Guest Post: Feithline on Pagan “Clergy”

Guest Post: Feithline on Pagan “Clergy” September 6, 2010

I have been wrestling with this all day, and in conversations at Facebook, I have attained more confusion than clarity. There seems to be a pretty even split between those who have no trouble with the apparent adoption by many pagan groups of a lexicon that was once strictly Christian, and those who feel unsettled by it. I haven’t yet come across anyone who was openly hostile to the idea, but I will admit here and now that my feelings are certainly verging on the hostile. I am *very* unsettled, and I haven’t yet discovered exactly why.

I’m going to attempt to explore my feelings here, so have patience with me. This is my first blog at Patheos, and I am aware that no one has any idea who I am. A little background might help you grok where I’m coming from. I’ve been pagan since the late 1980s. I was led to paganism through an initial interest in world religions, tarot and the new age (a la Shirley MacLaine, Don Millman & Carlos Castenada). I studied most of the Abrahamic faiths including most of the schisms, and later embraced neo-paganism as the only appropriate title for what it was that worked for me. I’m a dedicant in Blue Star Wicca (though I admit that Trad Wicca is not for me for reasons I might go into later in the blog), a Bard in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, a sister in The Sisterhood of Avalon, and an apprentice in the Temple of Witchcraft. I’m also a pagan podcaster and am afforded ample opportunity to think about, muse about, and sometimes even rant about things I come across in the larger pagan movement.

The appropriation of Christian terms for what it is we do rankles me. Deeply. I’m not offended, exactly, but I think I’m terrified about what this means for our future.

This came up after reading a post at The Broomstick Chronicles by Macha Nightmare. Here’s a quote:

As a Pagan, I feel it’s paramount that we define ourselves rather than leaving that to sociologists, journalists and others. I admit to a mistrust of what I call the ‘overculture’ – the mainstream, linear-thinking, rational, American consumer culture. We can take from the overculture that which suits our religions, but we don’t have to parrot it in everything we do. So even though I’m helping to establish a public ministry program at a Pagan seminary, the goal of which is to offer ordination to Pagan ‘clergy,’ I don’t feel comfortable with the terms ministry, seminary, and most especially, clergy.

From Ruminations on Pagan Clergy.

I don’t feel comfortable with the terms ‘ministry’, ’seminary’, or ‘clergy’ either. I think because these words are loaded and very much conjure up images of churches, frocked priests, child sexual abuse by those in authority over them, corruption, power over, oppression of women, oppression of and outright rejection of homosexuals and other sexual ‘deviants’, rewriting history, the Inquisition, monotheism, and everything negative I’ve experienced or know about Christianity. It doesn’t, unfortunately, conjure thoughts that bring me a sense of identity as a pagan, equality of women, justice for all, safety for children, or anything I consider holy, sacred, Goddess oriented, magical or even spiritual.

The terms conjure, for me, what the Pharisees represented to the Jesus Christ of the Gospels. Vipers. Hypocrites. Dogmatic. Blind. Congregation. Laity. Those who follow those who lead.

Am I biased?


Do I really need to explain why?

I didn’t think so.

I want to know why pagans seem to be rushing to embrace this terminology when we already have our own. Witch. Druid. Bard. Ovate. Magus. Magician. Flamen. Oracle. Wisewoman. Shaman. Are some of these words appropriated? Certainly, but these words conjure the natural, organic spirituality that I seek rather than the book-based religious dogma that the other words bring to mind. I can live with priesting or priestessing as verbs, but as official titles?

Not so much.

My impression of pagan spirituality at the time that I began to study it was that we are all our own priesthood. We need no leaders. We need no mediators. Our own personal experience trumps that of any book or teacher. We are responsible for our own experience. We must engage the divine ourselves, on our own behalf, to have a genuine spirituality.

What I see happening is this: a line is being drawn between laity – those who show up and want to be led/taught, and priesthood – those who do what needs to be done to attain an initiation that matters to the laity. Credentials. Proof, by degree or certificate, of the purchase of a spirituality that, to my understanding, cannot be purchased.

I fear that the appropriation of Christian terminology is a threat to our autonomy, our sovereignty. I fear that the adoption of these terms will create a pagan congregation (if one doesn’t already exist) who expects to be led as sheep by a shepherd to a spiritual experience that they can only really have by doing the work of engaging the divine as they understand it.

And yet, I participate in orders and temples that embrace such terminology. Ministry. Seminary. Sisterhood. Priesthood. I participate because what is offered is of value to me despite the use of those terms.

Resistance notwithstanding, I’m afraid we’re all being assimilated.

I’m going to keep on struggling with this, and in the meantime, I welcome your feedback.

