The Wiccan priesthood isn’t like most priesthoods. We don’t require a cloistered life. We don’t require celibacy. We don’t require degrees of higher learning from an accredited institution (just degrees from your coven). We don’t require pilgrimages, or poverty. Heck, all Wiccans are considered priests and priestesses by virtue of their dedication to their faith and their gods. We don’t need intermediaries.
Becoming a High Priest or High Priestess, however, is another story. The High Priestess (as I will refer to the position just for ease of communication, but this is applicable to the High Priest as well) is a position wherein you are the living embodiment of the Goddess on Earth. Naturally something like this should never be taken lightly. In other religious such as the Catholic church, the priests are the conduit through which parishioners learn from God, seek forgiveness for their sins, receive communion with the Lord, and so forth, though people can certainly pray themselves.
I don’t know how it has been for other people, but I can for myself that I never fully appreciated what it means for people to be clergy. For a young person like myself, I think we conceptualize our clergymen as these guys who spend all week writing a thirty-minute speech about religion and morality, then they work for an hour on Sundays. Sure, there’s the odd wedding here and there, a funeral, a baptism, but these are just blips in time. They really only “work” for a few hours any given week…right?
I think it was nursing that first really gave me an appreciation for clergy. Hospitals have trained chaplains from multiple faith backgrounds, and their work is usually difficult. They are visiting the sick, the dying, the hopeless, their families–every once in a great while they’ll have something happy like a wedding (I helped one of these to occur on my old floor), but people are not typically in a hospital for good reasons, nor do they seek a chaplain when things are going well. Over and above the chaplains, however, were the number of pastors and priests who would literally drive six hours each way to come spend twenty minutes with one of their flock. Enough to give them communion, a prayer, counsel them, or even just say “hi.” The hours patients on the phone with a clergyman back home could be staggering. I’m physically present and don’t always have that kind of energy for a patient–and I’m only 29. Many of these priests were well past their prime.
My own High Priest was a counselor to me. He mentored me, would let me come over and cry in his Laz-E-Boy when I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore, buy me a pizza–and it was so soothing, so calming. I was in college most of the time I knew him, I HAD to have driven him nuts with my young-woman melodrama. But he never turned me away, never made me feel unwelcome, and never fed into said drama. He was more blunt than most priests, probably (“What the hell are you doing?” was a common question, lol), but it was what I needed and responded to. I think because I saw him as extended family, I didn’t fully appreciate how what he did for me was not just out of love of a friend, but out of the duty as a High Priest.
I remember when I read my first book on Wicca–and probably many people will smile with understanding at this–and when I read about how it was matriarchal, led by women, and that covens were headed by the High Priestess. How glamorous it sounded! How powerful! Some…questionable…texts even said that if you founded a coven, you were automatically a High Priestess! It’s just a title for a leader, like president of the chess club or captain of the football team! Of course, unless you’ve actually held those positions, you might not realize all that they entail. The same is true of my journey to becoming a High Priestess.
From early on, I wanted it. I wanted it so badly. I wanted to be knowledgeable and respected. I wanted to be recognized. I wanted to bring Wicca out of the shadows of mistrust and fight for our right to exist and worship in this world. I wrote so many papers about it in school, haha. My teachers seemed to enjoy the different perspective at least!
Oh, but I was young. I didn’t understand or appreciate the role fully. Even when I received my third degree, I don’t think I could’ve understood what it would mean. By the time I had received it, I didn’t…want it, the way I had when I was new. With knowledge and a modicum of wisdom, and 12 years of study under my belt at that time, I knew it was an incredible honor, I knew I probably wasn’t really ready for it but our High Priestess has passed and we needed a new one, and I was the most qualified. Dragoman knew that, though I’m sure he had a lot of trepidation and frustration at the time of that transition. I wanted to move forward, but I still had roadblocks.
I’m six months into being relatively on my own. I have been called upon as a priestess for happy occasions, but also for incredibly painful occasions. Because there is no impersonal flock, my circle is the people closest and dearest to me, my duties hit harder. I have counseled people who were a threat to themselves. I have married close friends who helped bring my husband and myself together. I said good-bye to Dragoman, my High Priest and beloved friend and mentor…and now I’m going to handfast my husband’s childhood best friend to the love of his life, who is dying. She just turned 29..and their love..their love is the reason I believe love is the glue that holds the Universe together. My own marriage is incredible, my husband and I share an amazing bond, we’re a perfect fit in every way I can imagine…but I can, without reservation, without jealousy, say that the love between these two people…it just raises the bar. It’s the kind of love that poets dream about, electrons and protons whiz around each other for, that you have to just celebrate because to do otherwise just doesn’t make sense. It is an incredible honor to have been asked to join them in spirit where they cannot be joined in flesh…and it will be one of the most incredibly difficult things I have ever done in my life.
If you are Wiccan. If you dream of being a High Priest or Priestess. Think on this. Think twice. There may be respect, even power–but it doesn’t come without its price. Think twice.
Please. Light candles for them. Light up the night that it may give them peace and happiness in the time they have left, be it days, weeks, months. Light them up that the world may know the warmth and light of this incredible couple and the beautiful young woman who has so indelibly touched us all.
Light the night.