[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. Some 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 often get requests asking for reprints of the panel, we are making it available here for greater accessibility; 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.]
PANEL DISCUSSION: PAGAN CLERGY
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.
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.