When it comes to professional Priest/esshood in the Pagan community versus volunteer Community Priest/esshood, there is a lot of confusion. Some folks charge for the same things others don't, some folks think Priest/esshood should only ever be volunteer while some feel it should be exclusively professional, with centralized authority and training. There is no adequate universal scale of value for services that can be applied to everyone who uses the term Priest/ess to describe what we do, nor are there standard regulations about what we do. Add to this that many of us are just happy volunteers, doing our best to be of sacred service in our own Covens and communities, and not interested in having that regulated by a potentially-distant body comprised of people who do not know us, know our work, know the unique needs of our communities, nor know what we are called to do in our own hearts. Paganism, in my view, is still a pretty local religion with many, many sects specific to the geographic and community map.
Pagan Priest/esshood might mean many different things to different people. But, that said, I still think, as I mentioned in my first article in this series, that wider awareness of who is doing what, how it is working, and what expectations are in place might be helpful. Transparency about what kinds of actions we each take in our local communities under the title Priest/ess can be very valuable in ascertaining what it means in a larger sense.
As I mentioned in my second article on this topic, I wear a few different hats: volunteer Community Priestess in CAYA Coven, Ceremonial Priestess for Hire at The Sacred Well, and Priestess at Large in my everyday sacred activities. So, when I call myself a volunteer Community Priestess, what does that mean?
I see my volunteer Community Priestesshood in CAYA Coven through a few lenses. The responsibilities that I have chosen and that have also unexpectedly arisen in the context of my community service over the past decade might be sorted into the following rough categories: local/regional, national/international, planetary, lunar, and solar. This system of classification is one that I developed while working with HPS Evensong of Quintessence Coven when we presented our "Priestess To Priestess" workshop at PantheaCon in 2010. Your own assemblage of duties might look very different than mine in some cases, and yet some of these are likely to be familiar.
Local/Regional Duties as a volunteer Community Priestess
-hosting rituals and ceremonies to mark the cycles of the moon and passing of the seasons
-performing rites of passage (coming of age, handfastings, memorials, croning, baby blessings, home blessings, rites of release, and others) within the CAYA Community and its companion communities
-participating in local/regional events and organizations (for example, I have served on the Committee of the local Pagan Alliance, and I volunteered for the Pagan Festival in Berkeley in the past. Annually, I visit and present at the Goddess Temple of Orange County in Southern California as well.)
-being knowledgeable about the individuals who comprise the local Pagan community, including attending Interfaith and other local spiritual events that encourage interaction and dialogue among practitioners, and serving as peer support to others in their roles as Priest/esses in their own communities
-paying attention to local weather patterns, oracles, omens, and significant spiritual phenomena in the natural world
-offering training to Aspirants, Initiates, and Advanced students of CAYA Coven
-coordinating local public service initiatives, such as beach clean-up or donation drives for local shelters
-taking note of individuals' sufferings in my community and directing prayer, magick, and practical action toward alleviation of their suffering when possible (for example, I have a spell going right now for some Covenmates and friends looking for new homes in a tough rental market, I have daily prayer requests from the CAYA prayer list that I send energy to, and I also currently house two cats for a Coven sister who is not physically able to have them with her right now.)
-monitoring my community for signs of abuse of children or those in vulnerable positions (the elderly, the infirm, the diversely-abled), and taking action as needed
National/International Duties as a volunteer Community Priestess
-attending and presenting at national and international conferences and festivals, such as PantheaCon, Sacred Harvest Festival, and the Glastonbury Goddess Conference (I do receive some compensation for some of these events to help with my travel, but I do not draw a paycheck or charge a fee.)
