An online academic journal called Hybrid Pedagogy posted a piece that I wrote about a student’s perspective on pedagogy, which for those (like me) who aren’t teachers by trade, is the method and practice of teaching. There is a discussion happening in academic circles about the changing roles of teacher and student. The “brick and mortar” classroom is being supplemented, and sometimes replaced by online learning environments, and social media tools, like Twitter, are becoming discussed as possible teaching tools.
This discussion may not seem relevant to anyone outside of the academy, but I think it warrants some attention from the Pagan Community, a.k.a. the Pagan/Polytheist/Recon/Eclectic/Many-named people. There might be a parallel worth exploring.
We had a discussion about the difference between what we want from Pagan leaders and what we need from Pagan leaders a few months back. These questions continue to be relevant as we consider how to include our voices in interfaith dialogue, as was suggested we do in a recent Wild Hunt post, or as we ponder with Drew Jacob (a “non-Pagan”) how Paganism might grow into a world religion.
I’d like to open up this conversation again by asking: Should Pagan leaders serve, among other things, as teachers within the community?
DruidMeb voiced something to this effect in her response to “What do we want from our Pagan leaders?“:
“I expect our leaders to not only be polymaths but to also to be compassionate pastoral counselors and gifted teachers. However, in the Neopagan community, we are often inundated with a plethora of self-declared leaders, many of whom do not possess the requisite characteristics to lead well. The failure of these individuals to effectively direct and prepare their members may often lead to burnout, drama, and Witch wars.
The ethical thing to do, if you wish to be a leader, is to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to provide a welcoming and safe spiritual home for your members. If you are lacking in a particular area, you must be mature enough to recognize it, compensate for it or balance it out somehow, and attempt to rectify your shortcomings by educating yourself. If a leader is unwilling to look at their own work critically and evaluate their own efforts, then they are no one I’d want to follow.”
If Pagan leaders or clergy are to serve the Community (big “C”), or their individual community (their grove, their circle, their local Meetup group, etc.), as teachers, should they be involving themselves in conversations about pedagogy outside of the Pagan Community? Teaching comes quite naturally to some, but there are still techniques and skills that are worth exploring in a more formal academic environment. Perhaps those considering a life of service or leadership within their Pagan tradition have cause to pursue this kind of education.
Kate Dennis, a spiritual director and interfaith minister, explains her role as a leader in a slightly different way on “What do we NEED from Pagan leaders“:
“As Pagan clergy I don’t so much see myself as a leader as a resource. My knowledge and experience is something for others to draw from so they can enrich their own experience of spirituality worship. In the larger context, I am only one of many resources and not an absolute.”
Leader, teacher, clergy — I’m not sure that there is even widespread agreement about the definition of these terms among Pagans, and this may be a good starting point for dialogue.
How do you define these three roles/positions? Do you see there being a connection between a Pagan leader and a Pagan teacher? How about “clergy” — does that word sit well with you?
If you’re a part of a Pagan tradition that trains people to lead or teach, what informs your pedagogy?
Feel free to teach me what you know by posting a comment in the thread below, or engage with a fellow reader about her ideas. And be sure to visit the Hybrid Pedagogy piece to get more context about this discussion on pedagogy.
52 responses to “Looking a little closer at Pagan Leaders, Clergy, and Teachers”
I love the idea of teacher-as-resource–that’s partly how I think of myself, and what I tell my university students: I get to be the teacher because I’ve been doing/studying this stuff way longer than you have! Although I do have a set curriculum for them to follow, I’d like to think that a lot of what I can do is help point them towards new ways of looking at something and how to find more information about what they’re interested in. And I learn a LOT from my students, too, which I also try to tell them all the time.
In any case, I really liked your Hybrid Student essay, and this issue is particularly interesting to me as I’m about to change jobs (yay!) from a part-time gig at a liberal arts college with fairly small classes (20-30 students) to a regional state school with on-campus classes two or three times as large and online classes with I-don’t-know-yet how many students. I’ve never taught online before and haven’t the foggiest idea how to go about it, and switching to larger classes is going to mean a lot fewer writing assignments (I’ll never be able to grade it all!) and a harder time having class discussions and more just straight lecturing (and believe me, I’m as talkative as they come, but being the only voice in the room for an hour and 15 mins is not something I relish). I also–which may be more to your point–won’t be able to get to know the students much at all, unless I have them in several classes over time and/or they come by the office to say hello. I also may end up working with students from the high school to the grad school level, which will require a whole range of approaches!
