I have been struggling with my identity for over a year. Each time I come up against my usual habit of proclaiming my battlefields, i.e. “I am a bisexual Wiccan warrior woman of color, hear me roar!”
But today my mentor asked me a question. “What battle are you fighting now?”
And the answer was revelatory. “I am not on any battle field”
“So why are you still fighting?”
Good question ...
Our latest discussion concerns my calling myself a priestess. First off, it is not about me being a priestess, but my inclusion of that title in my self description, as in “Poet, Priestess, Warrior & Witch.” Skipping over the obvious battlefield references inherent in the “Warrior & Witch” parts, what is the purpose of declaring myself to be a priestess?
To me it is a title that best describes what I do day in and day out. It signifies my leadership role in the realm of spiritual community. And to me it is no different than the collar on a Catholic priest or the “Rev” on a minister’s calling card.
So my mentor asked me why I didn’t just call myself a teacher. Well I am a teacher, but I felt like the teaching part was inherent in the title of priestess. And this is where we hit the snag in our conversation. Because according to Dr Conforti, clergy and teachers occupy very different archetypal fields.
Teachers are inherently within the realm of elders, storytellers and the learning process. Clergy are within the realm of institutional and societal power. The explanations of Joseph Campbell figure highly here.
“In ancient times, that was the business of the [priest]. He was to give you the clues to a spiritual life. That is what the priest was for. Also, that was what ritual was for. A ritual can be defined as an enactment of a myth. By participating in ritual, you are actually experiencing a mythological life. And it’s out of that participation that one can learn to live spiritually.”
“A priest is a functionary of a social sort. The society worships certain deities in a certain way, and the priest becomes ordained as a functionary to carry out that ritual. The deity to whom he is devoted is a deity that was there before he came along. But the shaman’s powers are symbolized in his own familiars, deities of his own experience. His authority comes out of a psychological experience, not a social ordination.”
And the birthplace of religion is to be found within how “... the shaman ... translate[s] some of his visions into ritual performances for his people.”
But as soon as the hunter gatherers settled down and begin building institutions, the shaman was slowly replaced by priests who focused on the forms and structures and left out the “troublesome” mystical sources of the shaman.
And this speaks to the core of my internal conflict. I am both a shaman working with deities of my own experience and enacting my visions in ritual, and a priestess who is ordained to carry out societal functions. And further, my role as priestess flies in the face of the majority culture’s Abrahamic orientation, i.e. Christian, Jewish and Islamic.
So calling myself a priestess is both charging into another battlefield, and entering an archetypal realm ripe with issues like power differentials, spiritual inflation and clerical abuse. No wonder this is so hard.
Conversely as a teacher it seems simpler and more straightforward. A teacher guides, illustrates, and points out the path, the thread, or the essence. As my teacher David Rottman declares, “We can learn some things on our own, but for the rest we need teachers.” The ancient source of teachers is less conflicted and the mythological source is still close at hand. So the archetypal realm of the teacher may hold some negative aspects, but it is not as corrupted as the field of clergy is for both shaman and priests.
I actually feel less conflicted, less defensive even, when I call myself a teacher. And this difference is key here. Publicly declaring myself a priestess pulls up all my defensiveness, I feel like I am picking up the dropped flag and charging into battle. And quite frankly, I am tired of being constantly on the battlefield.
This questioning has been helpful for me in so many ways. It has helped me to clarify my internal conflict and its archetypal source. And since I am unwilling to fight battles I do not need or want, I can accept that I am both a priestess and a shaman without having to declare it for the world. And most importantly, I feel much more willing to declare my identity to the world in a new way. A way that reflects the ease I feel within me and within my work.
Katrina Messenger, teacher and writer ... hmmm ...