Spiritual Specialists vs. General Practitioners

July 8, 2015 at 12:44 am 4 comments

Next in Approaching Paganism, let’s talk about spiritual specialists. Not clergy, not priests, though those are overlapping categories, but every tradition has a different concept of what that means, and every person who becomes Pagan brings their own baggage and assumptions about what they mean. As a result, conversations about the roles and duties of “Pagan clergy” in a broad community context are generally a mess. But priests, witches, shamans, seers, magicians- these are all various types of spiritual specialists. The concept of layperson, or a laity necessitates a clergy class, so instead, I’ll contrast the specialist with the general practitioner- yep like a doctor. A better analogy would be a homeowner who knows enough about plumbing, carpentry and electrics to fix most things him/her/theirself. But every once in a while, a major problem occurs and the homeowner has to call in a plumber/electrician/contractor to fix it. Also, sometimes the homeowner knows how to fix a problem, but doesn’t have the time to do it, having a day job and all.

So, here’s a layout of common “ingredients” to being a spiritual specialist- some combinations work better than others…

Training

*Self-study & practice

*Informal study & practice with peers

*Taught by family members/elders of oral tradition (folk customs, healing techniques etc.)

*Has taken various one-shot workshops & classes at festivals & conferences

*Formal training by a group (coven, lodge etc.)

*Training in an Eastern martial art, spiritual discipline like yoga, Zen meditation, etc.

*Academic training at a seminary

*Academic study of religion, history, cultural studies, language in graduate school

Service to Community

*Celebrant or Officiant (weddings, funerals, other rites of passage)

*Pastoral care work- as a volunteer or paid chaplain (visiting & counseling people in hospitals, hospice care, assisted living, prisons, jails, the military, praying, studying or leading ceremonies in those settings)

*Liturgical leader/performer

*Teacher of adults and/or children

Service to a Deity/Spirit/Group of Spirits

*Shrine or temple keeper (set-aside purified space, not just a table in your bedroom)

*Prophet/mystic with an intense connection to the spirit/deity

*Shares information with public about deity/spirit/tradition to encourage worship, maybe leads rituals specific to their cultus but not general community festivals

*May involve monastic lifestyle with possible rejection of mundane/broader community work, rejection of regular human romantic/sexual relationships & having children

Magician/Seer/Spiritual Healer

*Advanced practitioner of magic, divination or healing

*May do these types of work for others for pay, favors, other services etc.

*May train/teach others in this type of work

General Practitioner

*Researches and designs own rituals

*Teaches own children, peers, members of their group

*May teach occasional workshops, write articles or keep a blog but does not lead a group or do this as a living

*May practice magic, healing, divination for self, close friends and family

*May do peer ministry- visiting other Pagans in hospitals, mentoring and sharing information

Super-Volunteer/Queen of the Church-Ladies/The Committee Meeting Ain’t Over til She Leaves

(Not to be sexist- I do know some menfolk that play this role as well! Every volunteer org has one or more…)

*Chief event organizer, except on the day of the event, in which she is busy vending Pagan bling, doing Tarot readings, leading workshops and/or speaking on panels

*Career is designed strategically so she can get weekends & evenings off. Hopefully a gig that will also allow her to get free food/paper copies/other relevant discounts. Always asks for the week of Pagan Spirit Gathering off about 2 years in advance.

*Things don’t get done because everyone else on the committee/coven members etc. assume she already did them.

*When she has a major family/health/career change, Pagan Pride, Samhain or the local festival Just Doesn’t Happen.

*A minimum of 3 cats or other animals is require for this position, as is an entire spare bedroom or basement for storing of annual event or coven supplies. Said supplies must not be put in waterproof containers..

In Sum

I typically reserve the word “clergy” for people who have more formal training, serve a community, and in a American context usually have legal status so they can marry people. I know in other countries, you can’t just pay X amount to the Universal Life Church and suddenly you get to marry people- they are more picky about what counts as a religion. Across the board, it means “person who is recognized as clergy by the community they serve”. Just paying the fee, and buying a stole does not clergy make.

A priest/ess on the other hand, may primarily serve a deity or group of spirits/deities, rather than a community as such. The training and experience required will depend on the tradition they follow. And while I don’t have a problem with people creating their own personal religion, declaring yourself a priest of your own religion that consists of no one else seems very silly at best, and disrespectful to priests of other traditions at worst.

The Super-volunteer example is what happens when general practitioners don’t step up/wheel up to the plate and pitch in. Everyone has different talents, skills, levels of experience and personal/familial needs that have to be balanced out. I’ll give some suggestions on how this can work in my next post.

My Related Posts:

Functions of Pagan Clergy & Leaders

What is a Pagan Elder?

Food for Thought:

Ordination? But….We Don’t Need Clergy by Byron Ballard (some Pagans need clergy, some don’t)

In Support of Our Own: Understanding Unitarian Universalist Idealization by David Oliver Kling, discusses the pros and cons of Pagans becoming U.U. ministers and chaplains.

Why My Aunt Judy Isn’t a Pagan (Or, How Far We Still Have to Go) by Raven Kaldera

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Entry filed under: Approaching Paganism. Tags: , , , .

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