I’m hugging the line that runs between doubt and self-confidence because I think I feel ready to take on the burden of responsibility that being priest to the Gods entails. I have the rationale to know that I understand enough to impart the wisdom of the Gods to those who need help hearing Them, but I am also fearful that I will misrepresent one of the Gods or not make the messages clear enough. I think that is part and parcel of the responsibility I’ve decided to carry.
There are those who will criticize me for even daring to refer to myself as a priest (if I’m being P.C. priestess, but priest has always sounded like a gender-neutral word to me, so I’m going to use priest instead). They will criticize me because I am not part of a kindred, I didn’t go through a traditional apprenticeship, and I’m not very involved in the larger Pagan community because of where I currently live. There will be those who say that a priest is granted the power to impart the wisdom of the Gods by the community around them, but I disagree. The power to impart the wisdom of the Gods is granted by the Gods Themselves.
Now, I will agree that it is far easier for those already part of a community to be seen as more of an authority figure than someone who is on the fringes of that community. I will agree with that only insofar as the central community goes. But the people on the fringes of a community see the parts of the community where the rifts really exist, while those in the community who sit in its center can ignore the needs of the ones that just barely fall within the lines of that community.
That’s where I fall. It’s not that I don’t care about the central Pagan and Heathen communities; it’s that the central communities already have the authorities they need. There are High Priests/Priestesses and Godhi/Godha within the central communities doing wonderful work. The resources are plentiful.
But out here on the fringe where solitaries hang out, where Lokeans tend to gather, where those who just don’t seem to fit anywhere else, there are precious few resources available. Every time I find a new book on Loki, I devour it because there are so few. I can barely think of five books that do Loki justice, and I know there are hundreds of Lokeans out there who have to bear the same frustrations that I do.
Even in a community that is supposed to be inclusive – the Pagan community as a whole – there are outsiders. People whose beliefs just don’t quite mesh with the rest. And I’m no exception to that. In fact, when it comes to being someone who doesn’t quite mesh, I’d say I could be the poster-girl.
I’m an aggressive woman with next to no ability to be submissive – I chafe under the hierarchies imposed upon me because I hate being told what to do. I’m pansexual, though I usually stick to the bisexual identifier when people ask because most people at least understand what that means. I spent my years from 12 – 22 being an eclectic Pagan before I came to Heathenry, and I am now 28. I’ve never sought out a coven, never belonged to a kindred, and I’ve never felt the need to seek a teacher. The only teachers I’ve ever had, in regards to my faith, are the books I’ve read and the wisdom the Gods themselves have imparted to me.
I have everything I need to be a priest to the Gods, but I can’t say for certain that I have everything I need to be a good one. I will always strive to be the best that it is possible for me to be, and hope that I won’t be found lacking. There will be those who say that I lack the fundamental aspect of priesthood – a community to preach to. But I don’t think that matters as much as others like to say it does.
The primary responsibility of being a priest is to be a living example of the wisdom that the Gods choose to impart. There is the responsibility to be a voice among all the other voices saying, “This path, too, is valid.” Not better, not preferred, but valid. To be able to stand up and tell other solitary Pagans, especially solitary Heathens, that it is okay to be solitary. That it isn’t necessary to be part of a community to walk with the Gods. That it’s okay to believe differently than the people around you.
I don’t need to be a priest for the mainstream Pagan community; there are enough there already. I’m interested in the fringe groups, the people who have been told that the way they worship is wrong, that the practices they indulge in aren’t acceptable within their faith, that the Gods they honor can’t be honored at communal events. These are the people who are the dearest to me because these are the only people who can cause change.
My soul is sworn to Odin, but my heart is sworn to Loki. The relationship between Odin and Loki is so grossly misunderstood that correcting those misconceptions will take many lifetimes. Especially when there are Heathens out there equating Loki with Satan and trying to banish Him from community events. Where Loki is banished, nothing can change. Nothing new can occur. Loki is where change comes from. He is where hamingja comes from. I’ve discussed hamingja before, so I won’t go into it here, but Loki’s role is pivotal.