Feithline has a personal blog on Patheos and a podcast: SpiritsCast.

Also check other Pagan blogs on Patheos: Pagans With Disabilities, Pagans in the Military and Seeking Aradia.

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  • Merry Meet Feithline, I hope that I can share my experience with you as a “Pagan Clergywoman”.

    Through my own spiritual journey I was taught three degrees from different traditions, after attaining my third degree I wanted the ability to help my fellow Pagans in more secular matters such as marriage. The only way that I was able to legally bind two people in hand-fasting was to become a ordained minister legally recognized by my state.

    With the help of the Priest who legally joined my husband and I, I took a year to learn about the responsibilities and duties of a legally recognized High Priestess. I was ordained a “Reverend” recognized through my state with all the legal privileges there of. And recognized through my Priests tradition as an Elder High Priestess.

    The state of Minnesota recognizes me as Revered Greenbush, as they put it “til death do I depart”. Through my community I am just HPS Winter. I seek no congregation or leadership other than that which is requested of me. I have no problem “using” the secular or Christian term in certain circumstances simply to ease confusion, the same way I allow people to think I am Wiccan because it takes less time then explaining my myriad of beliefs to the uninitiated.

    To my community I am simply Winter and that is all I want to be, with the ability to help in legal matters. To the outside world I am Reverend Greenbush, stepping up and taking a stand for the rights of people of alternative religions.

    I do not think that the appropriation of these secular titles is bad, it is how we choose to use them. If a word is used to enhance understanding and clarity then it should be used, we do not always have the time to stop and explain who and what we are so we use a language that is easily excepted and understood until such a time where we can sit down and answer questions.

    Step by step we are moving closer to a day were our terminology will be accepted and understood. Like all things this will take time and patience and persistence. We have come so far since the public inception of our religion and we will continue to go farther. Even if the process is sometimes slow and awkward it is still progress, we just have to be very conscious of how we direct that progress.

    In love and light

  • The relatively new religion of Christianity has little or no terminology of its own.

    Ancient Pagans had Priestesses and Priests and various ways in which these were trained and organized.

    Words are important, and where we find religious terms that really are Christian both in origin and in their meaning, these should be treated with caution.

  • If I may, I think a comment I made in the Mercury Retrograde/Orthodoxy article might be of some assistance, but I shall put some thought here.

    Paganism is recorded to be fastest growing religious group at the moment. That means we are getting a lot of people now who may or may not be joining for the right reasons vs. because it is catchy and counter culture. I suspect a lot of push we see to use these terms may be coming with these new arrivals, who are leaving behind the Abraham religions and joining us, but bringing their terminology and views on the need for orthodoxy with them.

    Also, we have to remember that this push for such terms probably comes from outside Paganism/Heathenism. These terms are ones we grew up with, and baggage aside, are the familiar. If we don’t want them, then we must insist on using our terms, like the Asatru community is with the term Gothi for men and it’s female equivalent. But even then, they still get referred to as “Clergy” because that is the term familiar to the Non-Heathen community.

    Plus, I think that as long as we continue to have the current Political/Economic continue, people will keep pushing for the usual terms and an orthodoxy. Most people don’t thrive in Chaos, which is a natural part of Paganism/Heathenism. They may no longer agree with the Abrahamic religions, they may recognize their faults, but they have been the dominant force in the West and Middle East for fifteen hundred years. It’s what people know, and it’s very ingrained into our culture. The fact that much of the Left side of the Political map draws its philosophy from Christian teachings (sans the “Christ/God”) and the Right draws from the old Pagan/Heathen philosophy (with the Christ whitewashed and sinking into a few cracks), it is no surprise that we are seeing a new push to include “Christian” terminology as our religion grows and starts to produce religious leaders.

    If we don’t want to get hijacked, I have only two words:

    Constant Vigilance.

  • Ali

    First, I echo Apuleius here: the words you list are hardly solely Christian in use or origin. I was particularly struck by your dislike of the word “seminary,” which my dictionary describes as: “a college that prepares students to be priests, ministers, or rabbis. • (archaic) a place or thing in which something is developed or cultivated. • (archaic) a private school or college, esp. one for young women.” The etymology it provides is that the word originally comes from the Latin word for “seed plot” and denotes a place where seeds are planted and then cultivated – which seems a lovely, organic image, especially appropriate to, for instance, the training of young women as witches.

    What I think the real conflict is, however, is not about language but about social structure, as you yourself point out. This is not about whether or not we use words like “priest” or “clergy,” but whether we accept the hierarchical and patriarchal implications of their use within (some but certainly not all) Christian traditions.

