Neo-Pagan Seminary Proposal


What the Neo-Pagan community needs is a Seminary devoted to the professional training of Wiccan/Pagan clergy. This paper will commit itself to consideration of several problems inherent in this, as well as showing that there is a need for the Seminary.

I. Pagans Current Need for Training

Pagans are already going to seminaries that are primarily Christian (or close to it, such as Unitarian Seminaries) for their training, thus showing an interest in that type of training.

The best example of this is Christa Heiden Landon, D.Min. She attended the University of Chicago for her M.A. and Meadville Lombard Seminary (Unitarian-Universalist) for her D.Min. She is a founder of Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and one of the people most active with Panthea (Pagan) Unitarian Church here in Chicago. There have been several other Pagans at Meadville (two of whom I've met) and there are others going to Starr King Seminary in California (where Starhawk teaches classes in ritual). There is a Qabalist who was at Meadville, Sam Webster, (writes occasionally for Mezlim magazine) but it's not known if he's finished. There is also a Wiccan in the Doctoral program in History of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School, but she's in the closet. So there are at least a few examples of Pagans active in Academia.

Some may argue that the small group format and personal training program of most Wiccan groups would overcome the need for seminary training. While Wiccans make up the vast majority of Pagans, there are many other traditions that might be interested in a seminary training program. There are many people out there who would be inclined to a NeoPagan, but non Wiccan, form of worship, just like the Greek or Roman temples (or Egyptian for that matter). Wicca isn't the only possible model of Pagan worship, just the most popular at the present time. Of course, someone coming to the Seminary would, as a matter of course, learn the diversity of models and it would hoped that the Seminary would meet the scholarly expectations of those such as ADF, Church of All Worlds, as well as, say third degree Gardnerians who may want to expand their training and understanding.

II. Pagan Ministry.

A non-Pagan seminary is inadequate for training because of the special needs of our religion. These needs are outlined below.

A. Unifying Principles

While there is a large amount of variety in groups, certain values are familiar to all groups and many people can and do read the same material. A seminary would study all of this and give people the ability to go to their individual group and compare and contrast, as well as help organize worship for their own particular brand. Many Christian seminaries for instance, have people of several denominations and get along quite well. They look at things in wide perspective and don't teach particular dogma as much as how to study religion and practice it, whatever brand you many have.

While Neo-Paganism is a very broad term, encompassing several traditions, inclusion in the seminary would be very broad, but would essentially be aimed at those groups which had the following principles in common:

The Divine is an immanent force: meaning that the numinous spiritual reality is not only transcendent but here in everyday reality. God is not something "way out there" but here in this reality, which includes ourselves. This creates a closer connection to the spiritual side of life, unlike monotheistic Judeo-Christian traditions which (aside from their mystical side which is usually considered heretical) view God as something generally outside of us. This principle is implied or essential to several of the other generally accepted points that follow.

Revelation through personal Gnosis and/or through Nature: This implies the priesthood of all believers, that special powers are not needed to contact the divine, although some may be more gifted in this than others. Nature is especially a reflection of divinity and to be looked to as an example of how to understand our lives. Principles such as ecology and balance come from observation of nature and are generally recognized as either implicit or explicit beliefs of many Neo-Pagan groups.

Circularity of Time: This is closely connected to revelation through nature. The Judeo-Christian concept of time is linear, that is, God made a certain revelation, and he will bring about the end of the world at some later point (thus the study of such things is one major area of theology: eschatology). With the breakdown of this concept implicit in the rejecting of Judeo-Christian faiths, Neo-Paganism has gone back to what Eliade calls the "myth of the eternal return" and sees time as circular. The celebration of the seasonal cycles, which is almost universal in contemporary Paganism, seeks to reestablish the ancient feeling of a continual cycle that humanity is part of that never ends. All the dying and rising god symbols and the cycle of the year rituals are attempts to reintroduce this understanding of time.

There are certain spiritual techniques for changing consciousness and/or material coincidences to bring about your will: magick. What a Christian would call a technology of prayer is essentially spellcraft for a Neo-Pagan. Of course, this is broadly divided (with many grey areas) into High and Low magick (or Theurgical and Thaumaturgical workings). Most groups have ritual techniques for bringing about these ends. While the divine is present with us all the time, its our spiritual practice to become more aware of that presence, thus magickal techniques are used. They are also used to bring about material changes (healing, finding lost objects, cursing or money spells or what have you). I believe all Neo-Pagan groups are characterized by these practices.

