As I’ve written before, my conceptualization of Atheopaganism as a path and a tradition does not incorporate concepts of degrees of advancement or “clergy”. I just find these to be fraught with too many pitfalls, ranging from “higher-level” persons gatekeeping access to knowledge and training from lower-level ones, to those with “status” potentially being able to leverage that status in unhealthy ways ranging from minor pomposity all the way to harassment and abuse.
The whole idea of “initiations into secrets” is a holdover from secretive organizations like the Masons, with their roots in the Romantic movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. There is no longer any legitimate reason why secrecy should apply to anything that has to do with religious practice…and in the era of the Internet, frankly, in practical terms it does not.
Atheopaganism doesn’t have “secret lore”. There is no mystical origin story, nor secret handshake, nor Super-Secret Sigil. Everything we are about is in the open and available to anyone interested in it.
Accordingly, I invite each of us to be “clergy”: to practice and learn the skills and knowledge, to confront their own spiritual and personal work. Any of us can step into that role at any time–if you need a credential, I suggest an Atheopagan symbol lapel pin for hospital and hospice visits or to conduct weddings, namings, funerals and other rites of passage*.
All that said, I was talking with a friend who is in the process of helping to retool the “advancement levels” process and criteria for a different Pagan tradition, and I can see how it would be useful to have, at least, a broadly identified “curriculum” describing the skill sets that an Atheopagan ritual and community leader will need and rely on in order to be successful.
So here is an overview of what I think is a minimal knowledge and skill grounding to be a consistently effective Atheopagan community and ritual leader. They are not in any priority order; all are essential.
- A solid grounding in basic science and critical thinking;
- Specifically, understanding of the basic systems of the brain and how their functions intersect with Atheopagan theory and practice (described in my founding essay for this path, found here);
- Local natural history: life cycles of keystone species, ID of major species of trees, plants (including edible and useful plants), fungi and fauna;
- Basic knowledge about any native cultures which may predate the current dominant culture in the leader’s area (and sensitivity to their concerns, if any, about cultural appropriation);
- Familiarity with history, culture and mores of both the Freethought and Pagan communities;
- Familiarity with and commitment to the Atheopagan Principles and Values, including appropriate social and sexual boundaries;
- Pastoral peer counseling skills, including understanding of when referral to a professional is indicated and of legal reporting requirements for reports of abuse;
- Effective communication skills and conflict resolution skills;
- A commitment to one’s own personal psychological work and evolution;
- Skill with ritual organization and design per the Ritual Primer, as well as event planning and organizing, including being able to work well with a team;
- Understanding how to create rituals for Rites of Passage;
- Adequate competence in the core ritual skills: public speaking, singing, drumming and rhythm, and movement.
Someone with these attributes and skill sets is well-prepared to serve the community as a leader, exemplar and friend. It’s a high bar—I certainly don’t qualify in all areas—but a great one to aim for.
Time permitting, perhaps at some point I will do videos on some of these. In the meantime, if you’d like to set a course of study for yourself, start with the blog posts linked and then augment with web searches—there’s a lot of stuff out there about most of these topics.
*If you really need a legal credential (as some states and counties require for solemnizing weddings), see this post for ways to be legally ordained.