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The Pagan Cleric

Author: Alfred Willowhawk, DMsc, MS, Shamanic Practitioner [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: August 24th. 2014
Times Viewed: 4,227

I have often been asked what is pagan clergy? It’s a good question on many levels. For those who have been in the “craft” for a long time and are considered Priestesses and Priests, how is it different and how is it the same?


I remember when all I had to contend with was the twenty or so individuals of my local group. Lady Willo and I taught them, loved them, nurtured them, laughed with them, cried with them, led rituals with them and watched them grow and change as they faced the challenges of growing in the craft.

Our interaction with other groups was good but proscribed by specific boundaries as set out our understanding of the Ordains and Wiccan Law. These Ordains and Wiccan Law are generally accepted and interpreted by individual groups that choose to work together. In Great Britain in 2013, there was a BBC documentary that showed British Traditional Wicca as the fastest growing “religion” in the United Kingdom. We know from the US Census Bureau that in the USA the number of individuals self-identifying as pagan has grown exponentially and Wicca is the fastest growing 'religion' in the USA as well.

In my own little part of Southern Missouri many people stop by to “check out” this Pagan church that has taken over what was a run down property out in “the county”, full of their stories of how our church building was once the post office, then the general store, then a gas station when Lebo was a town not just an unincorporated part of West Plains, MO. They ask questions and visit our events. Even the neighboring Baptist Church pastor comes and “hangs out” with us here at Wite Rayvn Metaphysical Church.

Many years ago, at the Heartland Pagan Festival, I was blessed to be able to spend time with a Pagan Church leader from New Orleans, and in a joint radio interview she said something that really stuck with me. After Hurricane Katrina, she and her group went out to the African American Cemetery and worked to repair the damage. A few years later, on a day when her group was tending the graves, one of the people who had relatives buried in the cemetery asked the care taker why those “witches” were on the property and what were they doing to the graves of the dearly departed. The caretaker’s answer was. “Leave them alone; they are here every month. They are our witches.”

We were blessed through another Arkansas Pagan Church the receipt of goods from an organization that gives supplies from major corporations to 501 (c) 3s for distribution. We held a Home Improvement Giveaway where we gave away, that’s right, gave away over 4000 USD of home improvement supplies to the general community of one small Northern Arkansas town. One particular Christian minister spoke with me at length, asking questions, and finally said to me that he wished that his own congregation understood charity and service. We exchanged business cards. He asked if he could use our example in a sermon to his people!

So, what does this have to do with the original question of “what is pagan clergy”? As pagan clergy in the 21st century, we serve many roles. We still maintain our traditional roles of mentoring, teaching, guiding rituals and caring for those who are in our local groups. In addition to this, we are the FACE of Wicca for our communities. It is important for us to be out in the larger community serving ALL the community. It also means that we are working with people who may or may not be pagan and have their own ideas of what we are and how we behave. But when they need help, we help. It means that our service is larger than our groups and ourselves.

In the Internet age, we have instant communication. I get calls from people all over the world seeking counsel, comfort, and care. I spend time answering questions on a Q and A site helping people to figure out their own issues and sometimes get to answer a straight question on Wicca! All of these points are part of what it is to be pagan clergy.

The Priest (ess)

A Priest or Priestess, as an individual, who is trained in Wicca (or his/her chosen flavor of paganism) , has experience in running study groups and rituals both for themselves and the local group. It is my opinion that it is a “calling” that comes to the priestess or priest over time, either as a “message”, or by community consensus. I have met many a priestess or priest who have told me that he/she never wanted to BE a priest or priestess; it just kind of happened. Here is one example of it “just happening”:

The priestess, before she was a priestess, started reading a book on Wicca with two friends at a local coffee shop. After about a month, another individual who frequented that shop asked them what they were doing and joined them. In another month, two more people joined them for their weekly book discussion and started to call themselves a study group. Three months later, they realized that one of the people in the group actually belonged to a coven and invited the “study group” to come to an open ritual. The group went, and continued their study group and continued taking training in that coven. After three years, the person who started reading the study with her two friends was initiated into that coven and was working on her advanced training by teaching others in a NEW study group. Looking back on the previous timeline, she realized she had become a teacher, mentor and priestess of the Goddess.

She realized that her personal growth as a pagan allowed her to become the support and information resource to their local group, her own spiritual journey as she grew as a pagan, examining her strengths, weaknesses and learning the lessons within herself taught her how to then assist others. Every person has challenges that are based on their lives. Each person has learned to deal with those issues. The priest or priestess first learns the tools that they themselves have used to grow spiritually. It is part and parcel of their own training to become priests or priestesses.

