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BE NOT AS THESE: the Wiccan case for unpaid clergy

by Judy Harrow (HPS, Proteus Coven)

"Never accept money for the use of the Art. For money ever smeareth the taker. 'Tis sorcerers and conjurers and priests of the Christians who ever accept money for the use of their arts. And they sell dwale, and evil love spells and pardons, so let men escape from their sins. Be not as these. Be not as these. If you accept no money, you will be free from temptation to use the Art for evil causes." Ardanes #120-121., from the Grimoire of Lady Sheba

Some of us believe that the culture of Europe suffered a major change at the time of the fall of Crete. As the new way - the way of Dominance - grew increasingly strong, consciousness of the sacred, living Earth and of the interdependence of all living things faded. For centuries, alienation from Mother Nature grew, but in our own time that tide has peaked and turned. Our participation in what are still the early days of the neo-Pagan renascence is our great pleasure - but it is also an awe-inspiring privilege. The open heart realizes that the timing of our return is no coincidence.

Mother Earth - and all who depend on Her life, including humans - is in a life-threatening crisis. Perhaps it is She who has called forth Her advocates to work according to their own talents, political, cultural and spiritual, to defend and heal Her. Perhaps human intelligence, individual and collective, senses the threat, and awareness of danger opens us to a long-vanished way of seeing and being. Perhaps those are two different descriptions of the same process.

What is clear is that our care and our work on all levels is desperately needed. We must do it quickly and we must do it well - the survival of all life requires this. But we must also do it very carefully, because each of us is in many ways the product of the culture of Dominance, formed by that educational system and immersed in that climate most of the time. Old habits manifest easily, especially during crisis. But survival itself requires a deep and basic transformation. The end is created by the means. The attitudes and habits that brought Earth to this crisis can never heal or save Her.

To understand how thoroughgoing a transformation is needed, we need to trace the roots of the hurt. Our present condition is the result of a process of alienation, through which we have lost consciousness of the intrinsic, sacred value of our own work and of our living Earth. Eventually, we came to see things ulteriorly, to evaluate our surroundings and our behavior only by what we can get for them. As this world view permeates our culture, it becomes "common sense" to value the numbers on a piece of paper more than an old-growth forest or a stable human community.

Let's be very clear about this: ulteriority, not money, corrupts. Money is just a liquid medium of exchange, the easiest form of extrinsic reward, the most convenient ulterior motive. Those who work for any kind of extrinsic compensation, whether that be money or labor or goods, are no longer doing the work for need and love and pleasure. Work done for gain has been removed from the realm of the sacred, literally profaned.

For this reason, all humans withhold from the market place those few things they wish to maintain as ultimately valuable, as sacred. For example, only a few people are willing to sell their sexuality. Few of us would trade family for gain. Most Wiccan traditions simply place ritual practice and religious education within that small category of things we hold too sacred to sell. Our work as priest/esses has been done for love alone: love of each other, love of the Earth, and love of the work itself. By our acts, far more strongly than we ever could by words, we have offered a radical challenge to alienation and ulteriority.

We cannot effectively advocate that which we do not live. We must practice what we preach, before we begin to preach it. Our way of doing things is an integral part of our difference from the mainstream and so of the message we have been called forth to bring. Only by doing things the Wiccan way, even when inconvenient, can we continue to do things the Wiccan way.

I remember my own time of training in the late 'seventies. Never in those years did any of my several teachers ask for any kind of compensation. Seeing their students grow was their reward, and seeing the contributions their students would make. There is no way I can pay those people back except by continuing the process of community and culture creation, and doing so for love alone. Seeing my students grow, seeing their good work, is my reward. I need and want no other.

But the old consensus against paid clergy is now being questioned. Some of the advocacy of paid clergy is itself ulterior, coming from those who feel themselves too special to be bothered with mundane jobs, and entitled to live off the rest of us. Most Pagans can easily spot and ignore such Pagan scammers. There are, however, others who are sincerely wondering whether paid clergy has not become a painful necessity. They raise three points that are perfectly true. Those of us who want to continue on a voluntary basis need to respond to these concerns. If we settle for unreasoning appeal to Tradition, then we deserve to have our position stigmatized as "the last Pagan taboo."

