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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in priestcraft

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

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Newcomers to the priesthood sometimes make the mistake of believing that the priest gets to be the star of the show.

(“Look at me! Look at me!”)

They couldn't be more wrong.

(Being myself a man, I write in the male generic, but—alas—beginning priestesses are just as prone to the same misapprehension.)

No: in any given ritual, the priest's job is not to be the focus, but rather to direct the focus.

They're not the same thing at all.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Tug-O-War Rope - Rental-World

The center of the ritual that night was to be a tug-of-war between Summer and Winter.

I think the occasion was Beltane, back in the early days of Paganistan, down at the old River Circle, in its grove of cottonwood trees. Energy was high; folks couldn't wait.

I can't remember how we chose who was going to pull for Summer, and who for Winter; maybe we counted off around the circle. Maybe we drew lots.

Anyone, there we were: rope in hands, ready to have a good haul to settle which season would prevail. (This being Minnesota, I can only hope that the Winter folks would have had the good sense—not to mention the sense of civic duty—to put up a good struggle, and then let Summer win.)

As I said, energy was high. Once we had the rope in hand, people immediately started shouting and tugging. Everyone was having lots of fun; the power in the air was palpable.

Then the priestess killed it.

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 Replacement Sliding Patio Doors | Stanek Custom Patio Doors

In a moment of weakness a couple of months ago, I agreed to cantor for this ritual. Now that the time is here, quite frankly, I don't really want to do it.

But I agreed to it, so I do it anyway. That's what personal honor is all about.

At first, things go fine. I'm a good cantor not because I have a particularly nice voice—it's pleasant enough, but no great shakes—but because I've got a good memory for tunes. Of the ten possible tunes to which we could sing these particular words, I can access the one that we want, on the spot. This gift of instant recall is so deeply ingrained that it took me a long time to realize that it's not something that everyone can do. That's why I'm here: gifts are for the sharing.

About two-thirds of the way through the ritual, I start in with a tune that I've just learned. Two days ago, I didn't know it, though I'd heard it before; but I'm a quick study, and it's been running through my head pretty much continuously ever since. Life for the musical is lived to an internal soundtrack. I woke up this morning with the tune running through my head.

The song starts with a chorus. The tune is catchy, and everyone sings along enthusiastically.

Then comes the verse, and a crevasse opens up at my feet.

The tune is gone.

Every performer knows that sooner or later you're going to screw up bigtime in public. If you survive it, without drying, this invariably marks a turning point in your performance career. It's the performer's initiation, really, and not everyone manages to get through with confidence intact.

But if you do, it changes what comes after. Once you've already made a fool of yourself in public and survived anyway, you lose a lot of your fear of ever having it happen again.

I open my mouth and sing. What comes out of it isn't the tune; it's not even a good improvisation.

But I keep going anyway, if unbeautifully, and in no time we're back at the chorus and back on track. Hey, this is ritual: chances are, people aren't paying particularly close attention to the details. Besides, I've been here before, and managed to come out still alive on the other side.

This is one of the lessons of the priesthood (one which, sadly, many never learn): that your job as priest is to direct the focus, not to be the focus. Sometimes that means that you have to pull the kind of attitude that a cat pulls when it runs headfirst into the sliding glass door: you sit back, preen, and radiate: I meant to do that.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 The dazzling crown which sat on the Queen's coffin - BBC News

Well, I sure hope that pagans were watching attentively during the recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Let's just admit it: for the most part, large-scale pagan ritual (at least here in the US) is, frankly, pretty execrable. Modern pagan ritual, handicapped by its default grounding in the Wiccan-style Magic Circle, only rarely—if ever—makes good ritual of scale.

Fortunately, nobody does ritual of scale like the English.

Some highlights from the royal funeral—from the parts of it, at least, that I saw myself:


The Cortege to St. George's Chapel

Ritual of scale requires choreography, and an eye for larger patterns. Watching the Coldstream Guards—and those with them—walking in unified lockstep as they accompanied the queen's body down the three-mile Long Walk to St. George's Chapel was deeply moving.

Takeaway: Many people doing the same thing together—especially moving together—in unison, has immense power to stir deeply


Carrying the Coffin Up the Stairs of St. George's Chapel

Surrounded by stillness, eight beautiful, burly young guys slowly bore the royal coffin, draped with the monarch's personal flag, the crown jewels, and flowers, up the stairs. The coffin never tilted with the incline of the stairs, but was borne horizontal to the ground at all times.

Takeaways: Precision matters. Use your resources to their best effect. Use available beauty to best advantage.


The Removal of the Crown Jewels from Coffin to Altar

One by one, the Royal Jeweler removed the Crown Jewels from the coffin where they had rested throughout the funeral. Then they were borne to the altar, where three purple cushions awaited them: first the scepter, placed to the left; then the orb, placed right; and lastly the crown, placed center. (Important ritual principle: Save the most important till last.) Did you notice the order in which they were removed? Did you notice the different orientation of the three cushions? Did you notice that everyone handling the regalia wore gloves, with the exception of the consecrated priest?

Takeaway: Ritual of scale imparts a sense of meaning whether or not we understand the significance of every detail. Don't explain; symbolism should speak for itself.

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'Whatsoever You Do, Do Sacredly': or, How to Begin a Public Ritual


(faces people, raises arms, chants)

Let all phones be turned off now.


So mote it be.



Let all phones be turned off now.


So mote it be.



Let all phones be turned off now.


So mote it be.




And so we begin.


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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The High Priestess Effect

They call it the “high priestess effect."

You've been there before. It may not have been the worst ritual in the world, but it was somewhere Down There among the Bottom Thirteen. People walk out of the circle feeling bored, irritable, imbalanced.

All but the high priestess, that is. She's giddy with excitement. She thought the ritual was masterful, one of the best ever.

Premise: If you want to know how a ritual really went, don't ask the high priestess.

The sad fact of the matter is that when you're leading a ritual—especially one that you wrote yourself—your perception of the ritual will be both qualitatively and quantitatively different from those of the other folks present. You have a level of investment and engagement that they simply don't. That fact must inevitably shape the experience.

It's not quite fair to put these parallax views down to incompetency: not entirely, anyway. Perhaps it's a matter of experience, really. Experienced priestesses—priests too, of course—know about the High Priestess Effect and understand that they need to temper their own reactions accordingly. The experienced priestess (or priest) knows that, of all the people in the circle, his/her experience of the ritual is the least important. The right to your own experience is one of the sacrifices that you make when you enter the priesthood.

Moral of the Story: From inside and outside, the same ritual looks very different.

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Mirror to the Sun: A Letter to the Priests and Priestesses of the World

You are not your god. You are not your goddess.

(At least, no more than anyone else.)

Yet you act for your goddess. You act for your god.

That's the paradox of priesthood.

People judge your god, your goddess, by what you say and do.

At all times, therefore, act accordingly.

You—priestess, priest—are not the Sun.

You are a mirror reflecting the Sun.

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