I was raised Roman Catholic. It was mostly in name only; aside from a few years where my mom became really religious (or tried to), it was really only my grandmother who really practiced her faith – and even then it was mostly for the kids as far as I could tell. I still to this day believe that Catholicism has some of the most beautiful, symbolic, and meaningful rituals of any that I have experienced. The chanted doxology, the gold and marble altars, the colorful vestments, the sweet incense – it’s a full sensory experience that draws you in. Even now, as a pagan, when I attend mass for any reason I find myself filled with love of the Divine.
Until the priest talks, anyway. For all my love of the ritual and mystery of Catholicism, the doctrine drove me away. Most of my questions in CCD and religion class were brushed off or redirected until I was so fed up I decided that I wasn’t Catholic anymore. I struggled to accept the fact that I needed a special intermediary between God and me, and that if I didn’t seek out such a person I would be damned. I struggled to accept the fact that I would never, as a woman, be permitted to serve God through the Mass. I could not accept the fact that if I wanted to devote myself to God’s service, I would have to give everything up, including love and marriage and children.
It was the pitfalls of organized religion that led me to leave Catholicism. One might wonder how I found my way to another organized religion thereafter, and sometimes I do ask myself how I wound up in Kemetic Orthodoxy, with a Nisut and Imakhiu and W’abu and Shemsu-Ankh and Shemsu and Remetj. One answer, I suppose, is the different role of the hierarchy. The Nisut and priests don’t have any dominion over the relationship anyone has with the gods. You are free to worship Whomever you like, however you like, and still be a part of our community (obviously within reason – if you aren’t worshipping the Egyptian gods that would be weird).
The difference is in responsibility, not access. As a W’ab priest I am responsible for rituals for my gods; I am obligated to do certain things for Them. As a Shemsu-Ankh I am responsible for other Shemsu and Remetj; I am bound by oath to serve them and the community as a unit. When hierarchy is done right, it is not restrictive of one’s personal experience with the Divine. Where I lost my delight with Catholicism was the idea that my spiritual freedom got cut off at a certain point, and was relegated to a handful of people that were responsible for the other portion of my relationship with God. (I know that’s not the universal attitude, and that there are a number of churches where the priest/minister is considered a kind of guide in one’s relationship with God, so don’t take me as bashing any particular religion, please. It’s just the way I was taught which made me uncomfortable.)
For me, being part of a well-organized religion is comfortable. There are people who can answer questions about practical things should I have them. There are people to provide services should I need them. There are people doing big work – preserving order and life on an Unseen level, and not everyone carries that responsibility. Anyone can serve the gods, but not everyone *has* to. Nobody’s word on the gods is intrinsically more valuable than anyone else’s. It’s a balance of accountability and availability, and that’s why I can handle this kind of hierarchy.