Pagan Clergy Panel
[The following is a panel discussion in four rounds on the topic of “Pagan Clergy,” which was published in our magazine, FireHeart, between 1988 and 1993. More than twenty years later, many people throughout the U.S. pagan movement continue to refer to it as a source of stimulating, provocative, and even prescient ideas which remain relevant for our community today. Since we still get requests asking for reprints of the panel, we are making it available here; please keep in mind that this piece — as is true of all the reprints from our publications — remains under copyright protection, and that all pertinent limitations still apply. The panelists’ bios have not been updated, and as a result some of them may no longer be accurate; we chose to retain their original texts because they are germane to the contents of the discussions.]
PAGAN CLERGY ©1991 – 1993
In the Pagan community, becoming a member of the “clergy” depends largely on the dictates and requirements of individual traditions. Pagan priests and priestesses often receive training in such things as ritual, raising and grounding energy, experiencing the ecstatic, and opening to the sacred aspects of nature-subjects not ordinarily found in the curricula of mainstream seminaries. But the breadth and depth of instruction can vary enormously from one tradition to another. Training usually takes place through an apprenticeship, which can last from a few brief meetings to study over several years, and then initiation.
Rarely, however do Pagan priests and priestesses undergo any formal training in theology, comparative religion, counseling or group dynamics, and almost never within the context of an accredited educational institution. This dearth of rigorous academic training is seen by some people as the major cause of Paganism’s lack of credibility in mainstream religious circles. They feel we should begin to meet the standards to which mainstream clergy are subject-that those very standards test the commitment and suitability of potential clergy, and give them the necessary training and credentials to serve a growing Pagan laity.
On the other hand, the very lack of a commonly held dogma and hierarchical structure has attracted many people to Paganism. The freedom to create their own rituals and to believe what they choose within the context of Paganism’s loosely defined tenets is important to them. They feel Paganism’s philosophy of immanent deity means that each individual is innately priest or priestess, and the quality of “priesthood” cannot be acquired by receiving a degree or earning credentials.
Furthermore, many Pagans dislike the idea of highly structured, academic training. Such training is often limited to those able to take the time and pay the exorbitant costs of education. They feel that academic training, with its bestowal of titles and degrees, may foster a “better than thou” attitude among its adherents, and that clergy trained in these ways inevitably seek to mediate between the worshipers and the worshipped.
We asked our panel members to comment on these different points of view and to share their own.
Pagan Clergy Panel Members
ANDRAS CORBAN ARTHEN was initiated into the practices of a traditional Scottish witch family in 1969. He is cunningman of the Glenshire witches and director of the EarthSpirit Community, a nationally based non-profit pagan service organization. Andras has taught workshops on witchcraft, paganism and shamanism throughout the country and has represented the pagan traditions at various forums, including the United Nations and the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago.
ISAAC BONEWITS was the first person in history to receive an accredited degree for studies in the field of Magic. He is the author of “Real Magic”, “Authentic Thaumaturgy”, and “The Druid Chronicles (Evolved)”. Isaac has edited several publications in the New Age/Neo-Pagan communities, and has published numerous articles in both the metaphysical and mainstream media. He has been a Neo-Pagan Druid priest for nearly thirty years and is the founder and Archdruid Emeritus of the largest Neo-Pagan Druid organization in North America: Ar nDraiocht Fein. He is also an initiate of and/or ordained clergy in several other Mesopagan and Neopagan denominations.
JUDY HARROW began to study Witchcraft in 1976, and was initiated as a Priestess in September of 1977. A Third Degree Gardnerian since 1980, she is High Priestess of Proteus Coven. She was National First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess in 1984, and has held various other positions on the CoG National and Local Boards of Directors. Judy was the first member of CoG to be legally registered as clergy in New York City in 1985, after a five year effort with the assistance of the New York Civil Liberties Union. For two years, she produced “Reconnections,” a weekly feature on the activities of religious progressives of all faiths, for WBAI radio in New York.
ORIETHYIA is a radical lesbian feminist amazon and witch. She is a witch in the great tradition of her grandmothers. That is, she pays attention to what works and she makes the rest up as she goes along. She is a computer programmer and freelance writer, with poems and essays published in a variety of primarily feministic journals over the years.
SAM WEBSTER is an initiate of the AA, the OTO and several Wiccan traditions, and is an adept of the Golden Dawn, which he is currently engaged in rebuilding along Thelemic lines, without secrecy, hierarchy, exclusivity or gender bias. He is also pursuing a degree at the Meadville/ Lombard Theological School in Chicago with the hopes of entering the Unitarian Universalist ministry. His educational focus is on ritual in general and initiation in particular.
Pagan Clergy Panel
Judy Harrow: Again, we’re being told that two roads diverge, and that we just can’t have the good things that lie along both of them. At times like this, it’s good to be a Witch! Magic is the art of changing consciousness in accordance with will. In starlight vision, we may find the little winding trail among the trees, between the roads. Then, with Craft and care, we can again refuse unreal limits.
The debate is about our priesthood. We now realize how helpful it would be to us if our clergy knew how to do some of the things Christian and Jewish clergy routinely do. Our envy is real, but so is our fear that to gain what our neighbors have, we would have to trade off our own most unique and precious ways.
Wicca is normally practiced in groups so small they can fit in the typical living room. In our circles, each face is visible and every voice is heard. Any of us can claim the coven’s time, attention and energy at need, and expect to get it. We enjoy intimacy. The members of mainstream congregations, which tend to be large, do not. This is the problem; the typical small, intimate coven traditionally has no more than thirteen members. That’s certainly not enough to support a priest/ess. But a group large enough to do so will also need meeting space larger than a living room. Supporting the building fund requires even more contributors. We’d soon be caught in the trap of cash addiction. Before long, we’d be seeing no more than the backs of each other’s heads, just like a normal religious congregation. Next, those who could contribute more would also be having a greater say in congregational decisions. This loss of equality within the group, along with the loss of intimacy, would erode belief that the God/dess lives in each of us. Our elders knew what they were talking about: Craft and cash don’t mix.
The unpaid priest/ess, because s/he cannot expect financial support, has to hang on to her day job. It’s only rational then for her to prepare for a good day job instead of heading for seminary. Few can afford to invest the years and dollars in professional training with no reasonable expectation of using that training to earn a living. The priest/ess’s day job also claims time and energy, which limits how much s/he can give to the coven. Still, we surely don’t want to avoid the cash trap by having only rich people as clergy. For these reasons, we fear that by avoiding full-time clergy, we doom ourselves to being less than we could be, and less than Mother Earth now needs.
So, we can name the two roads positively as intimacy or competence. We can name them negatively as impersonality or stagnation. However we name them, it seems we must pick one soon. But we need not. Witch vision can show us the footpath through the forest. It will take us to the grove, as always before. The path weaves between the old ways and the new, using some of each. From the good, old ways we must reclaim the practice of apprenticeship. To do so, the first minds we must change are our own. Although the idea that all real education takes place in classrooms is recent and shallowly rooted, it is pervasive. We all needed diplomas to get good jobs. We all were trained to trust the academic credentialing system. But, in reality, many people have learned many crafts well one-on-one, even in the so-called “learned professions.” Abraham Lincoln never went to law school. We need to remember that learning comes in many forms. Although ability and competence may be validated by a piece of paper, they are never created by one.
Each of us needs to be honestly satisfied that our apprenticeship training is solid and demanding. The process is already underway. One very healthy development in the Craft over the past decade is our growing insistence on objective requirements for initiations. Priest/esses around the country are avidly sharing and collecting curricula, borrowing ideas from one another to raise the standard of training. The days of initiating or elevating on the basis of perseverance, popularity, or some vague intuition are fast passing, and good riddance! By acting in accordance with our will, we create and develop belief in our own collective competence as a magical thought form.
As we come to experience and believe that our apprenticeship program is comparable to seminary training, we empower ourselves to defend that position politically. That was the battle we won here in New York. The discriminatory procedure for clergy registration was not aimed at any particular religion. Rather, it drew an improper distinction between seminary graduates and all others. The effect was to give the mainstream groups, which have the resources to maintain seminaries and support full-time clergy, a specially privileged status.
Because on principle we could not agree that we were inferior to conventional clergy, Witches fought the bureaucracy for five years. Even though many others were affected, the defense of apprenticeship is historically resonant for us. One of the major effects of the Burning Times was to transfer the right to practice medicine from apprentice-trained women to university-trained men. So this was truly our fight. With the great help of the NYCLU, we won, and not only for ourselves. We won for all the small and alternative religions, and even for the store-front churches.
There’s a second task. Recognition is important to us, but access to clergy skills and services is far more important. Skills make effective the freedom of religion that recognition only makes possible. But our apprenticeship training programs are part-time for the same good reasons that we have only part-time clergy. We can’t reasonably expect to provide deep and thorough training in all the desirable skills in a part-time training program. So, again, at first glance, we seem unable to fulfill our aspirations while remaining faithful to our traditions.
The answer to the paradox lies within our own thealogy. As polytheists, we celebrate the diversity of divinity, and the divinity of diversity. The organization of most religious communities reflects their understanding of the divine. Patriarchal theologies model all-male clergy. Similarly, Pagan religious leadership should be as decentralized as our conception of the sacred. To make this diversity work for us, we can adopt a New Age practice — networking.
We begin by honoring our own differences, as we honor our many different god/desses. Every coven member brings to the circle a unique package of abilities, skills and experiences. S/he should be expected and encouraged to contribute her special skills and strengths to the group. Sharing the work is one of the best ways to prevent priest/ess burnout. Even more important, it turns the coven into a context and support system for the spiritual development of each member. The experience of contributing, and of being honored for it, is profoundly empowering.
We also need to find ways to honor the great contributions of elders who are not inclined to lead covens. The typical priest/ess skills of ritual leadership and group facilitation are not all we need, as the premise of this forum points out. Contributions in the arts, scholarship of many kinds, counseling, public relations and more need to be equally honored, whether they come from within or beyond the individual coven. Those of us who are coven leaders must share our pride of place.
Even when all members’ talents are welcomed, it’s unlikely that the full range of clergy skills will be available in one of our small covens. So we need to look beyond the coven, sometimes, when special expertise is needed. We have many ways to locate our specialists: publications, festivals, organizations like CoG, the various Wiccan traditions and lineages, and informal local networks. We can build consultation and referral networks.
Each one of us must also learn to admit that there are some things we don’t know how to do. The humility to openly seek and accept the help of others is another form of spiritual growth. Because it’s rare that our needs will be neatly symmetrical, we’ll almost never be able to exchange help directly. Still, we can accept help in trust that whoever helped us will get what help they need from somebody else in the network. Accepting help on those terms creates a moral obligation to help another person on some other occasion, without expecting payback. That web of obligation undergirds community, and guards us from the cash trap.
In my experience, the process of networking is well underway. For example, I was able to call on a priestess in another city whose practice emphasizes Egyptology when a student of mine had difficulties arising from a misinterpretation of Ma’at. For example, two local priestesses with graduate training in counseling are offering a workshop series in basic counseling skills for coven leaders.
Whenever we give or receive such help, we also weave the Pagan community into a stronger and closer fabric. If we can honor each person’s special gifts and also have the humility to accept help when we need it, the full range of clergy services can be available to all of us. Honor and humility, in dynamic balance, are a classically Wiccan concept and the key to effective networking.
And so, we need not stagnate for lack of skills and services, nor need we give our priesthood over to a paid elite. Real apprenticeship can develop the skills we need, and real networking can share them. Taken together, they give us a real choice, while either of the false alternatives would soon incapacitate us. If we are Earth’s advocates in her time of crisis, we must offer alternatives to business as usual. We can only do that by growing carefully, in accord with our own nature.
We are growing as an orchard does, very slowly, to bear sweet and nourishing fruit for years to come. Those who plant orchards need patience. Now, as the trees approach maturity, is no time to give up and replace them with a shopping mall.
Isaac Bonewits: In the Old Religions of our Indo-European ancestors, conflict between the clergy castes and the warrior castes often developed. In India, the Brahmins won this conflict, creating an oppressive theocracy that exists to this very day. In ancient Rome and among the Germanic tribes, the warriors won, freeing them to act without moral restraints. The Celtic peoples, however, seem to have managed to strike a dynamic balance between their clergy (the Druids) and their warriors, with both castes staying powerful well into historical times.
When Western Christianity, the product of a theocratic culture (Israel) and a martial one (Rome), conquered Europe, the same conflict between clergy and warriors was played out repeatedly, giving us most of the history of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with which we are familiar. To bolster its power, the Church inflated the power and prestige of the clergy as much as the Brahmins had. It’s no wonder that the primary challenge to the power of the Christian clergy came from Germanic Christians. Martin Luther declared a doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers,” saying that any believing male Christian could be a priest and lead worship. The Anabaptists went further and abolished all distinctions between clergy and laity.
These concepts have saturated Western culture for centuries, affecting both liberal and conservative Protestants. When Gerald Gardner created the initiation rituals of what was to become Neopagan Witchcraft in the 1950s, he included this Protestant doctrine and enshrined it into Wiccan duotheology and liturgy. In Gardner’s case, the doctrine became what we could call “the priest/esshood of all believers,” and all Wiccans were named “Priestess and Witch” or “Priest and Witch” at their first initiation into the faith.
To this very day, Neopagan groups tend to be ambivalent about having clergy. Most have some sort of priests and/or priestesses, yet the degree of respect and authority granted to them varies widely. Those groups with radical political and/or feminist agendas often refuse to label anyone as clergy, having completely accepted the patriarchal Anabaptist view. Those of a more conservative bent will often be obsessed with titles and degrees to the point of ignoring the opinions and needs of anyone who isn’t clergy. Neither of these dualistic extremes strikes me as a healthy response to the very complex issues involved.
Regardless of our religious (or nonreligious) upbringing, we Neopagans have all grown up surrounded by a Christian culture in which dualistic black/white, either/or, yes/no patterns of belief and perception shape our thoughts. So it’s easy for us to leap from one extreme to the opposite one and to think we have therefore made an improvement. Arguments about the role of clergy in our community provide many examples of this monotheistic dualism at work.
Immanent deity implies that anyone can contact the Gods/Goddesses directly at any time. Paleopagans seem to universally believe that anyone can pray to her or his deities and do simple folk magic without the need of a specialist to intercede or mediate for them. Religious and magical specialists arise when populations increase, thus creating a need for coordinating the psychic energies of larger numbers of people, and/or when the need for particularly complex types of magic arises (such as weather magic for agricultural societies). These specialists don’t negate the individual ability to pray or do magic until the concept of a non-immanent, transcendent deity becomes paramount. Then the clergy become tyrants, attempting to place themselves between their laity and the divine.
I don’t think that Neopagan clergy are going to seriously interfere with the religious freedom of the laity, since the immanence of our deities is a bedrock principle of Neopagan polytheology. The concept of mediation, and the power-tripping that goes with it, just isn’t a real issue for us — Neopagans will always be free to create their own rituals, doctrines, and even complete religions without having to get “permission” from someone else. Whether the leaders of new traditions will get any respect from other Neopagans is another issue entirely, dependent, in part, on just how competent they are — and that depends, in turn, on how much inborn talent, training and hard work they have put in.
As I’ve put it before: “The overwhelming majority of religions on this planet require many years of hard study and training before a woman or a man is admitted into the ranks of the clergy. This study and training usually includes not only the acquisition of magical and religious knowledge, but also the mastering of skills in such diverse areas as counseling, teaching, art, music, drama, dance and the basics of what each culture has in the way of science and technology.” (Druids’Progress #2.1984)
To become a priest or priestess in a Neopagan tradition, one usually studies magic, divination, polytheology, liturgy and mythology. Many of the topics that would be covered in a mainstream ministerial training program are absent: counseling techniques, group dynamics, nonprofit management techniques, teaching skills, use of the arts in ritual, and all the other subjects one would usually cover in a liberal arts education (e.g., science, philosophy, and history). Many of us Neopagan clergy have felt the lack of our knowledge in many of these areas over the years. It’s no wonder that mainstream clergy find it difficult to take our clergy seriously — not only do we belong to religions they’ve been taught to denigrate, most of us don’t have a quarter of the specialized education and training that they believe is necessary in order to be ordained.
Highly structured, academic training in any field (law, medicine, architecture, or clergyhood) takes time, energy, talent, and money. The teachers have to eat and pay rent, the buildings have to be paid for, science and art supplies have to be bought, etc. Denigrating academic study because it costs money is part and parcel of our Neopagan phobia about money in general — we’re perfectly willing to make it for ourselves, but not to share it with our current or future clergy — so a lack of scholarships to future Neopagan seminaries is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, concerns that academic clergy training can be rigid, left brain dominant, and negligent of the value of life experiences, are all worth considering. The answer may be to use the techniques of the “university without walls” systems, where credit is given for knowledge gained regardless of the source, and where students are encouraged to use a wide variety of learning methods, including apprenticeships and hands-on experience, but are nonetheless required to prove that they know what they say they know.
Neopagan clergy should know what on (or off) Earth they are doing and should be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills upon demand — after all, the clergy of almost every other religion can. Refusing to have published standards of qualification for our clergy opens the gates wide to con-artists and incompetents as much as it does to dreamers and poets. Furthermore, I haven’t noticed that the absence of academic training has prevented our clergy (myself included) from “putting on airs” occasionally.
Oriethyia: Were there worlds enough, and time, I’d be working on a Ph.D. in women’s studies, mysticism and comparative spiritualities, and quantum relativist physics. I do not, however, believe that such a degree is essential for me to declare myself an elder in my tradition, a priestess, teacher, and counselor at large.
Many of us know psychologists with more degrees than a thermometer. Some of them, having more abstract knowledge than skill, should never be allowed near a person in any kind of healing crisis. We know doctors and clergy and chiropractors and alleged educators who took the courses, passed with flying colors and know all there is about the science of their endeavor, but nothing of the art of it. Linearly based, university-approved study must not be an end in itself.
We also know people who are entirely self and/or collectively taught. Some of these folk make the most sense in a debate about Wiccan ethics and practices, know from years of experience how to help make energy move and where it gets stuck sometimes (crucial knowledge when working a ritual or deciding whether or not a particular issue should be handled ritually at all).
The very premise of the question before the panel, that the dearth of religious training may be the major cause of Paganism’s lack of credibility in mainstream religious circles, would be funny if not for the fact that there are apparently folks out there who believe it!
Let’s remember what we’re about and what most mainstream, entrenched religions are concerned with and based upon. It is not our lack of training that disconcerts them, it is our lack of a GREAT MAN model. We have no equivalent to Christ, to Buddha, to Mohammed. We are polytheistic and monotheistic (the one in the many, the many in the One) all at once. We are inherently unwieldy and hard to stuff in a bottle. To people whose religious traditions have been in bottles for so long, we look like screaming anarchic madness.
And that, of course, is both one of our greatest failings and our greatest gifts. Woe to us all when we start looking to the folks who teach that The Teacher taught in parables, but who cannot themselves handle paradox. The major religions of the world don’t like us because we are de facto a threat to the unnatural order, and they have been thriving in unnaturalness all this time. The whole issue of training is a feathered herring; it is a sleight of hand to draw us away from the real issues.
Let’s face it, we give them the willies for the same reason that the federal government doesn’t know how to relate to Native American tribes in this country, for the same reason banks and businesses don’t know how to relate to, and so choose to ignore, collective endeavors and non-hierarchical entities. Bureaucrats, secular or religious, are clueless about how to think about, interact with, experience or work with non-bureaucratic forms. And thank all the gods, we have been non-bureaucratic until now.
It’s not that we don’t live up to their training standards; it’s that the experiences we have and put faith in, the knowledge we have come to accumulate, the non-linear way we attempt, in our best moments, to walk through the world, is completely foreign to them.
Shall the Jews ask the Arabs how to build synagogues? Shall the Ayatollah ask the Pope about correct spiritual etiquette? I am not opposed to an honest and true ecumenism with other religious traditions. I am, however, absolutely opposed to the sort of Episco-Paganism I see developing all around me.
And who shall these “trained” clergy speak for? Would I stand still for Isaac Bonewits speaking for the radical lesbian feminist amazon contingent? No way. Should Isaac feel comfortable with me speaking for people with whom he feels the most spiritual kinship? Not for a hot minute. We are two points along the arc, and there are millions of other points, each with some greater or lesser handle on the mysteries. Who should speak for the whole? If we begin this ordination nonsense, what of the groups that are inherently opposed, to whom such an idea is antithetical to their understanding of paying one’s dues and learning the necessary lessons? Do the non-clergy oriented groups get locked out of a circle that now includes their greatest detractors and their former kin?
What of the economic issues? Are we going to declare (like good little New Age Calvinists) that those who are really meant to be clergy will magically find the money? Even if they are currently doing their best to feed themselves and their loved ones and keep an intact roof over their heads?
The whole thing smacks of Eurocentrism. It is a decidedly linear, written-tradition, great-man oriented ideal. Gone is the faith in what is learned in the ecstatic state. . . unless you can quantify it to some spiritual bean counter.
And then there’s a core issue, for all of us, but certainly for women; have we really fought all this way to reclaim the recognition that we need no intermediary between ourselves and the universe, only to jump on the credentials bandwagon? Yes, there are enormous merits to working the left brain. Yes, there are too many people out there that call themselves clergy who couldn’t put a decent ceremony together if the Earth’s life depended on it. Is a further separation from the core of one’s own relationship with The Mystery what’s called for here? No way.
There are feminist witches in Australia who have met regularly for the past four years. They are reweaving the hole in the ozone layer. They didn’t learn about the necessity for that work, or the steps to do that work, in university. Their understanding for both came from years of radical feminist witchery; from immersing themselves in sacred, indigenous femaleness.
Another group of Australian feminist witches were surrounded in a rural area by a group of armed men who had come to exterminate the lezzie witches. They escaped by dancing out of the house, hand in hand, giggling and humming silly songs all the way past the men, to their cars and to safety. The men stood there, mouths open, watching this madness…exactly as the “mad lezzies” expected they would. Those women put years of critical analysis and magical technique to use to save their lives. They used all their understanding of group dynamics, interpersonal understanding, etc. — all the things the question before this panel assumes we should send one another to school for.
Anyone with the time, money and desire to go through the sort of training in question should absolutely do so. But they should do it because they want to, not because our detractors have suggested it. Mine is not an anti-intellectual stance. Rather, I am concerned that the same mentality that declared, and still declares, indigenous people savage because they do not fall into a European, middle class model, is the very mentality that some of us appear to curry favor with. To what end, friends, to what end?
Sam Webster: Clergy are generally considered of a class specially educated beyond the average member of a religious group. They, structurally, mediate either between the worshipped and the worshipper or between the institution in which one worships and the members of that institution. I strenuously object to this quality of mediation in Pagan circles.
Perhaps this sounds strange coming from me, since I am currently studying to be a minister. Perhaps you would expect me to argue the opposite point. Let me explain.
