On the matter of Clergy and Ordination

One topic that comes up off and on in the pagan community is that of pagan clergy and ordination. This really bothers me because almost every time it gets mentioned in any way, people start chiming in against it and using arguments that, frankly, are not even accurate. It is almost always the same two arguments every time. One, is the claim “we only answer to the gods and not humans, this isn’t the way of the ancients”. And the second, is “we don’t need ordained, that’s too christian, and you can pay a small fee to do marriages”. Let’s look at that first one. I understand that, as pagans, we don’t “answer to” other people spiritually. But the thing is, we don’t “answer to” our priests and Godis that way either. Being clergy does not mean bossing people around and telling people how they HAVE to live their lives. In fact, it’s actually the opposite. The job of clergy is to lead and guide spiritually. Leading and being a boss (or dictator) are two entirely different things. The point of being clergy, is to help people find their individual paths to connecting with their gods. It is helping them learn about the practices and lore, and “faith” when they are new. It’s being there to lend your experience and knowledge, and to be an ear to listen and give advice in times of need. And yes, the ancients had them. The Chieftains, the Godi, village leader, high priests and priestesses, were all what we now call “clergy”. They aren’t claiming to speak for the gods, or to lay down the law and control people. If they do, they are doing it wrong and should lose their titles. But that’s not what the majority does. And this is part of the reasoning against the second argument as well. To begin with, the online marriage officiant ordination is not legal in all states. Also, in all but a few cases and organizations, these ordinations are only for officiating marriages and in some cases funerals. They most often do not cover spiritual guidance, holding other religious ceremonies, or running religious organizations and groups. While I understand that our spiritual ancestors didn’t require legal documents to do these things, I also know that we live in a different time than they did. If you want to give guidance and support to people of your faith without ordination, that is absolutely your choice. Not everyone wants or needs to be legally ordained. However, if you do that and someone has a problem with you and what you teach, you have less legal way to fight it. In some places it is even illegal to present yourself as priest, minister, etc and give that kind of advice without legal ordination. Just like it is illegal to be a therapist without a license. This is not just “a Christian thing” trying to hold us back. There are many reasons both legally and ethically that this is necessary. On the legal side, there’s not only the matter of your fellows’ and your own protection, but also the matter of what your plans are for the future. One example is if you wanted to start a small kindred or even larger religious group. That group would not have the same legal protection as churches and other organizations without being legally recognized. And again, if you do the online marriage ordinations, that isn’t counted in all states, nor does it cover enough activities for that. But most importantly, is the matter of ethics. Like I said, becoming ordained is not about telling people what to do all the time or having people answer to you instead of the gods. But unfortunately, there are those who do use the title of priest or priestess to do just that. Some will even go as far as to use it as a way to convince people to do things that are morally wrong. Some use it just as a way to have power and control. Some use it to create groups that they rule by their privates, if you catch my drift. When we think of cults we often think of Jim Jones and David Koresh and those types. But there are other less obvious cults out there. Or at least less famous. And yes, there are so-called pagans who have used their titles to control, manipulate, abuse (and even do worse to) their followers. It’s not just Christians that have those bad apples. There are also people who claim priesthood for themselves and present themselves as an authority on various matters. Or who just like to say “I’m a priestess/priest”. And quiet often, people will call themselves that after only a year because of books on solitary Wicca and witchcraft saying you can be your own priest. However, they forget that means for themselves as solitary and not leading and teaching other people when they themselves are still “baby witches”. When people are allowed to just call themselves clergy without proof, the only way to know if they are worth their salt or not is to hang around and find out and hope for the best. Why waste that kind of time or take the risk? Secondly, clergy and leaders should be those who are called in a spiritual sense and that the people they serve see as a leader or trusted elder/advisor type. Not one who names themselves the title. Not one who says “my god said I’m his priest”, and assumes that means they can call themselves a priest for others too. Clergy and their fellow practitioners are still equals as far as the gods are concerned. No one is better than any other. But, the jobs and duties they perform, require some proof that they know what they’re talking about, have knowledge of their path and practice, agreement to some ethical standard, and that they have shown to have the trust of others. Not claiming themselves such. Having a legal process of ordination beyond the online “sign and go” marriage ordination, gives an extra layer of “proof” that they have done the work, and know what they’re doing. So for the argument about “anyone can go online”…that’s the problem. The fact that anyone can do it for any reason without any background check means that even the bad guys can do it. And to be honest, that is not even the real argument. The argument that goes with this most is the comparison with Christianity. It is simply shying away from anything similar to Christians because of past hurt and misconceptions. They do not own these titles and positions. These are things that almost every religion has some variation of. The legality of it is not a christian only thing either. If it makes you feel better, think of it as a safety net. But here is the absolute biggest thing I would like you to take away from this. To some people, having a call to serve and making that legally recognized is an important moment. It is special to them. If that’s not what you want for yourself, fine. But don’t shit on someone else for doing something that doesn’t affect you at all. If you don’t like the idea of ordination, don’t get ordained and don’t join an organization with an ordained Godi. But don’t sit and talk down on others for accepting ordination in their path. And don’t use fake excuses claiming its a christian only concept to justify being rude. Both ways are valid. And its a practice that pagans have almost always had. This just makes it legal and less likely to be attacked for it. How dare we get extra protection? Norse practicing self preservation? Who would’ve thunk it?  The point is, just let people practice the way they choose if it doesn’t hurt anyone. We already have enough actual problems to fight. 

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: