Posts tagged ‘Pagan clergy’

Spiritual Specialists vs. General Practitioners

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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July 8, 2015 at 12:44 am 4 comments

X-rated Religion: Sexual Ecstasy, Mystery & Social Boundaries

Replying to yet another great article by Shauna Aura Knight about sexual ethics in Pagan communities: Sexual Initiation, Consent & Rape

Speaking as an ex-cult member myself- I am going to say that I am against sexual initiations (or sex between teachers/clergy and students/laity) period. There was enough authoritarian manipulation from the leader of my group without sex being involved- I shudder to think about what would have happened if it did. Sometimes attraction does happen between students & teachers/clergy (of similar/appropriate ages!) but they need to be responsible adults and hold off on pursuing sex or romance until they are no longer in that power structure. In Minnesota (my state) law therapists and former clients are allowed to date/have sex after a few years of ending their professional relationship, if I am not mistaken. I think we should have a similar ethical standard among our communities, even if we probably couldn’t make it a law. I’m not sure about sex in ritual in general- it should be approached carefully, done for specific reasons (not “just because”) I really think we have swung too far to the anything goes hippie moral relativism and there’s huge range between that and insisting everyone is either strictly monogamously partnered or a Vestal virgin. It’s due to that mentality that we convince ourselves we need to be “tolerant” of people like the Frosts.

I am both a Druid & a Heathen, and while both are fairly broad umbrellas that include many viewpoints, neither cluster of traditions really has much of an emphasis on sex in ritual or magic. Some Heathens & Druids may choose to practice sex magic, especially in relation to ecstatic trance or spirit-work, but on the whole both Druids & Heathens are not really focused on heterosexual polarity or the “God & Goddess as a cosmic battery” in the way Wicca sometimes is. I’d also like to add, that on the whole polytheistic cultures of the past tended to be more sexually conservative than we are now, simply due to lack of reliable contraception, and the high risks of childbirth and infant mortality. Likewise, situational male homosexual behavior often occurred especially among young unmarried men because of the tight control over young women and separation of the sexes*. Mystery cults that focused on ecstasy- whether sexual, drug-induced etc. were sometimes repressed by the dominant social hierarchy for being disruptive to the social order. Witchcraft & Wicca are modern forms of mystery cults/religions, and likewise there are mystery cults and liminal or social/spiritual outsider associated practices within modern polytheistic religions or exist as traditions/religions unto themselves. But on the whole, both Druidry and Heathenry tend to focus more on the practices of the “ordinary” layperson.

(*Note: I am especially thinking about Greek, Roman and Near Eastern cultures here)

November 19, 2014 at 12:28 am 2 comments

What Do Healthy Spiritual Communities Look Like?

(Note: this advice is coming from my experience dealing with Pagan/magical/New Age communities, however much of it is relevant to other spiritual/religious communities as well as secular ones)

Healthy Friendships

If someone is mostly a negative influence on you, remove them from your life. Cut off contact. Make friends outside the Pagan community, in secular settings who are positive and supportive. Look for friends, who while they may not have everything in life figured out, in general have fairly stable lives that they are holding together. If you have friends who constantly ask you for help, a place to sleep, store stuff, money, rides etc. but do not seem to be doing much to improve their situation *when it is within their power* and keep giving excuses, seriously re-evaluate these friendships. Make boundaries that you are comfortable with.

Personally I have a limit of having one friend at a time that I help with serious issues (mental health, looking for jobs/housing/healthcare/childcare etc) I focus on referring them to services and giving them someone to talk to (about non-professional level appropriate things), while drawing the boundary of not allowing my health or finances to be dragged down by them.

True friendship requires give and take- much like relationships with our gods and spirits. There are times when a good friend needs to give more support to a friend in need, but everyone must use their own judgment about how far that support should go.

Healthy Leaders/Elders/Clergy 

How is the status/title/power of this person determined? By the person and their claims? By a group, or a broader community? Is it based on fame and trendiness or more on hard work and learning, regardless of how glamorous or not?

What boundaries does this person have over their personal life- choices in career, relationships to family, expectations of being public with their religion, being able to take care of health? Are the expectations they have of themselves, or that the group members have of them the same, and are they realistic and sustainable?

What responsibilities do they have towards members of their group or community?

What responsibilities do the members have towards them?

What responsibilities do the members have to each other?

