Thoughts On Clergy, Laity, Hierarchies and Roles in Polytheist Religions

This is a reflection on a post written by Keen, titled On Pagan Clergy, Layfolk, and the Struggle for Selfhood.  Some of what I have written here will be pulled from comments going back and forth with Keen on the article, and some will be from my thoughts since then.

 

As I was reading this post I found myself struggling a bit. I get why Keen is writing what they are, and agree that clergy need to be part of the solution, especially because in the hierarchy of things, we’re placed higher on the queue than others are for the reasons they mention in the post.

Part of what I do in my own group is consistently remind folks they all have things to contribute, things worthy of hearing, and that the measure of what makes a prayer or offering good is whether the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir like and accept it. I also make a point of emphasizing that I do not and cannot know everything. I actually really like it when I can hand part of a lesson or ritual over to someone else. It takes me out of the facilitation role, even if for a few minutes, and into the experiential one. It doesn’t mean hierarchy disappear, per se, but it does mean that everyone knows they’ve got stake in this group.

The problems seen as within hierarchy stems more from that our society has deeply dysfunctional relationships with hierarchy than that hierarchy itself is a source of problems.  Many of the ways that hierarchy functions,  such as the reciprocity between folks in a hierarchy, the complimenting of responsibilities that should help build up folks within a hierarchy, etc., are completely out of whack in our country.  Would-be Congressional representatives ignore the needs and desires of their constituents to the point where it blase now to say that legalized corruption has a death grip on our political processes.  The societal contract between States and workers is so shredded that it is an expectation in some cases that the pensions promised will be ‘negotiated’ or legislated out of existence so the younger folks can have a hope at a job just a bit above what would keep them out of poverty.  Bosses of all kinds hold the fact that employees need to make a living (read: provide for basic needs like food and shelter) above their head, exploiting their labor for personal and company gains in some of the worst ways.  Officers wield immense power over whether a person lives or dies, and the justice system actively works to shield those who, were they in a different walk of life or profession, from facing responsibility for their abuses of power.  These, though, are societal problems and not issues of hierarchy itself.  Hierarchy and roles are not abuses of hierarchy and roles.

Roles are important, and I think part of the issue that has emerged quite a bit is that there are a lot of roles lacking in modern polytheist religion. There are folks, like myself, who the Gods snap up and say “come do this thing!” and we go and spend time and a lot of hard knocks learning how to do it, whether it is priest work, spirit work, becoming a priest, becoming a shaman, starting a group, or what-have-you. Then there are folks who don’t get snapped up, and the communities around them have little to nothing for them to do, whether that is the communities around them form before they’ve gotten these lessons, or there are just not enough interested folks in this or that direction to form one, a million reasons.

A given person may have no desire or ability to lead, so while they might have a great knowledge base, they have no personal reason to put their name out there. Another might have been badly burned and is still in recovery from the last time they put themselves out there. Another may simply not know where to start.

In some cases, there is active backlash against establishing or established hierarchy, which can be an impediment to community building. I dig established hierarchies and find it important to know where I am in a pecking order, even if there is no pecking order, so at least I know if I am among a group of peers or there is someone I should be looking up to for cohesion. Part of why I was able to get so much done alongside my fellows when I worked for a nonprofit for 3 years was because each of us knew our role and responsibility and had established protocol for working together. How things were decided on, such as program design and budgeting, was a matter of everyone knowing Robert’s Rules of Order. This allowed us to know how to propose ideas, how to deny them, how to debate the merits of a given proposal, and how to present to one another in a way that communicated clearly and effectively.

This point
“it is no wonder that the layperson’s reaction to this anxiety, this threat against their sense of selfhood and their relationship with the Gods and spirits, is to try to become clergy themselves”

and their last point:

“keep in mind the power that you wield in this economy of social currency. And please, if you have to extol the merits of being god-deaf, head-blind, and otherwise without priestly responsibilities, try to mind how you do it; it’s easy to come across as patronizing in a world where everyone is vying for likes and authority to secure their selfhood.”

are other points where I was finding some struggle.

