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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Cautions For Pagans Who Want to Honour the Fae Folk

My friend Seo Helrune has recently been blogging about ancestor cultus and I recommend checking out the series of posts they have out so far. Reading the series and especially their take on the pitfalls of ancestor veneration has inspired me to write my own post here about the problems that can come up for pagans incorporating the Fair Folk into their practices or who are trying to set up the equivalent of a cult for them.

Some of these points may seem obvious or self evident but they are all things I have run across, more than once, from various people. Clearly those people would disagree with what I'm about to say. I'm saying it anyway. This can be understood though as my personal opinion based on my own study and experience, but I stand by them.

So, if you want to incorporate the Good People into your pagan or witchcraft practice, here's some things I'd be aware of:

Lack of Boundaries - I'm repeating Seo Helrune to start but I think this one is an important one. Many, many people seem to approach dealing with the Fair Folk as if they are harmless, kind, higher beings* who only mean us well and therefore should be given carte blanche in a person's life. And I'm sure there are certain types of spirits and even some kinds of fairies that do fall into the 'harmless and helpful' category. But not all of them by far. And it is really dangerous to just offer a blanket invitation to anything and everything Otherworldly because you think they won't hurt you and are all sweetness and light - or they won't hurt you because you are a witch and that somehow offers you special protection. It doesn't. Boundaries and warding are not only your friend but are absolutely essential.
However tempted you are to just freely invite in anything you perceive as a fairy because its a fairy, really don't do this. At the least treat them like you would a human being, with appropriate caution until you have a sense of who and what they are.

Animism =/= the Fairy Faith - Well, not directly anyway. I'm increasingly seeing this direct equating of the Fairy Faith and animism and its concerning. It's kind of like saying Witchcraft equals Wicca. This is of course partially true because the Fairy Faith can and does easily incorporate into animism. But animism isn't the exact same thing as the Fairy Faith and that's an important distinction that has to be made. Animism is simply a term for a belief in an enspirited world. The Fairy Faith is the system of beliefs and practices around fairies and the 'practices' part is an essential aspect to it; despite the faith part of the name it isn't just believing that Otherworldly spirits exist. You can say that animism is part of the Fairy Faith but the Fairy Faith isn't synonymous with animism. If you want to incorporate the beliefs and practices of the Fairy Faith into your paganism cool but just be careful not to blur the lines and start to assume that the practices are also a hallmark of animism. Animism is really diverse and not limited to the western European/Celtic fairy faith practices.

We Don't Worship Fairies - We may worship deities associated with Fairy, including the Tuatha De Danann who are also said to be Kings and queens of Fairy hills, but we don't worship fairies in general. I think part of this confusion may come in because we do offer things to them and give them a reverential respect. Or atavistic fear. We offer to them to keep on their good side and to avert potential harm. We offer to them not because we worship them but because they are owed a portion of the harvest, and also its a pretty effective way to appease anything that's annoyed. We respect them because they can and will impact our lives for good or ill if we don't. But we don't worship them the way other religions worship Gods. It's a nuance but its an important one.

Fairies Aren't...A Lot Of The Things People Say They Are - There's massive confusion about what the Good Folk are, which is fair because it's a confusing subject. I mention this because I see a lot of people who try to incorporate fairies into their practice by pigeonholing them into a specific narrow category, usually nature spirits, elementals, or some kind of earth angel. This is really problematic because then the person moves forward as if all fairies are only and entirely that narrow thing. Which of course they aren't. So another big tip to moving forward in creating a practice with the Good Folk is acknowledging the diversity and that while you personally may only or by preference interact with a small specific group there is actually a lot of other possibilities out there.