The thing is, though, I DO have a ton of experience teaching in university settings, but I’m nowhere near being a “teacher” in the Pagan community (my specific one, or on the blogs I frequent, or in the larger scheme of things). In fact I’ve found that I try to resist coming across one as I don’t want to assume that my *professional* role gives me the right (or knowledge, or ability) to act like some sort of expert on all things Pagan (despite the fact that I’ve been Pagan for 20+ years!!) I think a lot of that has to do with not being properly “credentialed” in the Pagan learning process–I’m still working on the OBOD bardic (first level) course. I’ve found that when my Grove does its bit of monthly book discussion I’m more comfortable letting our “senior Druid” (he hates it when we call him that :)) lead the discussion (despite the fact that some of my buddies kind of assumed that *I* would lead the discussion, because that’s what I do at work) because he DOES have the experience & knowledge that I’m lacking!!
So who knows, one of these days when I’ve completed more formal study with OBOD I might feel like I can do some teaching in the Pagan world. Until then I’ll stick to being a student/writer around here (hmm, but does the writing count as teaching….?? :))
This is a great comment, Nicole. Thank you for joining in the discussion here. I would actually love to see you contribute your voice to the comment section on Hybrid Pedagogy, too. Perhaps you have ideas about the questions I posed there. My readership at Bishop In The Grove has much practice at engaging in dialogue in the comment section, and I’d love to see some of that transfer over to the HP article.
With regard to your experience in your grove, I wonder if there is a way that you could discuss with you S.D. this experience of feeling unable to step up and participate more in discussions. Perhaps what you have to offer him, as a teacher, is some useful information about pedagogy.
Could you imagine doing that?
Oh, I have no trouble stepping up and participating; I talk plenty, and we’re not a hierarchical group at all, we just have a couple of folks who are way more experienced in Druidry and OBOD specifically than the rest of us. So I’m happy to let him lead the discussion; the stuff that he might see as the most important points might be different that what I’d have in mind, and since in that context *he’s* the experienced one, I’m quite happy with that. It’s the fact that I DO talk so much that makes me want to be cautious about not going into “professor mode” in a situation where it might not be appropriate.
I think that the ultimate dream of a real teacher is to help in the creation of someone that can surpass them. I think, at least in Wicca, the ultimate goal of a leader is to help create people that can take over the job of leading and do it well or even better.
This is where ego can get in the way. If the person must always be top dog, or the ultimate expert, then they will do everything possible to keep those under them below them.
I can still recall a new person, of less than two year practice, related something to me, beyond anything that I have ever had happen to me. The first thing that I did was let him know how unusual and exceptional his experience was. I think it rather shocked him to discover that despite my greater experience, that he had surpassed me in one experience.
Remembering all to well the games older men played on me when I was the young one makes me determined as much as possible not to play to those games on younger people. It is all to easy to break a young person’s spirit as they have neither the experience nor faith in themselves that will develop over time. But if you break their spirit they will never develop into much of anything.
In reverse some encouragement at the right time, and giving them credit when it is due, may help them become something far beyond what you and even they can imagine. In that case we have created something that gives our community hope for its future.
I think the Venn diagram for Leader fully includes Teacher and Clergy, and these latter terms are also not necessary mutually exclusive. I.e. you can be either a teach or a clergy person, but you can also be both.
A leader is simply someone who presents themselves to a community for the purposes of acting as a change agent and asks others to subscribe to their newsletter (to put it in the terms of an Internet meme). The size of the community they lead doesn’t change their …. status …. as a leader, simple the reach of their change. To that extent, anyone can lead, these days, simply with a blog, Facebook or Twitter account, etc.
Teachers and Clergy are a little different, in my opinion. Teachers lead by imparting knowledge unto their community in the hopes that others will act in accordance with their point of view. This is not to say that teachers cannot learn from their students. Clergy, on the other hand, lead by making their knowledge and skills a resource for their community with respect to ceremonial or ritualistic life events, changes, and decisions. Both lead, but both lead in different ways. And, you can be both at the same time (and I suspect many are).
Thank you for the comment, David. I’m glad to have your perspective on this subject.
I think that some might disagree with the idea that a teacher is “imparting knowledge unto their community in the hope that others will act in accordance with their point of view.” I know many a teacher who have little interest in their students taking up their own way of seeing the world; their desire is simply to inspire their students to be more present, more engaged, and more willing to inquire about the information being presented to them.
Has it been your experience with teachers that they are always trying to get students to think the way they think, or “act in accordance with their point of view?”
The best college prof. I had was adamant about NOT being a “teacher.” He called himself a learning facilitator.
I LOVE THAT!
Now there’s a true Teacher 🙂
Yeah, I think it has, actually. Even something as “mundane” as my computer science professors were teaching me programming but trying to instill within me a sense of what had been successful for them during their careers in the hopes that I would find, within their successes, a path toward my own. I think it’s probably an intrinsic part of teaching: showing a different person the way you think something ought to be done.
A good teacher is not going to cry foul, however, if a student finds shklirs own path to success whether it’s the same one, parallel to it, or orthogonal to the teachers. Bad ones usually do.