In the ancient polytheist cultures I have studied, there were roles for folks that made sense according to the religion, culture, and societal mores of the time. Part of the issues I think we are seeing are for the reasons I noted above, and because most modern Pagan religions and polytheist religions do not have them yet, or have actively dispensed with hierarchies. Rather than being a completely useful device for getting people engaged in a religion, I see that this flattens the field so that people feel like they need to be everything at once. However, there was a reason one consulted an oracle and not, say, the local baker. Their skills were not honed in the area of oracular work, divination, etc. even if they may have had the knack for it, especially to the degree of a full-time (or even part-time) diviner. That did not mean the baker was not necessary. Far from it. It meant the skillset of the baker was different from that of the diviner. I’m also not saying the baker could not be the diviner, like somehow laborious jobs might make a person less fit for divination, I’m just using it for example’s sake.

My issue is that it seems there’s quite a lot of pressure put on clergy, spiritual specialists, etc., to take this weight off of other people. As I am someone who doesn’t see hierarchy as an impediment, but a potential boon, part of how I view this is that the religious leaders, specialists, etc., regardless of the size of those they are leading, should be empowering folks to live full, active religious lives, just as they should be living full, active religious lives. The particulars of that life will differ according to responsibilities to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, the same with regard to one’s duties to community, family, other obligations, etc. I think this weight need to be removed both by the leadership and by the laity.

I also recognize that there are certain places in which, as a spiritual specialist with a highly active religious life, I simply will not be able to have folks able to empathize as well with me. My wife, Sylverleaf, is one such person. She is not a spiritual specialist, is not a leader, and is very closed from a spiritual input standpoint. She’s just as polytheist as I am, just as good as I am, and is very comfortable being laity. Sometimes I have to take a good deal more time to explain why I feel I need to do this or that, i.e. I need to do something because I have gotten ‘flash traffic’ from a God or Goddess I serve, or an Ancestor or vaettir wants something, and will help me with this or that in exchange. She may not understand how I am getting the information, but she is supportive both in the sense that she helps me do what needs to get done, and that she also will ask direct questions that may help me reevaluate or think deeper on a given request. On a few occasions, her help has had me go back to the negotiating board.

Likewise, I do not empathize as well with folks who do not have very active religious lives because I have seldom had one. When Sylverleaf gets ‘flash traffic’, though, it’s rather unmistakable, so with her there’s often not a large sussing out period, certainly not as much as with me. Part of what I do for her is help to keep a regular offering schedule and help set aside time for prayers. I grew up Catholic, so regular prayers and ritual times are something I am used to, whereas she grew up in a mostly atheist household, and it is harder for her to remember to do things regularly.

So, I think that laity and spiritual specialists and leaders can be helpmeets for each other, but it takes negotiating these relationships to a better degree than has been done. I certainly don’t hope to have all the answers, but I hope I am adding something useful to the dialogue around these things.

They asked me to elaborate on these points:

“I know that there is always talk of what kinds of relationship “styles” are possible to have with a Power, but rarely does that translate into a wider discussion of community relationships, with the Gods and spirits being considered part of the community ecosystem, you might say.

Might you have thoughts about that?”

Roles, in my experience, are trickier in online space. I mean, the thing with physical groups in proximity is that yeah, you can walk a way, but there is more on the line. These are people you share physical space with, folks you might have eaten with, and you might have had guest rights with them in their home. It’s more vulnerable, or a ‘closer’ kind of vulnerable in my view, and so, it is also has the possibility of being more intimate.

