Last night I was talking to one of my Pagan friends about the need for more Pagan representation in my local LGBTQ community. She practices Santeria and commented that there weren’t that many LGBTQ “priests” like me in the local community that she knew of. I thought her comment was quite odd since I’ve never identified as a “priest,” though I have led Pagan events, workshops, and even the occasional ritual in my local community. Recently, another Pagan friend of mine, a Druid, differentiated that he’s not a “priest,” but is instead a “minister.” He said a priest mediates and officiates for the gods, whereas a minister takes care of the needs of the people. Basically, a priest would make sacrifices, lead rituals in honor of the gods, and develop a relationship with a deity or deities; and a minister would lead rites of passage (marriages, funerals, etc.) for other humans and also provide counseling and spiritual guidance.
I don’t feel like I fit either role. I don’t feel I’ve been called by any particular god or goddess, though I have a few favorites and do sometimes seem to get an occasional message from one or another. If anything, I feel like I get more messages from animal totems than from deities. I’m an introvert who often feels overwhelmed by people, especially those who are working through their own life issues, so I don’t particularly feel called to “minister” either. After being labeled a priest (and not feeling particularly comfortable with the label), I decided to meditate on the issue (FYI — I’m normally content to just call myself a Druid). The message came loud and clear, “You are an emissary.” Since that’s not a label that’s often used in Pagan (or other spiritual) communities, I decided to look it up. “Emissary – a representative sent on a mission or errand.” Related words include: a messenger, an intermediary, an ambassador, an agent, a delegate, a go-between, and some others.
I tried to do more research on what emissary would mean in a Pagan or spiritual context, but not much came up in a basic internet search. The best I was able to get (and these were mostly one off sources) were that an emissary has a powerful bond with the divine and serves as a messenger of divine inspiration; an emissary is entrusted by the divine to do their will; many spiritual emissaries have spiritual amnesia about their divine purpose, but often work toward their mission on a kind of autopilot nonetheless; and spiritual emissaries are often misunderstood, though they often see the world more clearly than those around them.
I mostly like the title “emissary” and I like it much better than “priest” or “minister”, and I think it fits me better too. I’m still not entirely sure about the title. I think “messenger” or “champion” might be a better fit, but the gods seem to have spoken. When I was younger, I idealistically liked the idea of being a “hero.” I much more realistic these days – for better or worse.
Most of my adult life, I’ve been on one mission or another – always striving for what I believe to be the common good. In college, I was an out and proud LGBTQ rights activist and people I didn’t even know told me how they’d been inspired by me. I’d been equally inspired by some who came before me. Later on, I championed the cause of Paganism. More recently, I’ve made it my mission to stand up and bring visibility and provide a voice to less mainstream folks within and without the LGBTQ and Pagan communities. This includes women, people of color, polyamorous folks, the fetish communities, and others. I’ve also integrated some of my causes like bringing visibility to LGBTQ issues in the Pagan community and promoting Paganism as a valid spiritual option in the LGBTQ community. I’ve done podcasts, blogs posts, published an online paper, and held classes, retreats, and gatherings. While I prefer a quieter life these days, I’ve been on the front lines of activism (especially LGBTQ activism). I’ve been on the front page of the newspaper and had my say on the television news. People often initially scoff at my visionary and sometimes out-of-the-box ideas, but I often find them pronouncing those same ideas as their own unique inventions later down the road. Years ago, on a Shaman led prayer walk I was told my task in life was to be an oasis of light and hope and inspiration for others. This seems to be my “mission” from the divine – not to be specifically a priest or a minister. I still have much to think about with this “emissary” thing, but it seems to build on who I’ve been and what I’ve done before. I suspect I’ll just continue to call myself a Druid, though I’m likely to think more on my role in terms of an emissary for the Divine, or at least for the greater good.
I really hope we can find more roles and titles in the Pagan community. I think those we have can be limiting to those who don’t fit them. Not everyone is a priest. Not everyone is a minister. Not everyone is an emissary. We all have our roles in life and in spirit. I hope you find yours too.
Many Pagan traditions encourage the virtue of hospitality. Hospitality in its most basic form is the idea that a host will treat a visiting guest fairly and generously. In ancient times hospitality extended to offering food and an overnight stay to travelers (often strangers). In some climates, having a meal and a warm place to sleep could have meant the difference between life and death. Many Pagans have even extended the idea of hospitality to giving money to beggars on the street. The idea, put forth in many mythologies, is that the beggar could actually be a deity in disguise. Hospitality can extend to other areas of life as well. Hospitality has been often written about in Pagan blogs. I’m assuming the reader is at least somewhat familiar with the concept or can easily find a relevant posting about the concept.
What’s not always talked about are the responsibilities of the guest not to abuse that hospitality. While the host has the responsibility to be a good host, the guest also has the responsibility to be a good guest. Hospitality is a two-way street and requires certain things from the guest as well. Standards of politeness and humility would suggest that a guest shouldn’t be greedy when offered a meal and should retire early if staying overnight so as not to impose on the host’s time and obligations. Often the guest is responsible for providing good conversation too. At the same time, the guest shouldn’t abuse or overstay their welcome. Anyone who has ever hosted family for an extended stay can relate to these general guidelines. Benjamin Franklin famously quoted that “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”
So what about modern Pagans who abuse hospitality?
