Many times, when people are seeking information about becoming or being a High Priest/ess, they would more accurately be described as Ritual Facilitator.
More information on that can be found here — How to Facilitate a Public Ritual
A Priest/ess or High Priest/ess will often function as a ritual facilitator, but a ritual facilitator might not be a Priest/ess or High Priest/ess.
Allow me to briefly explain the difference in these definitions as I understand and use them. Admittedly, not all Witches/Wiccans/Pagans use these terms in exactly this way, but I think at the root, most of us have a similar or basic understanding of how they overlap.
A Priest or Priestess is clergy for a god, goddess, group of gods or goddesses (pantheon) — this means that their first role is service to a deity or group of deities. Their second function is being the guide, teacher, and intermediary to assist the spiritual/religious and magical growth of their community. This community may be the general Pagan/Wiccan/Witch community where they live or it might be specifically for their own group of students or a coven. To serve in this capacity, a Priest or Priestess should undergo specific study and training, gain experience in clergy function, and above all, be called to this role of service.
A High Priest (HP) or High Priestess (HPS) is specifically a title that ONLY applies to group/coven settings. It is not something a solitary can earn or possess because being a HP/ HPS means specifically that you oversee the training and ritual practices of a group. If you’re a solitary Witch, that means you practice alone and not with a group, therefore, the HP/HPS title is irrelevant. Even more specifically, a HP/HPS goes through a specific system of training to earn that title, and while a HP/HPS should be respected for putting in that time and effort to earn it, the rank does not carry over from one tradition to another (outside of certain particular cross-tradition situations). For example, if Lady Sundrop is a High Priestess of the Starfire tradition of Wicca, that doesn’t mean that she would be qualified to act as the High Priestess for a ritual of Bluestone Wicca. Just as an Evangelical minister would not be qualified to run a Catholic mass. The Catholics would still refer to the Evangelical minister as “Pastor”, but they wouldn’t rely on him to lead their service according to their traditions and practices. If you are seeking this title (be sure it’s for the right reasons — continued in the article below — then you should seek training with a legitimate tradition within a coven because this is a coven title.)
A Ritual Facilitator is the person who leads a ritual. They don’t require any specific training, though a bit of practical knowledge is always a bonus. They don’t need to be elevated through various systems of education. They don’t hold any reverential credentials and they probably haven’t taken any specific oaths of office to their selected god(s) or goddess(es). A Solitary Witch or the member of a coven may become a Ritual Facilitator. The only real requirement to fulfilling this role is commitment and understanding. A Ritual Facilitator typically emerges out of an informal study group or circle of people who are learning together and often this position rotates among the people so that everyone can get a chance at practicing. It’s also common practice among these types of eclectic groups to refer to the Ritual Facilitator as a “priest/ess”. That’s fine because they’re filling that role — acting as the intermediary between the gods and the ritual participants to provide an insightful experience for them. But, after the ritual is over, they put away the “priest/ess hat” and go back about their business.
Understand that ALL of these roles/titles are a big responsibility and wanting to provide these sorts of services for others is a generous gift of time and energy, but don’t confuse one for the other. They have specific areas of specialization and expertise. Witches understand that words have power, so be sure you’re using the correct word for what you are seeking to do or provide.
So, here’s what my experience has taught me about being a High Priestess:
* KNOW YOURSELF. Check your ego at the door. The role of leadership can be a very heady one. A High Priest/ess must know how to do self-exams on their personality, psyche, and magical selves. You cannot be a communicator for divine energies if you can’t sort out your own head messes.
* Have connections or an up-line that you can go to when you are facing something you don’t know how to handle or answer. If you don’t have people who know more than you on a subject or that you can go to when you need to vent about coven troubles or seek advice/counseling, you will suffer for it and your group will suffer for it.
* Have your life in balance. If you are in a domestic relationship with a lover/mate, or if you have family obligations, make sure those are being met and are not toxic or dysfunctional. Have your financial state in balance. Your coven is not there to pay your bills.
* Be confident, but not conceited. Be knowledgeable, but not a know-it-all. Be giving, but not a door-mat. Be a leader by example, not just by word.
* Do not seek to be on a pedestal, or held up by your students/coveners as a “grand pooh-bah”. It may feel good for a while, but it is a disaster of the greatest magnitude just waiting for the right moment to topple. In this vein, do not allow your students/coveners to put you up on a pedestal. Let them know immediately that you are human, and remind them of this often. Let them see when you make mistakes and let them see you handle your mistakes graciously. If you can’t handle making mistakes or being seen to make mistakes, then you have some personal work to hammer out — see the first item on this list.
* Do not use your students/coveners as guinea pigs. This means do not ask them to do something that you have not done yourself. If they are to be guinea pigs, take this role with them and let them know that it’s something new for you as well.