We Don't Rule Over Them - Listen I'm just going to be blunt here I am immediately skeptical anytime I see a person claiming to be in a position of power over the Good People. Especially if its implied that position is based on caretaking in some sense. They don't need us to care for them. The meme that goes around in december talking about christmas trees being based in a tradition of bringing a tree in to give a forest spirit a warm place in the cold is total crap. The people who talk about being in charge of fairies in a certain place or of leading a group of fairies? I'm not buying it. There are methods based in ceremonial magic to command, compel, or bind fairies that's true but that doesn't grant a human rank or inherent authority over the Fair Folk. There are also cases of humans with fairy familiars but again the human doesn't have authority over that being - in fact usually the fairy was assigned to the human by the Fairy Queen and one might argue they are there in part to keep an eye on the human.

Respect Matters - Probably tied into most of the other points above, but another big mistake I see many people making is a simple lack of respect. The majority of these beings aren't twee 20th century flower fairies or the goofy fairies found in modern kids tv shows. These are beings who have been shown a level of respect for thousands of years because they can seriously mess a human up. They won't all do that and some kinds are more benign than others as was mentioned but, many can and will bring illness, madness, maiming, or death sometimes for no other reason that it amuses them to. Take the Slua Sidhe for one example of that. If you want to interact with these beings safely on any level then respect is vital. Even if you feel like you have a group you deal with that is of the small harmless sort don't forget they aren't all like that and don't let your guard down or drop the company manners.

Effort Matters Too - Far too many people jump into fairywork with no deeper knowledge about fairies than the plot of their favourite young adult novel or game and they never go any further. They treat it all like a game as well, making things up as they go along based on what they personally like or feel like doing. The truth is if you as a pagan or witch want to seriously get into this it is going to take some effort. There are good books and blogs out there to be found (avoid any that hit on the points already mentioned) and there are good youtube videos and podcasts. If you are going to get into this any deeper than knowing what to do and not to do to keep from getting maimed then you are going to have to put effort in. Lots of effort. There's no other way.

Well, that's some of my cautions and suggestions anyway. Do with them as you will.

*I'm not going to compare them to angels here because I read the Bible and angels are really scary.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Conjunction of the Pleiades: The Darkening

We are moving forward in the year and I am continuing to frame out a series of rituals for the cycle of the Pleiades. We have arrived at the next one, the conjunction with the sun which occurs around old Bealtaine (mid-May) - this year on May 14th. I have roughed out a ritual that people can use if they'd like. I'd recommend doing it during the day, when the sun is up as this is also when the Pleiades are in the sky now. 
  As I mentioned in my previous post on 'A New Holy Day Cycle' this holiday is the time when the Pleiades disappear from the sky for the next 6 weeks. I have been calling it the Darkening. My own personal mythology around this event is about the Queens travelling out. When the star-fire that is the Pleiades disappears from the night sky the Queens have parted ways and left their Courts. Maybe they are travelling on earth. Maybe they are searching for something. Maybe they are sowing change or strife or beginnings or endings. They each have their own agendas.  I call the 7 Queens by titles:  Queen of the Greenwood, Queen of the Wind, Queen of the Wave, Queen of Winter, Queen of Flame, Queen of Horns, and the Crane Queen. 
 I have tried to keep this ritual fairly similar in outline and flow to the other one, to help with the continuity. I will use a similar format in all of the rituals for this series.   

Find a good space open beneath the sky where you can see the sun above you. If this is not possible due to weather concerns try to set up an altar near a window or perhaps arrange some appropriate artwork near your ritual space. If necessary this entire thing can be done as a visualization exercise. My own outdoor altar for ritual work usually contains space for offerings, water in an appropriate container, candles, and a token representing the Fairy Queen I honour.
Bring some food to offer, perhaps honey cakes, and clean water to pour out.
Create sacred space as you see fit if you wish to. I usually do this now by moving counterclockwise around my space sprinkling water and chanting to open the way between worlds.
Invite in any Powers you wish to. This is not a ritual for named Gods unless they are explicitly associated with the Good People of one culture or another. This is a time to invite any goodly inclined spirits, allies, Fairy Queens or Kings in. We invite, we don't invoke, evoke, or compel. They either come as we call or they don't.
I might say something like:
"I call to all goodly inclined spirits,
spirits of the land, spirits of the air,
Fair Folk who would be my friends,
Friendly ones who aid my liminal path,
Fairy Queens and Kings,
My wonderous Lady ---,
Queen of stone and well,
I invite you all to join me here
As I honour the journey
Of the Queens and
the Darkening of the stars"
You can tailor this initiation as suits you and whatever Queen or Spirit you are calling.