    Personally, my opinion is simply that Paganism is growing up, and expanding. The notion that we are all our own priest or priestess is inspiring, and romantic, but it simply isn’t practical. Within a religious community above a given size, there will inevitably be laity and clergy. In other words, there will be folks who worship and practice regularly but who also have other careers and family lives not necessarily centered on their religion; and there will be people who are leaders, counselors and organizers who devote their time to sustaining and supporting the religious community, who make their religion itself their career. I think that it is not only naive, but to some extent unfair, to deny appropriate acknowledgement to those in our community who pour so much of their time and energy into supporting and organizing our communities so that the rest of us can benefit from their work while also maintaining a family life and career of our own.

    This is an issue found within Druidry. The word “Druid” used to apply, in ancient Celtic society, only to the priestly caste or class, and it took several decades of study to attain to that level or profession. Druids were not only priests and counselors, but judges, scholars and political advisers. These days, however, people call themselves “Druids” when they mean that they practice Druidry – in the same way that a “Christian” is someone who practices Christianity. To believe that every modern “Druid” is up to the task of being a community leader, political analyst and academic scholar (in addition to being, say, a veterinarian or business manager or an engineer) is unreasonable; likewise, it is unreasonable to attempt to reserve the name “Druid” only for leaders within the modern Druid community, and deny all others of their right to use that name. People who practice Druidry want to be able to easily call themselves “Druids,” and so the use of words like “clergy” or “priest” is a simple way, easily recognized in modern culture, to distinguish a “lay” Druid practitioner from a Druid who has made a life-career of being a community leader and organizer. To me, this has nothing to do with who has the “real” connection to the gods – and everything to do with practical issues of group management, counselor training and career paths.

    There was a time when Wicca and other forms of witchcraft were considered “mystery traditions,” in which every initiate was not simply a priest but a mystic as well. I’m not sure this was ever true for other groups, such as Druidry, or other Pagan reconstructionist groups… But regardless, for any religious tradition (Pagan traditions included) not every member can or will be a mystic. It is a sign of inclusivity and growth that we are making room for a “laity” and that we are willing to meet people where they are in their present lives. To me, it smacks of elitism to suggest that only those willing and able to by mystics should be allowed to benefit from the beauty, power and wisdom of Pagan spiritual traditions.

  • As one who is relatively new to Paganism, I’d like to point out another issue. For those of us who have become fed up with the established order of Christianity, for reasons you clearly stated, Paganism really does have a very strong appeal. Reverence of nature, a wealth of ancient documents and powerful personal experiences are powerful attractions. Paganism is based on truths that are built into our being. They can’t be ignored.

    With some investigation, however, what a seeker like myself finds is an array of organizations, certifications and institutions. There are charismatic leaders who take on a variety of titles and trappings. There are offices, treasuries and holy liturgies. There are also many very kind, sincere people, willing to share knowledge and fellowship. Whether we call it a chapel or a temple, and the leadership clergy or high priests, it still has some traits in common with the Christian church. Whether Paganism borrowed from Christianity, or visa versa, I personally feel that organized belief systems tend to grow into the same type of structured entity. This may just be how religious societies work.

    During a recent visit to the Sacred Paths Center in St. Paul, MN, I had a wonderful discussion with a long-term Wiccan practitioner. I respectfully voiced my observations concerning the multitude of beliefs and the plethora of creative liturgies, as well as other similarities to the Christian church. He respectfully replied that a “Wiccan is a Wiccan,” and insisted the order with which he was aligned had well-though-out rituals and doctrines. He was very happy to identify with the group, as are many others, and I begrudge none of them that. It’s just not for me.

    One has to wonder how many there are like me, who are seeking a path, but one that’s not so well worn or obvious. On the other hand, how many feel the need for structure in their search? How many are just looking for fellowship and fun, or an alternative? There may be as many “new” pagans turned on by established organizations and their offerings as there are who are turned off by them. I just hope everyone finds what they’re looking for.

  • Why is this threatening? I most certainly understand the connection to growing up in a particular faith but the way I look at is (and the reason I enjoy Paganism and Wicca) that some people can go ahead and do this and the rest of us we’ll go on a remain solitary. We already have this in Toronto. There is a Toronto Wiccan church with Priests and Priestesses . . . i go there once in a blue moon for classes . . . I’m not comfortable with everything they do . . . but I have my own solitary practice and that’s what’s important. I think any self-respecting Pagan would be respectful of people who practice solitary.
    If we let this get to us, we’ll be just as bad as those Christians, Muslims etc. who say that certain groups aren’t part of our religion.

  • Ruthie

    I understand the nature of the debate. While it is tempting to adopt familiar terms for the knowledge-class of a faith, it is also a bit disappointing to find so many of those terms carry unsavory baggage.
    Let us begin, therefore, by analyzing exactly why we want to have these terms:
    To differentiate the knowledge-class from the neophytes
    To differentiate faith specialists (oracle vs. instructor)
    To legitimize our belief before a world steeped in these very terms.