* Do not claim to be an expert in a subject you are not. It is alright if you don’t know every single herb and its use. It’s okay not to know all of the uses for every stone. If you don’t understand Kaballah, don’t try to teach it. If you have no experience with Enochian invocations, don’t try to use one. This sort of thing seems like it really shouldn’t be pointed out, but it’s surprising to me how many ‘teachers/leaders’ don’t have a clue what they are talking about. They have just mastered the art of bullshitting.
* Walk your talk. I cannot stress this enough. In the role of High Priest/ess, you will be judged. Expect this and don’t act surprised when you are held up to this level of scrutiny. You are putting yourself on par with the clergy of any other tradition. The same level of piety and spiritual practice and maturity that you would expect a Catholic Archbishop or Jewish Rabbi to uphold is what you will be judged against. Make sure you can handle this. If you cannot, see the first item on this list.
* Be understanding and compassionate, with others and with yourself. But most of all, be honest. To lie to others is deceptive, but to lie to yourself is the epitome of deceit.
* Remember why you are doing this and find something to love about it each day. Burnout happens, but you can hold it off if you do this. Along with remembering why you are doing this, take time for yourself. High Priest/essing is a full-time job. When you run a coven, you are teacher, counselor, mediator, playground organizer, ritual coordinator, supply source, and a whole lot of other things. Hours go into planning and creating lessons and projects that might only get an hour or two of semi-focused attention. Schedules are planned and people are late or don’t show up to meeting times. Sometimes no one wants to stay after and help clean up. Be prepared for this and handle it as it arises.
* If you haven’t already done so at some point in your life, take a course or read some books on psychology, counseling, management, and group leadership. You will need all of these skills in the role of High Priest/ess. I am not saying that you have to have a master’s degree in them, but lots of people come into this role without that sort of stuff under their belt. High Priest/essing is on the job training in most cases, so do some study on your own to meet these needs if they aren’t taught to you in depth by your own High Priest/ess.
* If you are a High Priest/ess, it is because the gods have ordained it so. The path of Priesthood is a calling. It’s not something you decide to do because you want to, it’s something you decide to do because you realize that you can’t NOT do it. Remember that. You are in this role for THEM, not for yourself. May they always move swiftly and strongly to remind us if we falter in this.
So, how did I get to the point of being able to dispense all that wonderful advice?
Sometimes, I wonder myself how I ended up where I am and I try to take stock of such things. When considering the duties and role of being a High Priestess, and how I ended up in that position, I have to try and start at the beginning. I have intentionally left out names and identifying titles in this entry to protect other people’s privacy.
I started seriously on this path when I was still in high school. I had a vested interest in learning as much as I could and devoured books from the library, reading about six or seven at a time and taking extensive notes, trying out small spells in my basement bedroom. The internet was still new-ish at the time and I enjoyed hanging out in some of the first chatrooms set up on AOL that were Pagan/Wiccan/Witch or just occult in general. I came across the word “Priestess” through this medium. It was mentioned in books, it was talked about online, though it sounded intriguing, I really had no idea what all it involved.
When I was seventeen, I performed a self-dedication. At that time, I was legally emancipated and had my own apartment and the freedom to practice in solitude without fear of someone walking in on me and blowing out a candle in the middle of something. I loved it also because now, I could begin to build up my own personal library of books. I purchased copies of my favorites and came across some other things online. At this time, Witchvox.com, which is a popular internet place for meeting and gathering with other pagans in the community was still connected to the WLPA — Laurie Cabot’s group. I joined it at that time and wrote a few emails back and forth for a year with others in my state. I got to watch and learn as the online community for Pagans really started to get going, linking in with message boards on Prodigy and other now-defunct internet providers. Yes, I am that old and have been doing this that long. I saw more people tossing around the title of Priestess, or High Priestess, and thought myself fortunate to have the chance to chat with some of these people through the computer. Still, I had no idea what it all involved, and I was just learning how to discern what a real Priestess was from someone who just claimed the title because internet anonymity would allow such a thing. I wasn’t very good at such discernment at that point, but I didn’t know at the time that I didn’t know.
Two years into my practice, I was an expert in my own mind. I was nineteen and already had more study and experience (all solitary at this point) than most of those I ran into online. I could answer any question put to me (because they were all newbies and beginners) and I was proud of the amount of knowledge I had accumulated. My magical skills had grown as well and I was actively practicing as much as I could. I loved magic. I loved everything about being a Witch. Of course, I still hadn’t met another one. I met others who were interested, but none who I could potentially learn from. In any case, I had read in multiple books that a solitary Witch was her own Priestess. So I felt I could lay claim to the title. I still didn’t know what it meant, but I felt empowered using it.
