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!

This Is a Way of Life. You Can Ritually Commit to It.

Atheopaganism is a Pagan path without “degrees”, levels of initiation, clergy statuses, etc. We’re all of equal value on this planet and in this practice, and so we say that any Atheopagan with the skills and inclination may, say, officiate at a wedding or a funeral, or perform pastoral counseling. What is important is not the “status” of the individual, but their abilities. This is why we emphasize learning ritual skills as a part of developing as an Atheopagan, because Atheopaganism isn’t just about what you believe; it’s about what you do.

All that said, while neither I nor anyone else can “initiate” you as an Atheopagan, you can certainly dedicate yourself to this path ritually on your own or with fellow travelers upon it.

Recently, a student in the Atheopaganism U. class described her ritual of commitment to the Atheopagan Four Pillars and 13 Principles. She described what was for her a powerful rite of dedication and commencement upon a lifelong path of learning and practice.

I was moved by this and I thought, well, of course. If ours is a path of equality, surely we can still, as individuals, ritually denote that we are devoting ourselves to it without giving someone else the power to be “clergy”. If we are the “priest/esses” in our lives, we can give ourselves the sense of passing into a new state in our lives through an initiatory ritual.

If Atheopaganism feels right to you, I encourage you to create a personal (or shared, if you have friends who feel the same) ritual to say to your deepest self, This is who I am. This is what I choose, at least for now. I commit myself to this worldview, these values, this practice.

As a part of the ritual, I suggest “consecrating” a symbol of some kind that you can carry with you or wear as a part of your daily life. An Atheopagan suntree is an obvious choice, but it can be whatever works for you.

You’ll be surprised at how differently you may feel after such an initiation. I did a self-initiation many years ago and it fundamentally changed my understanding of my relationship to my work and my path in the world.

 

Effective Atheopagan Leadership: a Curriculum

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” as an elevated status within the religion. 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 a “cleric”: 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 speakingsinging, 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, including as an Atheopagan cleric!