Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Witchcraft Today And Pagan Priesthood

You may have noticed that my currently reading section of my sidebar hasn't changed all that much since I put it up a couple of months ago. Well, there is a reason for that. When I last posted about the book Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner, I had left off at chapter 4. I just couldn't get myself to finish Chapter 5 and 6, which were about the history of the Little People (or what most people refer to as "fairies"), which to me seems out of place.

When was I finally able to get through the chapters, I realized that there were many interesting ideas presented. Here are some of the highlights from chapter 6:

  • Mention of Aphrodite worship that appeared to be suppressed in the 12th century.
  • How the nobility would travel to "nocturnal revelries or sabbats" and how this might have been the start of the legend of The Wild Hunt.
  • Mention of the Priest/ess-hood and the taking of tests and oaths
  • Certain groups, such as the Horse Whisperers in Ireland, which may have help perpetuate the idea of Witches' familiars.
  • The legend of Robin Hood (more detail to come in a later post)
  • The idea that several Popes in the past have practiced the magic of witches or sorcerers.

The mention of the Priest/ess-hood interested me the most. Gardner mentions that while many people would attend the gatherings and religious ceremonies, not everyone was part of the clergy. While the passage doesn't go into detail, it mentions the taking of tests and oaths for a person to become initiated as a Priest or Priestess. This seems to be contrary to what we see today, where most people involved in modern-day Wicca claim to be a Priest or Priestess.

Once again, I turn to the web to find out what people are saying. This article from Witches' Voice has one women recalling her experience of becoming a Wiccan priestess, yet deciding to make it 'legal' by sending in for a mail-order ordination. The author, Weyland Smith, says:

In a religion without established seminaries, that's often how it's done.
But that is not always how it done. Years ago, when I was going to a UU church regularly, I happened to meet a women who went through formal religious training (She has a PhD in religious studies), even though it was not expressly Pagan-based. I remember a comment she made that expressed how she was the only Pagan in ALL of her classes. This goes to show that while there may be no established seminaries for the training of the Pagan priesthood, there are other options.

There is one problem that I can think of in regards of going through the long process of schooling. After formal training is complete, there really is no place to go from there in terms of jobs within a Pagan setting as we have no established organizations or churches that would be able to support full time clergy. It ends up being one of those "the chicken or the egg" type situations - in this case, which one should come first?

If we try to establish an organization or church, we could run into problems as we wouldn't have the appropriately-trained leadership base. As such, the church wouldn't last very long. Leadership in a religious sense is more than just being being a leader. Yes, some of the best ministers/pastors I've known have the natural-born ability of leadership, but it is their knowledge of religious theory, history and the ability to counsel their congregations that have earned my respect.

On the other hand, if we can't support our leadership, we will have trouble attracting anybody to take the route of formal training. Who is going to go through the schooling if they won't be able to pay back any debt that was accrued during their time in study? I don't think I would be able to do so.


Nio said...

I've talked on and off about wanting to become a priestess after my law degree (!) and have bemoaned about the lack of formal training to do so.

But while I crave the structure of a formalized institution, what draws me to Paganism is its loseness. Such informality is a double edged sword.

Still, I'm concerned that when the time comes for me to walk the priestess path, no formal training will be available. On a related note, I don't consider online or mail-in educations to be formal. My needs are more institutional: classroom, discussion, writing, and reading, student loans.

Cosette said...

Sorry, Sojourner, but this is one of my pet peeves.

Wicca has Priests and Priestesses, it has a laity, and it has clergy. Paganism has had churches for thirty years at least. There is formal instruction available for those that want it. And having some kind of structure and organization does not mean personal creativity and freedom have to be stifled.

Sojourner said...

Cosette - Everyone is entitled to their pet peeves. :)

Would you be willing to explain a little more? (Especially the last one, as I don't remember that being mentioned. I personally don't equate structure and organization with stifled creativity and freedom.)

Cosette said...


I'm just reacting. I don't think that you actually said some of what I'm reacting to, but rather that these are some common misconceptions.

I will elaborate sometime this week at my blog since it's something that deserves more consideration. You're always so thought-provoking.

Ligeia said...

My 2-cents
I am not a fan of organized religion - Pagan or otherwise. I understand that some people need the structure and the Priest/ess to complete their experience. I would agree that, as with other major religions, the people in the position of Priest/ess should be ordained, in some fashion, and have credentials. I also believe that, unlike Christian sects, Pagans/Wiccans must not preach to be the be-all-and-end-all or only authority on the religion.
I will not deny anyone their right to practice their religion as long as they do not harm anyone in the process.
Thank you for letting me voice my opinion.

Grian said...

Yes there are Pagan churches and I've even heard of a few seminaries, but they are not wide spread. The opportunities are not there for everyone. If you can not relocate/travel to earn your formal training than you may be stuck.

In my area there are no formal Pagan churches. I suppose by formal I mean with a permanent building, accredited clergy, etc. I know some groups who are working towards this goal, but none who have yet been able to achieve it. The local Masonic temple has been for sale for years. No one can come up with the funds to purchase it and turn it into our first Pagan temple.

I hope one day we'll see things turning towards organization. Honestly, I think we are taking the first steps right now. Pagan authors are talking about similar things recently. Baby steps are being taken. All we can do is be patient until we can walk on our own. I hate waiting. :)

Sojourner said...

Cosette - I look forward to your post!

Ligeia - I think that it would be great to have both options. I, personally, like things to be a bit more organized. Like Nio (comment above), I have the need for structure that I am guessing comes from contantly being in school.

I would agree that a Pagan church should not be the be-all-end-all sort of thing. I think that we need options for people.

Grain - I think that we are heading in that direction as well. Even though I agree that we need to take it slow so that it doesn't come crumbling down over our heads, I am looking forward to what is in our future.

peppylady said...

I never been to a witches or an earth base place of worship.
The close one to us is a metaphysical church in Sandpoint Idaho, about a 30 minute drive. It real small group of people.
I'd say most people want to be with like minded people. I don't agree with every little thing is said their. But to me it very inportant to be in a place where they don't push. My way or the highway. And this is the close one to me I found. Next place I know of would be a little over an hour drive.

Heather said...

There IS one pagan seminary in the United States.