I know, I know, you're thinking how much can one person babble on so many subjects? Well, the answer is a lot. This is my page that is devoted to the High Priestesses and High Priests of this world as well as the many people who aspire to such a role. There is an old saying... 'it's a dirty job, but somebody's got do it' and that pretty well sums up what it's like to be in charge. Probably the most profound thing I have ever read on the subject went a little like this: (heavily paraphrased) 'Being a High Priestess isn't what its cracked up to be. There are the wine stains on the robe, candle wax in the carpets, and a bunch of happy pagans that don't give a damn about the ritual that you have just spent eight days crafting.' Now, how about that?
Kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?
Fair warning... I'm to switch between High Priest and High Priestess as I ramble. I don't think it's right to harp on one office and not the other... Not all High Priests are bad, not all High Priestesses are good. The job and title is interchangeable, the only difference is gender.
So, what are the pitfalls of being in charge? It's work. Really hard work. Really hard, exhausting, often thankless work. And no one gets to do it except for you. Sucks, huh? It's like being a manager of a dozen witches, who all run on PST (pagan standard time), and think it's cute and funny to remark that getting pagans to do anything together is like herding cats. Being in charge (or being bopped on the head with the leader stick) means that you don't get to have as much fun, you get to worry more, do at least twice the work load of anyone else, and you have to do it with style. It's damn hard trying to fit an 8 hour (or longer) work day, cleaning the house, taking care of family, AND still finding time to run a pagan group.
Being a leader means that you somehow find the time for it, you do it with a smile, and on some level you actually enjoy all the chaos. It means that you do the work out of love and not necessarily to be appreciated. Very little of what a High Priest/ess does is to get noticed. Mainly it happens because you have the training, the experience, are level-headed, and can come up with a quick solution in a tricky situation. This isn't to say that what you do has no meaning... seriously without a good leader many pagan workshops, gatherings, etc. would never have been created. And the people that attend these, as well as open rituals and a myriad other events, are extremely grateful for wonderful memories and pleasant times that they will share. That is the reward... knowing that you are helping to create community.
Well, now is the time to take a slight detour and find out what I mean by community. This is magic at work again folks, because I'm sure that each of us that read this will have a different idea of what that word means. To me community means that we are getting together, people of all faiths, and sharing what common bonds we do have. In a pagan sense it means that many witches, Wiccans, and pagans can get together and learn from each other while sharing a common experience. It doesn't mean that we are all carbon copy, cookie cut outs of each other. Seriously, where is the fun in that? My nature rebels against thinking that I am anything less than unique because I am egotistical. However, I also am a firm believer that we, as humans, are constantly learning and if we are all the same then there is nothing left to learn. There is no need to further our horizons, or to expand our mind, because there will never be anything new. Kind of depressing to think of the whole world as homogenized.
Back to being a High Priestess. It's a glamorous title, something that many people aspire to for many different reasons. Some people are good at it, some people aren't. Part of it is instinct and talent and part of it is training and having a good set of teachers. Notice that the last word there is plural - teachers - meaning more than one. A good High Priest/ess has a varied background and will insist that you have one as well. That doesn't mean that you (or they) have to have earned degrees in many Traditions, but that they have had different teachers to give them a broader outlook on their chosen Path. Yes, teaching can come from a book. The key is that what was offered was absorbed - if they can explain it then they probably understand it.
You really want to tack High Poobah to the front of your name? Are there any hard and fast rules to stick to know so you know that the world will respect and honor you? Not really. Getting used to that answer yet? Part of choosing to follow the religious path you are on is because you enjoy carving out new territory, testing yourself and your beliefs, and finding ways to better yourself. High Priests and Priestesses are human and fallible, they are going to make mistakes. Big mistakes and little ones, the only difference is that a High Priestesses boo-boo's are more public. It's important to give our pagan leaders a break and not judge them as if they were a Deity.
This doesn't mean if run across a High Priest/ess who genuinely abuses hir power or position that you should allow it. A bad High Priest is going to be fairly obvious early on... if he doesn't want to do any of the work but wants all the credit, if he doesn't know his stuff, or is generally lackluster in his role - you'll know. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to put up with it. As daunting as it may sound... you always have the option to leave a group if it is poorly run. Generally High Priestesses and High Priests come in pairs, so you can always go to the other half and ask them what is going on. If the other half is a poor leader as well maybe it's time for your group to take a vote and choose a new set of Circle and/or coven leaders.
Please remember, just because someone wants to fill the position it doesn't mean that they are fit to do so. But each person that wants to move into a higher level of clergy should get the chance, its the only way we (by 'we' I mean pagans as a religious organization) will continue. We need leaders, we need good leaders, but most of all we need people who are willing to try. Without a good leader a group will eventually fall apart, you need one person to make decisions on where the group is headed and what it's course should be. Without that all you have is a group of people who will run around in circles trying to do what everyone wants. But you know what? All that means is that nothing will get done.
