IN WICCA AND NEO-PAGANISM:
In Wicca and most forms of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, a High Priest (male) - often abbreviated to simply HP - or High Priestess (female) - often abbreviated to simply HPs or HPS - is someone who has reached the 3rd degree level of Initiation within their Coven. But the term is often used more loosely to describe the leader of a Coven, especially by those self-taught Wiccans (usually described by other Wiccans as 'Fluffy Bunnies') that start their own Covens.
The role of the Priestess and the Priest within a ritual setting is based on the interplay of the polarities of Feminine and Masculine Energies. They are the facilitators of the rituals helping to keep things flowing smoothly as each rite progresses. As High Priestess and High Priest they may represent the Goddess and the God within rituals and celebration.
An act such as Drawing Down the Moon, where the Goddess is invoked directly into the mind and body of the High Priestess, is one such example (see EVOCATIONS and INVOCATIONS).
Wlcca is essentially matrifocal and the Priestess and High Priestess typically oversee the religious practices. In most Covens the High Priest assists the High Priestess during rites and celebrations. It is not uncommon for the High Priest to take on the mundane tasks of teaching newcomers and of taking care of the setup of the altar and circle. The High Priestess is then free to tend to more spiritual matters and work on magickal aspects and ritual embellishments. This was certainly the case in my old Coven, the 'Circle of the Mystic Moon'.
The role of teacher is very important within the Priest-(ess)hood. It is the purpose of a teacher to lead the student to the source of understanding and realization. Providing instructions and exercises to develop the mind and character of the student is considered essential, along with establishing situations through which the student can grow and evolve.
A teacher can not make one learn; he or she can only reveal the setting, materials, and experiences that can lead to enlightenment. Ideally the Priestess or Priest serves as a source of redirection and reflection, providing the opportunity for questions and clarifications (as the student seeks his or her own understanding and connection).
The Priest(ess)hood is also concerned with the presence of divinity within the ritual celebrations. In an attempt to communicate with the Totality of Divine Consciousness, Wiccans divide Deity into its Feminine and Masculine polarities or aspects, which they call Goddess and God. We can further break this down into the Goddess-current and the God-current. Some believe that these currents also flow, to varying degrees, within the souls of all humans regardless of gender.
The Goddess-current tends to be seen as being more open and mutable while the God-current tends to be regarded as more directive and fixed.
The Goddess is seen as the balance to the God, and the God is the balance to the Goddess. Without her the God would be a judge without compassion, the God would be stem without understanding, he would control without loving. Without the God, the Goddess would have compassion without direction, understanding without foundation, love without form.
In Wicca and most forms of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft, the God and Goddess complete each other, and together they are seen as the One True Creator and Maintainer of the Universe.
Willow d'Wisp and myself (Falcon Lokisson)
High Priestess and (former) High Priest of the 'Circle of the Mystic Moon'
IN THE TAROT AND KABBALISTIC THOUGHT:
The High Priestess is the Second Arcanum, and identified with the Hebrew gimel. She stands above the Abyss on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, between Kether and Tiphareth, but her path crosses Daäth, as does none other; thus she herself represents the Abyss.
Since Daath is a trackless desert, it is fitting that she be associated with Gimel, the "camel." Two is the unholy number of the split between heaven and earth. The High Priestess has been equated with the Lunar Goddess, but principally suggests Isis, the Goddess of the Occult. We must never forget, however, that Isis is a fluid Goddess who changes identity, analogically, with many other divinities. Such fluid changeability is a basic characteristic of the Moon.
see also: INITIATION; TAROT; KABBALAH
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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