Relationship styles with the Holy Powers can have community-wide impact, but then again, we’re back to what constitutes a community. My relationship with Odin is easy to ignore online, relatively speaking, since all it takes is clicking that little ‘x’ in the top right of the screen if someone doesn’t like what I have to say, thinks it is loony, etc. and doesn’t want to bother writing a rebuttal to what I have said. Beliefs, information, all of it is easier to ignore or amplify online because of the way a lot of social media works, and increasingly (especially automatic or database-created) Search Engine Optimization that can allow for more of an echo chamber.  Whether your community is mostly/entirely online, or mostly/entirely based in a physical community changes the dynamics of how the relationships can unfold, where one may hold the primacy of one’s own experience, how validation can help shape one’s religious experiences and understanding, and a number of other factors I could spend several posts going into.

Religious communities help to establish boundaries around our understanding of, and relationships with the Holy Powers.  The looser these ties are the easier it can be to dispense with ill advice, but the same is true with good advice that may be uncomfortable or hard to take.  The ties we retain online are different than those we hold in physical spaces, and I am not one to say online relationships are wrong or fake.

I maintain a good number of my relationships, including with a good number of my fellow polytheists, online.  Talking with one of these friends on Facebook is all well and good, but meeting them at Many Gods West, sitting down to dinner with them, and enjoying their physical company, and dialogue, is quite a different thing.  Even meeting with some of these folks on Skype is still not the same as meeting in physical space.  Having done ritual online in different programs such as Second Life, and through the medium of Skype, there are different dynamics going on, and there is a sense of ‘being there’ but also not ‘being there’ that is utterly different from worshiping with folks in physical space.

Community relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir can be greatly affected if someone is in a powerful personal relationship with a/the Holy Powers. Close, powerful community relationships can also greatly affect our relationships with the Holy Powers as well.  My entire life is engaged in the worldview of a polytheist, and my powerful personal relationship with Odin, the taboos He and various Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir have put on me, echo in ways big and small throughout my relationships. Folks who are close to me know about my food taboos, for instance, and so meals may be in part shaped by (or my bringing food) my taboos. In this regard it is not very different in terms of impact from my diabetes: folks who know I have it will try to have food I can eat even if the main course is carb intensive. They’ll let me know what’s on the menu ahead of time so I know to adjust my diet or if I need to get something else, I can.

What I just described is guest/host Gebo relations, reciprocity, gift-for-a-gift between guest and host. These factor pretty heavily into the various animist and polytheist religions and traditions, so while it may seem simple on the outside, these considerations get heavier in terms of spiritual weight and moral impact when one is an animist/polytheist than such things would be for someone who does not have such spiritual conditions around guest rights, host rights, and reciprocity between guest and host.

This has deeper impacts in terms of who I will and will not interact with. For instance, if I know that a group will be present that is actively hostile towards Loki, unless I am directly ordered to by Odin, I will not attend.

When it is brought up for serious discussion, as opposed to just being berated or sneered at, the subject of what function a godspouse would serve comes up. I would say that godspouses can, and actually do serve community functions, but how that comes about is entirely a result of how they and the Holy Power(s) negotiate the relationship, what form(s) it takes, if it has any impact on their community/communities, and so on. Basically, I am trying really hard not to gainsay the Gods here. Because I could say something general like “Godspouses are here to connect in a powerful, vulnerable, intimate way, and through this, bring to light different aspects of their God/dess and offer an understanding of their God/dess to others through that connection.”

I could also say that godspouses are a manifestation of a relationship with someone we humans can relate to here in Midgard, and through the godspouse we could come to a deeper rapport with a given Holy Power. I think that each godspouse may or may not have a mission or purpose of this kind to fulfill. It needn’t even be that kind of mission or purpose. A given Holy Power may simply desire companionship from a human for the duration of their life. It may be that a Holy Power wishes to manifest its Presence through this companionship and make Themselves known through this relationship. This person may simply be special to Them and has assented to a lifelong relationship.  It may be an expectation a culture places on certain cultus-holders or it may be a way of beginning a new cultus entirely.

