In the last article in this series, we visited the reasons why we have clergy. Clergy is needed, useful, and nature makes people who are good at the role.
But having clergy comes with its own problems, problems which express themselves in problem priests.
Problem priests do harm and cause danger to the real benefit that devotional polytheism offers.
I think it is important to visit the issues. I asked everyone on social media what was the worst thing they observed pagan priests and leaders do. I got over two hundred responses from about 10% of my friends list which is about 75% pagan. That’s a lot of abused people guys!
These aren’t all the issues with pagan clergy, but this list does reflect the survey responses.
I would like to visit and talk about each one so we can put light on what might need to be disinfected in your own community.
Problem priests do harm and cause danger to the real benefit that devotional polytheism offers.
The Egoic Priest
This priest seems to either require validation to be chemically balanced in their mind, or needs validation because they have not discovered the self validating well within themselves.
This priest may browbeat you for not achieving their vision. That may be as simple as failing to attend rituals. However, it can grow to you trying to jump through hoops of increasingly unjustifiable complexity. This priest seeks validation, but never finds it. So this priest will move the goal post on you, making you eventually give up trying to please them.
This priest doesn’t see themselves as validated and thus focuses on validation and identity. This sometimes deals with over romanticism, but also can express itself in the pridefulness of the hyper-realist.
Clergy is needed, useful, and nature makes people who are good at the role, and whom cannot refuse the call.
But because they don’t see themselves as validated, they don’t validate the world. And so, they may punish with emotional consequences, but rarely validate or enfranchise anyone else by distributing the due credit to students or parishioners/congregants.
They may exhibit holier than thou tendencies, but not always. Many of them get caught in the perfect asana trap which is the idea that your spiritual value, wisdom, or point in the journey is linked to the perfection of the practice of your religion. They may make you feel unworthy because you don’t feel the need to uphold such perfect principled standards.
These people let positions go to their head. They may put people on pedestals and seek to achieve that for themselves. The problem is they are seeking to become the thing which they falsely projected onto their spiritual role models in the first place. I’ve witnessed the dissolution of this romanticism many times and it’s painful. It’s painful when you see the superhuman in your mind turn into a stinky hair old yogi that has faults.
But it is an error to think that people like Dalai Lama are holier than a mockingbird who pecks at its reflection in your own window. Divinity among mortals, beasts, the land, and the middle world are not hierarchical.
These priests or leaders are known for trying to be the only church in town. They are against ecumenic efforts in the pagan community because it reduces their spotlight.
These kind of people believe their own ruse, and feed on the energy when others dupe themselves into believing the game. Alan Watts describes these kind of people as self righteous with no humor.
Some of the behavior listed here will be poorly categorized as predatory, and better categorized as creepy. However, the people getting preyed upon can’t tell the difference between the two. And so a distinction, when experience is what matters, isn’t worthy of notice here as it doesn’t orient anyone to be better advantaged against these risks.
Predator priests may hit on members in ways which are not fair and do not recognize the power dynamic. It is obvious when there is chemistry and it is mutual. But generally it is not ok for a person in a position of power to make advances on members who have something to lose by saying no.
These priests may not take no for an answer, get over rejection well, and may continue to be creepy and obsessed with their target.
They give a general skeezy feeling to everyone around them. The skeezy feeling is an instinct within us all, and when shared by a group, that group is responding natural to anti-social behavior of on of the kinds we face within nature. Creeps rarely understand this if they aren’t aware of what they are doing, nevertheless… it is their burden to bear, not ours.
The incessant nature of their advances means they don’t care about others’ experiences. They like a person for the way that person changes their experience, not because they want that other person to have a good experience. If they even conceive of this at all, they’ll reduce the dissonance it causes by assuming if their target just accepts the advances, the target’ll not only have a better time, they might enjoy it. This is a false resolution of the aforementioned dissonance. If someone you like to share company with doesn’t reciprocate the feelings, the only good thing to do is to sever ties with that person entirely until you no longer have those feelings. But predators will prioritize whatever gratification they gain from their behavior over all other considerations.
These priests sometimes troll for sex, and use their position to influence or pressure people into having sex. They often do so in the name of sexual fertility rituals, one of which is called the Great Rite within Wicca. Sometimes the Great Rite is abused as a barrier to advancement in initiatory traditions of paganism. By the time a student in one of these traditions becomes a 3rd degree witch, they’ve probably have unwanted sex a number of times.
Predators may try to destroy marriages and drive wedges between their target and their target’s existing supports system. They may call themselves polyamorous but then abandon the philosophy when driving these wedges.
These priests have been known to put sexual fluids in ritual consumables without informing anyone who consumed it. They will gaslight you to get you to be open to doing things which you normally would not be open to doing.
This priest may proposition you in public as to put you on the spot so that you will lose social capital by either accepting or denying the advances. This is a lose lose situation. If you deny, you make the beloved douchebag look bad, if you accept, everyone who envied you, plus all the prude people will likely consider you a slut or manslut.
