Pagan Clergy

Last week I read this excellent post on The Ditzy Druid blog – which got me thinking about Pagan clergy.

In organised religions, clergy tends to mean hierarchy. It means people with more power and influence, perhaps in a many tiered system. I can’t say it’s something I find attractive. As a Pagan doing the clergy job, I’m very aware that I don’t have much of a formal support network. No one is paying me to support others through crisis or to offer guidance. There isn’t someone I can definitely go to for support myself, or advice or anything like that. I have no doubt it’s easier to do the work when you get paid for it and you’ve got backup.

In practice if I’m struggling, I’m likely to look around and see who, of the wise people I know, might have some ideas, or some spare energy. I am a celebrant, and an advice giver, but there are times when I need the benefit of someone else’s insight and experience. Sometimes I need a perspective from someone not as emotionally caught up in things. If I need a rite of passage, I need someone else to do that for me. If I need witnessing in something, I need someone else to do it. I think this is true for all Pagans.

One of the oft touted ideas in Paganism is that we are all our own priests and priestesses. We can all talk directly to what we hold sacred. However, in being priests and priestesses, perhaps we need to think about that role not in purely personal terms, but in community terms. In every tarot reading, every assist with a troubling dream, in ritual, in exchanging ideas and in comforting each other, we act as each other’s spiritual guides and counsellors.

Priestwork need not mean authority or hierarchy. It could be understood in terms of shared responsibility. We all need people to advise, support and challenge us once in a while. We can do that without sacrificing autonomy, by having it happen in a more fluid way.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Pagan Clergy

  • Sheila North

    I salute you but do not envy you your role: “herding cats” comes to mind in terms of dealing with a group of Pagans.

  • Ryan C.

    It’s an interesting question, and one I don’t have an answer for. I share your concerns about hierarchy, especially when you have “priests” and titles like “reverend” etc. It sets up a them-and-us divide between clergy and laity. But on the other hand, I also see the need for celebrants, community supporters, facilitators and guides.

    One thing I have noticed when the topic of full-time professional Pagan clergy comes up is that lots of people seem to want to be paid to be a priest, but nobody wants to be the one who pays the priest. Which leaves people (like you) doing all the work for free, which to me seems an unfair model.

    Like I said, I have no answer, but it is a tricky knot to grapple with.

    • Nimue Brown

      for the celebrant stuff, I always ask people to cover my travel costs, or get me there, as they prefer, beyond that, payment is up to them. I’ve always been paid, but people give what they can afford. I think the bigger issue is the more subtle support work – vicars are paid to be available to their communities, and that must make a lot of odds around the supportive sharing of tea, and the more involved listening work and so forth.

  • River Spirit Films (@greenflametree)

    It’s great if you have a community that works that way, but for me, there is no real relationship between my helping people with their dreams or other aspects of their inner life, for example, and their treating me with similar care and respect. I have mostly stopped doing it now, because I don’t want to turn it into a business by charging for services, nor do I wish to waste limited energy confronting these behaviours. Eg. 1, people chatting in circle spite of clearly delineated format during free community dream groups run by me. Eg. 2, people emailing me for advice (the email is usually a sentence or two at most) and then not even replying or thanking me when I write several paragraphs of carefully considered response. Eg. 3, People asking for potted info on various esoteric topics that they could easily Google for themselves. I also experience frequent attempts in my professional life to get me to work for nothing (mostly ‘just edit this a bit’ ‘just write a blurb’ etc). These experiences may be the reason for all the hoodoo around priesthoods and expert-hood of any kind; people want to use their gifts to help or facilitate others, but they also want to make sure that their efforts are respected and rewarded (not necessarily with money, tho’ charging money is often a handy way of getting people to show up on time and not chatter throughout). My sense is that such reward systems (fees for workshops, special robe/pendant/authority, the dispensing of certificates etc) often begin as a defence against disrespect, rather than as a demand for status, assuming of course that the priestly one isn’t a narcissistic power-hungry maniac but just a genuine person with limited resources who doesn’t want to be taken advantage of.

  • ibgreenie3

    Because of the lack of Pagan clergy, I started an Iseum dedicated to Hathor as the “Lady of the West.” I teach students the main Deities involved with a soul “passing over” into the afterlife. After a year’s time, they write their own “rites of passage” for themselves or a family member.
    Although not a clergy, but an Adept, they are prepared to help their familiy members, pagan community or friends who are leaving this lifetime.
    It is very hard for Pagans who take on the role of spiritual leader without having support themselves. Even though being a licensed Reverend, it can be difficult being the only one in a large area. I recommend finding a spiritual director for anyone needing help, advice & guidance.
    I teach & train Adepts to become Priests/Priestesses in a Lyceum. I take no fee for passing on sacred knowledge & traditions. I do this out of love for the Deities I serve. It can be a thankless job and people can take advantage of a Pagan leaders time & resources.
    Having discussions such as you have raised in this post can help others share how they feel. I agree that Pagan leaders should receive a fee for workshops, hand-fasting & funerals. It requires time, planning and creating programs that are tailored to the Pagan members of a community/area. Any Pagan clergy hopefully is there to give spiritual support & comfort to those who need it. May those to receive spiritual ceremonies, rituals and aid from their Pagan leaders realize the need to give back to those who serve the Deities & the Pagan people/community who ask for their services.

    Blessings & gratitude for all who serve their Pagan people in any & all ways,
    Reverend Donna M.Swindells
    Fellowship of Isis

  • lornasmithers

    Whilst I don’t like hierarchy I do think pagans are in need of people who can deal sympathetically and understandingly from a perspective of shared belief and as experienced counsellors with people who are in crisis or terminally ill. Cara’s article on the Wild Hunt hit me quite hard and made me realise I wouldn’t begin to know where to look for support if I was in a similar situation.

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