The First Amendment to the United States Constitution lists prohibitions against the establishment of a state religion and the free exercise of religion as its first elements. Accordingly, the First Amendment represents a model of religious tolerance. When turbulent times plague our communities, we look to each other for comfort. The media often appeal to recognized and established representatives of religious traditions to explain the situation or to comfort a wider audience.
One example is a weekday news program that began during the current pandemic and is billed as “a news, health and lifestyle program that also highlights incredible human stories of personal triumph.” GMA3: What You Need to Know features a “Faith Friday” segment where a religious leader talks candidly about life and gives general spiritual advice. The series as a whole leans towards Christianity with the occasional Zen Buddhist priest, Jewish rabbi, or Muslim imam.
The GMA3 “Faith Friday” segment began as a way to provide hope during the pandemic, but our voices in the Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist communities are not being heard. We are diverse in many ways; however, because we are smaller and without a collective structure like those present in Christianity, Judaism or Islam, we are unknown.
Certainly, we have priests and priestesses who can speak from our point of view; however, many are unordered. In these turbulent times, there is a need to increase ordination in our communities.
Ordination is an outward public symbol that an individual is a leader in a certain religious tradition. While the title imam gives an immediate impression of someone qualified to speak on matters of Islamic faith and tradition, and the word rabbi indicates the same for Judaism, and the word minister is primarily a Protestant Christian designation, the best term to use with our communities is priest. Although general, it covers what we do: performing sacred rites, teaching and leading in the ways of our specific religious tradition. Our collective service to the gods is summed up in the set of required duties and certified in the rites of ordination.
A plethora of recent events, such as mass shootings and the potential erosion of privacy rights in the areas of contraception, interracial marriage, medical care and same-sex marriage, demand a response from a ethical or religious point of view. These can only be debated publicly if one has a voice to do so. As a collective of minority faith traditions, Pagans, Gentiles, and Polytheists have many perspectives on these issues that go unheard because we are rarely acknowledged.
Every heathen, heathen, and polytheist I know has beliefs and ethical standards, but we are not the image that appears in the collective mindset when the term “person of faith” is used. A 2017 article in Christianity today a frontal attack on reality: this term is the latest incarnation of an attempt to sum up “a moral consensus based on a common religious framework” in a catch-all formula. After 9/11, the expansion grew to include Islam; however, most religions under the pagan, pagan and polytheistic traditions are not even on the radar.
While it is true that ordination would not bring an immediate change in the status of pagan, pagan and polytheistic traditions in the current climate; however, it would reinforce processes that have already begun.
While some who kiss our paths avoid others organized religions because of past traumatic experiences, the cost of such behavior is high. In religious terms, our lack of a large number of ordered people amounts to a perceived lack of importance to our religions as a whole.
Our faith and our traditions require us to worship the gods in various ways. A big common point is our connection with nature and the earth. Given the current climate crisis, our voices can and must be louder, louder and more relevant.
Our clergy, priests and priestesses who lead our small circles, covens, families, groves and groups do a fantastic job of helping to keep our traditions in balance. We share the reality faced by clergy of all faiths in these turbulent times of mass shootings, slowly disintegrating privacy rights and a global pandemic: we are needed more than ever.
As ordained, we bear witness, teach and comfort our respective religious traditions. Those who cannot see or experience the reality of any given situation rely on witnesses to recreate the picture of truth for the historical record. In a nation whose First Amendment rights begin with religion and the right to practice the religion of one’s choice without government interference, we must bear witness to our own religions remaining relevant and part of the historical fabric of our times.
The ordained make visible our rites and traditions as pagans, pagans and polytheists.
We have the same rites as all other religious groups to honor certain life transitions: birth, welcoming into the faith as a child or adult – often called baptism, formal recognition of a transition to adolescence, rites of union or marriage, rites of community service or ordination, and rites of last passage for death. As clergy, we honor the larger serving group by hearing confession. We share the love of the gods when we come together to worship and share food and drink during the ritual.
When we need one of these services, someone from the community must conduct the wedding, funeral or memorial service, welcoming a child or adult into the wider community, or even the joy of inaugurating the new teenager. Every living thing dies at some point. While there are many who know how to perform these rites in the wider community, too few meet the legal requirements, or ordination, to do so.
In a country where we pride ourselves on freedom of religion, we remain far too silent in the halls of spiritual and religious service to our people.
Two of these rites require legal authorization: marriage and death. Years ago, before my own ordination, I remember receiving a call about a deceased friend and the specific family need of a fully ordained member of the Gentile community. The few people I knew were working; most were unordered. When I asked some who wanted to help why they weren’t ordained, the answer was strikingly similar in almost every case: the individuals didn’t see the need for it.
Our traditions did not require ordination for service. Although it works on an individual level, publicly it is a mistake.
Although the funeral rites were lovely, it struck me as odd that the final moments of this friend’s pagan life were limited to Christian, mostly non-pagan, rites. It also cemented my own desire to achieve ordination status to serve the wider community.
The broader choice to avoid ordination not only affects the final farewell, but the ability to choose when and how we can exercise our voices as pagans, pagans and polytheists. We hold ourselves back; we do not fully embrace our faith. Our communities are privileged to develop adherents by birth or conversion, but the stereotype of those who seek us out is that we are “fleeing organized religion” or that it is just a “phase”.
This is why organizations like The Wild Hunt or places like Circle Sanctuary remain crucial to our identity as great pagan, pagan and polytheistic communities. If we don’t talk, we don’t have a voice.
During the current pandemic, many have fallen ill with COVID-19 and many have died from it. How many of these people were and are pagans, pagans, or polytheists in need of burial, hospital visitation, or comfort where a legally ordained person would be needed?
Unfortunately, in too many places a similar situation can arise. We need ordination for those serving in our communities. We demand respect for our titles and our wisdom as priests and priestesses, regardless of our gender or sexual orientation.
We want recognition as legitimate religions, but we don’t bother to hold our various communities accountable to provide respectable bodies in their own right for ordination.
For some, the organizing body of the ordination does not matter; what does is that a ceremony can be conducted. For others, the legitimacy and respect of the wider religious public requires a recognizable body or institution granting ordination.
Claiming our voice as pagan, heathen, and polytheistic religious traditions also means providing the educational background necessary to seek ordination. By definition, a religious seminary is a training ground for those seeking legitimacy as candidates for ordination in a specific religious tradition. A quick search for “seminary” brings up a large number of academic institutions that serve Christian or Jewish religious traditions. Change the term slightly to “pagan seminary” and you get a similar list; however, you should carefully research the “Wiccan Seminary” notation.
This reduces it to two: Sacred Path Pagan Church and Seminary (FL), two branches of The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (WA) and (MI) affiliated with Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary (WA). The famous Cherry Hill Seminary (SC) makes a clear distinction between the (seminary) degree and ordination, which is granted by the religious traditions themselves.
Increased ordination would change this current reality over time. The presence of more publicized accredited places that provide ordination would change our overall status from the unseen to the present.
Let’s not stay silent. Let us speak and profess our religious traditions with pride and with our own public ministry. When we don’t speak, we have no voice.
The invisible are the helpless.
Status is power. Visibility is power. Power means freedom.