These days, only a fraction of Wiccans come from initiatory traditions. So HPs has become easy to claim... because there's no Wiccan doctorates anywhere, no universities to give and withhold the title. I have heard 13-year-olds who are just beginning in the Craft claiming that they are in training as HPs!
This is one instance where a tradition of intense study and practice before initiation into Wicca makes a lot of sense.
However, calling yourself an elephant doesn't make you one.
Let's look at what makes a HPs a real leader.
Leading By Example
A High Priestess is a woman who leads a Coven or a Wiccan ritual. So she will obviously be very knowledgeable about Wicca / Witchcraft.
But there's a lot more to it.
In Wicca, every practitioner is a Priestess or Priest.
The basic difference between a priestess and a HPs is the knowledge, experience, desire, and ability to give of herself in Wicca and to be of service to others and to the Divine.
WITCH TIP: This is pretty much the definition of High Priest, as well. Simply change the gender pronouns.
(If you're wondering why we use the feminine as the generic here, rather than the masculine as the rest of the world does, you'll find some explanation in this note on Gender Pronouns.)
The only difference is that, in ritual, the High Priest is a sort of secondary leader. This is very hard to explain in a culture that sees everything as power hierarchies. The High Priest is subordinate to the High Priestess, but not in a way that is demeaning or diminishing. It is more like the way a lover serves the beloved.
The Role of a HPs
High Priestesses have responsibilities. You become a HPs by the performance of these duties, not by choosing the title.
In order to fulfill the responsibilities of a HPs, you will need to be familiar with not only the basics of the Craft, but skilled in...
There are also personality requirements for the role. Not everyone is cut out to be a HPs, and -- just like being president or prime minister -- often the people most qualified for the job don't want it, and the unqualified people are eager for it.
Most novices notice only the glamour and (apparent) power of the position. They don't notice the hard work and tireless dedication that comes with the job. They also don't notice that the leader is the one who is serving the Coven or Circle, not the one wielding power.
So a prospective HPs also needs to have certain personal qualifications...
Respect for others, and the Divine within everyone
Generosity of spirit
A certain amount of social charisma
Ongoing personal intimacy with the Divine
The desire to be the Divine's Handmaiden (rather than, say, always asking the Gods for things, she appreciates the gifts they give her -- even the painful ones)
Lest we imagine it's all honour and glamour, the HPs is also the one in charge of setting up, taking down, and cleaning after a ritual!
Now, there are some differences between traditions.
In British Traditional Wicca, a High Priestess is the female leader of a Coven. This will be the same woman, year after year.
In the New Wicca, a High Priestess is the woman who is leading a ritual, and every ritual can have a different High Priestess.
HPs is not a title that's normally used among non-BTW or solitary Witches, but technically it can be used by Priestesses with experience in leading Wiccan rituals.
The one thing that is common in every tradition is that a High Priestess is a position of service, not an opportunity for power games.
Acting High Priestess: Ritual Leadership
The woman who is acting as High Priestess for a Wiccan ritual is the ritual leader.
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