The more important of these points is the sheer extent of the crisis, in both senses: great danger and great opportunity. The danger to Earth's life is immediate. The increasing numerical growth of the Pagan community may be part of what will save Her. But it takes time, energy and skill to do all that needs to be done. We need it all and we need it now. We see around us religious groups that purchase for themselves the full-time services of religious specialists who can do all these things. It looks real good.

If that's the only way to get the work done, then that's the way we have to do it. But I don't think so. One of the most hopeful signs of our growing maturity as a religion is an accelerating emphasis on skills development within the Craft community. Everywhere priest/esses are creating and exchanging curricula, and requiring demonstrations of skill and work before awarding degrees. The days of elevations in exchange for longevity, flattery or worse are fading fast, and good riddance to them!

It's well we've been raising our standards. The next step is to broaden our understanding of what constitutes clergy. Until recently, we have understood a priest/ess to be one who conducts Pagan ritual, and little more. In many places, we did not even expect our priest/esses to be able to create rituals for new occasions and needs. As long as rote repetition was considered sufficient, we did not even provide ourselves with fully competent ritual leaders. While people to conduct the rites may be the first thing a religious community needs, our needs go far beyond that.

We need researchers to recover Pagan models from European antiquity and from the contemporary Third World. We need thealogians to help us understand how our values, our symbols, stories and practices, and our daily behavior in the world all work together. We need artists of all kinds to create and adapt beautiful expressions of our beliefs that can deeply transform consciousness. We need mentors to prepare the priest/esses of the future, and counselors to help us work through our perplexities and hard times. We need media specialists who can help our neighbors understand us and hear what we are saying. And we probably need a dozen other roles that I am not thinking of right now.

If we are going to forego paid clergy, and still have the clergy services we need and deserve, we must not expect or demand all things from any one person. Each of us has different talents, which we can develop and contribute. If we each concentrate on the part of the work we most enjoy, we are less likely to want extrinsic reward or burn out from the lack of it. We can become aware of who is particularly good at what. We can call on one another's specialties as needed, and offer our own to the whole community. As the web becomes better articulated, we will have created a new form of decentralized clergy, where each person's talents count. We will have realized an old ideal: from each according to her abilities, to each according to her needs.

Think of the Pagans you know. Clearly we already have a great richness of knowledge and skill, and it grows all the time. No priest/ess can draw on that bounty unless s/he has the humility to admit that s/he does not know it all, and to accept help as a free gift. I remember, for example, when a student of mine got into some trouble because she was relating to an extreme misconception of the Egyptian Goddess, Ma'at. I have next to no knowledge of the religion of Egypt. But I knew of a coven in Boston that works intensively with that pantheon. A call to their HPs provided the information my student needed. That priestess may never need to call on my particular specialties. But if elsewhere in the community her needs are met, and if my talents can be useful to somebody else, direct compensation is not important. We are connected through our commitment to the Earth. Open sharing in love and trust is the way of Partnership.

A second concern that merits attention is how unhappy some of us are with our day jobs. We all need to pay rent and buy groceries. We have to somehow get enough money to meet our material needs. And some of our jobs really are pretty awful. Some of us work for companies that pollute or oppress. Some of us work in stressful circumstances, around unpleasant people. Many more of us have jobs that are "just" boring and irrelevant. Daily misery makes the escape into paid clergy status seem really tempting. In fairness, some of those who would like to be full time Pagan clergy are not so much trying to exploit the rest of us as to achieve a kind of integration in their own lives.

But awful jobs need not be our only options. Some of us have work that is consistent with our deepest values, and yet does not involve selling the Craft. There are Pagan teachers, doctors, librarians, artists. I earn my own living as a workplace safety inspector. I am pleased to think that what I do during the day is potentially lifesaving. Decent day jobs are possible, but finding them requires paying a little creative attention.