Paganism’s greatest power is in its being homespun. No matter how much research and education we do, we end up making the end product ourselves. This is why we have survived. No one empowers us to do what we do, except ourselves. We and our groups grow, mutate, hive off, die and are reborn not by anyone else’s choice but by our own. We can do this because of the “priesthood of all believers,” as Martin Luther called it in the 1500s. But the Lutherans proceeded to invest the real power in their clergy and establish an institution of substantial political power over the people in the lands they controlled. That was wrong and we should not do it. But fortunately for us, each Pagan is expected to truly be their own priestess or priest.
This has not always been the “Pagan Way.” After all, the Christian clergy learned to be so aloof from us, in the times of Rome, Greece, and beyond. Yet times have changed, and for the contemporary Pagan, the key to our survival and growth is in our ability to look out for ourselves and not in being dependent on some body of specially trained individuals.
This, of course, does not mean they won’t exist. There are always those who know more or are more experienced than some others. I am not arguing that folk should not educate themselves, or develop greater proficiencies in the Craft and be able to teach those skills as needed. But l am against any institutionalization of any form of mediation between the worshipper and the worshipped. It has taken a long time to get here, where consensus process and individual sovereignty are upheld as ideals, and to go back to some ruling over the rest would be a profound loss. You might then ask why I am studying for the ministry. I can only answer, who will pay me to do the kind of ritual work that I do? Pagans should not. Those who create institutions that are dedicated to the acquisition of capital and property, and who have a tradition of paying for their clergy should. Thus, my issues are economic.
However, if Paganism is interested in being seen as a credible religion among the mainstream clergy, I see it as having to make a few vital choices or commitments.
First, we have to learn to cooperate both among ourselves and with the other denominations/religions. One example of how diversity like ours is handled among the extant mainstream traditions is the Unitarian Universalists. They have no creed, only a set of “principles” centered around the affirmation of inherent human worth and dignity, a free search for truth and meaning, and the responsibility to support the interdependent web of existence. These are not beliefs. They function more like “game rules” that one must be willing to play by if you wish to play with them.
Their central organization has no power over the governance of member bodies, i.e., congregations, nor has the minister of any congregation any power to speak of over the congregation she or he serves. Rather, she is hired by the congregation for her services. The congregation manages itself by an elected board of trustees, and this is required mostly because of the sometimes substantial property holdings that need to be cared for. Because of this organization they can have vastly divergent populations of belief among the member congregations of the UU Association. They have atheists, humanists, Christians, Buddhists and now even Pagans among them. Each congregation is independent in belief, worship and governance, but choose to work together and share the benefits and the costs of supporting an institution.
But why we would wish to do something like this is beyond me, unless we wish to make the commitment to endure as an institution. Institutions provide structure and the ability to endure. They acquire power and the ability to wield that power. Yet with such structures comes a rigidity that will kill us if our freedom does not dominate it. I do not think it wise that we institute clergy among ourselves as Pagans, but as priestfolk we may be able to institute Paganism among those with clergy.
What I am suggesting is that we do not waste our efforts trying to coordinate such an unruly crowd as Pagans are into some body that can support a clergy or provide credibility by being an institution. The last decade of our history is filled with failures at this — or at best, highly qualified successes. This could well destroy us. On the other hand we could “infiltrate” those organizations that do the institutional game well, that would support us in our beliefs, and which are constituted so as to prevent any undue influence of the larger organization upon the “member congregation.”
Thus our choices to form some kind of clergy are twofold: to form an organization of our own to create the ability to endure at such a high level of complexity to be able to support a full-time clergy, or join an already extant organization that permits us to believe as we do and from which we can acquire the benefits of institutional organization.
And who will pay for it? Who can say they are living well on $30,000 per year with a family? Yet for a Pagan group of ten people, that would mean contributing $3,000 a piece annually to support a cleric. And what would they get from it? You would get more personal attention from a weekly visit to a psychotherapist for the same amount of money: $57+ per week.
So what would be the point of a Pagan clergy? Quality control? What is the standard that people will be up held to? Who sets it? If anything I have more faith in the free market. Given a free flow of information, it would be very easily discerned whether or not a particular teacher does what the student wants. If we simply support each other in our own work we can then help individual students find their way to the teacher best suited for them. This is a motif of collectivism and cooperation rather than institution. The image I get is one of a decentralized network of practitioners of the Craft.
If what we are looking for is credibility, then we need to engage those who have had a monopoly on the credible conversation about religious issues on their own ground. Unless we begin to engage them in the substantive issues on their own turf we will never be seen as anything more than a trivial cult. This is what the feminist theologians have done, and they are beginning to make some headway in the contemporary scene: they in the least need to be referred to by theologians, and often their critique of gender use in language must be dealt with. Our issues are no less important, and in my opinion, are even more constructive, as we are offering a positive choice to replace, not merely criticize the dominant patriarchal-monotheistic culture. But until we can demonstrate that we really do have something to offer, that we possess or are attaining to a truly non-hierarchical and pluralistic conception of the divine/human relationship, that we have a way of dealing with evil that is adequate to the real world, and that our way has a transformative and empowering contribution for those that use it, we will not be able to communicate the value that we have to offer.
I see only two ways of solving this dilemma. The simplest is to go to school. This is what I am doing. I am educating myself to be able to engage the dominant culture in its discussion of the central religious issues. As an aside, what I am discovering in my education is that the Western religious tradition is dead. They have no adequate answers for life and can only pick at the carcasses of ancient texts, proving them to be void of inspiration, and gnaw on the bones of past theologians in an eternal struggle to find some thing of truly adequate value. It is only because of the habitual existence of their institutions that they are even able to do this.
Yet who are we to challenge them? Our way is alive, but can we communicate it? Can we engage the religious leaders of the world today as equals, posing new responses to the demands of our day, and be able to demonstrably argue our case? And so the other solution is to truly develop our own craft and theo/aIogy. Another way of asking this is, “When will we ever escape from the ‘Wicca 101’ mentality?” We need to develop a stronger practical and theoretical basis for our work. We do not need to develop some standardized “Book of Shadows.” We need to figure out what we have learned over the last few decades and with that in hand, what is it that we can yet learn. Will we keep growing and responding to the present, or are we merely reclaiming the past? Most of the material currently published is encyclopedic — compilations of practice and ideas said elsewhere. When will we begin to form critical methods to enable new advance in our art? Let’s learn from the method of the sciences, for it is by sharing what we learn and attempting to do more with it that will permit us to grow and be credible.
Truly engaging in the process of self-criticism and growth will permit us to credibly engage the larger community of mainstream religion. Some of us will labor in the hard soil of learning and teaching our craft. This is the bedrock of our tradition from which we have nurtured the power to challenge the dominant but dying religious traditions, if we can but learn to wield it. Others may have to shoulder the burden of educational costs to do so (my debt will be approximately $40,000). However, that is the price I am willing to pay to make myself ready to play in this arena. But, by preparing myself, I will be better able to empower others with whom I work.
But if we wish to create our own clergy, full-time dedicants to a Pagan religion, we will be forced to create an institution to support it. Therein lies the greatest opportunity for being effective in our modern world and equally for corruption. Are we willing to invest the time and energy and money to create a Pagan institution?
Andras Corban Arthen: It seems to me that this discussion is not so much about trained Pagan clergy per se as it is about professional Pagan clergy: people who not only would be expected to have a certain kind of comprehensive and specialized training, but who would also perform their work full-time and presumably be paid for it.
Most of the objections that I have heard from people in our community to the concept of professional Pagan clergy can be summarized as follows:
“Paganism is a religion of clergy. We believe that divinity is immanent, and that, therefore, every person has a direct and intimate relationship with the sacred, making everyone, in effect, a priestess or a priest. Professional Pagan clergy would become a powerful elite who would consider themselves to be ‘more clergy’ than everyone else. In time, they would seek to become mediators between ourselves and the sacred, and to interpret the sacred for the rest of us, disempowering and delegitimizing the practices of anyone outside their own select caste. Inevitably, they would start telling us what to believe and what to do, leading to rigid dogmatism, authoritarianism, and stifling homogeneity. These people would also expect to get paid for what they do, and money would corrupt them even further, leading to the well-documented abuses and excesses that we have recently witnessed among Christian evangelists, while placing a hefty financial burden on our community. In short, Paganism as we know it would cease to exist, and we would become as calcified as the most fundamentalist Christian sects.”
I strongly disagree with this argument. I think it reflects our fears, not our power. I also think that it is specious and not in touch with the reality of the Pagan community currently, much less what it may become in the near future.
Paganism is not a religion of clergy, and has never been. If we look at “Pagan” cultures throughout history, what we find for the most part, in fact, are organized priest/esshoods. Some contemporary sects within the Pagan community — Wicca, for example — refer to themselves as “religions of clergy” in that every initiate is considered a priestess or a priest. This, however, is very misleading, because there’s no indication as to who these people are or what they do. For example, you can have someone who has been exposed to the Craft for barely three months, finds a loosely-organized coven and is initiated after a couple of weeks, being dubbed “a priestess and Witch.” Next to her is someone who has been an initiated Witch for thirty years, spent the first ten in an intense and thorough apprenticeship, has led a coven for the past twenty years, and in that time has trained and initiated dozens of people. The difference in experience, in skill, and in commitment between these two women is so great that to refer to them in the same breath as being “clergy” is, at best, disingenuous.
It seems to me that much of this argument is rooted in the fact that the Judeo-Christian models of clergy that we have grown up with are no longer acceptable to us, and that we’re very concerned about the danger of a professional Pagan clergy slipping into the same distasteful molds. This is our fear speaking, not our power. Nobody can tell us what to do; nobody can make us do what we don’t want to do. Perhaps, as children, we felt otherwise. Perhaps, as children, we bought the lie that we had to blindly obey the word of God’s chosen ministers. But we are not children anymore, and the lie is just a lie. Perhaps as adolescents, in our quest for individuality and autonomy, we rebelled against the rigidity and dogmatism of mainstream religion. But we are not adolescents anymore, and we don’t have to constantly look over our shoulder for fear that someone is going to pull a fast one, for fear that we’ll be rapped on the knuckles and shoved back into uncompromising conformity. Pagan leaders, Pagan clergy, cannot lead through arbitrary authority or coercion, but only by persuasion, by inspiration, or by example. If you are not persuaded by someone’s arguments, or inspired by their vision, or attracted by their example, you don’t have to be part of that trip. Find another one or create your own.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about a professional Pagan clergy lapsing into patterns of authoritarianism and dogma. It is a very real concern, if only because these patterns are so deeply ingrained in our culture. But l am saying that it doesn’t have to be that way, provided we have learned our lessons and act with awareness.
To me, the term clergy refers to someone who performs a spiritual service for others. We have Pagan clergy even as we speak, in that there are any number of people in our community engaged in providing spiritual services. On one level, we have people who are group leaders, who provide training and support for others in their covens, which are usually relatively small and self-contained groups. Then we have people who provide services to the larger Pagan community on a local level; these people teach classes, provide counseling or healing services, organize open circles and small regional festivals, publish newsletters, run stores, etc. Then we have people who provide services on a national or even international scale, who are writers, workshop instructors, coordinators of Pagan networks, organizers of national festivals, publishers and editors of large publications. In the context of Paganism as a spiritual movement, all of these people perform spiritual services, and all can be considered clergy.
Are they professional? The vast majority of them are not: most are not formally trained to any great depth, but, rather, acquire their skills on the job, through painstaking trial and error; most do not perform their functions full-time, squeezing their Pagan activities into their spare time; most do not receive any kind of remuneration for their work as clergy, serving, instead, in volunteer capacities.
Why do we need professional Pagan clergy? The most compelling reason I can think of has to do with the rapidly changing shape of our community. When I was first initiated, there was no “Pagan movement” as such. Rather, there were mostly small, isolated covens of witches and Wiccans — and lesser numbers of Druidic, Odinist, and other non-Wiccan groups — that were not very connected to each other. From about 1975 on, with the advent of national organizations and publications, the first regional gatherings, and the growing influence of the women’s movement, things began to change. By the early 1980s, with the rise of large national festivals and the publication of The Spiral Dance and Drawing Down the Moon, our community underwent a radical transformation that continues to this day.
In fifteen years, we have tripled or quadrupled in size, perhaps more. The influence of covens and the emphasis on formal training and initiation has waned. The large influx of new members has created a growing Pagan “laity'” — people who have no formal training or initiation, who do not belong to organized groups, and whose primary connection to Paganism happens through the reading of books and periodicals and through attendance at festivals and open circles. This trend is bound to continue, given the fact that public interest in Paganism is increasing as we become more visible, and that our community has no checks on growth.
The Pagan movement must adapt to change if it is to survive and develop. Many of the patterns that have been in place within our community for the past twenty years are no longer adequate to address the changes that are taking place. We can’t very well go back into the closet: some individuals and groups may, but the community as a whole is already too public and too large to do such a thing. Surely many among the increasing numbers of new people will find fulfillment on their own, but what about the rest — perhaps the majority — who want training, direction, and substance? The present shape of our community does not meet their needs very well, and the various problems arising from this are already being experienced at some of the larger festivals.
We need well-trained, full-time, accessible clergy to address the growing changes in our community. We need to develop centers to train such clergy in ways congruent with Pagan attitudes and beliefs. I envision that this training would, for instance, provide education in such topics as ancient Pagan civilizations, Goddess religions, ritual crafting and performance, comparative religion and mythology, and ecospirituality; that it would enable clergy to acquire skills in counseling, listening, group dynamics and leadership, communications, organization, and conflict resolution; and would help them develop such qualities as patience, detachment and self-confidence, not to mention personal integrity and reliability.
I have no illusions that doing this will be easy. I am also aware that the development of a formally-trained, professional Pagan clergy raises a number of related issues. The question of accessibility to such training is one. What would be the criteria for receiving training? Who would administer it? The question of money is another. If we have full-time clergy, they need to get paid a reasonable salary. What about the injunctions in some Craft traditions against charging money for spiritual work?
These are admittedly difficult questions, which are nevertheless intrinsically a part of the process of building a spiritual community that will be able to have a positive effect in the world. As the Pagan community grows in size and complexity, these issues become even more important for us to address.
Pagan Clergy Panel
Oriethyia: Sam makes an important point: creating congregations and paid clergy is really about creating institutions. If we mean to create institutions, then we must ask, “to what end?”
Judy, as always, brings her marvelous witchy vision to the question and sees that we are approaching it from a typically linear either/or mindset when we really should know better. Yes, we must offer alternatives to business as usual.
Isaac, whatever your problem is with feminists, do yourself a favor and get over it. Your information is either very out-of-date or you are suffering from an acute case of anti-feminist myopia. Every single radical and/or feminist witchcraft group or individual I’ve know in the last fifteen years would laugh at your analysis of our “agenda” and our understanding of leadership. We embrace the reality that we are each a potential leader, each a potential authority on some aspect of what we know. We act from an understanding that by refusing the easy out of heeding predesigned leadership, we make way for each of us to emerge as leader for a particular activity or endeavor as the need, and the personas to fill that need, arises. By taking the harder, more anarchistic road, we develop crucial skills in ourselves and one another. Sometimes we make ourselves crazy with exasperation. Sometimes, when someone who could easily step in to lead a ritual does not, that ritual falls on its face. But every woman in that circle goes home wondering why, and what she might have done differently. And next time, a woman who never saw herself as a leader takes a step toward becoming more of one.
Every time a woman of strong voice and strong conviction sits silent through a discussion about how to organize a response to a particularly anti-witch film or public comment, the sister witches who share her view but who might have kept silent find themselves forced to speak or know that their viewpoint will not be articulated.
Apparently, when you see no clear authority figure, you assume we’ve bought a patriarchal play (low blow, Isaac) when, in fact, we’re embracing the radical feminist concept of collective empowerment that nurtures collective and individual skills and expertise. Your misinterpretation is a classic example of the exact problem we are discussing. You don’t recognize expertise and skill when it doesn’t come in a package you’re used to.
If the only reason we want to create our own authority figures is to be able to do the same sorry dance as the authority figures of mainstream religions, why on this good green Earth should we bother? The gifts we bring to the banquet table come not in aping the mainstream, but in modeling for them what we shine at, and that they lack. The mainstream religions have much to offer that is worthwhile. But as we all know, they each have gaping holes in their theological and cultural fabric.
I do not believe we get anywhere playing by their rules (congregations, paid professional clergy, institutions, credentials). Nor does it do us any good to simply break their rules for rules-breaking sake; that’s still a way to be caught up in their dance. I maintain that we do best when we dance to our own drums, alone or in concert with those who will dance with us, and let our actions, our will and our intent be the legitimacy by which they come to know us.
Andras’ contribution best addresses the longing some of us have for a professional teaching class. There were years when I would have gladly paid what little money I had to have access to a good teacher. And yet, not having that one paid teacher led me to many experiences, not all of them pleasant, that together have been a great teaching. I am indebted to numbers of radical women, many of them radical lesbian feminists, who taught me about the politics of power, group and individual dynamics, and how to listen for what is being thought and felt but is going unsaid. From those teachers, I learned about how to open my heart when I’m not otherwise inclined to do so, and about how to close my energy to someone who I may care for, but who is insistent on a harmful path from which they refuse to be deterred. Here it was that I learned to address numbers of people, unafraid; and to speak, loud as I must, even when desperately afraid. Somewhere in all of this, I came into my own as a witch. I did not learn my group leadership skills in the coven, but in the rape crisis center meetings. I did not hone my public speaking and spellcasting skills in the coven, but at the rally. I did not find my goddess information from the myriad books that have since come out, or from a coven leader. I, like many radical feminists, dragged them out of dusty back rooms of libraries, old journals and our shared dreams.
I write all this to underscore what Judy has said about the myth that all real education comes in the classroom. For those who come up through the coven structure, strong apprenticeship programs are essential. But there are thousands of us whose best leadership and community participation skills, best magic, and best gifts never saw the inside of a coven.
Which brings us back to Andras’ call for a paid professional clergy. Yes, the growth of the witchcraft and Neopagan community has been astounding. And it has certainly brought in an enormous number of people who are not coven trained. That is not inherently a problem as long as they have been through some equally challenging training in understanding energy movement, group interactions and how to be part of a community. Certainly, many people do not meet these criteria either. Andras’ solution is to have paid, professional clergy. I think that’s a bad solution.
I have absolutely no trouble with someone teaching public or semipublic classes and charging for their time and energy. But to charge the serious seeker for in-depth training is absolutely contrary to witches’ reality as I understand it. That puts us squarely in bed with one of the worst traits of mainstream religions and New Age folk: spirituality as a purchasable commodity.
Instead, I agree with Judy again. There are many of us who are excellent at a variety of things. Let us share those skills, leader to leader. Let us educate, and cross-educate, those who find their way to us. Let us let the needs of the community, and they are real, be met by the community. And let’s do it so that the means to that end, and the end itself, justify one another.
Sam Webster: Gwethalyn ni Morgan once made the point that the difference between a religion and a cult is that a religion is a cult with political clout. If we can safely generalize “political” to mean being effective in the arena of human interaction, then the real question before us as to the value and purpose of a Pagan clergy is in fact about “clout.”
Viewed in this light, the question is transformed into one about the definition and types of power we have and can acquire in our human world. Humans generally acquire power to affect the human sphere through economics, politics (usually in the sense of governance), or through information/ knowledge. The respective loci of these powers are naturally business or wealth, government or allied institutions, and in academia or “the public conversation” called culture.
Unless we as Pagans become inordinately wealthy or find some powerful niche in the business community, it is not likely we will be able to use our economic power to attain some recognition in our society. The television evangelists are an example of a religion doing exactly this. Unless we as Pagans enter into governmental politics either as candidates, parties, or lobbies, we are not likely to attain any significant measure of political power as Pagans. This is historically a dim hope. Except for rare occasions as in the opposition to the Helms amendment, Pagans are not known for their ability to unite politically. None of this is a problem, as these are not the areas that we are most likely to operate in, save where our rights are being infringed upon.
This process of elimination leaves us with one opening — the realm of information. Yet, while this is an area in which we as Pagans can actually wield some substantial power, we tend to shy away from it except within our own very narrow circles. As Wiccans, as magi, as students of the occult we specialize in the power of knowledge. But we rarely enter into the “conversation” that is the world of academic and intellectual culture. In this abstention, we withhold our voices from that body of influence that under-girds economic and political policy. We neither speak nor are we heard, although both of these are repairable.
We do not speak for fear, as I think Andras put it well. We are afraid that our words will be rejected, that we will be discounted. This is a real possibility but first we must grapple with why we do not speak before what we have said can be rejected. In my estimation, we operate from an inferiority complex, behaving as underdogs, as the oppressed and persecuted, as indeed we once were. But our religion is alive, which is something that cannot be said for most of the world’s religions, especially Christianity. A study of their theologies is a study of a vain attempt to justify irrelevant or problematic (i.e., oppressive, out of touch) faiths. Ours is relevant, and elements such as the reverence of life in general and responsibility for the biosphere in particular are in fact essential for living religions today. In other words, we really have something to say, and with that, the responsibility to say it.
Contrary to Oriethyia’s opinion, I believe what keeps us silent is the fact that we are sorely out-classed in this discussion. Most ministers and religious professionals have substantial educations in the field of religious studies, which includes both history of religions and theology. Often our research is so limited and lacking in depth that it appears laughable by the academic establishment even though it may be true and valuable. Our problem is that we don’t operate at the same level of information intensity.
How many of us have post-graduate degrees in religious studies? Until I entered the seminary, I did not realize just how much information is available, and how much of it is applicable. Many of the ideas we hold today have been tried in the past with varying degrees of success and under varied conditions. How many of us know these things? Many of those with whom we would dialogue — ministers and the like — have Masters degrees and Ph.D.s. If we are to be taken seriously, we need to be able to communicate at their level. We need to know the conversation that they have been engaged in since before the beginning of the Christian era and be able to participate in it as equals.
While I agree with Judy that the apprenticeship method will work for transmitting the general body of skills that a member of the Craft would need, I doubt this will be adequate to the task of engaging (i.e., challenging) the mainstream religious community in their own conversation. Further, there is a reason for the university or college system. Apprenticeship really only works if the teacher knows enough. A network collective may do the job, but the university system was developed in the West so that collections of students could employ a selection of professors (teachers) to broaden/deepen their knowledge. Isaac makes the difference between mainstream clerical training and our own plain. The consequence is that we are not taken seriously. Will apprenticeship be adequate to the task and can this be demonstrated?
The simple solution to this problem is to go to school. But the goal for me is not to be supported by the Pagan community after I graduate, but instead to engage the dominant and world-endangering religions on their own ground. This is not an act of mere aggression. I have had the delightful opportunity to see that, in fact, many of the folk entering the ministry today are working for the same causes that we are. We can work with them if they could see us as something other than a mere cult. The ability to “converse” knowledgeably and to behave “professionally” would gain their respectful attention. I assert, however, that they are operating with a handicap due to their essentially anti-body and anti-world mythos. We, on the other hand, are merely disorganized.
One important place in which we are disorganized is in our theology, and this hurts us daily. By theology, I mean the general theoretical principles and beliefs that underpin our actions and words as Pagans. By no means does this need to be homogeneous. On the contrary, our diversity is our strength. We must nonetheless be able to articulate our beliefs in a coherent, and to a certain extent rational, manner if we wish to engage the mainstream religious community in conversation. If we can do this, they will listen to us.
