A Pagan Clergy?
17th November, 1998
One thing that differentiates Pagan religious practices is the fact that Pagans as a group don't have a full-time professional clergy as most people would recognise it.
Paganism is a faith that promotes a philosophy of all members being responsible for their own spiritual progress. It is this sense of personal responsibility that draws many people to Paganism in the first place. In a sense, everyone is his or her own priest or priestess. However, as the numbers of people following a Pagan path increases, so does the need for people who undertake a social support role in providing services such as weddings, counseling and funerals, the type of thing carried out by a clergy person.
Most of the duties that a minister, priest or rabbi would perform are carried out by the High Priest or High Priestess of the coven to which an individual belongs. To reach this position within a coven, an individual would be expected to have a sound knowledge of the coven's teaching, ability to pass those teachings on, solid organizational skills and ability to counsel people in times of need. All the things those members of clergy of mainstream faiths do.
But there is reluctance within the wider Pagan community to support the idea of a paid, full-time Pagan clergy. Perhaps this stems from prior bad experiences with institutionalized religion or the fact that people drawn to Paganism tend to be very individualistic and not prone to giving their spiritual autonomy away.
However, for those who aren't members of covens, this lack of a public, Pagan clergy can have significant consequences. Instead of being able to seek a sympathetic and understanding ear in times of personal crisis, they are forced to seek secular services. This includes weddings, counseling, and funeral services - times when people want religion to play a part in their lives.
For those who wish to undertake a vocation of Pagan clerical duties, there are other more mundane issues for them to face. In the United States, where Pagan denominations like Witchcraft have been recognized since 1985, many Pagan clergy still have trouble receiving the legal recognition they need to perform their clerical duties.
There is also the issue of receiving formal divinity training. Most divinity schools are associated with specific denominations within Christian and Jewish traditions. As such, there are a very limited number of places that Pagans can receive formal clerical training, which in turn adds to the difficulty of receiving formal recognition.
In Australia, the situation is often even worse. With a very small population, the Pagan community is very limited and often spread across large geographical areas. There are only about 5 legally recognized Pagan clergy people in the whole country.
The latest Pagan clergy person to receive their credentials did so after a battle that lasted over two years. As such, any Pagans wishing to have a non-Christian marriage or funeral ceremony must have these proceedings conducted by a civil celebrant - even though they would prefer a religious ceremony.
While not supporting the idea of making it easy for any person wanting credentials to get them, some discussion must be given to making it easier for non-mainstream faiths to have their clergy recognized. And that the Pagan community itself, help support their clergy who are working on their behalf.
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