    The most natural and organic term to differentiate the knowledge class from the neophyte is the parent-child relationship. Mother and Father. Whoops! Already appropriated by the catholic church.

    Fact is, there are very few recognised andor the realtionship between the knowledge-class and accepted (and understood) terms for the relationship between the knowledge-class and the neophytes in any religion which aren’t already in use somewhere.

    So yes, Mother and Father smack strongly of catholicism. So what. They also echo feelings of home, belonging, safety, learning and love. There’s nothing particularly catholic about a mother and a father, non-catholics have mothers and fathers, too.

    I believe that this search for “non-abrahamic” terms to ddescribe the different functions served in a religious community is all a big show. We want to be different. We want even our words to be different.

    But we’re not that different. We have the teachers, the learners, the officiates of ceremony, the record-keepers, the givers of wisdom and advice, the mystic behind the veil; just as nearly all major religions. We are simply seeking to legitimize ourselves and be counted amongst that number, by inventing terms for all these “offices” in our religion.

    Do we really want to be legitimized in that crowd? The one we seem to be seeking so desperately hard to break away from? Is this simply the “big stick” that we carry?

    Mother and Father and Child. There is nothing more natural or organic than that. It is who we are, it is how we function, it is, above all, the way of the earth. Who really gives a flaming arrow if it’s already being used by someone else?

    So there, that’s my two cents. Thanks for listening.

  • As Ruthie mentioned above, there are very few terms to relate to what is being referenced that is not used by some other faith already. It is also true that we already have our own terminology such as druid, witch, oracle, shaman. Ali has already touched on some of the problems with the terms that we have.

    Many of the pagan community are new arrivals. Even when we look at our elders, practicing a faith for 30 years is just a drop in the bucket compared to times where it was passed down generation to generation. It is not to disrespect those that are our elders, but rather to understand that we as a whole are still in a transition period of finding our footing.

    Many of the pagan community are also recovering from Christian upbringing. Through this, can come a lot of pain and animosity. While I’m not going to go to a Christian church anytime soon, their path can be just as fulfilling to them as paganism is to us. We can point out child rapists, embezzlement, strict dogma, blind faith and a plethora of other negative aspects. We also tend to forget that those negative aspects happen in pagan groups as well. It has nothing to do with Christian or Pagan or Muslim or Buddist or Native; but rather to the fact that we are all human…and bad things can happen when there are a lot of us. It’s not to diminish any negative experience on the personal level, but rather to point out that there is more to experience than an individual sphere of reality.

    There is one aspect of this that is more on a personal level for me. It was stated that we are all our own priesthood. Ali has already touch on this as well, but if I could expand a touch…

    Terms like priest, priestess, shaman, medicine wo/man…these are all terms that come with responsibility. It was not simply someone that practiced the faith, but someone you could go to as a practitioner for spiritual advice and counseling. I don’t believe it is a case of elitism as some choose to see it, but rather simplifying things and shifting people to where they are best serving the community as a whole. There are some people that are naturally good at it, and some that are not. It does not take away from their individual skill or ability if they are not appointed as clergy…it gives them less pressure so they may grow in other directions more suited toward their own gifts that are just as important. Priests, and others, are expected to be there when needed to guide, to know when to guide and when to let fall, help their members grow, be a counselor, know their faith, possess excellent communication skills, be connected with the divine. What about our doctors? our graphic artists? our carpenters? our educators? or child care providers? our photographers? We can’t all be clergy, just as we all can’t be all of those professions at once…and why are some pagans striving to? Being a member of clergy is enough work on it’s own BEFORE you add a personal life on top of it.

    Having clergy does not take away from the personal experience, and the sacred that the individual experiences. I believe it enhances it…at least…it should. It’s not about them telling you what to do, it’s having someone that guides you to find the answers yourself. There will always be those out there willing to take advantage of their status to harm others. While they cause traumatic experiences, sometimes it is those people that nudge others to try and replace them to do better or inspire us to find a different path rather than just being complacent. But we cannot look at those positions in a fearful light. While it’s obvious that we don’t agree with Christian teachings, not all their priests or reverends are bad people. If we were wise…we could see that we can learn of some of them just as I’m sure some of them have taken the time to learn from some of us.