These practices and beliefs are what is meant by common values. More properly, they are ways of organizing our view of the world and they point to certain values from their metaphoric nature. (eg. A company who believes "business is war" will have very different behaviors and values than one that believes "business is a game"). The values that may be most commonly pointed to by the above are:

  • Respect for individual understanding/experience/gnosis/creativity /expression.
  • Respect for nature as part of the sacred. Thus interest and support for ecological movements, etc.
  • Interest in and participation in rituals and magick for self improvement and helping others.
  • Lack of a strict moral code that allows for individuals to seek their own ethical standards. (Implied by the lack of strict moral structure to the above common beliefs).
B. Subject Matter Taught

A possible objection to a seminary would be that it might be a base for the establishment of dogma, this would not necessarily be the case. Many religions (even Christian ones) exist without official dogma. Many seminaries, particularly of liberal churches, teach not so much their own dogma as how to think about and practice religion from a comparative viewpoint. They often have several different religions present and have to be sensitive to their viewpoints also. The Divinity School of the University of Chicago, has Buddhists, Christians, Jews and a few closet Pagans. They all find excellent education in a comparative fashion.

A seminary would not formulate dogma, merely study it (if it even existed in certain groups). Policy is a matter for individual groups and churches, not for seminaries. As for teaching spiritual practices it would hoped that there would be a practicum requirement, magical work, prayer, meditation programs, journal writing and such for all students, as well as the study and practice of rituals and how to deal with groups. A student could use the knowledge gained to work with their own group, improving liturgy, organizing special functions, helping to form a Pagan school, or whatever the group wanted. It would be possible to find representatives from every major group to be on the Board of Directors in order to facilitate the input of everyone. Seminaries are for working clergy, as well as for scholars.

Special programs for people continuing their education would also be possible. Imagine someone was settled into their own group, didn't necessarily want a degree that was professional, but could take a summer off for intense study of ritual or mythology. The seminary could well provide for that type of need.

While topics such as counseling skills, etc. that are taught to all seminary students would be included in the course of study, there would be particular emphasis on certain subjects useful to Pagan beliefs. Certain subjects would be included that would obviously not be included in the curriculum of an ordinary seminary. Some of the topics would be: -Mythology of the world's diverse religions, their differences and similarities -Ritual construction, liturgical theory and practice -Spellcraft, specific forms of change of consciousness and/or coincidence -History of Paganism, ancient and modern, with particular emphasis on scholarship and research of fact -Dealing with other religions (especially Christianity) -New forms of organization and consensus building -New forms of weekly worship, as well as seasonal worship -Psychic skills, energy work -Divination -specific courses such as Goddesses, Gods, sacred sexuality, tantra, hermeticism, etc.

C. Exclusion of Certain Groups

This is a difficult subject, but essentially, the seminary would not be appropriate for groups that would not subscribe to the above mentioned general principles. Individuals members would, of course, be able to study at the seminary, but affiliation on an organizational level with, for instance, Temple of Set or Church of Satan would not be possible because of their explicit differences in viewpoint. Since this is a subject of much controversy, the following evidence is given to support this exclusionary principle:

In a letter to The Green Egg (Green Egg #94 page 35.) Michael Aquino states: "I have been a Satanist for quite some time now..." and "Satanism is actually based on two very simple principles: first, that the individual human consciousness is a free agent apart from the non-conscious forces of nature; and second, that this fact is so frightening to most people that they have "demonized " it and either suppressed, punished or sublimated its influence on themselves."

These statements were replied to by Isaac Bonewits in part by the following: "By his definition ... Earth is "non-conscious" - not sacred- and humans are "separate" from Her. Sounds like the Judeo-Christian-Islamic worldview to me!"

Also, Tom Williams a CAW priest stated: "Your statement of principle, "that the individual human consciousness is a free agent apart from the non-conscious forces of nature," is the one thing which most sets you apart from Neo-Pagans and most allies you with Christian monotheism: "..replenish the earth and subdue it: and have dominion...every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (Genesis 1:28) Thank you, at least for this most definitive statement differentiating once and for all between Satanism and Paganism."

In his letter, Aquino implies that he is not Neo-Pagan, and by disagreement with the #1 principle stated above, he allies himself with the above mentioned Judeo-Christian tradition, seeing material reality as something separate. Its understood that the Church of Satan has similar views which would exclude them from official participation in the organizational efforts of the seminary.

III. Interfaith Legitimacy

The legitimacy that that a seminary would add to the Neo-Pagan position in the community of religions and in the eyes of the law would be very useful in the long run. Various problems still continue to come up, not the least of which is custody battles over children because a parent is a Witch.

