I think there is a widespread belief, which may not even be conscious much of the time, that becoming a Priest or Priestess means shedding worrisome humanity and adopting a constant low hum of Om-like serenity: That, in some odd way, the further along the path of the Inner you travel, the more your human faults and childlike urges, spites and petty thoughts are left behind, allowing a lighter, more ‘perfect’ version of you to resume the journey.
I would say that the opposite is nearer the truth: The further you travel, the more recognisably, and genuinely, human you become and, thus, the only way to attain the cod-serenity that passes for wisdom in so many countries is to bypass the unstated commandment, ‘Know Thyself!’ altogether!
Priests and priestesses are not divine beings. Or, put it another way, they have no larger a share of the Divine Spark than any of the rest of us. But, at their best, they both acknowledge and understand this fundamental truth: That all the training in the world cannot increase the spark you were born with one jot. Being a priest does not make you a deity.
Nor, while I am on the subject, do high degrees in the initiations offered by many schools – both esoteric and academic – make you a superior being. My degree in English Literature was a form of initiation – but studying all those books, poems and plays and writing reasonably coherent essays under exam conditions did not give me any greater true insight into the mind of the writer than those who read avidly and have never been to university.
Yes, I can teach English – but I am fully aware that untrained minds can often see things I have missed; that the freshness of the adolescent thinking process can turn convention on its head to the benefit of all concerned.
The same goes for more esoteric concerns. The fact that I hold a red cord and am a First Degree Initiate of an SOL Lodge does not give me any special privileges, or automatic Wise Woman status. It does not mean that I have handily dispensed with all trials and tribulations or come out the other side beaming like a perpetual Sun. If I travel further up that particular hierarchical hill, further degrees will only hold significance and meaning if I make them do so; they are not, in themselves, an Open Sesame to enlightenment.
The end of humanity in an individual, the cessation of life’s difficulties, is called Death! Knowing oneself is not an exam to be passed. It is not a learning process that ends when you reach PhD or Third Degree levels of learning. It is ongoing. It is hard work. It requires discipline and commitment. It is often painful and embarrassing, humiliating, upsetting. It is often tempting to claim that we have got it, that we are sorted and finished, that our nests of cumulative wisdom and lore are now fully-built, thank you very much, and we can sit back and teach our fledglings and forget about the individual, personal path.
It is very easy to allow Priest or Priestesshood to become an excuse to rest upon one’s laurels and treat other human beings as minions. It is very easy to feel that a Doctorate conferred means one has drunk the Chalice of Learning dry. It is very easy, and tempting, to feel that a little learning and self-awareness makes us instant leaders and counsellors and teachers; that getting one part of our lives briefly in order gives us the right to dictate how others should organise the disparate parts of their lives.
It is horribly easy to turn away from that basic injunction of ‘Know Thyself’ and project it onto other people in the form of rigid rules and punishable laws. Of course it is good to help others to realise their own magnificence, and to support them as they grow; but neglecting our own personal growth and knowledge in order to facilitate that of others can be very dangerous. We humans project by nature – and very often that which we project the most vehemently – and object to the most vociferously – is precisely those parts of the self-knowing process we are most keen to avoid, ignore or run away from.
The more you know yourself, the more truly human you become – and the less the artificial barriers between you and others matter.
I was the Priestess of the West in the Lodge. It was an honour to be chosen for this role, but it did not confer any other-worldly rights or serene Goddess-hood upon me! It did not give me the wings of an archangel and propel me up the esoteric ladders whilst avoiding all the snakes! It did not, could not, guarantee me a life of ease or a passport straight to serenity. Nor should it!
Slithering down the snakes is a part of life. Losing is as important a lesson as winning. Trauma separates the wheat from the chaff every bit as effectively as success and/or joy.
But knowing oneself means recognising the polarities, the darkness as well as the light; the bitchiness along with the kindness. It is not about being perfect. It is about being fully aware of – and, thus, having some level of control over – the whole tatterdemalion creation that our skin encases.
It is not about being Holier than Thou; it is more to do with a basic kinship and knowledge that one is just as holey as the next man/woman! Just as potential-rich as well, of course!
It does not mean putting on a serene face, gorgeous robes, assuming a superiority quite at odds with reality – and seething poisonously beneath!
In all the trillions of births, none win the war against Death. Priest or pauper, it makes no difference to the eventual outcome. Knowing ourselves as best we can, and acting with integrity, whilst still in the Land of the Living does, I think, constitute something in the nature of a small, but significant, triumph of the soul.
Authenticity is key! Human roughness and warmth is the lock! None are denied entry by external deity! Only by themselves…