I think a lot of this has to do with the subject being taught. In the physical/biological sciences, and probably engineering and math and the like, something is what it is and the teacher is telling you what it is. Not that scientists in those disciplines never change what they know or how they know it, but a turtle is a turtle and a crow is a crow. 🙂 Since I teach in the social sciences, I see my job as partly teaching students the way things really are (ie, why do women still earn less than men on average?) and partly trying to give them some skills to develop *educated* opinions about whatever-it-is. I tell them all the time that they don’t have to agree with me, but they’d darn well better back up what they have to say with actual evidence from what they’ve learned in class. I’d think teaching about Pagan ideas and practices would be similar: students should hopefully be gaining a lot of concrete knowledge and experience re: their path mixed with critical thinking abilities and the like they need to more forward in their studies and in their communities.
While I’m not there yet, I see my eventual role as being a shepherd of sorts. I have my minister’s license, am working on my business degree, and am working toward gaining some Pagan “credentials” like Nicole. I plan to open a multifaith main street shop that will have books, artwork, and gifts as well as hosting lectures and groups. I see spirituality as a necessity for life as much as food and water. Like a shepherd leads his flock to green grass and clear water, I can make my shop a place to feed the spirit. However, just like a shepherd can’t force the sheep to eat or drink, neither can I. I can help them ask the right questions to point them toward the answers that work for them. It is up to them to take the next step.
I think what I love most about what you’re doing, Dan, is this integration of your spiritual practice/ethos/belief-system with real world, tangible goals like a business degree and a multi-faith shop. Taking theory and rooting it something physical could be seen as a magical act, itself, and your commitment to becoming a “shepherd” is inspiring. That term has particular resonance for me, having come from a Christian background, and I appreciate that you’re using it in a way that is broad enough to include many faith traditions. I love that you focus on helping people find the “answers that work for them.”
That, I think, is the definition of interfaith ministry.
I find it insulting to call the seekers of the most liberating and freeing religious path I’ve ever encountered “sheep” who are in need of a shepherd. We should be striving for something better than this – not just living up to the model put forth by the dominant religious paradigm in our western culture. Try a different metaphor, my friend.
I respect your emotional reaction to the shepherd/sheep metaphor, Naya, but I don’t read into Dan’s comment any disrespect. As he puts it:
“I can make my shop a place to feed the spirit.”
That seems to be his primary intention, and I think that’s a good thing. He goes on to say that he can’t force people in one direction or another, which is something that I think you and I would both respect.
I guess I’m bringing all of this up because we’re all trying to do our best here in this conversation to describe our perspectives or our passions, and I’m wary of anyone shutting another person down for their attempts at honesty and sincerity. I hope that makes sense.
And again, I’m glad that you (and Dan) are a part of this conversation.
A place to feed the spirit is a great thing. Helping people is a great thing. I’m all for that.
However, we always need to mind our words, because, as those of us who practice magic know, words have power. When you refer to yourself as a shepherd, you’re referring to those who come to you as sheep. When you start thinking of those people as “needing to be led to water,” you’re assuming that they can’t find the water themselves.
If one is thirsty, they don’t need someone to turn on the faucet for them. If one is hungry, one goes out to hunt. If one is spiritually yearning, one starts to seek. Don’t be a shepherd, though. Be a lightpost to help anyone who comes near. Let the quality of your work shine through in what you do and how you live your life, and if someone asks, “What’s the secret to your happiness?” then answer.
A spiritual quest will never take anyone too far if they only desire to be led to water, though, rather than seeking to lead themselves to water. For the depth of change that a spiritual path can truly offer, you need to have the will, desire, and gumption to start yourself.
I worry, also, that the dominant Christian paradigm is tainting how we do Paganism. We see the Christian church as the model for religious success around here. That model involves a few clergy people leading their flocks, with only a select few ever seeking much deeper than that. It’s not a great model to live up to, really. I’ve always been one to encourage people to cut out the middleman – to be your own priest/ess and find your own connection to the gods. Each and every one of us can, and should do this. Steadily, it’s turning into yet another organized religion, with all of the things I dislike about organized religion including authoritarians, flocks, following, and trading mysticism and self-awakening for doctrine and dogma.
When I was ordained as a Minister in my Pagan tradition last year, part of my “requirements” was to have taken classes at the local tech college on human services, customer relations and business managment…for the purposes of being able to handle and deal with public and people. I feel it was well worth it, especially since I participate in inter-faith relations. In order for us (Pagans) to be recognized and taken serious by mainstream….we need to be on our “A” game.
Thanks for contributing to this conversation, Rev. EagleBear. I’m glad that you’ve joined in the dialogue.
Do you feel like your experiences at the tech college informed your ability to relate to the people you serve on a personal level, or on more of an administrative level? I’m curious if these courses were included in your ordination process to help you better relate to the people you serve, or to the outside community.
