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Author Topic: Wicca a religion of clergy? Something I don't get...  (Read 8028 times)
Waldfrau
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« Topic Start: March 09, 2008, 05:05:16 am »

Just started to read Starhawk's The Spiral Dance. What I don't get is this:

Quote from: Starhawk 1999, p.38
Every initiate is considered a priestess or priest; Witchcraft is a religion of clergy.

I guess you can practice witchcraft without being a priest/ess, so she's aparently speaking only about Wicca. But why is it a religion of clergy? Why are the initiates priests/esses?

Aren't they all equal anyway, except for the highpriest and highpriestess?

Or is it a matter of everyone being basically able to lead a ritual? But isn't priest/ess about intermediate-ship, wouldn't it become obsolet once you have a group where everybody is a priest/ess?

Or is it to stress the difference to the non-initiates?


I guess I'm somewhat predisposed through my Catholic upbringing, please explain me what I don't get.
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« Reply #1: March 09, 2008, 05:49:53 am »

But why is it a religion of clergy? Why are the initiates priests/esses?

Speaking from a British perspective, where Wicca is something totally different to that in the States, a Wiccan can only assume the role of High Priest/ess after achieving their third degree and on starting their own coven, the concept of a religion of clergy seems pointless to me.
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« Reply #2: March 09, 2008, 06:58:26 am »



Well, in Reclaiming, which Starhawk has influenced quite a bit, we're all considered "our own spiritual authority", or "our own priest/ess". To quote the Principles of Unity, written in 1997:

Quote
Each of us embodies the divine. Our ultimate spiritual authority is within, and we need no other person to interpret the sacred to us. We foster the questioning attitude, and honor intellectual, spiritual and creative freedom.


A huge focus in Reclaiming is communal ritual and decisions based on consensus. We have facilitators, but no 'leaders' per se -- the facilitators switch out frequently, so everyone gets a chance to lead the group in an exercise, or to facilitate certain aspects of ritual or camp, etc.


I hope this was useful...it's rather hard for me to put into words, I find.
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« Reply #3: March 09, 2008, 08:20:31 am »

Or is it a matter of everyone being basically able to lead a ritual? But isn't priest/ess about intermediate-ship, wouldn't it become obsolet once you have a group where everybody is a priest/ess?

Traditional Wicca is a religion without lay members. All Trad Wiccans are a priest or priestess of the Gods.  The idea of a priest/priestess as an intermediary between normal people and the God(s) comes more from Christianity. In many ancient religions, a priest or priestess was a person who served the Gods in the God's own house (aka a temple). They maintained the temple and conducted rituals there, but often performed none of the "dealing with/leading" lay members functions associated with Christian clergy.
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« Reply #4: March 09, 2008, 10:16:22 am »

Traditional Wicca is a religion without lay members. All Trad Wiccans are a priest or priestess of the Gods.  The idea of a priest/priestess as an intermediary between normal people and the God(s) comes more from Christianity. In many ancient religions, a priest or priestess was a person who served the Gods in the God's own house (aka a temple). They maintained the temple and conducted rituals there, but often performed none of the "dealing with/leading" lay members functions associated with Christian clergy.

That's pretty much the British Traditional Wicca situation:  we are a group of orders of sworn priests and priestesses.  Our oaths require us to serve the gods, not other persons.  We help each other out of friendship and fellowship, not as pastors or ministers. 

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« Reply #5: March 09, 2008, 11:11:37 am »

I guess you can practice witchcraft without being a priest/ess, so she's aparently speaking only about Wicca. But why is it a religion of clergy? Why are the initiates priests/esses?

1) Be aware that Starhawk is using language that has gotten more sophisticated in the subsequent 30 years: many people I know these days distinguish between priest/esses (doing the work of the Gods) and clergy (ministering to a community of some kind.) Traditional Wiccans are priest/esses by that definition, but often not very interested in being clergy, especially to a lay community.

2) A lot of it - especially in counterpoint to many Christian traditions - is about full-on emotionally intimate participation.

In a congregational model, a few people do all of the 'heavy lifting' of the actual work of the ritual. In a priesthood-centered tradition, every member (usually defined as initiates, in Wicca) participates equally in the actual work. So, for example, when we are doing a magical working, every initiate in circle contributes. They don't get to hang back and observe or benefit by the work of others. When we are interacting with a deity, everyone in circle is responsible for that work - and for helping to make the space appropriate for that.

Obviously, in some parts of the ritual, one person or another will be speaking (because having everyone do every step can be unwieldy), but you will usually see the parts spread out pretty thoroughly (for example, if you have six initiates, four of them might do the quarter calls, and the HP and HPS will do their bit, and so on.)

3) The role of the HPS and HP (and many Wiccan traditions are formally priestess led) is about focusing the will and intention of the group, both in terms of planning over the long-term, and in terms of directing and best harnessing the energies worked with during ritual. Exactly how these are handled depends on tradition, the individuals, and whether you have other roles present (some groups, including the one I trained with, include a handmaiden and summoner role: these assist the HPS and HP in various ways both mundane and energetic.)