Exterior to any considerations of intelligibility to outsiders of the Craft, we have a more important reason to develop our theoretical structure. This is the way systems of knowledge advance: by creating “working hypotheses” which are then tested and learned from, any system of thought grows. Most of what we currently possess of our knowledge is anecdotal. This is adequate to our early development. However, we will not proceed very much farther unless we can explain ourselves much better. We will not be able to teach new folk the depths of the knowledge we currently possess, nor will we be able to express ourselves intelligibly to sympathetic but skeptical outsiders. Let me give an example of how this same problem has manifested itself in science.
The science of metallurgy is less than a hundred years old, although metal work itself is over ten thousand years old. Until recently, all metal smithing was done on a hit or miss basis with extremely variable results. The famous Japanese art of sword making was lost eight times because the person who possessed the intuitive knowledge of the art died, and because he could not express what he knew, the knowledge died with him. With the modern sciences of chemistry and crystallography, we now can make any kind of steel we wish and teach others to do the same. Also, we can teach the general principles on which our metallurgical knowledge is based, and this can be applied to other types of metals.
And so what happens when those of us who truly understand the magickal art, at least as far as we do so today, die? Does our hard-won knowledge and experience die with us and another generation fall before the blight of alienation from our mother Nature? Or will we find a way to pass that which we have learned along, improved for having passed through our hands, to the new generation to learn from and further improve? None of this requires a “standing clergy,” but it does require serious and critical discussion and self-reflection.
Andras Corban Arthen: Whenever a few of us engage in a discussion of the modern Pagan movement, it seems that we wind up enacting the story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant: each of us has a particular experience of what Paganism means in our lives, and we often — and mistakenly — assume that the macrocosm of the Pagan community is the same as the microcosm of our personal experience. I see this process very much reflected in the arguments of the various panelists.
Over the course of the last fifteen years, I have attended 52 large Pagan gatherings all over the country. Between this and the work that I do through the EarthSpirit Community, I have met literally thousands of Pagans from all walks of life, levels of experience, and geographical areas. My sense in interacting with and observing these people — my piece of the elephant, as it were — is very different from Judy’s perception, for instance. Judy sees us growing slowly and carefully, and bearing sweet fruit as an orchard does. Would that it only were so. I see us growing more like kudzu — wild, rampant and much too fast, threatening with destruction the orchards and groves that some of us have been tending for quite some time.
Judy says that the days of initiating people solely on the basis of popularity or perseverance are waning, thanks to “our growing insistence on objective requirements for initiations.” Are we describing the same elephant? If Judy’s remarks are true for her particular tradition, then I’m very happy for Gardnerians. Within Paganism in general, however, I see just the opposite happening. I see people, whose entire Craft experience consists of having read The Spiral Dance and Drawing Down the Moon, setting themselves up as teachers, starting groups, and initiating just about anybody who comes their way. I see people who have read a couple of cheap books on Norse runes passing themselves off as “runemasters.” I see people who have attended a weekend workshop on shamanism handing out business cards for “shamanic counseling.” Does this make anybody feel that our standards are really getting higher?
An important aspect of the problem is that most of these people are neither ripoffs nor charlatans. They are, rather, very eager and sincere new Pagans who have simply not been exposed to anything more substantial than what they are doing. And why is that? Is it because there just aren’t any experienced, skilled teachers or groups in the Pagan movement? Not at all. We have any number of people who, by the relatively modest standards of a fairly young community, could be considered “elders.” Most of these elders, however, work only within small groups and are not available to the community at large. Some of them would rather keep it that way: more and more often I hear from such elders who are going deeper into the “broom closet” out of dissatisfaction with the dilution of values and the superficiality they see in our community. There are others who would like to make themselves more available, but simply can’t: they already have their hands full with family, career, coven, and their own magical work. If they tried to do any more, they would burn out, as some already have.
The size of our community is not, by itself, the cause for the lowering of our standards. Another equally important factor is the mainstream culture that surrounds us. We live in a fundamentally lazy society — a society of spectators, remote controls, and instant-everything; a society based on assembly-line values that promote speed and quantity over patience and quality; a society in which anyone with enough gumption or money can easily become a credentialed “expert” on any given subject.
Not only, then, are we growing very large very fast, but the majority of these new members are also bound to bring with them many of the artificial standards and patterns of the mainstream culture. It is no wonder, then, that we wind up with lots of “instant Witches” who have little or no training; with “covens” that are not much more than skyclad social clubs; with “rituals” that are nothing but glorified parties; with “teachers” who have no experience beyond what they’ve read in a handful of books. And, of course, these “standards” are passed on to successive waves of new pagans, until, well, there goes the neighborhood.
When I am told by someone who just spent seven years in a coven, that anytime anybody asked a question, the “High Priestess” would tell them to read Positive Magic, I think we have a problem. When I hear of somebody else who was psychically shattered because no one in her group knew how to help her ground, I think we have a problem. When I see people drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, talking loudly and making unwanted sexual advances during rituals at Pagan festivals, I know we have a problem. These are not isolated cases. These things are happening all throughout our community, all over the country. Never mind our lack of credibility among mainstream religions. How can we take ourselves seriously as a community unless we do something about these problems? How can Paganism make any kind of positive change in the planet when we are all tangled in kudzu?
Judy’s proposal that we reclaim the practice of apprenticeship will not solve the problem. I am very much in favor of apprenticeship: I was trained that way and I have trained apprentices for many years. One-on-one apprenticeship, however, is hardly a realistic solution when the problem already is that we have far too many people lacking training and far too few experienced teachers available.
This is precisely why we need professional Pagan clergy. We need to provide ways for the most experienced and skilled members of our community to become available to the thousands of new Pagans coming in every year. We need to develop training centers — not so much based on the mainstream academic criteria that Oriethyia rightfully mistrusts, but along Pagan principles and standards — to prepare our clergy to better serve our community. Professional, well-trained, experienced Pagan clergy could act as skillful gardeners to solve our kudzu problem and preserve Judy’s orchard.
To do this — to do it fairly, to do it ethically, to do it well — we need to look at ourselves and what we do differently from the way we have thus far. We need to develop creative strategies to deal with the dramatic changes that have taken place in our community within a very short time. Sam’s economic model involving a coven of ten people, for example, is not creative enough. Suppose the “cleric” had thirty students instead of ten, split among three groups. A salary of $30,000 divided among thirty comes to $1000 a year, which means that each member of each of the three groups would pay less than $20 a week for their training. Assuming that each group meeting ran about three hours, they would be paying less than $6.50 an hour for instruction, a bargain if the teacher is an experienced, skilled practitioner who has a lot to offer (and substantially less than you would pay a psychotherapist, whatever that has to do with Craft training). While it would be unrealistic to expect someone with a full-time job and other responsibilities to also lead three training groups a week, it is not at all unreasonable if that is what the person does for a living. This scenario would benefit both the students and the teacher: the students would receive substantial, in-depth supervised instruction from a skilled practitioner; the teacher, by being able to devote herself full-time to her Craft, could more effectively develop her own knowledge and skills, which she could then pass on to her students.
I am not oblivious to the many questions that such a scenario raises, an important one being: what about someone who can’t afford to pay even $20 a week? I don’t think that we should ever deny training to anyone solely on the basis of money, but I do think that a fair exchange of services is appropriate. Such a person, for instance, could barter to take care of the teacher’s children while the teacher is leading another group, or cook for the teacher, or help dean her house, or answer her mail.
It does not serve us to cling dogmatically to the belief that we should not charge money for teaching the Craft. While such a notion may be perfectly suitable in the setting of a small coven, it needs to be reconsidered in the context of the changes happening within our community, and in comparison to other standards that we generally find acceptable. For instance, I think that most Pagans would find it reasonable that authors of books on witchcraft be paid for the publication of their work. Now, these books generally provide a very elementary level of training in the Craft, and such training as they provide is certainly impersonal, in that the author is not immediately available to the reader for answers to questions, supervision, etc. Why, then, is it not acceptable for an experienced teacher who is providing much more in-depth training, direct supervision, and personal accessibility to her students to charge a reasonable fee for her work? Does this really make sense, especially when we consider that, at this point in time, most people in the Pagan community have likely gotten what training they have primarily from books? Does anyone see a double standard here?
We also have to deal with the hierarchical implications of a professional Pagan clergy. In the process, I think we should reconsider the meaning and role of hierarchy in the Pagan community, a role that has been much maligned by fears of disempowerment, and squelched in denial by notions of political correctness. Hierarchy is not an oppressive patriarchal invention, but an organic pattern that we find throughout nature. Hierarchy is a matter of functional value, not personal value. Every human being has the same intrinsic personal worth as any other and is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. From a functional standpoint, however, not everyone is the same. Apprentice carpenters and master builders, as people, have the same fundamental personal worth. But in the process of constructing a house their functional value is quite different.
All too often in the Pagan movement, we confuse hierarchy with authoritarianism. Hierarchy is not at all the same as authoritarianism, which is arbitrary, coercive authority. Hierarchy is natural and organic; authoritarianism is the opposite. The confusion, I think, arises from the fact that we live in a culture where people are valued for what they do, not for who they are. This attitude perverts the hierarchical order, creating a caste of authoritarian, quasi-infallible experts. We need to reclaim the value of an organic hierarchy in the Pagan community while eschewing authoritarianism.
It strikes me that one of the difficulties in discussing the concept of professional Pagan clergy is a lack of specific models around which to frame our discussion. Since I feel like I’ve already gone out on a limb, I might as well go a bit farther and use myself as an example.
I am a professional Pagan “minister.” I have done this full-time for seven of the last ten years. For four of those seven years I worked part-time jobs so that I could devote myself full-time to my Pagan activities. For the past three years I have been paid full-time for this occupation. Let me tell you what I do and how I feel about it.
1) I am a teacher: I teach public classes on witchcraft and paganism, which are available to just about anybody. Over the past ten years, I have taught over three thousand people. For most of them, I have been their first direct contact with the Pagan community. I teach people what I know; I do not tell people what I think they should believe. I have never turned anyone away just because they couldn’t pay.
2) I am a priest: I design, arrange, and officiate at Pagan rituals, especially large ceremonies that involve a substantial segment of the local community. I also perform rites of passage such as child blessings, legal Pagan handfastings, and rites of commitment for lesbian and gay couples. I do not presume to mediate between anyone and the Sacred. If anything, my job is to help people to do that themselves.
3) I am an administrator: I oversee the functioning of a pagan service organization that provides a wide range of activities for the community — four seasonal festivals, two publications, several open circles a year, a monthly coffeehouse, training groups, discussion groups, special focus groups. I supervise volunteers. I help to raise funds for this organization. I make sure there is enough money in the bank to pay for the printing of FireHeart, and that there are enough paper cups for the coffeehouse. I spend an inordinate amount of time attending meetings.
4) I am a mediator: I act as a go-between when people in the community are having problems with each other. I help groups resolve internal conflicts when they need an outside perspective. I help people listen to each other, negotiate, and conciliate.
5) I am an advocate: I intercede on behalf of pagans with the courts, government agencies, hospitals, funeral directors, schools, police, etc. I talk to psychiatrists to convince them that the client being treated for depression isn’t really crazy for claiming to be a witch. I testify on behalf of Pagans threatened with losing custody of their children because their former spouse accuses them of “parental unfitness due to witchcraft.” I help to validate a Pagan church’s claim to nonprofit status with the state’s department of taxation.
6) I am a therapist: I provide counseling for pagans who are emotionally distressed and don’t trust a mainstream practitioner to understand them. I work with couples in our community who are having marital difficulties. I help people who are going through a magically-induced crisis and don’t know who else to turn to.
7) I am a bureaucrat: yes, Oriethyia, a good part of my job is pushing paper — answering correspondence, updating records on mailing lists, filling out membership cards, stapling newsletters, licking stamps. Let’s be careful: the mindless bureaucrat is as much a stereotype as the simpering homosexual or the miserly Jew. Besides, an awful lot of Pagans are bureaucrats. As much as possible, I try to make my bureaucratic chores into a deliberate ritual.
8) I am a spokesperson: I present a public face as a witch and a pagan. I give lectures in colleges and elementary schools, to civic organizations and singles clubs. I discuss with committees of librarians the issues involved in the censorship of occult books. I give interviews to reporters. I seldom seek out these situations, but I welcome them as a way to improve the public image of the Craft. I am only too aware that, like it or not, the people watching me will judge all witches and pagans by what they think of me. I try my best to do us credit. All my neighbors know I’m a witch, though I’ve never told any of them that.
9) I am a liaison: I serve on interfaith committees to help the clergy of other religions become aware of who we are and to give us credibility. I have assisted in Sunday services at Unitarian churches and fundamentalist churches. I work with law enforcement agencies to clear up any misunderstandings between what we do, and what perpetrators of ritual crime do.
This is just what I do publicly as a Pagan clergy. I don’t get paid for most of the things I do. There are very few tangible rewards in my job, although on average I work more than fifty hours a week at it. I don’t make very much money, certainly less than what Sam suggests as a modest standard for someone with a family. I have almost no job security to speak of. I deal with constant and substantial levels of stress. My life is so intertwined with my job that they might as well be the same. The thought that someone in my position would be able to dictate to the Pagan community what it should or shouldn’t do seems ludicrous to me.
I have no academic training for most of the things I do in my job. Whatever skills or experience I have come from the work I have done as a witch in covens and apprenticeships. I am not the best there is at what I do. I know people who have been in the Craft longer than I have, who know more than I do, who are more skilled than l am. The vast majority of them, unfortunately, don’t make themselves available to the rest of the community. There are other witches and pagans, however, who already have the skills and the experience, and who would be glad to be of more service to the community if given the chance.
One of the strengths of Paganism is its incredible diversity. Such diversity encourages creativity and freedom, and makes it possible for virtually anyone to find their own niche in our community. It also discourages rigid dogmatism and centralized authority. Our diversity, however, also creates problems in communication among ourselves and hinders our ability to work collectively. When we have such diverse visions of what Paganism should be, and when so many of those visions actually conflict with each other, it is difficult to find resolution.
Faced with such a quandary, I borrow a line from Judy: at times like this, it is good to be a witch! As a witch, one of the most important lessons I have learned is the one that Judy reminds us of — there is always a middle way. The middle way is the most difficult road to travel, if only because it is the least obvious. It is the road between the worlds, the path that is not a path — the snaking trail covered by underbrush, to be found only by discerning eyes that are not hindered by preconceived notions of what the trail should look like.
Because I travel this path, because I know that so many of us do, I also know that we can have common principles and beliefs that are not rigidly dogmatic; that we can have leadership that is not coercive or manipulative; that we can have an organic hierarchy that is neither authoritarian nor abusive; that we can have organized institutions that promote diversity and the ecstatic state; and that we can have one-on-one apprenticeships, small covens, and large training centers that cater to hundreds of students, all at the same time.
Judy Harrow: Mother Earth is in desperate trouble. That sentence finds its way into nearly every article I write, perhaps by necessity. I write mostly for my own neopagan community, still in our formative period. As we make decisions that will shape our malleable future, we need to constantly remember her need and our identity. We are her priest/esses, her chosen companions and advocates. Her survival — and our own — demands that we do our work well. And yet, in this time of choice and change and crisis, we must first confront this paradox: we are also the children of the culture of domination. We were educated in its schools. Its reinforcers still surround us. It’s easier, and seems more effective, to work in ways we already know. Our sense of the urgency of our task drives us to those easy ways. But as the means condition the end, so only surface changes can be made that way.
We say we are a religion, and I believe we are. What does that mean? The theology of domination, transcendent monotheism, surrounds us. Each of the three main subdivisions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, comes in many variants called sects or denominations. Some look very different from each other, but all carry the same core message. In their Brotherhood Week celebrations, they say “We all worship the same God in many different ways.” That’s true for them, but does not include us. Our differences are far more profound than a sex-change operation on the deity.
Pagan religion, Earth religion, is based on an entirely different way of seeing the world. For us the sacred is plural, taking many forms, validating many different ways to live. Even more important, for us the sacred is immanent. We find the sacred in this life on this Earth, here and now and in all free and natural things: birds and sunrises, the ocean and the earthworm. The dominator culture in our time manifests as the worldwide industrial machine, which sees Earth as an inanimate thing to be used for gain. This exploitive attitude underlies the present ecological crisis. We protest because for us the Earth is sacred, and not a commodity. As priest/esses, we have a special obligation to behave consistently with our professed beliefs, even when this is inconvenient. If the sacred itself is to be bought and sold, our message is undermined.
Sam said it best: “Until we can demonstrate that we really do have something to offer, that we possess or are attaining to a truly non-hierarchical and pluralistic concept of the divine/human relationship. . . and that our way has a transformative and empowering contribution for those who use it, we will not be able to communicate the value that we have to offer.” In short, we need to practice what we preach in order to be taken seriously — by our neighbors and even by ourselves.
Some neo-Pagans question whether our Jewish and Christian neighbors ever could regard us as their peers, or whether we should even want them to. In their opinion, those of us who want to be accepted as colleagues and to gain a hearing in mainstream theological forums, are engaged in a foolish quest.
Sam tells us that “the Western religious tradition is dead. They have no adequate answers.” Why bother to dialogue with them? In an even stronger challenge, Oriethyia believes they can never hear us because our freedom threatens their unnatural order, and suggests that we are trying to “curry favor” with “the same mentality that declared, and still declares, indigenous people “savage” because their culture is so different.
The stories we tell ourselves, the symbols we use, the values and attitudes they convey, all of these influence our behavior and so make a difference in the world. And Mother Earth is in desperate trouble. We are called to be her companions and her advocates. We must have external credibility so that Earth-centered values and stories can be more widely heard. We’re not trying to change how they worship, but we hope we can sensitize them to the pain and need of the living Mother Earth.
Nor should we be arrogant little missionaries in reverse. We also have much to learn from them. Much of their work is not applicable to us, since it springs from such different basic assumptions. But, just as we have learned many useful techniques of practice from the Earth-denying East, we can learn methods of reflection from the Earth-denying West. Their answers are not adequate for us, but at least they can point us at some of the questions. Up to now, we’ve had no idea of how to think theologically about the linkages between values, symbolic and ritual expressions, and daily behavior. We need to think about the meaning of what we believe and do, or risk drifting from our roots.
Is this a futile effort? Isaac believes “mainstream clergy find it difficult to take our clergy seriously.” In my own experience, Isaac is correct about the “one way” fundamentalist minority, and no effort on our part will change their minds. But the liberal main-stream of Christian and Jewish clergy have all read Starhawk by now. The results are visible in, for example, the growth of CUUPs and of Creation Spirituality. Despite our ongoing fearful debates, the “w-word” has been safe and respectable among progressive clergy and religious academics ever since the publication of The Spiral Dance over ten years ago.
One bad habit, a residue of our indoctrination in the culture of domination, is our automatic equation of size, and especially increase in size, with success. Here, too, I think we need to consider the benefits and risks of increase and to make some careful choices.
In the last twenty years, as Andras reminds us, our community has grown exponentially. This blessing is definitely mixed. On the one hand, Mother Earth is in desperate trouble. She needs all the companions and advocates she can get. But, on the other hand, to model and advocate any real, deep change, we need to be careful to grow at a sustainable rate. We can only hope to assimilate just so many newcomers at a time. Remember, all of them, like all of us, were formed by the dominator culture. We could so easily be swamped and re-assimilated into its ways.
This is not just my own excess of caution. Already, as Andras points out, there have been major problems at some of the larger festivals. Those festivals became unmanageably large in part because some organizers began to see them primarily as fund-raising opportunities rather than as break-even community gatherings, and so engaged in public advertising. The problems that then manifested were the normal problems of “mass” movements, in which large numbers of disconnected individuals can get lost in a faceless crowd, sometimes hurting themselves or others.
In the anti-war movement of the sixties, people were not encouraged to come to the large demonstrations alone. Instead, we went in “affinity groups.” In that way we were always among friends, who would notice and care if we got into any kind of trouble, or keep us from acting out any irrational impulses. Today, Christians and Jews are trying to personalize their worship by forming “base communities” and “chavurot,” small worship circles just like ours.
No, not every Witch needs to be in a coven. We have honored solitary elders. But a solitary elder is not at all the same thing as a solitary seeker. The way to assimilate newcomers is to bring them into small groups where their learning will be monitored, not to turn them loose in some massive organization or gathering, or expose them to weekend “intensives” with no follow-through of ongoing guidance. In a group small enough for each person to be visible, new ways of behaving can be explained, modeled and monitored. Unacceptable behavior, such as the sexual harassment that has cropped up at large festivals, can be noticed and checked.
The rest of the world is emulating our traditional ways. What sense could it make for us to abandon them? Rather than allow ourselves to be driven by the forces of massive impersonality, as Andras suggests, why not screen more carefully and train more thoroughly, bringing in new seekers only as fast as we can responsibly train and assimilate them? There’s a word for unchecked and imbalanced growth: cancer.
Uncontrolled growth also threatens us indirectly by becoming the latest pretext for those who want us to institute an elite class of paid clergy, a move that would change our community beyond recognition. We’re being told that paying some people to be clergy full-time is the only way we can meet the needs of all these seekers.
Andras perceives the current discussion as being “not so much about trained Pagan clergy per se as it is about professional Pagan clergy.” He’s quite correct that all our discussions of skill tend to immediately shade into discussions of money, because of our culturally formed habits of mind that measure the worth of all things by their market values. To think more clearly together about these questions, we need to look at the history of the word professional.
Originally, the word professional referred to those who respond to a sense of religious calling, the “professed religious,” the clergy. Later such occupations as law, medicine, teaching and psychotherapy were added. Notice that all these were originally clergy functions. What they have in common is that they all require extensive preparatory education — “professional school” — and are all primarily based on a service motivation, rather than simple acquisitiveness. The word professional did, eventually, come to mean “work done as a means of livelihood,” but not until the nineteenth century, when greed was fast replacing calling and community as the moving force of European culture.
Professional also became a designation of caste, in contradistinction to “amateur.” With this distinction comes the connotation that the amateur athlete or musician or priestess is somehow not as dedicated, not as skilled, and just plain not as good. Sam does well to remind us that the Christian clergy learned to be so aloof from the corrupt Pagan clergy of imperial Rome. They catered to the rich and powerful, ignoring the slaves and poor soldiers. This created a vacuum that the missionaries were able to fill. That’s how we lost Europe. We need to learn from the bitter lessons of this history to model ourselves on tribal Paganism and never on that of the Imperium.
Similarly, Isaac speaks of the ongoing competition between the two Indo-European elite castes. The Indo-Europeans were the blade-bearing dominators who overthrew the partnership cultures of Old Europe. It is their continuing influence that we must reverse in order to save the Earth. Very specifically, the concept of caste, of dividing people into rigid hierarchies, is theirs. Isaac’s description of the ongoing struggle between warrior and priest evokes George Orwell’s novel, 1984, in which the Inner Party and the Outer Party constantly change positions, while the plebes never ever get any say. Within Indo-European society, there was also a third group, those who lived with the Earth and who fed and clothed the rest. It is with these, and not the parasites and bullies, that we need to align ourselves.