Then, while reading a Llewellyn catalog, I saw that Silver RavenWolf was going to be coming to my city to do an open ritual at a shop near the Ohio State University campus. This was fantastic! I had never been to this store, but saved up and requested that day off from work so that I could be sure to get there. It cost me $45 in cab fare, but I made it. I had no idea what she looked like, but I was very excited to meet her and stood clutching my copy of her book in hopes that at some point I could get it signed. The circle she was to host wasn’t going to be for a couple of hours yet, and so I browsed the store, looking at everything in there and feeling like I was in the most magical place I’d come across. The lady working there that night spoke with me. I had no idea of her background or experience or anything like that, but I did get the very strong sense that she was ‘checking me out’. I also had no idea at that time that she was a [High] Priestess.
The ritual went on, with the owner of the shop (who was a High Priest — which I didn’t know) helped Silver to run the ceremony. It was my first time being in a circle with others. I’d felt magic on my own, but there was something about being with other Witches that let me know that while I enjoyed self-study and solitary practice, I wanted to experience that sort of euphoria again.
I kept returning to the shop, at first to buy stuff, but not long after that for classes and conversation. I became friends with the woman who worked there that night and in time, I learned who and what she was. She became my first teacher, and through invitations to participate in women’s groups (they were called ‘retreats’ that were held two weekends a year), and later through being invited to attend circles at her home with her coven, I began to really see what a Priestess was and to see what work and magic the role held.
Through her I also met others who bore the title of Priestess with grace and humility.
I felt sheepish and stupid for having called myself that without really knowing what it meant.
But it also awakened in me a deep desire to earn the title. This time, I wanted to have legitimate reason for using it. I wanted it to mean something. I wanted to serve the gods and others with that role. It became something that burdened my heart. It kept me awake, restless at night, and I found it difficult to focus on anything else throughout my day. Everything I did became about finding and learning and filling that role. I had studied tons of books before, but now I looked into taking history and psychology courses. Helping others to find the same fulfillment I had found in my spiritual practice and religious beliefs had gripped me in a fever. I simply HAD to be a Priestess. There was nothing else I could do. When I considered not doing it… well, suffice it to say without getting too weird and oogly-boogly, that there really wasn’t another option for me. So, I sought out groups to learn and study with. I joined up with a grove of ADF Druids while practicing and training in an eclectic Wiccan coven. While doing this, I was still taking classes in psychology and history, working, and beginning to look into opportunities to teach music full-time.
Through the next 8-9 years that was my main focus. I took on students throughout that time, mostly one-on-one, but occasionally we would gather in groups for certain rituals or ceremonies. I achieved my elevation to High Priestess in that coven, and it was a great learning experience, but still felt that I wanted to know more, experience more, and do more. So, while I had ordination as a Priestess, it wasn’t enough to satisfy me. I suspect mostly because the group was eclectic. I have nothing particularly against eclectic practice, but I thirsted for something more solidified and structured, with more history and weight behind it.
At around that time I began seeking out a traditional group to practice with and became introduced to the Black Forest Clan. I loved it. Everything about it was amazing and I love that I am still friends with the people I met in it. What I do regret is that shortly after I dedicated (in June, while I lived in Ohio) I moved across the country to Idaho (in July). For a year, I participated in online classes and lessons with the rest of my Clan, but it was very difficult to really feel like I was doing anything more group-oriented than I had been doing for all those years on my own. I was a solitary still, it was just that now, I was a solitary who was a member of a group.
In addition to the wonderful practical lessons that being in BFC’s dedicant training program gave me, I gained some more understanding of the mechanics of what traditional training and practice involve. A year spent living apart from the Clan, missing that connection of close-knit covenhood, and other responsibilities and restrictions in my life helped to show me it was wrong path for me, and because the dedicant phase of traditional training is all about learning if something is going to be the ‘right fit’, when it wasn’t, I was released from it to go on and continue seeking further training and experience elsewhere.
So, that was essentially my experiences from when I lived in Ohio. At this point in the story I had received excellent training through the teachers I met at the Pagan shop, close-knit experiences in ritual as well as wonderful classes and workshops put on in the community by these people. I worked with the ADF Druid grove and an eclectic coven wherein I earned the third degree over nine years of study. I taught students and formed working study-group circles and was invited to teach workshops on what it was like to be a solitary Witch at the gatherings I had participated in.