This priests disciples or fosterlings may enable their behavior for survival or simply be continuing the cycle. And so you can be at events hosted by this priest’s group and have unwanted advances from 3rd parties be reported and for those reports to be ignored. The culture of their group may not display this at first, but red flags will appear.
The Jealous Priest
The jealous priest is easy to figure out. They give themselves away. Everything is always a competition, even disagreements. They see only one goal, removing everyone else’s credibility but their own. This is why they may black ball someone for disagreeing, or for joining other groups.
Jealous priests and leaders fantasize about trying to be the only group in town, an impossible task in a self varying plural society, and so they hedge their perceptions through this desire and goal. Ecumenacism escapes them and they find a precious to guard as their unique thing.
Contact with this person may involve narcissism and gaslighting, run get out!
If you leave a jealous priests group, especially if for another group, a confrontation and reputation bashing will most certainly follow, along with blaming you for your leaving. Since all of this is unavoidable, leave fabulous with a bang!!!
This priest guards their territory well and doesn’t honor your knowledge on commonly held topics, instead perceives it as threatening to their station. They’ll try to put you down a few rungs in your perception of yourself so you can be indoctrinated to their ways, which are more often than not, immature lesser ways of doing the paganism. This is because they are so closed they have trouble perceiving the totality of the development and practice of paganism for many people.
Over all, this priest has an us vs them mentality.
The Toxic Priest
This asshole will ramp up paranoia, they might create a feudal system. They might organize a dinner where the leaders, referred to as nobles, are prioritized higher than the guests.
This Priest is toxic because they have the emotional maturity of an underdeveloped psyche. As such, they are just trying to navigate away from the storms on their emotional seas, not yet figuring out how to attain equanimity within a group. This phase can be grown out of like most of the others. Each of these priests exist because they aided survival in the past at one point, but now it is time for them to go the way of the dinosaur.
When the toxic priest can no longer manipulate you, they push you out. Sometimes they do it poorly and sometimes they are totally contained in doing it.
The contained folks have learned to hold it in after having lead witch-hunts based on personal butthurt in their wonder years of paganism.
They will scream at people, victim blame them, vent or complain incessantly to the entire group.
Some toxic priests are simply leaders who’re responding terribly when being called on their bs. Insecurity based toxicity, like that of a mother’s internalized misogyny which she passes down to her daughters, can cause defensiveness in otherwise natural and good people. Followers of this priest have that kind of toxicity directed at them constantly, enough so they tend to walk on eggshells as a result. So when called on their bs, this priest’ll get an army of defensiveness from other members seeking the leaders rare approval, all attempting to gaslight the accusers of their beloved whip master eggshell of a priest.
Unlike the other priests, the toxic priest will believe the things they are gossiping on about in their rumors. Their abuse and toxicity is in part a perpetuated perception and identity problem in the reverse of the egoic priest.
Because people don’t respect toxicity, these people have an autocratic arrogance that only they can see these problems and everyone else is unaware or blind to them. This isn’t the case, folks know what is wrong with the world, they just don’t want to hear it from a shark biting their leg off.
These are the witches that start witchwars and put their whole heart into it.
They work magic to destroy and retaliate other leaders who are vulnerable to it. They encourage others to do so as well.
Their groups are cliques who often do not believe they are cliquish. After all, how you react to their fake hospitality is your problem in their mind. This is the culture the toxic leader breeds. Members on eggshells all the time cannot discern what welcomeness even feels like.
If they don’t set themselves up as feuding nobles above others, they might try to re-enact classism or the caste system, limiting votes based on economic or caste value. Nobles, Warriors, Artisans become non-interdependent, but rather hierarchical power based. If you hear a leader refer to themselves as a Benevolent or Benign Dictator, go somewhere else.
This priest is easy to spot when drama is about, because of the clear avoidance of conflict resolution. Instead, they just sow a narrative and you must accept it.
They will scream at patrons as part of their regular inability to deal with conflicts, disagreements, or even compliments.
The toxic priest will disproportionately tap the group as a support system, while not readily and whole heartedly offering a shoulder in return.
The semi-healed toxic priest may surround themselves with followers for self esteem purposes, but they will eventually show the old part of themselves in mild form. Instead of healing, they hang onto their manipulation and gaslighting as tactics to get people to love them. This is because they haven’t often found that self validating well within the psyche, which, is a fundamental issue with almost all of these 7 priests and leaders.
Many priests are apolitical while some are highly political. Among the political, some are generally good while others seek to influence people to share another’s opinion. It’s not wrong to want people to switch to your side as you see it, it is wrong to subvert their critical thinking to do so. A good priest will ask questions and entertain a civil argumentative discourse. But the toxic priest wont. And the toxic priest may abuse their position and authority to influence the political stance of followers. This is no different than prosylization.