Leadership should never be thrust upon anyone. Of course, there are natural leaders out there who will find themselves in charge without meaning to be simply because they're good at the job. But paganism suffers from too many want to be leaders. For there to be leaders there need to be followers, so if someone doesn't want to step up to the plate and be in charge they don't have to be. I see too many groups trying to make everyone a High Priest, but who will implement the High Priest's plans? And which High Priest's plans do you follow?
How do I define a Good High Priest/ess? I think that a good leader thinks twice before acting, they understand that they aren't perfect but don't hide behind false modesty or try to pass the buck. They should review what they've done and look at it objectively. A good High Priest/ess is one who can put aside their ego for the good of the group, while they will make mistakes they are always ready to work at fixing them as well as seeing how they can handle a future similar situation better. I also think a good leader should be flexible to a point, they should have a sense of humor (just a sense), and they should have the ability to stay calm and speak nicely when pissed off. Also, as clergy, a High Priest has to be able to keep confidences, when counselling you never share what you learn.
Now, do you wanna hear my pet peeves? Tough, this is my paragraph so either read it of skip to the next one. Peeves: people who offer to help then don't do diddly, people who do their best to take over because their egos won't allow them to be a part of a group, people who think it's 'cute' to mess up time schedules because they run on PST, and people who insist that they don't have to do such 'elementary' things as study, do the work, cast Circle, whatever because they are Adepts. The only thing they are going to be adept at is removing a foot from their bottom.
Whew, now that that bit of unpleasantness is out of the way, what does it mean? Well, it's east to sum up in one word -- RESPECT. Respect for the leader(s) of the group, respect for your fellow circle-mates, respect for your religion and spirituality, and respect for yourself. It's all about doing your part, pulling your weight, and using your common sense. If you are a High Priest/ess all of those things need to be combined with a decent personality, the ability to know when to keep your mouth shut, and the talent to write and/or organize rituals. I am a firm believer that a good circle leader should be able to create their own rituals, but to be honest if they are aware of their lack in that department and can find someone else to do it that also shows good leadership skills. Delegation is often necessary in running a group, not only does that free up your time but it shows that you trust the people you are working with to the jobs that they are assigned (or volunteer for).
Now, I'm sure that by this point you are wondering if anyone ever fits up to this bill. Well, yeah! I have worked closely with probably eight to ten (this is because I have a faulty memory and I don't want to accidentally forget anyone!) High Priest/esses that have gone above and beyond the call of duty and have been excellent leaders. In all of the time I have been practicing I've only met three people who weren't cut out for their role. Pretty amazing when you take into account that I am a small-town witch who won't travel further than 1 state away for gatherings and such. A good High Priest or Priestess is a good manager, one who can get the requisite amount of work done in the given time. They are smart enough to know what their short comings are and do their best to have people who make up for their lack. They don't pretend to know everything, nor do they plead ignorance when something goes wrong. A good High Priestess is well centered in herself and in her faith and has a healthy sense of personal responsibility.
Pagan leaders do their best to create a sense of unity among a group of people whose only real commonality is that they describe themselves as pagan. Unless you are a part of a tried and true Tradition the people that you work with are going to all have different practices in their worship and magic. It's hard to find a balance within such a diverse framework that allows each participant to feel as is s/he is communing with hir god/dess in divine union. Yet that is exactly what a High Priest/ess faces each and every time s/he begins creating a ritual for a group, especially if it is a ritual that is open to the public. Even if you are a part of a Tradition, each person is going to have a different set of values for their symbology and I think the real key is to help the group create a new set of symbols that work in conjunction with their personal set. You don't want to scrap their personal set of symbols but you do need to have them relate the group symbols to their personal ones so that they are having a religious/spiritual experience.
One of the problems facing pagans of all paths is the want of so many to ascend to High Priest/ess-hood. In smaller areas we are having the trouble of having too many chiefs, too many people who are in charge. While it sounds great to be High Priest Witch-King of the Green Garden Coven... you have to have at least a couple of people who aren't High Priest Witch-King to help you get the work done. High Priests and Priestesses help organize, plan, make the big decisions, yet that implies that there are people who are there to help implement that plan, to make use of that organization. While paganism is a religion of Priests, each person can commune with deity on their own level, High Priest is a role to help unify those voices.
Another problem that you'll find is teenaged High Priest/esses. When someone who isn't even out of high school starts telling you that they're a High Priestess? Yeah, that's probably a big ole warning sign. There are so many books that are available that many teenagers can read a book or two and then 'be a High Priestess'. Most teenagers just don't have the emotional maturity to lead a group, nor do they have the life experience to be able to handle the problems that will pop up. Sure, you can say that I'm being ageist... but honestly, how many over twenty (or over thirty) witches are really going to take a 15 year old High Priest seriously?
So, to wrap this bad boy up... what is the point of all of this. Just another friendly reminder to walk lightly and keep an open mind. Also a warning - don't covet a job for a title until you are sure you can do the work that goes with it. And there is always more work than you are aware of when a title is involved. I honestly everyone deserves a chance at 'being in charge', but look closely at your motives for wanting to do so. Let's help paganism grow into a religious spirituality that is beneficial for all involved.