Pagans who abuse hospitality include that Pagan friend who raids your refrigerator and cupboards whenever they come to visit. “Yes, I made up some tea for your visit, and could even whip up a batch of nachos if you’re hungry, but I never said you could have a slice of that apple pie you just grabbed, and by the way it’s not mine to give, you seem to have forgotten that I share my fridge with a roommate, and have always had roommates the decade or more that you’ve known me.” I know. That’s a very specific example. Names have been omitted to protect the… um… innocent. Pagan friends who abuse hospitality also include those visitors who can’t take a hint when it’s time for them to leave. You have to go from hints like “It’s getting late. I have work in the morning.” to “Here’s the door. Don’t let it hit you on the way out.”
Pagans who abuse hospitality include the diva special guests at retreats and gatherings who wield their sense of entitlement. Maybe they want… scratch that… Maybe they expect the finest spring water and full course meals during the event. Maybe they treat all staff as personal attendants with nothing else to do. Maybe they don’t talk to the “little people” and I’m not talking about the Fey. Maybe they want to dictate the entire event and not just their part of it. Sure special guests deserve special treatment as honored guests, but there is such a thing as taking things too far. Most Pagan events are running on a shoestring budget and operating with a shoestring staff so that’s something for good guests to keep in mind.
Pagans who abuse hospitality include those who attend Pagan events and do all the taking, but never any of the giving. Sure most Pagan events are geared toward attendees – whether it’s a Pagan ritual, a gathering, or Pagan Pride Day – and some events make up a difference by charging for events. At the same time, most Pagan groups and events that I know of need way more planners and volunteers than they actually have. Hospitality is about reciprocity and doing your part. What’s even worse than Pagans who don’t get involved in their communities are those Pagans who say they’ll do something and then go missing in action when you actually need them.
Pagans who abuse hospitality include those folks who live on Pagan standard time. We all know the folks who you feel you have to tell them to be there an hour earlier than you tell everyone else if you have any hopes they’ll be there on time. Well maybe you don’t know those folks if you are one of them. Someone once said, “There’s Pagan standard time and there’s just f*cking late.” When you’re relying on these folks, it’s almost as bad as the folks who say they’ll be there but aren’t. At least those on Pagan standard time do eventually show up, but they’ve disrespected everyone else’s time and schedule in the process.
Pagans who abuse hospitality include the trolls in the online Pagan forums who go to great lengths to share their opinion that you’re wrong. You make an innocent post or share an event, and then the Pagan haters come out in force. Sure everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but these folks are on the attack – sometimes for the smallest things. These folks aren’t showing hospitality to strangers. They’re out for the kill. Speaking of sharing events, Pagans who abuse hospitality includes those folks online who go out of their way to tell you how to run your groups and events even though they’ll never attend, let alone show up to share their thoughts during the actual planning meetings. What’s worse than the online trolls are those friends who call you out publicly – when you really are wrong about something -rather than pull you aside privately. Friends are supposed to have your back. Despite what some folks say or believe, no one likes to be corrected or told they’re wrong, especially not publicly. Sometimes correcting a friend is the responsible thing to do, but it also must be done responsibly.
For me, hospitality is about treating folks with kindness and generosity, about reciprocal relationships in our communities, and also about not taking or expecting more than your fair share. I also believe in safety and having healthy boundaries. If a stranger shows up on my doorstep looking for a place to sleep for the night, I’m not going to let them inside and will instead refer them to a local help agency. When I was young I was very naïve and not very street smart. I ended up in a lot of compromising situations for trying to be nice and help people. That included being scammed out of money and even once having someone inside my car demanding money when I thought they needed a jump start to their own car. Because of my previous bad experiences, I usually don’t give money to beggars on the street and I certainly don’t give rides to strangers. I often wonder if I am turning down a deity in disguise, but if any really are deities then they should also see where I’m coming from.
Despite these possible shortcomings to the ideal of hospitality, I try to be friendly to strangers on the street; I open doors for people; I let people merge in traffic; I smile at the cashier at the supermarket. Rather than giving out money to strangers on the street, I donate to a local food bank that I know helps people in need. Online I’ve learned to just pass over posts I don’t agree with, though I do defend myself and my opinions if someone goes on the attack. I also get involved in my local communities. Sometimes that’s a hard thing to do since I feel a part of a handful of communities and because I have limited free time. The Pagan and LGBTQ communities are my primary communities, but I belong to and support other communities as well. Sometimes I’m involved in my communities as a host of some kind – whether it’s hosting a workshop, a ritual, a retreat, or some other event. Other times I’m involved in my communities as a participant or guest. I attend events hosted by others and occasionally I’m a special guest at an event.
I hope I’m both a good host and a good guest. I hope you are too.