I feel it was more at an administrative level, and was meant to be as such. I had no problem with a personal level…from my background and previous work growing up…I was always around and mingling with the public. I needed the “professional” aspect of dealing with the public.
Yes, it was part of the “requirements” to be ordained within our tradition. Seeing as being a very public member of the Community as a whole, it was required.
You are a leader when you lead. Credentials are not nearly so important as action, attitude, PROVEN expertise . A piece of paper on your wall means nothing. Do your words show wisdom, expertise, experience and compassion? Do you actions show the same? Do you write and say meaningful things? Do and share meaningful things? Guide others by being a beacon onto yourself? Everyone should be striving to do these things, and as they do, guiding others to do the same.
I have never been comfortable with these movements toward top-down religion from paganism. There are those of us who have expertise and can guide those who are newer. Saying, though, “Trust my authority because I have these credentials,” never sat well with me in the realm of spiritual development. “Trust my expertise because I can prove to you I know how to do this,” is really what I consider to be the important thing to focus on.
I like the comment in here about seeing oneself as a resource. If you ask, I can guide you on your way. How do you know that I can do that? Because I have demonstrated so, by doing meaningful things with my Craft, and helping others to do the same. And once you’re skilled, you should do the same.
Thanks for being a part of the conversation here, @twitter-179121328:disqus . This is a great comment.
There are a couple ideas you brought up that I’d like to try and unpack further. You say that: “A piece of paper on your wall means nothing.” I see where you’re coming from here, and I agree with you to a point. The degree, certificate, or award doesn’t mean anything on its own; it is just a piece of paper. That said, I think undergoing a process of dedicated, guided study is valuable, and completing that study is an achievement worth noting.
Full disclosure: I’m currently working toward the completion of my Bachelor’s degree, with the hope of one day pursuing a Doctor of Divinity. To do that, I first have to buy in to the idea that the process of working toward a degree is worth something. But, I’m not certain that this education would prepare me, or anyone for that matter, for leadership. I’m beginning to think that while education does well to inform leadership, experience may be as good a teacher.
In @PhaedraHPS:disqus quote, there’s use of the word “enabler,” which we might think of as “facilitator,” and I like to think that leaders can be this for their communities. It kind of diffuses the idea of “top-down” leadership, you know?
Again, you brought up a lot of great ideas. Thank you for contributing to the dialogue!
Many people in the IT industry will do overnight cram sessions for their certifications, put a bunch of letters behind their names, and yet still not know jack about how to code an elegant piece of software or how to think through a technical problem with logical finesse. Certainly, if you put in the actual work to get your certs, it will obviously help you, but as we’ve seen before in both IT and in the many witch wars, having certs does not equal wisdom or expertise. For some, it means that they can jump through hoops and fill out forms and that’s it.
Your Doctor of Divinity degree means much, much less to me than does your writing and the wisdom you show. It means much less to me than do your actions, which should speak louder than words, and much louder than letters. If, by what you have learned in your studies, you continue to write, say, do and live meaningfully, then I will agree that your degree was a worthwhile pursuit. But no seeker of spiritual wisdom should just stop at, “Well he has some impressive letters attached to his name, so he must be good.”
The most pronounced worry I have about all of this is that in the seeking for ways to impress the pagan populace and reassure them that you’re a good spiritual leader, enabler, guide, or whatever, is that it’s going to put a greater emphasis on relying on external things to bolster your credentials rather than relying on the mystical awakenings and inner developments that will shine like radiant sunlight from the one who has sought that path. Siddartha Guatama didn’t need certs. I came to the path of Wicca (I’m a third degree HPS in a British Traditional Wicca path) in seeking mysticism in my yearnings for the divine.
Sitting under a tree and meditating for days on end can awaken so much more spiritual awareness than studying for years in books. That’s the criteria upon which we should be gauging those we seek to guide us – the spiritual awareness that they not only display for others but live in their lives, not the number of classes that they have taken or degrees they have. There’s sadly no commercial potential in mysticism, so I don’t expect my message will get very far.
I think we’re in agreement about a lot, Naya.
I bring up my academic goals simply to provide context for my belief that education is valuable. I’m not one to give more credence to the perspective of a many-lettered-person, and acquiring titles isn’t the point of what I’m doing. Working toward a Doctorate would, ideally, provide me with many, many opportunities to reflect, contemplate, and process through my ideas about a wide variety of subjects within a setting that supports that kind of inner-work.
For some, study is a kind of inner work, and that inner work can be experienced as mystical, depending on the perspective and disposition of the student. For others, their mystical experiences may come from stillness, from the calming of the mind, from meditation. Who am I to say that one mystical path is preferable to another?
By seeking a formal education, one doesn’t necessarily divorce herself from mystical awakenings or inner developments, and neither does the choice not to pursue a degree keep one from being educated. I think it would be useful for us to seek a balance here, and not to fall into a rigid, binary perspective.