In my view, though, very few powerful spiritual relationships are only about a simple connection, though I do not deny they could be. After all, I’m not a godspouse, and I wouldn’t speak on behalf of them when I’ve neither the experience nor the calling to be one. I can only speculate from the outside.

When it comes to folks like myself, called to spiritual specialist positions, leadership, and the like, the religious stances I take and the spiritual relationships I have, the alliances I forge, all of them interplay with one another. Hamingja, the interconnected luck of a community, means that I not only need to be very careful in fulfilling my obligations, but also to be mindful that any alliances, relationships, and so on that I start can affect the luck of those within my innangard (those within my gard, or inner circle), for good or ill. The relationship dynamics of those who are in one’s innangard, then, take on powerful new meanings. So if I screw up on a taboo, like the guest/host dynamic above, for instance, that can have repercussions for others in my innangard, and even those not as close, like some of my blood family who don’t share space with me and I haven’t seen in a long, long time.

When folks really tease out the implications of the world being full of Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, how we treat the Holy Powers and where we are in the hierarchy in relationship with and to Them become very important pretty quick. If I am living next to a stream that feeds my crops it is in my best interests to have a good relationship with the God/vaettr (depending on how It identifies and your relationship with/to It) of that stream. In my view, I am a guest on the land I live on. Many of the landvaettir and the Gods of this land were here long before I was, and will be long after I am dead. Certainly the old landvaettir can hold more sway than the younger by dint of experience, power, spheres of influence, etc. The oak growing on our property has a permanence here should it live well that I will not, and even when it dies, it is not ‘separate’ from the land, so much as the individual tree has died and its individuality may remain or fade, much like myself in relationship to the communities around me, when I die. Perhaps, like the tree, my persona will live on, be communicable in some fashion. Maybe certain soul parts like the liche will stick around with some or all of my persona intact to receive offerings, dispense advice, or chit-chat. Maybe I will become part of the landvaettir after awhile where I am buried, or immediately on being placed in a mound. Same with a blade of grass. I think this is not something I can fully answer, because each life and death is its own unfolding in wyrd, and how those strands interweave is part of the pattern, and I can only see so much.  Also, I’m not Hela, Odin, or any other God or Goddess who holds/hosts an afterlife.

It is a humbling feeling to understand the grass, the dirt, all the crawling things beneath your feet has as much if not more right to be there than you. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re automatically subservient to Them any more than They to us, but it is a recognition of where we are in the web of things, and where we stand in terms of our circles of influence, and power to affect change and wyrd. So, to me, hierarchy takes on a kind of immediacy in understanding where we are in the scheme of things, who holds what power over/to do/to act when and where, and what spheres of influence we carry or are affected by. In some ways I am quite powerful in comparison to the stream; I can divert its flow, utterly destroy it with a machine, or mold its banks so they irrigate the way I see fit. If I angered the stream God/vaettr/vaettir by changing it in a way it did not want, it could respond by not giving up the water I need to water my crops, flood my crops, or drown me if I went to swim in it. Questions of consent and partnership are part of the equation here if the world around us has moral and spiritual weight not just for them, but for us as well. Making sure we get our due is also important, but I tend to emphasize the Holy Powers getting Theirs since our society does a hell of a lot of taking without much, if any, giving back.

This worldview and the resulting understanding, idea, morals, and so on trickle out, from the concept of Gebo, hamginja, innangard, utgard (those outside one’s personal circle; outside the gard or wall), one’s place in the hierarchies of Beings and where one is in relationship to the Holy Powers.

