Re: O-Sensei a Shinto Priest?
I've gone back through my library and can't find a single reference that suggests that Ueshiba Morihei was a Shinto priest. I'm very confident that he was a member of the Omoto sect of Shintoism and that he was close to Deguchi Onisaburo. The record is clear that he accompanied Deguchi to Mongolia on the ill-fated expedition. The record seems equally clear that he avoided the suppression of the sect through his powerful military and civil patrons who supported his budo teaching.
I suppose he could have been called a mystic as well since he claimed all sorts of extraordinary events such as the famed "golden light" story. Those may have happened (who am I to say?), he may have BELIEVED they happened, and he may well have made the whole thing up to enhance his reputation.
For me, the bottom line is that Ueshiba O Sensei was a very complex character, a strongly religious follower of Omoto, and that there is no evidence presented that he was a priest of any denomination. He certainly practiced the kotodama and lead others in the practice, but that doesn't translate to priesthood either. I suggest that he was a layman, much like some christian religions currently have laymen serving as "deacons" and other titles.
The fact that he taught Omoto followers his martial art isn't persuasive evidence of priesthood either. At times they were living in a communal style and the residents surely gave of their talents to the group. He taught martial arts, others did construction and so on.
As for the white hakama, I've seen many photographs of individuals wearing white hakama who clearly weren't priests - the most recent person I've seen in the white hakama was Ellis Amdur Sensei at the Aiki Expo. I won't say that Amdur Sensei is or isn't a Shinto priest, but some of his writings strongly discuss his faith.
So, was he or wasn't he? I don't think so, but will keep an open mind in anticipation of some evidence or source material.