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Of the Priesthood; of the Cloister

Author: Cynthia
Posted: July 10th. 2005
Times Viewed: 5,137

While it is to be expected that there would be a certain amount of variation in practice of the Craft among the the tradition following Gardnerians, there has become a rather marked difference. Some Gardnerians choose not to Circle with any other Gardnerrians let alone any other Witches, and they have a practice that is particular to them among Gardenerians--that of not allowing men to cast Circle. Yet, other Gardenerians liberally apply the “add but don’t subtract” rule, re-interpret some of Gardener’s proscribed tenets (for instance, same sex initiations and elevations based on the idea each man and woman has an inner aspect of male and female) , and freely discuss those parts of Gardener’s Book of Shadows that are no longer secret at all having been widely publicly available for years. Additionally, among this second group are those High Priestesses and Priests who initiate as many people as quickly as possible, a practice that those Gardnerians who choose to be silent on many points of Gardnerian Craft find to be an anathema. These are marked differences and they may herald differences that may arise for other Trads.

I asked myself what is actually going on, why these marked differences have arisen. I sought to look objectively at what the various Gards were doing as their form of worship and practices of the Craft. It became apparent to me that the Gardnerians who deny access to their Circle to other Gardenerians are not actually priest/esses--they are a magickal counterpart to priest/esses. They are creating a cloister. A cloister is a religious sect which keeps itself separate from other sects even of the same religion and which has practices particular to itself, usually of a more strict nature than the rest of those in the religion follow, and which practices the cloister does not wish to share with others. The service of the cloister is a different service than that of the priesthood.

I have read in Catholic theology that the idea of the cloister is that it creates points, Circles as I think of them, of the earth where attunement with deity and the subsequent powers of peace, serenity, and harmony that that entails helps to maintain the deity's presence on earth and provides fonts of spiritual power from which the rest of us may draw. This, I think, is what is occurring with these Gardnerians. The other Gardnerians are those of the priesthood which is a different service to the Lady and Lord than is the cloister. While those of the cloister must keep to themselves, those of the priesthood must not. The priest/esses are the ones that reach out to the laity. They will go out to bless, conduct rituals, and otherwise see to the mystical needs of the laity, albeit on a much simpler and less proscribed level than the cloisters do those things for themselves. The priest/esses, however, while not as proscribed in practice as the cloisters, are certainly much more proscribed for themselves when attending to their own mystical needs. Thus the priest/esses conduct outer court rites for the instruction of the people at large while the cloisters conduct outer court rites only for seekers considering being part of the cloister. This suggests the reason behind the phenomena of priest/esses bringing to the 1st degree as many people as possible. The priest/ess is bringing a basic level of introduction of the Lady and Lord to the general; the cloister is most emphatically not of or about the general, and so their 1st degree is about grooming and testing for appropriateness of cloistered service. The priest/esses conduct inner court rituals for any priest/ess or cloister of the religion of sufficient elevation who wishes them to do so. That is, the priest/esses recognize certain rituals are only for those truly called by the Lady or Lord, tested by Them, and active in Their service in the mysteries.

Some cloisters may wish some or all of their rituals to be solemnized with the presence of a priest/ess while some cloisters exclude all those not of their cloister. This does not mean the priesthood is the only correct way to serve. This does not mean the cloister is the only correct way to serve. Historically we know that both the cloister and the priesthood have a form of service that is deeply mystical and specifically called for by deity. That is to say, cloisters and priesthoods have existed side by side for thousands of years, sometimes keeping separate, sometimes intertwining but of the same religion and sisters and brothers to each other in their religion.

There are those who insist that the specialized ritual practice of some Garndnerians is a mundane choice, not a directive of the Lady or Lord as the rituals specifically known to have been proscribed by Gerald Gardener are felt to be. I disagree with that argument for I find implicit in their actions, the adherence to a no male casting Circle rule, the directive of the Lady and Lord since it is often that actions speak first and mostly loudly of what is in our hearts and souls. Therefore this rule of some Gards is for them very much a directive of the Lord and Lady. People often do things before they have a label for what they are doing. Once they have an appropriate word for it then they are usually able to explain more clearly the why's how's and what for's of what they are doing. I think this is the case here. The Gods do ask different service for different Witches, and the service of the cloister does often entail not only the withdrawal and secrecy but the specialization of ritual. There is historical withdrawal and specialization of ritual practice in the case of the Catholic Church. Some of their cloisters have stricter rules than most of the Catholic priesthood follow, or even other cloisters, for their rituals which are indeed secluded, private, and secret.

