Future of Paganism
Opening the Mystery
It might behoove us to open up our ideas of priesthood. Not everyone need go through the same initiation. The hierarchy of current initiatory systems only works for a few people. Why? Because the mystery of their particular service, creative spark, or connection to the Gods is not served by the rituals that exist. Those rituals are most often rituals to help people lead covens, or teach a certain pathway of magical practice, or marry a particular set of Deity forms, or often, to pass on that particular initiation.
What about the priest who whispers to the plants in the garden at midnight or dawn, and is initiated by the fecund powers of the earth and the effects of the moon and sun? What about the priestess who is the weaver of fine cloth and who ministers to us all through the mystery that flows together on her loom? What about the priestess who serves as a paramedic, doctor, or nurse? Or the priest who cares for children or the dying? All of these are sacred acts with their own trials and rites of passage. Each of these has a power that I cannot begin to understand. When did we cease to "labor along different paths of holiness" in order to best serve our own souls, our own Gods, our own communities? When did we begin to believe the lie that equality means equivalency? My theory is that because we come from broken traditions, we forget the householders and physicians and set our sights only at those who sat on the high seat or made the sacrifices for the community. We forget that every person had a different role to play and that this helped to keep the community healthy and strong.
We are not all the same. Nor should we be. The more people who come to us, seeking the mystery, the more we will have to say, "this is how I can help you, and then you may wish to train with someone who understands your particular skills better than I do. And then you need to learn to listen to your own soul, your own heart, your own hands. What is the mystery that arises from your relationship to the earth, the sky, the Gods, the tides? Find that. Find your work. Find your place."
More and more I am thinking that, while there might be early initiations that are stepping-stones on the way, the deeper initiations are those of finding what our own holy path may be. A third, or fifth, or ninth degree should tell me that you have achieved Mastery of your own craft. And more than that, I should be able to sense it in you regardless of any badge of office.
In my own work, I have begun to find that I can pass on certain tools, theories, and practices to help a person find his or her work. They plumb their own depths, and my work feels like it has taken root, not when they are initiated into a particular tradition, but when they are firmly walking their own path and passing on their own sacred calling. They are flourishing. The mystery can only be revealed in time. It can only be revealed through practice, prayer, and encounters with the numinous. The mystery can never be transmitted through human agency. All we can do is point the way.
Initiation as it stands still has a place, but it is not for everyone. This is not a conversation about the emergence of "clergy" and "laity" so to speak. Rather, I hope we can expand our idea of "clergy" and what it means to be holy people and to serve the Gods and the True Will of our own souls. Some of us will become ordained ministers, priests and priestesses who give spiritual counsel as our main work. Others of us will plumb the mystery of raising strong, intuitive children. Others of us will pass on the psychic arts in all their variety. Others of us will bring about a renewal in urban gardening by taking leadership in our communities. Others of us will worship by defending ancient forests and endangered animal species. Others will map the cosmos or trace the paths of genes or atoms.
We do not have to do it all. There will be some overlapping, of course. We can have our specialty and other skills, talents, or interests. But this current sense that we all have to have one type of initiation cannot hold. The sheer numbers of people seeking out magic and Paganism make that impossible. But so too, does the variety of our souls make this impossible. Why should one type of initiation fit all? And who says that initiations from human agency are always best? Our small, clannish communities may have to open up. That frightens many of us deeply. We think some things will be lost.
Perhaps they will. Or perhaps they will be maintained and passed on by a few, just as they were by the ancients. But I believe something else will also happen:
Should we risk opening the gates of mystery, we stand to gain a fuller society of magic workers, each apprenticed to a different craft, a different way of walking with the holy. And over time, we will once again have sacred beekeepers, sacred potters, sacred physicians, sacred storytellers, sacred seers, sacred engineers and mathematicians, sacred gardeners, sacred schoolteachers, sacred firefighters, and sacred athletes. And our relationships with our Gods will change as we grow from apprentice, to journeyer, to master. There is no stopping Divine work here on earth. We are limited only by the scope of our vision.
What do you see?
This article was first published in Thorn Magazine and is reprinted with permission.
T. Thorn Coyle is an internationally respected visionary and teacher of the magical and esoteric arts. The author of Make Magic of Your Life, Kissing the Limitless, and Evolutionary Witchcraft, she hosts the Elemental Castings podcast series, writes the blog Know Thyself, and has produced several CDs of sacred music. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook!