Just the other day someone asked me for a recommendation for "intermediate" level books, and I had to (somewhat sadly) confess that there aren't all that many. Mostly this is because our practices are deeply unique and what we need to learn at any given time is quite personal. As well, many of us take seriously the aspect of our practices where we act as our own priestess in connecting with the Divine. It is this area that has a near-vortex of useful literature.
The concept of pagan clergy is a tricky one: we are all our own priestesses and at the same time, being human, almost all of us have a need to come together in community. Some of us are terrible at creating ritual, others at leading rituals, and most of us want someone else to do it for us when we are experiencing a transition (a marriage or funeral, for example). A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood doesn't try to tell us what a priestess should be, and instead shows what we are looking for in others. Along the way, O'Brien provides us with an excellent checklist of how to be an excellent, well-rounded, and trustworthy priestess. The latter point is particularly important. A lot of energy has been spent on pulling back the stinking linens to shed light on the problems caused by the predators in the pagan community and yet those problem people are still in positions of power. Having a resource like A Practical Guide offers a guide to what a good leader looks like, and provides a baseline for what we can expect -- and hold our leaders accountable.
Divided into three main sections, A Practical Guide starts by defining the duties of a priestess in terms of pastoral care (ministering to the community) and sacredotal (the ‘inner mysteries’ of devotion). From there the reader is guided through the pastoral skills of group and community leadership, teaching, and crisis care. The next section covers the sacredotal skills of connecting with the Divine, working magic, and the rituals of life. There is an appendix of answers from a survey she did of priests in other traditions and a wealth of resources for further development. The resource list alone is valuable.
There are a number of places within A Practical Guide where the reader is given the opportunity for self assessment and deep questioning. The reader is asked "why do you want to be a priestess?" and asked to explore their motivation. At every turn O'Brien places the emphasis on service and devotion rather than fame and fortune. It's a huge issue, further complicated by the influx of people trained to be followers. Our community deserves better and it starts with us -- all of us -- expecting ethical behavior from those we look to as clergy.
If you are in any kind of leadership role within the pagan community run, don't walk, to your nearest bookseller and BUY THIS BOOK. It's joining my (well-thumbed and dog-eared) shelf of Harrow, GreyCat, Starhawk, and Woods.
~review by Lisa Mc Sherry
Author: Lora O'Brien
Llewellyn Publications, 2019
pp. 230, $19.99