First, I want to thank @swampdruid for bringing the latest Wild Hunt post to my attention. Sometimes, life gets busy and I miss some of their fantastic content. With a busy toddler, work, and managing a protogrove, I rely on my connections to filter the good stuff my way. More on that in a bit.
The Pagan community is incredibly diverse, and that’s a beautiful thing in many ways – the sign of a healthy ecosystem, some would say. There are many who argue that Pagan clergy is antithetical to who we are, or that we are each our own priests and priestesses. People are certainly entitled to their opinions, but I feel that such strongly held beliefs, often passed down from authors who were just reviving Paganism in a very conservative West, can act as blinders to what history shows us, how the times have changed, and to our community’s needs. In the end, to such individuals, all I can really say is “to each his or her own.”
For myself, I embrace a tradition rooted in community. The Druids were the erudite spiritual leaders of their tribes. They were the advisors, the judges, and the teachers in addition to the priestly class. The lone “hedgedruids” came later as the times changed… The pendulum started to swing the other way, and indeed we’re still in that slow motion back to a time when we actually have educated, trained spiritual leaders in our Pagan communities again. Less of us are in hiding these days, so the very practical and inevitable past belief that we all had to be our own priests is not as necessary these days. Indeed, we should all strive to have our own personal relationships with the spirits we work with, lead our own household rites, and study for our own benefit – but we should embrace that we no longer have to work in isolation out of fear (although that fear certainly persists in some corners – we must not forget that).
Yes, part of why I joined ADF is because I loved the emphasis on studying the lore and improving our knowledge and practice with history. The other big reason is the community. In the US, at least, ADF is one of the biggest, most active Druid organizations. We are connected to each other, and our clergy training program, in my opinion, is one of the best out there. There’s certainly room for improvement, but places like Cherry Hill Seminary are out there to help fill in some blanks in the meantime!
If I believe that I am perfectly capable of communing with the spirits, why do I still need clergy? Why do I feel compelled to seek training to take on that title? My first teacher in the Druidic path, Rev. Skip Ellison, taught me more than he probably realizes. I watched him and the other Senior Druids of Muin Mound Grove; I watched and learned how to lead Druid rituals. He gave me pointers and encouragement. Liturgists for public ritual have different experiences and insights; they require related but diverse skills. In my opinion, someone used to solitary ritual needs to see good public ritual in order to learn how to facilitate such events for others. Just like good school teachers need mentors, so do ritual leaders. To continue the analogy with school teachers, anyone can learn themselves, but we turn to others for guidance. Good teachers guide their students to be better learners independently. I feel that modern clergy play a similar role.
Serving the community, teaching others, and helping others on their spiritual path as I improve myself, even without the official designation of clergy, has been an exhausting but fulfilling calling. I’ve brought people together and created something. The gratitude others show me for that is incredibly humbling. I’m constantly reminding the group that we are creating it together, that I simply cannot do this alone. I am striving to become clergy in ADF, to improve my own skills and knowledge, in order to benefit my community. Someone has to do it. Somehow has to step up and organize. There weren’t any open, active polytheist Druid groups in my new home until I decided to do something about it. People called to the roll of clergy give their time, energy, and money to bring people together so that others don’t have to feel so alone and isolated.
This latest column from the Wild Hunt, “Where is Community When Illness Strikes,” by Cara Schultz, struck close to home. It’s a moving account of the author’s struggle with colon cancer and what the experience is like as someone in a minority Pagan faith. One of my grovemates has been struggling with serious health issues for awhile, and as the group leader, I often find myself mulling over what I can do about that. What can I do about that? I continue to pray to Brighid, light candles, and reach out to my friend as often as possible. I sent her a card after her surgery, maintained contact with her husband, trying to encourage him. All this across an international border, too! That border… how easy it would be to bring a casserole to a grovie on this side of the river… Meanwhile, my job and family keep me very busy. My education in pedagogy has helped me lead, organize, and teach. My experience talking and working with others to create engaging experiences has strengthened my ritual skills. My talents at sewing have helped me make ritual tools to enhance and brighten our celebrations. I’ve had no training for helping others through difficult times.
Schultz reminds readers why clergy are truly important. It’s not simply that they teach us and help us improve our own skills. It’s not just that they are good at organizing events and public rituals. It’s that we need trained people who know how to deal with difficult situations, know how to help people navigate the spiritual implications of divorce, disease, war, death, and environmental destruction. We need people to schedule rituals for joy, but also to raise the alarm and bring in the best of the best for the most intense rituals of healing, mourning, and transformation. Official clergy status or not, we need people to delegate to others, figuring out who will make meals and provide childcare for those struggling in our community. We need people with official clergy status to navigate hoops and red tape to assist our brothers and sisters in the army, in prisons, in hospitals…
The modern Pagan community is maturing, and we need trained clergy. I’m proud to be a part of an organization working to make that happen.
I feel called to serve my people, and my lack of training in these difficult areas scares the heck out of me, yet I move forward, heeding the call. I can’t specialize in everything, of course, but I’m ready to learn and try to help people like me when they feel like they can’t help themselves. I often feel that I can’t do enough because of work or family obligations, but small steps in the right direction are better than hoping someone else will do it. I hope someone will be there for me in times of spiritual distress.