Being an animist and/or polytheist comes with taking on a powerful worldview, or set of worldviews, and all that results from it. This worldview shapes and affects ones’ relationships with the land one lives on, the company one keeps, and the way one conducts their life.  It can affect what one eats, one’s calling in life, and what paths can open up in a given person’s lifetime.  Equally so, it can determine what paths close, what ways are best to avoid, and provide direction when one is confused on where to go.  The worldview of animist or polytheist religion(s) hold within it an understanding of hierarchy, where one is in relationship to all Beings.  An animist/polytheist worldview affects how one understand the Holy Powers, how one forms relationships with Them and maintains them, and where they may find expression in one’s life.  These things unfold, helping us to weave our wyrd with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and is woven throughout our lives, relationships, and communities when they are not only thought on and considered, but actively lived.

 

 

 

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  1. January 6, 2016 at 5:43 am

    We are tremendously handicapped in navigating religious praxis from a broken tradition. The ingrained cultural understandings of how things are done, the roles and places for people are lacking and we have to struggle to rebuild those connections in the here and now. With our communities spread so far and wide, that makes it difficult. Overcoming the cultural episteme of our modern society makes it doubly so.

    In my experience there is a tendency within paganism/polytheism that many within a year or two if converting want to suddenly be a priest and leader, and they lack the call to the role, or the experience and understanding to function as such. It becomes a thing of ego, instead of as an ambassador to the Gods, Ancestors and vaettir.

    I have no problem with people wanting to learn more, but we need some filter to designate ‘ok, you really are called and set up to lead’.

    A few years ago I was asked by a group to be their gythia and to train up their members who were interested in a deeper level of participation. So I began to create a program where there was some light reading to get a firm understanding in some basics. Followed by the practicum of how those aspects are symbolically represented in ritual and the application of how to live the religion. My 3 students all wanted a certificate saying they were a gythia, but couldn’t be bothered to do about 30 minutes of reading a month, and expected to learn what they needed in the 15 minutes before ritual. When I refused granting them certificates, I found myself uninvited from the position.

    The basic truth is that everyone has a role. Everyone should be empowered with how to maintain a personal relationship with the numinous. Then we go to the family group, and within the family as a collective you must also be able to connect with the Powers. But within a family the work is shared although there may be a particular person (an elder) or two who may act more as a leader.

    It’s when you look to a larger community that you need clearly designated leaders to set the tone, provide for an understanding of what is appropriate, who can enforce punishments for those who break frith, have the ability to provide a connection to sort out bigger problems between the community as a whole to the Gods, ancestors, and vaettir. Who can also lead by example, instruct by what is needed, and direct others in how they can participate which takes note if how to best employ the talents of others in the group.

    I would say they must be sensitive to wyrd, for the later as well, as I find that a needed skill in acting as the go between we mortals and the supernatural Powers.

    Good groups have figured out the balance of roles within their small, tight community for the most part, but I honestly don’t believe this will ever truly begin to sort itself out until we have larger close proximity communities with children who are third, fourth, fifth generation polytheists of the modern era. We flail because the ingrained culture isn’t polytheistic for us and we’re still bucking the yoke of monotheism which the overwhelming majority of us were born into.

    I’ve had the priviledge of watching kids born and raised within polytheism who intuitevely grasp onto items we adults struggle with. Sometimes I watch what they do and have been inspired by them.

    • January 6, 2016 at 6:00 am

      It’s not just praxis that is broken, it is the understanding of why a thing is being done in the first place. It’s not enough to understand “I give an offering; it is the right thing to do”. Why would one give an offering? Why is it the right thing to do? What makes a good or bad offering? To what Holy Power(s)?

      “you need clearly designated leaders to set the tone, provide for an understanding of what is appropriate, who can enforce punishments for those who break frith, have the ability to provide a connection to sort out bigger problems between the community as a whole to the Gods, ancestors, and vaettir.”

      This involves folks giving over some power to the group itself and/or leaders, as well as accepting responsibility within and to a group for their actions. It requires a community to enforce their rules, and do things for the good of the group. A lot of folks are simply unwilling to do this at the moment. It creates a problem because healthy hierarchies cannot be established, much less be effective or maintained, unless those within them do their duty within the hierarchy, and the roles have balance and meaning with one another.

