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.

*Not the same thing as the divine.

So, um…Wanna Get Ordained?

Today, I learned something amazing: In the U.S., if your religious organization’s income is ordinarily expected to be $5,000 per year or less, YOU DON’T HAVE TO FILE FOR TAX EXEMPT STATUS!

What this means is that The Atheopagan Society is ALREADY a tax-exempt nonprofit. We have some steps we have to take, like formally convening the Society Council and filing some documents with the state, but we don’t have to mess with convincing IRS that we are a “real” religion until we have much higher income than is projected to be needed for the first year or two, at least.

And so–like any religious nonprofit, anywhere–we can ordain people.

Now, Atheopaganism doesn’t believe in religious hierarchy. We view “degrees” and “levels” and “priesthood” and other muckity-muckiting as creating the context for abuse, coercion, and dysfunction.

In our view, all people are naturally born equal and endowed with the right to control their own spiritual life, and thus that all those who feel so called should have access to ordination. Being an “Atheopagan cleric” isn’t about an elevated status: it’s just about claiming some of your power and rights.

And now you can be an Atheopagan cleric, just by affirming your support for the 13 Atheopagan Principles. Go to the Society homepage, click the button, and proceed from there.

Doing so will enter you into the database of Atheopagan clerics, and will also register you to receive occasional issues of The Atheopagan Voice, an e-newsletter for clerics with resources, articles, and useful links (you can always opt out of The Voice if you choose).

I’ve done a number of weddings, and I’ve officiated at an adoption ritual. But they were always using my Universal Life Church credential, and frankly, I’m looking forward to being able to say at the next wedding I do, “by the power vested in me as an Atheopagan cleric, I pronounce you (enter genders and numbers here)”. What a day that will be!

Over time, we will develop resources for clerics: guides to developing and officiating at the various rites of passage, and trainings in ritual skills. Hopefully, the pandemic will recede and we may be able to convene live convocations of clerics sometime in the future.

But for now, don’t let the government tell you that you have to have a funny hat or a tab collar to lead a wedding ritual. You have as much right to do so as anyone.

Sorry, we don’t have a funny hat. But you can pick one, if you like!