The Future of Pagan Leadership

***Disclaimer: I would like to state that this is entirely my opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinions of anyone else. I am not referring to anyone but wish to have an open and honest discourse about the subject. Please let me know why you agree or disagree with me civilly! I would sincerely  love to hear it.***

A few months back I stumbled upon a fascinating article on the future of Pagan clergy and a possible direction that it could take over at Penton called “Paganism: No longer a religion of clergy” by Erebos. The article espoused what I considered some revolutionary ideas in regards to differences between what being a lay clergy and full time clergy could potentially be.

The article suggests that full-time Pagan clergy hypothetically should be:

  • Clergy serve both the gods and the communities in which they practice.
  • Clergy are those who have advanced spiritual training, commitment, service and experience.
  • Clergy are the spiritual leaders, teachers and interpreters of their traditions and faith.
  • Clergy are those who find that their particular talents and temperaments incline them to assist, nurture and guide the religious and spiritual practice of others.
  • Clergy administers and runs, on a day-to-day basis temple/coven/hearth/grove/organizations, etc. business.
  • Clergy provide a central point for communication and crisis intervention.
  • Clergy act as the public face of the tradition or belief system; they invite interfaith dialogue and information sharing.
  • Clergy guide those who are inspired to find their own path to the Divine.
  • Clergy work with the Gods directly, but they do not act as permanent intermediaries, but more like guides to help others until they know their way around.

I think and feel that this is a very good representation of what full-time Pagan clergy should be. I know that others may feel that some requirements should be added or taken away, but in general I believe that this represents a good solid foundation for full-time Pagan clergy to model themselves after.

A few months later, I got into a discussion with Lady Charissa of North Georgia Solitaries (and several others) about Pagan leadership and ministerial duties over a couple of articles she shared. One of those articles was Sunfell’s (article link) which has been around since the early 2000′s.  This means the concept and desire for change has been prevalent in the Pagan collective (sub)consciousness for over a decade now. From my own experiences, I do not think much has changed from the standard model of Pagan leadership. But why hasn’t it? One reason for this seems to be the diversity of the Pagan religious community. We are a varied bunch and I think at times that this can be both a great strength and a hindrance in some circumstances. Due to this diversity I think the Pagan community is slow to change. Much like ripples in water it takes time for them to expand after the initial cause has taken place. Another reason is Pagans tend to balk at organization and structure. The distaste with their current organized religion is a something that led many Pagans to the religion in the first place. However, I think that the concepts of  organization and structure as manifestations of the Goddess (Form) in our lives  is something that we as Pagans can get behind. As our religion grows to face the issues that we will and are currently facing  we will need to be able to process needed changes in order to  grow, adapt, and evolve. I believe that structure and organization are tools that will allow us to do so. Finally, I suspect Pagans desire to analyze and understand the mysteries and questions of life (such as ‘Does God have a wife?’) causes them to want to dissect and evaluate any changes  as well.  This attempt to garner a greater knowledge and understanding of the change can potentially delay and disrupt transitions.

After some personal reflections on the subject, I came to a conclusion about the model that is currently in place and why I disliked it. This model provides a “one size fits all approach” to modern Pagan leadership and seems to ignore the diversity amongst the practitioners and leaders of the religion. Typically, in my experience, this is based off of the degree system that many traditions practice. The degree systems flaw is that it’s a very binary system. You either are or you’re not. Relying on this type of leadership model causes those that possess leadership skills and abilities but not a degree  role to potentially be diminished and down played.Beyond the black and white degree system are many shades of grey which can be valuable commodities that lay unused and untapped.

So where do we as Pagans begin? During my conversation on this subject a concept image of a Venn diagram got lodged in my mind.  I sketched this image out, and shared it with my pagan friends and teachers to get feedback. After a lot of discussion and revisions this is the image that I had produced.


The benefit of a model such as this one is that it plays to an individual’s strengths and aptitudes.  It would also help alleviate the “one size fits all” mentality. There are many Pagans within the community who would fit this leadership model but who do not quite fit into the traditional model that is currently being used. A secondary or separate system of training, evaluation, and recognition (not a degree system per se, but more of a certification) exclusive to that of the current model would provide opportunity and recognition for those Pagans who wish to serve their community. By implementing a model such as this one, we allow for the growth of the religion while providing a greater and improved foundation, and leaders with wider range of skills for generations to come.