I love this dialogue, Naya. Thank you again for sharing your ideas here.
My Order’s teaching ultimately leaves it up to the individual what works and what doesn’t work. Our motto is, “Take what is useful, and leave the rest.” Otherwise you’re in danger of becoming dogmatic, and to be dogmatic is to be unteachable.
It is important to be honest about what you are. Despite having been in my Alexandrian Tradition for twenty-five years, my training stopped with my initiation, and I have never found any other teachers. So obviously I will never claim to be a high priest nor will I teach my tradition. Yet I do have useful skills at networking information, encouraging others, and in editing and reporting in my newsletter ACTION. I have been useful to others including founders of traditions and high priests and high priestesses as I am.
Each of us have our own skills, our own talents, and if we freely give those to the community, they can be valuable. But to claim rank you have not earned, and to teach when you aren’t qualified, can do long term harm to new people. As we learn in time that unlearning misinformation is harder then learning correct information.
Another rule that I personally follow is promise little, but always do more than you promise
A promise is a sacred thing, as you are only as good as your word. It is easy to over promise and then develop a reputation for non performance. I feel this is important for all of us, even those that work in the back ground. We have need for some leaders and some teachers, but ones that aren’t qualified should not take on tasks that they can’t do. Meanwhile if the rest of us follow those same rules we can take a load off of our leaders and teachers by filling in and doing the other things also necessary so that the leaders can organize and the teachers can teach without burning out from having to do everything themselves.
Then we will have become the community that we like to claim that we are, when each freely gives what they have, within their skills and abilities.
Perhaps I am looking at this a tad tinted based on my experiences… I think care should be taken in expectations of these folks or the “teacher”, “clergy”, “leader”, (T/C/Ls) or combination thereof can be exploited and misused. Suddenly people expect this person to know-all and be-all; relieving them of responsibility to learn, search, or study on their own. Let’s remember that the T/C/L’s usually have full time jobs and families; a life beyond their calling. Burnout is a reality for T/C/Ls. Do I think as a generality, the community expects one to be all three? Yes. Is that realistic, probably not.
T/C/Ls are regular people who have incorporated their calling into their life. In other words, stop treating T/C/Ls they are NOT superman/woman who are there for you 24/7, free of charge, expert on all Pagan traditions as well as other religions, no issue or question too much for them to answer off the cuff, civil rights and freedom fighter extraordinaire.
I agree there is a great difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’. In my experience, not all declared Pagans separate the two in my opinion.
For myself, I learned as a Priestess (a person of faith), I serve the Gods; I teach as a part of my duties; stand for civil rights issues locally and regionally as necessary; be an outreach for both Pagans and non-Pagans, groups, local government and organizations as requested; etc… in addition to my family and work lives. Summation, perhaps Pagans hold take a closer look at themselves – what they believe/accept, their responsibilities and roles in the community.
What about those of us Leaders in the Pagan Community that have no interest in the pastoral work? I am a Community Organizer but I am not suited for ministry. My goal is to facilitate a place and time for teachers and seekers to meet and exchange ideas. My goal is to facilitate discussion and connections. Is there no place for non-pastoral leaders? Not pointing fingers at all, just suggesting yet another path for dialogue.
This is primarily where I see myself at the moment. I am called to perform pastoral work, but I’m not prepared to do so, yet. If I did, it would be a farce!
That said, I think there is definitely a place for non-pastoral leaders. Look at the people involved in the Pagan Newswire Collective (disclosure: I’m involved in the PNC). From the top all the way to the bottom of that organization you have people, many of whom are not really clergy (though some are), but they’re acting as faces for our Community.
David, I agree. I think that perhaps there is value in separating out the roles into three distinct groups and then reminding people that just because we are one it does not mean we are the other. That being said, it is imperative for those of us who ‘lead’ but are non-pastoral to know who/where to send people in need to.
Apart from the usual observation that those most anxious to be leaders are often the ones who are the least suited for that role, what can make the unwilling Pagans like me step forward as leaders or teachers?
In my case it started after I met somone whose behaviour shocked me.
Do we allow people who take advantage of others’ faith to carry on regardless, or do we try to offer help to those just starting out on the path, so that they have a choice in who they want to teach them?
I only ever wanted to be a foot soldier in our coven, with self-development and serving the Gods as my main focus, but I think the Gods decided they wanted more from me. When our coven split due to ill health my husband and I invited our friend to join us to practise our faith together, but now others are approaching us. We have our first prospective member on his year and a day.
The year and a day is not supposed to be a period of indoctrination. (as I have seen some do) It is a year of marking the Wheel of the Year by celebrating the Sabbats, by reading about the the different pantheons, as well as the basics of the Craft in books by teachers like the Farrars and meditating alone and other ways of self-development.