After this is done wait a moment and observe. Use all your senses to note if there is any perceptible response to your call. This may be obvious, such as the wind picking up or the temperature changing, or it may be a more subtle feeling of presence.  Don't rush but wait until things feel settled before moving on.
"Today the Seven Queens leave the sky
Leaving darkness for day
Separating to their own paths
Their powers burn as brightly
Whether they stand together or apart
But our world is fuller for their presence
They ride out for good and ill
Between worlds, between time
The gates are open, may
They be opened wider
The Queens look upon the land
May they bless what they see"

Put out the offerings you have brought and pour out a bit of water.
"I offer sweet honey cakes [or whatever you are offering]
And pure, clean water
To the Queens
To the Good Neighbours
To those beings that
would aid me
to the spirits of air
and of earth"

At this point if there is anything else you would like to do in your ritual - sing, dance, chant, divination, meditate, journey - do it. When you feel ready to say goodbye, say:
"The 7 stars have left the sky
The Queens ride across the land
Our worlds are intertwined
As they have been and will be
Praise to the Queens,
May they bless us
A good word to the Fair Folk
May they cause us no harm"
Pour out the water that is left. Say
"May my words praise the Queens
May may actions show respect to the Good Folk
May my allies stand with me
May there be peace between me
And the spirits of the air and earth
May there be friendship between me
And all goodly inclined spirits."
Take down your compass/circle or sacred space however you normally would. In my case here I'd walk it clockwise sprinkling a bit of earth or leaves and asking that the space be returned to its former state. Take down your altar. Leave the offerings out. Perhaps take a moment to stop and listen, look, feel the energy around you. See if there is anything worth noting or any sense of presence. 
Ritual Feast
Part of my own celebration will include a feast or ritual meal. This is inline with some older practices that would incorporate ritual feasting into the celebration of holy days. My plan is to have a special meal featuring fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, and ideally anything that could be wild gathered this early (obviously that would vary greatly by region). A portion of that meal will be set aside and then left out as an additional offering. I will also take omens about 12 hours after the ritual to get a feel for how things went, the wider energy, and the next 6 weeks.  
If the theories behind these rituals hold true then the time between the conjunction and the heliacal rising should be intense energetically and represent a time of changes, good or bad, of endings and beginnings, and of increased Otherworldly activity. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Priesthood in Service to the Other - Part 3: the trouble with terms

I began this series inspired by conversations I was seeing in the wider pagan community about clergy. I felt that it would be good to add my voice into this as someone who serves a different role but one which has been identified as a 'priestess' and willingly took on that word and its associations. This has opened a fascinating dialogue on social media that has given me a lot of insight about how other people perceive the ideas of clergy and priesthood in contrast to my own existing ideas. This dialogue has affirmed certain things for me and also made me reassess other things.

In part 3 I'd like to look at some of the things I've learned about the way the ideas of clergy are viewed, how those really don't apply to me (quite frankly) and discuss the difficulty that we face in witchcraft and paganism seeking accurate terms and labels for things we do. And yes, as much as we might not want to have to deal with them, labels really are useful and even necessary in interacting with others.