So, professionalism is another term we can reclaim to its original meanings of calling, commitment and service. We can have those qualities whether or not we choose to pay our clergy. Paid, full-time clergy is just one of our options, with costs and benefits to be weighed along with those of all the other options. I feel the costs far outweigh the benefits. Andras, Isaac and others hold the opposite opinion. But let’s all be clear that we do not differ about the value of professionalism. Earth Mother needs and deserves no less.
On that basis, look again at the example Andras presents us of two initiates from covens with very different standards. Presently, as a matter of faith and tradition, we regard all initiates as equal, an ideal we have yet to attain in practice. But neither should we be so quick to assume that all inequalities co-vary. Certainly these two women vary in experience. Probably they vary similarly in skill — although before I’d be too sure I’d want to know more about the prior background and experience of the “newcomer.”
But even so, this tells me nothing at all about their respective levels of commitment. The newcomer may be full of enthusiastic dedication. The more experienced one may be a burnout case who now wants “compensation” for what once was her delight. The best place for such folk is not on the payroll, but in honorable retirement. The old Wiccan laws advise the aging to give pride of place to the young. That sounds like gross ageism, but may not be. If we apply it to aging attitudes rather than to chronological age, it may be encoded wisdom. Perhaps the way to keep our traditions and ideals fresh is for each of us personally to resolve to stop doing whatever work has become a chore instead of a joyful privilege.
Perhaps yet another word to reclaim is amateur. It does not mean unskilled, slipshod, the opposite of “professional.” It means lover.
We can serve the Old Ones for love, or from a sense of calling and dedication. We can serve each other, and be served by each other, for love. Or we can settle for the best clergy money can buy, those who serve ulteriorly. The choice is ours, and will determine our future.
Isaac Bonewits: I mentioned the problem of monotheistic dualism in the first round and, indeed, several of the panelists seem to have slipped into it even while denouncing it.
Judy’s main theme seems to be that Neopagans can find a middle way between two extremes (“intimacy/stagnation” vs.”impersonality/competence”). She’s quite right because the dualism she has observed is a straw wo/man. She supports her arguments, however, by creating other equally false dualisms, bolstered with alarmist scenarios.
Granted, a group large enough to support a full-time clergy-person will be too big to fit into a living room, but this is putting the cart before the horse. A group doesn’t need full-time clergy until long after it has outgrown private quarters. A typical Craft coven of three to seven members can get along quite well with part-time clergy. A group of two hundred or more cannot.
Judy implies that a Neopagan group becomes large primarily to generate enough money to support a priest/ess and later a building, and that this leads to “cash addiction.” I think that Neopagan groups become large because there is a tremendous hunger for the Goddesses and Gods and for group worship of them. The only “addictions” I’ve observed with large Neopagan groups are those of the people who wind up doing most of the work to coordinate congregations numbering in the hundreds — these folk are frequently addicted to food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. But Judy’s dualism is quite clear here: small covens are Good, large Pagan congregations are Bad.
Her next major dualism is that of apprenticeship vs. academic training. While saying that they are of equal value (to bolster her “middle way” approach), she has only positive things to say about the former and negative ones about the latter. She forgets that an apprentice studying with a poor teacher is no better off than an academic student studying with a poor professor. She also neglects to mention where the typical Neopagan priest/ess is going to find the time to train several apprentices in addition to all her/ his other duties, though she admits that part-time training is going to be inadequate.
I admire her for taking on the City of New York and getting legal recognition for Craft clergy. But here, too, the issue may not be quite what she perceives it to be. The city was discriminating against unpaid part-time clergy, as much as they were against Pagan priest/esses. After all, they had no trouble letting Hindu priests perform marriages. The fact that any three people can call themselves a coven/congregation and all of themselves clergy was bound to strike them as suspicious, and fundamentalist bigotry would then have its desired excuse to discriminate against them.
I agree with her 100% when she says, “Recognition is important to us, but access to clergy skills and services is far more important.” I think that the panel premise is faulty in emphasizing the recognition factor. We need competent clergy because we need competent clergy — being treated as equals by mainstream clergy would be a nice bonus, but it’s unlikely to happen based on this issue alone.
The idea of networking our clergypeople together sounds nice, and indeed it’s already starting to happen. But what if you need someone in a hurry with a particular expert skill, and none of your local clergy have ever bothered to learn it? You track down someone through the network, right? And what if that specialist priest/ess is getting a dozen calls a week, from people who each want a few hours of his/her time. How is this person supposed to support a family while giving 30 to 40 hours per week to the community?
As far as I know, no one in the community is talking about giving our clergyhood “over to a paid elite.” We’re exploring the possibilities of adding a few dedicated paid clergy to the dedicated unpaid ones we now have. And we are starting to ask questions about just what knowledge and skills we should expect our clergy, paid or unpaid, to be able to demonstrate.
Sam seems to think that the most important function that clergy serve is mediation, and he’s against it. He points out the Lutheran principle I mentioned in my first round and adds that “each Pagan is expected to truly be their own priestess or priest.” Well, actually, that’s not quite true. Only in Wicca is every Pagan a clergyperson. Many other Neopagan traditions say no such thing. And how can we “truly be” clergy when there is so much opposition to clearly defining the term?
Sam seems to define clergy in mostly negative terms, as “rulers,” though he’s studying for the ministry in the most democratic mainstream religion around. I completely agree with him that the Unitarians handle their clergy and their institutional structures with great sensitivity to possible abuses, and I see them as having a lot to teach us about keeping religion healthy and democratic. Is there some reason why we Neopagans can’t do as well as the Unitarians?
Sam is opposed to institutions and doesn’t want Paganism to become one. He assumes that all institutional structures are rigid and incapable of evolution, and furthermore, that Pagans must either create “an” institution of their own or else infiltrate and take over the UU’s, in order to support “a” full-time clergy. This is more monotheistic dualism — I think he’s missing a very important point here about Neopagan diversity and pluralism. As Judy so well put it, “We celebrate the diversity of divinity and the divinity of diversity.” Is there some special reason why we can’t create dozens of organizations with different ideas of how to train, use, and support clergy, and then take a century or so to develop a global consensus on which ones seem to work best? As Sam pointed out, one of the things that institutions do well is provide an “ability to endure.” Don’t we want to endure?
Sam’s paragraph on the credibility issue is nothing less than brilliant. Our clergy simply don’t deal with most of the philosophical and religious issues that mainstream clergy expect real clergy to be concerned about. Even if we reject most of their interpretations (and even a few of the issues themselves) as monotheistic myopia, we have to be able to do it in language they can recognize as serious intellectual discourse.
Oriethyia, like Judy and Sam, seems to assume that the clergy credibility issue is the central point of the panel, and rightly points out how silly it is to think that this is the main reason why mainstream religions have no respect for us. She also engages in some patriarchal dualism of her own, contrasting academically trained professionals (bad) with “self and/or collectively taught” people (good). In so doing, she denies the usefulness of any topic that can be taught at a university and limits necessary Pagan clergy training to magical and ethical topics, apparently because she thinks those topics are easy to teach collectively.
She asks who professionally trained clergy would “speak for.” I would assume that such clergy would speak for the traditions/ denominations that trained them, a point she seems to agree with. But then she introduces a couple of red herrings of her own: “Who should speak for the whole?” Had anyone suggested that anyone should? “Do the non-clergy groups get locked out of a circle…?” Where is the door and who does she think will be holding the keys? Can I lock her out of a women’s circle or she lock me out of a Druid grove? Or either of us prevent anyone in any other tradition of Paganism from aggressively promoting their non-clergy views?
Oriethyia’s economic concerns about the potentially high cost of academic clergy training, like those of Sam, are serious ones. But should we decide that no one should ever become a brain surgeon because medical school is expensive?
She is incorrect when she says that clergy training is a “Eurocentric” idea. Native American, African, Polynesian, and European Paleopagans all had clergy of differing levels of training, differing degrees of time commitment, and differing amounts of “pay.” As far as I know, most of them believed firmly in ecstatic wisdom and combined it with their culture’s equivalent left-brain training.
No one on any side of the clergy training issue is, as far as I know, advocating “a further separation” between humans and the divine. Unfortunately, no one has actually tried to articulate a Neopagan analysis of “mediation” and decide whether it is a concept we want to use, alter, or discard. It’s obvious that most of this panel thinks that mediation is “A Bad Idea,” but it’s also something of a red herring, as is the story of the Australian feminist witches. Are we really to believe that the women would have all died if one or more of them had been an academically trained priestess?
Of the panelists, only Andras takes a complete overview of all the complex issues involved — I’m having trouble finding anything to disagree with in his analysis. Perhaps most importantly, Andras is the only panelist other than myself who discusses the issues in terms of the many levels of population present in our community. This may relate to the fact that he and I are the only panelists with experience running large congregations (which is a whole different kettle of fish from running festivals or networking groups).
The central problem I see with Judy’s, Sam’s, and Oriethyia’s analyses is that they continue throughout to think only in terms of small groups because that is their personal preference, and ignore the needs of larger groups (of which they disapprove). Yet it seems to me that the argument really isn’t about warm, intimate, “living room religion” (Sally Eaton’s term) vs. cold, impersonal “church religion,” although many Pagans like to see it that way. The real issue seems to me to be: how can we provide the diverse members of the Neopagan community with the kind of religious support and group experiences they want? Is worship of the Gods/ Goddesses to be restricted to those who have the time, energy, commitment and reliability to devote to a coven or other small group, the luck to find such a group willing to accept them, and an agreement with the particular poly- or duotheology held by that group?
What about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in every metropolitan area in North America who simply want someplace to go once every six weeks or every full moon to worship with other kindred spirits? Shall we tell them to get lost, that their religious attitudes are too shallow for us to accept them as “real” Pagans? What about the Neopagans who like to work in groups of thirty or forty, worshipping Norse or Slavic or African deities with non-Craft techniques and expectations? Shall we ignore them because they don’t fit into the small group vs. large group dualism?
Why can’t we take a pluralistic approach to these complex issues? Some Pagans may want to have groups of three, thirty, three hundred, or three thousand. There are many different sizes of groups that are capable of experiencing meaningful worship and encouraging individual spiritual growth. Each will have its own organic needs for clergy with different knowledge and skills. Must we define only one approach — the one we’re all familiar and comfortable with — as the one true right and only way?
As Andras points out so clearly, current Neopagan attitudes about paid clergy are based on fear. This is the fear that all amateurs have of being replaced by professionals — people they suspect of doing for money alone what they do for love (Latin amator, a lover). This is why questions about training for Pagan clergy are so highly tied to the questions of paying our clergy. The overwhelming majority of Neopagan clergy, myself included, are amateurs — we do what we do out of our love for the Gods/Goddesses. Granted, it’s a blow to our egos to use the term, since “experts” and “professionals” are highly esteemed in Western society and “amateurs” are not. Yet there’s more to being a professional than getting paid. Being professional means living up to certain widely known standards of competence within each profession. We can dispute some of those standards based on our political or polytheological opinions, but most standards in most professions actually are focused on getting work accomplished safely and effectively. While some professions, mostly the highly-paid ones like law and medicine, have tried to prevent competition, I haven’t noticed professional orchestras stopping amateur ones from performing, nor professional artists preventing amateurs from painting.
Andras is also, I believe, the only other panelist currently raising a child. Not only is he concerned about preserving Paganism for his children and grandchildren, he is also legitimately interested in earning enough money to feed, clothe, and shelter his family. Having kids changes your attitudes about a lot of things. Taking only poorly paying, part-time employment in order to be free to spend 30 to 40+ hours per week on unpaid clergy duties, a type of “underemployment” documented by Margot Adler as common among Neopagans, becomes a lot less appealing with children at home. A steady income, medical insurance, and a savings account suddenly take on a certain urgency. Is the Neopagan community so selfish as to believe that our clergy should sacrifice the welfare of their families for that of their congregations? Or are we saying that people who run larger-than-coven-sized Pagan groups should remain childless?
I think that we need to discuss all these complex issues in terms of several interlinking spectrums, instead of simplistic dualisms with shifting labels: 1) a spectrum for training breadth and one for training depth — how many subject areas should clergy (for any particular denomination) master, and how much knowledge and skill should they have in each? 2) a spectrum for time — how many hours per week does it take to fulfill the duties of clergy (in various denominations)? 3) a spectrum for money — how much salary should clergy earn for those hours? Should they receive nothing, bartered goods and services, minimum wage, ten dollars an hour, or enough (perhaps when combined with mundane income) to enable them to live at the same standard of living as the average member of their congregations? All of these spectrums will be dramatically affected by where a particular group falls along 4) a spectrum for size of congregation — are there five, fifty, or five hundred people in the group that is trying to make these evaluations?
As a very brief example, take the organization I run, ADF. Our clergy training program covers most of a liberal arts education, specialized religious and magical training, and particular clergy skills such as counseling, nonprofit management techniques, bookkeeping, etc. Ordination as clergy requires the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree at a “university without walls.” Participants choose specialties (or majors) to gain added depth in particular topics. On the time and money spectrums, a local Grove leader now puts about twenty hours per week into her or his duties and receives no salary, but we envision a day when all our clergy work full-time and earn a living wage for their efforts. As for size, ADF has a commitment to having local Groves running in size from scores to hundreds of members, each with many smaller groups within.
It’s a complex world and the Earth Mother can count higher than two.
Pagan Clergy Panel
Sam Webster: Gee, in times like these, it’s great to be a ‘mage’. (Everyone else has managed to say something like this — I guess it’s my turn.) My rhetoric, however, seems to be getting in the way. Somehow Isaac has drawn interesting and definitive conclusions about my position. Excuse me, Isaac, but until now, I have been firmly straddling the fence, and knocking me off before I am ready is just likely to hurt. My purpose until now has been to elicit from the panel, myself included, the questions necessary to form a picture of what we are faced with.
I see that we are faced with the problems of a growing religion, one that does not come complete from the start with clergy. But now, having existed for long enough, we have the task of educating the next generation of incomers, and our methods are not wholly adequate to the task. The small circle apprenticeship approach will cover many things, but many things demanded by the problem of large groups of unacculturated folk at festivals are not so covered. Nor are covered the demands of organized thought. If our craft is to develop, we need to invest in it over the long haul, a century or so, so that it may have the time to learn from itself and what other sources it can find. How are we to endure?
Sorry folks, we are an institution, although highly polymorphous, with customs and ways of our own. The question becomes, are we willing to take responsibility for making it conscious? Contrary to Isaac’s interpretation of my words, I have nothing against institutions. My only question is, are we willing to do the work — to make the investment — to create our own institutions, consciously created to conform with our ideals? (And stop thinking of one monolithic organization. That’s the trap of either/or dogmatism. We handle plurality — that is our strength. But can we learn to ally ourselves to take advantage of it? That doesn’t require homogeneity or authoritarian structures.) We, in fact, have several, if not many, institutions — formal and informal, but institutions nonetheless. Among them are COG, the EarthSpirit Community, ADF, Circle, and NECTW. These are the organizational structures whereby Paganism articulates itself. But have they created an institutional infrastructure that will last and serve the community for which they were formed for the next 20, 50, or 100 years? Are any of them willing to make the commitment to?
It is most fortuitous to be writing this response after reading the interview with Doreen Valiente. If we want to look to our elders for advice, there is surely a source of wisdom and experience. I find her voice one of deeply practical sanity.
Two points I would like to lift out of the interview. First is the issue of paid clergy. To the statement, “people feel you shouldn’t involve money in our religion,” Doreen Valiente responded: “That’s all very well if you can afford to do it.” She goes on to ask how, if someone invests all their time teaching classes, will they live if they do not accept money for their services. Not doing so will limit the Craft to being “exclusively the playground of the rich,” an essentially classist problem.
So how do we deal with this? Given the structures outlined in, for example, Andras’s scheme of three groups of ten people meeting three hours weekly at $20 per week, yielding an annual income of $30,000, the question could then be asked, who is in a position to see if this method works? Of course, not everyone would have to engage in this or any other experiment. Of those on this panel, Judy and Oriethyia are unwilling, and I am currently not in a position to attempt such. Both Isaac and Andras, however, are in the right position in the community to attempt to become paid Pagan clergy. They both have created the institutional structures necessary to function as clergy. Now, can it be done?
I think it should be evident from my actions, if not my fence-straddling arguments, that I am in favor of a paid Pagan clergy. After all, I am working the academic path to that status. The difference with me is that, not expecting Pagans to “hire” me, I hope the Unitarian Universalists will, as a Pagan minister. This is because Pagans traditionally have spoken against the notion of a paid clergy. Are they willing to change and support full-time clergy? Or will a handful dedicate themselves to the task and to poverty? As for myself, so long as the community remains as it does now, I’ll be a full-time professional minister and an “amateur” Pagan priest.
The main difference I see between paid clergy and unpaid clergy is cash flow. There can be a real difference in the training one may receive between full-time and part-time dedication to any body of learning. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but both have the same inherent value. One may simply serve better under one of these circumstances than the other. What I feel we are facing is the shift from one method of training that is mostly adequate to the task to another that serves better overall.
One of the problems we are up against is the problem of who determines the criteria that make a Pagan cleric. If we look at how the medical profession developed, we can get a hint of what not to do.
The Flexner report, published in 1905, made a study of the appalling conditions in American medical schools. The author of the report, however, was a classically educated Anglo male whose observations and recommendations were heavily biased by his culture. In effect, his report led to the shutting down of many of the country’s medical schools, but the ones chosen to remain open were those attached to the university system, such as Harvard and Yale. Those shut down were the ones for Blacks, women, homeopaths, naturopaths, midwives, herbalists — those that did not fit the paradigm of the people creating and responding to the report. Obviously the danger is in beginning this kind of process with too many preconceived notions. What, then, are our needs?
The second issue I wanted to raise from the Doreen Valiente interview is the function of the coven paradigm. She is ambiguous as to whether it is adequate to the task, speaking both for and against it. She does, however, ask key questions about how we are to provide for the education of the next generation of Pagans and if we will learn to provide support for folk in our communities. The coven has family-style support built into it, but is this the organizational structure we are always going to use? If the influx of new folk remains as heavy as currently reported, it may well not. If Andras’s description of the state of the Pagan community’s training is an accurate assessment of at least a significant portion of the community (particularly the newcomers) — and my experience of the Southern California community bears this out — then we have a task before us that we cannot ignore — a task that our previously used methods are not handling. Again, what are we to do?
A word about that “influx.” Judy states that part of the reason the larger festivals have become unmanageable is because of the folk attracted to them by public advertising. Sorry, the bell cannot be unrung. As she also pointed out, “Mother Earth is in desperate trouble.” We are probably the only “faith” that is pro-cosmic and pro-somatic (the world and the body are inherently good things and not to be avoided, and that the better place is not elsewhere). Not even the Buddhists can make that claim. Nor is it a culturally bound religion like the Native American or Australian aboriginal tradition, pro-cosmic or anti-cosmic as they may be. Therefore, I suggest we are the only “faith-tradition” that, from its core, can teach a way of life on this Earth in true stewardship of our planet and that is cosmopolitan enough to reach beyond our limited cultural horizons.
While I don’t think proselytization is the way to go, we still have a responsibility to find a way 1) to show that the pro-cosmic, pro-somatic stance is necessary to the continuance of human life on this planet, and 2) to make ourselves accessible to those who would adopt this attitude, in whatever numbers they come to us. No easy task, but structurally, this is part of what lies before us.
So what models are we going to use, what organizational structures? Except for one brief mention of our Hindu colleagues, our entire discussion about Pagan clergy has been within the paradigm of the Western Christian minister. Is this the role model we want? It may be repellent to a Pagan to contemplate Christian theology, but we could, in theory, appropriate their method of ministry and make it more effective in this culture. But I think Judy and Oriethyia present their strongest arguments when they speak against the kind of process the ministerial folk represent. I doubt we wish to adopt that process.
Are we, then, really looking to the right source? Christians are so different from us. They have a book religion based in observance of custom and ethos. Ours is ecstatic, changing, filled with ritual and polyvalent symbols. We get up and dance and hoot and holler and expect to get somewhere with it all. Who else does this?
Well, the Hindus for one. They worship in an entirely different manner from Christians, and much like ourselves. They seek to dwell in sacred space, performing ritual/symbolic actions and expecting results. How do they organize their temples in the US? How do they clothe and feed their priests? We could get very distracted by focusing on the “patriarchal” aspects of Hinduism, but Hindus at least have the sense to realize that their object of worship is a symbol and not the divine itself. These folk who have idols, oddly, don’t commit idolatry. Christians, with their idolized dogma, do. Hindus don’t demand that you believe anything in particular. They never developed the creedal form that became responsible for the deaths of so many in the West. With very few exceptions, you find no holy wars in Indian history. Hindus worship many gods and can live and worship together at their many altars. Is this not similar to our ideal?
And what of our Caribbean, South American, and African colleagues, many of whom are functioning in the US? They specifically expect trance. They drum and chant better then we do, and they get results. They may not be of our culture; we may not want to be them, but how do they function? How do they make and maintain their congregations? I suspect they have something real to offer that we could appropriate.
Andras Corban Arthen: Once upon a time there was a house. A small house. A very nice house, by most accounts. The people who built this house were the friendly sort, so they decided to take the outside doors off the hinges, and let in anyone who felt like coming by.
And come by they did. People of all kinds noticed this house, were attracted by its welcoming atmosphere, and went right in, settling with their families into the many small, homey rooms. In time, many families lived there, and, despite their different backgrounds, they all pretty much agreed on the house policies and lived happily in their nice, cooperative house. And so it went for many years, a happy little house.
Time passed, however, and more and more people heard about the house. They traveled from near and far to find this welcoming place in the hope of finding a home for themselves. Because the house had no doors, they could get in quite easily, and so the house became very crowded.
One day, some of the earliest tenants of the house (who belonged to a family called the Clergs) came out of their rooms to find that their nice little home was now crammed with people, and they became very alarmed.
“Look,” they said to their friends the Cozies, “our house has gotten much too crowded. There are people sleeping on the rugs, people hanging from the rafters, people in line to use the toilets. Where are we going to fit them all?”
And the Cozies said, “We have a problem, all right. How about if we just let these people in a little at a time so we don’t get so crowded?”
“It’s too late for that,” said the Clergs. “The place is so crowded already that we can’t even get to the doors anymore. Some people are climbing through the windows, and there are thousands of others all around the house just waiting for a chance to get in.”
“How about if we squeeze them into the other rooms in the house?”, said the Cozies.
“Can’t do it,” replied the Clergs. “All the rooms we have are already very full. And look, all these people crowded in our home don’t know the house policies — they’re leaving dirty dishes, they’re breaking the furniture, they’re peeing in the flower pots….”
“We can’t have them peeing in the flowerpots!,” said the Cozies. “How about if we teach them the policies one by one, as is our custom?”