The toxic priest’s behavior is the least calculated and the most erratic, ranging from making false accusations against others to forcing their way into members’ personal life.
This priest is summed up well, as a general emotional abuser who threatens members with violence at the extreme, and can culminate into actual violence and danger.
Its really petty and hard for me to dig into this priest. While we may have developed core competencies prior to becoming a priest, we are not fully clergy competent when we don the weight of the stole.
The only reason to talk about this priest, is if they cause harm or danger to us or the movement as a whole. Everything else can be solved by guidance, practice, and humility.
This can a spillover of toxicity: this priest can wrongly accuse people. But it isn’t because of violent emotional seas, instead it is just a haste to belief and conclusion. When you draw a conclusion on little time, data, and bad view of everyone’s narrative, your sight is shortened. Making judgements in this state is an error of this priest.
This priest is sometimes very lacking in welcoming new people around, for whatever reason. This only slows down the progress paganism is making in the world. A priest serves, and therefore a priest is welcoming.
Ritual unpreparedness, mumbling during ritual, catching your robe sleeves on fire, can all be fixed with practice. What can’t be fixed though are serious judgement issues where this priest judges it is okay to host 10 to 12 hour long rituals. Sometimes this priest or leader will set off fireworks without warning or bring firearms to ritual without warning, triggering the people they are intending to serve.
This priest will plan a ritual way up at the end of a hike without considering disability access to their event. Because one has to let go of many venues that would be great, this priest will choose to serve their own interests instead of potential members.
This priest has issues taking themselves, and therefore paganism, seriously.
Because of this, they don’t want to see paganism professionalized. Sometimes they do everything they can to sabotage every moment in the ritual where actual energy might be building by whatever means.
Continued study and research is lacking with this priest. Study is a means to a goal for them that, once reached, is done. Once they are a poobah, the poobooks can be put away, so to speak. At this point, they strongly identify with their title, instead of identifying with their ignorance, such as a person does when they consider themselves a perpetual student.
This priest might have a lack of actual spiritual care, especially after certain kinds of taxing spiritual work.
This priest hasn’t yet had to face, what dangers can occur when having newbies participate in or learn advanced and dangerous spiritual techniques like blood magic, shadow work, without the adequate process for learning.
This preist has been known to fail to prevent underaged drinking, or even have a dismissive attitude about it.
This priest will make bylaws and not stick to them. When this applies to elections, this priest easily finding themselves becoming a fraudulent Dishonest priest.
Dishonest Priest Integrity:
The dishonest priest is a lie, cheat, or thief. They may plagiarize your work so do not share it until it is documented as your own intellectual property. After plagiarizing you, the negative feels they feel when they think of you, will be projected onto you. They’ll have to cope with this by bad mouthing you and the work they thought was great enough to steal from you. The bad mouthing will be more intense if you call them out on it first. This will more or less make you want to rage quit the planet after pulling your hair out.
One of the most important things the dishonest priest ignores are election results. If you set up your group so that power can move around, but do not allow the will of the group to be expressed, you’ve committed a societal crime against your group. You’ve violated any trust you had.
Misspending funds, even when not fraud or thievery, is certainly in this person’s wheelhouse funds.
And so is using the voices of the dead or spirit to push a hidden agenda. Hidden agenda’s are by their very nature, dishonest. Otherwise, they’d be made overt.
The dishonest priest will attend your rituals to attempt to poach your students or your ritual technique. When turned down they get perturbed to a great degree.
The dishonest priest will lie above all else. Any form of lying can be categorized as this kind of behavior. Religious justification of abuses is one such lie, even if the priest believes it.
This priest is spotted early by avoiding oath taking, or by the oath taking and breaking while denying they ever made a public oath in ritual.
The Prejudiced priest isn’t a fair judge. They don’t believe that different demographics can have different experiences than they have, or even the same experiences. They think other people are NPCs in their story. This is in part an empathy problem, and a simulation problem where a person can’t apply another’s experience to their own.
Because this priest lacks empathy, or trains themselves to shut it off, it is hard to determine if they believe anyone else in the world has their own feelings and thoughts at the same level that they do.
This priest may engage in accidental or intentional proliferation of white supremacist on social media content. If unintentionally, they are only prejudiced in a manor where they judge a content source bigotry free before checking. But because it is a widespread problem, it is worth mentioning.
The prejudice priest may or may not be racist. They may be transphobic, agist, ableist, homophobic, or bigoted in another way.
The prejudiced priest might have an obsession with gender balance in goddess only spaces, in god only spaces, in polytheist invocations given by priests who must call 1 god and 1 goddess. This priest might have their prejudice bleed into their decisions of who and how they serve. Some clergy have used gender balance as a means to refuse to officiate the marriage of two men or two women.
Sometimes a good priest becomes prejudiced by going from talking about their bad experience with a former religion to bashing it or its members outright.
Otherwise, this priest is known for encouraging hatred rather than love toward others.