Saturday, August 10, 2013

Priesthood

Natib Qadish is an organized polytheist religion. As such there are requirements for priests. A person cannot refer to him or herself as a priest without meeting certain requirements.

Gulp! What do You Mean Organized?

Some folks have a great deal of discomfort with the idea of “organized” religion, and an “organized” priesthood with a hierarchy. Organization is not the enemy. Structure is not the enemy. Hierarchy itself isn’t always a bad thing. What is bad is when a person in authority misuses the authority. In such cases, authority should be taken away. I’ve seen organization and hierarchy creep into what had been thought of as an “unorganized” group, and I’ve seen the leadership abuse the roles. So let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that such abuses of hierarchy can’t or don’t happen even in “dis-organized” religions. Indeed, sometimes it’s easier to take advantage of the chaos for ill-intent.

I think that people who are apprehensive of organized religion sometimes forget that there are two components in religious practice: formal religion and informal/folk religion. It never has to be one or the other—in fact in the case of most “organized” religions, you’ll find both. For instance, a Jew who attends synagogue will lead her own family Shabbat dinner prayers. A person who goes to Catholic church services sometimes makes use of curandero practices. What a Wiccan does in an Alexandrian circle will differ from his kitchen magic. Just because a person participates in an “organized”, structured religion doesn’t prevent, preclude, or prohibit her religious practices in an informal setting. And it surely doesn’t mean that a person needs to check brains and free will at the door. One can certainly take charge of one’s own practices, and one’s family’s practices, without being a priest.

In this confusion, A priest not accepted by the community does not represent the shared deities of the community or the community itself, and the community is under no obligation to call him by his chosen title.


The profusion of people in New Age and Pagans movements who call themselves “priest” or “priestess” has cheapened the titles to the point that often neither insiders of the Pagan community nor outsiders takes a Pagan “priest” or “priestess” seriously at first glance. Anyone from these backgrounds can snag a title of priesthood for himself citing that he believes himself to be his own priest. If a person is his own priest, then only he himself has the right to call himself by his title. The title carries no weight, no meaning, and each priestess ends up having to prove that she is a priestess instead of proving herself to become a priestess.

An unorganized religion cannot by its nature have a priesthood, for priesthood is indicative of hierarchy and hierarchy is a form of organization.

Revivalist religions often have fewer reservations about organization or hierarchy. For instance, the people of Religio Romana share a common goal of honoring the Roman deities and revitalizing ancient Roman religious ways. Likewise, Hellenics typically share a common adoration of the Greek deities, Greek polytheistic religion and philosophy. In ancient days, Greek and Roman cultures established priesthoods. It makes sense that their revivalists would do so again in modern times. Typically in these polytheistic religions, a self-proclaimed title grabber doesn’t maintain a title for long because a title requires recognition from the deities, community acknowledgment in the divine recognition, and community acknowledgement that the person is a leader. Natib Qadish follows in the same vein. The ancient Canaanites had different types of priests who specialized in roles including scribal duties, offerings, cleansings, or divination. Their titles often reflected the priests’ specialties. We don’t yet have the numbers to support that level of complexity, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t have priests in a general sense today.

Why Have a Priesthood?

It is good to have someone who specializes in the religion, the deities, and the rites to aid the community; someone who has the deities’ blessing and who has accrued knowledge and experience. If you wonder whether myrrh or lotus incense would be better for a particular deity, it’s nice to have a priest you can ask. If you’ve had a powerful dream, it helps to have someone you can consult. In prayer, having a priest aid you is a lot like getting a signal boost. In ancient times, priests would serve the deities continuously in the temples: these acts ensured the deities’ wellbeing and the deities’ continued support of the community. In having a priest around today who is dedicated to honoring the deities and acting on behalf of the community, you know that the deities are continually honored well, even if you can’t. Someone is constantly keeping watch over the deities’ temple and feeding them, honoring them, praying on behalf of you and the community, just as it was done in the old days: this is what I do today, and gods willing someone will be there to continue the tradition.

There are few people with the leadership skills, the diplomacy, the time, the patience, and the relationships with the deities to do what priests do. It’s like any profession: do you try to do your own electrical work and plumbing, or do you hire a professional so you don’t electrocute yourself or end up with sewage problems? And you recompense them for their skills, their education, their time, their preparation, their expenses, and their labor, for there’s a lot that they do that you’ll never see. The ancient Ugaritans did the same: paid their priests so that they could continue the good work.

Patience, Young Grasshopper...

