Seekers and Guides: A Balm for a Pagan Plague – High Priestess’ Disease (Part 2)

Don't be a Wicked Witch!High Priestess’ Disease is an epidemic in many Pagan circles.  It can be described as an overinflated view of one’s own importance that afflicts many of us who are just beginning to come into our real power as Witches.  In the last column, I detailed the symptoms and possible causes.  In this article, I will characterize and explain how to prevent and treat this deadly ailment.

Prevention

If you can head the behaviors off at the pass, you can prevent the development of the disease.  If not, you must confront them on a case-by-case basis.

Successful Power Management

Sharing power fairly is an important part of the Craft.  Many groups deal with this by consensus decision-making, while others deal with it by establishing a firm hierarchy and delineating a process by which other groups, created under someone else’s leadership, may form.

In the first case, often a covert leadership forms in the place of an overt leadership.  As long as power is being distributed fairly and all are being given a chance to facilitate (and respected when they are), this is probably just fine.  Making sure this process is respected is a cure to power-hunger. Make good use of Talking Sticks, mentorship and shared facilitation, as well as other time-honored methods of power sharing.

In the second case, usually a Priestess who has obtained a Second Degree in an initiatory tradition has the right to “hive off” and form her own coven if she doesn’t want to remain under the existing High Priestess’ leadership.  As coven leaders, encourage budding Priestesses and Priests who are getting too big for their britches to do so, and take note of your own behavior when you have a rash of defections.

In either case, arrogant leaders who refuse to share power or to help others to build their own groups will soon find themselves without groups to lead, whether they led the old group, or the new.  That’s a good wake-up call.

Ego-Death

I like to tell my students that one of the keys to successful Wiccan life is developing a “right-sized ego.”  Many of us do not appreciate our own significance.  We are taught to be humble; and this leads to false humility and an undervaluing of ourselves and our capabilities.  Arrogance will cause us to be so busy looking at our own noses that we trip over our feet and look ridiculous; but not appreciating our own capabilities undervalues the hard work of others.  When we are comfortable with ourselves we can engage in honest assessment.  For instance, I am a reasonably talented singer/songwriter.  I know many who are better, and many more who are worse.  I am probably good enough to make a living at it if I want to, but not good enough to leave a legacy of lasting value.  I am comfortable with this.

Initiation is also an excellent coping mechanism.  Especially in the Second Degree, we are forced into an ordeal that causes us to confront our fears and our personal issues head-on, because ego is usually a defense against fear–be it fear of hurt, humiliation, pain or fear of death and loss.  Initiation helps us to face the transition from one state to another and recognize the pain.  If you do not have a formal initiation, in my experience, your path as a Witch will cause life to provide one for you!

The firm transition from one state to another is intended to shock the ego into taking a nap and allowing the transformation.  It is a valuable tool, like a Rite of Passage marking the transition to adulthood, but it not always successful, and some traditions don’t have initiations.  However, those traditions usually speak of the Hero’s Journey and the Mysteries of the Dark Goddess, and the same lessons are learned there.

Growing Up

I find that if Witches are stuck in the acute stage of High Priestess’ Disease, refusing to grow up is usually the cause.  In the last column, I described “growing up” as “accepting responsibility.”  Victims of High Priestessitis don’t do this well.  They always have an excuse, or someone else to blame.  You can’t confront your issues unless you admit to them.  Be willing to be vulnerable, and to apologize for your mistakes and make restitution for whatever your part was in it, whether the harm you did was intended or not.

Treatment

Treatment is much more difficult than prevention.  Long-term care or “shock therapy” is needed.  I advise teachers not to take it upon themselves to deliver the shocks, however, other than with initiation.  The gods do well enough at that without our help.  We can, however, help with long-term care.  Teach (and study) the Rede; teach (and practice) honest self-assessment, and encourage (and practice) regular confrontation of the Shadow-Self.  I have a meditation for this on my YouTube channel; you are welcome to use it.

In some cases, professional therapy may be called for.  There’s no shame in this.  The Craft is not an easy path.  There’s a reason that the weird old Witch at the edge of the woods and the mad, wandering Wizard are stereotypes.  Take advantage of modern psychology or ancient shamanic wisdom, and if you delve too deep and find something in there you can’t handle, get someone to help you.

Prognosis

High Priestessitis is 100% preventable and in most cases responds well to therapy, but defense systems of the ego often prevent the afflicted from seeking treatment.  Untreated, it leads to alienation, loneliness, and constant confrontation of the ego.  In other words, the personal issues of the victim continue to rear their ugly heads again and again and again until lessons are learned, locking her or him into destructive patterns, characterized by the victim’s exasperated cry, “Why does this $%&* keep happening to me?!”  This pattern might continue for years.  I find, however, that those who genuinely wish for help will actually recover, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask.

Next column: Degrees in initiatory traditions and what they actually mean.


Seekers and Guides is published on alternate Mondays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

About Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. Her passion is teaching self-empowerment through study of the Craft. A writer, musician, vlogger and podcaster, she makes her living doing psychic and Tarot readings and by teaching workshops. She also writes a column called "49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives" at Witches and Pagans Magazine's website, and a subscription-only Premium teaching blog based on her upcoming book "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power" (Weiser / Red Wheel, Fall of 2014) here at Patheos (http://www.patheos.com/premium/witchs8paths.) For further information, please visit her website http://www.sablearadia.com or her YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/SableAradia.

  • kenofken

    Unfortunately, I’ve never seen anyone recover from this condition. Never even heard a substantial rumor about such a case. There are people whose problems are rooted in the drama and interpersonal immaturity of youth who grow out of that, but the true egomaniacs never “get better.” High, even enormous turnover is never a catalyst for change for them, because they always find new and naive seekers. The are some of the best recruiters on the planet at any given time.

    My solution has been to make the environment of Wicca utterly inhospitable to this ego-infection. If you don’t have a hierarchy and a separate caste of clergy (in a religion with no laity), then there is nothing to attract the egomaniacs.

    Interestingly, even though my own experience in initiatory trads soured me on the concept, I also consider the experience to be the true initiation of my first degree and the catalyst to growth.

    • http://twitter.com/SableAradia Sable Aradia

      Well, I like to think that I have a thinner head than I used to! But you are right in that the hard-core cases never recover. That’s because they don’t want to. Your solution will solve the problem; but in my experience it will also lead to chronic burnout, as those who are stepping up to the plate to carry the torch will find themselves tired of being ignored, disrespected, and criticized by those who do nothing. Not that I don’t agree that some trads are full of victims of this plague, but of curiosity, did you reach second or third degree in your trad? That changes the experience somewhat.

  • Sam Wagar

    Nice piece, Sable. And, contrary to kenoken’s comment, I’ve seen people grow out of the condition. I also agree with you that it’s a Second Degree thing – so many people, when they get there, just go all adolescent for a year or two before either leaving the Craft or passing through Da’ath and moving on.

    I am distressed by the very large number of people, due to the worship of the ego (“my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”) who get stuck with High Priest/essitis but with such a tiny base of knowledge or experience. Really, though, what gets people out of it, which benefits all of us, is a commitment to genuine community service, and the humbleness that comes with service. Or so I hope.

    • http://twitter.com/SableAradia Sable Aradia

      I would like to hope so too, Sam. Thanks!


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