“We could do that with a few of them,” said the Clergs, “but not with all of them. There are too many — it would take forever. We have a proposal to make, though, and we think it’ll work. We Clergs know a thing or two about building houses, and we’ve lived here long enough to know the house policies, and we care about our families a whole lot. So, we could take it upon ourselves to build additions to the house to fit more people in; or we could build more houses next to this one and start a neighborhood. We could help the new people to learn the house policies, and maybe help all of us to come up with some new policies as we get bigger. We could build more toilets so people don’t have to pee in the flowerpots.”
“Nothing doing. If we let you do that, next thing you know you’ll be acting like you own the house and start telling the rest of us what to do. Pretty soon, you’Il want to mediate for us with the people down at City Hall. Besides, if you expand the house, you’ll change the character of our home. We won’t have our cozy little rooms any more. We like it cozy, you know,” said the Cozies.
“We’re trying to do no such thing,” cried the Clergs. “We’ve just grown too big for a little house with little rooms — we need to build a neighborhood. You can stay in your cozy rooms if you like, but look around you: the walls are bulging, the beams are creaking, the joists are sagging. If we don’t do something soon, the entire house may come crashing down on our heads! Look, we’re willing to do the work. All we’re asking for is a little cooperation, a decent salary…”
“Salary?!”, exclaimed the Cozies. “You expect to get paid for this? We take care of our families for free! That’s the way it’s always been in this house!”
“Sure it is,” said the Clergs, “but it’s a very different thing when you’re trying to take care of a neighborhood. Your families are small. The neighborhood is much larger — hundreds or thousands of people, many of them with no family. It’s going to take a lot of work and effort to create this neighborhood. We’re willing to do the work, but we need to get paid a decent wage so that we, too, can take care of our families.”
So here we are, a house divided by some fundamentally different perspectives of who we are, of how we should be — a house divided between adherence to the patterns we created as we began, and the need to adopt different patterns as we mature, as our numbers grow.
Judy’s statement in Round Two that “Uncontrolled growth also threatens us indirectly by becoming the latest pretext for those who want us to institute an elite class of paid clergy” is offensive in its implication that those of us who disagree with her views are insincere and have ulterior motives. The rampant growth of our community is not a pretext for anything; it is, rather, the single most compelling reason for having full-time, professional Pagan clergy. While Judy obviously agrees that our growth rate is a problem, she does not suggest any reasonable, workable strategies to solve it.
Judy thinks that we should grow at a sustainable rate, that we “assimilate just so many newcomers at a time.” Just how does she propose we do this? Does she for one moment believe that the entire Pagan community would agree to such a thing, and then be willing and able to monitor itself to ensure the enforcement of this agreement? Does she think that we should stop publication of all Pagan journals and books, close down all the festivals, dismantle all the networks, cancel all the classes, and shut down all the stores for a few years while we all collectively agree on a quota for allowing new members into the community? It would take nothing short of this scenario to stem the flow of new Pagans and, needless to say, this scenario is not about to be enacted.
Judy thinks that we should assimilate newcomers by funneling them into small groups “where their learning will be monitored.” I am presuming, given her emphasis on preserving and raising our community standards, that she is talking about stable groups with a fair degree of experience, led by people of demonstrable skill in “monitoring.” I have no argument with this, except to ask, where are these groups and teachers going to come from? In my experience, the most solid, substantial groups in our community are already over-flowing with members, and the most experienced teachers, leaders, and organizers have their hands more than full.
I don’t think Judy is being very fair in her assertion that the problems which have arisen at large Pagan festivals are traceable to the greed of the organizers who, in trying to make a buck, engaged in “public advertising,” which made the festivals “unmanageably large.” I have organized twenty-six large Pagan festivals in the past fifteen years. I also know and have compared notes with many other festival organizers. I don’t know a single one who is motivated exclusively, or even primarily, by financial considerations. Yes, some of us make money from these festivals — it is about the only way that we can continue to put them on year after year, and, to my knowledge, none of us are getting rich at it. I don’t think that any of us would put financial considerations above the integrity of a festival.
For instance, in 1989, our Rites of Spring festival numbered almost 700 participants, almost a third of whom were very new to Paganism. We had several problems that year, due not so much to sheer size as to the fact that the core community of the festival could not assimilate such a high percentage of new people, many of whom clearly did not fit in with the energy of the gathering. For the past two years, we have limited Rites of Spring to 450 people in an effort to consolidate our core community. In so doing, we have managed to keep the number of new people to a reasonable size, and have been able to resolve most of the problems that existed.
In limiting the number of participants, however, we have lost between $40,000 and $50,000 in potential income over the past two years, a certain percentage of which would have been actual profit. When you consider that about a third of my family’s very modest income comes from the profits of this festival, you can readily understand that we have taken a substantial personal loss for the sake of the festival’s integrity. Many festival organizers deal with similar issues all the time. Judy should really consider running a large Pagan festival for several years before making assumptions about how they’re run or about the motives of their organizers.
If anything, the festivals have become so large because it is very difficult for the organizers to draw a firm line regarding attendance. The drawing of such a line automatically excludes people, and festival organizers, like probably most Pagans, don’t like to be exclusionary. As Judy rightfully asserts, we should be wary of a professional Pagan clergy degenerating into an elite caste. It strikes me, however, that some of the attitudes she espouses regarding newcomers can very easily lead to an elitism of the old-timers.
Judy addresses the meaning of professional vs. amateur, and the “connotation that the amateur athlete or musician or priestess is somehow not as dedicated, not as skilled, and just plain not as good.” I think it’s difficult to gauge dedication. If we look around, however, we will notice that, generally, professionals in any given field are measurably more skilled than amateurs, quite simply because professionals, by virtue of making their living full-time in their particular fields, are able to develop a level of skill through constant practice that amateurs, who are only able to work at it part-time, can’t usually match.
As Isaac has already noted, Judy succumbs to the same dualist “culturally formed habits of mind” that she warns us about. Judy assumes that amateurs serve only for love, or out of “a sense of calling and dedication,” while professionals “serve ulteriorly” (i.e., they’re only doing it for the money). I very much disagree. We all know, in our community, amateur clergy who serve “ulteriorly.” Not for money, perhaps, but for notoriety, for self-serving manipulation, for sexual gratification, or for the enhancement of their own fragile egos. We also have among our ranks a number of professional clergy who serve primarily because of a deep sense of love for the Old Ones, for our community, and for the work itself that they do. It is out of this sense of love and dedication, out of this real vocation to service, that they feel the need to commit themselves full-time to their clergy work. In the greedy, utilitarian, self-serving society that we live in, the concept of people wanting to serve primarily out of love or vocation is commonly met with a great deal of cynicism. This cynicism is an example of what Judy calls “our indoctrination in the culture of domination.” We are better off without it.
I have one more bone to pick with Judy. In Round One, while addressing the concept of a “religion of clergy,” I presented the example of two “priestesses” — one of whom had much longer standing and experience than the other — and suggested that it was highly misleading to refer to them equally and unqualifiedly as “clergy.” Judy replies by affirming that “Presently, we regard all initiates as equal” (well, perhaps she does) and invokes the exception rather than the rule. She suggests that the newer witch “may be full of enthusiastic dedication” while the older one “may be a burn-out case who now wants ‘compensation’ for what once was her delight,” and proposes that the older priestess find a place “not on the payroll, but in honorable retirement.”
Let me add my own maybes to Judy’s. Maybe the younger priestess is full of enthusiasm — not so much for the Craft but for her own aggrandized self-image in calling herself a witch despite her lack of any solid background. Maybe she’s going to burn out a lot sooner than the older one, because her lack of knowledge, skill and experience is going to overwhelm her when she gets in over her head while coasting along on the false sense of security and empowerment instilled by the fact that someone with very loose standards initiated her too quickly.
Maybe the older priestess has a lot more to give than she even has thus far. Maybe she’s not burnt out at all, but has reached a place where her thirty years of experience and proven commitment have matured into some powerful and innovative teachings. Maybe she would really like to share these with the community at large, except that she’s a single mother in her fifties with three high-school-aged kids and can barely make ends meet. Maybe, if she could get paid a decent salary to teach, she would be able to quit her full-time job and make her wealth of knowledge available to the community, while being able to take care of her family. Maybe, in such a scenario, she would have the time to write that book that’s been inside her all these years. Maybe the entire Pagan community would benefit a great deal.
Except that Judy would compel her into premature retirement. “That sounds like gross ageism,” mulls Judy, and she’s quite right. That’s exactly what it is. Ever wonder where the elders in the Pagan movement are? Look in the discard pile.
We’re a very young community. Most of our “elders” are people who are now in their 40s and 50s, who have been in the Craft some twenty to thirty years. Most of them started in their early 20s, and with a great deal of enthusiasm and vision, juggled their lives to lay the foundations of what we currently are, of what we are becoming. Many of these peopIe, however, found that when they reached their 30s and 40s, the juggling act became increasingly more difficult and risky: when many of the balls you have up in the air affect your immediate survival and that of your family, guess which balls you’re most likely to drop first? Quite a few of these people, then, made choices that took them away from important clergy roles in the Pagan community. It is our loss that they made those choices. Had they been able to devote themselves full-time to their Pagan activities, while making a decent and reasonably secure living at it, I think many of them would have remained active in the community.
Every society of people, as it grows in size, organically develops more complex ways of interacting within itself. Such greater complexity inevitably requires different and greater skills, at least from certain members of the society. The elders of the community are generally the ones in the best position to oversee its growth and development, because they are usually the ones with the most experience and skill. That way, the community grows in a sustainable way because it has sustainers; the garden grows healthy and well-tended because it has skilled gardeners. Paradoxically, as the Pagan community grows in size and as our need for experienced leaders increases, we tend to lose our elders to burnout and to life and career choices that take them away from service in the community.
Sam presents us with some of the most cogent reasons why we should have professional Pagan clergy: 1) to enable us to interact better and cooperate with other religions; 2) to gain a certain credibility that would give us access to the discussions on religious issues that mostly engage mainstream religions; 3) to enable us to endure and persevere as a religion; 4) to enable us to transcend the “Wicca 101 mentality” and “develop a stronger practical and theoretical basis for our work”; and 5) to develop a coherent and tangibie way for us to pass on what we have learned to future generations.
Incredibly, however, Sam doesn’t think that the Pagan community should support its own professional clergy. Rather, he suggests that those of us inclined to full-time religious service “infiltrate” other, more mainstream religions that already provide such clergy support. This strikes me as being extremely ill-conceived, not to mention dishonest. It makes no sense to me that some of the most experienced and skilled members of the Pagan community should have to go outside their religion to attain credibility and to be supported by a different spiritual community. I, for one, have no desire to “engage the mainstream religious community in their own conversation” by presenting the acceptable facade of a Unitarian minister who, parenthetically, also happens to be a Pagan and a witch.
We will not be taken seriously by the mainstream religions until we take ourselves seriously. And we are not taking ourselves seriously enough — we’re not giving ourselves enough credit — if we think that we have to use false pretenses to gain mainstream acceptance. Is Sam really saying that Pagans aren’t good enough — can never be good enough — to be accepted by the mainstream religions on our own terms?
In Round One, Oriethyia makes some persuasive arguments about why we should not care about being legitimized by the mainstream religions. Unfortunately, she overlooks the most important and overriding argument about why we should care, why that kind of credibility should be important to us. The mainstream religions, as Sam reminds us, have a virtual monopoly on the discussion of religious issues in our society. It is important that Pagans gain admission to those conversations for two main reasons:
First, the credibility thus gained could go a long way to eliminate some of the misconceptions and prejudices that have beleaguered us for so long. If a fundamentalist preacher tries to stir people up with warnings about “Witches and Satanists,” and an interfaith council of clergy goes to the media with a statement that they know us, that we’re members of their council, that they’ve been to our circles and we’ve been to their services, and that we are a bona fide religion, the weight of such an endorsement would nullify most fanatical allegations.
Second, and most important, we as Pagans need to begin to address social and environmental issues from our particular spiritual perspective. Potentially, our spiritual community could have a lot to say on any number of such topics, if given the chance. Pagan perspectives on the environmental crisis, minority religions, abortion rights, drug use and abuse, prejudice, the role of women as clergy, and issues relating to social justice and the attainment of world peace, for example, would add considerably to ecumenical religious discussions on these subjects.
Last year I was invited to be the Pagan representative at a United Nations interfaith conference to address the role of religion in eliminating prejudice. The panel also included a representative each from Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam, and one panelist representing atheism. The Christian representative said, in effect, that he didn’t know what constructive suggestions Christianitv could offer to such a discussion, since Christianity was responsible for a great deal of the prejudice existing in the world. He proposed, rather, that Christians listen to and learn from other religious communities, especially Nature-oriented peoples such as Native Americans and Pagans.
The clergy of other religions are, in many cases, quite willing to listen to what we have to say. The challenge that they offer us — and the question that we should be asking ourselves — is: what do we have to say? What do Pagans, as a Nature-centered spiritual community, have of value to offer to the rest of the world? What models, what perspectives, what answers can we provide to address the religious, moral and social issues that other religions constantly grapple with?
Ironically, while many mainstream clergy of my acquaintance are more than willing to take us seriously, they frequently perceive us as not taking ourselves seriously enough. They question our commitment to our own beliefs and ideals; they question our willingness to translate our beliefs into action; they question our stability; they question our permanence.
Undoubtedly, as Oriethyia suggests, many of these people raise such questions because they simply can’t understand us, because we don’t fit their frame of reference. However, to blithely dismiss their criticisms as being uninformed or narrow-minded is fair neither to them nor to us. Our willingness as a community to support full-time Pagan clergy is not simply a selling out to patriarchal, oppressive, Euro-centric mainstream religious values, as Oriethyia fears. It is, rather, an organic and natural path for us to take as our community grows in size and complexity and as our need for more skilled practitioners, teachers, leaders and organizers increases. Historically, a great many (perhaps most) cultures throughout the world have supported people in full-time religious service. The support of professional Pagan clergy by our community is not just a way for us to gain credibility with the mainstream religions, along with the benefits and responsibilities that such credibility entails. It is also — in a very tangible way — a concrete step toward the maturation of the Pagan movement.
Oriethyia, Judy and Sam warn us with great concern about the potential problems and abuses inherent in developing a professional Pagan clergy. We should listen to their warnings carefully, and we should strive to make sure that these abuses don’t take place. I am puzzled, however, by the implication in their arguments that because such abuses are a real possibility, they must, of necessity, happen. Are they suggesting that human nature is so incontrovertibly corrupt that any Pagans who find themselves in professional clergy positions have no choice but to act out their deepest, darkest lusts for power and greed? Are they implying that the Pagan community is so naive and weak-willed that it has no choice but to accept such abuses if they were to happen? If so, they are seriously underestimating us all.
Oriethyia: Sam wants Pagan clergy to have clout, to be able to hold their own in political and spiritual congress with the clergy of mainstream religions. I have already said that with enough time and money, I would also be in school studying, in part, comparative religion, mysticism and so forth. But Sam and I will continue to disagree on the necessity of such an education in order to effectively engage mainstream clergy on issues that are in contention. My reasons are detailed in the first round of this discussion, so I will not repeat them here. Anyone with the resources necessary to such an education should surely engage in both the study and the discussions; but I don’t think that either has anything inherently to do with Pagan clergy.
I’ve long believed that, beyond a certain point, it is useless to argue with folks who do not, or will not, understand what you are about. At that point, it is best to simply go off and continue to do what you do. If you (the Wiccan/Pagan community and its members) do it well enough, folks will start knocking on your door with a vested interest in listening: they want to know how to have the same fun, spiritual experiences, insight, calm in a crisis, or whatever, that you seem to have. That’s when you go on to the next stage of the “discussion.” That is, of course, already happening, as the other panelists have pointed out, among the liberal and progressive branches of mainstream traditions. And Judy is correct in her statement that, as to the highly fundamentalist traditions, there’s not a thing we can say or do that will make a difference.
Isaac surprised me on a few counts, seeing dualisms where there were none. Both Judy and I accentuated the negatives of academic education and the benefits of other types of learning. Neither of us was setting up a “formal education is bad / apprenticeship is good” dualism. We both assumed (and Judy will correct me if I am speaking incorrectly for her) that anyone involved in this discussion, as writer or as reader, knows full well the many benefits of academic training. There was absolutely no need to reiterate them. We both chose to articulate those aspects of “education,” academic and otherwise, that are too seldom considered.
Isaac again misunderstands the point when he suggests that my retelling the story of the Australian feminist Witches is a red herring. He asks, “Are we really to believe that the women would have all died if one or more of them had been an academically trained priestess?”
Excuse me? I cannot even imagine how one draws that assumption from the information I gave. My point was, and is, that their political/cthonic/feminist training was more than sufficient to get them through that life-threatening situation, and that the lack of academic or traditional coven training did not get them killed.
I maintain, regardless of Isaac’s disagreement, that the idea of formalized clergy training is, indeed, Eurocentric. Yes, “Native American, African, Polynesian and European Paleopagans all had clergy of different levels of training… and differing amounts of ‘pay’.” But that training was in the apprenticeship, not the academic, tradition. The “trainees” did not take themselves off to some place with other trainees for four or more years, separate from the people and the environment and the specific culture in which they were to do their work. Again, this is not to argue that none of us should seek academic training, only that it is not inherently necessary.
As to pay, the earlier shamans, medicine folk, and wise ones were paid for the services they rendered as they rendered them. Indeed, many African-American clergy in the Orisha traditions today make a full-time living (that took years to build) doing precisely such service to groups and individuals in their communities. I am not aware of one that gets a regular income from being clergy; rather, they are paid (in offerings or barter or fees) for the specific work that they do.
Isaac and Andras both err when they assume that Judy, Sam and I all work in small groups and so draw all of our experience from that universe. Most of the work that I have done has been in large groups — gatherings that range from 25 to 1,500 women, sometimes in women’s centers, sometimes taking up an entire hillside. And while I am most at home leading a ritual for about 300 wild women, there is absolutely no way to adequately teach anything in-depth to 300 people at a time for an extended period of time. You can do the occasional massive workshop, but any ongoing, meaningful teaching is going to happen in much smaller groups. Large workings or gatherings are great for experiencing the lessons learned in the small group, or for having experiences that will be discussed or shared in the smaller group. But the baseline for teaching is going to be in the one-to-one or one-to-several setting. This is not simply dogma or personal experience; it is also fact.
Isaac is absolutely right when he says that the core issue in this entire discussion is how to provide our diverse “community with the kind of religious support and experiences” they want and need, and Judy further clarifies it by giving us a definition of “professional” that has to do with skill, competence, dedication and service, and nothing, necessarily, to do with money.
Andras articulates beautifully the problems that come with the “boom” years of any movement: the instant experts, the dilution of wisdom and ethics and the core of the spirit and its practices. Certainly one-to-one apprenticeships can’t get us collectively very far very fast. But ongoing classes for several to several dozen people can provide for the newcomer and the continuing seeker. Now that takes an enormous amount of time and energy, particularly if you are already trying to maintain a job and a healthy partnership and, especially, are parenting. Little folks certainly need the benefits of a balanced economic environment, but they also need adults, parents, who are not so overtaxed and stressed that the child learns to stuff her own needs because the parent cannot meet them, or learns that overwork is what work looks like.
This is not a problem particular to Witches or Pagans. Serious, committed members — clergy, if you will — of the civil rights, women’s liberation, gay rights, Native American rights, and disabled rights movements have all faced, and still do face, the same dilemma. The more committed we are, the more we are aware of what needs to be done; the more we want to spend all our time doing the thousand things that need doing. That usually translates into trying to make a decent living at something to do with the cause or issue in question (and I use those words decidedly, gently and with great respect). If some of us can make a full-time living by teaching classes at various levels, taking on apprentices, doing readings, offering counseling, creating rituals and officiating at same, mazel tov! If there are enough folks in a given geographical area that want to pay a full-time clergyperson a salary on the assumption that said clergy will do all of the many services above, then so be it. The problems some of us have already articulated will surely crop up. It will be incumbent upon that clergy and his/her “congregation” to call one another on bad moves, and to struggle together as highly problematic economic questions arise.
Andras offers his work as an example of some of the issues we are dancing around. I appreciate that. As I look at the long list of services he performs (and knowing Andras, performs fully and well), I am struck by how such an overloaded schedule and bundle of responsibilities would necessarily keep the service provider from getting much rest or much money. Someone with a schedule like that, trying to make a living at being clergy, would need to refocus her/his energy and make some priority decisions. If this clergyperson wants to focus on teaching, she/he should do that primarily. By cutting out some of the other tasks, more time is made available to teach more classes, perform more direct services, and probably provide a better income. For example, Andras, what the hell are you doing making sure there are enough paper cups for the coffeehouse and enough money for FireHeart? Delegate, brother, delegate! If the argument is that “if you don’t do it, it won’t get done,” then shame on the other folks involved for not taking enough responsibility, on you for not delegating it, and on all of you for not getting enough other folks involved. If it really comes down to the fact that there are simply not enough people interested in doing the necessary work, then maybe the understaffed project has to fold. I do not say this flippantly. In this case, I would be heartbroken to hear that either FireHeart or the coffeehouse had ceased to exist. But I have seen, far too often, the resuIt of a small group trying to change their corner of the world by doing everything necessary… until most or all of them burn out completely.
“Clergy” who want to make a living at their Craft and can do so teaching, must teach. The one who is most suited to counseling should counsel. The tasks are not mutually exclusive, and there is certainly room for a mix. But it must be a mix that is sustainable by the Witch in question and that will not throw her/his life and family out of balance.
There are many of us who would like to see year-round sacred space available for seasonal celebrations, community gatherings, workshops and apprenticeship programs. And there are centers like that, some New Age, some Wiccan or Pagan. Running one is incredibly hard work, if you are being conscientious about it, and if a Witch wants to run such a center then she/he should do so.
There are ways to make your living full-time from the Craft work as an elder or teacher. None of them are easy. None of them are likely to be attained in just a few years.
As I look back on the original charge put before this panel, I see that it focuses not on paid clergy but on appropriate training for someone who acts as clergy. The members of this panel, all of whom can legitimately call themselves elders and clergy both, have varied backgrounds, training and experience. I trust that variety of experience, and I distrust any dogmatic decrees that we all need to get to elder status and to teach and lead by any one style or route. Let the academically inclined go back to school, and with our blessings. Let the wild women howl on the mountainside, reweaving the webs of creation by the wisdom of the stories of their sisters’lives. Let the coven leaders continue the vital work of creating and maintaining traditions. There is all this work to do. And more. We need the best in each of us, doing what we each most love and do best.
Isaac Bonewits: I’d like to start off this round by repeating the topics I mentioned near the end of my Round Two offering as being critical to any clear discussion of the issues:
Size of Congregation: How large does a group have to be before having professional clergy becomes an issue?
Breadth of Training: How many areas of knowledge and skill, magical and mundane, should a Neopagan clergy-person be expected to be familiar with?
Depth of Training: How much should she or he know about, or be able to do, in each of those areas?
Time: How many hours per week is it reasonable to expect someone to put into leading a Neopagan group?
Money: How much is appropriate for a Neopagan clergyperson to receive in the way of salary or reimbursement?