Crossroads at Derreen Gardens, co Cork, Ireland
So, confession. I wasn't raised Christian and while I studied Christianity later as an adult I don't have the best grasp on its nuances. In point of fact I wasn't raised with any formal religion but with a loose secular agnosticism. Because of this my understanding of the words 'clergy' and 'priesthood' come from a wider view of the words as they are used across world religions and the dictionary definitions; this is well enough in itself but it does lack the nuanced associations that come with understanding a word in specific contexts.
  After my first post about priesthood in service to the Other there were several comments made across social media where people were, from my perspective, reading in different things to what I'd said than I had intended. This came from the disconnect between my admittedly simple use of the words versus the way people who have grown up using the terms think of them. There were assumptions that I was implying an authority for myself over other human beings or that I was trying to make myself seem special. My understanding of what clergy was implied that they would only have authority of those specific people who chose to adhere to that religious tradition - a catholic priest doesn't have authority over Baptists, and an Imam wouldn't have authority over Sikhs. By my logic I didn't think anyone would assume I had any authority over other humans, which as far as I'm concerned I don't. I will advise people, I will answer people's questions, I will teach. In extreme circumstances I might intervene directly. But as I once said to some friends in the context of a Fairy Ball (riffing off the idea of a designated driver) "I am no one's designated dark court fairy". In other words I'm not responsible for other people's safety or fate in relation to the Good Folk. I have no spiritual authority over human beings and I don't want any.
I also want to clarify, since this also seemed to have caused some confusion, that my service may in part involve teaching and relaying messages but I am in no way the voice of the Other. That is impossible. No one person can speak for the Other in toto and I wouldn't trust anyone who claimed otherwise. Also while I may speak of the Other generally I am tied to a very specific group and that is where my service lies; I may have some knowledge or experience with those outside that group but my focus is specific in practice not general.

 I used the term clergy because it's a nice gender neutral term that seemed to loosely fit - by the dictionary definition of clergy* - and its one that's used in often enough in neopaganism. To say clergy or priest is something that people understand and there is an ease in that. I do create and share rituals for Themselves, and I do in some circumstances engage in group ceremonies. I was proclaimed a priestess of the aos sidhe in a ritual setting, which was one of the most profound moments of my life and feel obligated to acknowledge that. So there are aspects of the words that I did feel applied to me and which I associated with.
However the conversation which ensued after the initial blog highlighted an aspect of the term clergy that doesn't fit what I do at all. I'm starting to realize that the English words clergy and priest might not be adequate even though they are the default equivalents. I admit I was missing nuances with the words which many people clearly inherently associate with them. Its fascinating to see the layers and life the terms take on even in neopaganism because of external assumptions beyond the dictionary meanings.

In short as I explained in part 2 there are specific ways that I serve the Other - and I am not unique in this. I know other people who do the same or similar and I firmly believe They are increasingly active in the human world and seeking people to connect to, including witches. Some of the ways that I serve them do overlap with aspects of priesthood, although perhaps not enough for me to continue using the word; I am currently debating whether I will or not. I am really grateful for the discussion that was opened up by these posts and how much its made me think - I would much rather use these terms consciously than by default.

ruins of a porridge house, Ireland, 2018

If I decide not to use clergy or priesthood what then would I call what I do? I am a witch of course but that is such a broad word as to be almost meaningless without further context applied. In specific I'm a bantúaithech but most people aren't familiar with that older Irish term - it doesn't exist in modern Irish. It does describe my witchcraft much better though with its connotations of the Good Folk and of tuathail movement. There are a few modern Irish terms that partially fit what I do but firstly I don't want to apply cultural terms to myself that were usually given by community members (not self labelled) and also even these specific terms don't fully fit. Most are meant with the intent of a person who serves the human community by intervening and mitigating harm caused by the Other. As my friend Steve rightly pointed out, my actual purpose is "primarily to keep [humans] from annoying the Other" and he's not wrong there, although there's some additional layers as well. 