The problem we currently face on the fringes of Paganism and Heathenry is the stagnation of it. There are a lot of people who start down Pagan pathways only to turn back to Christianity a few years later because Paganism is too hard a faith to follow. We have to acknowledge that we live in a society that values convenience over conscience, and we live in a world where self-accountability has become all but obsolete.
Introductory Paganism books fail to disclose to the readers that Pagan paths require a huge sacrifice from the start. I’m not talking about sacrifices to the Gods; those are different. No, what I am talking about is the sacrifice that comes when you have to give up the concept of finding an easy faith to follow. The sacrifice that comes from accepting that the only person that can be held accountable for the actions you make is yourself. That’s a huge sacrifice in a world that is more interested in placing blame than accepting responsibility. There is little wonder that people turn away from Paganism when they realize that easy answers can’t be found.
That’s just one of the problems, and that is a problem those in the more central Pagan communities need to address. What I need to address – what the fringe groups need to address – is our lack of contribution. I don’t mean getting involved in the bigger groups – I mean individual contribution.
There are thousands of solitary practitioners, but few of us lend a voice to the debates going on in the mainstream Pagan community. And why should we? Those debates, in the end, don’t matter to us. After all, we’re solitary, so we do things our own way. That’s the mentality I’m talking about.
Because most of us aren’t disinterested in the bigger issues. Most of us would love to lend a voice, but we’ve been shot down and ignored and told that what we believe is wrong so often that we just tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter. We sit back and we let the mainstream communities tell us that the way we practice is wrong, that we can’t call ourselves certain things because we don’t meet certain requirements. And, instead of arguing with the force of the mainstream, we withdraw from the arguments entirely. We say that we don’t want to deal with the drama.
But that isn’t really true. What we don’t want to deal with is the emotional fallout. We don’t want to be told, over and over and over that our beliefs are wrong. We don’t want to be forced to question our own beliefs because the mainstream disagrees with the way we do things. So we just keep our beliefs and practices to ourselves because we can at least avoid a fight that way. We can keep ourselves from feeling belittled and we can keep from getting hurt.
And that’s fine – no one wants to be hurt. No one likes to to be told that what they believe is invalid. But the truth is, none of us want to truly BE solitary. We want other people to understand what we believe and have them be okay with it. We don’t need covens. We don’t need kindreds. All we need is the acceptance of our differences.
As a Lokean, I know how tiresome it is to get on a discussion board and find the threads discussing how Loki isn’t really a God after all, and it’s irksome to read through the posts because they are so disrespectful towards Loki without understanding His character at all. It’s enough to make me want to punch someone, so I understand the desire to stay away from the mainstream.
At the same time, however, if we keep allowing others to tell us that our beliefs are wrong, and we just withdraw, aren’t we letting them win? Aren’t we telling them that they’re right, after all, and our beliefs aren’t as valid as theirs? I know Loki wouldn’t stand by if someone was treating Him that way – He does not tolerate disrespect. That’s shown, quite clearly, in the Lokasenna, where he intrudes on a feast He wasn’t invited to (and it’s clear that He should have been offered an invitation) and makes everyone pay for the slight by mocking them intensely.
Now, I’m not saying that we should all go out and start mocking those who insult us, but I am saying that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be so easily defeated. Why do we let other people make us feel bad about the way we honor the Gods? The Gods don’t care how we honor Them – most of Them don’t even care if we honor Them. If the Gods don’t care, then why do we allow ourselves to become complacent in defending the way we choose to believe and live?
The people on the fringes of any community are the backbone of the community. We’re the ones who forge new tools, who create new paths. We’re the ones who know how to look at things differently. It is our responsibility to develop the true potential of the Pagan and Heathen communities. The mainstream can’t do it – they’ve become too blinded by their need to criticize the way we believe to see that we are the lungs of the community.
So, going back to what I said before – I’m ready to assume the mantle of priesthood. All I can do is impart the wisdom the Gods give me to share; it is your decision how you use that knowledge. The truth is, I’m only the catalyst, the one that carries the messages. If my help is needed, then I offer that freely. I’m not going to try to force anyone to see me as an authority figure; my purpose in life is to guide, not to coerce. I will ask hard questions, and I will raise issues that are difficult to address, but no one ever has to agree with me. I respect differences. In fact, I encourage them.