Paganism as a religious movement has made some significant strides in the last decade to carve out a space with other religions at the table of equality. For instance, in the last two years professional Pagan organizations like Circle Sanctuary have become nationally recognized as an ecclesiastical endorser by organizations like the Association of Professional Chaplains, a move that could only have been accomplished by significant effort to legitimize the presence of clergy within the organization, as well as a standing code of ethics and functioning bylaws. (Press release for that story can be found here).
Many Pagans have commented such a move toward more mainstream legitimacy is “selling out,” and trying to fit Paganism in the same box as other world religions (especially Christianity) by adopting their language, structure, and functioning in order to be seen on equal footing. They point out that one of the main strengths of Paganism is the decentralized nature of the faith itself—the fact that there are no hard and fast rules and every person is their own representation of the Divine. They see the path to legitimacy as a religion as a breakdown of the integral freedoms that come with the system, which is a frightening prospect for many Pagans.
Pagans who have been fighting the fight for legitimacy have a different view. They see the benefits of having representatives of Paganism in institutions such as hospitals, universities, prisons, and the military, and they know that the only way to accomplish that goal is to have trained and certified clergy who have vetted the current systems in place. While they understand the importance of having and maintaining the freedoms that make Paganism so appealing to so many, they also understand there is a balance to living in a world that still does not consider Paganism to be a religion in and of itself.
Where do we find the balance between the two viewpoints? It’s hard to take a faith seriously when its adherents (for example) want to be called Lord StarfireRavensblood and Lady WindchaserStarheart. It can be even more difficult when we want to wear horns in our driver’s license photos and Isis wings into hospitals to perform healing miracles on patients with crystals and throat singing. How do we still maintain our traditions and vestments of our faith authentically without being a laughingstock to the rest of the world? There is a fine line between personal self-expression and professional representation for the sake of legitimacy.
It is important to acknowledge that as Paganism grows as a movement, the need for professional Pagan clergy and representatives in various institutions will continue to grow. People will need to have chaplains when they enter the prison systems, hospitals, and the military. We will need to see more professionals in small businesses and other successful lines of work. This means we will need to find that sweet spot between legitimacy and freedom to be who we are as Pagans.