(originally published on Polytheist.com)
Last night I found myself, once again, in downtown Oakland at a vigil for members of the community that have been killed by the police. This was a rare peaceful moment in the troubles that have been consuming our city lately. People gathered on a cold and rainy December night and encircled Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland for a candlelight vigil to remember these lives that have been cruelly taken from their family and friends, casualties of systemic racism and a police force that is violently opposed to taking responsibility for it’s officers’ misdeeds and crimes. This has been an emotional time for our community here in the Bay Area, a time of anger and a time of mourning. The issue of racism within the law enforcement community doesn’t have an easy fix. It’s not a problem that’s going to go away anytime soon and so the demonstrations continue.
In the last 17 days, there have been 15 nights of demonstrations in the streets. These actions have ranged from peaceful vigils to vandalism and looting. Last night was thankfully a quiet one, a moment of introspection and reflection during a period of unrest and pain. I found myself reflecting on these movements that have been springing up around the world recently. Across the globe, people are standing up to reclaim their sovereignty from systems of rule that seek to compromise it.
A little over two years ago, members of my priesthood, the Coru Cathubodua, and members of our community, stood on the shore of this same lake, holding a beautiful sword that had been charged with our community’s prayers and hopes for the return of sovereignty to our land. The night before was our Samhain feast. The sword was placed on an altar in the center of the room and during the feast people went up to it and held it and whispered their prayers and dreams to it. Prayers of a just land with our community living in rightful relationship with the natural world and with each other. So that morning we stood on the shore of the lake, we raised our voices to the Morrigan and the spirits of the land, and we sacrificed that sword for the sovereignty of the land, throwing it far out into the lake.
Memories of that moment became crystal clear as I was walking along the lake last night in the cold rain. I began reflecting on my path to priesthood that led me there to that lake that morning and led me there again on a windy and wet night. As my mind wandered through these paths I looked down to the sidewalk and in front of me was a section of the path that the city had engraved in flowing letters the phrase “Service above Self”
Service above Self. Three simple words that articulated my views on priesthood better than I have been able to do in pages of writing. For me, priesthood is a path of service. Service to your gods and service to your community. This is not an abstract concept. Service isn’t a theoretical mindset but a ‘get your hands dirty and wear out the soles of your shoes’ kind of endeavor. It’s a path that can consume your life. ‘Priest’ is not a title I hold lightly, as a matter of fact I have trouble seeing it as a title at all. ‘Priest’ is not something that I am, it is something that I do. ‘Priest’ means not going to bed when you are exhausted because the gods are vocal and want offerings and want to be heard. It means spending hours of my day answering emails and questions from individuals that are looking for help decoding their own messages from the gods. It means hours of ritual planning and business meetings. It means daily devotional practice and offerings. Recently for me, priesthood has meant marching alongside and providing first aid and support to people demonstrating in the streets so that they can have their basic human rights returned to them and be treated equally in the eyes of the law. It has meant bandaging cuts, washing pepper spray and tear gas from people’s eyes, and sometimes getting between a demonstrator and police in riot gear to prevent the police from beating that person.
Priesthood and activism are inseparable to me. I was pushed into this most recent act of service to my community after witnessing the officers sworn to protect and serve the public brutalize a peaceful protest and tear gas a large section of my town. That night left many people with broken bones, concussions, and deep outrage at the response of the authorities.
The next night and every night since then I have been walking alongside the demonstrators with a first aid kit trying to help people when I am able to and to provide a witness to the many abuses of the police force that have been sent there to, in their own ironic words, “defend the protester’s first amendment rights”. And they have defended the protesters bloody, with batons, tazers, tear gas, pepper spray, LRAD’s (long range acoustic devices), and “non lethal” projectiles aimed at people’s heads, making them much more lethal. Those charged with defending the people are treating the people as the enemy, abusing them at demonstrations and vilifying them in the media.
So as a priest, I have no choice but to stand alongside my community. I have no choice but to speak out against injustice and abuse. I have no choice but to listen to my goddess and stand for sovereignty. Because priesthood is service; service above self.