on a relatively tiny island with zero mystical bookshops to go talk to the proprietor of. Thankfully, things are a bit easier now. One of the functions of priesthood is to provide safe and accessible space for seekers and established community alike. We can accomplish this in a number of ways, depending on the needs of the community and the skill/available time and energy of the priesthood.


Chapter One: Pastora l Duti e s • 19

A community space can range from the virtual, with a moderated Facebook group or similar dedicated to local area contact and networking; to the physical, with a monthly meet-up (we call them moots here) on the same day (e.g., the last Wednesday of every month) in the same location and moderated to maintain safety. There can also be large-scale events, like an annual conference, or seasonal celebrations at the major Pagan festivals through the year to fill the same function: to make sure folk have open, easy access to a Pagan community that is also being taken care of to ensure attendees or members are safe within that space. The shadow side of this has been all too often seen in the past, unfortunately, where community events become hunting grounds for predators to pick up or pick off the new, vulnerable, and clueless in a community. We must be vigilant for this predatory behavior and structure our community spaces and events to ensure there are no easy targets for this type of hunter. In particular, we must also ensure that the organizer/s of the spaces are not predatory in any way. Pause here for reflection. Is any of that work you want to be doing? Does your community need you to do that work? Is it work that you believe your deity wants or expects you to do? Think on the questions raised in this chapter, and perhaps make some notes in a journal or a digital notepad to capture the thoughts and feelings that arise within you as you read or review the pastoral duties of a priest.


Body, Mind & Spirit / Paganism & Neo-Paganism

Develop Your Skills and Talents for Effective Pagan Leadership Join Reverend Lora O’Brien as she explores the duties, responsibilities, challenges, and benefits of becoming a priestess or priest. Whether you are currently in a leadership position, are considering taking on such a role, or would like to be more informed about the Pagan priesthood, this book helps you learn about the practical skills required and provides ideas on how you can improve yours. There’s a pressing need in the Pagan community for strong, aware, responsible, and accountable leaders. A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood provides a skill assessment so you can get a sense of your strengths and areas to work on. You will also discover the two primary categories of priestly duties—pastoral and sacerdotal—as well as insights into group leadership, teaching, crisis counseling, communicating with Deity, devotion, healing, life rites, and community celebration. As Paganism continues to grow and new generations become leaders, this guide shares a practical picture of what the Pagan priesthood can be. REV. LORA O’BRIEN has been consciously following a Pagan path since 1994, and she dedicated specifically to the Irish Goddess Mórrígan in 2004. She is a modern Draoí—a practitioner and priest of indigenous Irish magic and spirituality. For a decade, Lora served the community as manager of Cruachán/Rathcroghan, one of Ireland’s most important sacred sites. Additionally, Lora is a cofounder and legal celebrant with Pagan Life Rites Ireland. She lives in County Waterford, Ireland, and can be found online at www.LoraOBrien.ie. Facebook.com/LlewellynBooks

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A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood, by Rev. Lora O'Brien  

Community Leadership and Vocation There's a pressing need in the Pagan community for strong, aware, responsible, and accountable leaders....

A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood, by Rev. Lora O'Brien  

Community Leadership and Vocation There's a pressing need in the Pagan community for strong, aware, responsible, and accountable leaders....

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