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                                       PAGAN CHURCHES 
           Written by Julia Phillips December 13, 1992
           (This article appeared in issue #67 of The Cauldron)
           To be or not to be, that is the question. To be an accredited, main-
           stream religion, with society's approval, or to be a mystery path on
           the fringes of society; to be a formal religion of priesthood and
           laity, or a path for those who seek their religious experience outside
           of the mainstream.
           This subject has recently been hotly debated by Pagans and occultists
           from all over the world. Those in support (and they are vocal), insist
           that Paganism must come of age; must provide ministers who can lead
           society back to the Goddess, and who can serve the community as social
           workers, counsellors and priesthood. Those against point out that most
           Pagans seek the religion in the first place because it is a path of
           individual spiritual growth, which does not demand that its
           practitioners spend a large proportion of their time spoon-feeding a
           congregation, or acting as unpaid social workers.
           We appear to have reached a crossroads in the development of 20th (and
           21st) century Paganism, and the decisions we make over the next decade
           will have constitutional and far-reaching consequences. Society is no
           longer in any doubt about our existence; it has not yet decided
           whether we are a Good Thing, or a Bad Thing, but it certainly knows we
           Let us consider the problems that we face if we wish to make Paganism
           a mainstream religion. Firstly, most (all?) of you reading this live
           in a nominally Christian society, which will usually accept (with bad
           grace!) the other mainstream religions such as Muslim and Buddhist.
           Pagans, if they are considered at all, will probably evoke a reaction
           ranging from amused tolerance to outright condemnation for their
           heresy. So, how do we convince society that we are neither foolish
           (but basically harmless) eccentrics, nor are we dangerous heretics,
           ever on the lookout for a tasty virgin, or plump little boy for our
           We can of course present society with the image that we wish them to
           see. Unfortunately, this must often be presented via the media, who,
           as we know so well, are more concerned with increasing viewing or
           circulation figures than being philanthropic about helping poor
           defenceless Pagans improve their image. And how do you deal with the
           ego-centric weirdos (sorry, no other word sounds half so effective!)
           who launch themselves regularly at the world, scantily clad, demon-
           ically masked, and twittering on about the shadow, cursing, cthonic
           experiences and the dark path of the occult? The fact that you and I
           both know that a genuine cthonic experience, or encounter with the
           shadow, would have these types running home to Mummy pronto, is
           neither here nor there; the public, who knows no better, is taken in a
           treat. "Aha", they cry, "see, we were always told it was dangerous to
           dabble in the occult, and look, it's true!". And of course it is, for
           these dabblers will undoubtedly cause themselves, and their poor
           followers, a fair bit of harm before they are through.
           But how does all this help our cause to become a socially respectable
           religion? Well of course it doesn't. Not one bit. And this is actually
           why I am rather fond of these ego-centric types, for although they are
           a superficial parody of the genuine occult path, they do serve as a
           reminder that the dark is ever-present, and that if we remain true to
           our spiritual core, then we can never be a socially acceptable,
           mainstream religion. Where these ego-centrics fail of course, is in
           promoting the dark satanic image as the ONLY path. They do not know
           any better, ignorance and stupidity being their main faults, and I
           really cannot see the Pagan/Occult community ridding itself of them.
           Instant fame is too strong a drug to withstand common sense and the
           hard work which the genuine occult and Pagan paths demand.
           But those who would present Paganism and the occult as all white-light
           and fluffy bunnies are equally at fault. Not only is it untrue, we are
           leaving ourselves open to accusations of whitewashing our practices
           for public consumption. But, it is nigh on impossible to explain Pagan
           philosophy in a TV studio, to an audience with a limited attention
           span. The principles are simple, but need to be comprehended, and that
           cannot happen in a TV or radio interview. The message has to be
           restricted to, "we do not perform or condone sacrifices"; "we do not
           hold rituals for the purpose of group sex"; "we are a sincere religion
           which encourages each individual to take responsibility for his/her
           spiritual development", and similar platitudes. Trying to present this
           information without coming across as a mixture of Doris Day and
           Lucille Ball is a skill few of us possess!
