People who are not me will, and have, spoken on the problem of defining yourself or a word by what it is not rather than what it is. This post isn’t about those such definitions. This is about what happens when someone causes a word to lose all meaning, often because they don’t like what that word means or are striving for some twisted sense of universalism. (Admittedly, I think most universalism is rather, well, twisted.)
This has weighed on my mind as I read through Francesca de Grandis’ Goddess Initiation. She misuses a wide array of religious and spiritual labels, as well as declaring spells, rituals, prayers, and such to be the same. I expected this. I’ve heard her works before, and I knew what I was getting into. Her bastardization of language hit me especially, though, when she declared that ministry does not have to have anything to do with gods, religion, community, or ceremonies. She states that ministry is anything you want it to be.
Well then. My ministry is going to be eating pie. (Pardon all the pie metaphors and inserts. I’m rather keen on the stuff at the moment.)
While I think this attitude of ‘ministry is whatever you want it to be!’ is a larger problem in Pagandom, what really bothers me about this approach is that it actually diminishes a lay-person’s religious devotion at the same time it erases the actual purpose of ministry. My eating pie isn’t ministry. Nor am I acting a minister when I pray at night or write about my gods, though we’re getting a bit closer. When I behave in a way that reflects well on my gods and brings them honor, I’m still not behaving as a minister or priest. Nor does my journeying to the Faerylands and doing my work in that land count.
Leading a ritual, keeping the holy days and leading a community in worship of the gods and such – that is acting as a priest. (Forgive me on the clunkiness of defining priesthood, as I’m still figuring out exactly what it means in a polytheistic sense. I welcome any input from others on what priesthood is to them!) A priest does not exist in a vacuum. A community is required.
Many people say that we are ‘all clergy’ because we (modern Pagans or polytheists) all have equal access to the gods. I certainly agree we can all speak with and interact with the deities. I also know some people have trouble hearing or communicating with the gods, but I believe they can still reach those gods on their own. We have no need for someone to pray for us. We can have a need for someone to lead a ritual or keep some of the holidays/dates. But a priesthood cannot exist without a community.
What troubles me about this dissolution of priesthood, though, is that it contorts how we approach laity in religion. Part of what bothered me about ADF was that it didn’t have a place for lay-people. Everyone was expected to know the rituals and conduct their own, everyone was expected to have an altar or shrine. Though it does seem altars are important parts of polytheistic practice – acting as a place for the gods to exist in the home and receive reverence (again, any help cleaning up this wording is very appreciated!) – I don’t consider holding rituals to be the area of the laity. I do think prayer is important, as is behaving in a manner that reflects well on your religion, gods, or spirits.
I want the words I say to mean something, and I don’t want to be misrepresented. I don’t want to misrepresent myself. I’m not a priest. I don’t counsel others, I don’t interpret oracles, I don’t create and perform rituals. Maybe someday I will (I would like to), but I do, and saying that my behaving in a way that pleases my spirits is ministry isn’t true at all. My working through my own psychological issues is not acting as a priest. Last I checked, it’s something most people do, and I’m not someone who thinks that everyday life qualifies as priesthood.
Living my religion is something I’m working on. It’s something I still suck at most of the time. So I keep trying and revising and searching for aids and interests and knowledge, and some I toss aside and some I keep. People will keep on using words as they will, but I at least hope to achieve some more distinct definition of the words I use.
(This has been a pointless post.)