We need to make sure that young people who seek training for our priesthood understand that the priesthood is entirely voluntary. We need to encourage them to think seriously about finding an ethically consistent career and to work as hard at their secular education as they do at their Pagan studies. In some places already, Pagans are forming career networks, helping each other to find and do well at appropriate jobs. There are many ways of right livelihood, limited only by our imagination and our ingenuity.

The last reason I want to respond to is more about the advisability of charging seekers than of paying priest/esses. Money, we are reminded, is this culture's way of keeping score, of describing the value of anything. If we charge for Pagan religious instruction, the money that the student pays us is not available to her for something else. She has made a sacrifice for her beliefs. This will tell her unconscious mind that the information being conveyed is worthwhile, and motivate her to apply herself to the learning. At the same time, the student's willingness to offer a financial sacrifice provides the teacher with an easy and objective test of the student's sincerity and dedication. In this culture's terms, that is all perfectly true. But I thought we were about transformation.

We do not have great numbers, so we do not have great political power in the conventional sense, even though many of us still feel we must do whatever we can on the earth plane or our magic will ring hollow in our own ears. We are a small minority in this culture. If we do things in accordance with this culture's alienating ways, it is the Craft, not the culture that will be transformed. Think about it - aren't we seeing much more slickness, much more hype, much more "star system" than we did ten years ago?

So, enjoy this irony: the fact that money really is this culture's way of keeping score provides us with an elegantly accurate test of the perception and wisdom of our potential students. Can this person appreciate the true value of what is offered entirely as a gift, appreciate it enough to put in the hours and years that will be required to learn it? Paying tuition by itself may get some people credentials, but it never got anybody an education, of any kind, anywhere. The real cost of learning, secular and spiritual alike, is effort: research, study, practice. If s/he can't pay that cost in the total absence of this culture's reinforcers, s/he probably doesn't belong with us.

Yes, we need skilled clergy, right livelihood, and a good, tough screen for potential students. We need everything that the advocates of paid clergy say we need. But we can get all that without accepting the alienation that comes with having paid clergy. I believe that the change to a clergy that is hired and paid would set us on a path that would quickly and irrevocably destroy our unique nature.

Our first and most obvious difference from the ways of our neighbors is that we practice our religion in small and intimate circles. We take it for granted that, at our rituals, every person can see every other person's face. But this visibility is no small thing, rather it is the basis of our intimate, family-like bond, a sharp contrast to a society in which isolated and rootless individuals compete against each other for status symbols.

A circle small enough for intimacy cannot realistically support their priest/ess. A group large enough to do so cannot fit into most living rooms. The cost of renting a meeting room requires even more contributors, and to own and maintain our own facilities comes even higher. Before long, all we would be seeing is the backs of each others' heads, a mainstream example that I hope we may never emulate. Then - and look at just about any church or synagogue for examples - those who could afford larger contributions would be able to use that leverage to get their way about congregational decisions. And the full time clergy we thought could do so much more for us would instead find much of their time and energy diverted into fund-raising, management and congregational politics. The average Christian or Jewish congregation is a middle-size business; it exists primarily to maintain itself.

In this time, money seems to be an addiction. If we start mixing Craft with money, the money would soon take over. Before long, nothing of what drew us here in the first place would remain. In those massive and impersonal temples, a few pictures and phrases would probably still be recognizable. But that's not good enough for me. Transformative work will hardly come out of places like that. In fact, progressive Christians and Jews all around us are organizing themselves into base communities and chavurot, groups that resemble covens far more than they do churches or synagogues.

They recognize the value of our good, old ways. And so do we. We can and will cherish and guard those ways. And may our Craft preserve the Earth!

"Dwale" is a nightshade or a soporific drink made from nightshade.

written by Judy Harrow (HPS, Proteus Coven), 1998
updated: January 28, 2000; 1998, 2000 Judy Harrow
This is a revised version of an essay that was originally published in the anthology Images in the Glass.
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