           But to return to the issue of accreditation and social acceptance; it
           never ceases to surprise me how many people reject one or more of
           society's restrictions or pretensions, and then do their damnedest to
           resurrect the same restriction or pretension as quickly as possible
           elsewhere. Let us consider a mainstream religion; let us look at the
           Anglican Church. A priest (or, gasp, a female priest!) ministers the
           divine word of God to a receptive congregation. At times of hatch,
           match and despatch, the priest not only administers the divine word,
           but also functions as society's representative to ensure that all is
           done in accordance with accepted ritual practice. The priest is
           trained, accredited, ordained, maintained, and supervised, by his
           Church. Let him mutter an unorthodox message, and see how quickly his
           superiors bring him to task!
           Contrast this with today's Pagan; no formal training, accreditation,
           maintenance or supervision from outside. There is of course in many
           traditions, an ordination, but these are not consistent throughout the
           branches of the religion, and nor are the ordinations "accepted" by
           most of society. In fact, many of them are not even "accepted" within
           the religion itself. When you have been told as often as I have that
           Aleister Crowley initiated your mother, or some mysterious group
           initiated you as you were cycling home one night and got yanked off
           your pedals, or "your family" has been secretly "in the Craft" for
           generations, you get a bit cynical about accepting some of these
           ordinations at face value! 
           And this brings to us to the matter of accreditation; I have heard it
           mooted that now is time for Pagan priesthood to be formally ordained,
           and accredited to accepted standards of knowledge, skill and exper-
           ience. I would have more sympathy with this view if those who expound
           it do not give the impression that they are, ipso facto, of that
           standard already! Being of a pragmatic nature, I would also be inter-
           ested to learn just who is to pay for the training colleges and
           official priesthood that would necessarily result from such a prog-
           And this brings me finally to ask if we really do wish to follow a
           religious path which is constructed in the pattern of one which most
           have us have rejected as unacceptable. Writing in Children of Sekhmet
           Vol 3 No 1 about the creation of Pagan and Wiccan Councils, "Lucifer"
           said: "Pagan Councils are forced to compromise the outlook of the
           Pagan Community...  My real concern is that behind the many calls for
           Pagan unity is the genuine belief that Paganism can be socially
           acceptable. The implication to this being that consensus Paganism is
           moving towards an acceptable middle ground which society can cope
           with; that the ecstatic vision of the Pagan Mysteries is slowly
           abandoned for the coarse cloth of a ritual practice calculated not to
           It might be unkind to suggest that those who are desperately seeking
           official recognition have anything less than the purest of motives,
           but one does wonder. Is it simply a case that in this field, they are
           able to acquire titles and recognition which under other circumst-
           ances, would not come their way? The "big fish/small pond" syndrome.
           Or have they only superficially rejected the mainstream religious
           path, and all that it stands for, seeking to re-establish it in
           Paganism with themselves at the top of the pecking order?
           I have made some contentious statements in this article in the hope
           that it will encourage debate (and support!) from those other spirit-
           ual anarchists out there who do not want to see their religion debased
           into a formal structure of hierarchies, priesthood, and laity. I
           believe there is a place for open Pagan gatherings, and that exper-
           ienced Pagans are best placed to organise such gatherings. Where I
           draw the line is in accepting that any "official" body may legislate
           in matters of individual spiritual growth.
           The Pagan movement has always been self-regulatory in practical terms.
           This may not be obvious to those who are calling for "accredited
           priesthood", but I can assure them that the Pagan grapevine is active
           and effective throughout the world. We do not need framed certificates
           over the fireplace ("This is to certify that Lady Anthrax can worship
           to the satisfaction of the Convergence of Associated Deities" -
           Peregrin, Web of Wyrd #6), to prove our spiritual worth.
           B*B Julia

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