What Does It Mean To Be A Priest or Priestess?

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Card, The High Priestess.


I’ve been planning on taking my 2nd Degree by the end of this year. Until recently, individuals that obtained their 2nd degrees didn’t go by priest or priestess, however there is now a precedent to do so.I’ve been reflecting on what those terms mean to me as I prepare to take this step. Mainly, my question is framed as, “What does being a priest or priestess mean? Which do you serve: the Gods or the Community? What does that role look like in public vs in private?”

Starting with the Merriam Webster website definitions we get:









I think it’s interesting to note the differences. The definition of priest specifically mentions acting as an intercessor between man and god, whereas the priestess definition just says that she is authorized to perform sacred rites of the religion. My group (and I daresay most Neo-Pagan groups) teaches that everyone has a connection to divine- no intercessor required, though some may seek guidance on how to find their deity and interact with it, if they do have a deity.

Our group offers two paths, one that focuses mainly on administering to the coven, and the other has more duties befitting formal clergy. You can chose to move up the former path and not the latter, but the secondary path requires the training of the first path. For me it’s kind of like learning to distinguish between nuns and sisters in Catholicism. As I understand it, nuns typically live a cloistered life, that is centered around the nunnery. Sisters are out in the community, on the front lines, so to speak. The sisters are usually involved with alleviating poverty and works of mercy. Both believe in the Christian god and take similar vows, but there is a marked difference in what they do. There is are also different orders that focus on specific ministries. Both are usually addressed by the title “Sister,” despite the differences.

I figured I’d better ask those above me in rank for their take. There are similar themes in their answers, but some differences in duties and approaches.

For one of our priestesses the journey began with a traumatic event that opened her to the calls of the Gods. She learned how to listen to them, do as much as she could of what they asked of her, negotiate with them, and even argued with them. Now, while the Gods still play an important role in her practice, she finds herself more community-oriented, focusing on the continuation and preservation of the church and coven for future generations.

Our priest defines the term as thus, ” The primary roles of the Priest/ess are to be the living representation of the Gods here and a vessel for them to inhabit as they join us in both ritual and daily practice.”

Another one of our priestesses says, “Whom does a Priest/ess Serve? I think the Clergy serves the Gods, but then I think ALL Pagans should serve the Gods, as they understand them, whether that be Thor or Brighid or Hecate – or the Lady and the Lord – or The Greater Good or That Which Enhances Life or The Whole. I think in addition to personal devotions/service, incumbent upon all, the Clergy have an additional calling, to serve the Gods BY serving the people.

Who are “the people”? Coveners? …The Pagan Community? The Community at large? Every living thing? The whole planet? …To me, “the people” includes all of the forgoing. We will spend more time on those in the concentric circles which are closer to us as a center point, but we have a duty to do what we can, in terms of our skills and abilities – and limits of time and strength – for all of those groups, working singly and together with others of positive approaches. (Nor should we disregard those of time to come…)”

Our priestess of the highest authority says that she serves the Great Work, that personal higher calling, unique to every individual. She encourages each person to find their Great Work in order to serve in the fullest capacity.  For her, the Great Work encorporates the spiritual and the mundane, the community and the Gods, and each inform the other.

I found an article I throughly enjoyed regarding pagan clergy. An especially important take away from Sunfell’s article was, “… we must now face up to this fact: we are no longer a ‘religion of clergy’. We are at the stage now where there are ‘lay’ members who care nothing about the responsibilities of being a Priest or Priestess. They just want to socialize, raise the energy, visit the Oracles, commune with the God/dess, and have fun every 45 days or so.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to socialize and raise energy, of course. However, if a person is using a term that designates him/her as clergy, than he or she must be prepared for whatever walks through the door at public rituals, to be able to counsel the dying and conduct funerals, to mediate between coven members, to spot psychotic breaks, to advise couples and perform handfastings, arriving early and staying late, and so on. It’s more than just donning the pretty shinies and intoning beautiful words from rituals. It’s more than spending hours in the astral plane communing with spirits and Gods.

Within our group, tasks are delegated out per each person’s talents and also to build new skill sets. I am somewhat retreating and prefer the behind-the-scenes tasks, such as writing the ritual, putting up and taking down the altar, maintaining the church’s website. Our priest is more out-going and is great at welcoming people, teaching our students, performing in the ritual, and fields questions from the general public. Another priestess is great in regards to energy work, counseling, and monitoring people during the heavier rituals. Another priestess always bakes for the libation, knows all the ins and outs of grammar, can pronounce nearly anything, taught the advanced students, helps edit our charter and performs other administrative tasks. Our priestess with the highest authority fosters members’ personal growth, is highly approachable, delegates, mediates, writes rituals, keeps up with the paperwork needed to keep our non-profit going. Another 1st Degree excels at organization, party planning, set up and take down.We are truly fortunate to have each other to keep from letting the work fall onto one person. We look to one another for strength and joy.

For myself, I think I know in which areas I lack. I’m not the most assertive or confident person. I think I would be an okay mentor, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable counseling beyond referring people to community resources. I can have a quick temper. In order to deal with these opportunities for growth, I recently had a speaking role in the most recent public ritual (beyond the usual quarter call), I’m reading a fascinating book on eco-psychology which will be turned into a presentation/book report.

After speaking with our head honcho, it was determined that it’s entirely feasible for me to move up by the end of the year.

Whether or not I’ll call myself a priestess or just say I’ve obtained my 2nd Degree remains to be seen.




1 Comment

  1. I started to identify myself as a priest when I felt a clear calling to it and when I began regularly performing the role, which was around the time of my 1st Degree. Even then, when I was still working within a more traditional format of Wicca, I had no use for the concept of “clergy” as I see no place for laity in the Craft. I am a priest to the gods all of the time and a priest to the people to the extent that they want me and within the limits of my abilities to serve them in a pastoral role.

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