Yet another way that Sinnsreachd is unique from many other Pagan religions is that we have a laity. We don’t really think of the laity as such, it’s a little more organic than that, but they are the bulk of Sinnsreachd.
Most Pagan religions today boast that every member is their own priest. But functionally this makes little sense. Certainly, the individual can and should be responsible for their own relationship with their gods, but that is not really priesthood. And, a religion without a priesthood (in some form) is not really a religion. Honestly I think that the whole notion of “everyone is their own priest” is another response to bad experiences with “organized” religion and its necessary hierarchy. It also serves as a way of giving solitary practitioners a sense of legitimacy if one is needed.
However, a priest serves a specific purpose in their community. Nowadays the priest’s main purpose is to officiate the rites and ceremonies on behalf of the group. Traditionally, there was a deeper role of making sure the rights were done correctly, that the gods were properly worshiped. In Sinnsreachd, the role of the priesthood is both of these combined with the role of religious teacher, much like a Jewish Rabbi. Everyone in the community is capable of these things of course, but it is the priest, the Druí, that makes it their primary responsibility and takes things to a deeper level.
I talked about this a bit on the Sinnsreachd Yahoo Group back in March. I outlined three main religious roles that Sinsearaithe fall into: priesthood, laity, and lay-priesthood.
Priesthood – This is the Druí serving as spiritual mentor, ritual leader, counselor, etc. In addition to the normal day-to-day honoring of the gods and ancestors that everyone does, the Druí is also concerned with more esoteric matters. These include things like pondering the nature of the gods, the structure of the cosmos, the principles and functions of ritual constructs, etc. The Druí is most concerned with the group rather than the individual. Right now this role is fairly rare and undeveloped; however, ideally every tribe will have at least one someday.
Laity – This is, broadly, everyone else. We are individually responsible for our own relationship with the gods and communing with our ancestors. We need no intermediary for this. The laity concern themselves primarily with the day-to-day prayers, offerings, etc. They are of course encouraged to learn as much as they can and even explore more esoteric aspects of our religion, but it is not expected or required. In contrast to the Druí, the laity are concerned with the individual (normally just themselves) rather than the whole group. This is by far the largest role, easily 90% of Sinnsreachd.
Lay-Priesthood – This is a member of the group performing some of the group religious functions in the absence of a Druí. This can be anything from a recognized tribal leader to a parent or spouse leading their household in prayer or celebration of a Féile. As with the laity they are encouraged to learn all they can, perhaps more so than the laity because of the higher responsibility, but it is not expected or required. I think more often than not people are thrust into this role by circumstance. This is especially true of the tribal leader. It becomes more of a “well someone has to do it” rather than a primary calling. There are more lay-priests than we give credit. After all, every household has to have at least one.
The laity have by far the most freedom within Sinnsreachd. The Druí is expected to be the “go-to” person for spiritual matters, so they never stop learning, exploring, adding to their religious and esoteric toolbox. The lay-priest is by definition a leader and has all the responsibilities that leadership requires. The lay practitioner can learn and explore until they are on par with a Druí or they can just do a quick prayer now and then. They are limited or encouraged only by their own needs and not by some expectation to be a priest, scholar or magician.