Oh, hem and haw, hem and haw. My mind has been spinning something fierce the last few weeks, primarily about clergy/priesthood within heathenry (and this started before all of the discussions within the Troth community this past week. Synchronicity!). I stated back at Yule that I was delighted about the Loki Ban being rescinded within The Troth, so I renewed my lapsed membership so I could pounce on the clergy training program. I’m currently working on the lore program prerequisites for acceptance into the clergy program, and all of this dovetails nicely with the research I’m doing re: moving to Reykjavik (to pursue a master’s degree in Old Norse Religion with the University of Iceland). I’ve written before at length about my lifelong (or nearly so) desire to be in greater service to the gods through community and service to community through the gods, and I’ve always been extremely devoted and dedicated to my gods.
To me, religion has never been a set of rubrics for worship or dogma or ritual; it’s always been the energy and force that shapes my life and influences my actions. It’s a literal way of life, impacting how I interpret and interact with the world and people around me. Excluding my brief foray into Christianity, I’ve always been aware of the different energies around me, and as I got older, I learned how to differentiate between energies and how to interact with what existed around me. Since oathing myself to Loki (and Sigyn, by proxy), their energies have been increasingly prominent, enough so that people around me tend to notice. Maybe it’s because through my oathing, I’ve provided a place for them to count among their homes, a place where they can relax and observe and snark without having to be all, like, godly, or something. Through me and with me, they can observe and interact with what interests them in Midgard, and they don’t have any pressure to do shit. They can just enjoy themselves, and chill, and take a load off or recharge or whatever. They have an intimacy and comfort level with me that Odhinn and Freyja never really had; Odhinn, throughout my life, has been a demanding mentor, and Freyja was a strong influence in my young adulthood, but started getting bit salty and scarce in my 20s when Loki was trying to elbow his way to the forefront of my attention. Basically, my relationships with the rest of the gang are more in line with a somewhat traditional concept of religion. I acknowledge them, I honor them, I make offerings and interact with them, but it’s definitely a god/dess-human relationship, mentor/mentee type of thing. Loki and Sigyn? Not so much. They make me feel like I’m living in a sitcom more often than not.
This is pretty much why I refer to myself as a Lokian nun: the dedication is absolute, and it’s an all day every day devotion. But this is where my mind starts whirring and rattling along, trying to really figure out my role in the community.
Last week, there were multiple involved discussions on The Troth Facebook group about defining clergy and/or monastic roles in heathenry. With so many heathens coming from Christian backgrounds, for decades the clergy role has been something akin to pastors and priests: providing counsel and leading ritual to bring the community closer to the gods. People are starting to question and demand better definitions for the roles that clergy should be taking, though. Do we follow the Christian structure and expectations, or do we redefine what heathens actually need from someone designated as clergy? How much of what clergy do should be about serving the gods vs serving the community? Do we need different levels, like community clergy, lore clergy (akin to rabbis), clergy who serve all of the God Squad, clergy who are dedicated to one or two gods?
Meanwhile, monks and nuns have, within Christian tradition, been more focused on their personal relationships with the divine, and serve the community as service to their God. That’s in line with my own inclinations. I want to become an accredited clergywoman to make interfaith and community outreach easier (I think having some kind of credentials can certainly help with bureaucratic red tape, especially with things like prison outreach); it’s vital to me that I have good working relationships with other faiths (as a funeral director) and help provide education and guidance for those wishing to step into heathenry so that they don’t get scared off by (or sucked into) the bigotry and racism that can abound. I want to help create diverse, welcoming communities where people feel safe and feel comfortable with building relationships with the gods, because that’s what I’ve been so incredibly lucky to experience.
In one of the discussions about this, a few folks pointed out that historically, clergy and priest/esses weren’t held to a governing body like The Troth because part of the nature of heathenry is the ability of each adherent to have direct access to and interactions with the gods. Priests weren’t (and aren’t) necessary to lead ritual the way they are in Christian tradition because anyone can raise a horn, consecrate a space, and make offerings. They went on to say that anyone who’s dedicated to a god or two, anyone with that regular interaction and daily devotion is a priest/ess. I chimed in, joking about how I prefer the nun correlation because “priestess” just sounds too high-falutin’. I was called a priestess in response anyway. Still feels presumptuous, even though it’s not a claim I’m making.
I’m registered as a minster with the Universal Life Church, so legally I do have the authority to marry and bury. And I’m very, very much dedicated to and devoted to my gods (all of them, even though the relationship I’ve got with Loki is very different than what I’ve got with, say, Idunn or Freyjr). As my spiritual practice evolves, I’m almost morphing into the role of mystic. Loki’s been nagging me about “tapping in,” and I’ve started studying trancework and galdr. Still don’t know what I’m meant to achieve or do with these aspects of heathenry, but dude’s really been needling me to start taking up some of the more metaphysical activities. As usual, my response is, “Yeah, whatever, I’ll think about it,” then start researching, then being all, “Yo, what the fuck? For real? You want me to do this? Who do you think I am?” (What, you think that just because we’re besties, I’m suddenly going to just go along with whatever he suggests? Nah. I frustrated and annoyed him with my stubbornness for 20 years, and I’m too old to just break that kind of habit. Besides, he gets really shrill when he’s exasperated, and I find that hilarious.)
Oh, this post is all over the place. Quite reflective of my mind lately. Yes, I want to be accredited clergy to better work in the community at large, so others know I’m a trustworthy source and a good resource. Yes, I work daily with my gods. Yes, I’ve got fulltrui relationships with two of them in a hilarious “Three’s Company” squad of goofiness and perpetual needling and snark. Yes, I’m kinda sorta starting to take up a more mystic-type mantle at the urging of my main man. But how do I classify myself? Not that I need to be classified, but when interacting with other people, having some kind of titular nomenclature helps to explain what I’m about. What do I put on business cards when I’m networking? This is the real questions, guys. WHAT DO I PUT ON CONTACT AND BUSINESS CARDS?!
Quandry! I don’t jive with “priestess,” but “nun” doesn’t quite cover it, and also seems to raise bizarre assumptions about personal non-religious aspects of my life. I’m not qualified to be called “clergy” as of yet, and I’m hardly a “mystic” or whatever. And “crazy overly enthusiastic Lokian who wants to be active in the community but would be just as happy running away and living a cloistered life in the forest doing witchy shit and chasing foxes” is a bit cumbersome.
Titles aren’t necessary, and they certainly don’t have any effect on my spiritual practice or identity. But I would like to know how to introduce myself, yanno? I’d like to figure out my actual role in the heathen community so I can have a nice bite-sized summary of who I am and what I do.
Then again, I’m reminded of the way Shadow Spouse and his actual spouse have introduced me to the community: “the Lokianist Lokian to ever Lokian (who didn’t even know she was a Lokian until she was a Lokian),” and “three foxes in a human skin,” respectively. Maybe I’ll just go with those.