  • maiorfabiana

    As a Roman recon and sacerdos, I prefer to use the Latin terms as opposed to the term ‘priestess’. For the most part as the Latin ones are not loaded. But I agree that polytheists should avoid Christian terms as they create categories, & reinforce ways of thinking.
    sacred, religio, I wish we’d go back to the original Pagan meanings! They are full of history and give us insight. Sacer, means the property of the gods. Religio is about ties, Roman religio – the cultus deorum was based in the home, not a down-up authoritarian hierarchy. There were no laypeople vs. priests. Senators, businessmen and businesswomen were also civic sacerdotes and religious personnel. perhaps with more knowledge of this past; we can create a polytheist future that doesn’t include such divides and hierarchies.

  • I am with you on this one Feithline, although I don’t think it is for the same reasons, or maybe they are the same reasons. Let me explain.

    I spent many years in the church. I was told what to believe, what to think, what to say. In fact, the very reason I became a christian in the first place, was because I was told I should.

    When I left the church and began my path into a pagan life. I left all of that behind. In my pagan life, I do not even like to use the word God, as to me, it conjures up images of what I was forced to see in my christian life.

    Christians have incorporated Pagan traditions and lore, into their cycle to shut us up, appease us, smooth our feathers. To me, ignoring the names and labels and terminology that have already been established and have long been a part of paganism, would mean we are doing the exact same thing.

    We should be proud of our Pagan traditions and the terminology that comes with it. Otherwise, in my opinion we are only looking like copy cat fools. We have a lot to say when chrisitans use our traditions and call them their own.

    Why are we even want to begin to do the same thing?!?!? That is extremely hypocritical. There is already much confusion about Paganism and those who follow the traditions. Should we now start mixing and matching the terminology we are doing a complete disservice to the heritage, traditions and lore that Paganism was based on.

    I may not have the experience behind me, as many of the people that read your blog, or listen to your podcast, but I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my opinion.

    Bright Blessings!

  • First off, I think there have been some really great comments made so far about this article. Winter, Ali, Amber really took the words out of my mouth (especially about the practical side to these terms), and I’ll try not to repeat what’s been said.

    I definitely empathize with what you wrote.

    The Neopagan community, for the most part, speaks English. And while perhaps words could already exist in Latin the vocabulary’s connotations/context/nuances in modern English can feel dominated by another faith. I don’t know what could be done within the English language except perhaps to reclaim certain words while reinforcing a new connotation/context/nuance.

    I can empathize with what you say about feeling unease at using terms so closely and deeply used in other faiths. I have seen that there’s a kind of sour taste in many Neopagans mouths when using a term too close (they feel) to an Abrahamic faith, however I’ve also seen the liberal assimilation of terms from ‘Eastern’ or Native faiths (Hindu terms, Hindu prayers/music, Chinese Gods/Goddesses, Japanese Shinto rites). So I have to ask the question–is the unease over terms a valid concern at perhaps further dilution/assimilation or is it selective stigma?

    Is this debate over semantics? Or is it really about the line between inclusiveness and putting one’s foot down?

    For myself, I know and of course accept that there are many paths which surround a person, but there’s a difference between seeing all the paths around you as you forge your own and standing still.

    Lady Bless,

  • It’s pretty difficult to set up a clergy for the sake of accommodating those who are either new to Paganism or are not “full-time” religionists–if that’s even a word… ;^)–when you think that your faith is not one of those intended for “everyone”. You do indeed require seminaries, and synods, and councils, and basilicas, and orthodoxies, and praxidoxies, and encyclicals and–good Gods!–dogmas, when you are working to accommodate everyone.
    As a wee, lone Witch I come from a place of thinking not everyone is meant to be a Witch. It’s a situation I’m quite happy with…sameness, to me, sucks! If that sounds elitist then so be it! The desire for clergy seems to come from a place of sameness, of seeking to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator, and also out of a desire to placate the “dominant culture.” If you want to set up a clergy, go for it! Just don’t dare to speak for everyone, because you don’t.

  • Matt Gerlach

    “If you want to set up a clergy, go for it! Just don’t dare to speak for everyone, because you don’t.”

    If you want everyone in your religious group to be their own clergy, go for it! Just don’t dare to speak for everyone, because you don’t. ;-)

    It’s interesting and fascinating reading these comments and seeing people both fiercely dedicated to decentralized religion and also others yearning to be able to be members of larger organization where they have a choice of how much investment they want to put into their community.

    I think that there is a fear in the Pagan community of creating clergy because people think there is no way to be clergy of an organized religion other than the power-over, we’re gonna tell you how to do everything, pretend we’re perfect, and touch your children when you’re not looking system of clergy that we see in monotheistic groups. Being a member of ADF, however, which is committed to creating a thriving congregational-style Pagan worship, and being familiar with many of their priests, it’s blatantly obvious to me that they aren’t going to go the way of the Catholics.