If it is considered that some Gards are forming a cloister then it can considered that our religion is developing and following ways that many religions have in the past. These Gards are not out of sync with mystical practices known historically to be highly effective, nor are the priestly Gards. The cloisters must have both the freedom and the respect to follow their nature. In the same vein, the path of the priesthood is also mystically sound and necessary to the service of the Goddess and God though different in practice from the cloister. The service of the priesthood means introducing the lay (who wish such introductions) to the Gods in a formal and ritualized manner. This means some initiations will be no more than this introduction but this does not mean the initiation is invalid or unimportant. The Priest/ess conducts the introduction but the Gods (ultimately) and seeker decide the depth of their own relationship. Similarly, communion with the Gods is a highly personal and individual matter and so the flexibility that many Gardnerians have with certain rules is a necessity of the priesthood because priest/esses would not be able to do their work of bringing individual seekers to the Ways of the Lady and Lord. So long as the principles of magic, mystery, worship, and ritual that lead to deeper communion with the Lord and Lady are not abridged or defiled, rules can be bent. Rules after all are merely guidelines that help us to understand and work with the essential principles. It is not the rules but the principles that are important when it comes to understanding the Gods, the cosmos, humanity, our living earth and those inter-relationships.

I would hope that when we recognize the differences of purpose of the cloister and priesthood, and the more descriptive language is used (which I think the cloister and priesthood language is) , we will come into a greater development of the power of our religion. The Cloistered Gards sustain the Lady and Lord's fonts of power which the Priestly Gards will know are readily available in the Web to draw from. The Priestly Gards will continue to create a greater presence of Paganism on Earth through their work with the lay and rudimentary level seekers as well as the other Works done in Priestly inner courts. The Cloistered Gards will have a means of identifying themselves when a Priestly Gard seeks admission to their Circles. They can simply say something such as “I am of the Cloister, and my cloister is of deep seclusion.” The Priestly Gards may want to reassess whether they wish to be of a cloister, the degree of their cloistership (may not be a real word, but I'll leave it to you to gather my meaning) , or whether they are most properly Priest/esses. Additionally, this clarity of how the Wicca speak of themselves can be the beginning of better defining our relationships to each other, the type of service we are pledged to give to each other, and the finding of the mystical meaning of our services’ difference.

For instance, while Priestly Gards will know the Cloistered Gards perform a sort of service that requires seclusion, the Priestly Gards still ought to be able to call upon the assistance of Cloistered Gards for the male/female balances in initiations and elevations. A Cloistered Gard will understand why a male or female is specifically needed and should fulfill that role as a service not just to her or his fellow of the Craft but to the Lady. This does not mean the Cloistered Gards is entering the Priestly Circle to make that Circle or any of its initiations or elevations of the Cloister, not at all. They are simply working within the principles of magic and service that Gerald Gardner set for the Wicca. In this case the Cloistered Gard would be fulfilling the honor of assisting a Priest/ess in initiating or elevating a seeker in the form of Wicca the Priestess is of. In cases where all are in agreement that the initiation or elevation is in accord with the strictness of a Cloister, the newly initiated or elevated individual can be informed of that and urged to consider whether he or she wishes to eventually be of the Cloister or of the Priesthood. Similarly, some cloisters may feel that some priest/esses may be properly invited to the cloistered inner circle, but this would be up to those of the cloister, not the priesthood, and the cloister will need to remember that they have a priest/ess in their midst which is different calling and so energy than that of a Gard of cloistered calling. This last point I think is the most exciting. If there are specifically different callings of the cloister and of the priesthood then that would indicate that those of those different callings are going to have different types of energies, and knowing that we have these variances of energy will mean that we will have greater control over our energy and, yes, greater power. Greater self-knowledge does lead to greater power.

Another example where those of the Cloister and the Priesthood might be of service to each other is the witnessing by a visiting Witch of elevated degree or power (Cloistered for the Priesthood, Priestly for the Cloister or other powerful Witch as led to the coven as a guest by the Lady) of a 2nd degree or 3rd degree Wiccan presiding over her very first coven for her very first time. Why such a witnessing is important, I don’t entirely know, I can only aver that I have been told by the Lady that it is.

Through considering and testing the validity of a difference between cloistered and priestly Gards, there is the likelihood of being at last able to hear more and more clearly the Lady and Lord’s wishes, summons, and directives. As a Trad that has existed for some 50 odd years, what is occuring with the Gards may be something the other Trads may wish to see if a parellel development is happening in them and so add to the consideration of the phenomena.

To all my sisters and brothers of the Craft, then, blessed be.

Copyright: 2005 Cynthia Joyce Clay
all rights reserved



Location: Miami, Florida


Bio: Cynthia is a 3rd degree Celtic Protean Gardnerian of unproved lineage, so of course she has all the really secret infomation and the Real Gardnerian BOS. She is also an author, see her ficiton listings on the Witches' Voice.

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