All of these topics can be viewed as continuous spectrums (from zero to high in value) and each interacts with the others in varying ways, some of which we’ve already discussed in the first two rounds. Before I continue, however, I’d like to suggest that we enlarge our discussion a bit to the topic of Neopagan leadership in general; our community needs a great deal more than just competent clergy. We need competent healers, counselors, diviners, jurists, scholars, and bards. These are all roles that can be distributed throughout a given congregation, as well as being ones for which advanced training and a heavy time load are common.
I was blown away by Andras’s courage in saying in print what so many Neopagans have been complaining about in private for years: our community, like many others, is filled with phonies and half-baked “experts.” For fifty years, we’ve suffered under a “gentlemen’s agreement” not to call each other on our claims. The very idea of verifying someone’s boasts has been considered intolerant, patriarchal, “old Aeon” thinking. Stroking each others’egos has helped to prevent us from gaining the knowledge and skills we need to accomplish the goals we so proudly proclaim.
It was the awareness that clergy in our community weren’t the only ones in need of broad, in-depth training and standards of competence that led ADF to add such non-clergy leadership specialties to our originally clergy-focused training prograrn — a step I fully expect other Neopagan groups to take in the future. In the meantime, including non-clergy community specialists and leaders in our discussion here may help us all to avoid the “clergy vs. laity” dualism that has dominated much of this discussion previously.
Now, on to a discussion of these topics…
Size of Congregation: There are direct connections between the size of a congregation and its need for competent leadership. Groups of three to fifteen people can get along, as a whole, with leaders of a wide range of competence. Priest/ essly, bardic, jurist/mediation, and scholarly/teaching skills become more important as the size of the congregation increases; once you have fifty or more members, these skills become vital. Counseling, divination, and healing skills, on the other hand, can be critical in even a very small group, if someone happens to need them applied to him/herself.
Of course, in any given situation, we have to ask how the “congregation” in question is defined. This isn’t a problem with a typical coven of three to seven members, since everyone knows who is and isn’t committed to the group. Once you start doing things like open circles for holidays, the matter gets more complex. ADF, for example, with its 300+ members, is my specific congregation, even though it contains within it several smaller congregations of three to thirty people each. But on both levels, international and local, we have numerous people who read our publications, attend our rituals and other events, ask for our help for counseling, mediation, weddings, child blessings, legal support, etc.), and yet who do not officially join. The EarthSpirit Community could be similarly defined as having 30 to 300 to 3,000 members, depending upon the level of commitment and participation considered, and the same pattern holds for the Church of All Worlds and probably several other groups as well. In addition, Starhawk, Z Budapest, Selena Fox, and others of us who are nationally known can, in one sense, consider the entire Neopagan community to be our “congregation,” since we are constantly providing services to people who belong to organizations other than our own (if any).
Leaving that aside for the moment, we must examine (rather than ignore) the growing numbers of people becoming Neopagans. Judy says that we “need to be careful to grow at a sustainable rate. We can only hope to assimilate just so many newcomers at a time.” Tooooo late! The hordes of barbarian riffraff aren’t just pounding at our gates — they’ve already entered our towns and are sauntering through our streets! Her advice on “the” way to assimilate newcomers is based on a fantasy that we have some control over them, that we can pick and choose among the hundreds of thousands (someday millions) of seekers, carefully train the ones we like, and expect the rest to either go away or else to wait patiently until we can get around to them. Is the growing wave of Earth consciousness and Goddess awareness really a “cancer” because we can’t fit all of the newcomers into our living rooms? I find that metaphor of hers far more offensive and elitist than any I have ever heard used about the topic.
Over the course of the next couple of decades, we will see an increasing number of local, regional, and national congregations ranging from 100 to 1,000 members. Some large “congregations” will be completely theoretical (such as those in the “Goddess movement,” who are often text-based without any communication with the responsible authors) but will still make their demands upon their founders. “Starhawkian” Wicca, for example, may well represent the largest tradition of Feminist Witchcraft in the country, since so many people have read Starhawk’s books and decided to start covens based on them. Although she has (last I heard) no organizational structure or network to tie all those people together, they are still collectively her congregation and she has her (time- and money-consuming) responsibilities to them.
Since we can’t and shouldn’t stop this growth, we must look at the more complex skills needed to run large groups. This is where professionalism comes in.
Breadth and Depth of Training: In many congregations, the people called “clergy” take on several roles simultaneously, including all the leadership specialties I’ve mentioned, in addition to the ones that most Neopagans think of — magical and religious services. The larger your congregation is, the more likely you are to have to take on multiple roles, including those unromantic ones listed by Andras in an issue of the EarthSpirit Community Newsletter: volunteer manager, record-keeper, secretary, bookkeeper, fund-raiser, event organizer, etc. Many of these dull roles come under the category of “human resources administration,” and are vitally necessary to the success of larger congregations (or nonprofit groups of any sort). Sure, it’s nice if you have competent volunteers available to take some of the load, but they’re rare. Neopagan leaders of large groups usually wind up doing most of the work themselves and, unfortunatefy, one doesn’t get the necessary training in a group of three to fifteen people.
I believe that Neopagan leaders, whether clergy or not, should have in-depth training in a variety of arts, sciences, and skills, only a few of which are usually thought of by the average Neopagan tradition. That’s why the ADF study program has many subject tracks, such as health, counseling, communication, natural and social sciences, bardism, movement awareness, philosophy, drama, and human resource administration, in addition to comparative religion, magic, mysticism, liturgy, and other more typical Neopagan training areas. We feel that Neopagan clergy should be able to do anything — as well or better — that clergy of any other religion can do.
I have to agree with most of what Sam says about the need for Neopagan clergy to challenge the mainstream religions on their own levels of intellectual intensity. This isn’t all that has to be done to make Neopagan world views more effective at changing our global culture, but it is a necessary (if small) part of the overall puzzle. Perhaps more importantly, we need to have access to the knowledge that previous generations of clergy, both Christian and non-Christian, have accumulated. Yet I know that many Neopagans believe Christianity to be so hopelessly corrupt that we pure-minded Neopagans aren’t even interested in what they might have to teach us about pastoral counseling techniques, church budgeting, middle- and large-sized group dynamics, or liturgical design.
Obviously, each and every Neopagan tradition will make its own decisions about what its clergy and other leaders should know. However, by 1) having published standards of competence; 2) by insisting on a “paper trail” of credible evidence of demonstrated knowledge and skill (regardless of source); and 3) by creating customs of formal challenges and contests, it’s possible for us to expose phonies and incompetents within our community quickly, without interfering with the autonomy of each tradition, and without limiting our clergy to those who can afford college.
Two types of people will object to this approach: members of traditions that place a heavy emphasis on secrecy (although why basic job descriptions should be secret is beyond me), and individuals who feel insecure about their ability to “measure up” to someone else’s standards. Secrecy-oriented groups can try to maintain quality control by relying on careful control of their lineage procedures, and are unlikely to have any congregations larger than a small group anyway, since their training methods and rituals focus on the small group experience. Insecure individuals, on the other hand, have no simple solution other than to denounce the very idea of standards of competence.
Sam points out that (many) Neopagans “operate from an inferiority complex, behaving as underdogs, as the oppressed and persecuted.” Most of us came from dysfunctional families (like many Americans). Many were badly victimized as children. Identifying ourselves with the victims of the Burning Times, ennobling ourselves (and them) as the “Hidden Children of the Goddess,” and learning magic to make ourselves secretly powerful is a seductive and intoxicating combination. It’s an easy step from feeling persecuted by the mainstream to feeling persecuted by other Neopagans who might, if only by example, imply that we ought to prove our competence. Once Neopaganism becomes mainstream, and it will, those of us who have been professional victims will either have to get better or else go play some other game where we can still be persecuted and oppressed (I’m working on getting better, myself).
Time: How many hours per week does it really take to serve a Neopagan congregation? The answer is directly related to the size of the congregation and to the number of roles that a given individual is required to fulfill. The average High Priest/ess with an average coven of three to seven people may put in five to ten hours per week. One that I know spends ten to fifteen hours per week running her coven of four and her study group of fifteen. Otter and Morning Glory Zell and Anodea Judith (CAW), Andras and Deirdre Arthen (ESC), Dawnie Niszsa and myself (ADF), and other leaders of large congregations routinely spend thirty, fifty, even seventy hours per week, wearing a dozen different hats in the process. Needless to say, this does make it difficult to simultaneously earn a living in the mundane world, which brings us to the next spectrum.
Money: How much is enough and how much is too much? Supporters of the idea of paying clergy in our community see the Unitarians; opponents see sleazy televangelists and the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps more importantly, opponents don’t see themselves as likely to be the ones who would get paid (since none of them run groups large enough to afford salaries or to need full-time clergy).
At one point, Oriethyia sums up the anti-money argument by saying (and I’m sure that Judy and Sam agree), “to charge the serious seeker for in-depth training is absolutely contrary to witches’ reality as I understand it.” This begs several questions: How do we define a “serious seeker” — someone who wants to worship with others of a like mind or someone who wants to be a leader in a congregation? What constitutes “in-depth” training in any given tradition — and what percentage of a congregation are going to want or need it? Is there a single “witches’ reality” that we all have to accept, and will those who disagree about the money question be cast into the outer darkness of not being “real” Witches?
Perhaps the most important unanswered question that her statement brings up is this: Why should the anti-money views held by some Wiccans be binding on the entire Neopagan community — many of whom don’t consider themselves Witches? After all, the Gardnerian prohibitions against receiving money for Craft training or services date only from 1959 and completely contradict what we know of historical witchcraft prior to that time. These prohibitions, originally invented to protect Gardner’s followers from British bunko squads, blended with the anti-money attitudes of the hippie counterculture in the sixties and seventies, then fit even more conveniently with the yuppie greed of the eighties. Though never intended to do so, they wound up feeding the laziness and selfishness of those in the Neopagan community who were perfectly willing to take from their clergy but never to give anything in return. Yes, I know all about barter, and that many Neopagans have tried to help their clergy through non-financial means. Yet the vast majority have been perfectly willing to let their clergy survive at a much lower standard of living than they do themselves. And besides, the supermarket and the landlord aren’t interested in barter — they want cash.
Is our community poor? Not that I can see. Most of the Neopagans I’ve met over the years have had jobs as good as or better than those of the folks who support every other religion. It’s just that American Neopagans would rather spend their discretionary income on VCRs, color TV’s, stereo systems, tickets to rock concerts, science fiction novels, comic books, fandom conventions, medieval weapons, fancy robes, ceremonial jewelry, crystals, Goddess statues, cookies, ice cream, beer, and pizza — personal pleasures that I highly approve of, provided that they are not someone’s entire life.
If every Neopagan in North America were to give up one trip every month to the pizza parlor, or the movies, or the comic book store, and instead give that money to their favorite Neopagan organization, we could fund dozens of public Neopagan temples and staff them with full-time clergy. Let’s be real — we’re not talking about “exploiting the ignorant masses” here — we’re discussing an exceptionally intelligent and well-educated community spending a tiny fraction of our incomes to back up what we say we believe in. If scores of counterculture businesses and thousands of individuals can give up “one percent for peace,” why can’t Neopagans give up “one percent for Paganism”?
A thousand politically correct Neopagan groups splattering pink light positive magic spells in all directions to “heal the Earth” won’t do as much good for this planet or our people as a Neopagan cable TV program in Milwaukee, a Neopagan children’s school in Toronto, a Neopagan community center in Los Angeles, a Neopagan burial society and cemetery in Kansas, a Neopagan sanctuary for battered women in Calgary, or a public Neopagan temple in Washington, D.C. All of these projects will cost money to create, staff, and maintain. Should that money come out of the pockets of a handful of visionaries and organizers, or should the entire community share the burden as well as the benefits?
Granted, as I’ve said elsewhere, folks who want to accomplish projects should have their acts together before they start major fund-raising efforts. Getting incorporated, writing bylaws, setting up proper financial books, and being clear about member rights and about what donors will get for their money are all relatively easy steps — a matter of several weeks and a few hundred dollars. If a group is open and its leaders are honest and accessible, then the members will be able to easily judge whether one or more of the staff deserve salaries, based on their skills, knowledge, financial needs, and the number of hours they are working for the group. If the staff members disagree, they can simply stop providing the services that their members choose not to support.
Mind you, I’m not talking about “selling initiations” here. Charging money to administer a college-level training program is one thing; demanding cash to perform a religious ceremony to ordain a graduate of that program is something else. But let’s say that a congregation is willing to pay their priest/ess to work a twenty-hour week. She or he might feel perfectly justified in asking the members to prioritize the group’s activities and to drop those that would require extra hours.
The amount of salary to be paid a given individual is a whole different kettle of fish. Should full-time Neopagan priest/esses or other critical staff members be paid minimum wage? Should they be paid a salary equal to the average income of their congregation members? Should their salary be based on the regional cost of living? Should it be less if they have a spouse who has an outside income or more if the spouse helps with their congregational duties? Will living quarters, transportation, utilities, medical insurance, etc., also be provided? Should people who work thirty hours per week get a partial salary? All these questions are wrestled with by every religion that pays its clergy and other organizational staff, and every congregation comes up with different answers.
The patriarchal dualism of saying that either we must let the leaders of large public Neopagan congregations starve, juggle two careers, or live on welfare, or else we have to start buying them solid gold Rolls Royces, is garbage. Isn’t it about time we started creating Neopagan policies and customs based on what works, instead of on what is traditional, politically correct, easy, comforting, or cheap? Or are we Neopagans just engaging in a more complex fantasy role-playing game than those who prefer D&D or the SCA?
Judy Harrow: The first two rounds of this forum were very stimulating. I have a great deal to say. For space reasons, I think I’d best confine myself to two topics: money and skill. Oriethyia and Sam, please don’t feel neglected. This discussion will continue for a long time and in many places.
Money: Are you as bored as I am with the constant whining about how impossible it is to work a day job and still make a meaningful contribution to the Pagan renascence? Yes, an eighty hour a week Yuppie fast-track job would preclude having any kind of life beyond the job. Sometimes we do have to make some choices. So what? I’ve known plenty of people who work ordinary jobs, earn adequate paychecks, and still serve the Old Ways with grace and honor. Is it immodest to speak of myself?
I agree with Isaac that all of us are entitled to “a steady income, medical insurance, and a savings account.” I have all three. I work a typical middle-class “grunt” job. It keeps me in food, clothing, shelter and books. Had I chosen to have children of the body, I certainly would have been able to support them decently.
The thirty or so hours a week that other panelists seem to feel they spend on religious activity sounds like a fair estimate to me, but what’s the big deal? It wouldn’t be any different if I were coming home from work every night to write my first novel or to practice with a band. It wouldn’t be any different if I were going out every night to work on election campaigns, the local school board, or other community organization. And it wasn’t any different when I was working full time and going to graduate school at night.
Wiccans have no monopoly on crowded schedules. All around me, I see most of the really involved and really interesting people maintaining similar lifestyles. Where does that time come from? That’s the thirty or so hours each week that the average American spends spaced out in front of the tube. This is not what I’d call a sacrifice. Actually, I’m grateful to the Old Ones for offering me an escape from stagnation, a much more rewarding way to use my leisure.
Yes, like the other panelists, I’m also far more excited about my religious work than I am about my day job. Sure, I’d love to be a full-time priestess. Wouldn’t most of us? But we can’t possibly all be released from our mundane jobs, or who would contribute to the honoraria? By what standard is any of us any more entitled to that privilege than anyone else? Are we supposed to compete for the few full-time priest/ess openings? Such competitions are usually won by slick packaging rather than by real merit. Meanwhile, seeing each other as “the competition” is hardly going to foster a warm and trusting community atmosphere.
Maybe we should just all take turns, My grunt job provides me with one more good thing that Isaac did not mention — a pension plan. I’m two-thirds of the way to retirement. Then I can be a full-time paid Pagan priestess and writer in all good conscience, because I paid my dues and earned that freedom for myself.
That’s actually our own old way. In tribal times, the elders carried the culture, taught the stories and songs to the little ones while the strong young adults labored in the fields and at the looms. Isaac asks how the specialist priest/ess is going to find the time and energy to handle the dozen or more consultative phone calls each week. The answer is implied by Doreen Valiente’s interview, also in FireHeart #6. She seems mindblown by the notion of Pagan old-folk homes. But only think: as we normalize along the age range and establish congregate housing facilities for our elders, we will have incomparable resource centers without doing violence to our uniqueness. It isn’t even that far off.
Skill: Andras lists nine different functions that he fills as a Pagan leader. Whew! Clearly expecting all of that from a part-timer would be ridiculous. If we subject our clergy to unexamined expectations of that scope, we are setting up situation in which part-time, unpaid clergy cannot be feasible. For that reason, I believe we need to decide first whether we want full-time, salaried clergy and all that would come with it. Otherwise, we might turn our wish list into a job description for our priest/esses that commits us to changes we would never have consciously chosen,
There’s another problem: I believe that Andras does all those different things well. But even if I were full-time, I sure couldn’t. I have some of those talents and temperaments, but not all of them. Very few people do. As a trained Occupational Analyst (sometimes the skills learned on our day jobs are also applicable), I know that each person has a unique endowment of talents and interests and naturally does better at some specialized functions than others.
We are not all the same. We differ in specific capabilities and also in energy level and dedication. We neither need nor want to be homogenized. And so the much-discussed “priesthood of all believers” is not an appropriate concept for us; instead, we need to think about a polymorphic priesthood for a polytheistic faith, in which each of us does a few things excellently and our complementary work builds a community and a culture in which all can share with pride.
Isaac handed us a very Important key when he suggested that we look at breadth and depth of skills as separate dimensions. I think we have every right to demand of each other that we develop our skills and specialties as deeply as we possibly can. On the other hand, the expectation of great breadth foolishly ignores the reality of differential human endowment and would be impossible even if we had a fulltime, paid clergy, with all the toxic side effects.
So what, really, do we need, and in what distribution? Here are some questions that may be helpful: 1) What skills is it necessary for every single coven member to have (e.g., meditation, familiarity with Wiccan symbolic vocabulary)? 2) What skills Is it necessary for a coven leader to have (e.g., administrative ability, conflict resolution skills)? 3) What skills is it necessary to have somewhere in the coven but okay If the “specialist” is not the same person as the coven leader (e.g., song or chant leadership)? 4) What are the skills that would enrich the coven experience if they were available, but that a perfectly satisfactory coven could exist without (e.g., tool-making, knowledge of Welsh language)? 5) What are those “class 4” (nice, but not necessary) skills that are, nevertheless, so much a part of your particular coven’s identity or style that, in your particular case, they are really “class 1” skills?
I’ve given my own entirely subjective examples for each category. Yours may differ, and that’s perfectly fine. But before picking on the specifics, please stop and think for a moment how these general categories may be useful.
With those questions answered, we’d have a basis for answering several other kinds of questions. After you have listed and defined the competencies you feel are needed, try these questions: What does a person need to know or understand in order to be able to do this? What kinds of experiences, in what order, will help them gain competence and confidence in doing this? How do we evaluate when they are doing this adequately? From the answers to those questions, we can construct a need-based, skill-based training program.
We might even have here a rational basis for decisions about initiations and elevations (first degree equals competence at level one skills, third degree equals competence at level two skills) and about when it is a good idea to hive (a core group exists that, among the participants, has competence at level three skills). The clergy-team model would also serve as a burnout preventative. Sharing skills within and among covens helps to build and maintain community,
There are enough minds, hearts, and hands to do the Lady’s work, if we open a space for all to contribute. Yes, we’ll need some creativity and some trust. But we are Witches, so why should that come so hard? Kindred, I promise you, we don’t have to settle for business as usual.
Pagan Clergy Panel
Oriethyia: I keep coming back to the same thoughts: we are writing about a number of important topics, each worthy of its own panel discussion.
Large Gatherings: Anyone with the skills and willingness to organize such gatherings has my blessing and appreciation. No gathering is perfect, and lots of problems with group endeavors get handled better over time as long as we stay as vigilant in the non-ritual aspects (drunken yahooism, child care and child inclusion, economic accessibility, sexual harassment, etc.) as we do to the overtly ritual areas. Should the people who put such a gathering together get paid for doing so? I have no inherent problem with that. The problems with many gatherings (I am most familiar with women’s gatherings: music festivals and the like) is the slippery line between organizers and “also workers.” Who determines who gets paid for what level of work/risk/time/expertise? No easy answers that I’ve seen.
Formal “Religious” Education à la Divinity Schools: If you’ve got the time and the money and the desire, there’s no reason not to go. Enjoy. Learn all you can and bring your hard-earned wealth back home. Just don’t assume that the degree earned in a mainstream (even an oh-so-liberal) university makes you a better counselor, ritualist, logician or spokesperson than some of those who have not gone. You will have learned a great deal that will be of use to you and your community; but if you, or others with whom you come into contact, let the formalized education belittle the experiential, ecstatic, years-long in the trenches/on the mountaintops learning, then you will have bought into the linearist lies again. We need all of our skills, all of our various ways of learning and knowing. We need to make this a garden salad community: the tomatoes and the cukes and the chives each retaining their own flavor as we “jam” together whenever we can.
Pay for Teaching: No reason not to. Just let’s all remember that there are lots of folks out there with no VCRs, no condos, no BMWs, no second car, no first car, no color TV and plenty of desire to learn. Please let us not reinvent capitalism in our spiritual work. I want those of us ready to teach to be able to do so without worrying about lack of health care, savings, etc. If you have enough folks who can pay, mazel tov. But let us not begin to institutionalize payment regimens based more on teachers’needs than on the community’s needs. This one’s going to take some time. Let us honor all integrity-filled experiments in this revolution. And let’s keep each other posted as the years go on.
Standards: If folks from all of our various factions can come together and establish a code of conduct, standards of competence, etc., I would have no argument. I can only imagine the debates; and we would need to be vigilant to ensure that none of us were being bound to a cultural bias to which we do not ascribe. But it would be a debate worth undertaking, and resolving.
I can, however, imagine folks who would have excellent reasons for not climbing aboard this bandwagon. Just as there are people with nothing to hide who refuse to take polygraphs on principle, there may be some who will not align themselves with any standards outside their own. We cannot assume them all to be either fearful or ingenuine. If there are folks who don’t want in on the standards, we must be careful not to shut them out of other areas of possible collaboration.
Institutions: Old Witches’ homes, cable stations, publishing houses, health care facilities, etc. I’d love to see them all. I have been in on several of the lesbian community and radical feminist community attempts at several analogous creations. All met with success in that we learned a great deal about each of our expectations; about the nigh-overwhelming effects of American capitalism and commercialism on such endeavors; about the degree to which the forces of the
status quo will go to hold the line against any such endeavors. It will be hard work. I have friends whose parents were part of early labor movement attempts: specifically, health care and retirement homes and credit unions. Most of these endeavors did not survive. Some never got off the ground. I do not repeat this out of skepticism. Times have changed. Perspectives change. There may be easier ways to do some of this work now. We may bring components to the projects that our predecessors could not. I only know that it will be long, hard work. I applaud anyone with vision about how to begin and continue such work. Put me on the fund-raising mailing lists.