    I think it isn’t the priests you should be watching with a concerned eye, but rather the laity. It’s when the everyday member of the religion mentally and emotionally checks out and becomes sheep that the religion begins to die and the priests become unholy abominations. ADF laity, however, is anything but unengaged in the community and their own spiritual lives. Instead of asking whether we should have clergy in some of our organizations (because we will), I think we should be asking, how do we maintain a thriving, engaged personal and communal practice among people who AREN’T priests?

  • Wow, what a lively topic – who would have thought? :-)

    For me personally, I think people can do what they want to do, so if they want a group that is accessible to those who have moved away from Christian or other Abrahamic-based organizations and are transitioning toward nature-based spirituality – but have some comfort due to the way they were raised, then who am I to say anything about what the spiritual leaders call themselves, and what they decide to call anything? I wouldn’t do it – no way, but how dare I say what others ought to do when I am not in their shoes?

    My deeper suspicions have to do with groups, period. While I understand the purpose of groups, unless there is complete diligence exercised, I believe it is just human for a couple things to happen:

    (1) those who feel a threat to their personal power choose to be the “maximizers” and wish to “lead” but not with sincere intentions, but rather to fulfill the seemingly empty place inside of them (leading to psi-vamp behavior in the extreme cases), and

    (2) those who have already given away their personal power to these anxious so-called leaders and become the “minimizers” because they have chosen, consciously or not, to be told what to do, how to be, and not to think for themselves – and the benefit of being such a victim is that they can blame others for when things go wrong, rather than look at themselves for responsibility.

    Then, a small percentage of the rest end up being the ones doing all of the work, but getting no credit. To me, this doesn’t just happen in religion – it happens in groups of all kinds, for all purposes.

    When I mentioned complete diligence being exercised, I am referring to a couple of things. One is that a group is only as strong as its weakest member. So it makes sense to nurture personal power and strong individualism of the members before the group ever forms. While it may seem challenging, the next step will be easy when there is uniting of purpose – NOT because of “group mind” but because each individual has thought for themselves, examined everything and everyone STILL arrives independently at the same conclusion. If others do arrive at a different one – these differences can be discussed and perhaps even incorporated into the larger picture – where in a “group mind” situation, it is the group leader(‘s’) way or the highway, and all they seek is followers. But these types of followers would never be strong enough to truly carry out the group’s intentions without the constant prodding and monitoring (prying, spying) of the leader(s).

    Then – when you get a topic so personal like choosing a spiritual path and therefore a personal relationship with Spirit, you can easily see how groups can get messy. This is why I prefer a solitary path, and it is my belief that many prefer a solitary path because of this exact reason. If you are not strong in certain areas – rather than relying on a group to fill in that space for you, a solitary claims responsibility for themselves and takes steps toward learning and integrating these areas for completeness.

    This is not to discount the need for community – no way! However, again, a community is only as strong as its weakest individual. I believe many nature-based type of people know this intuitively, and seek a community of strong individuals – only to find that it often is the same structure that they had in the past, a usual scenario of which I have already described. While many who choose a nature-based path are indeed strong individuals, it seems that there are many more who do look into this, but are indeed NOT strong individuals. They are looking to BELONG and for others to do much of the work for them. While they may claim they want to be “different” – when you really look deep, they are just wanting to BELONG to the ones called different – and we know even smaller minority groups have their own group mind.

    So – if a group wishes to exist as a nature-based group and use Christian-type titles so that they can draw in those who are already in that paradigm, it is up to them to do so and last I checked, it is supposed to be a free country! ;-) If you don’t like it – just don’t join and drop them out of your attention! However, if other nature-based groups wish to use titles closer-related to a natural/indigenous paradigm (i.e. Shaman, Wiseman, Wisewoman, Healer, Spiritual Teacher, etc.), they equally ought to be able to exist too – and again, will just automatically draw exactly the type of people that need to be there.

  • I’m equally suspicious and cautious about some of the uses of terminology that you mention, including “clergy.”

    “Full-time clergy” and ministerial duties are things that never quite existed as they did except in Christianity, no matter where the terms and titles came from before. There were many priests in ancient Greek and Roman cults who had that title, but it only meant something because they functioned as a priest on certain occasions for certain gods, and these were liturgies–which were sort of “required offices/duties,” which they often were eager to pass on to others, or pay others to cover for them! It wasn’t a full-time job. But now, pagans want something that is really Catholic-style, a lot of the time, for what they do and as a model of who they are or should be.