As 2012 is turning out to be a year of massive change for many people and communities, we should all strive to ask ourselves how we can be better members of our community and religion. What can I do to help? What changes can I make within my own life to bring about a better Pagan community? Do I have a skill or the desire to learn a skill that will benefit the community and Paganism? How can I assist my religious leaders? How can I better serve the Gods? I am sure that there are other questions we can ask ourselves to these ends. We  would be wise to keep the thoughts about what changes  that we desire in our minds and in our conversations. We should tell our leaders what we would like to see  from them. We should use this chance to open up an honest dialogue with the leaders and strive to help them make these changes. We can and should work together to help create the future for our religion we all want. After all, now is the perfect time for that talk and action to begin as Imbolc is a time for new beginnings.

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About Adrian Monogue

(Ash) is a second generation and second degree witch who was raised in a coven who grew up in the Atlanta area of Georgia. He practices a form of syncretic Paganism that draws on practices are based on Alchemy, Astrology, Eastern Philosophy, Jungian Psychology, Kabbalah, Science, Shamanism, and Wicca.

  • Pamela V Jones

    Agreed. It is time for new model that more accurately reflects the varying members under the umbrella of Pagan religions.

  • Lady Larina of RavenStone

    Adrian, I agree whole-heartedly with the ideas that you have put forth. One of the things I love most about our spiritual path is that while we are Traditionalists, we are not dogmatic and are constantly striving to improve the quality of our members’ experiences. I would, however, suggest that what you so eloquently describe is not always ignored in the face of a Traditional 3 degree system. Having been in the Craft for almost 25 years and having been a High Priestess for over 10, I can say with great assurance that I try to consider each individual’s skills and talents in their initiatory process. Not all second degrees are seconds for the same reasons. There are common touchstones along their path, but each circumstance is unique and adapted to the individual, their needs, and what they bring to the community. That is not to say that we cannot explore new directions in which to grow, but our leaders, who are shaping the next generation of leaders, should always take these issues into consideration. Thank you for your ideas and insights!

    • Adrian Hawkins

      I agree Lady Larina. I try not to speak in absolutes due to the fact that there is generally and exception to the rule.

  • Rowan Fairgrove

    This is a lovely diagram. The part that is missing, for me, is that all the “clergy” functions listed are in respect to people. I really think that one of the facets of Pagan clergy that is neglected in the modern world is that of walker between worlds and steward of the natural world and/or shrine.  We have a greater heritage than “ministering” to humans and I am always sorry to see it neglected.

    • Pamela V Jones

      Good and accurate point. Plus the role of communing with/conversing with (?) the Gods and along with being able to teach that though that may fall under the “spiritual intermediary and guide” portion.

      • Adrian Hawkins

        Yes. That was my intention.

  • Anonymous

    I really enjoyed this article! thanks for writing it. I too wish for a structure, but with so many solitary pagan how is that possible? it’s something we should strive for as a community.

    • Adrian Hawkins

      I don’t know how to make it happen other than beginning by planting a seed such as this one in people’s mind. I am sure that we, together, as pagans came come up with a viable solution.

      One possible idea I mention is a form of certification or accreditation. So even if they are a solitary practitioner they could still be recognized and verifiable as resource and leader for the community.

      • Bill Wheaton

        Adrian- the accreditation/certification idea has actually been floated several times before, at least as far back as ’92 or ’93 by people close to you as well as many other varied members of the North GA community.  It’s a good idea, and I think there was general agreement in principle even way back then.  Things don’t always work out.  But a lot has changed since then, and I welcome seeing this idea come around again.  I’m thinking you may have discovered a non-threatening way to achieve it.  A minimum level of accountablility is needed at least, in order that the overall community is served in some capacity or other.  Perhaps taking a tip from the academic realm would be helpful – sort of a mutually agreed upon set of requisites for endowment of some kind like the kinds of accrediation an alliance of universities might expect of members.  While there are hard rivalries among them, it serves to advance their institutions by appllying and expecting rigor.  We would be equally rewarded by being so served.

