Stephanie Woodfield’s Dedicant, Devotee, Priest: A Pagan Guide to Divine Relationships begins with a stunning recollection as both oracular vessel of the Gods and how she felt when she was the new person approaching to receive wisdom from the Gods. By introducing the reader to who she is now and who she was then, Woodfield provides the perfect introduction to the nature of this work. As the author points out, the most common use of the gods is “using theurgy or invoking the divine or other spirits for aid in magic, and at times self-improvement. The problem is theurgy isn’t the same as worship.” (p. 4)
Woodfield takes the reader along with her own journey, starting with the Morrigan as she traversed from the theurgic use of magic to the addition of a deeper level of worship and connection as a part of her religion. One particularly strong section in the introduction the description of oaths and how they change one’s relations with a particular deity or deities. Woodfield’s analogy of the difference as being similar to “going from casual dating to living together” (p.4)for oaths, followed by the variety commonly experienced with deities from respect to specific is easily relatable for beginners and advanced practitioners alike. The comment about “there are reasons why heroes and kings in mythology meet untimely ends when they break vows to the gods.” (p. 5) For those who are new required to this type of structure, it is easier to understand this type of connection such as what is seen as mythology and the punishments or justifiable ends for breaking oaths or vows. It makes the type of commitment required for those who seek the path of dedicant or devotee or priest more real.
This text’s strength lies in the flexibility provided. Woodfield is not saying that being a priest is the ultimate goal for those following a Pagan path. In fact, she correctly points out that there are different levels for each person. The reader is invited to review the entire book and to follow the level or path that suits the individual. Woodfield’s initial goal to provide the type of information that she wished she had when she started two decades ago makes this book relevant on many levels. The “upward mobility” mentality that Woodfield correctly notes as prevalent not just with modern Witchcraft systems, but contemporary degree based ceremonial magic systems is pervasive, but not helpful. I found Woodfield’s simple assertion that the devotional path she describes does not have an end goal but more like branches of a tree to be inspirational and practical.
Woodfield provides a good overview for the interchangeable terminology often used within the Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist community, and most specifically the Neo-Pagan community. This is helpful in avoiding confusion while promoting inclusivity for any type of being with whom the reader might have a connection.
Several tools are listed in the introduction with the understanding that the fully engaged reader will be commencing a long-term practice that will need to be documented (journaling). One strength of the introduction is the clear admission by the author that she only mentions deities with whom she has a personal relationship. This brings a sense of intimacy to the work and a potential deeper connection between the reader and the text. The reader as participant is not alone as they are in a journey with Woodfield and the various exercises that she presents throughout each subsection.
Within Part One: Devotee, Woodfield first points out the basic difference by definition between a devotee versus being a dedicant or a priest. Again, her comparison of devotion to friendship with fewer restrictions versus priesthood with its own deeper intimacy similar to marriage fits image-wise for those who might see the terms devotee, dedicant, and priest as overlapping in some way. This chapter draws upon the reader concept of deity, especially for those who have entered Paganism from monotheism. Woodfield does an excellent job of threading this question through a number of varying traditions. Highlights at the end of each chapter include exercises that allow the reader to delve even deeper into the formation of a full relationship with deity.
The most magnificent part of Part One occurs in Chapter Three: Prayer. Woodfield looks at various types of prayer, and draws different types to establish the common pattern found in prayer:
The first part is basically dialing your area code. Step two is praising the being you are connecting to. Step three is to name any relationships or agreements between you and the gods. Step four would be naming the purpose for the prayer. (pp. 51-52)
This chapter alone is a practical addition for anyone seeing to develop a stronger relationship not only with deity in general, but with any tradition in particular, as Woodfield gives extended examples of various prayers that are broken down into the four parts listed at the start of the chapter. The order of the four parts are not as important as the overall prayer itself.
In the fourth chapter, “Offerings”, Woodfield carefully details the difference between appropriate offerings, what to do if you do not actually have something to offer, types of offerings, and examples to clarify what offerings can mean. The most useful part of this chapter addresses how to know if an offering is received by a deity, the use of timing in making or considering offerings, and what happens if you forget to make an offering. In short, this chapter, like much of the book, covers the questions that beginners might need to know, but don’t always know how to ask.
The chapter on “Unverified Personal Gnosis”, commonly called UPG, is a much needed addition to help the beginner. The exercises and creation of a ritual of devotion to a specific deity round out the chapter and usher the reader into the second section for the dedicant stage.
At this point, Woodfield solidifies as strong beginning with three chapters relevant to the middle stage of the journey: devotion. She speaks candidly of what happens when the gods call you and questions that beginners in Paganism often have about parameters, what it means to have a commitment with deity, and patron deities. The exercises and ritual work in this chapter can be particularly meaningful for those who have questions about devotion and deity relations.
The final three chapters round out this excellent volume with a serious discussion of one of the most complex topics: priesthood and the decisions surrounding becoming and being a priest in Neo-Paganism and other earth-traditions. This chapter is quite relevant as there are few areas, including how to avoid burnout, that are just as important to note as a beginner as they are for those actively involved as a priest. The hazards of public service and work in priesthood are not ignored, nor are they heavily emphasized. Instead, many of the suggestions and all of the advice demonstrate the author’s experience and long-standing understanding of the careful balance needed for those who might consider a path that will lead to priesthood.
Woodfield does not shy away from using the workings and content found in Dedicant, Devotee, Priest: A Pagan Guide to Divine Relationships to create a well-rounded manual that helps beginners and those who might have lost their way in forming a solid foundation for divine relationships. This work is an offering which permits others not only to learn about themselves, but to establish through exercises and ritual a strong connection to the deities they wish to know and those with whom they may progress as dedicant, devotee, and perhaps, priest.
What I liked about this text is the straightforward manner that Woodfield uses to speak directly to the reader and to present vivid practical examples that serve both beginner and advanced parties well. Exercises, journal entries, and ritual practice draws the reader further onto a path that will serve the individual regardless of the level of interest. It is up to the individuals to use the given suggestions as deeply or as lightly as they might wish. The devotional exercise separating the powerful introduction and Part One works well to draw the reader into the overall experience.
What makes this part of the book so valuable is its inclusivity for all who are curious about the meaning behind the words “dedicant”, “devotee”, and “priest” for those who have little knowledge.Dedicant, Devotee, Priest: A Pagan Guide to Divine Relationships fills a void often filled on a smaller scale at the individual coven, grove, kindred, circle, temple, or house level. For solitary practitioners or those who are not yet with a specific tradition or path, consider this a guide to questions and answers that might arise. It is a good introduction for the beginner and a decent reminder for those who think they have covered everything possible on the path.
It is a much needed work at the present time.
~review by Clio Ajana
Author: Stephanie Woodfield
Llewellyn Publications, 2022
pp. 216, $16.99