When I think about Paganism, the first thing that comes to my mind is reverence for Nature–for the physical Earth. For Life, here and now.
And I think that’s true of a lot of theistic Pagans, too.
For Pagans–theists and Atheopagans alike–direct access to the Sacred* is a core aspect of our spiritual experience. We need no intermediaries–unlike, say, the Abrahamic monotheisms, where the sacred rites must be performed by a trained man (usually) who serves as an intercessionary between their god and ordinary humans.
In Paganism, on the other hand, subjective personal “gnosis” is often presented by theists as evidence of their gods’ reality.
It seems to me that this presents a problem with the idea of Pagan priesthood. What, exactly, is the point of a priest/ess if everyone has their own direct pipeline to the divine, or the Sacred?
I know that for many theist Pagans, there is a belief that they have been “selected” by one or more god/desses, and are thus priesthood of them. But that seems to me to be more of a claim of a special relationship than of being a conduit or intercessionary. Or maybe a declaration that the person is a catalyst, an organizer of rites to honor that particular god/dess. Certainly it seems to be bound up in the concept of personal identity for many Pagans.
I could be wrong. I’m not a theist and I don’t live in their worldview.
As an Atheopagan, though, I go farther still. it isn’t just priest/esses that are unnecessary intermediaries between the actual Sacred and the humans who seek it. It is gods themselves, the anthropomorphized impressions of the character of the Sacred.
But not for us.
Give me the lightning, not a god of lightning. Give me the sunrise, and not the goddess thereof.
I believe in literally NO intermediaries between the direct revelation of the Sacred and the individual human. You don’t need priest/esses for it, and you don’t need gods for it, either. However incomprehensible they may be, I would rather be baffled by the Universe’s wonders than reassured by a human-created mask someone placed on them to make them more relatable.
But…um, ahem: Atheopaganism has ordained clerics.
So what’s up with that?
In my view, being an Atheopagan cleric isn’t an honorific, nor an identity: it’s a function. It is somewhat equivalent to being someone who organizes an outing for a group going out on the town, and then serves as their designated driver: clerics have agreed to do the logistics and provide a support service to help their communities. Our clerics help people to celebrate the great moments in their lives, to be happier, kinder and better connected to the reality of the Sacred Earth.
It’s not a status elevation; we are all equal, we humans (and that’s why “cleric” isn’t capitalized). It’s more like a merit badge in scouting: it signifies that you have adopted certain values and learned certain skills, and you’re willing to do some work in community service.
So if you’re new to Paganism and confronted with someone who says they are a priest/ess…or even a “high” priest/ess…just know that–whatever they may think of themselves–this mostly means organizing and administrative duties, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to go through them to have an experience of the Sacred.
Which is, after all, all around us.
All the time.