On a society wide level, being considered legitimate by other churches helps the Neo-Pagan community socially in areas of discrimination, etc. Please remember the situation with the Jesse Helms bill a few years ago when he tried to take away tax exempt status from Wiccan and Satanic Churches. Liberal churches flooded congress with letters of protest and the bill died quickly. This shows a certain level of social acceptance already, however, much more could be done to strengthen ties with liberal churches and to protect each other in adverse times.

While it is one answer to disappear again into the woodwork if the burning times come back, much gets lost that way to future generations. As Gwydion said "We are stronger than before!", Neo-Pagans don't have to hide!

IV. The Issue of Professional Clergy

A. Advantages Organizationally

Helping to establish a professional clergy would help Pagans to organize in a more effective way for community worship and the needs that can only be met by an organized community effort (insurance, Pagan Nursing Homes, childcare centers, private schools, graveyards (full of trees planted on the graves?), study groups, self help groups, etc.). This would be one of the best arguments to having professional clergy. These kinds of efforts would require full time people who could devote themselves to the kind of projects that would help the community as a whole.

Organized efforts make for organized love, love that's shared in community, by rituals for their children, by funerals for their loved ones, by marriages, by classes and counseling and by having that organization that they can turn to for support when they're being discriminated against Many would want to go to a Pagan retirement home where their views would be accepted and they would be seen in their proper role as an elder with experience to be respected, instead of a body simply occupying space.

B. The Role of Clergy in Pagan Worship

With the current situation of unpaid clergy you will have some people who will be spending a vast majority of their non work hours doing things for their circles/covens/groups. Unless measures are taken, leaders burn out or members grow resentful of the person in command for having all sorts of imagined power (when really they're just working for the benefit of the community). Certainly in ancient times the temples had full time Priests and Priestesses, and in medieval times the midwife was paid for her efforts. A paid clergy would allow some to devote their full time to the work of the Gods. It might also make some people appreciate all the time and effort it takes to run a group.

A seminary presupposes a professional clergy which also supposes people who are willing to spend their lives working for just the sake of the God and Goddess. More people would be willing to do this if given the chance and the organizational structure to do so. Not many do now, the few that are well known are Otter and Morning Glory with CAW (who actually make most of their money from editing and artwork) and Selena Fox at Circle.

While some religions do use clergy as the intermediaries between the individual and the divine, most, in fact, do not. Many churches believe in individual revelation and personal contact with divinity, yet have professional clergy. Clergy can function in a variety of ways. Unitarian clergy are more like worker bees, helping to keep everyone active with their faith, no matter what their idea of faith is (one Unitarian Church has Pagans, agnostics, Christians and atheists in it). Wiccans have a priest and priestess conduct the rituals and guide the energy (as well as aspect the divinity themselves). Many get around the problem of excessive control from by central figures by rotating Priests and Priestesses, thus showing that Neo-Pagans can use new a different forms of organization and worship. Trained professional clergy would be albe to help in these efforts to seek new, non-hierarchical models. In certain churches, the ministers are prevented from conducting services past a certain percentage of the year, the congregation does the rest. This model is applicable to Neo-Pagan groups also.

C. The Problem of Money

Many are uncomfortable or even believe strongly (taken from some of Gardners' Craft Laws) that clergy should not be paid. Obviously, those groups would have little to no interest in establishing full time clergy and would continue to work on a small group basis. Even small groups, as stated above, might have members interested in short term study to enhance their training.

However, a seminary implies paid clergy. The difficulty with money is in separating the prevalent culture's values (in other words the Protestant work-ethic money culture) from the emerging values of Neo-Paganism. Some of the Protestant culture believed that wealth was a sign of God's favor, that poverty was a problem that developed from a sinful nature. Other's saw money as being a "worldly" trap that one must be careful of ("the root of all evil"). This worldly trap then becomes a repressed force that may come back to haunt one (a shadow force in Jung's terms). Whatever the viewpoint, money was viewed as something either to control and have as a gift from God or as something to avoid as being of the devil. This love/hate relationship clearly shows in the current problem of television evangelists and their money gathering efforts. However, whichever the belief, both cases see money as an objective reality separate from spiritual things, in other words, something profane or mundane.

Pagans typically believe that money is connected magickally with the element of Earth, with material things. One of the key concepts of magick is the principal of balance, especially balance of the elements as they relate to our lives. While Earth is only one of four, it's still important as being the base from which everything is worked, especially since we happen to be incarnated in the material plane. Earth and earth energy are not profane, but sacred, not separate, but part of life and spirituality

Sadly, there seems to be some antagonism in the Pagan community against those of wealth or those simply well off. Part of this is due to the values (which they believe conflict) of trying to maintain a spiritual life, not being bogged down in material things. Part of this is also due to the rebellion of Pagans against the dominant culture's values overemphasizing material things. However, this antagonism against money and wealth is NOT a Pagan value.