It's hard to describe the difference, but the best analogy I have goes like this: being an initiate in a circle of initiates is like singing in a small chorus: if I do not sing, the music loses something. Being HPS or HP is like being the conductor and pulling it all together so you're all doing the same stuff at the same time.

There's also about long-term focus and direction for the group. I'm HPS of my brand shiny new coven, and working with a friend who is acting as my HP. She is very happy to let me do the direction and leadership things: I obviously run things by her, and we talk about it, but my role as HPS is largely to make sure we *have* a focus and that we keep centered on it.  Out of all of the hundreds, maybe thousands of things we could do for ritual work, of all the discussions we might have, we need to pick some. Which ones we pick (and how we structure them) form the work of the group.

4) The last part (though really, the most important part) is about interaction with deities: one of the reasons each initiate is a priest or priestess is because they are responsible for their own relationship with deity. While in group work, someone needs to coordinate, in personal work, each initiate is considered (generally) capable of standing before their Gods on their own two feet, and of coming up with suitable rituals, methods, and approaches to handle all of their own personal religious and magical needs without anyone else's help.

This is a pretty revolutionary idea when compared to intercessionary Christianity. (And it's one of the revolutionary ideas of the Reformation, too.)

The other part, though, is that it brings a responsibility to do my own work. As an initiate, I don't get the luxury of showing up for rituals someone else has planned, and letting them do all the work. I'm basically obligated to contribute (though I can define and adjust that contribution in various ways: I do things differently when I'm at Pagan Pride or a large group ritual than I do at my own circles.)
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« Reply #6: March 09, 2008, 01:59:47 pm »

Just started to read Starhawk's The Spiral Dance. What I don't get is this:

I guess you can practice witchcraft without being a priest/ess, so she's aparently speaking only about Wicca. But why is it a religion of clergy? Why are the initiates priests/esses?

Aren't they all equal anyway, except for the highpriest and highpriestess?

Or is it a matter of everyone being basically able to lead a ritual? But isn't priest/ess about intermediate-ship, wouldn't it become obsolet once you have a group where everybody is a priest/ess?

Or is it to stress the difference to the non-initiates?


I guess I'm somewhat predisposed through my Catholic upbringing, please explain me what I don't get.

I presume she was writing for a primarily raised Christian / raised in Christian society reader. 

To directly address what your upbringing was, compared to both Starhawks and her Reclaiming writings, let me give it a try.  The idea is that anybody can take any role in the ritual, for that ritual.  At most, the leader will always be the leader because they have the training to do something.  The goal though is to permit everybody that wants to to hold any position.  Compared to Catholism, or most of Christianity, it's very radical. 

Under Catholism, only a priest can bless the host and wine. That key part of the ritual is restricted to the clergy.  I think that most other Christian groups follow the same concept, that only people chosen to be special clergy can do that.

Under say Judaism, any adult (over age 13 for boys, 12 or 12-1/2 for girls) can lead services. There is no part of the worship service that can't be done by any adult Jew that is done by any rabbi.

Reclaiming follows that part of the tradition, that also comes from early Wicca, that any member of the coven can handle any part of the ritual.  Starhawks use of everybody being clergy is to bridge that conceptal gap.
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« Reply #7: March 09, 2008, 04:27:51 pm »

I guess you can practice witchcraft without being a priest/ess, so she's aparently speaking only about Wicca. But why is it a religion of clergy? Why are the initiates priests/esses?

To elaborate with something that may help clarify:

A traditional Wiccan coven might be considered to be like a monastery or abbey.  All of the people there are priests; they are gathered to share the labors and joys of celebrating the divine.  There may be people there who have not taken the full set of vows to settle in there, postulants and trainees, but their eventual goal is to become full members of that community, not go outside and deal with people who aren't making that sort of commitment.
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« Reply #8: March 09, 2008, 05:00:29 pm »

To all:
Thanks, your posts cleared up a lot. I've started to wrap my mind around it. Um, actually it sounds like much more fun and connection than sitting in a mess and listening (I never was a very gullible person btw).

Do all Wicca covens have this co-working or is it just Reclaiming and a couple of other traditions?
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« Reply #9: March 09, 2008, 05:01:01 pm »

I'm HPS of my brand shiny new coven, and working with a friend who is acting as my HP. She is very happy to let me do the direction and leadership things: I obviously run things by her, and we talk about it, but my role as HPS is largely to make sure we *have* a focus and that we keep centered on it.
So you have a female Highpriest or did I misinterpret your post? I know not all covens work with gender polarity in the materialistic way, but, ahem, does that mean your female Highpriest embodies a male Highpriest or why isn't she called Co-Highpriestess or Vize-Highpriestess... Huh
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« Reply #10: March 09, 2008, 07:48:40 pm »

So you have a female Highpriest or did I misinterpret your post? I know not all covens work with gender polarity in the materialistic way, but, ahem, does that mean your female Highpriest embodies a male Highpriest or why isn't she called Co-Highpriestess or Vize-Highpriestess... Huh

Good question, and let me try and break it down. (Note that I usually identify the trad I work in as 'Wiccan influenced' because we're not British Traditional Wiccan, and this is one of the reasons why, but a bit more explanation when we get there.)