It is not an easy path; it takes quite a bit of work to ‘know oneself’. There is no place for strong “ME-ism” as a priestess. There is an old joke that goes like this -

Question: How many High priestesses does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: There is only ONE.

This is what many people see when they come to the circle. They see the High Priestess standing in the circle as the representative of the Goddess and think that it is so cool to be there. Well, take it from me, it is great blessing to be in the center of the circle but it is not all glory. There is not a strong “Hey, look at me” from any well-trained priestess or priest whom I have met over the last 20 years. It is not a show, not an Ego Boost. It is a lot of work, tears, sweat and sacrifice to become a priestess or priest in the pagan faiths, no matter what the flavor.

The Pagan Cleric

In The Pagan Clergy’s Guide For Counseling, Crisis Intervention And Otherworld Transitions by Kevin Gardner (2012-09-25) , he states:

“For those who take the role seriously, becoming a Pagan Minister is a much more demanding, complex and challenging role than is the role of group leader, High Priestess or High Priest of a grove, coven or study group. This is because Pagan Clergy are that, plus much more. Pagan Clergy become the source of spiritual strength and support, not only for the “home group” but for the greater Pagan Community as well. As the different branches and denominations of Paganism grow and evolve there becomes a point where there is a distinct separation from the Priestly class and the laity. Pagan Clergy are also becoming more and more in demand in the military, in the federal and state prison systems, as well as in community services such as hospice, nursing home and hospital visitation. Yet unlike mainstream clergy, very few are paid for their hard work and the services they provide, financing everything out of pocket.” [Gardner, Kevin (2012-09-25) . The Pagan Clergy's Guide For Counseling, Crisis Intervention and Otherworld Transitions (Kindle Locations 80-86) . . Kindle Edition.]

Mr. Gardner states it succinctly: Pagan Clergy are also becoming more and more in demand in the military, in the federal and state prison systems, as well as in community services such as hospice, nursing home and hospital visitation. As the number of people who are identifying themselves as pagan or spiritual increase, the pagan cleric needs to take on a larger role than just within their local group. This is a life of SERVICE.

There is a movie from 1992 with Steve Martin called Leap of Faith. At the end of the movie, he sees the “authentic deal” and the movie camera pans to see all the people at the revival streaming toward the tent after if finally rains and they saw a REAL “miracle”. Yes, it is based upon Judeo-Christian theology, but the sentiment and the point is valid. He had finally become CLERGY, serving something greater than himself, i.e. the community of that little Kansas town. This is what stuck in my head when I recently re-watched this movie as a 21st century cleric: it is a life of SERVICE.

The cleric moves into the roles that are needed by the community, becoming the “spiritual strength and support” as stated above for the larger community. Individuals of many faiths come to visit me, Christian or Pagan; it’s all the same. I am here to offer support and counsel, as THEY need it. I have no agenda. I am not focused on growing my local church, getting money or “filling the pews”. We don't have pews. I am SERVING. People come when they need support, and they get support. We currently live on 4.9 acres that one of the members holds and PAYS the mortgage on. We have a vehicle in amazing shape that was donated to the church. The Goddess has blessed us while Lady Willo and I focus on SERVING the community. We do not ask for these things, they come to us as people watch us “make do” (in their eyes) and serve with joy, mirth and reverence to the Goddess and the God.

One last point: I am blessed to be in an area with four 501c3 pagan churches that are all part of a large international network of 501c3 pagan churches. These churches are all within two to three hours from each other. We don't fight with each other; we all work together for the betterment of ALL people in three states in the Bible belt. Our churches are eclectic, supporting all pagan and non-pagan paths. We are open to any individual who walks into our doors and we are there to help all people. We each have our personal paths, and they are different. Each pair of founders comes from different traditions within paganism, but as Pagan Clerics, we serve all paths.

“My own personal motto is All Paths ~ One Path. It makes sense. As a Pagan Cleric, I support YOUR path. We are facilitators of other people’s spiritual paths. I continue, as do my fellow pagan clerics, to challenge myself every day, working with people from all paths, growing, laughing, crying, and ultimately helping others and myself to a higher and more balanced existence.


What is a pagan cleric?

It is one who serves.
It is one who laughs.
It is one who cries.
It is one who grows.
It is one who SERVES.

Gardner, Kevin (2012-09-25) . The Pagan Clergy's Guide For Counseling, Crisis Intervention and Otherworld Transitions

Copyright: you may reprint this article in its entirety with credit given to the author and link to


Alfred Willowhawk, DMsc, MS, Shamanic Practitioner

Location: West Plains, Missouri


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