The basic point is, since Neo-Paganism shouldn't have this love/hate relationship with money and material things (we don't seek to have dominion over the earth, just live on it), Neo-Pagans may be far less likely to have the shadow aspect of money appear in clergy. While no one is perfect and they may become unbalanced in this area, seeing money as energy and a process, instead of a thing, would certainly be a perspective that will help in the future. This problem could easily be worked into the curriculum of the seminary, with special emphasis on the above issues.

V. Rapid Growth of the Neo-Pagan Community

The growing number of Pagans requires a shift in the present ways of training people in the faith. Estimates range from 100,000 to 250,000, with a possible doubling time of five years Neo-Pagans are at least as numerous as Unitarians (100,000) and possibly more so, especially since a lot of Unitarians are now turning Pagan. The recent festival Starwood, which had 1,000 people in attendance is a case in point. It probably did not draw one in five Pagans in the United States (which would be the case if there were only 20,000, a low estimate). While 250,000 may be high, it would not be unreasonable to estimate that there are about 100,000 now who would self describe as Pagans. That would have put 1 in 100 Pagans at Starwood, a more reasonable guess, allowing for numbers on the West coast who couldn't come because of distance, etc.

Festivals are having larger and larger numbers of people coming to them, magazines such as Magickal Blend, Gnosis and such would have been unthinkable a few years ago because of lack of a large enough readership base, now they are existing and putting out frequent issues with good writing.

All this means that there will be a need to minister to and help with the spiritual education of, a larger number of people than existing systems can now handle. Indeed, much is done by individuals themselves and, while self study is useful and should always be admired, a trained hand can cut through much of the poor quality material that exists in published form. A seminary and professional clergy would help to deal with the influx of people to the Neo-Pagan community

VI. Influx of Other Clergy to Neo-Paganism

With the growth of Neo-Paganism and its literature, clergy from other religions may well be interested in converting. The existence of a seminary and a professional clergy in the movement would allow for these people to use their talents for their new beliefs and add considerable experience to the Neo-Pagan movement. This point would doubtless raise some concern from people about issue of sincerity of those coming in, and a host of other issues. The following are some thoughts on this issue:

If one could step into the shoes of a convert (or one in the process of converting) for a moment. Perhaps they've come to the Pagan conclusion not quickly, but slowly and it's sneaked up on them and, one day, they wake up to the conclusion that they are Pagan. They have usually been trained for one thing only in life and in some cases, they have a wife and children to support. They are caught between the value of dealing with a new spiritual outlook for which they have no support in their current community and the value of wanting to still care for people (economically and spiritually) that they are connected to. Should one trust such people? Certainly! Provided they are otherwise okay, their training and the spiritual trials they have gone through to make it from a majority faith to a minority faith would be real strengths! Much of the Pagan community would be happy to find out that some of their traditional "old enemies" are willing to come to them. There are however, some who hold a tremendous mount of animosity towards anyone with strong Christian ties, this would prevent them from accepting someone in that situation. If such is the case, if the people do not, at least the Gods will, being probably less prejudiced.

Of course, the main function of the seminary would not be for providing a refuge for converts, a seminary would be a place of further education and training. A convert from another religion would probably have to spend some time studying their new faith before beginning to function as a priest or priestess in it.

VII. Networking Goals

  1. Representatives from each of the major groups (Gardnerian, ADF, Church of All Worlds, etc.) could be brought together to develop a curriculum that would meet their ordination requirements. These representatives would function either as a long standing curriculum committee or be based directly on a Board of Directors to help make the approach of the school balanced between major viewpoints.
  2. As stated previously, the seminary could serve as a study center with certification in various topics for those groups not wanting a professional clergy but needing advanced training. Certification could be imagined in areas such as large and small group liturgy, comparative study of mythology, theory and practice of magick and pastoral counseling.
  3. The seminary would serve as an organizational point for referral to different groups and for groups to work together for common causes.
  4. Religious scholars could use the seminary as a study center for advanced work in ancient religion or in modern day Neo-Paganism. Historians of religion from advanced institutions might be able to use the seminary as a resource for their study, thus gaining valuable ties to other academic institutions.

VIII. Problems in Developing and Maintaining of the Seminary

1. Where does the money come from?

Money problems wouldn't necessarily be insurmountable, but would take some time and effort. If Circle Sanctuary could acquire enough money over the period of some years for their land, with enough backing of the Pagan community at large as well as a few well done and well attended workshops aimed at well to do New Age workshop goers, it may be possible to put together initial money.

