Priestly caste

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The priestly caste is a social group responsible for officiating over sacrifices and leading prayers or other religious functions, particularly in nomadic and tribal societies.

In some cases, as with the Brahmins of Vedic India and the Kohanim and Levites of ancient Israel, the caste was a hereditary one, with a person's position as a priest depending on his biological descent. Zoroastrianism also has a hereditary priesthood, as does Alevism, Yezidism and Yarsanism.[1][2][3] In Sufism, the spiritual guide is also often a hereditary leader,[4][5][6][7] while the Sayyids of India, who claim descent from the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, have been described as a priestly caste.[8]

In the Russian Eastern Orthodox Church, the clergy, over time, formed a hereditary caste of priests. Marrying outside of these priestly families was strictly forbidden; indeed, some bishops did not even tolerate their clergy marrying outside of the priestly families of their diocese.[9] In 1867, the Synod abolished family claims to clerical positions.[10]

In other cases, as with the Druids of the Celtic world and the shamans of ancient Eurasian nomads, the position within the caste may have depended more upon apprenticeship; the exact nature of the "caste" in these cases is difficult to ascertain due to our lack of primary sources.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Warwick Ball (2002). Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire. Routledge. p. 434. ISBN 9781134823871.
  2. ^ Stausberg, Michael; Vevaina, Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw, eds. (2015). The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 502–3. ISBN 9781118786277.
  3. ^ Taunton, Gwendolyn, ed. (2014). Primordial Traditions, Volume 1. Numen Books. p. 239. ISBN 9780987559845.
  4. ^ Fait Muedini (2015). Sponsoring Sufism: How Governments Promote "Mystical Islam" in Their Domestic and Foreign Policies. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 103. ISBN 9781137521071.
  5. ^ Jocelyne Cesari (2014). The Awakening of Muslim Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-107-04418-0. Intended to undercut the political power of both the hereditary pir families (the sajjada-nishins, or hereditary administrators) and the ulama ... this was a direct attack on the traditional role of the Sufi leaders ... A pir is the title for a Sufi master, often translated saint. Sajjada-nishin signifies a holder of a shrine.
  6. ^ Desplat, Patrick A.; Schulz, Dorothea E., eds. (2014). Prayer in the City: The Making of Muslim Sacred Places and Urban Life. Verlag. p. 294. ISBN 9783839419458.
  7. ^ Arthur F. Buehler (1998). Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: The Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh (illustrated ed.). Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 230. ISBN 9781570032011.
  8. ^ Kenneth David (1 Jan 1977). The New Wind: Changing Identities in South Asia. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 343–4. ISBN 9783110807752.
  9. ^ The Russian Clergy (Translated from the French of Father Gagarin, S.J.), C. Du Gard Makepeace, p. 19, 1872, [1], accessed 3 November 2018
  10. ^ The Russian Clergy, Andrea Mate, [2], accessed 3 November 2018