The term for what I do in relation to the Daoine Maithe, as they told me, is echlach (modern irish eachlach). It means an attendant and also a courier or messenger. I've been hesitant to use this generally in part because I know most Americans won't understand it at all, and in part because I'm not sure I should use a modern Irish term for myself (just not wanting to seem presumptuous). There is no easy English equivalent though and there's a...shall we say...humorous or humbling double meaning built into eachlach that can't be conveyed in English.
The Good Folk have a sharp sense of humour.

So I don't know if I should use the term echlach, or not, or bantuáithech, or try to find another term that accurately defines what I do for Themselves in context. I have yet to find any English language word that is close at all. I hesitate to use the Irish but perhaps I need to accept that Irish is the only place to find the accuracy I want. There will always be situations where priestess will be the default because people do understand it better although I think I may avoid clergy and priest now due to the nuances so many people have for the words. In the same way I default to neopaganism to define my community although that too may be more habit and comfort than accuracy. 

As our community moves forward I think these discussions are important and we do need to work out for ourselves what words we are going to use for the varying roles we fill. This is an ongoing conversation and I am looking forward to continuing to explore these concepts and terms. I have really appreciated the  feedback and diverse points of view being shared with me. 

*clergy - a person ordained to perform sacred or ceremonial functions in a religion

Friday, May 10, 2019

Priesthood in Service to the Other - Part 2: My practice

So having written more abstractly about what I think being clergy to the Others is like in contrast to being clergy to the human community I felt like maybe I should follow that up with a bit of a more personal take on it. A discussion of what being that sort of clergy actually means in my life.
Again this is reflective of my own personal experiences and may not apply over to other people. Nonetheless I feel like sharing it may be helpful not only to illustrate what this sort of clergy actually can be but also for other people doing this same thing.

Me, an Cheathrú Chaol, 2016

I want to state at the beginning that this is not something I actually encourage people to do, although I think the Other is recruiting at this point. It is not easy or light work, and while it comes with blessings it also is a full life commitment. It changes you. It changes you physically and it changes you on deeper levels and I can't emphasize this enough. I think many people either underrate of downplay this aspect of service to Themselves when it needs to be highlighted.
Cave pulchro populo.

I will also state up front that the words clergy and priest are not the best fit for what I actually do - that would be echlach^ - but they are the closest words in modern pagan parlance.

There's a reason that I only-half-jokingly call myself the Fairy Propaganda Department*. A big part of what I am tasked to do is to carry messages and to spread information. Good information. Information grounded in actual folklore and genuine living belief, as opposed to modern fiction and fancy detached from belief. This means a lot of research, a lot of paying attention and respecting the cultures - particularly Ireland - where these beliefs are rooted and still found as they have been. It means knowing when to listen to others who know more and how to evaluate what is quality information and what isn't. It means sharing native voices and raising awareness of those people in Irish (or Welsh, or Scottish, etc.,) culture that are writing and talking about the older beliefs and keeping them alive. And it also means writing about and speaking about these things myself, and speaking up in cases where the misinformation out there is egregious and really needs to be addressed. Whether I want to speak up or not. What I've found is a lot of emphasis from them on people shedding the twee ideas and returning to older beliefs, those that are more respectful and even those that include fearing them. They don't want to be viewed as inconsequential or harmless, but want people to remember their power and what true awe is.
I am also sometimes asked to share more personal things I am told, what would be termed personal gnosis. This might include sharing a recipe from a dream which they wanted shared or a method of cleansing. I actually don't like sharing my own personal gnosis especially in open formats but this is something they insist on. They want certain things brought forward and sometimes I have to do that.

As their clergy I have sometimes acted as an intermediary between humans who are having issues with Them, and Them. In those cases my purpose is usually to identify the problem going on and help the humans to realize what they need to do to fix it. I do know how to do things like exorcizing them from a person or place, or curing elfshot, but I see these as last resorts in extreme circumstances. My role is to serve Them and help advocate for Them, not to protect the human community in general.

