What’s in a name? On being a Pagan Priest

Priest – noun

  1. a person whose office it is to perform religious rites, and especially to make sacrificial offerings.
  2. (in Christian use) a person ordained to the sacerdotal or pastoral office; a member of the clergy; minister.
  3. (in hierarchical churches) a member of the clergy of the order next below that of bishop, authorized to carry out the Christian ministry.
  4. a minister of any religion.

With some frequency I find myself explaining to people that I am a Pagan Priest. This is often met with a response along the lines of – ‘how does that work then’.  The inference being that a) I’m a woman and b) I’m a Pagan not a Christian.  Having been met with this response again just last week, I decided I wanted to write about it and unpick it all a bit.

Being a priest is not (and should not) be a genderised role. As per the dictionary.com definition above a priest is a ‘person’ whose office it is to perform religious rites.  Well that’s me, and also a number of other people whether women identifying or other wise.  It’s a job description or even at a stretch a title and has nothing to do with gender at all.

Paganism is a recognised religion and part of my role and purpose in life is to perform religious rites for the Pagan community. I have many colleagues who perform religious rites in and for the Pagan community and we all use different titles depending on our training, our experience and often our personal feelings about said titles.

Some might wonder why I choose priest and not priestess, given that I am female identifying and that priestess is more typically used by female identifying folk in Paganism.  Well, I did call myself a priestess until a few years ago.  Then I started to notice that it was being used as a title or role definition by a lot of folx across other spiritual paths and practices, and dare I say even as a marketing gimmick by some, and no longer described what I perceive as the community service role that I embody.

The difficulty is that so many of the words and titles around religious practice and roles come from the Christian faith, hence I suspect, people’s confusion at my chosen moniker. It matters that we should all be able to use the language that feels appropriate to us and our work without there being some sort of perceived ownership by any one group. Truthfully I probably wouldn’t call myself anything given the choice, but when you are working within the professional worlds of funerals and end of life care as I do, people like to be able to put you in a box that they can understand and it helps the people who need you to find you.

Whether you call me a priest, a priestess or a chaplain; fundamentally I am a spiritual care practitioner doing what I can to support others on this often difficult journey of being human.  Neither my gender nor my faith should really come into it.  But for now I will keep on telling people I am a Pagan Priest and taking a deep breath before I respond to ‘how does that work then’.

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