Then, I moved to Idaho. About two weeks after moving here, I visited the major Pagan shop in the area, because I knew right away that I wanted to find community and others. It happened that the day I went to check the store out was also the same day they were hosting an open circle for the group that gathered there. So, I stuck around to see what that was like. Mostly at this point, I was just thrilled to have found other Pagans/Witches. When the circle was over, I went out and chatted with the employee on duty. Without really planning it or thinking of it… in fact even now, I don’t really know why I spontaneously thought to ask, but I did… I asked if they were hiring. It turns out they were looking for someone as the woman I was speaking with planned to move TO OHIO in two weeks. I happily took the application and wondered what it might be like to work in a store like that. Now, granted, I think at one point or another every Witch thinks about running her (or his) own shop. It had been a fantasy of mine for a while, and still is in a lot of ways. But, I went home, worked some minor magic over the application, and filled it out. The next day, I returned it to the store and when I got back home that night, was called to ask if I could interview the next day. I did, and that’s how I started working at the store.
Being employed there was probably one of my most favorite jobs. I think probably the only one that could really top it was teaching music. I answered questions that I had never been asked before, which caused me to really think about things in ways I hadn’t. I also learned things through talking with the other employees and owners that I hadn’t considered. All in all, I believe that the experience of working there added a great deal to my growth as a magical practitioner, teacher, and priestess. Not to mention that being able to spend my workdays surrounded by magical items, tools, incense, candles, books, and all manner of spiritual stuff facilitated my connection to the gods and my own skills and abilities. I was truly blessed to have been given that opportunity.
I attended several of the public circles being hosted there, but it still wasn’t the close-knit, focused, family feeling that I had with my earlier coven experiences. After several months, I was invited by the store’s owner to participate in circles of Goddess work that she facilitated. I eagerly went into that and finally felt that I had the tight connection beginning again that I missed so much in Ohio. Again, I enjoyed these rituals and gatherings, the classes and one-on-one sessions that I had with my Teacher-Priestess, but the cosmology just didn’t click with me. At this point, I had about fifteen years of prior experience and training, stuff I was very secure in and because of experiences I had, were very real and true to me. I put forth every effort I could to try and work within the new system being presented to me. I desperately wanted to make it fit so that I could continue to stay with and study with these wonderful ladies, but it just didn’t. So, in order to be true to myself, I left that group.
So, after that, I haunted message boards and internet chat rooms for most of my Witchy connections. I had spent many years as a solitary, and I knew how to do it. But still, a large part of me wanted a group. But, it had to be a group that was going to meet the needs I had. I wanted something traditional, not eclectic, and focused, with leaders that I could learn from. Because, not to sound arrogant or egotistical, though I know it probably does sound that way, I had already surpassed ‘beginner’ and ‘intermediate’ and was working on an ‘advanced’ level. I was already trained. I was already a High Priestess. I wanted to learn and continue my studies, but I had difficulty in finding anyone qualified to teach me because I had more study, knowledge, and experience than them. High school teachers are fantastic, but when you have completed a masters or doctorate, you don’t want to study with a high school teacher.
I had received excellent training from very knowledgeable teachers and I wanted more of that. I had completed the training necessary to earn the title I sought, and while I knew that joining an established group would mean starting over again, I wanted a group of people that I could merge with and find that connection. I wanted to gather with honest-to-gods real, earthy WITCHES and I was having a hard time finding others that felt the same.
So, I decided that I would create the group that I wanted to circle with. I was a legit High Priestess, so why the heck not, right?
I pulled from the resources I had gathered over the years and fleshed out the ‘bones’ of the groups I taught while still living in Ohio to craft and create something that I felt could succeed here. But, it took a while before I felt comfortable with sharing it. What I created is a system of Traditional Initiatory Witchcraft based on Celtic tradition and deities, personal gnosis, training received from my teachers over the past… gods, what is it now… twenty years? I feel too young to be this age. Seriously. I also have a lot of experience with running groups, both mundane and magical ones. Believe me, when you seek to join or create a coven, you will need to know how to handle group dynamics at least as much as you seek to know how to cast a circle or invoke a god.
I take the titles of Teacher, Priestess, High Priestess, and Clergy very seriously. To me, each is a daily goal to strive towards. My role as Teacher is to educate, sparking as much passion and curiosity for learning the Craft as I can, and encouraging it in my students. My role as Priestess is what I do in service to my gods. I am their instrument and I seek to fulfill that role in all I do. My role as High Priestess is the governing leader of my group, and along with that, I can also include the roles of Teacher and Priestess. As Clergy, I take on a role of service to the wider Pagan community. I make myself available for tasks that any Clergy person of another religion or faith would perform, such as weddings, funerals, counseling, hospital chaplaincy, rites of passage, or outreach ministry/interfaith work or public speaking.
I may have earned the titles I possess, but I see it as something I am constantly seeking to prove myself worthy of holding. It’s not a static thing, being a High Priestess, and as long as that title is one I use to identify myself, I have an obligation to uphold that standard.