A correspondence course to start would be a possibility but it would have its own troubles, not the least of which would be making accreditation close to impossible. Also, materials for correspondence courses have to be set up totally differently, as well as faculty. If one wants a full time seminary, then one should aim for that.

Of course, tuition money would help once the school is established and matters such as financial aid, grants, loans and scholarships for students would have to be worked out in the initial organization of the school. Start up cost would be the major problem to overcome first.

A seminary could not be started in just the next few years, about 5-7 years would be a good target. This would allow for time to create the necessary critical mass for support. As an example, in Chicago there exists Panthea, the first Unitarian Universalist Pagan church. The vast majority of the people there are under 30. That church has a budget of about $18.000 a year, supported by Chicago area pagans. They are only a few years old and continue to grow, having just added Sunday school classes. This phenomena points to the possibility of larger structures in the Neo-Pagan community, with a seminary certainly being a possibility

2. Where would the students find jobs?

It would be hoped that the initial students would be able to form and or go back to groups that would be able to support them as full time clergy. If the timing of the seminary is worked out well enough, the community will be large enough to support them upon graduation. A particular challenge, and an important part of the curriculum, would be to develop organizational skills for starting new groups based on a professional model of clergy.

If the Neo-Pagan movement develops enough in the time between the initial starting of the seminary (5-7 years) and graduation of the first students (in three years), there should be enough critical mass to start formal groups around the country.

3. What specific curriculum/degrees would be offered?

The base of any seminary is the Master's in Divinity degree, a three year degree that offers training in theology, ritual, history, interpretation of scripture, education (preaching) and organizational development (how to run a church). All these are real needs in the Neo-Pagan community, but, obviously the emphasis would be different (classes vs. sermons, mythology being as important as theology, etc.).

Other degrees that are commonly offered are short term Master's degrees in Religious studies (1-2 years), Religious education, and advanced degrees in Divinity (Doctor of Divinity), Ministry (D.Min.), theology (Th.D.) and the like. These programs would be developed later, as faculty and organizational support developed.

4. Where would it be located?

As for location, one would have to have the seminary in a large metropolitan area. The possibility of combining resources with other seminaries exists in a metropolitan area. Seminaries often share libraries, etc. as well as classes. Starr King Seminary (UUA) does this in California, offering mostly Unitarian classes (as well as ritual classes by Starhawk), the rest of the time students go to other seminaries there to fulfill their requirements. In Chicago, there is an affiliated group of seminaries that even offer a joint catalog of courses that are recognized by all the different schools.

Because of the needs of Pagan Students, trips to the country to work with nature, camp, do vision quests, etc. would also be set up. Students should be encouraged to keep up the connection with nature and to look for it for inspiration even in the midst of academic study in the city.

5. Would it be affiliated with any particular denomination (ADF, CAW, etc.) or would it be free standing?

This would most likely be settled by whomever gets the funding and/or organizational backing for the project. Even if a seminary is affiliated with one denomination, the curriculum could be wide enough to attract the rest of the Neo-Pagan community. In fact, it would have to be, because no one denomination would be large enough to support a seminary at this time.

6. Would accreditation be possible?

One can have a school legally accredited by the State relatively easily to give degrees in a number of areas. A state accredited school has legally recognized degrees, however, to be taken seriously by the academic community, a school needs regional accreditation by the appropriate regional body. Regional accreditation would take some doing, but would not be impossible just because the seminary would be focused on a minority religion. One would have to meet certain standards of curriculum, etc. but with teachers of (mostly) Master's degree and above, most accrediting bodies would be willing to accept you. In fact, in the Chicago area, there is an association of theological schools (mentioned previously) that might be able to accept students into their classes for exchange credit. This is frequently done in the larger centers in the country. As a case in point, Starr King Theological Seminary (Unitarian Universalist) is very small, students take classes thoughout the Bay area to meet requirements of Starr King, since the institution can't offer that many classes per quarter

Fast Forward
Kindly Pagans, White Supremacists Hold Dueling Gatherings In Southern State Park

Keep the Faith
Young black women are leaving Christianity and embracing African witchcraft

CBN News
Atlanta Church Hires Psychic Medium to Minister to Congregation

The Week
The princess of Norway and her shaman lover

Religion News Service
Getting in on - and tossed out of - the Satanist Temple joke - Religion News Service

More Articles

Quote of the moment:
It all hinges on your definition of 'a good time'.

This site has received hits since Aug 4, 2000

The entire content of all public pages in The Pagan Library (graphics, text and HTML) are free information, released under the terms of the GPL. All copyrighted items mentioned are the property of their respective owners, and no form of ownership or endorsement is implied.

Last modified: August 19 2018 14:43:54