Massive Influx of New Witches/Pagans: Do everything we are doing, only more of it. If you know someone who is skilled and has lots of integrity and is not teaching, cajole them into doing so. Share class outlines, annotated reading lists, etc. Make use of all those computers out there (it appears a fair number of us have them) and write and self-publish and sell, give away or gift new folks with same. Have you seen some of the New Age and Witch crap out there? We need to get over our glossy, hardcover, mainstream bias (hey, if you can get a glossy mainstream publisher interested, go for it!) and use every means possible to reach the folks that are trying to reach us. In the words of the great Greek Goddess Nike: “Just Do It.”
I want to see us bring all of our various talents to these experiments. I want to see us try things that I’ve never even thought of; things that I’ve thought a great deal about; things that we’ve been working on all along. What I don’t want is for us to assume that because we are (mostly) pure of heart and strong of vision that we can escape the mainstream garbage in our pockets without lots of hard work, strong dreaming and wonderful argument. It will take all this and more. May we always be up to the joyous task. May we fare well.
Isaac Bonewits: Andras’s parable of the Clergs and the Cozies was superb, except that he forgot to mention the folks who were trying to board up the windows and install turn-styles in the doors, and the others who think that the solution is to blow up the house completely and go back to living on the land.
I agree with Andras 110%. The community is growing geometrically (perhaps logarithmically) and our old arithmetic just doesn’t work fast enough anymore.
Sam’s comments in Round Three are provocatively sound (and soundly provocative). I agree with most of what he had to say especially his pointing to the Hindus and Afro-American Mesopagans as possible examples of how polytheistic religious communities can function in modern America. Let’s not let the sexism and cultural conservatism of these faiths blind us to the valuable lessons to be learned. After all, that’s why we’re Neopagan.
I’ve never seen such a display of furious backpedaling in my life as the one put on by Oriethyia and Judy (and to a lesser extent Sam) in Round Three. Either Andras and I (and every person I’ve discussed the published texts of the first two rounds with) completely misinterpreted Judy’s, Oriethyia’s and Sam’s ideas, or else they’ve switched directions 180 degrees. However, before I respond to their Round Three comments, I’d like to first add a few clarifications about my own previous statements.
Yes, Oriethyia, I’m intimately familiar with the principles of consensus and “leaderless” decision making (after all, I lived in Berkeley for fifteen years). I’ve seen how feminist and anarchist groups can empower their participants and help them to develop new leadership skills. But I have also seen how such groups can raise mediocrity to ever higher levels of self-congratulation.
Consensus groups, magical or mundane, always create group leaders, whether those people get labeled as such or not. Such groups frequently end by burning out their covert leaders, since lots of responsibility, plus no power to exercise that responsibility, usually adds up to burnout.
Perhaps it’s true that everybody has something they are good at doing (the idea certainly sounds nice), but that doesn’t mean a) that it’s something the group needs, b) that they’ll be good at teaching it, c) that they’ll be good at leading others in doing it, or d) that they’ll show up to lead or teach when (and wherever) the group needs them.
An ideological obsession with the superficial aspects of egalitarianism causes most consensus groups to function at the lowest common denominator of the participants. This isn’t a problem if your group’s main purpose is to make the members feel good about themselves. Building self-esteem is a legitimate group goal and, for some groups, can be much more important than the quality, quantity, or speed of any magical or mundane results they may also be after. If a group is primarily theurgic — concerned with individual spiritual, artistic, and/or psychological growth — no great disasters are likely to occur if people learn by doing (making plenty of mistakes as they go) for a few years.
But if you’re a thaumaturgical group that’s actually trying to produce observable physical results (like repairing a hole in the ozone layer), focusing primarily on process is self-indulgent and irresponsible. And I have to assume that that’s what the Australian group Oriethyia mentioned is being, since the now multiple holes in the ozone layer are getting larger, not smaller. “Radical feminist witchery” and “sacred indigenous femaleness” are wonderful, but as l have said many times before, sincerity is not a substitute for competence.
In many ways, the arguments about professional vs. amateur, or full-time vs. part-time, clergy come down — as so many arguments do — to being about means vs. ends. Neopagans don’t want our group processes to betray our groups’goals. Yet neither should we want our groups to be so consumed with process that we never get around to accomplishing any of our proclaimed goals. One famous Neopagan consensus group in California used to brag (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that process was their “most important product.” Other groups who attempted to accomplish projects with them concluded that process was their only product.
I have seen a consensus coven actually risk the life of one of its members by doing grossly incompetent healing magic rather than deviate from their egalitarian beliefs. The ritual, to use Oriethyia’s phrase, fell on its face, and the results were not harmless — if the woman had been magically dependent upon her coven alone, she would have died. For her, there would have been no “next time” for her sisters to get their collective act together.
Is this what we want? Should we all agree to pretend that we have sufficient “expertise and skill” to do what must be done when people’s lives — and the survival of the Earth Herself — are on the line, and hope that our pretense will eventually generate the desired reality? Is it so important not to hurt our own or each other’s egos that we’ll throw away our planet for the sake of doctrinal purity?
As for Oriethyia’s Round Three comments, I also find those confusing. Why does she believe that all Paleopagan clergy training was done by apprenticeship? The ancient Druids were known to teach classes and run “seminaries” at which students would study for many years, often leaving their home tribes to travel great distances. The Paleopagan Brahmans, the clergy of ancient Egypt and Babylon — in fact, all the clergy who dealt with large populations — were trained en masse to serve their tribes.
Running large rituals at gatherings is not the same thing as having a large congregation you serve on a regular basis. A festival or a weekend workshop is not a congregation. And we all know perfectly well that the majority of large festival rites are awful. Why? Because (among other reasons) a priestess who usually runs small group rituals, no matter how well, simply doesn’t learn the dramatically different skills necessary to make large scale ceremonies effective.
Oriethyia’s certainly right about how dedicated people in any cause want to work full-time. I’m glad that she’s decided to give Andras and Deirdre her blessing (as regionally-based clergy) and will allow them to receive a salary without throwing them out of the community. Those of us who run national or international organizations are still beyond the pale, however, and will have to struggle on without her approval. Be that as it may, I’m pleased that Oriethyia seems to have finally gotten the point that as polytheists we’re allowed to have more than one way to accomplish any given goal, even if she’s only willing to allow us heretics two or three variations.
Judy’s’arguments are, as usual, specious. She lives in a “DINK” (Double Income, No Kids) situation, with plenty of money and time for toys and hobbies. The activities she mentions as spare time commitments (writing a first novel, working on a political campaign, etc.) are mostly youthful or short-term activities rather than a mature commitment to a permanent situation or career. If Judy had ever had children, she would have quickly discovered that doing a decent job of parenting requires an enormous investment of time and energy, and can easily pre-empt all other activities beyond earning a living (at least in the kids’early years). So if being a priest/ess is your hobby, instead of your job, it’s going to start getting short shrift once you have a kid or two, unless you have a lucratively employed partner willing to support you as a full-time housewife/husband and parent, and who does not him/herself have a vocation to be a full-time clergyperson. Judy’s solution, of course, seems to be for all of us Pagan clergy to simply choose not to have children.
Judy asks, and it is a genuinely vital question, “By what standard is any of us any more entitled to that privilege [of being a full-time priest/ess] than anyone else?” How about competence, Judy? How about thorough knowledge and demonstrable skills sufficient to actually fulfill a publicly known job description? Brain surgeons, concert pianists, crane operators, firefighters, and suicide hotline managers don’t get their jobs through “slick packaging.” They have to be formally trained to perform specific, defined services for the general public, under the observation of knowledgeable peers who have established standards of competency.
Her comment about “turning our wish list into a job description” once again puts the cart before the horse. We already have many people fulfilling the simultaneous roles that Andras listed, and they are doing so because their local communities and/or national constituencies need them to (and because of the chronic Neopagan shortage of competent, willing and dependable volunteers). Saying that we should decide if we want full-time clergy (and that ominous “all that would come with it”) first and then come up with job descriptions to match our group preferences is, like most of her suggested solutions, too little, too late, and too dishonest. We already know her preferences and she simply assumes that everyone will agree with her.
The “expectation of great breadth” that Judy claims to be so worried about is yet another straw man. Breadth requirements are handled easily by most students at liberal arts colleges and universities, as well as at most mainstream seminaries, and are far from impossible to fulfill.
Her approach to categorizing skills needed by various members of a religious community, however, is a good one, and the idea of “team clergy” (grove liturgist, bard, counselor, mediator, ecologist, etc.) has already been built into ADF’s training system (and presumably those of other groups). What Judy doesn’t seem to realize is that the same questions she asks about the needs of a typical coven of seven or eight people can also be asked about the needs of a congregation of hundreds. The answers will be different in each group, because the group and individual expectations from their religious experiences will be different. That’s okay, it’s allowed.
Judy seems perfectly happy practicing her Craft as a hobby, and Oriethyia is content to howl at the moon and call that being a “priestess.” I’m really sorry now that Starhawk or Deirdre Pulgram Arthen didn’t participate in this panel discussion, since they both have been speaking out recently on the need to support our full-time clergy. The men on this panel seem to agree about the positive value of full-time, paid, professionally trained clergy (though Sam expects, perhaps correctly, that most Neopagan congregations will be too cheap to support him as such). Nonetheless, this is not a feminist/masculinist debate, though dedicated ideologues may dismiss it as such.
Let’s drop the theoretical and get personal: I’m currently suffering from a painful and debilitating disease (Eosinophilic Myalgia Syndrome or “EMS”). As a result, I’ve got six or seven hours per day of real energy with which to accomplish anything creative. So how am I spending those hours? Am I frantically finishing my book on liturgy? Am I getting everything done that I need to get done — research, writing, teaching, etc. — to fulfill my Neopagan vocation? Nope. I’m working eight- to fourteen-hour days typesetting for a large bank in New York City, doing absolutely meaningless work, coming home exhausted from the disease and the hours, with my hands in too much pain to type or write more than a few paragraphs at a time (it’s taken me months just to write this last round). Why am I wasting increasingly precious time like this? Because my family needs the money to survive, and mundane employment is the only option available.
I’m not telling the readers all of this to ask for sympathy (though your prayers will be appreciated), but to point out some unpleasant facts. I’ve spent my entire life, as other Neopagan leaders have, struggling for mundane survival with part-time, freelance employment, in order to follow my vocation as a Pagan priest, writer, and teacher. Why? Because the community was so paranoid, cheap, and egotistical about supporting Pagan clergy. Since I have no insurance, savings or pension (those require long-term, full-time jobs), I can’t afford even the most basic medical or dental care for myself or my family, and I certainly can’t look forward to ever retiring. The final result is going to be that by the time I die, I will not have accomplished more than a fraction of what I could have done, had I been supported at even a minimum wage level by the community I have served.
As I said, I’m not alone in this situation. Several other Neopagan leaders and authors (some of them rather famous) are suffering from burnout, stress, and diseases they can’t afford to treat, dressing their children in rags and constantly worrying about being evicted, because their communities refuse to give them the financial support they need and deserve. As Neopagan attitudes are now, all of us “respected Neopagan leaders” can expect to live our final years in pain and poverty, while the rest of the Neopagan community continues on its merry way. Otter and Morning Glory and Diane, Andras and Deirdre, Starhawk, Selena Fox, Z Budapest, and all the other Neopagans who are running large congregations need help now, while they are still in good enough physical and psychological shape to do effective work for the community and for Our Mother.
I believe that the future of Neopaganism can, should and will include an increasing number of large congregations. I believe that we can have knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate clergy, seers, brehons [Celtic lawgivers and judges] and bards to assist in awakening the Goddesses and Gods and in saving the Earth. I believe that the kind of study program we’ve instituted in ADF, based on academic study, alternative study, and credit for life experiences, with published standards of competence and a tradition of formal challenges, is the wave of Neopaganism’s future. I even believe that a hundred years from now there will be Druid chaplains on board starships, leaving from a planet of peace and plenty.
None of this, however, will be possible until we Neopagans get over our psychological, social and spiritual taboos about money, power, and prestige, and begin to reward our dedicated professionals instead of punishing them with poverty, stress, and insults. Neopaganism has been around for fifty years. If we want it (and the planet) to be around for another fifty, it’s time to start manifesting our beliefs on the earth plane, and to stop expecting our priests and priestesses to live on fairy dust.
Sam Webster: Time is both the great difficulty and the great advantage for this conversation. Having months to feel my way through these issues, hearing responses, developing thesis, antithesis and the(a)sis both gets me in trouble and deepens those feelings.
Your criticism, Andras, is well taken in reference to notions of “infiltrating more mainstream traditions” to be able to be a paid cleric. It is rooted in my cynicism about Pagans’ willingness to pay their clergy. Further, in feeling the need for a depth of education unavailable in the Pagan community (to the best of my knowledge and in comparison to a university setting), I sought and found in Unitarian Universalism (UU) a context for that education that included the hope of being paid for it after investing the $40,000 it would take to accomplish it. Or so I thought. For a while I found folk with Pagan leanings among the UUs, folk with similar spiritual and ethical values to our own. Yet, I have also felt a profound cultural alienation among them. I guess we are just a little too messy for them. My hope of finding employment leading a Pagan congregation affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, which operates with the institutional — that is, economic — integrity of a church, is virtually nil.
My greatest desire is to bring the knowledge and experience I have harvested in the university back to the Pagan community. How can I live doing this, facing payback on the loans I have? I may well take refuge in academia. However, my purpose in bringing this personal matter into this discussion is that it may serve as a realistic assessment of the seminary-style path to a Pagan education. Incidentally, Andras, I feel it unfair to call me dishonest in this seminary endeavor. The Unitarian Universalists know that I am a Pagan, and I have no interest in hiding behind some facade of being a UU minister. I have what you so plainly called a vocation, and being pragmatic, having no adequate resources within my spiritual community, I must seek outside it for education and potential employment. Indeed, the Hermetic tradition out of which I speak is noted for allying with forces greater than itself to accomplish its ends. The UUs are organized. We are not.
But what, then, are we trying to accomplish here? I, for one, am trying to determine the will of the Pagan community in reference to this notion of Pagan clergy. This is always the starting point for me. What are we trying to accomplish?
Andras torched my straw horse (not creative enough, humph! It elicited a useful reply.) He was responding to my economic analysis of a coven of ten providing a $30,000 per year income for its teacher, yielding a $3,000 per capita input. I think his approach/response provides an important grounding to the problem. In essence, he expands the population into a thirty to one student-teacher relationship at a rate of $6.75 an hour. Not bad if it can be made to work. This asks: Is the Pagan community willing to support this and/or is there a way of motivating the community to do so?
Oriethyia has her finger right upon the polymorphic character of Paganism and the problem before us. Her response — let each do as they feel they ought — I resonate deeply with. Let some work covens, some create centers, others other kinds of communities. Let some teach, some study, some counsel and so forth. Plurality, after all, is our strength.
But while Oriethyia’s call for Andras to delegate is admirable, the reality is that the list of tasks Andras performs is normal for any Protestant minister: it simply comes with the territory. How is he or anyone to survive if he/she is not paid?
I suspect that the salaried clergy paradigm may not fly with Pagans, but the pay for service method Oriethyia mentions may be another way around the issue. In either case, the custom of payment would need to be established. But what are the services to be rendered? After some training and study, it seems to me that very few would need any of the lesser blessing rites for which many are paid in other traditions (e.g.. house, car, fields, child blessings, etc.). Essentially, we can all do these things (if we can invoke).
This leaves, then, principally training (yes, Isaac, I do think trainers ought to get paid), large and perhaps small group workings and worship, and festivals, all of which have their invisible and indispensable administrative sides. To do this with real beauty takes time. I have a firm feeling for the value of skilled labor. My point is not should Pagans pay for the benefit of skilled leadership (clerical or non-clerical), but whether Pagans will pay for it. How can we inculcate this notion into our culture, so proud as it is of its poverty? Isaac rightly raises the point of the origins of this ethic, and the reality of Pagans’livelihoods. Do Pagans not believe that workers are worthy of their hire?
I feel for Andras in the loss of income suffered by limiting the size of Rites of Spring. Clearly, festivals are real money-makers, and obviously they behave as do any other seasonal economy: cash now, starve later. I, for one, don’t see anything wrong with festivals of I,000 or greater still. The issue for me is whether the experience would be a quality Pagan one. I have been to Pentecostal gatherings of 40,000 people that felt profoundly intimate. Although these numbers may be beyond our will here, how can we handle the reality of those numbers that wish to come?
Perhaps the problem is technological, requiring innovative ritual and program design that can accommodate such numbers. The Greeks, Egyptians, Hindus, and Buddhists have dealt with this successfully. Perhaps we can learn from them, I suspect that this will need to include paid staff at these events to help the core planners in the execution. Given the right structure (no easy task), what are our real limits? What is our desire?
And what if we do not respond to the challenge? I am not as confident as Isaac that Paganism will succeed even if we do not change to handle these numbers. Ecological Spirituality will grow, but by no means is Paganism the only way it must develop. The Buddhists (Joanna Macy) and the Deep Ecologists (Arne Naess, John Seed) are doing work that by no means leads one to Paganism. They are well organized and unburdened with our cultural heritage (witches, warlocks, sorcerers and magick stuff), much of which, in their ignorance, folk find repellent.
Yet people are coming to us. Yes. Andras, the house is overstuffed. Since the 1850s, to which I have traced this current wave of magical religions, there have been many boom and bust cycles. Think of the New Thought movement and the Golden Dawn of the 1890s, the Spiritualists in the 1910s to ’20s. By my reckoning, and this is something a historically minded sort needs to check, there have been cycles of approximately twenty years of growth and development followed by about ten years of collapse and decay. The feeling I have is that we are near the peak of one of those twenty year cycles. What I have noticed is that there is a great burst of writing and concomitant interest. However, the need that this burst of interest has for quality instruction and nurturing outstrips the providers of same because they are not ready to handle it. With this comes collapse.
I think we all know that the same ritual techniques that work for ten people will not work for 100, nor will those for 200 work for 700. Why should we expect the organizational structures that work for ten to work for 100 or 700? What, then, will they be?
My fear is that if we do not change to adapt to the pressures of the needs of the masses joining us, they will go away. Should they go to the Buddhists or to the Deep Ecologists, I won’t be too worried — just saddened by Paganism’s lost opportunity. But if they go back to the Christian evangelical churches (which are swelling rapidly) or if they turn to the Neo-Nazi side of the Deep Ecology Movement (the pure land for the pure race), we may find ourselves and our work in deep trouble.
Can Pagans cooperate? Historically, we have not been able to. Think of what Imperial Rome did to the Druids, Cromwell to the Irish. Think of the various Pagan organizations in this country. and how well this panel is cooperating to find a solution? Some are not even clear that there is a problem.
For some, the problem lies with the potential abuses of a formal or a paid clergy. Frankly, I am not all that concerned about this. Humans will be humans, wonderful and despicable as they are. My experience shows that plenty of abuse occurs in our current structures as it is, mostly remaking family-of-origin abuse in the family-like coven or lodge setting. Changing our structure will merely change the kind of abuse, not its presence. Yet becoming more organized permits more collegial interaction and feedback that can stop abuse where it appears, rather than being hidden in the secrecy of a small group.
For my money, this discussion ends with the question: what shall we do?
There seem to be four major areas of study where this conversation can and, in my opinion, should continue: theoretical study of Paganism (history and theo/alogy), practical application of our Way (ritual and magickal technique), development of our educational skills and resources (socializing newcomers and the next generation), and an examination of our modes of leadership (if not covens, what?). As I don’t see in the Pagan community a willingness to directly support its leadership in the study of these issues, I suggest that the leadership — that is, those for whom these or similar issues are passionate causes for concern — organize to explore them. Let those who are willing to discuss and experiment with alternative modes of leadership start talking to each other and compare notes. Then they could publish their findings through a Pagan magazine, or a journal of the study group, or simply as a set of notes bound conveniently.
To get this started, and to put myself on the line, I am willing to take the responsibility for facilitating the first two areas of study, the theoretical and the practical. I propose that anyone interested in the rigorous study of our history and theo/alogy, our ritual and magickal technique with an openness to criticism and the application of academic discipline (i.e., giving sources and credits), contact me through FireHeart. I will function as a facilitator in the discussion as we self-organize to meet the task. Further, I suggest that anyone interested in similar issues do likewise. In this way, we can tackle these problems without waiting for the larger community to organize itself to support this endeavor.
But to address the larger Pagan community, I refer to my suggestions in the previous round of this discussion. There I suggested that Isaac and Andras are in the best position to begin functioning as paid Pagan clergy. If you can get folk to pay you, go for it! All you have to do is convince them that you are worth it (and I believe you are), and then deliver on your promise to fulfill that need. I wish you well.
There is one last thing I see that we, as a panel, can do to facilitate this discussion and move it out into the community at large: call an international council to discuss the issue. Let’s get as many people together as possible to sit down and, face-to-face, ask ourselves where and how we want the Pagan community to grow. Can we learn from our experience? Can we cooperate to our mutual support and advantage? If we can, we will grow healthily and endure, and we will take our valuable message out into the world and help it change as it must. If we do not learn and do not cooperate, we will be just a flash in the pan of history, another religious and social movement come and gone.
Judy Harrow: This fourth round is supposed to wrap up all the stray ideas from the previous three. Is anything left unsaid?
Yes, I think so. There’s something more to say about our day jobs: they are good for us. I say this even though I am, like most of us, often frustrated by the amount of time mine takes away from Wiccan activities. My poor, abused alarm clock hears as much profanity as anybody’s. And I am still planning, as I said in the last round, for early retirement.
Even after I retire, usable memories will remain. For example, on a certain night last month, the Lady spoke through my mouth. Nothing unusual about that. The next morning found me walking through the detention cells in the Brooklyn Criminal Court, checking each toilet to see whether it flushed properly. A pail of ice water in the face. A reminder that my religion, which claims to be about this life on this Earth, here and now, has to address itself to something far deeper and much more whole than the Goddess Rainbow Brite.
Constant contact with the “underside” of my City vaccinates me against facile and superficial spirituality. With such a background, I am hardly likely to fancy myself the Fairy Queen of Inwood Hill Park. I’m grateful that my sense of the possibilities and the limits is grounded in the hard facts of life. These daily, drastic shifts of context have also given me the best possible training in changing consciousness in accordance with will.
Besides deepening and enriching my own spiritual life, I believe that the experience of working an ordinary job increases my effectiveness as a priestess to others. Clergy of any religion guide and advise. Because our covens are small and intimate, each of our members’personal issues are far more visible. And so, we are actually much more involved in one-on-one mentoring than mainstream clergy are. Even if giving our clergy an exemption from mundane demands provides us with a more erudite clergy — and it probably would — we’d be likely to lose on a far more important dimension: compassion.
I believe — and many of the world’s spiritual traditions have taught — that she who shares the ordinary life circumstances of her congregants is far more likely to offer wise, realistic and compassionate advice. Consider the ugly example of a well-known celibate clergy class, who typically base their teachings about human sexuality and reproduction on abstract principle rather than on any real understanding of human experience.
