Original Post: https://wildhunt.org/2022/06/column-having-a-voice-ordination-for-our-communities.html
By Clio Ajana
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 items. As a result, the First Amendment represents a model of religious tolerance. When turbulent times afflict our communities, we turn to each other for comfort. Media often calls upon recognized and established representatives of religious traditions to explain the situation or to provide comfort to a larger audience. One example is a weekday news program that started during the current pandemic and billed as “a news, health and lifestyle program that also highlights incredible human stories of personal triumph.” GMA3: What You Need to Know showcases a “Faith Friday” segment where a religious leader speaks candidly about life and gives general spiritual counsel. The series as a whole leans towards Christianity with the occasional Zen Buddhist priest, Jewish rabbi, or Muslim imam. The GMA3 “Faith Friday” segment started as a way to give hope during the pandemic, yet our voices in the Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist communities are not 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.
Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC [courtesy]
Granted, we have priests and priestesses who can speak to our point of view; however, many are not ordained. During 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 faith 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 for use with our communities is priest. While it is general, it covers what we do: perform sacred rites, teach, and lead in the ways of our specific religious tradition. Our collective service to the gods is summarized in the overall duties required and certified in the rites of ordination. A plethora of recent events, such as mass shootings, and the potential unravelling of rights related to privacy in the areas of contraception, interracial marriage, medical care, and same-sex marriage, demand a response from an ethical or religious viewpoint. These can only be publicly argued when one has a voice to do so. As a collective of minority religious traditions, Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists have many views regarding these matters that are not heard because we are rarely acknowledged.
Every Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist I know has beliefs and ethical standards, but we are not the image that pops into the collective mindset when the term “person of faith” is used. A 2017 article in Christianity Today attacked the reality head on: 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 phrase. Post-9/11, the expansion increased to include Islam; however, most of the faiths under the Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist traditions are not even on the radar. While it is true that ordination would not provide immediate change in the status of Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist traditions in the current climate; however, it would strengthen the processes that have already begun. While some who embrace our paths shun other organized religions due to past traumatic experiences, there is a high cost for such behavior. In religious terms, our lack of large numbers of ordained individuals equates to a lack of perceived importance for our religions as a whole. Our faith and our traditions ask us to worship the gods in a variety of ways. One large commonality is our connection with nature and the earth. Given the current climate crisis, our voices can and should be louder, stronger, and more relevant.
Our clergy, our priests and priestesses who lead our small circles, covens, kindreds, groves, and groups, perform a fantastic job of helping to keep our traditions balanced. We share the reality that clergy of all faiths have during these turbulent times of mass shootings, the slow disintegration of privacy rights, and the overall pandemic: we are needed more than ever. As the ordained, we bear witness, we teach, and we give comfort for our respective faith traditions. Those who cannot see or experience the reality of a given situation rely upon witnesses to re-create the image of truth for the historical record. In a nation whose First Amendment rights start with religion, and the right to practice the religion of one’s choice without governmental interference, we must bear witness for our own faiths to remain relevant and a part of the historical structure of our time.
The ordained make our rites and traditions as Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists visible.
We have the same rites as every other religious group to honor certain life transitions: birth, a welcoming into the faith as infant or adult – often known as a baptism, formal acknowledgement of a transition into adolescence, rites of union or marriage, rites of service to the community or ordination, and rites of final passage for death. As clergy, we honor the larger group in service through listening to confession. We share in the love of the Gods when we gather in worship and in sharing food and drink during ritual.
When we need any of these services, someone from the community needs to conduct the marriage, the funeral or memorial service, the welcoming of an infant or adult into the larger community, or even the joy of ushering in the new adolescent. Every living being at some point dies. While there are many who do know how to perform these rites in the larger community, too few are 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 license: marriage and death. Years ago, before my own ordination, I remember receiving a call regarding a friend who passed away and the family’s specific need for a fully ordained member of the Pagan community. The few I knew were working; most were not ordained. When I asked some who wanted to help why they were not ordained, the answer was surprisingly similar in almost every case: the individuals did not see a need for it. Our traditions did not require ordination for service. While this works on the individual level, publicly this 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 restricted to mostly non-Pagan, Christian rites. It also cemented my own desire to achieve ordination status to serve the larger community. The larger choice to avoid ordination does not just affect final farewells, but the ability to choose when and how we can exercise our voices as Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists. We are holding back; we do not embrace our faith fully. Our communities have the privilege to grow adherents through birth or conversion, yet the stereotype of those who seek us is that we are “running from 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 larger Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities. If we do not speak, we do not have a voice.
During the current pandemic, many have gotten sick from COVID-19 and many have died from it. How many of these individuals were and are Pagans, Heathens, or polytheists in need of a funeral, a hospital visit, or comfort where a legally ordained individual would be required? Sadly, in too many places a similar situation might arise. We need ordination for those who serve in our communities. We demand respect for our titles and wisdom as priests and priestesses regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We want and acknowledgment as legitimate religions, yet we do not bother to hold our various communities accountable for providing fully fledged respectable bodies for ordination.
For some, the organizational body for ordination does not matter; what does is that a ceremony can be conducted. For others, legitimacy and respect from the wider religious audience demands a recognizable body or institution granting the ordination.
Claiming our voice as Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist religious traditions also means providing the educational background 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” pulls up a large number of academic facilities that service Christian or Jewish religious traditions. Modify the term slightly to “Pagan seminary” and you get a similar list; however, you must carefully look to for the notation “Wiccan Seminary.”
This pares it down to two: Sacred Path Pagan Church and Seminary (FL), two branches of The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (WA) and (MI) affiliated with the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary (WA). The well-known Cherry Hill Seminary (SC) distinguishes clearly in the difference between the educational degree (seminary) and ordination, which is granted by the religious traditions themselves.
Increased ordination would change this current reality over time. The presence of more well-publicized accredited places that provide ordination would change our overall status from the invisible to the present. Let’s not remain silent. Let us speak and profess our faith traditions with pride and with our own public ministry. When we do not speak, we do not have a voice.
The invisible are the powerless.
Status is power. Visibility is power. Power means freedom.