Do the members have stable/sustainable lives outside of the group (i.e. their basic needs are taken care of, personal difficulties they have do not drag down the rest of the group.

What is the stated purpose or mission of the group, and does it live up to that mission, or clearly seem to be working towards it in a realistic way?

This was originally titled Recovering from Toxic Pagan Communities, but the topic drifted a bit..

To be clear about what I am talking about:

*Recovering from dealing with dysfunctional individuals, groups and relationships within Pagan, Heathen, polytheist or occult/magical and New Age communities.

Not:

*Having difficulties with one’s spiritual path development- a “crisis of faith”, Dark Night of the Soul, etc. can be related to this but is a separate issue

*Recovering from mental health problems, past abuse/trauma, alcohol & drug abuse (or coming from families with such problems) This are important and need to be dealt with (and hopefully helped by healthier spiritual communities!) but if nothing else I’m drawing a line between “problems you had before you become pagan” and “problems that were mainly exacerbated or originated due to bad behavior among Pagans- i.e. abuse of drugs/alcohol in community, abusive relationships, discouraging of getting help for health/financial or other problems (or of only using spiritual/magical/alternative techniques) I will address these matters when relevant…

October 7, 2014 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

Clarifying Callings

Part of the reason I wrote that long post on Functions of Clergy was to develop ideas on what role(s) I feel called to play in my communities. Among Pagans, there is sometimes an assumption that anyone who is a “serious” spiritual practitioner has the goal to be clergy. In Wicca, getting a 3rd degree initiation generally means you are considered a priest/ess, and it was once assumed that was the goal for all Wiccans, but it’s not necessarily the case these days. It’s even trickier when your entire religion is rather misleadingly named after an elite caste of educated clergy/judges/magicians etc- Druids. ADF has a clear definition and training system in place for our clergy, and we have many other roles that are greatly valued within our organization. We have the Guilds- Bards, Warriors, Brewers, Artisans, Scholars, Liturgists, Magicians, Seers, each has its own training program. We have Orders that focus on particular deities and mysteries. You need to go through the basic Dedicant Program to go on to these other types of training, but we try to be clear that the DP is not required to be a good upstanding ADF member.

Anyway, back to me- after my numerous attempts at involvement in Pagan ritual groups, I’ve found that leading and participating in them doesn’t seem to be working out. There may be a right situation, with the right people that comes along, but I am not going to force it out of desperation for community if that community is dysfunctional or just doesn’t fit with my schedule/transportation needs.  This situation reminds me a lot of being single but open to relationships that arise (quirkyalone), vs. compulsive dating even when you’re burned out because you feel like you “have to” be in a relationship. Or staying in bad relationship for the wrong reasons.

I am interested in being possibly being involved with broader groups like Paganicon and discussion/meetup type groups (a friend of mine is thinking of starting one up) I am interested in helping with projects in ADF and various polytheist groups. I am interested in working one on one- or in small groups to help seekers and solitaries learn more about various polytheistic religions. This may involve teaching a class or leading a workshop. In other words- peer solitary ministry. Because guess what: 80% (or more?) of Pagans are solitary and lack access to many of the social functions that organized religion provides- then again so do most Pagans who belong to ritual groups.

My biggest interest right now though, is to help empower other adults and teens on the autism spectrum.  To help them live happy, full successful lives- and by success I mean as they define it, not as hyper-capitalist society defines it. Pursuing their interests, connecting with other people in healthy ways (friends, romantic partners, family) finding work that is economically, emotionally and intellectually sustainable, stable housing, healthcare etc. And finding a spiritual path and perhaps community, if that is what they seek, that suits their needs as an autistic person. To do this work I will need to partner with many different types of communities and organizations. I would love to use my skills and experiences as an autistic adult to help people in Pagan, spiritual and geeky subcultures because I believe there are many people with autistic traits who are not getting the help that they need. Many of these people are not identified or do not identify as autistic, and I do not consider it my place to label them as such. I will educate other folks about autism, and ways of coping and working with it, and if people recognize traits in themselves or others, and they see solutions that might help them or their loved ones, then awesome. If they need services and accommodations that require a documented disability, then I can help refer them. But for some folks recognizing, “I’m an introvert, or have trouble with non-verbal communication, or sensory issues- and that’s OK! There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just wired a little differently, and here are some ways I can deal with a world that isn’t designed for people like me.” is a huge first step.

 

April 8, 2014 at 12:35 am Leave a comment


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