Another aspect of my own service is to create rituals that help facilitate their presence in the human world, and to help ground them here. I believe this is in order to reclaim places and space where their influence has been eroded. Seo Helrune wrote eloquently about this in their blog 'Restoration not Reenchantment' and I recommend giving it a thorough read. This is an issue anywhere that the Good Folk once held sway and were driven out but also can be felt in places where they may not have been initially but have moved into with the people they are connected to. I have removed iron from trees and spaces they claim or wanted to claim and I've undone energy that they were averse to, when and where I could. I've also unburdened fairy trees of rubbish in the guise of 'rags'** tied to them that was harming them - I can't not do this because preserving these trees which are sacred to Themselves is part of what I have to do.

And of course I make offerings to them. I could include that as part of my clergy service I suppose. I do make offerings as well on behalf of other humans and sometimes even to try to mitigate things done by humans. for example I once went out the site of a fire started by a carelessly tossed cigarette and did what I could to soothe the anger of the spirits there. I also will sometimes act on behalf of a group for the Othercrowd, usually for safe passage or a safe visit in a specific place.

None of the above are contingent upon my mood or feelings. I have had to do things whether or not I wanted to, and I have had to do them when I was sick and would really, really rather not. I realize how ominous that sounds, but here's the thing - at least when it comes to me but I suspect in general - when you agree to this particular service you are committing to doing what you are required to do. I agreed to be Their clergy and that means I agreed to do what they need done. Not if I want to or if I feel like it, but if they need it done.

There are prohibitions that come with this type of priesthood and they aren't negotiable. There are places I can't go and if I edge into violating that, there are real world tangible consequences. I have told the story before about the dietary restrictions so all I will mention again here is that I have had to give up two of my favourite things - coffee and chocolate - because they decided I should not have them. Why? I suspect the caffeine, which a friend suggested may interfere with connecting to them. They don't hesitate to remind me of the control they have over my body and my life, which again sounds ominous, but is a reality.  My hair isn't straight anymore, my life isn't my own anymore - if it ever really was.

It's also worth mentioning that They are possessive. They are possessive of their places and their trees and anything else that they claim, including people. Shortly after I was fully claimed by them my ties to the Gods I'd been dedicated to began to shift and within six months the first had fallen away; within a year everything else was either gone or changed so that they were my main focus. They had always been in my life, since childhood, but before always as part of a larger whole. After my initiation they became the whole.

I also want to once again emphasize that this priesthood in no way makes me special or exceptional. It's important to know your own worth and not too be too humble but I'm going to emphasize this aspect precisely because I see so many people in relation to the Othercrowd who tend to put themselves in aggrandized positions. The Good Neighbours are not impressed with us, in my experience, and they don't play to our egos unless they are playing a game - one I discourage anyone from engaging in. The Fairy Queen that I serve and the wider group of Daoine Uaisle that I am connected to are clear they need me for certain purposes and that I do have value to Them but the Queen's nickname for me, as I have mentioned previously, translates to 'maid servant' and the actual title she gave me is older Irish for messenger or courier. While its true that there's lots of historic precedent for the Fairy Queens and Kings taking human lovers (yes that happens in folklore and anecdotes) this doesn't indicate that those humans were actually special - just the opposite actually it was common enough to indicate that the human probably wasn't particularly special but may have filled some interchangeable ritual or cosmological role.

I feel very blessed to be doing what I am doing and there are good aspects of it, but it is also very difficult. I've had experiences that people wouldn't believe if I told them, although at least I have witnesses sometimes - like that time we were travelling and I made some offerings at a fance only to have a fairy ring appear at the spot the next morning. Or the time I pushed a prohibition and went into a cemetery only to find my car wouldn't start; only when I finally acknowledged that I was edging close to breaking that prohibition and promised not to do so again did the car finally start (after I'd called the tow truck of course). Much of the time when I open up about my actual service to Them and the experiences I can share I feel like other people will think I am crazy, and perhaps that's why I have such fondness for the song Bedlam Boys. This is not the romantic, idealized service to the Fair Folk that some people describe but a gritty, painful, wonderful obligation. And I wouldn't trade it for anything, despite the cost.