-appearing in podcasts, videos, newspapers and other media venues representing the CAYA community, or as a practitioner in matters related to my dedicated deities, witchcraft and Paganism in general
-representing CAYA Coven in national organizations, such as the Pantheon Foundation
-cultivating relationships, peer mentorships, and wisdom-sharing practices with Pagans and practitioners/wisdom-keepers of indigenous religions in mutual support and respect
-participating in creating materials that might be of service to the wider Pagan community, such as the CAYA videos on Sexual Predation in the Pagan Community
-petitions and prayers on behalf of the well-being of the entire planet: propitiating Earth Goddesses, water spirits, weather spirits, protectors of various nations and regions, especially in times of trouble (for instance, petitioning Themis to bring order and harmony, and end to persecution, in Greece in the wake of the current Golden Dawn Party activities there, or performing rituals of healing and cleansing for the oceans)
-being a steward of the Earth's resources, pursuing water-saving measures, organic gardening featuring native, drought-tolerant plants, wide-scale recycling and composting, reuse and upcycle culture, resource-sharing in the Beehive (our commune) and CAYA, very low use of plastic, shared-car/car-free living
-maintaining a sincere and constant beam of deep devotional energy to the Great Mother, the planet Earth herself, the embodiment of Goddess
-studying and practicing matriarchal principles related to ecology, family/village dynamics, and power-sharing
-securing the rights of indigenous peoples, protections of animals, plants, and natural habitats of this world
-demonstrating and upholding feminism and humanism
-offering feedback to Aspirants and Initiates in CAYA upon request/as needed per the training process
-sharing reflections from my own learning experiences and the experiences of others I know
-remembering what has been shared with me, and reflecting to the Coveners and the Priest/esses in CAYA their own plans, visions, dreams, and goals for themselves when they are feeling lost or lacking direction, but do not need "advice" per se
-maintaining a balance of visibility and transparency with privacy and personal boundaries
-analyzing my own inner workings when things without appear to be in discord, then taking renewed responsibility for what parts are mine to rectify, if any
-offering creative, critical feedback and deserved praise at the review session after CAYA rituals
-listening to the collective echoes across phenomena that serve as keys to the Now, and unlocking the inner doors of the Mystery in quiet moments as granted miraculously or as per practice
-holding space for secret Mysteries and vulnerable confidences
-innovating and imagining new ideas for the ongoing growth of CAYA Coven
-serving as an exemplar of what a householder volunteer Pagan Community Priest/ess looks like, in reality, to the wider world, with strengths and flaws
-countering stereotypes about Pagans and witches with facts and lived experiences
-bringing to light areas in need of refinement in our community landscape and in the performance details of our activities in CAYA
-offering spiritual direction to the Aspirants, Initiates, and Priest/esses of CAYA Coven as asked and as circumstances may require
-being truthful and ethical in all spaces, the visible as well as the invisible
-pointing out areas of societal disharmony and raising prayers for justice
-taking on big questions in my personal and public life
-radiating love for the Goddess in all that I do, publicly and privately
-directing the sacred spark of my personal power for the benefit of all beings in action, word, and magic(k)
-holding space for public experiences of the Mystery
You do all of this for free?
Yes, though not just me. In CAYA Coven, we have a body of trained Priest/esses who share these duties with me, and we are all volunteers. No one gets paid in our work for CAYA Coven. We ask small donations for our events to cover rent and expenses, $10 per person per event, no one turned away for lack of funds. We perform handfastings, rites of passage, and other ceremonial acknowledgements in our public circles free of charge for almost any community member who asks. We cultivate activities that place voluntarism and community service alongside our ceremonial activities as part of our regular program of events. We do magic(k), perform readings, and offer prayers for one another and for other members of our community daily, free of charge. We do not charge any money for Priest/ess training, rather we ask Initiates to pay in service hours to our community's events and rituals as part of their Initiate year and Ordination Service Year. We pay for all of our own personal supplies and regalia of our offices. We do not ask for membership dues. Our Aspirants are asked to offer a $10 donation at each class, which goes into the CAYA General Fund to supplement space rentals and Coven expenses such as take-away items we might give out at rituals. We have a Clergy Scholarship Fund that is anonymously contributed to and anonymously distributed from, and all ordained Priest/esses are eligible to apply on an as-needed basis for funds to help them attend events or educational opportunities.
CAYA Coven is not a commercial enterprise. It functions somewhere between a tribe and a Church, and we are beginning to explore that road as a legal possibility. When I am wearing my CAYA Coven volunteer Community Priest/ess hat, I am making my choices based on my ability and willingness to serve freely and joyfully in all ways, as opposed to feeling compelled to my duties based on financial considerations. It is then my joy indeed to attend well to the responsibilities I have willingly undertaken. I'm not flawless at all of these things. I make errors in judgment and missteps, sometimes. I also hit the ball out of the park occasionally, and manifest something wonderful. Being a Priest/ess is, to me, a lifelong process, not a ceremonial title alone.
So, what happens when I am acting as a Ceremonial Priest/ess for Hire? Coming up in my next installment.