To move on to another issue: it occurs to me that probably nobody was surprised when FireHeart asked me to be on this particular panel. I’ve been loudly and publicly opposing the drive to dissolve our traditional coven and lineage structures into mass organizations for over ten years now. I began by speaking out against large festivals held on the weekends of Sabbats, because the attraction they create is detrimental to the cohesion of covens.
In Round Two, Andras asserts that size “is not, by itself, the cause for the lowering of our standards. Another equally important factor is the mainstream culture that surrounds us. We live in a fundamentally lazy society — a society of spectators, remote controls, and instant everything.” I agree and disagree. No, size per se is not the problem. Still, for a counterculture like ours, which is struggling to maintain its integrity, rate of growth can be a problem indeed.
The problem is not really that the mainstream culture surrounds us, either. It’s that almost all of us were raised and shaped by mainstream culture. When we came to the Pagan path, we had to learn whole new ways of thinking and interacting. What we did was resocialize ourselves and each other. If we now begin to bring people in faster than we can realistically resocialize them, we will inevitably bring mainstream ways right back into our own community.
Isaac finds my metaphor of “cancer” offensive. Fine, so we’ll use Andras’s “kudzu” image instead. However you image it, the result will be something that has very different trappings from mainstream religion, but still works by mainstream processes and principles. That’s what mass Pagan organizations are. Already, these kudzu patches are multiplying.
One fairly obvious way we might accede to mainstream values would be to replace our own old ways of self-help and sharing among kindred with the purchased services of religious “specialists,” while the rest of us become congregational spectators. From a Pagan thealogical standpoint, many part-time leaders are not “as good as” a few full-timers — they are far better. Organizing ourselves that way validates a plurality of perspectives on our religion and models decentralization of power. Both of these are more consistent with the polytheism we profess.
Mass organizations, while disempowering most of us, would also create among us a self-serving, self-perpetuating privileged class of paid clergy. They’d sound much like Isaac, going on at querulous and tiresome length about how many good things we could have if only we selfish pigs were willing to give a mere 1% of our earnings to our religion, rather than spending all of our money on buying ourselves new toys.
Actually, I spend a lot more than 1% of what l earn on religious activities — my own religious activities. My money buys books and supplies, gets me to gatherings, and finances a phone bill that is usually larger than my rent. Thankfully, I often have some left over for self-indulgent pleasures. Now, tell me again why I should work a day job and then use my earnings to release somebody else from also working a day job. Are they holier, more dedicated, or just a little bit pushier?
In mass organizations — any of them, not just the Pagan ones — the individual congregant becomes lost in the amorphous crowd. Typically, all it takes to join such a group is the ability to fill out an application form and pay the dues. Perhaps you sign a statement of ethics, but nobody bothers to get to know you well enough to assess whether you mean it or even understand it. As long as your tithe keeps coming, nobody much cares. On paper, these organizations may look far more democratic than covens, but, equally typically, the faceless members have not much say in how the group is actually run. In how many is the leadership actually elected?
Another symptom is that, in all but one of the mass Pagan organizations that I know of, the leadership is male. If these groups were really egalitarian and participatory, about half should be led by women, right? If anything, among Goddess worshippers seeking to redress an old imbalance, the bias should be toward female leadership, as it has been in CoG (no surprise here that CoG is organized along Wiccan lines, primarily as a confederation of covens). Makes me wonder what other habits of the culture of domination are being carried over into these groups.
And, for all of that, the Round Three pieces by Andras, Isaac and Sam came close to convincing me that the mass influx is now inevitable, that the only real choice left to us is how we will deal with it. Oriethyia’s mellow attitude then seemed to make sense. Let everyone do what they feel is appropriate. Indeed, there is no way to stop them.
The good news is that here is where the metaphor breaks down. The kudzu will never overwhelm the orchard. The existence of mass organizations will not impede covens from forming, working and hiving. Slow, organic growth will continue. If anything, the mass organizations will keep “wannabe Witches” happily amused and off our backs. Better yet, although such groups are in no way the real thing, they may bring some folks close enough to see who and where we are. Mass organizations will be, for a few, one stop along the path by which they find their way home. One such Pagan “church” was recently described to me, by its leader, as “the wide top of the funnel.” If this is so, so be it.
Okay, so let them do their thing. But let them also take responsibility for their choices. Inevitability is a lie. Here’s the reality check: I also co-founded a festival in 1979. With a name change, it’s still going. None of us ever counted on it for our family income. We thought keeping it to a comfortable size was common sense, not some kind of sacrifice. We never engaged in mass promotion for it. I just got home from the twelfth one. It was about the same size as the first.
We are Witches. We have choices. Nothing is forcing us to give up our small, intimate Circles to become a faceless mass. Nothing is forcing us to turn our faith into a market commodity. These things are not inevitable. Whoever does them, does them by choice. I chose otherwise on a warm September night in 1977. I choose the same again.
Andras Corban Arthen: First of all, I am glad to see that Sam has clarified his position and that he is actually in support of professional Pagan clergy. I, too, had misunderstood you, Sam, though I hope you realize that statements like “I do not think it wise that we institute clergy among ourselves as Pagans” (Round One) can easily lead to such misunderstandings.
Speaking of clarity, it strikes me that the issue we are discussing is a particularly muddy one, since it touches on so many diverse, yet related topics. For clarity’s sake, then, I would like in this final round to examine this issue in the light of four basic questions: What? Why? Who? and How?
What would be the function of a professional Pagan clergy? In Round One, I suggested that we define clergy as those who perform a specific and direct spiritual service to a community. By professional Pagan clergy, I think we are talking about people who not only would have some kind of extensive, formal training and proven skills in a variety of areas, but would also, presumably, work full-time and be paid for their spiritual service to the Pagan community.
This is by no means a hypothetical notion: we already have, and have had for quite some time, a relatively small number of people who fit this description. I am one of them, and in Round Two, I described my work in the EarthSpirit Community as a concrete model of what professional Pagan clergy might look like. We can find further examples among the leaders and organizers of other large Pagan churches, such as Circle, the Church of All Worlds, Ar nDraiocht Fein, and the Church and School of Wicca.
In discussing what a professional Pagan clergy might entail, it would serve us better to examine the models we already have than to indulge in speculative fears about oppressive spiritual “mediators” or money-grabbing shysters à la Jim and Tammi Bakker.
From what I know of them, the leaders of the various Pagan “churches” that I mentioned perform similar functions to the ones I listed while describing my own work in Round Two: they are teachers; they are community organizers; they are coordinators of Pagan gatherings; they are editors or publishers of newsletters and magazines; they are ritual leaders; they are administrators; they are counselors; they are advocates. All of these are clergy functions because, in one way or another, they provide a spiritual service to the Pagan community. Indeed, ask any clergy of a mainstream religion what it is they actually do and you will likely get a very similar job description to this one. These functions provide the basis for the work that professional Pagan clergy would do, and, to carry them out successfully, an individual would need to have a substantial degree of training, experience, skill, commitment and maturity.
Conspicuous for its absence among these many functions is the role of “spiritual mediator.” Unfortunately, when many Pagans hear the term “clergy,” that’s the only thing they think of, even if this type of mediation is only applicable to certain specific religions. They then succumb to the fear that Pagan clergy will set themselves up as an elite of oppressive intermediaries between their congregations and the sacred.
As far as I know, however, none of the professional Pagan clergy in our community have assumed such a role, and I imagine that if any of them tried, they would probably be laughed out of the community. Hence, the fear that Pagan clergy will become as overbearing as many of their Christian counterparts is a very red herring. It hasn’t happened yet, and, as the Pagan movement matures, it is even less likely to happen in the future.
Why do we need professional Pagan clergy? When I became a Witch in the 1960s, there wasn’t really such a thing as a “Pagan movement.” There were a number of groups — primarily Wiccan covens — spread throughout the country, and even a handful of fairly small organizations and publications, but these groups were mostly isolated from each other. There certainly was little or no need for “professional clergy” back then.
But we are now in the 1990s and we have a very different shape. Current estimates place the size of the Pagan movement at over 200,000 members (more than the Quakers or the Unitarians). Although a growing number of these people seem to be solitary practitioners, there are, nevertheless, hundreds, if not thousands of groups in every part of the country. There are dozens of regional gatherings, publications and networks, an increasing number of them with national and even international scope. At the rate we seem to be growing, it is not at all far-fetched to project that by the year 2000, more than half a million people will define themselves as Pagan. As our shape has changed, our needs have changed, and the main point I have tried to emphasize throughout this conversation is simply this: one of our present needs, if only for reasons of sheer size, is for the Pagan movement to develop and support well-trained, full-time, paid clergy.
Of all the panelists, Judy opposes this position with the greatest vehemence. Judy speaks of our having “a polymorphic priesthood for a polytheistic faith.” That’s an elegant way of saying that because we mostly see the sacred as manifesting in many diverse forms, so should we embody this pattern by having many different types of clergy. This is only right in a community that prides itself on its enthusiastic acceptance of diversity. Except that, in Judy’s definition of acceptable diversity, the polymorphy of our priesthood is not “poly” enough to include those who would like to work at it full-time while getting paid.
The majority of Judy’s arguments against supporting professional clergy, as I see it, are framed from the perspective of the small coven model that has been the mainstay of our community thus far. I actually find myself mostly in agreement with her rationale from that particular context. Unfortunately, Judy seems unwilling to even consider the perspective that Isaac and I have consistently stressed — that the question must be looked at, not from the point of view of the small coven, but from that of the overall Pagan movement.
For example, Judy’s response to Isaac’s suggestion that we discuss these issues in terms of spectrums of breadth and depth of skill is to raise several questions of her own (italics mine): “What skills is it necessary for every single coven member to have? What skills is it necessary for a coven leader to have? What skills is it necessary to have somewhere in the coven?” While I’m sure that all of us would be very glad if every coven and coven leader in our community was highly skilled in many different ways, that is really not the point. As both Isaac and I have already noted, in the vast majority of cases, a coven or group with ten or even fifteen members doesn’t need a full-time, paid priestess.
Rather, we need professional clergy to address those needs we have developed that are better fulfilled by the large Pagan “church” or organization having hundreds or even thousands of members, than they are by the small, intimate coven. This is by no means to suggest that we should ditch small groups and concentrate solely on creating large Pagan institutions: we require both to fulfill different types of needs.
For example, many organizers of large Pagan festivals have found that a ritual that works wonderfully with a fairly cohesive group of twelve in somebody’s living room fails miserably when it is performed with 500 Pagans from many different traditions and levels of experience out in an open field. Such a setting requires a very different type of ritual, and such a ritual requires different or more highly refined skills than you would normally need in a smaller, more intimate setting. The large, open ritual and the small, intimate one provide different experiences, fulfill different needs, and do not negate each other.
Similarly, large Pagan organizations and churches are able to provide certain services and fulfill certain needs — such as public education, networking, advocacy, outreach and, most important, community building and coordination — in a way that the small coven or grove would be hard pressed to match. These Pagan churches and organizations, however, require well-trained, full-time, professional clergy in order to be effective.
It is often difficult for Pagans who are not involved in such a position to really understand the amount of work, time, energy and resources (financial and otherwise) that go into being a full-time Pagan “minister” or into running a large Pagan organization. Oriethyia, for instance, speaks of having done a lot of her work in large congregations of women. I believe that all of us on this panel, to one degree or another, have led large rituals and workshops. There is a huge difference, however, between coordinating activities for large groups of people on an occasional basis and doing it full-time, as Isaac and I and others do. The degree of overwork, stress, responsibility, frustration and personal sacrifice that those of us who carry out such a role constantly have to deal with is not necessarily inherent to that role. It is largely there because most Pagans lack a clear awareness of what is actually involved in the work we do, an understanding of the needs fulfilled by this work, an appreciation of the people doing it and a willingness to support both the people and the work.
Judy wonders what all the “whining” is about. She suggests that the “thirty or so hours a week” that she assumes people like Isaac and me spend on clergy activities is comparable to having a hobby, and is simply “a much more rewarding way to use… leisure.” Well, I have news for her. My wife, Deirdre, and I participated in a study coordinated by Deborah Hamouris of the Church of All Worlds to assess “Pagan clergy burnout.” For us, this was a welcome opportunity to attempt something we’d been meaning to do for years, but had never had a good enough reason to spend the time doing: namely, to figure out how much time we actually spend on our religious activities.
This may come as a shock to Judy, but, after poring over our appointment books and carefully recreating our typical schedule, we realized that we had been spending from sixty to eighty hours a week each on the “clergy” work we perform for the EarthSpirit Community and the Glainn Sidhr Order. If Judy thinks this is an exaggeration, I invite her to verify it with some of my nearest and dearest. Indeed, from the conversations that I’ve had over the years with the leaders and organizers of other large Pagan churches, I know that we all spend a comparable amount of time in the performance of our clergy work.
I should hasten to add that the majority of these Pagan leaders and organizers do not strike me as fitting the stereotypical workaholic, “Type A” personality. Rather, they are people so deeply committed to their particular visions for the Pagan movement that they have chosen to devote their lives to the evolution of that movement. Contrary to the cynical attitudes of some Pagans, these people are not so much living off the Pagan community as they are living for the Pagan community. In the process, most of them have been willing to make very difficult personal choices and sacrifices for the sake of their ideals, and the Pagan movement has greatly benefited from this.
One can only sacrifice so much for so long, however. Many of these people are severely overworked, overstressed and underpaid. I know several of them who are contemplating ceasing their Pagan clergy activities to dedicate themselves to less stressful, more financially secure and stable occupations while they are still young enough to do so. Some of them are chronically ill, with stress-related conditions. Others have had their marriages break up, in no small part due to the constant pressures they experience through their work.
The history of the Pagan movement over the past 25 years is strewn with the remains of organizations, gatherings, councils, publications, etc., which didn’t last more than a couple of years. In most cases, these activities were undertaken by idealistic, well-intentioned people who had the best interests of the Pagan movement at heart, but who lacked experience, or training, or resources, or money, or some other kind of support. In many cases, others have stepped in to try to fill the vacuum; more often than not, however, they’ve found themselves having to “reinvent the wheel” and have quickly fallen prey to the same stresses and burnout that beset their predecessors.
How can Paganism evolve into something substantial and enduring if we remain stuck in a pattern of impermanence? How can we, as a community, get beyond the “Wicca 101” mentality that Sam and others deride, if our most experienced public teachers and leaders succumb to burnout?
It would not at all surprise me if we began to see, over the next few years, the demise of long-standing Pagan organizations or publications, the cessation of some major gatherings, or the “early retirement” of experienced Pagan leaders due to burnout and lack of support. I think most communities would consider such a situation to be a source of concern and embarrassment. If we want the Pagan movement to mature and flourish, we need more solid, experienced and visionary leadership, not less.
Who should qualify as professional Pagan clergy? This question inevitably raises fears about hierarchy, elitism and unfair privilege. These are very legitimate concerns, inasmuch as many of us have come to Paganism from dysfunctional religious backgrounds where oppression is the institutionalized norm. Surely we don’t want to replicate such abuses in the Pagan movement. A large number of Pagans, however, seem content to spout the language of fear without really examining the meaning behind their words, or challenging the validity of the assumptions inherent in such language.
Judy wonders, for example, “By what standard is any of us any more entitled to that privilege than anyone else? Are we supposed to compete for the few full-time priestess openings?” Well, I guess that if you asked those of us who already are full-time Pagan clergy, most would agree that it is, indeed, a privilege to be able to devote ourselves completely to what we hold most dear in our hearts. In the same breath, however, I think most of us would emphatically deny living a “privileged life” as commonly defined by mainstream society — wealth, idleness, fame, material possessions and security. I certainly don’t know any of us who are living high on the hog. Anyone deluded enough to think that becoming a full-time Pagan clergyperson is not going to involve a great deal of work, stress, self-sacrifice and frustration is in for a very rude awakening.
The standards by which anyone becomes “entitled” to such a “privilege” are quite simple: training, experience, skill, maturity, commitment, vision and proven track record of service to the community. Who determines whether someone meets these standards? We all do — each of us has the power and the freedom to decide whether or not we feel somebody merits support as full-time clergy.
How shall we make such a decision? Currently, we lack Pagan “seminaries” that could provide some form of accreditation. We can, however, interview people, listen to their ideas, examine their backgrounds, ask for references, give them a chance to persuade us. This is not very different from the way a Unitarian congregation will assess Sam when he applies for a ministerial position. The main difference is that, unlike us, the Unitarians actually have “full-time priestess openings.”
Where shall we find clergy who can meet our standards? First of all, we have the people that both Isaac and I have previously used as models of professional Pagan clergy — the leaders of large, long-standing Pagan organizations and churches. These people are legitimate “elders” of the Pagan movement, most of them having been actively involved in Paganism for twenty years or more. Their “job qualifications” are self-evident in their proven commitment to serve the Pagan movement, their many tangible contributions to our community and the longevity of the organizations they lead — if they didn’t have something substantial to offer to Pagans, it’s not likely that their organizations would have lasted five years, let alone fifteen or thirty. Again, though, many of these people are not getting the kind of support that they deserve and that could enable them to be of even greater service to the Pagan community. So the first step, as I see it, is for Pagans to recognize the needs met by these organizations and their leaders and to give them greater support.
This is hardly enough, though. We need more people and organizations like these. We shouldn’t have to — as Judy frets — “compete for the few full-time priestess openings.” We need, instead, to create the possibility of more such openings, to expand the range of service providers to our community. And who would fill these positions? I think the most likely candidates are those who’ve already been providing part-time service to the Pagan movement for many years: the experienced group leaders, the editors and publishers of newsletters, the festival coordinators, the teachers, the writers, the organizers of open circles, who’ve squeezed as much as they could out of their spare time for the benefit of the Pagan movement, and who could and would do a lot more if they were able to work full-time at it.
People like Oriethyia and Judy, for instance. I have known both of them for a long time, greatly respect their experience and skills, and marvel at the contributions they could make to Paganism as full-time clergy. Despite their professed antipathy for the concept, I would pose to each of them a question: suppose you were able to work as a full-time priestess with exactly the same salary, benefits and job security you would expect to find in the job market — would you do it?
Judy has already answered the question, if a bit rhetorically. “Sure,” she says, “I’d love to be a full-time priestess. Wouldn’t most of us?” The thing is, this doesn’t have to be a rhetorical question — we can find ways for more of our experienced elders to be in full-time service to the community. In so doing, we will be much better able to develop clergy training centers — Pagan “seminaries,” if you will — so that other members of our community who aspire to be professional clergy can acquire the necessary knowledge, experience and skill.
Finally, how could the Pagan movement support a professional clergy? Pagans have not begun to deal realistically with the economic issues involving a growing community that, despite its widespread aversion to and mistrust of the mingling of spirituality and money, exists, nevertheless, in the milieu of a money-based society.
If we were to go back into the closet — if we disbanded all our organizations, stopped publishing all our books and journals, cancelled all our classes and ceased all our festivals — there would be no need for Pagans to deal with money in the context of our religion. I very much doubt, however, that most of us would want to make such a drastic change.
Clearly, then, unless our society undergoes a radical change in its economic structure (and it couldn’t change fast enough to suit me) or we as a community grow strong and stable enough to implement our own economic models, we must find ways to fulfill our economic needs in a responsible, fair and ethical manner.
Isaac asks, “Is our community poor?” Not really. For instance, in each of the past three years, the Pagans attending our Rites of Spring festival have spent between $20,000 and $30,000 buying crafts in the merchants’area. A survey of the EarthSpirit membership that we compiled in 1986 revealed that most of our members earned between $20,000 and $35,000 a year. Sure, we have our share of unemployed students, but we also have our $75,000-a-year single professionals.
Let’s talk simple economics. Suppose that the average income of the membership of a given Pagan church is $20,000 a year. If each member were to donate one percent of their yearly salary to the church, that donation would amount to about $200 a year (tax deductible) which, prorated, comes out to $3.85 a week. That’s not very much. Four dollars a week, in most cases, is not going to seriously hamper someone making $20,000 — most Pagans I know think nothing of spending considerably more than that on any number of extraneous things.
Yet if only 100 members donated that one percent, the church could afford to pay for a full-time clergy position at a salary comparable to that of the average member. If the organization had 2,000 members, each donating one percent, it would have a yearly budget of $400,000. It could then afford to carry eight to ten full-time, paid clergy and still have an operating budget of about $200,000 with which to carry out any number of programs.
While this may seem like an awful lot of money (and, therefore, a scary proposition) to many Pagans, it is not really very much from the perspective of most small, nonprofit corporations, nor is it unrealistic for a Pagan organization to deal with such figures. Our annual budget for Rites of Spring alone, for instance, exceeds $100,000 (most of which, of course, goes right back out in expenses). A larger organization, such as Circle, must have a considerably larger budget.
Although most large Pagan churches are coordinated by volunteers, when such an organization reaches the point where it is providing services at the level that I’m talking about, it cannot very well be run by volunteers alone. There is too much work, and the organization has become complex enough to need full-time leadership and specialized skills. Volunteers cannot be reasonably expected to do more than they can in their spare time without experiencing burnout. If the church were able to support full-time paid clergy and staff, it could accomplish its work much more effectively and increase the scope of its services to the community. Most Pagans, however, seem unwilling to contribute even one percent of their earnings to further such work.
In contrast, mainstream churches generally expect five to ten percent donations from their congregations, and they get it. It is small wonder that they can afford to own property, carry out charitable and advocacy work, and even influence political agendas. Many Pagans complain about religious discrimination and lack of credibility, and dream wistfully about Pagan schools and burial grounds, about legal defense funds, about Pagan sanctuaries, conference centers and communities. Yet few seem ready to come to grips with the economic realities involved in bringing these things into manifestation.
Margot Adler has raised perhaps the most important question for Pagans to address over the next decade: Is Paganism a movement with a future, or is it just something that people do for ten or fifteen years, and then “grow up”? It seems to me that, in many ways, the Pagan movement is in a state of adolescence. We are not the “children” of the mid ’60s and early ’70s any longer, but we have not yet matured into full “adulthood.” As a community, we are struggling for identity, fiercely assertive of our independence, mistrustful of authority figures, proud of being “different,” resistant to change, craving a good time, not so interested in working, overconfident in our abilities, unwilling to rock the boat of our “peer group,” mired in petty jealousies and gossip, obsessed with the present to the exclusion of the future, and mostly clueless about just how much we take for granted.
This is as necessary a stage in the development of a community or a culture as it is in human development. Yet just as we, as individuals, must grow beyond adolescence to attain a greater degree of maturity and fulfillment, so must we, as a community, grow and mature beyond where we are.
Developing a widespread and well-supported professional Pagan clergy is a concrete and necessary step in our attaining greater maturity as a spiritual movement. It will enable our most experienced elders to dedicate themselves more fully to the work of building and developing our community: improving our standards, promoting greater cohesiveness, solidifying our position in society and creating ways for others to perform similar work. Without a doubt, this step will also bring us greater responsibilities and problems — growing up usually does — and we will need to deal with them in a mature, adult fashion.
Judy is, of course, completely and painfully right — Mother Earth is in desperate trouble. Adolescent children are usually much less well-equipped to help their ailing mothers than adult children are. We need to grow up soon, if only for Her sake.