    However, I also recognize that, in every religious community, there are those who are in constant contact with the gods/spirits/etc., those who have occasional contact with them, and those who either have none or want none, but still want to be involved with religious matters. And, that’s fine–everyone seeks their own level of such things that is appropriate to them. There are people who don’t want to be priests, and I think we should try and help them out and make it possible for them to be what they want, rather than forcing a priesthood or initiation on them that isn’t appropriate. (There was way too much of that in the early decades of Wicca, I think–too many people ended up being priests/initiates who had no business being so.) This “pagan laity” shouldn’t be disparaged, I think they should be welcomed. From among them, figures of authority, insight, venerable experience, and organizational skill will certainly emerge, and they can go on to be priests and such later, perhaps.

  • I love how you put this: “Proof, by degree or certificate, of the purchase of a spirituality that, to my understanding, cannot be purchased.” I agree completely that there should be no distinction between levels of spirituality. No one can claim to be wiser or more advanced than another. We each have our own truths. Truths which work for us at our given place along our personal paths. While others may well offer advice or share similar experiences, ultimately it is up to us and that’s why I believe most of us are attracted to paganism in the first place. We want the control and the responsibility.

    While I’m not sure if using these terms will negate that or encourage sheep like behavior, I do see you’re point. We have our own terms so why borrow words? Furthermore, why borrow words that hold such specific associations, especially when many of us in the pagan community have negative associations with them? It doesn’t make sense.

    I might also add that even within Christianity there are different terms used to describe the same role within their various branches (priest, pastor, minister, etc.). If they don’t even commit to one term then why are we trying to borrow one term from them?

    I could understand someone who is trying to explain their religion/spiritual practice to a person outside that faith using terms the other person might be more familiar with (example: ‘Oh well I guess our shaman would be something like a priest to you…’), but why use the terms within our own walls? Even if society begins to force those terms on us I think we should stand strong and fight the good fight. Take the Church of Latter Day Saints for example. We all call them Mormons, right? But when I spoke with them about where that term came from and why they kept saying LDS I was informed that they did not like to use the word Mormon and were hoping to educate the general public. I have to commend them for this determination to define themselves, and I think this is an example we should follow.

    So while I’m not as fearful of the usage I do disagree with a straight up borrowing of the words. And as an English major, writer, and lover of linguistics I would much prefer to see the community define itself rather than assimilate, to borrow a term from you. Let’s stick to our own definitions and terminology. Let the rest of the world figure it out.

  • David Trimble

    I really appreciate everyone’s postings – and their point of view!

    The most legitimate need for titles (or even certificates and/or licenses) – generally accepted ones that most people/faiths will recognize – is when there is a need to work/practice/relate to non-Pagan folks. Using our own terms is to me preferred, but what if those terms are not understood by those with whom we are trying to communicate? Or create more of a problem?

    Conducting a legally recognized wedding has already been mentioned. But (Pagan) interfaith clergy I know and practice with also make hospital calls, teach and moderate classes at Pagan leadership conferences, are very involved in the cross fertilization that takes place at interfaith meet/greet/learn conferences… By using terms/titles that are at some level recognizable by the main stream faiths – it adds an understanding of who the Pagan person is and what role they fulfill in their world.

    I am not taking a stand on whether it “should” be necessary to use a title to better introduce yourself – and certainly (as it has also been said) create a misconception that one speaks for many/all Pagans in or out of their trad…. But only that it smooths the way for better acceptance and understanding by those who may not otherwise.

    For example.. when hospital visits are limited to family and clergy only… right or wrong… having some recognizable (by the well meaning nurse in charge) standing as a Pagan clergy person opens doors when it may be most important to do so. And although some have indicated some discomfort with borrowed titles/nomenclature… I think one would have more success seeing a patient deep in the bible belt (just an easy target for my example) using a title such as “Interfaith Clergy” rather than “Grand Wizard of the XXX Tradition”… Perhaps FireLyte or Cory/Laine could comment?

    I suppose my last thought can be stated in a more general way – the titles etc. open doors, and open minds, and add legitimacy that may not otherwise be granted. That’s not right or wrong (well OK… maybe it is)… But that’s just the way it can be all too often.

  • Frankly my dears,

    I think we should, for a period of a few years at least change all of the liturgical titles within the Pagan Communities to “SERVANT” and we could weed out a LOT of the skeezy manipulators and drama queens!

    It seems, from my own humble studies, that a LOT of the priestly/clerical role in the ancient world was as a servant to a God, the Gods, or to a particular temple… you were literally a servant in one of the houses of a God or Goddess.

    In the contemporary world, increasingly, a priest or clergy person is expected to also be as a servant to the relevant congregation or community while at the same time being a leader for said group.

    I think the transition of using terms like clergy and ministry within those Pagans/ forms of Paganism seeking a more professional ~not just as in paid, although if someone wants to truly dedicate themselves why shouldn’t we pay them for their hard work) but as in taking the time to get professional level degrees and certifications~ level of priestly class… We have had far too many flakes and manipulators and attention seekers briefly take a role of leadership in our communities and then fall, often spreading mistrust and drama and disappointment.