^modern Irish eachlach. There are two definitions, and while its the messenger/attendant one that applies I'm not going to argue with the second meaning either.
*I'm not alone in this position however. We are a growing department.
** I mean literal rubbish here not legitimate rags. The rag tree tradition is an important cultural practice that has sadly been misunderstood and misused, particularly by tourists. The result is that the material tied to the trees is often not the biodegradable fabric it's supposed to be but plastic and man made materials that will kill the tree. Rags are also tied to trees that aren't even properly rag trees, but rather any tree that people randomly decide must be special in some way.

Priesthood in Service to the Other - Part 1: The wide view

Recently I've seen a lot of discussion about what exactly pagan priesthood is and should be, which is a good thing. This is a topic that needs to be discussed more often and more thoroughly in a community where many people clamour for the title but fewer are perhaps willing or equipped to do the actual work. John Beckett has written about pagan priesthood in several blogs including 'Preparing for Pagan Priesthood' and 'The Limits of Accessibility for Pagan Clergy' and Lora O'Brien has an entire book coming out this fall on the subject: 'A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood'. These are all vital aspects of the ongoing conversation and I sincerely hope that they move the wider understanding of modern pagan clergy forward.

From my own perspective, admittedly as someone raised a bit feral and without structured religion, it has often seemed to me that Pagan priesthood today is heavily modeled after Christian clergy. There is an ingrained idea that a single person can or does serve all roles - ritualist, teacher, counselor, mediator between humans and spirits, magician, organizer. I don't often see the idea of pagan priesthood specializing, or the acknowledgement that a single person may not be equipped to handle all aspects of such service. There's also a pervasive sense that the clergy person may be serving the Gods or spirits but is primarily serving the human community and in place to aid that human community and to help it grow and flourish in its spirituality.

I am not part of that kind of priesthood, although clergy I certainly am.

I can obviously only speak for myself here so I'm not trying to make any blanket statements for everyone who may feel they are clergy serving the Other* and whose experiences differ from my own. Hopefully other voices will add themselves to this discussion and a fuller picture will appear of what this type of priesthood is like. For now I will at least offer my own ideas and experiences here.

The first thing that I would say here is that this is not a path I chose and I suspect that those who end up serving the Other don't do so because they set out to. I'm not implying that I'm special in any way - I don't think I am at all and I know other people who have similar stories - but I do think that it isn't for us to decide that we are going to do this the way we might decide to set ourselves to learn a skill or train for a job. This is a calling, something that we are compelled to do. In point of fact while I can certainly look back all the way to my childhood and see a trail of interaction that logically led me to where I am now up until 2016 I was quite happily focusing on other things; my connection to the Otherworld was only a part of who I was, not the sum total of my identity. That didn't change because I decided it was going to but because They intervened, and I think that's how it tends to go. This is not a choice we make but one we can only fight against or consent to.

Whereas those who are priests/priestesses for the human community are logically focused on serving the human community the focus for those who are clergy to the Other is unrelated to the human community except when and where that human community must be dealt with for the sake of the Other. Let me give an example. Human focused clergy work up rituals whose ultimate purpose includes honouring and connecting to the Gods but which is also meant in large part to offer a meaningful spiritual experience for the human participants which facilitates their spiritual growth or feeling of connection. How much or how little this is the focus will vary, but I have yet to personally see a pagan ritual in this format whose purpose isn't at least in part the experience of the human participants. In contrast when I engage in ritual for or with my spirits it's not about me, it's about them and while I may get a feeling of increased connection out of it that isn't the point - and quite frankly I don't think they care whether I feel moved or not as long as they get what they need from it. I have had experiences when I didn't remember to offer something or do something and they simply took it, which illustrates my wider point.