The tradition I work in uses the term "High priestess" for a particular set of energetic roles, and "High priest" for another set. Comfort with and general preference for these roles *tends* to run along gender lines (whether that's because of internal factors or social training is not as clear) - hence, the HPS tends to be more energetically receptive, and the HP role tends to be more energetically projective. These roles cover things in circle (managing the energy of the circle, deity calls, roles in the Great Rite), but also cover (as in this case, where there's an ongoing group) roles outside of the circle - particular kinds of group maintainance work, keeping things running, etc.

As part of our training, we have to learn all four roles (HPS, HP, and Handmaiden and Summoner, which are also traditionally gender linked - partly because they're seen as 'apprentice' roles for the HPS and HP). But for most of us, there's one or the other role set we feel much more comfortable with.

I am very much over on the HPS side. I'm a capable Handmaiden and an adequate Summoner. I struggle the most with the HP role: it feels very foreign to me, like I'm speaking in a language I've only studied briefly. While this would probably get better if I did more with it, it's pretty clear it will never get as comfortable for me as HPSing, which is my 'native' language in a lot of ways.

My covenmate, on the other hand, runs the other way: she has HPSed, and been HM - but she's also far more comfortable with the projective energy work than I am.

Now, we're a coven of two right now. We certainly intend to expand, and my hope and desire is to get actual men in the group. (Unlike many of the coven I'm hiving from, my covenmate and I are somewhat more interested in exploring explicitly gender polarity, but as one option among others.) My covenmate is not interested in long-term running a group - she is interested in helping me put things together, and try things out. She's happy to step aside should another appropriate candidate appear. (Divination from multiple sources suggests this is fairly likely, so while we aren't relying on that, we are making sure our plans accomodate it.)

(There's also the purely practical argument here: I'm a 3rd degree with the right to form an autonomous coven in the tradition, and certain obligations. She's a 2nd degree, and doesn't have some of those obligations yet, and any coven she ran would formally be under someone else's light supervision.)

There is a tradition in traditional Wicca that you can have a coven with a high priestess (who handles running the coven, and who borrows a HP when needed for rituals where one is actually required), but you can't work the other way around (a HP with no priestess.) There's all sorts of theories about this - some arguments have to do with the potential for fertility and creation and nuturing, the sense of creating a 'home' on multiple levels that is often part of the HPS's role, and so on. (And I've got a whole theory that ties back to the development of the courtly love concept and the idealised roles of the lady and lord.)

But in the meantime, there are some practical things: we want to include the Great Rite in symbol so that I, especially, get more comfortable with running the energy for it. It's really silly (and otherwise problematic) to have a circle with one person doing all the invocations and work, and the other person standing there, and having her in the HP role means we have a clear way to split that up. So, instead of us saying "We have an HPS, and an initiate" we have designated her as HP, with the roles/responsibilities/etc. that come with that. It's an easier shorthand.
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« Reply #11: March 10, 2008, 12:49:30 am »

Do all Wicca covens have this co-working or is it just Reclaiming and a couple of other traditions?

Depends on what you consider actual Wicca.

Reclaiming is NOT Wicca and never was; it is not derived from Wicca.  It is based off Starhawk's original initiation into Feri.  If what I've been told is true, Reclaiming does everything by consensus and has no leaders.  I find this silly and impractical but I guess it works for some small groups of people.

British Traditional Wicca is a group of sworn priestly orders; see my post above and someone else's (Sorry I can't recall whose!) that referred you to the structure of an abbey or monastery.

Other oathbound sects of religious witchcraft, whether they use the word Wicca or not, may or may not follow the example of BTW.

Modern McWicca is whatever you want it to be, and therefore meaningless.  I have no idea what they do, and I suspect most of them have little idea, either.  I could be wrong, but, JMHO.  YMMV.

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« Reply #12: March 10, 2008, 04:07:41 am »

Thanks for the explanation. I wish you good luck, Jenett!
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« Reply #13: March 10, 2008, 04:13:31 am »

I knew it wasn't BTW, but didn't know it wasn't derived from it either. Besides that doen't Feri and Reclaiming have Wiccan-influences or are they completly different traditions?
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« Reply #14: March 10, 2008, 08:47:28 am »

I knew it wasn't BTW, but didn't know it wasn't derived from it either. Besides that doen't Feri and Reclaiming have Wiccan-influences or are they completly different traditions?

There are obviously some Wicca influences in Reclaiming (I don't know enough about Feri to say), but both are definitely different religions from BTW. It's hard to say how different they are from non-traditional Wicca as there are too many different versions of the latter.
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