    • Keen
      January 6, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      In my experience there is a tendency within paganism/polytheism that many within a year or two if converting want to suddenly be a priest and leader, and they lack the call to the role, or the experience and understanding to function as such. It becomes a thing of ego, instead of as an ambassador to the Gods, Ancestors and vaettir.

      In my original piece, I propose why this happens more often than not, if you care to read it.Ego enters into it sometimes, sure, but I think people who are driven to perform these exhausting and sometimes thankless duties need a little more sympathy than you’re giving them. They don’t necessarily want the responsibility or even the attention from the Powers, they want a place.

  2. January 6, 2016 at 5:47 am

    Also, I’ve seen how some hierarchies don’t help eiyher. There was a kindred I know if where there was a firm structure and hierarchy on how to become a priest/ess, and one of the priests consistently did such really horrible things in ritual, they had no business acting as the priest. Stopping mid rite to go smoke a cigarette, unable to explain who the Disir were, allowing disrespectful impious words and deeds to happen during ritual. We need it. But it rarely works. Catch 22.

    • January 6, 2016 at 5:52 am

      I don’t see this as an issue with hierarchy itself, but of people within hierarchy. If there was such firm structure, then there should have been protocol on ritual structure, and the removal of a priest who could not perform their religious duties without respect to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. We need hierarchy that works, and it works when folks are held to account according to standards that are known, and, especially, enforced.

      • January 6, 2016 at 6:04 am

        The problem is, they’re building the hierarchy. And not always in the place of sacred mindfulness, but instead for their own power trip. I also find that many focus on book learning as the be all and end all, and don’t take into account magicoreligious aspects. Use runes to ask the Gods what they want? Oh no, they may contradict me. We’re so rooted in the physical many are scared of the metaphysical.

        It’s a chicken or the egg scenario, we have people building the hierarchy, instead of an organic hierarchy influenced by the Gods directing the people (in most cases at least).

      • January 6, 2016 at 6:34 am

        *nods* That sounds damned frustrating. I am happy, though, that there are emerging hierarchies that are healthy and better developed both for the community and the individuals that part of them. Eventually, chicken and eggs settle into their relationships and I think part of the settling we’re seeing in polytheist religions and paths is that settling. Some folks will never take to strict hierarchy, so, for the groups that can make a looser structure work, good for them. Some folks will need strict hierarchy, and if they can make that work well, good for them.

        I think you’re right in that it will take time for folks to get their heads and hearts around this. In raising my son, I see him grasping the concepts with ease whereas I had to do some work to get to where he is. I think this will shake out, eventually.

  3. January 7, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    I’ve mentioned this before on my blog, but I wish that pagans/polytheists would abandon the idea that having mystical experiences automatically makes you clergy. I sometimes wonder if these people who want to be a priest within a year or two are people who think so. Having a mystical experience isn’t that hard. There are lots of meditation techniques you can learn from a simple class or workshop or book that can bring one on. Odin first came to me when I was taking a class on meditation through my college’s informal classes program. I think there should be a lot more to being a priest than that.

    To be really frank, from my perspective it seems like there are way too many “priests” and “priestesses” in the pagan community. I can go to any pagan pride day or pagan festival and find dozens of them. And then you talk to them a while and find out the “tradition” they’re a priest of has one member – them. But they’ve been on this path for a full year now, so they’d be perfectly happy to give me spiritual advice or lead a ritual for me!

    Maybe it depends on how you’re defining clergy though. I think the polytheist community would benefit from having more people who are good at leading group rituals for things like holiday celebrations, weddings, funerals, and the like. Most of the “godspouse” blogs online seem to be written by people who just want to stay in the company of gods and spirits all the time and don’t like being around humans. That seems more like a monastic type of thing to me rather than clergy. There’s room for both roles, but I get really frustrated that I can’t just do the pagan equivalent of going to church every Sunday without having to found a church all by myself. But in order to do that, you have to have good “people skills.” It seems like a lot of pagans lack those, or just don’t have the motivation to do the less glamorous work of running something like that.