I’ve had people of late ask me about how to become a priest in the Natib Qadish religion. The fact of the matter is if you can’t even list off the deities, you’re nowhere near being able to ask the question about priesthood. The better question at this point would be how to deepen your practices and learn more. A priest in the Natib Qadish religion must have a good working knowledge of the basics--including the Ugaritic texts, the Shanatu Qadishtu, proper offerings and methods of making those offerings, proper temple etiquette, an understanding of khats’a (misdeed) and how to cleanse it, a general knowledge of Late Bronze Age Canaanite history and culture, several years of practice, a clear demonstration of having a connection to the deities, a general abstinence of pork, maintain an impeccable character, avoidance of the temple while incapacitated or impure, have support of the community, have the acceptance of other Canaanite priest(s)...just for starters. This list is by no means complete. You must also believe in the deities as separate deities, not as "facets" of one "energy", not as "dual forces," not as "faces" of "The God" or "The Goddess", not as archetypes, not as metaphors, not as just forces of nature. And if you can't venture a good guess as to why I choose pomegranates as an image with this article, chances are you're no where near ready to ask this question about priesthood.

Priesthood is based on merits, deeds, dedication to the deities, dedication to the community, strength of character, and strength of napshu (a Canaanite concept of the soul).

Not everyone is up to the rigors, responsibilities, and requirements of priesthood: there's nothing wrong with that. You do not have to be a priest to honor the deities any more than you have to be a professional race car driver to drive to work every day.

As a priest, here’s what I do every day in devotion to the deities. This doesn't include what I do for holy days.

And here’s what a regular person needs to know before attending a temple.  Note that this is what a *layperson* must know about attending a temple. It does not include what a priest must do to set up or maintain the temple, or to make amends to the deities if a visitor or oneself violates these guidelines.

Today is:
4 Ra'shu Yeni, Shanatu 85

The fourth day of the month of Ra'shu Yeni (New Wine). It is the 85th year since the rediscovery of the Late Bronze Age Canaanite city-state of Ugarit, from where we have gained much of our primary source documents written in Ugaritic cuneiform on clay tablets. Our next holiday, Ra'shu Yeni, which celebrates the grape harvest and the new wine, starts the evening of Monday the 19th and extends for seven days through the full moon. Our new year begins on the coming new moon...

6 comments:

  1. thank you for writing this, Tess. I couldn't have said it better. We need our specialists. They serve an important role.

    i love that one of the Canaanite qualifications for a priest was 'strength of soul. 'that is lovely.

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    1. You're welcome, Galina. Thank you for reading.

      As for "strength of napshu (soul)" it's not just poetic, it's actual. The strength of a leader's napshu reflects in his/her community and even on the land of her locale. The power of blessings, prayers, magic, divination, all come from the napshu. If one's napshu is weak one doesn't have as much with which to bless, lead, or ensure the vitality of land and community.

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  2. I am one of those people who has described myself as "my own priest." I've got reasons for referring to myself as such, but that is it's own story. The point I want to make is that I would never expect, much less want, someone else to refer to me by that title.

    On the other hand, I often muse on how useless the title is (even though I never really use it) when I don't have any one religious community of my own. I do participate in the Natib Qadish community, and while I finally consider myself to be competent as a layperson in that practice, I know that I know far too little to even think of calling myself a priest in that tradition.

    But I think that's enough of my rambling. Thank you for posting this. I think that what you said needed to be said. :)

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    1. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone refers to him/herself as a priest and requires someone else to call them by that title although they've no backing and meet next to no criteria. I've seen too many people who call themselves "priest" who are a self-defined priests of a community of one. To pressure other people to call him/her a priest is a blatant power-grab.

      Worse, still--and yes, there is a "worse"--are those who try to attach ever greater titles like "high priest/ess" and who try to make others call them this even though again they are "high priest/ess" of a community of one. We've all seen it. And it's made most of us groan in annoyance. It's tacky. Distasteful. And Wrong.

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  3. Tess,

    Thank you for bringing up the relationship between priesthood and community. For most cultures, the priesthood is a service vocation. One serves the spiritual needs of their community by serving the Gods. Based on my past experiences in the Neo-Pagan community working alone AND with a coven, it seems to me that contemporary American Neo-Pagans haven't fully embraced the idea of service in this context. Rather, many counter-appropriate the title "priest" or "priestess" to rebel against the crushing religious institutions they abandoned for Paganism. The thinking seems to be, "I don't need a priest to do spiritual things for me or to legitimize my spirituality; I'm my own priest and I can do it all for myself." Which is fine, if you belong to a community of one, don't recognize that priests need certain training and have particular responsibilities to meet, and don't see service to the Gods or your community as essential to your spiritual growth. But for almost every other religious tradition outside of Western Neo-Paganism, those are the very things that define priesthood. It isn't that others intend to not take Neo-Pagan clergy seriously, it's that they genuinely are perplexed at what constitutes priesthood in a Neo-Pagan context.

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    1. ^ Yep. I think part of the issue with Neopaganism is a lack of structure and organization. A lack of structure and organization leads to a lack of criteria for priesthood. And I think it is this lack of a clear definition, clear criteria, that have outsiders scratching their heads. But, I myself am an outsider, scratching my head.

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