He will, in fact, be teaching himself. I liked the earlier comment about the best teacher being known as a “Learning Facilitator” We can provide ways for him to access resources, to network, to make his own mind up. We are clergy: that is one resource. He can see how we do things. We also have to be able to stand back, to allow him to make up his own mind.
In addition, during this time he will be meeting other pagans and looking at how others serve the Gods, to see if coven life feels right for him, or if he will choose to work solitary, go to public rituals, or if he will follow another path entirely.
Between us: myself, my husband and our friend we have nearly 50 years experience in the Craft: both in covens and as solitary witches. We want to do this right. Our High Priestess from our last coven has consecrated our temple room, she has also dedicated and blessed our coven. We hope to make her proud of us.
In the end, all we can do is try our best – wish us luck!
Imust say i am so impressed by what you have said here. This is what i have been seeking for some years now, as my first teacher in the craft sadly passed into spirit too soon for me and i have found it difficult to grow as i thought i should. But i serve my little community as best i can i council, mediate do what i can to serve the Gods as best i can as this is the path that they have placed my feet upon so therefore i do their will so i do wish you all the luck and send blessings such as i have to give you blessed be.
As I see it, we are talking about 3 different skill sets. Being a leader does not mean one has the skill set for the other two, and vice versa. Teacher and Clergy are closely related, not all clergy are good teachers and not all teachers trained to be clergy. In this day any one can set themselves up as a pagan leader, teacher, or clergy with no actually training. It will remain this way unless the neo-pagan community suddenly becomes very organized, which I don’t think will happen. So it really comes down to “buyer beware”, that is, it is up to each individual to decide who is a good leader/teacher/clergy. Do they really have the skills to do the job? So who is qualified to do these roles? How do we know? This is where I think the pagan community needs organization and standards. This is where groups like Cherry-hill seminary and ADF’s Clergy training program fit in, and where pagans as a whole need to be willing to support these programs if they truly desire well trained pagan leaders, teachers, and clergy. These types of programs are what we need if we ever want the mainstream religions and the government to take us seriously.
Thanks for the comment, bard. I’m glad that you’re a part of the dialogue.
Your last points about the need for groups like Cherry Hill and ADF to provide training programs make a lot of sense to me. That being said, what we’re doing here in this very conversation, in this inquiry into the definition of terms, seems like an equally valuable part of the process. Some of us are going to pursue a more committed course of study, but for those who don’t, there can still be a place at the table to share –as you have– their perspectives about how to use our collective resources (including our ideas and insights) to address our needs as a community.
Perhaps this process of publicly discussing our perspectives will help us all to suss out whose voices are most supportive of community building, and what messages and principles might be worth adopting, community-wide.
Food for thought.
Again, thank you for this comment.
I personaly as a CR know and understand my limitations . Being on the short side of sixty , i am no leader, or clergy . But at this point in my life , having navigated many pitfalsl myself , i may be able to mentor a youngling pagan ………..help someone along our twisted ways. This is one way i can serve our community. I would not even consider myself a teacher , a formal one anyways . But helping a young pagan avoid a few pitfalls is something i can do . Particularly a young one on the same path that i’m on now , A CR , Sinnsreachd .My path has morphed and changed over the years , not an easy journey , but well worth it . If i can make someone elses journey a bit easier , a bit smoother ………..then i can say i have helped our community. Dennis
I’ve shared this quote before, but I think it is worth saying again. It’s influenced me since I found it more than a quarter of a century ago:
“A religious community needs enablers in at least five areas: (1) liturgical creators – poets, artists, musicians, choreographers, who can help the community bring forth in creative expression its symbolic life; (2) teachers who know the history of religious thought systems and their relation to social systems and can help the community reflect on and reconstruct its inherited symbols; (3) administrators, organizers, in some cases a lawyer, who can oversee the material resources of the community; (4) social justice experts who can critically analyze different structures of social oppression, the interface of poverty, sexism, racism, and militarism, and help the community focus its energies and resources on some particular areas of action; (5) spiritual counselors who have a wisdom in the inner life and its relation to life in community and can be guides in this journey of psychic-spiritual development.”
–Rosemary Radford Ruether, from her work The Women-Church Movement in Contemporary Christianity.
Ruether said every community needs these roles filled. They don’t need to be filled by the same people, but all these needs must be addressed if you want to have a viable, sustainable religious community.
What kinds of teachers we need depends so much on what the student wants to learn. Another post mentioned mentoring, which is a powerful way to learn the craft of priesthood. But there are not enough mentors for every seeker, nor does every seeker want to be clergy. We have to understand the needs of our community, needs that range from serious magical training and clergy training to lecture-hall style entry-level training. And frankly, so many just need a place to worship the Gods in the company of fellow travelers.
Interesting propositions all, but I find I need more agreement on terminology to really get anywhere. There are leaders, teachers, pastoral counselors (a formal term for a role for which one is trained, mentored, and held accountable for the good performance of), “clergy,” mentors, elders, et al. and they are not all the same, although I agree with Dash that they can be both or a combination of those roles.