    I think that pagans should be allowed to have demanding, full-time “secular” jobs and leave all the work of organizing rituals to some type of spiritual specialists. Then the pagan doctors, lawyers, school teachers, police officers, etc. could pay membership dues to cover the salary of the spiritual specialist so they could concentrate on their work full-time. I know that’s basically how Christians do it, but I don’t see anything wrong with that. I’d be perfectly happy to join up if such a thing existed, as long as I was confident the spiritual specialist was someone who actually knew what they were doing and wasn’t some 20 year old college kid who just read a few books.

    Usually when I bring this up, people tell me we just don’t have enough people to have the critical mass needed to sustain something like that, but is that really true? Or is there something about the types of people who are attracted to modern paganism that makes it really, really hard for them to get something like that together?

    • January 7, 2016 at 11:48 pm

      “I’ve mentioned this before on my blog, but I wish that pagans/polytheists would abandon the idea that having mystical experiences automatically makes you clergy…I think there should be a lot more to being a priest than that.”

      This is why I make a very clear distinction and wrote a set of posts exploring the difference between being a priest and a shaman. They are different roles, and they are not the same thing. Being a priest does not put me on the level of being a shaman, and the roles I serve the communities in taking on these two titles are not the same. Also, I think we should be a lot more careful and differentiate priest from clergy, as I view and experience being clergy as doing something different than a priest. I am all three. I serve a Wiccan church as a clergyman, I serve the Gods Odin and Anubis as a priest, and I serve the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir as a Northern Tradition and Heathen shaman. To my understanding, and to many of my co-religionists’ understanding, there is a definite difference between a spiritual specialist and someone serving a clergy or ministerial capacity to others.

      “To be really frank, from my perspective it seems like there are way too many “priests” and “priestesses” in the pagan community.”

      I do not disagree at all. That’s part of why I wrote what I have here, and what I wrote on priests, shamans, etc. This is also why I differentiate spiritual specialists in my writing.

      “I can go to any pagan pride day or pagan festival and find dozens of them… they’ve been on this path for a full year now, so they’d be perfectly happy to give me spiritual advice or lead a ritual for me!”

      I cannot tell you how much this grates on my nerves. Being a priest, a clergyperson, a shaman, etc. all have different paths to take, all have different requirements, and all, in my view, need to be held to standards so they serve the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir well, and serve their physical communities well. This is again why I point to hierarchy being a needed thing in Pagan and polytheist religions, because not only does a hierarchy establish ways of understanding who does what and in what capacity, it establishes communities’ standards upon which to hold all of these people.

      “Maybe it depends on how you’re defining clergy though. I think the polytheist community would benefit from having more people who are good at leading group rituals for things like holiday celebrations, weddings, funerals, and the like.”

      I read this and think ‘clergy’ and/or ‘priests specific to the Gods of these things, i.e. a priest of the God of the Harvest in a given religion putting on the harvest rite celebration. While we’re probably not to the amount of people to make this more practical, I think this is something to strive for.

      “Most of the “godspouse” blogs online seem to be written by people who just want to stay in the company of gods and spirits all the time and don’t like being around humans. That seems more like a monastic type of thing to me rather than clergy. There’s room for both roles, but I get really frustrated that I can’t just do the pagan equivalent of going to church every Sunday without having to found a church all by myself. But in order to do that, you have to have good “people skills.” It seems like a lot of pagans lack those, or just don’t have the motivation to do the less glamorous work of running something like that.”