        Paid clergy.  I am open to that.  I am into cause and effect.  There is a balance.  For everything you gain, you pay a price that is worth it  - otherwise you wouldn’t pay that price.  What you pay for something is exactly what it is worth at that time, no more, no less.  Being paid for services rendered is indicative of that.  It is no less a part of that whole.

        That said, I want to respect the mores of my elders.  I wonder were accommodation can be found that is satisfactory to all?

  • Oak

    I so agreed with you comments, the issue is that there is still so much opposition.  I was on a pagan list and the topic came up “When are the neo wiccan going to grow up and become wiccan”  and the whole point of the thread seemed to be for these “Wiccan” to prove how Superior they where to everyone else.  In my own community the Local “Top” Druid was asked the difference between Druids and Wicca/Witches And her response was that Druids study.  Personally I was offended,  I read a lot and study many things.  It almost seems that if you put your self out there the pack circles to tear you down to there level of mediocrity. It could be argued that I would meet at time all three of you circle at time, but because my spouse and I own a store and charge for certain service I get comments like: I could never sell my religion.  Trying to become the next witch King? and who know what else behind our backs.  But it really hurtful  to be consider less pagan because I own a pagan store, and provide services to the “Pagan community”.  I understand that Pagans our human and we can have our own prejudice and ignorance but how do we draw these people into the discuss and not get side line.

    2nd question I have for you pagan clergy how do they earn there living?  In the christian community the congregation donates to the clergy pay.  How can we expect one person to full time act as Priest or Priestess and not support them? and do we have a Priest or Priestess for each group?

    I really like where you going with this, but my experience have taught me to be very cautious cause pagans like to take pot shots too.

    • Adrian Hawkins

      In regards to “I can never sell my religion” the New Wiccan Book of the Law by Lady Galadriel states: “50.
      If any Wiccan truly labors, just payment becomes a personal right. This
      is not considered the taking of money for the Art, but good and honest
      work. Yet if any Wiccan works willingly for the good of the Craft, or a
      brother or sister without pay, then it becomes the cause of great honor.” I understand that this is a Wiccan Specific, but I feel it applies nice to Paganism as a whole. You should be recognized for your personal contributions to the community regardless of your profession. I do not have a clear answer to your second question. I know coven’s that follow the Tithe model. Some people have employee’s who are paid from the organizaton’s coffers. They rent the space or other options to raise funds. Another model for couples is that one of them works full time to support them both, and the other is “clergy” full time.

      • Gus diZerega

         Adrian (and Oak) I think the problem is solving itself. From a Wiccan perspective it seems to me entirely wrong to charge for training and initiation within a coven.  On the other hand, by providing a service that does not expect anyone to find initiation at the end, well that seems quite OK.  If a coven wants to support their HPS and HP, that is their concern, but a small group will have to also be pretty well off to enable these folks to be independent. 

        If a person wants to be self-supporting within the Pagan community, provide services the community is willing to pay for.  A workshop, store, ritual center, counseling services – the list is long and will become longer as we grow in numbers.  All that is independent of being “clergy.” 

        Some people will gripe that some charge, just as I learned that shop lifting is a serious problem at spiritually oriented bookstores.  Many people do bad things because they think their motives are pure or privileged – look at the “Christian” right.  We are not immune.  But most Pagans are wiser and better than that.

        We should be careful though of modeling our community and its leaders on Christian derived concepts such as”clergy.”  If a tradition wants to call its leaders “clergy” go ahead, but for Pagans as a whole to do so I think there is no way to get there and that is good.

        • Adrian Hawkins

          I do think that the problem is mitigating itself as it is becoming more acceptable to exchange services for money.

          I can see where your going with your dislike of the word clergy.  We could easily fall into the archetype that is associated with the word, and I do not thing that would suit the required flexibility needed by Paganism.  Perhaps the best term that I can think of is “Professional Pagan”. Do you have any thoughts about it?