I conducted a survey on Pagan elders — still open; please take it if you haven’t https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SZQY69X — and found that these words are confused,, often conflated, and seemingly confusing, and there is no agreement on what they mean. Several people considered elders to be those who’d been practicing a while. Others considered them to be actual older practitioners. Many considered elders (by their own definitions) to be the teachers, and also to be the people who spoke to media, etc. I don’t see that just because a person is skilled in her religious practices (a good diviner, for instance, or a good ritualist, or a good drummer or herbalist) s/he can necessarily teach them well. It’s likely that s/he can, but s/he may not be media-savvy so would thus not be a good person (“leader,” “clergy”) to be interviewed by the press. Some fabulous magical folk aren’t necessarily the best to represent us in interfaith activities.
Personally, I dislike using the term “clergy” when applied to Pagans. I also really hate the use of the honorific Rev. To me, using those terms inclines us to mimic overculture religious institutions and their ways of organizing. While some of these models may be appropriate, others may not. And some may be suitable to a particular Pagan organization and not to others.
These questions of terminology and organization are things we at Cherry Hill Seminary are always aware of and seeking to refine.
Like others here, I could go on and on, but for now will leave you with these thoughts about terminology. Thanks for reading.
Well, drat! I wrote a meaty comment and in the process of trying to set up a follow-up feed, lost it. Chances of my writing again are extremely slim. 🙂
I see a longer comment from you right above this one, was that it?
I tend to agree with Naya. Most who want to stake their claim as leaders pointing to some kind of credentials usually end up as the least capable of leading and teaching.
I’m no expert, and I’ve been practicing my form of Wicca for just eleven years, but here’s my take. Back in the days before the Internet, most who wanted to become a witch had to join a coven. Covens were effectively a school. Whether the leaders of that coven were great teachers or not, at least a kind of disciple and tradition was handed down to those seeking knowledge. With the advent of the Internet, and books published on Wicca, most seeking this path are self educated. Ironically, the best authors and experts tend to be those who were coven taught, such as Buckland, Farrar, and yes, even Cunningham. Past folk like these, much of what you get out there is just someone’s spin on the path, such as “nocturnal witchcraft” or “dark paganism.” This is not to say that there are some good authors out there, non-coven taught, who don’t have interesting takes on paganism paths.
So now, authors seem to be our default leaders. Mainstream religions do two things well. They organize and form hierarchies. Their leaders are people who have gone to school to be educated in their particular belief system. Many are also educated in some sort of counseling, as that is a big part of their duties. There may be some Wiccan schools, but for the most part, Wiccans and pagans in general are awful at organizing, and hierarchies are nearly impossible because I don’t really think we want them. Most pagans and witches I know are fiercely independent, march to their own beat, and the last thing they would want is someone telling them what to do. Hell, that’s why many of them left organized religion.
I see this push for pagan organization bandied about all the time. I can understand the reasons for it in a political context, but in practice, for the above reasons, and due to the fact that there are so many varying belief systems within paganism, I doubt it will ever happen.
Thanks for the comment, @twitter-344170097:disqus . I’m glad you’re a part of this conversation, and you offered some great things to think about.
As I was reading your comment, it occurred to me that if authors or writers are becoming the de facto voices in the community, there is reason to ask what kind of books, blogs or articles the community needs them to write. Do we need more manuals on how do to magic, or would we benefit from dissuasion about how to form community, build bridges, forge connection?
There is this idea that organization necessarily leads to hierarchy, and I’m not sure that’s true. I believe that Starhawk’s “Empowerment Manual” is seeking offer new ideas about organizing — this could be the direction that more Pagan thinkers could take.
(A link to her book page: http://www.starhawk.org/writings/empowerment_manual.html)
Perhaps the first step is having a conversation like this, where we demonstrate to each other that effective communication is possible in our community.
Again, thank you for this comment. It was inspiring to me.
Thanks for the nice words Teo, and for visiting my new blog. Of course, one of the main difficulties for creating a unified pagan community is the fact that many, many pagans remain in the “closet.” Frankly, I’m one of them. I came to this path in my early 40’s, and now am in my early 50’s. Most of my old friends would not understand this decision, and I’ve lost a few friends who I did decide to tell. We just don’t know how many of us are out there.
That’s why I think the Internet and books are so vital to pagans. It helps solitaries both with learning, and with feeling like they have some sense of community. So yes, authors, through books and websites, blogs, and podcasts provide a valuable current through which many can connect.
You asked what kind of book or information teachers/authors should provide. We know there is a glut of magical practice stuff out there. Judika Illes, through her book of 5000 spells could easily be the end all of any kind of spell books one would need.