      As I have mentioned elsewhere, there’s a reason the Catholic churches, at least in America, have counsels full of the laypeople that help organize and do the on-the-ground stuff for keeping the church running. It also helps keep the priest open to time for the people, whether visiting in hospital, doing confession, running the rituals, etc. It also makes the priest responsible to the community. This takes organizing, and people willing to do non-glamorous work in service to their communities. Too many folks who are filling the roles of priest, clergy, shaman, etc. are doing both the front-end serving of people, when they are serving people, as well as all the back-end work too. This is also why Pagan and polytheist folks will burn out quicker, or why community efforts won’t be sustained for long.

      “I think that pagans should be allowed to have demanding, full-time “secular” jobs and leave all the work of organizing rituals to some type of spiritual specialists. Then the pagan doctors, lawyers, school teachers, police officers, etc. could pay membership dues to cover the salary of the spiritual specialist so they could concentrate on their work full-time. I know that’s basically how Christians do it, but I don’t see anything wrong with that. I’d be perfectly happy to join up if such a thing existed, as long as I was confident the spiritual specialist was someone who actually knew what they were doing and wasn’t some 20 year old college kid who just read a few books.”

      I fully agree. This requires hierarchy and organizing, it requires that folks also respect that being a priest does not make them inherently better than a lawyer, doctor, etc. but that we all have our roles to play in our religious and in the larger communities we are part of. Most folks have thrown the tithing baby out with the bathwater, and separate functions of laity and clergy, as ‘being Christian’, when these could give huge advantages, such as intergenerational religious structures and organizations, and are not the sole province of Christians in terms of ideas either in this time or in ancient ones.

      “Usually when I bring this up, people tell me we just don’t have enough people to have the critical mass needed to sustain something like that, but is that really true?”

      I would say for most places this is true, because not everyone who identifies as Pagan is polytheist, and not all polytheists are worshiping the same Gods. That said, there are polytheist and polytheist-friendly groups who have organized well enough to make intergenerational structures, such as the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Kemetic Orthodoxy, The Troth, and other groups. Animists and polytheists can do these things, and part of the requirements are that this requires people to organize, put their money where their mouth is, to work with the skills they have, and to allow for the understanding that different skillsets don’t make a person inherently better. It means that one’s skills are suited to one task vs. another. So it means taking more of the ego out of service. If you are here to serve, you serve. Part of the expectation for those who serve is that one is supported in this service, and called on it when one is serving poorly, and encouraged or pushed to do better, and removed if unable/unwilling. Similarly, if you are served you should be supported and respected by those who serve you, and you should feel empowered to do what is within your capacity to do in your own life. I do not expect everyone to be a ritualist, but I expect that if someone is serving a community as a ritualist, they are supported in this role and empowered by both the social and monetary support to fulfill this role. Similarly, the community needs to be supported in how the ritualist serves, and this requires holding the ritualist to standards whether through the body that trains and certifies them as a ritualist, and/or through organizational structure within the religious body the ritualist is serving.

      “Or is there something about the types of people who are attracted to modern paganism that makes it really, really hard for them to get something like that together?”

      I think this is also part of the issue here. Part of the reason I keep on hitting on hierarchy so much in this and other pieces, is because some folks like to say they reject hierarchy in one breath and then say everyone is a priest in the other. Well, which is it? Do you want to take on a role of responsibility in your religion and community or not? If you do, who do you answer to? What community can look to your for help?

      I do not think anyone needs a priest as an intercessor for their personal relationship with the Gods. Priests are servants of the Gods. To use the OED definition: “A person who performs religious ceremonies and duties in a non-Christian religion.” They are servants of the Gods, and as part of this may be servants of the people in their community as part of this. Clergy may be priests, or they may carry out other religious duties. Without an organizational apparatus, though, there is no way for a given community to even solidly state ‘this is this’ and ‘that is that’. If everyone has equal claim to the title of priest, clergy, etc., and there are no standards for what makes a person this or that, what good does the identifier hold?

  1. January 7, 2016 at 12:22 pm
  2. January 7, 2016 at 3:10 pm
  3. January 12, 2016 at 3:37 pm
  4. April 2, 2016 at 8:44 am

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