    We have had enough of that. Lets bring on the hard working and dedicated folks who are willing to go the distance because of a genuine calling to serve their communities and their Holy Powers.


  • I can tell you why I use a title. To allow Goverment to understand in there best way possible we are a religion, We worship , just as other religions do in OUR way. But try to get a 501 C 3 for a Circle. The Federal Goverment understands a few words when it comes to religion and its groups ” Churches, Temples, Mosque ” they know. Circle is confusing to them. Yes the Priesthood of the Pagan gods and goddess are servants to the Gods. Not to those who show up for public ritual. But when working outside of our mystery traditions to “get along” we have to use terms that they understand.

    my two cents

  • Riverwolf

    Maybe others have already said this–but I suppose it depends on what purpose you have as a pagan practitioner with “credentials.” If you see yourself primarily as leading or ministering to fellow pagans, then by all means call yourself “magician,” “archdruid” or whatever. They’re much more fun! But if you have any desire to reach out to a wider community, you’ll never be taken seriously unless you call yourself “reverend,” “minister,” “priest” or something similar. It’s simply because people don’t understand what isn’t familiar, and they’re too busy and distracted to figure out what it all means. And they don’t care.

    So while I can appreciate the very earnest desire to develop an entirely new language not sullied by what has before, I also don’t expect miracles. And there isn’t anything wrong with taking a worn-out name or title and showing everyone how to do it right. And yet, a little humility is needed. After all, druids and magicians are just people, too, capable of the same evils and any run-of-the-mill priest, reverend, etc. I think that’s the important lesson. It isn’t what you call yourself but how you live that matters in the end.

  • Outside of the pagan community, I say: “I function as clergy in the local pagan community.” Clergy has the benefit of being a religion-neutral term. That term is used in the United States to describe individuals with specific roles in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and more.

    Let’s look at just one alternate term that commenters have brought up: priest. I use that word to mean different things in different contexts. In ContraryWise Craft [very non-Wiccan], a priest is an individual who has attained the second degree. (A woman may call herself a priest or a priestess, as she pleases, as we make no distinction of roles based on gender.) On the other hand, in Little Circle on the Plain [Trad Wicca, but not BTW], priest means a *man* who is an initiate; as a third-gender person, I’m a herald, not a priest. I also know individuals who are priests of a specific deity. And in my Hermetic lodge, priest is the title for a specific ritual office, not an initiatory rank. What’s more, all of these uses of the word priest look inward to one tradition or cult. That’s not a criticism. Every tradition needs some people to focus time and energy on nurturing the tradition, or it will die out.

    On the other hand, there is a need for *some* individuals to look outward, across the breadth of paganism and to the non-pagans around us. These need to be individuals with a breadth of knowledge about modern paganism, who can speak about forms of paganism that they themselves don’t practice, who will encourage each individual to find the correct path for herself and will connect her with the people who can support her on that path. That, to my mind, is the work of pagan clergy. We should be the ones who root ourselves deeply in our own traditions and practices but reach out open hands toward those around us.

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  • Revsonyamiller

    Clergy comes from the term Cleric…Cleric’s were scribes.  Yes, that is right just like some of our first Gods and Goddessses and what we learned in ancient mystery schools before becoming modern.  If you let any faith, or modern assimilation dictate to you what a word means…then you have lost.  I am legal clergy, I resisted it because of the term and the role scared me…but who is to marry our people?  Who is there in our hospitals for our people?  Who will cross our people over?  There are needs for these, and our culture accepts the term Clergy…and let me tell you when one of our elder clergy crossed over and was in the hospital and with that clergy sticker I got better parking, I did not hestitate; and i realized something had changed in me…I had grown into the role, just like I grew into Highpriestess earlier, and maiden before that, and Pagan before that….

  • Revsonyamiller

    Clergy comes from the term Cleric…Cleric’s were scribes.  Yes, that is right just like some of our first Gods and Goddessses and what we learned in ancient mystery schools before becoming modern.  If you let any faith, or modern assimilation dictate to you what a word means…then you have lost.  I am legal clergy, I resisted it because of the term and the role scared me…but who is to marry our people?  Who is there in our hospitals for our people?  Who will cross our people over?  There are needs for these, and our culture accepts the term Clergy…and let me tell you when one of our elder clergy crossed over and was in the hospital and with that clergy sticker I got better parking, I did not hestitate; and i realized something had changed in me…I had grown into the role, just like I grew into Highpriestess earlier, and maiden before that, and Pagan before that….