I think the unseen pagans out there are just clamoring for books or other means on how, for lack of a better way to say it, to just be pagan. How do we enrich our lives, the lives of others, and our community through paganism. How can we use our pagan or witchcraft skills to do this? Perhaps in a behind the scenes way that closeted pagans would find comfortable.
Love all the different viewpoints here!
[…] at the wonderful blog, Bishop in the Grove, Teo Bishop drew lots of attention to his post about pagan leaders, teachers, and clergy, and what we expect of them. This was my take. It got […]
One example of co-operative teaching is the Grey School of Wizardry (Zell-Ravenheart, etc.) They have a rigorous programme that ends in a 7 year certificate. I am a student there and have found the experience to be enriching in my Paganism.
Thanks for the comment, Virginia. I glad that you’re a part of the conversation here.
I have to admit that I don’t know much about the Grey School program or pedagogy, but I’m interested in what you call “co-operative teaching.” Could you describe a little bit what that term means in the context of this particular school?
Definitely some interesting discussion here, and given the many different backgrounds and opinions we ave, there’s a lot less disagreement than I’d have expected!
For myself, I definitely feel like my role as clergy for my Grove is to be an organizer of local rituals and events, to provide some amount of pastoral counseling (for lack of a better term – I hate “professional helping”, personally), and to answer questions from Grove members, local Pagan, the media, and anyone else. I definitely don’t see myself as a “teacher”, if only because I don’t have the patience or social skills for it. Other people who have those skills should absolutely do that if they feel so called, but that ain’t me.
I guess it largely depends on the religious tradition in question. Hellenismos is in and of itself more focused on the household and family. Parents pass things down to their children and the children are raised worshiping the gods. In cases where a person does not have family to bring them up in their religion, the community often collectively helps said individual and points them to resources for furthering their religious education…but usually the groundwork is the religion of the oikos (home) and honoring the gods of the home. Though there are knowledgable people in the community (some of whom may be inspiring to some, and maybe not so much to others), and some published books as well, there aren’t any official teachers, or leaders. For those who are fortunate enough to have a local community leaders tend to be nothing more than a person who may step forward to lead a particular ritual…organizing it, and doing the leg work for it. Such groups often have people taking turns leading the rituals. There are no clergy in Hellenismos, and anciently the priests were those who performed ritual on behalf of the populace…there was no association between being a priest and being a leader or a teacher. It was not a congregassional situation like most are familiar with via christianity. There are groups like Hellenion who have clergy programs to provide a like, but most self-identified “priests” in Hellenismos are people who serve a deity in a certain level of devotion but cannot be accurately called priests as they are not elected into the position by the community as was done anciently.
So in the end I guess it really depends on the needs of a particular community and whether or not priest or clergy is quite so necessary for the health of the community. Leaders evolve naturally within local groups of worshipers, but I don’t think it is quite what you are talking about here. A leader in Hellenismos tends to be an effective organizer and planner more than anything else from what I can tell 🙂
To clarify something, most people worshiping as adults (particularly those not born in Hellas) have had to learn solitarily and via community support. We are just getting into our second gen worshipers as children are being born and raised honoring the gods from birth. I am rather excited about Kourotrophia this year, as this is my daughter’s 12th year and therefore an important one for our household 🙂
I feel somewhat odd about this, Teo, as I don’t really have much of an opinion on it.
I’ll agree that there are those for whom serving the gods is a calling, and those whom organizational and community service are a calling, but for me, I consider myself a lay-person, and always have.
Yes, the gods speak to me, but no more than to any other. To be a priest, to be called to be a priest is a worthy thing, but it is not something that I have any experience with. I will lead if I must, or if I am asked to, but I don’t see myself as a leader except in times of necessity.
As far as having ‘clergy’, as a full-time type of position, I am of mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it is a good idea, simply to get ourselves established and visible. On the other, it can A. lead to dogmatism, and B. who can minister to the hundreds of different paths we walk? It is different for Gardenarians to ADF Druids to Asatruar to Hellenismos to the wildly different eclectics.
I would hope that many Pagan leaders, teachers, and clergy (in the capital L, T, C sense) Could become very much like Elders in Tribal communities. This, I think, would be a wonderful model to strive towards.
I am not a leader as such, but I have always worked toward the idea of becoming the elder that I wish that I had had when I was younger. I see an elder as an advisor, available but not in the politics of the game. An elder realises that he,or she ,can advise but must leave the freedom of the person to make his/her mistakes to learn from.
[…] sure what it is about the phrase “Pedagogy of the Soul” that speaks to me so deeply. When we unpacked the roles of teacher, leader and clergy a couple weeks back, it was the role of the teacher that seemed to be the least in conflict with my […]
[…] my studies by Imbolc.It occurs to me that we’ve had dialogue on Bishop In The Grove about formal education as it relates to Pagan leadership, but we haven’t talked much about our individual experiences with pagan study programs. […]