Another thing I would note based on my experiences is that when the Other puts a person into a position of teaching its for their own benefit not to better humanity. The idea isn't that you are acting to help humans evolve into better humans or achieve some higher consciousness but to help Themselves regain some of their lost respect and position. And those two goals are antithetical. I'm sorry if people disagree with me there, but it's true - in our current hubris-rich, human-centred culture we can't encourage a focus on the importance of humans and act like the Other is hyperfocused on helping us be better and also return to a place where the Other was given an atavistic respect and even fear. And trust me some of them do want to be feared again.

This service is also not predicated on helping or counseling the human community in relation to the Other. Now it is true that people do contact me for guidance about problems relating to the Good Neighbours, but in this context I am not advocating for or trying to assist the humans - I'm on the side of the Other and trying to act as their intermediary in the situation. To use an analogy I'm a bit like a wildlife rehabber who comes in to deal with situations where a wild animal and humans have caused each other problems; the rehabber is trying to get the best outcome for the animal and secondarily the humans. That's basically me in these situations with the Othercrowd. I am not a pastoral counselor or spiritual therapist, I'm an Otherworldly troubleshooter.

Being clergy to the Other is also not in any way easy. My particular focus is the Daoine Uaisle (Gentry) and they are demanding, uncompromising, and unrelenting. This isn't hyperbole. Not to downplay the difficulties that come with serving Gods as clergy because I know that isn't easy either, but in my own experience there is something that is more relatablely human in the Gods, or in how they choose to interact with us anyway, that is absent in the Other. Macha might be sympathetic to my needs as a new mother for sleep and even Odin could be negotiated with but the Good People have only their own agenda to worry about. How their clergy manages to enact that agenda in the human world is the priest or priestesses problem, not theirs. They can also be unremitting in their expectations and their requirements - I have things I'm expected to do, no matter what, and I have prohibitions that I must not violate, no matter what**. This service is not easy, and it isn't something to be entered into lightly. It has a heavy cost and it only grows heavier.

Ultimately serving the Other means focusing on the Other and enacting their will, in some sense. The things that make pagan clergy useful to the human community may or may not apply to clergy for the Other but in my experience for the most part they don't overlap as much as I might have expected. To use another wildlife based analogy I might say that pagan clergy in general are like park rangers their purpose being to aid humans in interacting with an environment and its animals safely and to take care of that place, while clergy for the Other are like those people who wander off to live off grid in the woods and see themselves as part of the environment not a visitor to it. That's a very rough analogy of course but hopefully it gets a bit of the idea across.

Priesthood to the Other rather than the human community is a multi-layered thing, just as priesthood to the human community is, but it is different in essential ways. Priesthood for the human community is about serving the Gods and spirits in order to maintain balance and gain their favour for the human community. Priesthood for the Other, quite frankly, isn't concerned with the human community's overall well being. In point of fact in my experience serving the Other as clergy has only the most tangential connection to the human community and instead is focused on the Other. All those things that are usually listed as so essential to pagan clergy fall by the wayside when you are centered on beings who aren't interested in humanity at large, groups of worshippers, or even individual spiritual advancement.

This is also not a path for someone who has divided focus or who isn't comfortable othering themselves more than they may already be. It is a hard thing to do and one that once you start doing you can't - as far as I know - stop. It is consuming. It's also important. The Gods and the human community have clergy and as paganism grows those numbers grow and develop, but the Other increasingly is speaking and wants to be heard - and needs more of a voice.
They are reaching out and finding those who can serve that need.

This is a series of posts exploring my personal understanding of and experience with the idea of priesthood in relationship to the Other. I encourage people to read all of them entries to get a fuller feel of the subject.

*non-human spirits under any iteration
**there is of course some crossover here with some Gods but I mention it so people are aware that this is a part of service to them and needs to be considered.