  • Tilly

    Very interesting read. It sparked some action in our pagan community as we’re already discussing celebrating Esbats together.  As a witch, I know that I would love to belong to a coven, but its a small town and there are only a very few of us, so we tend to be more solitary. I don’t think I ever had a problem with the “organization” of my former religion, but more with the holier-than-thou, we’re-right-and-your-wrong aspect of the whole thing.  Fellowship is a wonderful thing, so being there for one another, even in an unorganized kind of way, is important to me.  Great article. Thanks for posting it.

    • Adrian Hawkins

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article Tilly. I understand what it is like being pagan in a small town. I currently live in one in the south. Fellowship is very important, I agree.

  • Gus diZerega

    An interesting post on an issue that has long been of importance to me.  Thank you.  I started to reply with some thoughts of my own and it grew into a mini-essay  (as is my way I guess).  So I put it up on my Beliefnet site.

    I personally think we will be ahead of the =gasme in understanding who we are if we give up the term “clergy” as an ideal because of the baggage it carries and the culture in which we live where we live.  

    • Adrian Hawkins

      Hey Gus, 

      Thanks for your Essay!  I’ll respond over there. 

  • Anonymous

    I am not at all opposed to the idea of Pagans organizing, but as others have pointed out, how to organize such a diverse lot of people? I really enjoyed the ideas this article raised. Also not a fan of the “degree” system. If I had a dollar for every time I was told “you aren’t a real witch because you have no degrees”, well, I’d be a rich witch! I feel that this sort of “my way is the only REAL way” attitude seems to start with highly organized Pagans/Wiccans, so I question sometimes if more organization is really what is needed.

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  • sonya miller

    As someone who is in the Clergy trenches I think that an education that is equivalent to at least what ministers of others faith get is a necessity so that we are seen as “legitimate” also we offer an apprenticeship in our community. Because if you cannot “get along” and work with the other established leaders that have already put in the time..then you do not need to be Clergy. You are just going to cause more trouble. Problems trickle down hill they do not trickle up. If we concentrate on carefully choosing, and grooming people for Clergy rather than just “choosing anyone who wants it” then we would have better quality of Clergy. This is important, so that as we go to the hospitals for people (not just our own) or nursing homes, or hospices, or go to other Faith functions (as representatives of our path) we know “what to say”, “how to say it”, and “what the goal” of the community we are representing is with other lay people, and in our cities. Organization is a great thing, it is how we all worship at all as is discipline to think we would not expect that from clergy is ridiculous. However, I do think that it must be people trained that have been around longer than a couple of years, they have to be people that have been seasoned, trained, and work well with others…and do not have an “entitled attitude” Lastly, I think that the perspective of people “not clergy” or first or “second degrees” would be COMPLETELY different if they were mentored by a clergy and saw the life as it really really is…which is sacrifice and service, and giving. Then, people might be less critical since they themselves are reaping “for free i might add” the harvest of the Clergy in their area.

  • sonya miller

    BTW I have to say…I am sorry if you are not willing to at least give five or more years of dedication and study to the path…then why on earth should you become clergy? Clergy is a life time dedication, and if you cannot put in five years of dedication and discipline and do the work, then you sure as heck will not put in that much as a clergy. Leaders burn out because they want the “title” not the work and because “lay people” typically criticisize them overly so…having no idea what it takes to do the job. Thus you have people who are not leaders telling leaders how to lead, the tail DOES not wag the dog…seriously, this is a HUGE issue that should be put to rest. ALL CLERGY should give consideration and respect to all clergy, the end. The job is not a paying one, but a labor of love how grateful I am that there are people here in this world willing to perform that labor for us every day.

  • Sable Aradia

    You make an interesting point; one I don’t disagree with. A friend of mine (Sam Wagar) and I discussed this a few years back, and it’s interesting because we came up with three spheres of clerical function that look a lot like your circles. The first was Pastoral work (Emotional,) the second was Liturgical work (Intellectual,) and the third was Mysticism and Mystical work (Spiritual.) All of these are necessary, but some people are better at one category than other people and so forth. An ideal clergy structure would incorporate all three.

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