July 18th, 2003

ab

What is a priest?

For many years I had a very strong feeling of what a priest should be, but my idea of priesthood began to change about a year or so ago.

For most of my life I have been centered on my spirituality, and for almost as long as I can remember I sought to fulfill the role of a priest, or at least some type of acolyte. For the most part I didn't really know why, it was just something that I did. Eventually I came to understand that the reason I wanted to work in this role was because I saw God as being the embodiment of all goodness, rightness, honor, and truth, and I saw little else in this world which was as worthy of my devotion. When I looked around my world I saw isfet, plain and simple. I wanted to serve God and in doing so, become a part of that goodness and bring it to others who- like me- were living in a world which desperately needed a healthy dose of Ma'at.

In short, I viewed the priesthood as an institution which allowed a human servant to join with God in a partnership to bring healing, shelter, and Ma'at to a world which was badly in need of it. I also viewed it as the most noble of occupations, and in the end, the only one that truly mattered. But as I said, that view has been changing in recent years.

The last group of which I was a member had an idea of priesthood which, to me, had surprisingly little to do with Ntjr. Ntjr was in there, of course, but to them the institution of the priesthood had more to do with serving the temple than serving the ntjrw. It was an interesting view of the position and I think there is a lesson to learn from it. The reasoning behind this view of the priesthood was that anybody could develop a strong, meaningful, and personal relationship with Ntjr, and could breathe Ma'at into the world in their own way- there was no need to become a priest to serve God. Everyone serves Ntjr, and the people of Ntjr, by fulfilling the roles he or she was created to fill. A baker, a teacher, a scientist, a friend... these are all roles which are vital to the world Ntjr created (because we are, in our communities, a part of this world)- and no single one of them has any lesser connection to the ntjrw than a priest. The only difference is how each of them serve: a baker creates food for the community, a teacher develops the minds of the community, a scientist advances the technology and understanding of the community, and friends support the community. A priest also serves the community by protecting and maintaining the institution of the temple, which allows the temple to serve the community by creating a safe space for the people to meet and realize the potential they have to serve Ntjr in their own ways. There are many ways of doing that, and so there are many kinds of priests.

In short, Ma'at is brought into the world when people fulfill the role for which they are best suited. Priests have no more power or ability to do that than anyone else, they just do it in a different way- by supporting the temple.

How does a priest support the temple? What I had been learning was that the role and function of the priest is entirely subbordinate to the decisions and policies of the temple. The priest has no (or at least, very little) personal interpretation or room for disagreement- he or she echoes the doctrines of the temple in every way, creating a stable and familiar relationship through which the temple's guidance can be meted out to the community. This is where I begin to worry, though I can't explain very clearly what exactly is making me uncomfortable.

This definition of a priesthood presupposes many things. First and foremost, the existence of a temple for the priest to serve. Second, it relies heavily on that temple to already be well-established in its doctrines and teachings. Additionally, it begs the question of how and by whom are the temple's doctrines and teachings decided, and how can those priests who serve in the temple ensure that they are not morally contradicted or abused?

What about those priests who have no temple? If the priesthood's main purpose is to serve and maintain a temple, then it would be impossible for anyone outside of a temple to be a priest. And yet people keep doing it- or are they? Because if they are, then there is more to the priesthood than just supporting the temple. If not, then perhaps there is another category of Kemetic spiritual service which needs to be considered. What sorts of responsibilities does a person like this have towards the community? What can they expect from the community in response?

What are the duties of a priest? Characteristic traits of a good priest? Traits which are not suited to a priest? Priorities of a priest? How does a Kemetic priest serve Ntjr? I am just beginning to sort these questions and ideas out, and I would appreciate any commentary you feel would be helpful on them.
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